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15 October 2014
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Hedgehog for Dinner

by denis price

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
denis price
People in story: 
Ron Bunton
Location of story: 
Cottingham and Hull, E. Yorkshire.
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4182392
Contributed on: 
12 June 2005

Story taken by Denis Price of the People`s War Team, The BBC Open Centre,Hull.

I was a small boy of five living down St. Margaret`s Avenue in Cottingham when the War began and I clearly remember The Prime Minister Mr. Chamberlain on the wireless making his speech declaring War on Germany What seemed terribly funny to me at the time was the way he referred to Hitler as `Herr Hitler`. I was only a lad and was surprised as well as amused at this.
Like many others, Dad went off to War leaving Mum and four of us in Cottingham.I don`t recall any real feelings about him going, it just seemed like the beginning of a big adventure to me, especially when Hull started to get bombed. I live in the same house now as then and can remember looking across the fields and Bricknell Avenue towards Hull and watching the flames go up into the night sky. The grown ups told me that on one of these really bad nights the flames came from the destruction of Hammonds Department Store. They must have been right as about fifteen years ago the Royal Station Hotel, just across Ferensway from the rebuilt Hammonds, caught fire and watching the flames from our house took me back all those years.
To protect us from the air raids most people had Anderson shelters outside but we had a Morrison shelter which was inside the house. It was an awkward thing to have and you could get a nasty graze from its projecting steel, we had a little mattress in it but only used it occasionally as my Mother didn`t trust it so as number thirty seven next door had no children, we`d all share their Anderson when an air raid was on.
Very often the same family from Hull would come out to Cottingham and stay with us, they were Catholics and I recall one night that they said they would say a prayer for Dad who was in Egypt. Mother said `Never mind him over there, what about saying one for us over here!`
One of the sights I`ll never forget was the way three big searchlights would cut through the night sky looking for the Jerry bombers. I think they were based somewhere on Clough Road, we called them Enoch, Ramsbottom and Me, after a comedy act which was popular at the time.
What made the time exciting to a young lad was the presence of foreign soldiers among us. It was either the Free French or French Canadians who had a camp down Eppleworth Road in what we used to call Groat`s Wood, it`s now `The Dene.` They were in tents and I remember watching them with some horror as they baked hedgehogs. They`d obviously killed them first then covered their spines with clay and baked them. The spines would peel away with the clay when it was removed, that would have been about 1942 or 1943.
All these soldiers would visit the Westfield Club which was very popular particularly with the black American soldiers when they came later in the War. A small Transportation unit of them, probably no more than fifty, with white officers. The black troops lived in Nissen Huts on what is now called The Lawns while the officers stayed at a big house near what is now Cottingham High School.These black soldiers were a real novelty to us kids who`d never seen a black person before, in fact we were a bit scared but not enough to prevent us scrounging for sweets and chewing gum which they were generous with.
I remember in Cottingham there was a really exceptionally pretty girl, really beautiful. Even as a young lad I knew it so it was no surprise when one of the American officers, I think he might have been the senior one, started taking her out. It was like something out of Hollywood, he would turn up at her house in his jeep, looking every bit like Clark Gable in his immaculate uniform. I can see him now making us all seem like paupers. They eventually married and she went to America with him.
Shortly after the Yanks left, a gang of us went to explore their huts the way kids do. They`d left them spick and span but what did surprise me was that each individual soldier`s bible, they all seemed to have one, was left at the bedside. I`d have thought that with moving over to Europe and the possibility of danger they`d have kept them. One of our gang took one of the bibles, we didn`t take anything else. I know he`s still got it to this day.
We also found tins of rations in their trucks, stuff like coffee which you just couldn`t get, it made me realise just how well they lived.
I know now there was a lot of tragedy but as a small boy I didn`t see it although I remember the newsreels showing the liberation of Belsen Concentration Camp. It was very upsetting, I even get emotional today if I see it shown.
A highlight for me was when we got a parcel from Canada, there would be clothing and sometimes food we couldn`t get here . I was given a jacket, it was the lumberjacket type of thing which fitted me really well and was in very good condition. The bonus was that it was the same type of jacket that one of the Bowery Boys wore in their short films which were popular at the time. I think it was the character called Satch who wore it, anyway, I was as proud as punch with it.
Another time, 1944 I think, I was visiting South Cave a village nearby which had a lot of German Prisoners of War working on the land. This farm we were on had one of them working for them and I remember being scared stiff of him, after all he was a German, a monster. He turned out to be a really nice bloke we could chat to and like.
When it all was ending Dad sent us a box of Jaffa oranges just before he came home. Mum got a telephone message that he was due back and we kids sat on a wall of the Westfield Club to get first glimpse of him when he reached Cottingham. We saw him walking with my uncle who`d gone to meet him but they both made a detour into the Bluebell pub so we had to wait.
The sad thing was that Dad didn`t live very long after his return as he hadn`t been well in Egypt and he didn`t get better. He died after a few months, in March. Even though I wouldn`t have missed the experiences for the world, losing Dad took the joy out of everything.

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