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Barry Hobbs reflections of the war years as a 5 to 10 year old

by cambsaction

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Barry Hobbs
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25 November 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Mike Langran of the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Story Gatherer team on behalf of Barry Hobbs and has been added to the site with Barry Hobbs permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I moved from Bentinck Street to Fitzroy Street in Cambridge. My father was a drummer in the Cambridgeshire Regiment and was invalided out before they went to Singapore. My first recollection of the war was my father playing the drums outside the Drill hall in East Road as the regiment marched to the railway station to go to the far East. My mother and I stood in the doorway of the Tiger Pub that was opposite the Drill Hall and watched the parade.

Later in the war I remember going to Vicarage Terrace after it had been bombed, seeing all the wardrobes hanging off the walls and the smouldering timbers. The next day us children were playing around the Auckland Road/Midsummer common area. There was a building where we noticed the door ajar, we went in and to our surprise we saw slabs with white sheets over bodies. We realised we were in the temporary mortuary for those killed in the Vicarage Terrace bombing, we just ran out of the building. About 1951 when I was working on a building site, we were in the mess hut talking about the war. One person said they had a funny experience as an ARP warden based in Auckland Road. They had covered the bodies with sheets of those killed by the bombing of Vicarage Terrace, in the morning one of the sheets was off the body and laying on the floor. It played on their mind that they had covered them over and they were still alive. I said laughingly “You can’t tell that story again mate, that was me and a friend running past as we were frightened and knocked it off as we ran out”

I remember Jordan’s Yard and Jesus Lane being hit by bombs. The shrapnel from the bombs hit the college walls at the town centre end of Jesus Lane. You can still see that parts of the masonry are missing. Bombs also fell on Mill Road next to the bridge in the corporation yard. It was believed to have been bombed by a Dornier bomber.

The Americans were billeted in the old Tolly Brewery opposite Christs Church in Newmarket Road. They use to give us kids a real good party at Christmas when we would have Turkey, we had never seen Turkey before. A lot of my friends were evacuees from London. Gangs of six or seven would stand outside the Star Pub in Newmarket Road, one day Joe Louis, the world heavyweight boxing Champion came out with two Military Policemen at his side, I guess they were there to protect him in case someone tried to take him on after a bit too much to drink.

Newmarket Road, Fitzroy Street, Napier Street and Christ Church Street were for a time full of army lorries, bren gun carriers and mainly army personnel stationed in that area. Next to my home in Fitzroy Street there was a young women offenders building that was requisitioned by the army and was their main canteen area. The main food store was opposite our house next to the Ancient Druids pub and I can assure you didn’t go too short of food. After the war that was turned into a fish and chip shop for the Co-op.

In Napier Street there was quite a large air raid shelter which we went into a couple of times. We mainly went into the Anderson Shelter in the garden. We did go into the shelter in the Ancient Druids pub. We didn’t have too much bombing after the Vicarage Terrace bombing. We had air raid shelters at the Brunswick school that I attended. There was a complex of shelters on Midsummer common that we use to play around. The hills and bumps were good for us to play on. One occasion we noticed in the entrance to the shelter a small canister with prongs sticking out. I thought it was a butterfly bomb we kept being told about. I told my mate to get an ARP Warden while I kept an eye on it. When they came back, the warden got a long stick and lifted it up and placed it in a bucket of water.

Just up from the shelter going up to Newmarket Road opposite the Festival theatre there was a big house we called The Green Gate where we would scrump apples from. During the war this was requisitioned to house the ENSA girls to entertain the troops. We use to have laughs. Putting long string onto the door knockers, trailing it along the road and then pulling it, they would come to the door and find no one about. We meant no malice, just a bit of fun. We use to get in the Festival Theatre and wander about the stage and go up into “the gods” we were not very happy when that was requisitioned and the army used it. Soldiers would sleep on the stage. We would then got under the stage and operate the revolving stage, the soldiers would chase us but we never got caught.

