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My Wartime Childhood in Pilsley, Derbyshire

by RAF Cosford Roadshow

Contributed by 
RAF Cosford Roadshow
People in story: 
Mrs E Irene Walker
Location of story: 
Pilsley, Derbyshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 June 2004

I was just six years old when the Second World War started in 1939. These are just a few of my recollections from the war years.

I lived in a small mining village in Derbyshire with my parents and two younger sisters. The older siblings were doing their bit, one with the Royal Marines convoying Merchant shipping in the North Atlantic and one working on munitions,

I suppose our village was comparatively unaffected by the air raids but Morton Village nearby — just three miles away — had a couple of bombs to contend with; these were probably ejected on the return from a Sheffield raid.

A German aircraft came down in one of the fields near the house where we lived. We heard that the pilot who survived was escorted by the Home Guard to a nearby army camp. During this period we had Poles and DPs [displaced persons] billeted at Hardwick Hall. We used to see a variety of uniformed personnel from other countries passing through and in Chesterfield nearby.

I also remember the drills at school. We were all issued with gas masks (which I hated to put on as it made me feel that I was suffocating) which we had to learn to use properly. We also practised marching to the Anderson shelters and were taught how to behave inside them. We also seemed to take part in a lot of singing of hymns and popular songs of the day, to act as morale boosters I suppose.

I can recall the disturbing throb of the German bombers flying overhead. They sounded very different to our own planes. We bothered about my younger sister who was three years old and had to be admitted to a hospital in Sheffield during their blitz. Thankfully, she was safe.

For us children, all these events seemed very exciting and so different from the ordinary, everyday things of village life.

The house windows had to be taped in criss-cross fashion to prevent the glass panes from shattering and hurting people. They were also completely blocked out. The ARP warden patrolled the streets to ensure that no lights could be seen at all.

My mother, being the careful, thrifty housewife that she was, made provision for any eventuality. She had, like many others, to be able to feed her family in times of food shortage. Tins of food were piled up neatly under the attic stairs and there were also two pillars of salt. All these had to be shared out quite sparingly of course over a long time.

Dad grew most of our vegetables and fruit in his allotment and our small front garden had the lawn taken up and was turned over to produce. Flowers had to take a back seat.

Dad had served in the Infantry during the First World War; during the Second, he was fifty one and was a collier, so was exempt from military service.

When the war ended we had some memorable street parties in order to celebrate VE day. All the chapels and our church were involved. There was a Big Parade of Highlands and other bands from the collieries around our area marching through the streets playing stirring music that made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. It was a sight to behold — bagpipes braying, kilts swirling, drums beating and marching in precision. Everyone waved flags and banners, blew horns and whistles and sang and shouted. Happy that the awful 6 years had finally gone.


All the children wore fancy dress. I was made up like a bridesmaid and a couple of friends dressed as the bride and groom. Flags were to be seen waving everywhere and I had never seen so much bunting — ever! All waving n the breeze … it was so marvellous.

I suppose the highlight was being allowed to go the local cinema or ‘flicks’ to see ‘Lady Hamilton’. Everyone had been talking about it and everyone went to see Winnie’s favourite movie. In those days, the cinema tickets were priced at from ninepence to be near the big screen, to one shilling and ninepence to be up n the balcony … ‘the posh seats’. Somehow I managed to go at least once a week. Lady Hamilton was good and I have enjoyed watching it many times since.

This story was entered by a volunteer from the RAF Museum, Cosford, on behalf of Mrs Walker. To read her husband’s story ‘A wartime childhood in Calcutta’ (A2780534) go to the RAF Cosford Roadshow personal page.

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