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- Don Hibberd - Interviewed by Sarah Hyatt
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- 30 January 2005
Granddads Memories of His Teenage Years
How old were you when the war started?
I was about 12 yrs old.
When did you hear the war had started?
I heard at 11am on Sunday 3rd of September 1939 on the radio, most people were tuned in hear the prime minister tell us we were at war with Germany. It had been expected and was no surprise.
What was it like growing up in the war?
Things were different. There was the blackout to contend with - there were no street lights, house windows had blackout curtains, shop windows were unlit, no advertising signs were lit, the buses and trams had the windows almost covered except for a small round hole so you could see where you were and the lighting was subdued which also applied to the trains. Any vehicles that were allowed to run (petrol was rationed to only essential use) had to have masks on the lights which made driving at night hazardous.
The cinemas were closed for a while because there had not been enough air raid shelters built in the city at the start. First off our parents didn't like us straying far so it ruled out going to Longley Park where we were used to playing football and ruled out our trips to sail our yachts at Millhouses Park. If you and your parents did go to town or visit relatives you had to be home early as the buses finished at 9pm. If you lived on a tram route you were o.k. because they ran late, except if there was a raid in progress. This was because the trolley wires used to flash and could be seen from the air.
What jobs did your Mother and Father do?
My Father was a foreman in a roll turning shop at Brightside Foundry Engineering Co, at Don Road, Newhall. The rolls were cast and machined there for the rolling mills that made the steel needed for the war effort.
Mum was a housewife - she couldn't work because dad worked shifts and long hours. We were often on our own during the air raids, even on the night of the blitz.
What was it like at school?
We were still on school holidays when war started and we did not go back to school for a long time. This again was because there were no shelters for us. I seem to remember it was after Christmas that we got back to some schooling, and that was only two half days a week.
We were taught in small groups at the homes of people who allowed us to have the use of their sitting rooms at no charge so we could at least get some schooling. We were still on this home service at the time of Dunkirk which was the end of May beginning of June 1940 and a lot of the troops who escaped were billeted at the same homes. We lived at Southey Green and we used to talk to them while at home service - yes these same people who lent us their homes for school gave a temporary home to our lads coming back from the hell of the beaches in France.
My education was interrupted but I haven't done too badly with my life. I wasn't back at school full time for long because I left at fourteen and started work as an apprentice fitter at the same firm my father worked for (Brightside Foundry) only I was at Ecclesfield. It was while I was an apprentice I helped make parts for the Mulberry Harbour, though I didn't know this until several years later because it was kept secret.
What was the Mulberry Harbour?
It was a huge structure, built in sections, which when in place allowed the ships to sail right up and dock close to the beaches and unload their tanks and armoured cars. This was much better and quicker than having to unload them onto the small landing craft further out at sea. The harbour was built in sections so it could be floated across the sea pulled by tugs to the shores of France.
What was the food like?
The food wasn't so bad and we probably had a healthier diet than today. We had some strange concoctions at times - we ate horse meat, Woolton Pie (mostly vegetables), a meat called Spam (very tasty) and another new thing - dried eggs. When I started work I used to have dinner there because it was cheap. A three course meal (soup, main course, sweet and mug of tea) helped out with the rations at home. This was done through the Government because we were on war work. Fruit was in short supply and I never saw a banana until I went to India just after the war. By and large I don't think we fared too badly when you think of the problems that were faced getting it across the Atlantic.
NOTE: While I was looking though some books granddad lent me I found the recipe for Woolton Pie which was named after Lord Woolton, Minister of Food from 1940-43.
1 lb diced vegetables
3 or 4 spring onions
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon oatmeal
I. Cook vegetables together for 10 minutes with just enough water to cover.
II. Allow to cool, put into pie dish and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
III. Cover with crust of potatoes or wheat-meal pastry.
IV. Bake in a moderate oven until golden brown and serve with brown gravy.
The pastry could not have been made with fat in which case it had to be eaten immediately, as fatless pastry went hard.
What sort of clothes did you wear?
I wore shorts and jacket shirt and tie for school right up to the last day at school. I did have some suits with long trousers but I felt more comfortable in shorts at school. When I left that was it was longs all the time. We had to economise on clothes now they were on ration so our mums used to make things out of blankets and blackout curtain material which was not rationed. The clothes we did buy were called utility trousers - they had no turn-ups which had been the fashion up to then, smaller lapels on the collars, no pocket flaps and the ladies had to have skirts or dresses just above the knee, a far cry from the mini of today. If they could get hold of some parachute silk they would make some underwear.
