- Contributed by
- Isle of Wight Libraries
- People in story:
- Albert Henry Shepherd; Kathleen Shepherd; Mr & Mrs Holder; Mr & Mrs Perry
- Location of story:
- Coventry, Atherstone, Bidford on Avon (Warwickshire)
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Lis Toft and has been added to the website on behalf of Henry Shepherd with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
In 1939 everyone was issued with a gas mask. Even the neighbour’s tiny tots had gas masks; theirs were Mickey Mouse style ones! I was 7 years old when I went to the Council Offices in Coventry to collect mine. Suddenly I heard a mighty blast! An IRA bomb, planted in a butcher’s bike, had exploded, killing a man in nearby Broadgate. The gas mask came in a cardboard box with string attached, but when I picked it up by the string, it fell out of the bottom of the box. I had to go and change it for another, but the same thing happened! It was only when I collected my third gas mask that I realised that the string needed to be threaded under the loose bottom of the box. I did not like putting my gas mask on; it was full of white powder making me feel like I was going to choke, and my breath caused it to steam up.
Our house was in Much Park Street, 200 yards from Coventry Cathedral. (Despite the widespread devastation, the Cathedral spire and the other two big spires survived the War.) Each day after school I had to go to the Brewery shelter, situated in the brewery cellars, where I stayed with my mother, two sisters and brother until the all clear was sounded in the morning. I helped out at a fruiterer and used to stuff my pockets with fruit without him seeing; this gave us something to chomp in the shelter, where we spent the night without blankets or mattresses.
The night of the 14th of November 1940 was the Coventry Blitz. (Afterwards a new word was put in the dictionary: “Coventrated”.) We were in the Brewery shelter that night and on the morning of November 15th, before the all clear, my 15-year-old brother George said, “Come on our kid, let’s go for a walk outside.” The archway of the Old Star pub was on fire but we thought we could dash under. George went first and got through o.k., but when it was my turn a piece of burning wood dropped down on my shoulder. Fortunately I was not hurt.
There were loads of Air Raid Wardens dealing with the aftermath of the Blitz and one of them spotted us. He grabbed one of us with each hand and yelled, “What the hell are you doing out here this morning amongst this lot?” He pushed us into the nearest shelter (which was built into the foundations of a museum under construction just before the War), but we were confronted by the sight of a body on the ground. Caught by the blast, one arm and one leg were missing, but the rest of him was untouched. We had to stand in the entrance until we heard the all clear. Our house never even lost a window, but many were not so lucky and every day we would go to Gulson Road Hospital, where local casualties were listed, to see if anyone we knew was dead or injured.
On November 17th, I went to school and my teacher announced that we were all to be evacuated. I had to go home straight away and tell my mother, then go back to school and wait for the charabanc to arrive. I went to Atherstone where I stayed with Mr and Mrs Perry. They were very poor because Mr Perry suffered from a miners’ disease and was unable to work. The first thing he did was to write to my mother asking for money for my keep. Mother did not reply to his letter. I stayed with the Perrys for about 6 months but my mother did not write to me and only visited once. She only stayed about 10 minutes, then said goodbye to me and went to the bus stop. Mr Perry asked me where she was and when I told him, he went to the bus stop and harangued her for not giving any money and not visiting more often.
Back home a few months later, in 1941, there were more attacks on Coventry. If the sirens sounded we all left the school and went to the shelter. On one occasion we were on the way to the shelter when we heard a plane. It started firing and hit windows just 10 feet above our heads! Just after this, I was evacuated again. We were taken about 20 miles away to Bidford on Avon. My sister Kathleen and I were taken to “Victoria”, Waterloo Road, Bidford, a posh house belonging to Mr and Mrs Holder. The Holders asked where our luggage was, but the clothes we were wearing were all we had! They only wanted to take one of us and they chose me. I wasn’t having that because Kathleen and I were very close, so they agreed Kathleen could stay the night. Luckily, the next day a close neighbour agreed to take her in, so we were able to go to the same school and see each other every day. The Holders bought me new clothes and I was very happy living there, but after 12 months I received a letter from mother saying she had married a policeman and wanted me to come home. Unfortunately, life at home was not happy. I did not get on with my stepfather, who turned out to be not a policeman but a works security guard. If only I had known then what my life was going to be like, I would have run away, but that is another story.
Every two years a voucher from the Coventry City Poor Children’s Boot Fund was handed out at school. I would take my voucher to John Britain’s shoe store where he would say, “Not another free pair of boots!” He used to like taking the mickey! Our shoes would get holes in the soles and our socks had holes to match! We used to say, “My boots need re-soling” and put cardboard inside them to patch them up. Unfortunately this lasted only 2 or 3 hours.
Food was rationed. You had to wait for your initial to appear on the butcher’s board before you could collect offal, sausage or liver. We used to ask for bread a couple of days old so it was easier to cut thinner slices. If we wanted to buy milk, we had to take an empty bottle to collect it from a churn at the dairy farm in Gulson Road. I had to pinch the empty bottle to use from a milkman’s cart. Fruit became very scarce and I used to ask for “specks”, which were damaged apples. Sometimes most of the apple was wormy or rotten, but anything was worth having. If you saw a kid at school eating an apple you would ask for the core! There was a soup kitchen at Pool Meadow where we could get fresh soup. Sometimes we would go two or three times a day because we had nothing else to eat.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.