- Contributed by
- People in story:
- M T Briggs
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 November 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Odilia Roberts from the Derby Action Team on behalf of M T Briggs and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
I start to write this as I celebrate my 77th birthday — so I was 11 years old when the war started.
I remember being in Minehead in the last week of August and listening, with my parents, to the increasingly ominous news broadcasts. Eventually we cut short our holiday and headed for home — I remember a thunderstorm on the Saturday evening of September 2nd as I was helping to fill sandbags.
On September 5th, my new school, Mundela Grammar School, Nottingham, was evacuated to Stamford, Lincolnshire. About half the pupils elected to go together with most of the staff, at this stage none of the men had been called up. We shared the facilities of Stamford Grammar School — they went in the morning and us in the afternoon. I was billeted with a family who had a boy of my own age, with whom I got on well, and with his friends whom I soon new better than my new schoolmates — as I had only recently started school at Mundella.
I remember coming home for Christmas 1939 and then as it was the ‘phoney war’ period our school returned to Nottingham in March 1940. By then surface air raid shelters had been built in the school grounds and in many of the streets in the Meadows district of Nottingham where Mundella was situated, also the ground floor cloakrooms had been strengthened with RSJs — we used these later when low flying German planes strafed an adjoining A.A. site during school hours, one lunchtime over 50 windows in the school were broken — this was probably in 1941.
Even at the age of 11 the evacuation of Dunkirk hit home hard, but adults were visibly uplifted by Churchill’s famous speeches in Parliament and on radio.
As German air raids started in 1940/41 we initially shared a slit trench with neighbours at the top of the garden, or if the weather was bad, huddled under the stairs, later we had a comfortable purpose-built air raid shelter built, with bunk beds etc. — relatively comfortable.
By 1941/42 I wanted to do my bit to help and joined the ARP Messenger Service, which in Nottingham was organised like a pre-entry training service unit and was called ‘Civil Defence Cadet Corps’. Our purpose was to be in reserve to carry messages between the different parts of the C.D. services, the police, fire service etc. if bombing had broken down the telephone services. A bicycle was essential and so was knowledge of where all the wardens’ huts, fire station etc. were situated. We were drilled and lectured one evening a week (at Cottesmore School) and on Sunday mornings cycled around Nottingham learning best routes and locations of the different services.
Happily we were never required to carry out the tasks for which we had been recruited but I can remember being used as a ‘casualty’ in ‘bombed building’ evacuation exercises.
I can also vividly remember being at the Nottingham CWS Bakery the day after it had received severe bomb damage — with many casualties.
After D Day in 1944 hospital trains brought casualties back from the French Bridgehead to Nottingham London Road, low-level station for their distribution to local hospitals.
I lived near Wollaton Park — one night in 1940/41 we heard rifle fire in the Park — we thought German parachutists were landing — but it was a broken free barrage balloon that the Home Guard were shooting down! I found out later that it had broken free from the ring round Rolls Royce at Derby and on its way to Nottingham it’s trailing cable had damaged a chimney stack on my aunt’s shop at Harvey Road, Derby!
A large military camp was established in Wollaton Park and in 1943/44 was peopled by American soldiers. After they had departed for France it became a POW camp — largely Italian ex-soldiers who quickly became adept at agricultural work — it being reasoned that they were not dangerous and were unlikely to want to escape to somewhere as far away as Italy.
VE Day was a big day — I was almost 17 — a big crowd of us got together in Wollaton and walked into Nottingham and joined the immense crowds in the Old Market Square; slightly frightening because some people had got thunderflashes which they were throwing about.
Post script: In 1946 I did my HSC (A levels today); I went to Nottingham University to study chemistry — in my class of 50 odd only 4 of us were direct from school — all the rest were ex-servicemen and women — some in their 30’s — which was a very strange experience at first — I had to grow up very quickly!
One memory of that time sticks — one of our class had been the officer in charge of an unexploded bomb unit — he had to remove the fuse, very carefully, and then superintend the safe removal of the bomb — his nerves were still a bit jumpy and we all had to be careful not to bang cupboard doors in the laboratory.
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