There was a big warehouse in Auckland Road that use to house a circus before the war. This was also requisitioned and used by the RAF. Many places were taken over by the forces. Even our house, a two up and two down, we had a family from Deptford in London who had bee bombed out. Our family of four were in one room and the Brown family in another room. You can imagine how difficult that was with one tap, no hot water nor bathroom and one toilet outside. They lived with us until the war ended then they went back to Deptford, we all stayed friends for years.

We rarely ventured more than two miles from our house. We did go to Grange Road where there was an assault course. We would run over that just like the soldiers. We would camp in Teversham near an old airfield dump where the old aircraft were piled high on top of each other. We would get in there and take stuff we could use. We would go to Swann’s Road and Stourbridge common that had a big pit in that the army would train with their tanks. We would also catch the 102 bus out to the Red Cross place: it would cost two pence I think it was. We use to go to the Beech woods and play on the haystacks all day. On the way back we would collect the wheat ears left behind by the binders, we’d use this to feed the chickens on for Christmas. That was quite a nice day out for us kids.

I can remember a German plane crashing in Green End Road. We went up to see it and the lorries were unloading the ammunition. It didn’t blow up, it para glided from over London without a pilot in and crashed between the houses. They cordoned it off and charged sixpence I believe to see it.

The Americans had a real big tented camp in the Green End Road area. My mates mother use to do the washing well we called it dobying. We use to go there. Between the tents was duck boarding and mud. We use to push this old pram and fill it up with the washing from our customers, she would wash and iron it and we would take it back. It was quite an experience. The Americans were very generous; they would give us chewing gum.

One day a friend and me were walking to school and we had to go back to get my school cap. As we walked through Nelson Street out onto East Road, we heard this RAT..TAT..TAT. it was a German aircraft firing as it flew up East Road. We just ran as fast as we could and dived into Langford’s fish and Chip shop on the corner of East Road. It had a double door, a kind of box with a door and another door that went into the shop. It was to prevent the light shining out and being seen by German aircraft. I hit my head on the wall and had a big bump. We carried on to school. We think it was trying to hit the Sunlight soap factory behind McKays. It is believed that they thought it was an ammunition factory. The story goes that when they dismantled the chimney after the war, it was full of holes.

We kids use to congregate on Midsummer common and play football, we didn’t have footballs but we always found something to kick about. We would also swim under Pye’s bridge during the summer. The water was clear as a bell and we would take bottles and fill them up from the river and drink it as the day wore on. We would dive off the bridge, usually when the people were coming out of Pye’s factory to go home for lunch.

We celebrated V.E. Day on Parkers Piece. The Dagenham Girl Pipers were there. Everyone was singing and dancing, they put two lights on Parkers Piece, the first time lights had been on for about five years.

V.J. Day was celebrated on Midsummer common. There were two battery lights shining up in the sky and kids were climbing all over the army Lorries. There was a big bonfire that they put on one of those gliders they use to use in the war. Two sailors bet us ten bob (shillings, an awful lot of money then) we couldn’t swim from Victoria bridge to Pye’s bridge. That must have been about eight or nine O’Clock at night, the two sailors were home on leave.

The American officers used what I think was the Blue Lion Hotel in Kings Parade as their base. An American officer took inside and showed me around, they gave me gifts and chewing gum. The Americans had there own Donut Factory in Rose Crescent what is now Ken Stevens Music shop. After the war when they started the ABC minors film shows on Saturday mornings, we would see them throwing out the old Donuts, being the cheeky one I asked if we could have some, the lady let us have some and kept some for us every Saturday. The others in the film show wanted to know where we got them from and were envious. When they discovered how we got them they also tried and it all had to come to an end.

After the war ended, there was a big piece of land near the sewerage farm at Milton where they brought the old army lorries and tanks to be dismantled, there piles of them and it took ages to cut them all up. A big train use to bring them on. The train was brought over from America as we didn’t have one big enough to do the job.

My final story concerns the drums my father played. They went out to Singapore with the regiment and were captured. The Red Cross found them and returned them, they were on display in Joshua Taylors window with other musical instruments that had been found. My Dad took me to see them and he said “That’s my drum” It’s marvellous they weren’t destroyed.

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