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World War 2 Recollections

by newcastle-staffs-lib

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter Harold Johnson
Location of story: 
Newcastle Under Lyme - Staffordshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 March 2005

The only WW2 date of which I can be certain is the death of my baby sister, Barbara. This occurred in February 1943, she is buried in Newcastle cemetery. My father made my sisters coffin, as money was “tight”. He was a reserve soldier of the North Staffordshire Regiment. He spent a lot of the war years in Coventry, when he didn’t have a leave pass. Prior to WW2 he was stationed in India, for about seven years, as a full time soldier. Interestingly, I do have a letter from my fathers’ commanding officer, dated 25-02-40 (My birth date) saying that my father had meningitis and was unlikely to survive.

Because of the trauma surrounding the death of my baby sister, my mother was admitted to hospital, I understand with some form of breakdown, although this was never talked about. I did have an older sister, Sheila, who also died early in the war. With my mother being in hospital I lived with my Gran, my fathers’ mother, for a while. My Gran kept a few chickens, as most folks did, which produced fresh eggs, these were a real treat. She tended the chickens after dark using an electric torch in the form of a gun, which I still have.

Each day at about mid-day my Gran and myself would go down to the local pub, armed with a large jug, this was duly filled with draught stout, (the pub was only demolished a dozen or so years ago). My “ration” of stout was served in a half pint glass along with lunch (which I always looked forward to) this was one slice of white bread (cut with a “bread knife”) and covered in “black treacle”. This I ate sitting with my back to what at the time seemed an enormous wooden reed organ. This was driven by two pedals, and had a row of “draw bars” with circular ebony knobs situated above the keyboard.

I remember that we had a refugee staying with us named Rozina. Rozina used to smoke cigarettes. On one occasion when she wasn’t around I took one of these from out of the “side board”, climbed onto a chair next to the black leaded grate. Using a “spill” (a taper made from rolled newspaper)I leaned over the fire guard, (this was a diagonal mesh topped with a brass “D” rail) lit the spill and then lit the cigarette. I then took one big puff (like I had seen Rozina do) and promptly thought my last day on earth had arrived. I never did smoke cigarettes!

My mothers parents had a wonderful veg. garden, so it was always good to visit.
Their garden shed had a skull and crossbones cut from sheet lead pinned over the door, done by their son, my Uncle. The highlight of these visits being “oatcakes”. These were made fresh, on a “Baxton”, as required (I still have the recipe) and served with bacon and cheese. Exquisite!

Just occasionally, we had a delivery of food, army blankets, etc. “arranged” by my father. This generally arrived on a Bedford truck, the type with a bar across the centre of the radiator grill. This could have been LMS, it was in a mauve sort of livery. One day a man turned up with a delivery consisting of a couple of tea chests, on a horse and cart. The neighbours helped to unload the delivery and also with the “distribution” of goodies. The tea chests were unpacked in the street. I clearly remember Pontefract Cakes and Salted Peanuts in metallic blue cans, made from aluminium (with a ring pull top?).
I understand that my father was based at what is now Keele University and at one point his camp was “handed” over to “The Americans”. I have never tried to verify this information.

Each family had an Anderson air raid shelter, (I still have one in my garden as a wood store) As a child I fell from the top of the roof into the door well and broke my wrist. This was put into plaster at the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary.

When I started school the best part of the day, before leaving for home, was when a large cardboard box was brought into the classroom, opened and each pupil given a tin of food from Canada. This was packed in five channel (no, not “Channel five”) “Ticker Tape”, I remember this very clearly and used to take as much as I could. It was in fact five channel teletype tape (no parity).

The final memory, which can be dated, was of flags and buntings being strung across the street, tables down the middle of the street covered in “unlimited” food. The street was Wilmot Drive, Newcastle, Staffs..

The first “real toy” that I had after the war, if you ignore the ex-military equipment, was an “electricians” set. This consisted of a battery, lamp and lamp holder, bell, bell push, switch and of course connecting wire. There were also two plastic lamp shades, one green, one pink, both pastel shades. This influenced me to become a computer engineer in 1962 (32 bit, Digital Electronic Universal Calculating Engine [DEUCE], now in the London Science Museum [ACE Pilot]).

I had two uncles, both were taken prisoner, they were paratroopers. Within a few weeks one uncle was liberated by the allies. The second was taken prisoner in North Africa, shipped back to Europe, escaped and fought with the resistance until the arrival of the allies.

After the war, 1940.s and 1950,s, there were ex-soldiers in their army greatcoats: sitting, standing and lying around on the pavement in Liverpool Road, Newcastle (where Sainsbury’s supermarket is now) with various limbs missing. Begging!

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