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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Peoples War Team in the East Midlands
People in story: 
James Barry Francis
Location of story: 
Alfreton; Derbyshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 June 2005

"This story was submitted to the site by the BBC's Peoples War Team in the East Midlands with John Moodys permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions. The article was collated and written by a pupil at Mortimer Wilson School, Alfreton as part of a Peoples war Project."

I was six years old when Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany and eleven years old when Winston Churchill declared victory in Europe. The years in between, I and everyone else got used to going without — food, clothes, petrol and sweets, especially sweets were rationed.

Alfreton was a garrison town and the area around the drill hall (now a Tesco supermarket) was a beehive of activity. The area around Grange Street was a big army lorry park guarded by soldiers with loaded rifles; this always fascinated me as a young boy. The air raid siren was also there and hardly a day went by without it sounding. We had to leave our lessons and go into the air raid shelter.

The town each night would be busy with soldiers from around the world, each wearing their country’s name on their shoulder — Poland, Canada, Australia, America.

The yanks were the most popular with us kids, we would scrounge their gum, “Got any gum chum?” was the popular greeting.

Probably my most vivid memory of the war was going to the bottom of my street (Independent Hill) early one spring morning in 1944. I sat on the wall (part of which still exists today) and waited to watch Farmer Painter bring his cows up the main road for milking at his farm yard next to the railway hotel, a journey he made everyday. This morning was to be an exception. Instead I watched army traffic travelling south. All the lorries were carrying GI’s. I shouted “got any gum chum” as they passed and a packet landed on the pavement.

The traffic kept coming and I kept shouting, there were tanks , jeeps and lorries. I was joined by several of my mates and they joined in the chorus.

We remained there all day and considerably boosted our sweet ration, as we retired they were still coming and we made our way back home with gum, chocolate sweets and even cigarettes.

I seem to remember most of the road had been churned up.

The road running by the bottom of the street was one of the main roads from the northern camps to the south along with the A1 and the A5.

I didn’t realised until years later we had witnessed part of the D Day invasion force on its way to the southern parts.

On a recent trip to France I stood and overlooked the Normandy beaches wondering how many of those brave soldiers who threw me gum that day didn’t make it any further.

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