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Memories of WW2

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Ken Howe.
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30 September 2005

Being 11 years of age at the outbreak of the War, I was at an highly impressionable age and consequently have a much more vivid recollection of the ensuing six years than much more recent events in my life.

On Saturday, 2nd September 1939, I watched from the Boys’ Pen at the Baseball Ground as Derby County played their first home match of the season against Aston Villa which turned out to be the last league game for seven years. Derby won 1-0, Jack Nicholas, Derby’s captain, scoring from a penalty. Afterwards I got autographs of some of the Villa players as they boarded their coach. During the evening there was a violent thunderstorm and after it cleared my mother took me and my sister up Portland Street (we lived in nearby Crewe Street) to see the barrage balloon that had been struck by lightening and come down in the middle of the road.

The following morning was bright and sunny and my dad set about digging an hole in the back garden to fit the Anderson shelter that had been delivered a few days before. The lodger next door, who was from Manchester (I can’t put a face to him, but funnily enough, I can remember his name — Bert Royle) came round to give an helping hand. We listened to Chamberlain’s speech… ‘No such undertaking has been given etc.’ then carried on digging.

During the night the first Air Raid Warning was sounded and we retired to the food cellar, dad insisting on quiet whilst he stood under the grate listening out for approaching aircraft. Nothing was heard and sometime afterwards another siren sounded, dad cautiously went up the steps and opened the front door to find Hector Arter, our next door neighbour looking out. He knowledgeably advised dad that this second siren meant that the enemy was getting closer. It was in fact the All Clear! Hector was an expert ballroom dancer and ran dancing classes at premises on St. Thomas’s Road.

Although Derby escaped the worst of the bombing I remembered going to see various damage. There was a massive crater on the recreational area at the Arboretum. Many years afterwards I learnt that Percy Thrower, probably the first T.V. gardener, who worked there was on fire watching duties at the park that night. Later in his life he was responsible for Shrewsbury Flower show for many years. I also saw bomb damage to the Midland Station and houses in Derby Lane and Regent Street and clearly remember the daylight raid on Rolls Royce. Another time a lone raider appeared high in a brilliant blue sky with Ack Ack firing although I suspect he was out of range. A near neighbour, Mrs. Perkins, was standing on her front step shouting “get ‘Im lads”.

Canisters were placed in various places to create a smoke screen, and I remember them partly around Village Street and Stenson Road area. These were inclined to ignite and the soldiers, who I think were stationed at the ordinance depot down Sinfin Lane, had to frantically damp down the flames. We hear much about air pollution these days and I can only think those dense clouds of smoke must have been a considerable health hazard to local residents.

I accompanied my father the Sunday morning he joined the LDV, later the Home Guard, within days of its formation being announced shortly after Dunkirk. Like many of the early volunteers he had served in the trenches of World war 1, in his case the Highland Light Infantry known as ‘the devils in skirts’ by the Germans I believe. One member of Dad’s unit named Wilson was, in fact, a Boer War veteran with failing eyesight. When they were on duty on a very cold, moonless night, my dad who was the guard commander, suggested to Wilson was having none of that, his reply being “I ain’t come here to be mashing lad for you buggers” and insisted on taking his turn on sentry duty. Later in the night Dad heard Wilson issue the customary challenge “Halt! Who goes there?” On rounding the corner Dad found he had released the safety catch on his rifle and was about to open fire at a gate swinging in the breeze.

In 1942, large numbers of American troops appear on the scene. At first black and white GI’s came into town together, most of them I think from camps around Hilton and Sudbury. This caused numerous fights when they frequented the same pubs and dance halls etc. These had to be broken up with their military police (known as Snowdrops because of their white helmets) wading in with their batons. So it was decided that they couldn’t come in on the same day. Their officers based themselves at the Beaconsfield Club in Green Lane when in town. White GI’s had a canteen on the Spot in the shop premises at the junction of Osmaston Road-London Road and the blacks had theirs in the premises on the left of the alleyway which now leads to the Local Studies Library in Irongate.

