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Wartime Memories of a Girl in York

by randlecm

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Clarissa Mary Randle (Ne Lund)
Location of story: 
York, England
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 March 2004

I was fifteen and spending our summer holidays in Whitby when Hitler’s troops marched into Poland. We were a family of five. My brother and sister and parents rushed home and immediately started to make the blackout curtains as a war involving Britain loomed closer.

Our school holidays were prolonged for several weeks after war was declared on September 3rd. As the school was to remain closed until the air raid shelters were built we were given work assignments to take home. The school rule was to always carry your gas mask. If we arrived at school without them we were sent home to retrieve them. Fortunately, there was no need to use them in earnest throughout the war, although we did spend some time practicing putting them on.

Aerodromes and bomber squadrons surrounded York, where I lived. From here they took off for the raids over enemy territory throughout Europe. We heard and saw them flying low on the way out, often one preceding the other in quick succession. In the main these were Lancaster bombers. We would then hear the engine drone as they returned one by one in the early hours, but it seemed that never as many returned as had first set out. We soon became accustomed to the noise, and after a while being young, it no longer disturbed our sleep.

My main memory of the enemy raids was the Baedeker raid on York. Our school shelters were damaged but as it was at night, no one was hurt. One day in December1942, we were writing our Christmas cards on the kitchen table. We spent many evenings around our large kitchen table as we could benefit from the warmth of our coal powered kitchen range. Coal was however, a scarce commodity. A lone enemy plane released a 1000lb bomb aimed at the gas works on the other side of the road from our Monkgate home. Fortunately it missed, but landed in the middle of the road. Our neighbour was cycling home from work and all that was ever found of him was his bicycle. Our ceilings were badly damaged and the front door was blown inwards off its hinges. Our fanlight over the door was shattered, as were the large enamel numbers on the front of the house. Everywhere in the house was covered in dust and broken glass. The Christmas cards were sucked up the chimney in the blast (we discovered later).

After the siren sounded, I was been running up the hall to shelter in the under stairs cupboard when the bomb went off. I had set my hair in the only lotion available at that time, methylated spirits. When I unrolled my rollers, my hair came out with the rollers. My father arrived home from duty with the Home Guard to find us shocked, but otherwise unhurt. His Headquarters were situated in his local golf club, which of course as a keen golfer, he found very convenient!

Many days later, we noticed a bulge the size of a cricket ball in the dining room wall. The wall was an interior wall the other side of which faced the front bay window in the sitting room. The bulge had been caused by a large piece of shrapnel embedded in the wall. It was lucky that we were not in the sitting room at the time.

When I left school my, reserve occupation though was a nursing reserve in civil defence, but in 1942 I went to work in the Tax Office in York. As there was no proper heating in the Office the winters were almost unbearable. We wore gloves in the office for much of the time in the winter, nonetheless my hands frequently felt so painful from alternately numbing cold and then thawing out that I felt like crying. We often worked overtime until 8.00pm. Several of us took our dance dresses to work and changed when work had finished. We frequently visited the De Gray Rooms, which was at that time a popular dance venue in the city. We were not short of dance partners because the bus stop for many of the aircrews that came into the town was immediately opposite the dance hall. The streets were deserted of traffic at night and we would walk home unafraid, unless of course the air raid sirens sounded. In the middle of winter when the roads were icy we would ‘slide’ home or play snowballs in the deserted streets.

Once summers day our bible class members decided to go from York to Kirkham Abbey some twelve miles away. We stopped en-route and played cricket on the central reservation of the dual carriageway where there was ammunition stored on both sides of the road. These days, that road is crammed with traffic at this time of year and cricket would be out of the question.

The saddest day of the war for me was when a telegram arrived from the Air Ministry to inform my parents that my brother was missing, believed killed in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). He was 21. He was on a night exercise, practicing dive-bombing on a target ship. The crew of the ship saw the plane (a Bristol Beaufort) crash into the sea. A search was made but no wreckage was ever found. My brother was the co-pilot to a different crew from his usual one, and therefore his navigator was not with him that night. After the war I married his navigator.

Another sad time for me towards the end of the war was when a dear friend, a Canadian pilot based at Eastmoor near York failed to return from a bombing raid over Leipzig. It was almost my 21st birthday and we were to celebrate with his crew.
Someone who was on the same raid told me that it appeared that they were hit by a bomb from another aircraft in a formation above them.

I hated the sweet rationing and the clothes rationing which seemed to go on forever.
My father was a good all round cricketer as well as a golfer and formed his own team from staff at his grocers shop and friends and family. My uncles appeals as wicket keeper could be heard from miles around. One day I was spectating at one of his matches at York cricket ground (where the hospital now stands). One of my fathers friends on the team, an RAF man, saw me knitting a swim suit from darning wool of several different colours. He felt sorry for me and gave me some of his clothing coupons to purchase a swimsuit. I don’t think I finished the knitting.

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Posted on: 23 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear randlecm

I very much enjoyed reading your well-written account of life in wartime York.

Kind regards,


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