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Memories of Wartime and just after

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Joyce Brady, sister Olive, Parents, Aunt Emily
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Contributed on: 
13 October 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Odilia Roberts from the Derby Action Team on behalf of Joyce Brady and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

My aunt lived with us for a while after she was bombed out in Manchester and when the sirens went she took her handbag and jewellery and sat in the cupboard under the stairs. She said that was the safest place to be if a bomb dropped on the louvre boards Dad made to go inside and outside the large living room window, if a bomb fell the broken glass would be contained between the boards, also had thick blackout curtains at all the windows. We lived out in the country on Cannock Chase.
Germans dropped bombs anywhere when being chased by our Spitfires etc. after a raid on Birmingham or Coventry.
We didn’t have an air raid shelter but during an air raid Mum would wrap us up warmly in blankets and take us down to the sitting room, Dad went outside to watch and often saw what he called dog fights in the air. We could be brought down more than once in a night.

Dad had to go to work in the Pit on shifts — early shift was 6am — 2.30pm or 3pm, I don’t know how my parents coped with the broken nights. We had a double summertime then — the clocks went on 2 hours from March — September, so Dad was getting up 3am or thereabouts on early shift. He worked on the top, driving steam engines to send compressed air down the pit so the miners could breathe. When on afternoons he would take me for walks round the lanes picking blackberries and gathering mushrooms in season, Mum came too sometimes and my baby sister in her pram. One Sunday morning, I think it was, we went to Longdon churchyard where a bomb had dropped. I was disappointed there were no bones, just a large hole in the ground (ghoulish).

At school when the sirens went our teacher would hurry us down the Church stoke hole (the church was opposite the school), there we would sing hymns mostly, until the all clear. We didn't have lessons during our time in the Church stoke hole. Sometimes in winter there was no coke for the classroom fire so we went home early. My education until age 11 years was very patchy as a result. In the meantime our mothers were waiting in the churchyard for us to come out, they had our baby brothers and sisters with them. I don’t think we were in any real danger as lived way out in the country, our teacher was very frightened or it seemed to us.
The stoke hole had a very sooty, cokey smell because there was a pile of coke in the corner; the church was heated by the big furnace down there on Sundays and special occasions.
I remember going up to school with Mum and my baby sister to be fitted out with gas masks. This was just before I started school aged 5 years in September 1939. I think my schooldays began on September 3rd 1939. I was given an ordinary gas mask, younger children had Mickey Mouse ones, my sister was put in a sort of box and Mum had to keep pumping a foot or hand pump to keep air going in. If Mum had been killed my sister would have died too.
We also went to the school when a lot of evacuees arrived, Mum was prepared to have one or even two but as we only had two bedrooms no one was billeted with us. I did become good friends with two or three evacuees but lost touch with them after the war. We had to carry our gas masks in a box on a shoulder strap everywhere, I don’t remember using mine except to bash the bullies with.

At school the girls knitted socks and squares to make blankets for the armed forces and also knitted scarves. The boys dug and cultivated the school garden while the girls sewed and knitted. We also paraded across to church on Empire Day and I have a certificate given out on this day.

Although everything was rationed I never remember being hungry, Dad grew all our vegetables and potatoes and we had a lot of fruit trees. Mum made jam with this, she saved sugar and also bartered with a neighbour.
Mum would queue for hours for various foods and so that we could have a shop bought cream cake on Sunday, we were only allowed one cake each, she made cake with dripping and an egg less sponge cake. She also put eggs down in isinglass and large stone jars. We got our milk from the farm across the road but also had dried milk, which I hated. I used to think my friend was lucky because her father was in the army in Egypt and sent her some lovely leather things with pyramids on.

My aunt worked in Manchester as cook in a big house and when they were bombed she came home to us to recover. She said the whole row of houses went in a land mine and her bedroom wall with it; the wardrobe fell on her and trapped her. The Ministry then sent her to work as cook at the local military hospital, which was also the mental hospital. Soldiers used to walk around the lanes, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, all wore a royal blue suit.

We used to cycle to see my grandparents who lived five miles away. It was dark coming home in winter so we had carbide lamps with shades on so we couldn’t be seen from the air. The POW’s were in camps a few miles away and in winter they were brought over to clear snow, my friend and I used to ‘talk’ to them after a fashion as we didn’t speak German and their English was very limited. My friend had a dog we took for walks, one POW I remember, aged about 17 years had a dog back home in Germany.

I went to a school camp just after the war, we slept in tents, every night we had a campfire and Italian POW’s working on the farms would sing opera to us in Italian. Two of them had been opera singers before the war.

My uncle was an insurance agent when he retired from the police force in Coventry. The
night Coventry Cathedral was bombed he lost a lot of his clients who were killed.
My cousin married an American and was amongst the first GI brides to go to America after the war.
Mum was always knitting, mending or rug making and Dad mended our shoes. I still make things last until they are threadbare and hate throwing good away.

Sometimes tanks would go through the hamlet where we lived with lots of soldiers on them.
I had scarlet fever during the war and was isolated in my bedroom. The Americans sent chocolate powder over for all us children and my teacher brought my share to me, but I could only talk to her through the bedroom window.
One of the local farmers used to shoot rabbits and often gave us one for Mum to cook.
When the German planes went over we could tell it was them because they made a different noise to ours. One day I heard a lot of loud bangs, Dad said they were our guns on the coast.

Sweets were rationed and we had 4oz a week, for a while we only had 2oz a week. My dentist says that is probably why I still have good teeth.

My sister and I used to walk the three miles to the cinema in the large village on a Saturday morning; we saw films like Old Mother Riley and some cowboy films. We would call in at the bake house on the way back and watch the baker cooking buns and then he would sometimes give us one or we would buy one for a penny, other times we bought 3 farthings worth of chips.

In 1941 there was heavy snow, we were snowed in for weeks, the grocery man couldn’t get through, luckily Mum kept a good supply of tinned food in, eventually Dad and the other men dug a way through the drifts and met the grocery man so we had our groceries after all.

My Grandad came to live with us after Granny died in 1943/4. He was allowed so many cigarettes a week and I used to go to the Outdoor (off licence) to get them. They were woodbines.

After the war ended in 1945 we had a big VE day party in the barn at the Outdoor.

In the early 1950’s I began nurse training, food was still rationed and we were given our butter and sugar ration each week. This was when I stopped taking sugar in tea because if we left our sugar jar lying around someone would take it. I used to take mine home on my day off.

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