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Hair-raising times for a Gloster factory maintenance electrician

by BBC Learning Centre Gloucester

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
BBC Learning Centre Gloucester
People in story: 
David Pollard
Location of story: 
Tredworth, Gloucester; Brockworth, Gloucestershire
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A4481660
Contributed on: 
18 July 2005

David Pollard remembers the community spirit of wartime Gloucester -and the day he nearly lost his head!

When war broke out I was living at 24 Magdala Road, Gloucester, and I was working at a little painters and decorators shop in Brunswick Road.

I joined the Civil Defence Messenger Service because I was only 15. We were issued with one steel helmet and one gas-mask and that was what you had to fight the war with. As time went by we were issued with boiler suits with an ARP emblem on them and a lot later on we got battledress.

In early 1940 we had the first bombs fall on Gloucester and one fell on Napier Street which was about 100 yards from where I lived. We had my grandmother living with us and our little house was absolutely packed so my brother and I were sleeping downstairs in the front room.

The factory just up the end of the road was the Gloucester Shirt Factory which was making equipment for the troops. It was around about twenty past seven in the morning and there was this tremendous whistle of a bomb coming down and all the girls who were traipsing off to get to work for half-past seven screamed and fell flat on their faces. Then there was an almighty thud.

I jumped out of bed and got dressed and ran round the corner into Napier Street where the bomb had dropped. I could see the dust coming up. It was a row of terraced houses and there were some in the middle that had been completely demolished.

I saw a friend of mine in the first house that wasn't completely demolished, although all the windows had been blown in. He said: "I'm all right Dave, but carry on, there are a lot in there who aren't."

That chap, Frank Coombs his name was, lived right through the war and then he was on a ship that was sunk and he lost his life and was killed in the last few months.

The demolition squads came in, the first aid sqauds and the WRVS supplying tea and it was the middle of the afternoon before they removed all those that were dead from the buildings. That is my recollection of the first bombing of the war.

I continued working at the painters and decorators job until I was 16 when I went to work at the Gloucester Aircraft Company GAC in Brockworth, training as a maintenance electrician. We used to go to work at half-past six in the morning and finish at quarter-past six at night.

Although I was only 16 I was expected to work the same hours as all the other chaps and we worked right through the day. Those working the factories had it a bit hard because not only were we there doing long hours in the day, we were doing all-night civil defence duties too and going to work straight away in the morning. It was the same for all the local civil defence personnel, the Home Guard and the fire service and the first aid people - we were all in the same boat.

We had lots of incendiary bombs and I remember one chap trying to put one out with his own waterworks! It didn't work.

When the production lines moved to bring in new equipment the maintenance chappies like me would go in on a Friday morning and not go home until Monday night. They would be split into gangs and they would take turns until the factory was ready to be opened on Monday morning. It was pretty chaotic.

Towards the end of the war when they were preparing for D-Day the RAF were very short of staff so they got a load of us from the factory to go down to Hurn near Bournemouth to help get the aircraft we were building ready for the invasion.

I had to get up into the planes and down near the tail was a little trap door I put my head up through to alter an identification light for glider towing, and behind me was a four-gun gun turret. On one occasion I had just got down and put the hatchcover back in and there was a "rat-at-a-tat" and these four guns went off like the clappers. An armourer had got up into them and I understand that he went to lift a bullet into the chamber and there was already one in there so that fired and took the rest of them with it. I had just got my head down in the nick of time! It was a hair-raising event but we got over it.

I lost a lot of friends during the war. One was a particular mate, John Ritchie, who was in the Tank Corps. When we got the news that John and others had been killed we shrugged our shoulders and said: "What bad luck" and that was it. There was so much of it about. But in later years you seem to remember more about them, and it affects you more than you did at the time when they were first killed.

There was a real community spirit about in the war, it didn't matter if you were frightfully 'la-la-la' or if you spoke like 'ooh-aar' it made no difference, so long as that chappie was alongside you and doing their bit, no matter what it was, you were happy about it and you helped one another.

When a bomb dropped, there was chaos for a minute and then everyone was in there to do their bit, to help the poor devils that were suffering. And we didn't have the sophisticated equipment there is today.

The first thing to attend a fire in Gloucester during the war would be a van with a ladder on the top and a pump at the back, and three or four chaps with steel helmets on just seeing what they could do. And first aid was a stretcher on the ground, slap the injured person on, pick them up and away you'd go. But the spirit was there.

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