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On the Home Front, Forton Heath, Shropshire

by Genevieve

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ken Offland
Location of story: 
Foprton Heath, Shropshire
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 December 2005

Ken Offland: On the Home Front, Forton Heath, Shropshire

Offland is one of the oldest English surnames there is. I’m Shropshire, born and bred, and I’m 83 now. I was born in a village called Forton Heath, just outside Shrewsbury I used to sing contralto, up to about the age of 21.

I wanted to go into the RAF and was passed medically A1, but I didn’t get any further. My mother always reckoned my papers must have been destroyed during the bombing in Birmingham, because I never heard another thing from them. So it was the Home Guard. We had a local man in charge of us, Emrys Tudor, who was a director of Shrewsbury Town Football Club, and I once ‘shot’ our commanding officer on a manoeuvre.

My brother went into the Royal Army Medical Corps and, quite by accident, always seemed to be posted to the same place as his cousin. They were together right through the war. He was surrounded at Tobruk, and, having never learned to swim, learned to do it in Egypt, because they had to cross a river there and the only way was to swim. Once, when he came home on leave, he thought I had a much better official issue overcoat than his proper Army one, so he took mine back with him, and I had to explain that mine had been lost somehow. He came back after the war and lived to the age of 86. He only died about 12 months ago, in 2004.

In the Home Guard we had a proper military Sergeant Major training us, so he was always taking the mickey out of us. He used to shout at me: ‘Offland, don’t hold that gun like an umbrella!’ I wasn’t a natural army man, not cut out for killing people, but I’m sure we’d have done our stuff if we’d had to.

My most exciting memory is the Hurricanes and Spitfires going over our house really low. They were training and being flown by blokes from Australia and New Zealand and other places. We saw a few bombers too, and one day, when I was cycling to work, a plane came down. I could see its tail sticking up in a tree. I remember seeing the sky all lit up, seeing it from our house, when Coventry was being bombed.

I worked at the Atlas Foundry in Frankwell, down where the new Guildhall is in Shrewsbury. That was a family firm, started by two brothers called Davies, and I worked on one of the lathes. We were making replacement parts for machinery, repairing machines that had broken down. We weren’t making anything for weapons. I used to bike in to Frankwell from Forton Heath every day, and was never once late for work. I think it toughened me up, that cycling and working on the lathe.

So did eating basic food, without any of the rubbish the youngsters eat these days. The big thing about rationing was how difficult it was to get hold of cheese. I always loved cheese, especially the stronger ones, like mature cheddar. Mum used to get us some when she could. We never went short of food, and I’m sure she gave us more than she gave herself. Living in the country, there was food around the place. We used to kill our own pig — you had to get permission for that, but I don’t know whether we did — and hang it on the hooks up on our kitchen ceiling. Then I used to go out with a gun and shoot rabbits and pheasants and things, and there was a lot of poaching going on at that time.

Looking back on it all now, what I remember as much as anything is the Hurricanes and Spitfires going over and the shortage of cheese.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Graham Brown of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action desk on behalf of Ken Offland and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

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