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- Joesph McMahon
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- 09 September 2004
MY CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES OF WW2
It was 1940 and I was 8 years old. I had to fend for myself, because my mother went out early in the morning to work and the family was split up, my brother and sisters were with my grandmother. I was supposed to be evacuated but I hid under the stairs until the two ladies from the Education Department went away and that was the end of that.
Our first experience of being in the war was when an anti aircraft shell fell short of its target and hit our wall in the garden. My father was away at the time with the Home Guard and my mother got our house repaired. The air raids were becoming more regular. My father came home for a short time and me and my mother felt more secure with him in the house. But then he went away and we were on our own again, left to look after ourselves.
My school was badly bombed so I had to go to a woman’s house to learn. The teacher would be drinking tea most of the time. I did not like it so I stayed at home. No one got in touch and my mother thought I was still going to school so I left it at that.
I used to work for a milkman whose name was Mr Smith. I used to get up in the morning about six and milk the cows, put the milk in bottles and then put cardboard tops on the heads of the bottles. Mr Smith and I would deliver the milk around the houses. He used to give me 2/6 per week. I thought Mr Smith was rather lazy because he would just sit in the van and watch me deliver the milk. He asked me if I wanted to learn how to drive the van. I said, “I can drive it!” He said, “Show me,” and he gave me the key. I started the engine, adjusted the seat and drove it around the yard. He asked me who had taught me and I said, “Myself, I just watched my sister drive her car and I also used to back-up your van so I could load the milk so we could be ready when you came out of your house.”
“So it was you who backed the van up? I thought it was me,” he said, flabbergasted. “I thought I was losing my marbles!”
I carried on with what I was doing, until my mother spotted me driving the van. Then all hell broke loose, “What the hell are you doing in that van?” my mother shouted. I never found out what my mother said to Mr Smith as I was told to stay away from him.
Then I got a job in a butcher’s shop and I used to brush the floor. He used to give me some spare ribs for my mother. One day he was talking to me and asked why I had not gone away with the other children, so I told him about how I hid under the stairs when it was time for evacuation. It was then that I told him about all the cats that were roaming about. He said to me, “Do you think you could kill a cat?” I said I didn’t know. He said, “It’s easy, all you have to do is find a brick and hit it at the back of head, which kills it. Then bring it to me and I will show you how to skin it.” So that is what I did. For every three I killed I would get a tanner. Them cats are smart and as soon as they saw me they would run off, so that was that.
The air raids were getting worse. It was getting late and my mother had not come home. My father had given me my tea and said he was going to meet my mother. He said to me if there was an air raid while he was out I was to get the dog and go into the shelter. He left about six p.m. The sirens went off, the bombs were very close, so I picked up the dog and made my way to the shelter in the garden. There was a big bang and the dog must have jumped out of my arms and the next thing I remembered was the pressure in my head. I didn’t remember anything until I woke up. The shelter was in darkness with a little light coming from the entrance. I did not know what had happened or what time it was or what day it was but apparently I had been in the shelter for two days.
My father, who had been looking for my mother, found her in Shield Road Hospital. She had been hit with shrapnel. My father then left my mother to come for me. He found that the house had been bombed and the shelter was covered with parts of the house. He then found what was left of the dog. He thought I was dead and went back for my mother. In the meantime a friend of the family, Charlie, had heard that our district had been bombed so he came to see if we were alive or dead. When he saw the house was gone, he went for help. He came back with some men and after a while they found me. In the meantime my mother and father came back, thinking I was dead. They saw me on Charlie’s back. I thought I was going to get into trouble but my mother got hold of me and gave me big hug. Then she hit me. We both started crying and then went to Charlie’s house.
After the air raid incident we went to live in a furnished house in Penny Lane. We stayed there for about six weeks and during that time, glory be, we were bombed out again! The house we were living in was next to a playing field until a bomb was dropped on the field. My Father and mother and myself were under the stairs. It was pitch black but we could hear the sound of shattering glass as the front door hit the banister of the stairs. I didn’t know if I was dead or alive. The noise was intense and seemed to last forever. We waited for the racket to subside then my father said we would be all right. He went for a jug of water and on his way back there was another explosion and my father was left with just the handle of the jug. The jug had gone, all the windows were gone, the slates were gone and the front door was blown off its hinges.
My mother found another house in our own district, not far from old house in Glamis Road, just around the corner from the house we left before going to Penny Lane. So my mother went back to work, while my father was helping clean up the bombed houses and looking after injured people and also the dead. I got on with what I was doing before, keeping out of the way.
