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Life in Britain During the Second World War - Year 9 Project (1)

by Jane_Hyatt

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Don Hibberd - Interviewed by Sarah Hyatt
Location of story: 
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Contributed on: 
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
Chopped parsley


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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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - WW2 Project

Posted on: 30 January 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Jane Hyatt,
What an excellent job your Daughter Sarah did on her project, she did something I did not manage and that was to find the recipe for the infamous Lord Wooltan's Pie.
I was ten and a half when the war started and sixteen plus when it ended, almost the same age as your Father.
A couple of points, if you were on a bus in our area during a raid you had to stay on the bus. I always thought that stupid surrounded by all that glass, as the bus pulled up usually as close to a wall as possible a warden would spring out and shout stay on the bus, lay down if possible. Some hope on a crowded bus.
At the Pictures we were locked in, again a warden would appear and tell us to stay where we were as we could not go out on the streets. In one way it was sense as the shrapnell from the ack ack shells came back down We lads collected it when it had cooled. Then it made no sense in the fact if a bomb had hit the cinema they would have got a lot of us instead of just a few walking the streets. I did get to see the film a couple of times the same night as they went right through the program again until the all clear, often a couple of hours or more.
I have written up my own stories of wartime and they are posted on this site mainly on the book page. To lads of our age it was real life Dan Dare stuff. I often wondered why my Mother was so upset about it after all we were going to win. Not once even in the darkest days did it ever cross my mind we could lose the war.
Rations were not a problem as we had our own smallholding with garden and animals. Dad also ran a Haulage business so we had transport. Two Uncles had farms close by with Dairy Herds and on top we got boxes from relatives in New Zealand every six months or so loaded with goodies.
Food was exchanged for clothes coupons or things we were short of. Parcels were left for people who lost relatives or if a wedding was being organised, usually in a rush as some one went off to a war zone. We knew of the blackmarket but our exchanging was not for money, it was to help people. I think we had what was called a good war but I doubt my parents thought so.
Mother was in War Work. Dad had his Haulage business carrying all kinds of needed goods he also looked after the garden and animals as well as being a Fire Watcher. It was his work in the garden that meant we were never hungry.
I am glad you have posted your stories and it would be helpful for the site if you can get more. It should all be put on paper for when some researcher writes the ultimate book about life during the war which was truly a peoples war.
Regards Frank.


Message 2 - WW2 Project

Posted on: 30 January 2005 by Jane_Hyatt

Hello Frank,

Thank you very much for your kind comments about Sarah's project and for your own memories. I have printed it off for my daughter to read and keep. I will also take it to show my parents who will be very interested.

Sarah's history lessons have now moved on to be more specifically about Hitler but I think she found the research she did very interesting. I'm sure she would have carried on if she'd had the time.

My father's interest in the RAF continues to this day. He's mad about the aircraft he used to help maintain and has been getting information and pictures off the internet about the aircraft, pilots and squadrons. He's printed it all off and put it into plastic wallets in ringbinders - he's always reading through them.

If any other stories come up I'll post them to the site.

Kind regards.



Message 3 - WW2 Project

Posted on: 31 January 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Thank you Jane,
My interest in telling those stories came about when my Grand Daughters brought some questionnaires from school to the weekly family get together a year or so back.
My wife and I started to answer the question and I realised it had gone very quiet. One of my Daughters said, "you know dad we know nothing about your life before us, you never spoke of it" so I decided to do what your Dad did write it down and put it in ringfolders with pictures where possible.
They also introduced me to the BBC WW2 site and I found it all pouring out on to paper, it seemed to clear an attic in the brain. I think the war years affected us all in different ways but when it was over we locked it away. Nobody wanted to hear about war once it was done, we all wanted to get on with life but you can not lose such very vivid memories.
My folders also paint the picture before and after the war for the children and grandchildren to read at some future date and I think we should all do that. My 75 years have seen such incredible changes, the grand children cannot comprehend a life without TV, I remember crystal radios, one earphone each. One day Dad came walking in with a state of the art Cosser Radio and our lives changed forever. Henry Hall and his band were a must and the News right up to date from the BBC, unbelievable.
Your Dad and Mum will know what I am saying. Now here I am pounding e-mail out to friends and relatives all over the world on a state of the art computer, a lifetime worlds apart, what will our children see?
Regards Frank.


