- Contributed by
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- Revd. John D. Bland MBE, BA
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- Contributed on:
- 01 August 2005
I was born in 1937, so my recollections are probably a mixture of actual memories and information picked up from my parents and friends.
My earliest memory is of the last days of the ‘phoney war’. Nothing had changed very much in those first months, but I recall being taken to Warrington market-Warrington is my home town-where my mother bought an ice-cream for me. The vendor of ice-cream was Auntie Mary to everyone, and all the boys were ‘John’- I thought she actually knew my name!
‘This will be your last ice-cream John’ said Auntie Mary. ‘Why?’ I replied, ‘Because the war has really started.’ Presumably life having continued as normal for some months, the decision had now been taken that such luxuries as ice-cream could no longer be available.
Another of the early signs that things were changing was when evacuee children arrived in our area. Walking down our road one day we saw a large van approaching. (Traffic was so rare on the roads apart from the milk van and the horse drawn bread cart, that we took notice of strange vehicles.) The van stopped and a lady helped a little girl out of the back of the van and took her to our neighbour, a Mrs Tipping, where she stayed for the rest of the war. This was undoubtedly an organised arrangement, but to me it appeared entirely random. I thought Mrs Tipping had suddenly and without warning been presented with a new member of the family. I really hoped that we might have an evacuee staying with us too, but that didn’t happen.
Warrington did not experience much bombing and was especially fortunate when one thinks of how Liverpool and Manchester suffered. This was all the more remarkable as Warrington is more or less mid-way between Manchester and Liverpool, and the Manchester Ship Canal, which joins Manchester to the sea at Liverpool runs a straight course through Warrington, and was regularly used by German bombers to guide them from the coast to Manchester and back. The flight of war planes were a frequent and regular experience. I can recall my father’s rushing to the window as the familiar drone was heard and the relief in his voice if he observed the fact that they were ‘ours!’
The worst bombing which Warrington suffered was one weekend when the Thames Board Mills Warrington factory alongside the river Mersey was having a fete on its sports field for its employees. A stray German bomber on its way back from Manchester along the ship Canal, spotted the large crowd of people at the fete and decided to unload his last remaining bombs-the ones he hasn’t dropped on Manchester. There was carnage, and passing cars were stopped and local Lorries brought out to transport the dozens of casualties to the local Infirmary. That caused a lot of bitterness in the town.
My father was in charge of ‘Fire Watching’ for the centre of Warrington. One of the tallest local buildings was the Electricity Show Room (the local retail shop for the electricity undertaking) so this was used each night by teams with binoculars who scoured the night sky or any sign of enemy approach by air. My father held the cash and each morning after the ‘watch’ he paid each person half a crown, 2/6 (12 and a half p) for his night’s work.
In those pre TV days we used to go quite often to the pictures (cinema) and the Pathe Newsreel details of the progress of the war were watched with as much eagerness as the main feature.
There were frequent air raid warnings. The indication of a pending air raid was the sound of the siren on the local police station. At this point it was everyone who wasn’t involved in Civil defence going down to the air-raid shelters-if they had one. On one occasion the siren sounded in the middle of the afternoon whilst we children were at school. ‘Everyone to the air-raid shelters’ said the teacher. I put my hand up. ‘Please Miss I can’t go into the air-raid shelter’ ‘Why not?’ she said. ‘Because I’ve got to go to the Bright Hour to meet my mummy!’ The Bright Hour was the women’s meeting at the local Methodist Church. I was duly persuaded that it would be alright for me to go into the shelter and meet my mummy when the all-clear was sounded.
Mostly the air-raid warnings were during the night, and I can recall being wakened to go to the shelter. On several occasions when staying at my Grandmother’s in nearby Leigh, Lancashire, the air-raid siren sounded and because they had no shelter, we all huddled under the stairs, as that was felt rightly or wrongly to be the safest place in the event of the house being hit.
I was also at my Grandmother’s when VE day arrived. My aunt rushed into the bedroom and woke me. ‘Get up’ she said. ‘The war is over.’ I got up though couldn’t really see the point. She was very excited and flinging open the sash window she poked out a large Union Jack in celebration. Unfortunately she slipped whilst tying the string and the flag fell into the street below. By this time I was wide awake and beginning to enter into the spirit of the thing so I nipped downstairs and rescued the flag and had a go at putting it up again.
I recall being thrilled with the war being over when the local cinema switched on its neon lights and the whole exterior was brilliantly illuminated. This of course was a tremendous contrast to the totally dark streets of war time. It was equally a huge contrast to the level of street lighting which was the norm in those days both pre and post war. For example, the main A49 London Road which passed the end of our street had no more than one lamppost every 200 or 300 yards, with a small tungsten bulb giving a tiny point of light. We were used to walking everywhere-often in the middle of the road since there was no traffic, with shaded torches. My father regularly would check the black tape on the car’s side lights, to make sure they were barely visible. The head lights simply were not used.
As the end of the war approached we were warned at school that soon we would have to be very careful crossing the road as the amount of traffic would greatly increase. This was a puzzle, as it seemed to me that the roads were already very busy with the large number of military convoys of Lorries and tanks which moved around our area. What I didn’t realise was that a large number of cars had been moth-balled and were out of use during the war, but would gradually return to use as hostilities ceased. Our family was unusual in that my father because of his job had the use of a car. (He was responsible for ensuring the continuing supply of electricity and was often called out in emergencies) We didn’t use the car as family transport, but would sometimes travel with him to town. So I was used to travelling in a car, in streets that were virtually traffic free.
Buses and trains still ran, but many of the buses due to fuel shortages ran on gas that was contained in a large balloon fixed to the roof of the bus (single decks of course) or towed in a trailer behind the double deckers.
Part Two of this Story can be found at bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/a4649754
This story was submitted by Alison Tebbutt, Derby CSV Action Desk, on behalf of Revd. John D. Bland MBE, BA. The author has given his permission, and fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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