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"A WARTIME CHILDHOOD IN WORCESTERSHIRE"

by AgeConcernShropshire

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
AgeConcernShropshire
People in story: 
Donald (Don) J DAVIES; Vic DAVIES (father); Hilda DAVIES (mother); Victor DAVIES (brother); Cecila & Veronica DAVIES (sisters)
Location of story: 
Broadway, Evesham, Pershore, Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Worcestershire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A8144165
Contributed on: 
31 December 2005

During the 1939/45 War I was a schoolboy at Primary School initially in Broadway; then at the Grammar School in Evesham when I was 11.

I recall like most other lads in the Village at the time, when we heard of a plane crash, going to the top of the Hill. We would search around to see what we could find; pieces of plastic from windscreens provided the material for rings and all sorts of things. We would take the ammunition home and saw the ends off the bullets and tip out the cordite.

Sometimes we were more venturesome if we had enough cordite, we would pack the cordite into an empty shoe-polish tin; we would make fuses out of string which we would light; then we would go and hide round the corner and wait for the BANG. On one occassion when it didn't go off BANG, my brother being 2 years older and therefore the senior went to investigate. He lifted the top brick off the stove like area we had the tin of cordite sitting in - BANG! He wasn't really injured, but we didn't do this again.

Another thing we did was to push rounds of .303 bullets into the spaces of the wooden planks of our father's cold-frame. The cold-frame was half way down the garden; he grew lettuces and things in it. The wooden planks of the cold-frame were horizontal to the ground and we would squeeze the ends of the bullets into the spaces. We then fired at these "targets" with our air-rifles until we hit the centres. When we managed to hit them and they went off with a bang, our mother would come running out of the house to see what was happening. We could assure her that we were just firing off our air-rifles!

One of my first memories of the War was when travelling on the school-bus and seeing soldiers sprawled out on the grass verges in the hot sun. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, they were a very sorry sight, just lying in the sun exhausted and bedraggled. They must have been evacuated from Dunkirk and brought inland to recuperate.

I recall that the school-bus, that took us to the school in Evesham would be pretty full of school children, was fuelled by gas. It was a single-decker bus with a trailer; a huge bag of gas was packed into the trailer. If the bus had been on a journey before collecting us, sometimes it ran out of gas going up Longden Hill. When this happened we could get out and push the bus up the hill or walk to school. Being school children we opted to walk to School, and though we got in late we had the perfect excuse with no comebacks at all.

When another school moved into the area, the Grammar School had to be divided into two. One week we went to school in the morning and missed school in the afternoons. The evacuees went in the afternoon amd missed the mornings. The following week it was vice-versa. We never really got to meet the other school-children at the school.

I remember when the Birmingham Blitz started, our Birmingham cousins came to stay with us, and again in the school holidays. We would explore up the fields and do all the sort of things that children did.

Normally if we were on our own when we heard the air-raid siren we would go downstairs. The table was turned on its side and put against the inner wall of the front room. Our leather settee was tipped against the open end of the table; mattresses, pillows and cushions were put on the floor. This is where we four children would sleep, mother would sit and keep guard; when the the air-raid siren gave the "All-clear" she would wake us up and we would go back to our beds. At night all our clothes had to be taken off in a certain order and put into a certain position. This was so we could get dressed in the dark as quickly as possible. If we didn't put our clothes in the correct position we couldn't get dressed.

Sometimes we could hear the bombers going over the village on their way to Birmingham or Coventry, coming back sometimes they would drop any bombs they had left on the village. The house on the edge of the village near the railway line was blown up to smithereens. On another occassion the house at the top of Fish Hill was blown up.

Russell's Furniture Factory was set alight by incendiary bombs; Russell's was well-known, they made furniture for the Royal Family and the President of America plus others obviously. Not many people knew that one of their buildings, a building with a thatched roof, contained the Home Guard's ammunition. When this building was hit, a member of the Home Guard who knew about this store, together with a team of volunteers managed to get all the ammunition out of the building, whilst the roof was burning merrily on top. As far as I know he never got an award or acknowledgement for doing this.

My brother and I used to go to the top of the Cotswold Hill, it was further along from the Golf Course, outside of Broadway. We would lie on the grass in the sunshine watching the planes, taking off and landing, at Honeybourne Aerodrome. On one particular occassion there was a crash, when a plane with only one engine and barely making it coming into land collided with a plane taking off on the same runway. This was quite a catastrophe.

The Americans were based near to us. The German and Italian prisoners-of-war were stationed in the Prisoner-of-War Camp at the top of the hill. The prisoners, the Italians in particular, were very good at working with wood. They made things to sell to the ladies. I remember my mother having a wooden-tierd sewing box; similar to the one I noticed Alice Rowe had got, when I came to Much Wenlock. (Alice's box was also made by a Prisoner-of-War.)

My brother was in the Air Training Corps (ATC), but as I was not 15 I was too young to join, so I joined the Army Cadet Force, I was probably about 14. We had the usual Army training, square bashing and various exercises including night exercises. One night we were taken in a lorry to a village in the Cotswolds, further up the hill, dropped off and given instructions as to where we should make our way to - a certain rendezvous. We had to crawl through the grass under the cover of darkness, it was quite interesting but a little bit scarey, with the owls hooting. We thought we were quite grown up at 14, out there we realised we were really rather small.

