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Hilda Day's Wartime Memories at Typhoo

by CSV Solent

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Hilda Day (nee Philcox)
Location of story: 
Birmingham
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5257640
Contributed on: 
22 August 2005

The Wartime Memories of Hilda Day (nee Philcox) at Typhoo

This story will be submitted to the People’s War Site by Jan Barrett (volunteer) on behalf of Hilda Day and will be added to the site with her permission. Hilda fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

When war broke out in 1939, I was 15 years old and working as a tea-packer in the Typhoo Tea Factory in Bordesley Street, Digbeth, which is a district of Birmingham. In the factory long rows of girls in their green caps and overalls stood waiting for the packets of tea to come down the line where we put them into big cardboard cartons.

The tea used to come in big wooden boxes from India; we were not always sure it would arrive but generally stocks were good. It was very strict in the factory, we were watched over by four female supervisors, who were a bit like prison warders: ten minutes was the absolute maximum in the loo, and if we took longer they came looking for us!

Rationing came in for clothes and food and Mum would send me off to the Co-op with the ration book. Sometimes we would just get one slice of bacon. The bread was brown and grey — not like it is today, and the milk was powdered. But we got used to the shortages, and there was a good spirit — people helped each other and just got on with it.

Of course tea was rationed and some ladies used to come and ask for work at Typhoo, and then they would put a quarter of the tea into their bags when no one was looking. If they got caught they were in big trouble for stealing!

When the bombing of Birmingham started in the 1940’s we put Anderson shelters up in our gardens. We had to build them from a kit and a lot of people found it difficult to put them up. Inside they were damp and wet and once I remember I was ill in bed with pneumonia, but when the sirens went I still had to get up and go into the shelter. Sometimes the air raids would last all night and we would be in the shelters for hours - the longest time I remember was 13 hours before we could come out.

My brother, who was 15, was an air-raid warden. He was very proud of himself, running around and getting everyone into their shelters but often he would stand outside the shelter excitedly pointing out the planes. (After the war he joined the army and went to India).

We had to carry our gas masks in their square cardboard boxes everywhere with us. My biggest fear was that gas would be dropped. I was so worried about my mum because she had chest and breathing problems and she said she wouldn’t wear her mask because she wouldn’t be able to breathe with it on. Every morning when I went off to work I used to worry that I might not see my Mum and Dad again.

When the war started I was taking violin lessons but then I became ill and had to stop. All news was restricted — we just had the radio but really we had very little idea of what was going on — we had no idea at all until after the war about the concentration camps — we were just involved in our own everyday problems.

Sometimes the sirens would sound when we were at work in Typhoo. We had to switch off the machines and run out along the side of the canal to the shelters. One morning the sirens sounded and we ran out — there was a solitary enemy plan and as we ran along the canal, it came down and started firing at us. We flung ourselves to the ground and the bullets went over our heads — it was a miracle that no-one was killed.

Birmingham suffered dreadfully in the war with the air-raids. Sometimes we would go into work and someone would tell us that one of our work-mates or neighbours had been killed. The houses in our street (Medlicott Road, Sparkbrook) were bombed and some neighbours were killed.

One morning I went to work as usual, but when we got to the factory it has been completely destroyed in the air-raid the night before. We just stood there amazed. We were told to go to the Employment Offices, where they said I either had to go into the Land Army or work in the ammunition factory. The Doctor said I was not well enough to work on the land, so I went to the ammo. factory as an assembler. I hated it there, but it had to be done.

As the war went on, there was not so many air raids and dancing halls opened up again. I loved dancing (I still do) and used to go every week with a particular friend, Thelma, and I learned to waltz and quickstep.

One day I got a letter from Typhoo, they had set up another factory and they wanted me to go back. But now instead of rows of girls there were automatic tea packing machines. My job was as operator of a machine making sure it was supplied with the tea leaves.

When the atom bombs were dropped on Japan we heard about it on the radio and knew the war was over, but we didn’t know what an atom bomb was and we had no idea how dreadful it was.

Towards the end of the war, Mum took us to live in Ramsgate. By then I had met my husband, Norman. He was called up for 2
years National Service in the RAF at the end of the War, and when he came out in 1948, we got married, and went back to Birmingham. I worked at Typhoo again for a short time, but left when I became pregnant with my first daughter, Heather.

Hilda Day
August 2005.

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