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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Bradford Libraries, Archives and Information Service
People in story: 
Olive Wolfers(nee Beevers), Tom and Clara Beevers
Location of story: 
Bradford
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2855531
Contributed on: 
21 July 2004

Olive as a child during the war

This story was submitted to the People's war website by Carol Greenwood of Bradford Libraries on behalf of Olive Wolfers and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

Although only 4 when war was declared, I remember hearing it being announced on the radio and the scary feelings the declaration brought with it. Ours was a very political household and there was constant political discussion, friends and neighbours and even our doctor used to drop in to talk about politics and the war.
Dad, having fought and miraculously survived, the First World War, was too old to fight in the second. He worked shifts at AVRO, now Leeds Bradford Airport. Aircraft damaged in the fighting were brought to AVRO for repair.
In order to disguise the hangars they were covered with artificial grass, trees and even cows. The cows were moved everyday to confuse enemy reconnisance.
Dad travelled to work as a pillion passenger on a friend's motor bike. On one occassion they were 'straffed' by enemy aircraft, they heard the plane coming and fell off the bike into ditch.
When dad worked nights sometimes mum and I would go to a friend's house to sleep in their cellar, which was fitted out with bunks. To keep me warm I had a siren suit, like a jump suit with a hood, made from a grey army blanket and decorated with yellow piping. I felt very snazzy!
We had an anderson shelter which dad had dug out in the garden, he reinforced it with concrete blocks on the outside, unfortunately it was prone to flooding so when the sirens went, we tended to shelter in the house under the stairs. On one occassion when dad was working, mum had a nightmare, she was convinced an aircraft was on fire and coming down on our house, she grabbed me out of bed and pushed me under the stairs, no amount of protest on my part would convince her that we were not in danger.
A bomb did however fall on Bradford, near where Marks and Spencers is now in Darley Street and another on the golf links on Rooley Lane. However, as a child, the greatest excitement came as a result of a house on out estate having its bay window blown out by a shell, said to be "one of ours". Terrifying for the people who lived in the house.
The blackout was rigidly enforced by air raid wardens, our windows were covered at night in a type of black American oil cloth and in addition we had long black curtains, we also had a bucket and stirrup pump in case of incendary bombs.
There were quite a number of evacuee children, from London, living in the area. I was desperate to have one to stay but mum would not agree, dad was frequently ill, partially a legacy from the First World War, he used to get recurrent malaria and we also had the son of friends of my parents staying with us on occasions,
so I guess mum felt she had enough to cope with.
There was tendency to scapegoat evacuees, if anything untoward happened they were blamed, it's true there were some acts of vandalism, small wonder when we realise how they must have suffered, transported to a strange place and living with people who were strangers. Although many children found good homes, some were not as lucky and were illtreated.
Food of course was rationed and we grew all our own vegetables, the front garden was given over to potatoes and from an early age I was encouraged to help with this, resulting in a lifelong interest in gardening and plants. Although the vegetables were beautifull, sadly the vitamin content would probably have been entirely destroyed in the cooking which used to be vigorous and prolonged. Cooking was done mainly on the open fire of the caste iron range to save on gas and electicity. The oven was used for other cooking and to heat stone hot water bottles and a huge stone vinegar jar for the beds. Although two of our bedrooms had gas fires these were never lit, I was told they didn't work, my bedroom had two outside walls and was desperately cold in the winter, even freezing the pot under the bed. We had an outside toilet but inside coal house, such was the planning then. Our coal was delivered by horse and cart, the horse was fine white shire called Captain and treated with great affection by the coal man, who always had a mug of tea at our house, he would crouch by the kitchen door so as not to dirty anything with coal dust. After he had gone I would collect the horse droppings for the garden, nothing was wasted. Coal like everything else was in short supply and in order to eke it out my father, much to my delight, used to take me to 'the Delph' off Tong Street, where the remains of an open caste coal seam existed. I became expert at sorting out the bright shiny coal which burnt well. We would load this into an old pram and wheel it home, as a consequence of this extra supply we were never without a fire, though various methods were used to keep the fire in and make it burn longer, the fire was 'banked up' overnight with potato peelings and tea leaves.

Mum, having lived through an impoverished childhood, the depression and means tests, in the interests of economy used to take the burning coals off the fire, put them outside to cool and then retrieve them the following day for further burning.

As a child I had a blue ration book and fights almost broke out at the green grocers when bananas were delivered and mum couldn't obtain any, she insisted the geeengrocer kept them for his favourites.
On one occassion whilst in Bradford, I was entranced by the display of tropical fruit in Newby's shop window at the bottom of Sunbridge Road. I loved fruit, mum said it was disgraceful, men had risked their lives to bring it here and of course it was horrendously expensive "but never mind" she said "when the war is over I will buy you all the fruit you can eat"
Sweets were rationed and we children resorted to supplements, like sticks of rhubarb dipped in sugar, liquorice root and black spanish (liquorice)which we put in water and drank. A great treat was cocoa mixed with sugar and sometimes dried milk, which was put into a bit of paper and licked off the paper.
Mum struggled to see that I was well nourished and I got most of the butter ration, because "I was growing and she didn't need it". In addition she used to buy dried bananas and blackcurrant puree, we had the puree with evaporated milk, referred to as "cream" or "Evaporated". I was also almost forced fed on Virol, Halibut oil and horror of horrors codliver oil emulsion, prescribed for my mother, because she had TB glands, but taken entirely by me.
Prior to the Health service doctors had to be paid by their patients, although our doctor, Dr Parker, frequently didn't charge. People tended to self medicate and we collected herbs which my mother infused for various illnesses. On one occasion we gathered rose hips in an attempt to make rose hip syrup as it was very rich in vitamin C.
There was good herbalist's shop in Manchester Road which mum used to visit, in order to supplement the gathered herbs and obtain advice or buy ointment etc. Jars of herbs stood on shelves around the shop and the scent of dried herbs pervaded the air.

Throughout the war people used to gather at our house to make tab rugs (rugs which were made from old bits of material). A large wooden frame with hessian tacked onto it, would be placed on the table and people sat around it pushing the strips of cloth through with a pointed wooden peg and threading them to the surface,to form two cut ends, eventually when the hessian was full, the rug was clipped to form a uniform surface. They were sold to raise funds for the Red Cross. A neighbour's son was a prisoner of war and on one occassion I held a sale of various toys and books, probably only raising coppers, but this too went to the Red Cross.

Throughout the war and for several subsequent years, I never remember having any toilet soap. Carbolic washing soap was a multipurpose comodity, small wonder I often felt my face and legs were chapped and sore. It was only later that mum obtained some White Windsor soap, this was also washing soap but not quite as ferocious on the skin. Toilet paper too was an unknown experience and we had the dubious benefit of newspaper, which of course also served as reading material in the toilet.
Dad mended our shoes, I used to go with him to buy the leather, he would spit on his thumb to test the leather for absorption. I used to get extra coupons for shoes because I had long feet, all the children used to line up at school against the cupboards and our feet were measured, if they went over a line, we received extra coupons. Often when we went to buy leather, dad would take me to the open market in Bradford and I was allowed a glass of Saspirella from a small barrel and a plate of mushy peas with mint sauce.
Life in some ways perhaps seemed hard but we had fun as well and at Christmas friends got together, taking turns to visit each others homes and somehow putting a spread upon the table. After the meal we all played rummy for half pennies, though the greatest joy for me was when we visited other friends who had a piano and we would gather round and sing, two sisters always sang, respectively "sipping cider through a straw" and "Bobby Shaftoe" we never tired of it. There was always a great deal of laughter and gentle teasing.

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