- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mona Smith (nee Lees), Eric Smith, Lily Lees, William Lees, Gill, Pat & Margaret (Evacuees)
- Location of story:
- Boothstown, Manchester
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 July 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Odilia Roberts from the Derby Action Team on behalf of Mona Smith and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
The year the war started was the year I started the grammar school and for a while we could only go for half days because there was not enough air raid shelter accommodation. During the air raids and false alarms we continued lessons in the shelters and were allowed to suck Horlicks tablets. This was a great concession because school did not allow sweets, which was not a bad thing since they were rationed anyway, as was everything else. When I became a housewife myself I realised what miniscule meals our mothers had concocted from too little staple food (having already queued for 1 sausage or 2 apples!)
For a period the cinemas were closed and the radio only transmitted for a few hours a day. Anyway we saved, embroidered (when we could obtain the poor quality silk) and knitted ‘comforts’ for the troops — gloves, socks and balaclava helmets in navy, khaki or air force blue.
My parents were both engaged in Civil Defence duties and I, along with any teenager who owned a bike, became a WVS messenger. This involved miscellaneous duties, such as First aid, how to operate a stirrup pump, fire watching etc. But our big challenge came when we had to prepare the Rest Centre for the influx of evacuees form Croydon. They arrived after a long journey on a very slow train and looked lost clutching their little suitcases or carrier bags, their gas masks and their teddies. We didn’t have much trouble — people were willing to take them. I was an only child and we took three girls. My father said that my war work was to look after them. We all slept in a row on 2 ¾ beds pushed together.
With so little entertainment available our Youth Club formed a concert party ‘The Utilities’ and we gave concerts wherever we could which were enthusiastically received!
Eventually my boyfriend, whom I met at the Church Youth Club, was conscripted into the RAF, it was then that the war felt very near and very real. Boys with who so recently we had giggled and checked homework were all ‘called up’ and some never came back. Of course my boyfriend and I kept in touch by letter — no phones except for doctors and officials.
We didn’t experience much bombing at home but we were near enough to Manchester to watch the awful blitz and a mobile AA gun used to be positioned quite near and the gardens were often full of shrapnel. We collected it at first but it soon became commonplace.
There were lots of air raid warnings, especially if there was bright moonlight and every night my mother packed the bag with a flask of tea, snacks, apples, blankets etc. to take into the Anderson Shelter for which we had dug in the backyard. Not to mention the torch with its tiny beam as blackout restrictions were strict.
Clothes were on coupons and we became adept at ‘make do and mend’ and our mothers fashioned imaginative dresses out of very ordinary scraps of material. Some people managed to get parachute silk for underwear but I was never that lucky!
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