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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Wakefield Libraries & Information Services
People in story: 
Muriel E Gisby
Location of story: 
Whitby and Outwood, West Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 November 2004

top part of the propoganda leaflet dropped in Whitby

I was 5 when war was declared we were on holiday in Whitby, staying with relatives of my mothers in Falocn Terrace. Sunday morning my father went for a walk along the harbour and to get the Sunday papers before breakfast, when he came rushing back to tell us war had been declared. My mother wanted to pack up and go home as soon as we could but dad and her cousin Hetty said that it would be weeks before we would feel the effects of war and to enjoy our holiday as it could be the last we would have by the sea for a long time. My mother bought me a black doll from Woolworth's;it was the last bought toy I remember getting. Another relative lived at the Mill Boggle Hole at Robin Hoods Bay they ran it as a walkers hostel, the army took it over as part of coastal defence and re-housed them in Whitby. We spent our holidays from then on helping on farms on the North Yorkshire Moors owned by Auntie's and cousins of my mothers. We used to help out at Harvest time, hay making and potato picking. One afternoon while we were building a haystack in the stack yard a German plane flew over low, my father pushed my cousin Freda and me into the hay as he thought it was going to shoot at us or drop bombs on us, but they dropped lots of sheets of paper which turned out to be propoganda leaflets saying we were starving and loosing the war. My mother kept one of these leaflets as a keepsake of the war. The leaflet is very fragile now but I have managed tp photocopy it and would like it to go to the BBC War folder. I have photocopied my Identification Card, clothing coupons and Orange juice coupons, my mother made me learn my identification number off by heart in case we were bombed out and the family got separated.
My auntie worked at Westgate Railway Station in Wakefield during the war in the parcel office, and twice a week a day at about 10.30 in the morning and 5.30 evening a hospital train would pull in to Westgate, the station was closed to the public when the train came in. Ambulances from Pinderfields Hospital were lined up outside to take the wounded to Pinderfields and transport for the walking wounded. The hospital huts at Pinderfields were built by the military as a hospital for the war wounded. I will never forget seeing the hospital trains painted in their camouflage with red crosses on the carriage roof and doors. I saw them many times from my auntie's office. It is a thing that has imprinted itself on my mind.
Our childhood was quite austere with rationing of food, sweets and not many toys to be bought new in the shops at Christmas time. Our parents made things for us, mothers and grandmothers knitted dolls and soft toys the men folk that were at home made wooden toys, my father was in a reserved occupation made me a dolls house and furniture out of tea chest I loved that dolls house that he made me, he made toys for other children who's fathers were away fighting. Our Christmas party at school was not like the ones children have today, we sang carols in the big hall then went back to our classrooms and sat at our desks. we were given a potted meat or fish paste sandwich, we always got some jelly and a fancy iced bun or a piece of cake, we then could go home from school early as a treat. One Christmas I remember we queued for over an hour with my mother to get a Rowntrees jelly so we could have a trifle on Christmas Day tea time. We were lucky that we had a family in the states in New York, they always sent us a Christmas food parcel which we shared out among the family.
It was all make do and mend, we children all had siren suits we kept at the foot of the bed at night in case the siren went. We would then scramble in it to go down in to the shelter as they kept you warm as it could get very cold in the shelters at night the siren suit looked a bit like todays ski suits they were made popular by Winston Churchill, these suits were made from any warm material like blankets or old coats as new material was hard to come by and it was on coupons. At school if the siren went we all formed up in lines in the classroom isles our coats were kept on the back of our chairs for quickness as were our dreaded gas mask. We would all march out of school down to the shelters singing Run Rabbit Run which was top of the pops then, in the shelter we would have sing-songs of all the popular war songs of the time. We couldn't wait for the all clear to sound.
One thing I do remember was stocking were in short supply, most women went bare legged. But to make it look as if they were wearing stockings they sponged on their legs gravy browning mixed with water then they would get a friend to draw a line down the back of their legs with eybrow pencil to look like a stocking seam, if it rained you could end up with very streaky legs.
Our childhood was not all gloom we all had a strong comradeship with one another helping one another out, at home we always had plenty of sugar while our neighbours had plenty of soap. my mum would swop sugar from soap as we seemed to use up our soap ration . Again we were lucky we had a family on the North Yorkshire Moors with farms who sent us rabbits and hares when they had been shooting and at Christmas some sort of poultry for our Christmas dinner. Comradeship could not have come stronger or was felt more than at Dunkirk, where we lived was four cottages with a big yard. I remember everyone gathering round one or another of the radios to get the updates of the news, we children did not have to be told to be quiet as we could tell the situation was grave, we could sense it from the grownups attitude.
As children we could not wait for the day we got a banana. I was five at the start of the war and could just remember what they looked like but not what they tasted like, it was the same with fresh oranges, when I did manage to get one I was very disappointed with them and still don't like them very much. I did not acquire the taste for them when young.
The day the teacher told us the war was over I think it was a Wednesday as we were given the rest of the week off school as a holiday. Having been told we would have plenty of nice food and sweets at the end of the war we could not await for this to happen, as if in one mind the whole school ran like mad to the local sweet shop expecting to see the long awaited sweets, only ti find the shop shelves still empty. I was well into my teens before we saw sweets and chocolate on the shop shelves along with may items of food but one thing I am sure it gave us a sense of pride in our country.

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