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Elsie Barker's War

by Lancshomeguard

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Elsie Barker
Location of story: 
Chatburn and Downham, Lancashire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 June 2005


This story has been submitted to The People’s War website by Liz Andrew of the Lancshomeguard on behalf of Elsie Barker and added to the site with her permission.

I was fifteen when war broke out and I lived in Chatburn. I worked on a farm, taking milk around in a two wheel truck — it was a 15 gallon kit of milk and I had a pint measure and a quart can. Later when my husband Billy was on leave he’d help push the truck around with me. Milk was rationed and in the blackout I had to let myself into people’s kitchens in the morning before it was light. Their doors were always open and I’d feel for the milk jug they’d leave on the kitchen table. Then, still in the dark, I’d have to pour in the milk. I had to be very strict with the ration.. I had one half day off every week — I even worked on Christmas day because no one had any fridges then.

I remember I was at the farm in Chatburn when a bomb dropped nearby — it was October 1941. We had had lunch and done the washing up when I heard a plane. I opened the window and it was blown right out of my hand. We think the Germans ejected the bomb because they were being chased by one of our Spitfires or maybe they thought the Royal Engineers were stationed nearby.

There were casualties. Miss Robinson’s house was bombed. She was killed and it blew her gas oven and her dog to the top of Chatburn Mill. A tanker driver was killed and another man who drove a horse and cart was killed when his horse bolted. But it could have been much worse.

It poured down that night and there was a thunderstorm and rain was pouring into people’s damaged houses. I remember everyone’s furniture was taken away to Chatburn Institute to be kept dry and the Post Office was so badly hit that everything had to be taken to The Brown Cow pub in Chatburn.

I was married in 1943 at Chatburn when Billy was on leave. My mother made the wedding cake and I remember we had been saving icing sugar — but when we opened the packet we found out that it was cornflour! We had to ask around our friends for some more — but we managed.

We had to use coupons to buy everything and I needed lots of coupons for a wedding dress — so I did something which was illegal. I bought some from one of our customers who had lots of children. I paid her £1.0.0. It was nearly three weeks wages — I earned 7/6 a week. We had our honeymoon in Blackpool —There was ice on the inside of the windows and Billy had to put his greatcoat on the bed to keep us warm.

When Billy was away he used to write every day — and I’d write back. I still have a thousand letters from the time he joined the Air Force to the time he was demobbed. He numbered them all and none ever went astray and I have never lost any. I tied them all in bundles — and once I took them to the WI as a treasured possession! There was only one occasion when I didn’t hear from him — he suddenly he announced he was about to sail and he didn’t know where he was going. I heard nothing for six weeks. Our son Robin was only six weeks old when he left. By the time he came back he was eighteen months .

We had prisoners of war working on local farms. They were good workers. They used to go the Pictures in Clitheroe. I think some of them didn’t want the War any more than we did. My Dad had one working with him at Downham. He was an Italian. There were no guards and Dad would bring him home for lunch. He was all right — but a bit quiet. I remember he made a toy wheel out of cans — like the Big Wheel at Blackpool — and he gave it to my Dad for Baby Robin.

Once the War was over we had an arrangement that I would go up to the phone box at Chatburn every Saturday night between 7 o clock and 7.30 and Billy would ring me there. But one Saturday I’d just got Robin into his coat when I saw Billy striding towards us with his big case and kit bag (which was full of tins of cigarettes). He had hitchhiked all the way from Wharton to Chatburn Church.

The best thing about the war was doing without things — because you really valued them when you got them back. Everyone carried on and people pulled together. And there was no crime — the streetlights were all out but there were no muggings or anything like that. The worst thing was being parted — never knowing what the future would be, never knowing how long it would last.

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