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15 October 2014
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What did you do in the war Daddy ? (part 1)

by watchfulRosie4u

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Sutton Coldfield, nr Birmingham, Warwickshire
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23 October 2005



David Riggall

At rhe beginning of the war, jobs in Grammar Schools were becoming available, due to people leaving to join the forces, so I decided it would be a good idea to get some experience in a Grammar School before I was called up. I thought it would look good on job applications after the war. I had always been aiming to teach in a Grammar School but it had been very difficult to get into one in the thirties. However, I was soon accepted at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield, where the Senior Chemistry Master (who ran the OTC, the school cadets) had promptly joined up because he thought his expertise would be needed in the expected chemical warfare. ‘Call Up’ was very gradual during the first year of the war, as training was necessary and they were taking the youngest age groups first. Teachers were perhaps 'lucky' in some ways, as it was a ‘reserved occupation’ and for the time being they would not be called up. So were farmers - which applied to both my brothers.

I moved to Bishop Vesey’s at half-term after taking the car home to Great Coates as petrol was rationed. I already knew Sutton Coldfield to some extent, as it was on my route home from Stourbridge (Dudley, West Bromwich, Great Barr, Jockey Road, Tamworth Road, etc) At first I was in digs at 90 Victoria Road (about 30 shillings a week was usual in those days) Also living there was a clerk from the Council House and a young electrician called Beaumont, who was from Rugeley. The landlady charged extra for baths and to make sure she got paid, she kept the bath plug in the kitchen.

I was most impressed by the size and status of the school, but I thought assemblies were a bit of a shambles; they were noisy due to the hall being upstairs and the loose chairs on the bare wooden floor never seemed to be still.

My assistant was Mr Dunnett and I had quite a big sixth form, with our own advanced chemistry laboratory. There was an alarming incident once in practical chemistry. Apparently two upper sixth boys had been carrying on a feud (something to do with stealing work or messing up notes) and one said to me as I was passing ‘………... has poured something down my back’.
When I looked, all his cotton shirt was rotting away (it was summer, so they had taken their jackets off) I quickly poured lots of water down him and sent him to report the matter to the Head. It had been concentrated sulphuric acid. The Head complimented me on taking the right action so promptly. But he didn’t compliment me on a later occasion, after I had discipline problems with a Lower Fifth form, and boxed the ears of a boy who kept interrupting. If the question of discipline came up in staff rooms in those days, the answer from senior members of staff had nearly always been ‘clout em’. Unfortunately, I took this a little too literally, and I burst his ear-drum. The Head said I must go and see his father, but when I explained to Alcock that the boy had been fooling around, he calmed down immediately, sent for the boy and started telling him off — he said he had been told a very different story.
Fortunately the injury mended, but I had to pay the boys medical expenses and exonerate the school from any responsibility at the solicitors.

In January 1940, I moved digs to no 3 Royal Road, Sutton Coldfield, recommended by Mr and Mrs de Jersey (distant relations) who thought I might be put up under better conditions than at 90 Victoria Road.

I spent the Easter break in 1940 at Redcliffe Bay. Staying with my Uncle Walter and his daughter Mary (My Aunt had died the year before) I went to a dance there and met two very nice girls, who agreed to go for a walk with me on the Sunday. We spent a lot of the time imitating Jack Warner in the very popular BBC programme at that time ‘Garrison Theatre’ in which he pretended to be reading his latest letter from his ‘Bruvver Sid’ in the forces using the popular catchword clichés of the time such as ‘blue pencil’ in place of any swear word (indicating that the military censor had crossed it out) and ‘mind my bike’.

On Sunday May 7th 1940, I had my first night at the Report Centre, from 6-11pm, and then two days later I was there from 11pm until 8.30am. Mr Hudspith, the French Master at Bishop Vesey’s, who often invited me to his house in Belwell Lane, had persuaded me to join this Civil Defence job at Sutton Council House. We had to man the telephones out of office hours, taking messages from organisations such as the Auxiliary Fire Service, the Home Guard (called the Local Defence Volunteers or ‘LDV’ at first), and the Rescue Services. We then passed them on as required.

It was anticipated that enemy parachutists might be dropped to disrupt services and their location needed to be reported by the public and pin-pointed as soon as possible. If the telephones had broken down we would have had to go out and deliver the messages in person. In fact, we never had anything serious to deal with, only a few ‘suspicious circumstances’ reports and normal peace-time mishaps. We actually had a marvellous time, telling jokes and playing ‘solo’ for halfpennies. If nothing seemed to be happening by about 1 or 2am we unrolled the mattresses provided and went to sleep in the Council Chamber or elsewhere. We went in usually about 3 times a week, on various shifts. One preliminary requirement for this service was to attend a ‘Gas Course’ held at ‘Oakhurst’ in Anchorage Road. This was a series of lectures about the types of gas likely to be used, procedure etc and finished with a practical exercise of putting on a mask and going into a room full of gas (probably ‘teat’ gas)

At the end of November 1940, I changed my digs again, this time to ‘Leafield’ at 31 Clifton Road in Sutton. (My landlady at 3 Royal Road was moving to be with her daughter so Mr Driver and I had to move. His sister Anne, did the Music and Movement Children’s Programme for the BBC) Fortunately ‘Beery Barratt’, a Master at Bishop Vesey’s was leaving his digs to get married and strongly recommended them, since the owner was Manager of a butcher’s shop in Sutton. In war-time, that was an important consideration.

By December 1940 adverts had started to appear in the newspapers, for recent Graduates in Chemistry and Physics, to register special qualifications that might be useful in the war effort. By the following year I had moved up to Cumbria to work as a supervisor in the munitions factories of Irvine and Drigg (Seascale)

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