Where did you go when there was an air raid?
We used to go down in the Anderson shelter. The first time we used ours, it had not been in that long and as I jumped down into it I was up to my knees in water. After that dad put in a sump, a wooden floor, bunk beds and a paraffin stove. He also made a steel door for the entrance. At least we had a bit of comfort in the times we spent underground.
What did you do to pass the time in the shelters?
We had bunk beds in our shelter so we tried to get some sleep
What was it like to wear a gas mask? Did you need to use one?
Gas masks were issued in 1938, the year that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in September returned from Munich after seeing Adolph Hitler waving a piece of paper, declaring peace in our time and that England and Germany would never go to war. The gas mask was unpleasant to wear but we had to have drills to make sure we knew how to use them. They were issued because poison gas was used in WW1. We were supposed to carry them whenever we went out, sometimes the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precaution) teams would drop a tear gas bomb in the most unlikely places to catch people out. It would be very unpleasant if you were. Thank heaven we never needed to use them. I did hear in later years that there was asbestos in the filters, true or false I would say if you ever come across one don't try it on.
Did any bombs land near you?
Yes, the nearest was in the Southey Hill / Kyle Crescent area. It was in the early part of 1941 after the blitz of the previous December. A raid had started and we were in the shelter. Dad was out fire watching in the area, Harry Rainsford from next door was on duty at the A.R.P. post at Southey Green School so we were in their shelter keeping his wife and mother-in-law company. There was a tremendous bang and we heard some thing hit the house wall, I was sitting at the far end of the shelter on a bunk when what appeared to be a tongue of flame licked through the entrance and I was lifted up and banged against the shelter wall. It was the blast from one of the land mines that were dropped by parachute. It landed at the top of Southey Hill opposite St Bernard's Church which was only a prefab type building and it was flattened. The houses across were completely destroyed and the families wiped out. One of the large families was the Redfern's - I knew the lads because they were at my school and one was in my class. We found out what the bang on the wall was. Dad was just coming back to see we were alright when the mine exploded and it was his steel helmet that had blown off.
What did you do in your spare time?
First off I mainly stayed in or went to one of my pals. Later on when the cinemas opened again we would go there about once week in the daytime. We would play the usual boys games - marbles, whip and top, tag, football when we were allowed to go to the park and I was always on my bike. When I left school and started work I went to night school three nights a week and on the Sunday did my homework. I did try a youth club for a short time but wasn't too interested.
I eventually joined the Air Cadets and this was my main interest. I spent three nights a week there and Friday was social night. I joined the Squadron band and was later put into the Wing band, training Sunday mornings. We used to go to different air stations on some weekends and weekly camps sometimes. We worked with the ground crews and picked up a lot experience. After Cadets we used to gather at the chippy at Longley shops, chips were not rationed so it was our supper. Before the war they told people not to eat a lot of potatoes, in the war they told us to eat loads.
We used to go about in a gang of lads and lasses (not the type of gang that hang about today) and Saturdays we would sometimes go to a local dance. Sundays we just walked around (no cinemas Sunday). Nearer the time I joined up, in the winter, we went to Glossop Road Baths to the Saturday night dance and in the summer the Cutlers Hall. When I came home on leave I could always find my friends at one of them. In spite of the war and rationing we still enjoyed life and made our own entertainment, despite having no telly or computers. Most of my teens were spent in the war years.
How did you keep up to date with what was happening elsewhere in the war?
One of the ways that we kept informed was by listening to the wireless. We could also watch the news at the cinema. There were the newspapers and posters as well. But some of the information that was broadcast was false for security reasons.
We also listened to the broadcasts of William Joyce - also known as Lord Haw. Haw - who was an Irishman who made propaganda broadcasts from Bremen in Germany. The broadcasts began "Germany calling, Germany calling.........". He was working for the Germans and was hung for being a traitor when the war ended.
Was anyone in your family involved in the forces?
My Uncle Cyril and Uncle John and myself (pictured below) were in the RAF, although I joined in January 1945 (I volunteered as early as I could), I wasn't posted abroad until after the war in 1948. Uncle Bert was in the Army and Uncle Shirley was in the FAA (Fleet Air Arm). When I left the RAF, I was kept on reserve in case any trouble flared up again. I was never officially informed that I had been released.
How did you hear the war was over how did you react?
It was May 1945 I was in the forces and it was announced over the tannoy. We had been expecting it and we did have a bit of celebration but this was not quite the end. It was only victory in Europe and we had still to settle the Japs, which took until August. When the Atom bomb was dropped, we had been at war for six years all but a month.
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