When I was thirteen I abandoned the Boy scouts and joined the 3rd battalion Sherwood foresters Army Cadet Force. I was in the Littleover unit and there were units at Peartree, Allenton, Spondon, Mickleover, Long eaton and Ilkeston, possibly others I have forgotten. The Air Training Corps attracted more lads as I suppose it was regarded as more glamorous. I was a pupil at Bemrose grammar school and one year we were told to wear our uniforms for speech day. I remember being the only one in khaki, in a sea of Air Force Blue (the school had it’s own squadron) and a scattering of Sea Cadets.

I attended four Annual Camps — 1942 and 1943 under canvas at Chatsworth only a few hundred yards from the House, 1944 at Ticknall, accommodation being in disused army huts and 1945 at Lutterworth, again under canvas. It was during the last camp that we were standing in the cookhouse queue, clutching our mess tins and ‘eating irons’ when a regular army sergeant attached to us came along the line telling us ‘The War’s over, the Japs have packed it in, lads’. Ticknall was a comparatively small camp, confined to Derby units, nut the other three were comprised of cadets from the whole of the battalion and probably numbered upwards of 600 or 700. One evening at Chatsworth in 1943 members of our platoon, who wished to go, were marched down to Baslow where a fair was in progress. We arrived there with much military pomp but our return to camp was a little more disorganised as several of us had imbibed rather freely in one of the local hostelries.

I was one of the original members of the drum and bugle band when it was formed sometime around the end of 1942 and was assigned to the bass drum. After pretty intensive tuition, we quickly started taking part in various parades around Derby and surrounding area such as ‘salute the Soldier’ and ‘Wings for Victory’. We gave a display of counter marching to a very big crowd in the Market Place as part of the Victory celebrations shortly after the end of the war.

Probably my last parade before being alled up was when we headed the march from the Midland Station to Market Place of the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, who had been Japanese prisoners of war, on the occasion of the receiving the Freedom of Derby. This took place in December 1945, so they managed to regain some of their health and strength by that time. No doubt the Home Guard band, many of whom were ex Army bandsmen and all excellent musicians, would have been preferred to us, but they had already been disbanded.
One particularly ludicrous event I remember was when the cadets were asked to act as messengers for the Home Guard in case of invasion. Some of us duly turned up at Normanton Rec. with our bicycles as instructed to find a Home Guard corporal awaiting us. He proceeded to line us up and gave us a series of commands. These were 'Prepare to Mount, Mount, Prepare to Dismount and Dismount'. We then set off in stately fashion on a guided tour of Home Guard positions in the area - I can't remember whether we were expected to pedal 'in step'. If we had ever found ourselves weaving in and out of a German Panzer Division, I feel such military precision would have been quickly abandoned.

A little more about Bemrose School. I started there within days of the outbreak of War and for a short period newcomers only attended part time. This was due to teacher shortage as a number had already gone into the forces, being members of the Territorial Army, RAFVR and RNVR. This was quickly overcome by female teachers being quickly appointed to what had previously been an all male staff, apart from Miss Smith who ran the preparatory form for fee paying pupils. We made some contributions to the War effort, occasionally packing small components brought to us from the Ordinance factory. Other times we spent odd days working on farms, alongside landgirls and Italian P.O.W's. In the summer holidays of either 1942 or 1943 a party of about 30 of us, spent a week working on farms around grantham mainly potato picking, billeted at Easton Hall, where we sleep on straw palliasses laid out on the floor of a room that in pre-war days had probably been a rather impressive banqueting hall.

I may be lookign back on this period through rose coloured specacles but I don't feel the War caused me to lose out in anyway during childhood and teens and in some ways probably enhanced them. If I had been born just a couple of years sooner, it may have been a different story. My mother was an excellent housekeeper and we always had adequate food, although people nowadays would probably turn their nose up at dishes such as rabbit stew and tripe and onions. Queues at food shops were, of course, a daily occurence and she no doubt spent plenty of time standing in these to keep us fed. Dad played his part by sometimes coming home from work and revealing a joint of pork, a bottle of milk or a few eggs from under his coat like a magician producing a rabbit out of his hat.

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