Message 4 - WW2 Project

Posted on: 01 February 2005 by Jane_Hyatt

Hello again Frank.

Thanks for your second messaage.

My parents read your first lot of memories and were very interested in what you had to say. Where did you live during WW2? They say they never experienced being locked in at cinemas or being kept on buses in Sheffield. The cinemas did carry on with the films (and ran them again) for anyone who preferred to stay while the raids were going on and the buses dropped people off near to public air raid shelters when they could as they headed out of town to relative safety compared to the city centre. The trams stopped running during the raids because the sparks from the overhead cables would be visible to the aircraft.

Mum told me a funny story about a trip to Blackpool with her Mum (her Dad never went away with them because he had the pigs and horse to look after). They'd been out for the evening, returning to their 'digs' in the blackout. They went in through the front door and got right up the stairs before they realised they were in the wrong house. Needless to say they beat a hasty retreat!

I know what you mean about children not knowing life without TV etc. Mine are no exception. My son (19) laughs when I pass on memories of my own childhood (in a 2 up 2 down with no bathroom, a tin bath in the kitchen and playing out on the street every evening after school etc.) He has a bedroom with en-suite shower room, TV, stereo, PC and Playstation (at least he does when he comes home - he's a student now).

Dad's only got going on a PC within the last couple of years and doesn't have internet at home so he goes to a local centre to do his research, transferring it back home on a floppy. Mum wouldn't even have a go. She's hopeless with anything technical like that. I don't think she'd even know how to change a plug and she'd never have considered learning to drive (she says there are enough idiots on the road).

Must go now as I have to get up for work in about 6 hours time (on a computer all day!).




Message 5 - WW2 Project

Posted on: 01 February 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Dear Jane,
I lived in Norton-on-Tees three miles from Stockton-on-Tees about an hour above Sheffield where my Granddaughter goes to College at the moment. She wants to be an Engineer like her Dad and Granddad.
Norton at that time was a small village. The Busses from the Tees area stopped at Norton and turned around at the Duck Pond on the Green, how rural can you get?
I think the thing with the lock in was because we did not have any public shelters along the road from Stockton or in Norton High Street. The Wardens who were gods during an air-raid, they who must be obeyed probably got all officious and decided we all stay where we were. It happened a couple of times while in the Cinema and also on the busses when coming back from the Stockton Cinema's so it was not just a one off.
Stockton or I should say Teessside was the marker for all the German Bombers going inland to bomb places like Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, they used the mouth of the Tees as a marker after crossing the North Sea from Holland North Germany and even Norway. We got them twice, going in and coming back out, if they had anything left we got it.
ICI chemicals, Steel works, Ship yards and Docks all within a seven mile radius made us a prime target so we got many nights of raids and often daylight raids. They flew in low bombed and were gone before the guns got going.
Our Trams were taken off in 1931 or so I am told I was only two then. We got on the bus at Norton Green terminus and I got off at North Ormesby Market place terminus to go to my Grandma's. I loved that run right through Stockton Thornaby Middlesbrough and into NOrth Ormesby and all for Two Pence. The whole area was thriving and alive as the people bustled around doing their shopping. Stockton had the biggest market in the area set in the widest High Street in the North at that time. All down hill since then though.

I started on the computer by going on my Sons to e-mail my Daughter in California, I have three grandchildren out there and found the e-mail easy. That set me off wanting more so I went to school (still do) and took Learn Direct courses so now have quite a few certificates and all at no cost at my age. Tell your Dad that the computer is only a tool and can give hours of pleasure as I search sites for information and find old comrades. I have a ring of good friends who I met on the computer and we talk most weeks. They are from Canada to New Zealand and all parts between, this tool makes the world a very small place.

If you are interested at all, click on my name on this letter, that will bring up my personal page, go down that page to SEE ALL STORIES if you click on there all my stories come up about War Time Teesside, around twenty I think. They may bring back similar memoreis for your Dad.
Regards Frank.

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