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- 14 November 2005
He was 10 ½ when war broke out.
Some wartime recollections of a Worsley Road school boy
The Second World War had brought many changes. The cricket field at Worsley Road was commandeered and had a large warehouse built on it to provide dispersal storage for materials and equipment and imported through Liverpool and Salford Docks. In later years, as I travelled further afield I saw a number of buildings of the same design dotted about all over the North West of England, no doubt built for the same purpose. Early in the war many houses had Anderson air raid shelters delivered for do it yourself construction in back yards and gardens. The galvanised corrugated steel structures were to be erected in square holes about three foot deep and then covered with the earth from the hole. Because they were in a hole they were very damp and even wet on the floor and since, at times, the family would have to sleep in the shelter, some means of keeping it dry was necessary. My dad drained ours with earthenware pipes leading to a well situated away from the shelter and dug much deeper than the bottom of it. This well had to be emptied frequently, particularly during times of heavy rain, by using a bucket on a rope which was emptied into the drainage grid at the back of the house. I attended Hulton East Council School, the successor to Kellets School. At the beginning of the war, air raid shelters had to be provided for the school. They were of concrete construction, partially sunk into the ground of the playing field and covered with earth. Wooden slatted forms running the length of the shelter were installed for us to sit on when we used the shelter. At first there were insufficient shelter room to accommodate all the scholars and staff, so, until more shelters were built, we only attended school for half a day. Boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon and changed over for the next week. It wasn’t long before additional shelters were made available and we were back on full time schooling. Fairly early in the war one of the defences against air attack was provided by a barrage of tethered balloons inflated to look like small air ships with three fins at the back. These were situated in areas likely to be attacked and the Manchester district was obviously included. During our various bike rides around the moss, we became aware of some activity in a field by the side of the track leading up to St Stephen’s Church at Kearsley. It looked like a small military camp with an accommodation hut, some concrete hard standing in the field and access from the track. We discovered, I don’t know how, that this was to be the site from which one of the balloons was to be flown. Frequent trips to the area showed other developments, a small detachment from the RAF living on the site a few vehicles including a peculiar looking lorry painted dark olive green with a winch on the back covered by a guard of heavy gauge wire mesh. We realised that shortly, a balloon would be launched and we wanted to be present to see the fun. Again, in some mysterious way, we heard that a balloon was to be filled and as we hurriedly cycled across the moss we were able to see in the direction of Manchester one or two balloons rising into the air. We pedalled faster, not wanting to miss seeing the activity at our balloon. As we arrived at the site we could see some silver grey material spread out on the ground behind the winch lorry and close by a lorry trailer on which were situated many gas cylinders. A flexible pipe led from the cylinder manifold on the trailer to the deflated balloon on the ground and, as we watched, the material gradually inflated and became a balloon. As it increased in size, some airmen steadied it with ropes which hung down from it as it slowly rose into the air to the delighted approval of us bystanders. We saw the balloon raised and lowered a number of times in the following weeks until it and the other balloons a round Manchester became just another part of the scenery. The first bomb, that I can remember hearing explode, fell on the Co-operative Shop in Springfield Road, Kearsley. It was well before the blitz in Manchester and we were in bed when the noise of the explosion awakened us. I cannot remember hearing the air raid siren. My father was working on the night shift at the Sandhill Coal Colliery Washing Plant (?) so, for the first time, my mother, my aunt and myself found our way in the blackout from the house and into our Anderson shelter. It was a bit of an anticlimax because nothing further happened that night and the following day a cycle ride to Kearsley allowed me to see the bomb damage. It wasn’t much. The projecting concrete veranda over the front of the shop had been demolished and the windows in the shop and in some of the nearby houses were broken. The Manchester Christmas Blitz occurred during the evenings and nights of Sunday and Monday the 22 and 23 Dec 1940. The noise could be heard where we were about six miles from the action in Trafford Park and Manchester. Standing at the backyard gate of our house, you could see the glow of fires in the distance and the flashes of bombs exploding. All this, with the more usual flashes of anti air craft guns and the probing searchlight beams. We were concerned for all the poor folks closer to Manchester who had to live through the inferno, many of whom lost their lives and even more lost their homes. After an air raid, we boys would often go hunting on the ground for shrapnel. In our area this was mainly pieces of metal which had fallen back to earth from exploding anti air craft shells. In the middle of Walkden Moor, not far from the little hamlet called the Old Pole, was a small military camp, the purpose of which was to operate and protect an anti aircraft searchlight. The searchlight was in a circular sandbagged enclosure and nearby, in a similar enclosure was a Lewis gun, mounted for anti aircraft use for the protection of the searchlight. Not far from this camp, some time toward the middle of the war, a hawker hurricane fighter aircraft crash landed. It came to rest across the colliery railway line, south of the level crossing which led onto the moor. I don’t think the pilot could have been badly hurt because the plane didn’t look damaged too much except for a mangled propeller. After the aircraft had been recovered from the track I remember being present when some men, led by William Whittaker, who attended Worsley Road Methodist Church, came up the line from Walkden yard to inspect the track, in case it had been damaged by the crashing aircraft. By this time I had moved from Birch Road School to Worsley Junior Technical College and then in January 1944 took up an apprenticeship at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park and some years of study at evening classes. With the widening of my interests, the memories began to take different directions and of course the war was won.
Do you remember the day war broke out?
I can really, yes I can. It was on a Sunday, and Sunday afternoon like most lads and girls who were involved with the church, we attended Sunday school and we had a Sunday school class on the afternoon that the war broke out and of course everyone was discussing it at Sunday school. That’s how I remember that.
