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by nottinghamcsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mary Middleton and Family
Location of story: 
Nottingham — West Bridgford, Gotham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 December 2005

"This story was submitted to the People's War site by CSV/BBC Radio Nottingham on behalf of Mary Middleton with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions"

I was born in February 1936 at Gotham near Nottingham so I was not very old when war broke out. My father did not have to join up as he was in a reserved occupation. He had a small foundry and machine shop where he made valves and pressure gauges used mainly in marine engines. The foundry was near the Royal Ordinance Factory which was a target for bombing raids. The other local target was Trent Bridge as this was the main crossing from south of the Trent into Nottingham and further north.
Dad took his turn at fire watching by night as well as working long hours during the day. He was concerned about our safety at night so he built a reinforced air-raid shelter onto the house. It had very thick walls, a low ceiling, and a concrete roof supported by girders. I slept in there when dad was fire watching and mum and the baby would join me if the sirens went. We also had shutters to put on the bay windows at the front of the bungalow — partly for black-out and partly for safety.
We had a large garden and we grew a lot of vegetables for ourselves and the family. We had ducks so we had eggs. Dad had permission from the local farm to shoot rabbits in the fields behind our bungalow. When I started school I had to take my gas mask with me. At first it was in a cardboard box but somebody bought me a pink case (yuk) to put it in. I went to a small private school in West Bridgford. It was run by three sisters — Miss Connie, Miss Bee, and Mrs Maltby. It was in a big old house, the rooms were heated by coal fires and lit by gas mantles. The windows were covered with what appeared to be coarse net dipped in strong glue. This was to prevent broken glass showering the pupils.
I only went to school in the morning at first. Beryl was supposed to take me to the bus stop at dinner time and wait until I was on the bus. Sometimes she left me! One day when I was waiting there was a soldier waiting as well. We waited and waited. A lorry stopped and the driver shouted “Do you want a lift Jim?” Jim said yes, and could they take me as well? Yes. When we got to Gotham Jim took me home in his car. We found out later that there was an unexploded bomb in Witton and our bus service had been re-routed until it was cleared up.
My mother made most of our clothes from garments given to us by friends and family. Some of the material was not to our taste but we had to be clothed. Our coupons and dad’s wages could not stretch far.
Later in the war we had evacuees. My parents thought if we had a girl about my age she would be company for me. Mum took me down to the village school in the dark and wet. We waited about for what seemed a long time. There were no children on their own in this batch. They were all mothers and young children who were leaving the greater London area because of the doodlebugs. We ended up with Janet, her mother and Margaret who was about a year old. Their father came for weekends. I think they stayed about a year.
At school we learnt how to set out a letter properly. The only person I knew of in the armed forces was my Uncle Wilf, my mother’s brother. When the war broke out he was delighted. He had been working in the Town Clerk’s Office and could not wait to be called up. For various reasons he was not fit enough to be a pilot. He ended up as Ground Staff doing office work — just as he had been doing as a civilian.
My father belonged to the Guild of Magicians. He joined a concert party which went round various village halls to entertain people and to make money for the Comforts Fund. I went with him as part of his act. My main memory of these concerts is going everywhere in the dark.
I still go round and close all the curtains at dusk — a habit I learnt during the days of “Black-out”.

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