When I was 15, I joined the Air Training Corps; we used to go to Moreton-in-the-Marsh about 10 miles away on top of the Cotswolds. We would go there on a Sunday morning; go round the camp; having a go in the Lynx trainer - learning to fly a plane blind. Sometimes we were lucky enough to be taken up in an Oxford, an Anson and even on one occassion - a bi-plane a lovely little plane with seats for passengers.

We went to Pershore to learn to fly, on one occassion an American pilot came up with us and the pilot handed over the controls; the American flew so low that a man on Bredon Hill (a shepherd with his dog) threw himself on the ground, the sheep scattered all over the place.

There was one ocassion when we were taken up in a Dakota, we had to jump out before leaving the ground as one its engines caught fire before we took off. When we went home I told my parents that we had had to bale out with no parachutes! They were fairly alarmed to say the least.

As I progressed through the ATC I was taken to Pershore to learn to fly a glider, a single seater. The glider would be towed across the airfield on a cable several times, each time the glider got higher from the ground, after a few times the glider would reach its full height, but it was still controlled by the winch to speed it up or slow it down. Eventually the day came when I went up in the glider and when the glider was at the right height pulled a knob on the left-hand side and then you were all on your own at the age of 16 or 17, up in the clouds above the airfield. Everything looked so small below. On my first flight it didn't look as if there was room to land in the airfield, so I had to go over the hedge and landed in the farmer's bean field. I wasn't the most popular Air Training Cadet that day! My instructor came running up to me, with his white hair, and saying "Look at it, it was grey and now it is white!"

I remember going to Pembroke Dock with the ATC to camp, we slept in large round tents, we had pallets to sleep on to keep us off the wet floor. It was very wet too. We went to RAF Chivenor in Devon. When we were at Pembroke Dock we took part in the mail run - going from shore to ship - the ship seemed very big to us, but in Naval eyes it was a very small effort. It was something like a very fast E-boat; the English Version.

We had three trips in a Short Sunderland, the Sunderland was a double-decker sea plane. We sat in the bottom of the sea plane. When the plane moved forwards the water went over the windows and the next thing the windows were above the water, and in the air. It was quite exhilerating. On one of these trips we had an American or Canadian pilot with us who had never flown a Sunderland before. When he had landed he hit the sea fairly heavily and we bounced up and down, into the sky and back down again, but it was all very interesting and exciting to us young lads.

On one occassion, the pilot invited us in turn to go up to the controls and sit in the pilot's seat and catch hold of the controls. They stretched from the control stick to the rudder, and were like a motor-bike chain. It was very heavy and cumbersome and we could hardly move it. When I was in postion I was heading out towards Ireland but unfortunately I had to turn back as the pilot wouldn't let us go all the way.

I recall that we had a very good Village Hall at Broadway called the Lifford Hall. It had a beautiful dance floor and an end-stage. There were a lot of dances there, my two older sisters used to go each week-end; they would come home with a couple of Americans - sergeants or lieutenants. They had coffee and were made welcome, then on Sundays they would come for a visit. We would take them for walks, as a family, and would show them round the area, they would come back to to the house for tea and cakes. Being the younger brother I was probably a pain to my sisters. They were very pleasant chaps who kept in touch for some time after the War.

The Americans would bring things for the family, on one occassion when we were playing cards, the Lieutenant produced a tin of peanuts; he offered them round. Very politely and saying thank you very much I took a handful. When they were offered round again I refused as I still had some left. I wasn't offered any more, he passed the remainder around the rest of the family. I learnt not to refuse anything in future - if I wanted to have any more!

One of the American airmen used to drive a Jeep, he was something to do with the Catering Corps and he would come and pick my mother's brains about cooking. He used to drive around the village recklessly and he knocked a person down, and if I remember correctly the person was killed. He was most distraught and upset and he would visit my mother for a chat. He, too, kept in contact with the family for quite a few years after the War.

I can't remember the reason for the celebration but it was probably just after the War, but I can remember the time when an American lorry, a bit like our modern dustcarts - went down the High Street. The Street was very broad presumably that is why the Village is called Broadway". The back of the wagon was fitted with what looked like a fish fryer. The Americans were cooking doughnuts, things we hadn't seen or tasted before - round delicious sugary objects - we chased the wagon down the street trying to get as many as we could and eating them as fast as we could.

It must have been after the War when the news raced round the Village that there were bananas for sale. What were bananas? We were told that you could eat them like an apple or orange. So off we went to the shop and joined the queue and eventually got to the counter. The man told us "You are from the Davies family, right you have 4 children, and 1 for your mother (you're father is away); you can have 5 bananas. We took the bananas home. How do you eat them? What do you do? We hadn't seen a banana before. We know now only too well what to do with them.

The King and Queen came to our Village, all the school children from the two Junior Schools lined the street. Every child was presented with a mug and each person received a commemoration certificate. Of course we were all awestruck as it was all a little above our heads in those days but we cheered and cheered, waved and had what we felt then was a big celebration. I still have the mug and certificate.

Story: This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Muriel Palmer (volunteer) of Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin on behalf of Mr DJ DAVIES (author) and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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