What was school like?
The school that I went to still exists and is now called North Walkden Primary School, but it was a day school which had its origins in this Methodist Church where we are now sitting. Or on the site of the church that was here. And it started in 1870, I would have to look that up to be sure, and it was started by a man called John Kellet who was a Methodist in this building, in this church, he started the school here and it continued to exist as a day school on these premises until 1927. In 1927 the school building just up the road was built by the Local Authority and became know as Worsley Hulton East Council School and that’s the school where I started to go when I was probably four I think. Mainly school changed because of this business of the air raid shelters but apart from that, little happened, it was normal schooling, although of course the teachers did used to mention things like the progress of the war but of course in that school, I would only be there until I was 11 after which I went down to the Senior school as it was called on Birch Road. Because I had a bit of a run in with the headmaster of the school at Hulton East, Jim Hardy. The son of the original headmaster, John Kellet was Harold Kellet and he was still the headmaster of the school there when I attended. He retired whilst I was in the school and his place was taken by Jim Hardy and he badgered me to take the 11 plus exam to go to grammar school and I didn’t fancy this at all because I had the impression, and it might well be right, that if you went to grammar school you ended up becoming a teacher or some office bound task and it didn’t suit me at all so I left that school and went to Birch Road where I attended for a couple of years, I think it was, and in 1942 I went to Worsley Junior Technical College, and I don’t regret it one bit having done that, and it was a course of two years at Junior Tech. Walter Dixon was the headmaster. There were some wonderful teachers there, all long gone I think, and we had quite a rounded education in spite of the fact that it was based on engineering training, which was what I wanted anyway, and that was good. The war was still on and I can’t really remember having any problems due to the war, at the tech anyway, we rarely had to go into the air raid shelters but at Birch Road I remember having to go into the air raid shelters a time or two on the school playing fields. But of course it was ‘42 onwards, there weren’t as many air raids up here then, and then, as I say, I went to work at Metropolitan Vickers as an apprentice in January 1944. There, there were only once can I remember work stopping for us to go into the air raid shelters at work but of course that was towards the end of the war. It had been badly battered during the war in the Manchester blitz.
What do you remember about rationing?
The funny thing is that, as a child, it didn’t cross your mind that things were difficult because you really hadn’t known anything other than it. It was a problem for the grown ups and we knew all about coupons and you had to register with a particular shop keeper and a particular butcher and so on and you usually registered with the nearest shop and they were all corner shops in those days. I remember on the corner of the shop where I lived, just across there, Enfield Street, the end of the Enfield Street, bordering on Worsley Road on the corner was a grocer’s run by a chap called Frank Warburton and one of the things that you used to be able to get with your rations was corned beef and they used to have an allocation of large tins of corned beef and I remember having to go with the coupons just up the road from our street. Frank used to pride himself on being able to cut corned beef very thin because the thinner it was cut the more pieces of bread you could cover with it. I can recall thinking if you held it up to the light you could see through it. Like tissue paper. He was good was Frank. And then the butcher’s that we were registered with was Jim Lees just a little bit further on and next door to Jim Lees was Bonds fish and chip shop and that was where a friend of mine, a great friend of mine, Jack Bond, used to be captain of Lancashire Cricket Team, he lived there with his mum and dad. His father became a local councillor and chairman of the council, John Bond, he used to play cricket at Worsley Road Methodist Cricket Club which was just across the road until it was commandeered and filled with a big warehouse which took over a lot of our playing field as children. But things were different then, I mean when I was talking about going over the moss to see these barrage balloons we were only kids riding our bikes, three miles maybe, and no body ever worried about where you were. It was quite safe really, not like it is today. Mothers are afraid to let children out of their sight.
Do you remember VE Day?
I have a difficulty in remembering VE Day. I do remember, we were still involved in the church here and there were youth clubs and things and groups of youngsters would go out to dances and things like that and I seem to recollect walking from Farnworth, the Buckley Lane area of Farnworth and I seem to recollect that there was a lot of new houses being built from Buckley Lane down Worsley Road and they’re still there, to Westland Avenue and Westland Avenue is one — I cant really think when they started to be built because I seem to recollect walking past this area where builders were preparing the foundations and things but on the other hand I doubt if that was really at wartime, it must have been VJ rather than VE when they started building. As I say, my memory of that time is difficult. I seem to recollect walking across with group of lads and girls.
In the air raid shelters at the school here, they were lit by lamps, battery operated lamps, which had a hook on them and which you hung. When you were going into the air raid shelter the teacher would take the lamp with them and hang them up and then you could go in. When I went down to Birch Road one day the science master asked who lives in the direction of Worsley Road and two or three of us put our hands up and he said right, you can go home early tonight because I want you to take the lamp batteries up to Hulton East Council School where they have the battery charger. And this school which had then become just a primary school, when it was first built it was all age school and they had a science room with the usual benches and sinks and taps and Bunsen burners and what have you, but after it became a primary school they were not used and there must have been in that room, although I never remember seeing it, a battery charger and it not only charged the batteries for the school itself but it obviously charged the batteries for the school at Birch Road as well. So we were allowed to go home early so that we could get here before the school closed to deliver the batteries and we never took them back, we only took them up there. I can only recollect being involved in that three times so presumably they got a means of charging the batteries down at Birch Road very shortly afterwards. Because that was fairly early in the war. I moved to Birch Road in 1940 becuase I was there for a couple of years and at the Tech a couple of years afterwards.
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