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Childhood Memories of World War Two in Leicester

by Leicestershire Library Services - Coalville Library

Contributed by 
Leicestershire Library Services - Coalville Library
People in story: 
Mary Parsons
Location of story: 
Leicester
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3821465
Contributed on: 
23 March 2005

"This story was submitted to the People's War site by Lisa Butcher of Leicestershire Library Services on behalf of Mary Parsons and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."

I was two and a half when the Second World War began. I lived with my mum, dad and sister, Jean in Leicester. Dad joined the army as soon as war was declared. He had been in the Territorial Army for seven years before the war. He became 4858084 Private Kirk. D. I started school when I was three and a half at Slater Street Primary School. In the first nursery we played. When I was four I moved into the big nursery where we learned to count and add up etc. I could read before I was four. My first real reading book was Alice in Wonderland. It was 94 pages long.

While I was at school there were lots of air raid warnings. The school had two underground shelters and we all went into them until the all-clear sounded. We couldn’t have normal lessons so we had spelling tests, time’s tables and mental arithmetic. We also sang and recited poetry we had memorised. If the sirens went when we were at home we went into the shelter in front of our house which we shared with our neighbours.

Everything was rationed but we always seemed to have enough to eat. If we had jam on our bread we didn’t have butter or margarine. To save sugar we had jam in milk puddings and golden syrup on our breakfast porridge which was made with water. We went blackberry picking in season and my mum made jam with windfall apples which she bought from an orchard in Groby Road. Sometimes when dad came home on leave he would bring fruit such as plums and pears and mum would bottle them or make jam. She would also make green tomato chutney and pickled onions. Everything had to be preserved like that as we didn’t have fridges or freezers. We listened to the radio most days as there was no TV. We also went to the cinema at least once a week. We didn’t see dad very often as he was on Searchlights and Anti-Aircraft near Exeter.

When I was nearly six I had a major operation and when I was better we all went to spend a holiday on a farm in Devon near where Dad was stationed. It was our first and last holiday of the war. I used to help mum by doing the shopping. I knew the shops where mum was registered for meat and bacon. Sometimes the butcher would have sausages and he would let me have three, one each. I also need to take the money for the coal as sometimes when it was delivered mum’s allowance from the Army hadn’t come.

Until my sister started school mum looked after two boys whose mum worked in Munitions. After Jean went to school our mum went to work in a factory, and we were looked after by a neighbour until mum came home from work. Sometimes in the school summer holiday we would go to Bradgate Park for the day. We would take a picnic lunch and have a great time being able to run and play in the sun and fresh air. We lived in a street behind the Great Central Railway Station, in a little house, with no water inside and no bathroom. There was one cold water tap in the yard which was used by all the nine houses in the court and we shared an outside toilet with the neighbours at number 7. We lived at number 6. For a long time the only lights we had were gas lights. My parents had electricity connected in 1950. We lived in that house until December 1958. That area of Leicester is now an industrial estate.

At least once a week we went to Abbey Park to play on the swings, roundabouts, slides and seesaws. There was also a sandpit and paddling pool. It was always crowded but there was never any trouble.

Every year at Christmas we made paper chains and decorated our home. We had a small tree. There weren’t many presents but Jean and I always had a doll each, an annual, some chocolate and fruit, sometimes mum had managed to get an orange for Jean as well as an apple. I didn’t like oranges so I had two apples.

For dinner we had rabbit. My Uncle Tom bred rabbits for eating and he gave us one every Christmas. Mum stuffed it and roasted it and it tasted really good. There was always a Christmas pudding as well. After dinner we listened to the King’ speech on the radio. Then we played games, snakes and ladders, ludo, snap and happy families.

If we were very, very lucky, dad was on leave at Christmas and then it was great but he always went back on 28th December which was his birthday. We used to wish him a happy birthday and a safe journey back to where he was stationed.

We didn’t bother much about birthdays. We had a card and usually a book or a game. Mum would save her sugar ration and make some small cakes and open a jar of fruit that she had bottled the summer before.

I was going to be evacuated to some friends of dad’s in Canada. But the ship before the one I was going on was torpedoed and all the children were drowned so mum wouldn’t let me go. I think the government stopped sending children that way because of the danger. We sometimes got food parcels from those friends. It was like a real Christmas. Currants, sultanas, raisins, tins of fruit and meat and always a birthday cake for Jean and me. If it had been sent okay it used to arrive in March. Jean’s birthday is in February and mine is in April so we had a joint party when the parcel arrived.

The most interesting thing to remember today is that for most children everything that happened, rationing, air raids and blackouts were all we knew. We weren’t old enough to know what life was like before the war, and we were too young to wonder what it would be like afterwards.

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