A train driver lived next door to us; his name was Mr Bates. He was a very brave man. He received the Victoria Cross! He saved thousands of lives during the 1941 May Blitz by moving a burning ammunition train to a safe place and then uncoupling the burning carriages and putting them away from the live ammunition. If the ammunition would have exploded it could have caused devastation in the area stretching from Clubmoor to Tuebrook.
After the 1941 May Blitz I took myself off around Liverpool to look at damage that the German planes had caused. I could not believe my eyes at what I saw. There was so much damage done to Scotland road, the centre of Liverpool, Lord Street, South John Street and South Castle Street. Then I went to the Pier Head: there were ships sunk everywhere I looked. I went on the overhead railway to look at the docks. They had also had a battering.
Things were settling down as regards to the air raids. My mother was trying to find out how long it would be before we could move into our old house. She was told it would be a good nine months. My mother said that the address that we were in at the moment was only temporary and had only three weeks left, so she asked if they could find something for the time being. They told her that there were new houses being built in Glengariff Street and she could have one of those if she wanted, but if she said yes she would have to say good-bye to the old house. My mother said she would take the new house.
Unknown to me she had arranged for me to go to Scotland for three weeks with Charlie, a friend of the family. He worked on the docks in Liverpool and was being sent to Scotland docks on a special job. So he said he would take me with him because it would give my mother time to sort things out while I was away. So Charlie, his two mates and myself went off to Scotland. I don’t remember much about the journey but I do remember one of Charlie’s mates - he was a right pig to me and we took an instant dislike to each other!
When we arrived in Scotland, Charlie’s two mates went to another address and I was pleased about that. The lady of the house was called Mrs MacCready. She was tall and had a stern look about her. I was a bit frightened of her but when I got to know her I found her quite nice. One day she took me with her and her children to Loch Lomond. I was watching the other kids swimming and Mrs Mac said to me, “Why are you not going in the water?” I said, “I have no costume.” Without another word, she pulled my trousers off and said, “Get in.” I had a great time with all the other kids.
The next day Charlie said he was going fishing with his mates in the Clyde, so I went with them. I don’t remember much about getting there, but I remember being in the boat with them and Charlie’s mate picking on me. He was really nasty and said he was going to pull the plug out the boat and I would drown. I don’t know why I did what I did but I pulled the plug out of the boat. Water started pouring in! The next thing, I got a smack over the head! It was Charlie who had hit me.
Before I went home I was asked if I would like to have a day out with a nice couple who worked on the trams. So on my last day in Scotland that is what I did. It was a great day. I thought I was the bee’s knees driving the tram through Glasgow.
I don’t remember much about the journey going home. The next thing I remember, I was back in school being asked which class I was in before the school was bombed. I was at it again: lying! I said I was in Miss Huston’s class where the lads were two years older than I was. All I was concerned with was leaving school and getting a job. Thinking I would get away with passing myself off as two years older than I actually was, I was moved to another school about three miles away from my house. I was called Titch because I was so small compared to the other lads. I don’t know how I got away with it! I was going on nine and they were eleven and going on twelve. For the first time I started to enjoy school I became captain of the football Team. I became moor involved with all sport and enjoyed being popular.
I reached the age of eleven. I used to help my mother, who hired the Gordon Hall in Stanley Road Liverpool, for dancing every week. I used work in the cloakroom looking after the people’s clothes. While I was not busy I used to wander around. I found a large gym with a big boxing ring then I went back to my job. When I went back to school I would sit there thinking about that boxing ring, so I decided to take a day off school and have another look at it. So that is what I did.
I managed to get in the Gordon Hall and go into the gym. I got into the ring thinking I was good, then out of nowhere this big man was standing by me. He said in a loud voice, “What the hell do you think your doing in there?” I told him that I was sorry and got out of the ring. I thought that I was going to get a smack but to my relief I didn’t. He said to me that he was a truant officer and asked me why I was not at school. So I told him the truth about wanting to get in the ring and that was why I’d taken the day off school. He said his name was Mr Done and did I want to learn how to box? I said I would like to. He then gave me a note to give to a Mr Tenant the trainer. So that is what I did.
Mr Done turned out to be playing for Liverpool Football Club as a centre forward. Time went by and I was enjoying myself learning the art of boxing. I carried on doing that until I went into the army. I did box for the army. I also played football for my regiment. Then after I had been in a year I was chosen to play for the Army. But that is another story!
So I will go back to when I was eleven and it was coming up to my summer holidays. I had been talking to three mates of mine who were the same age as myself — two brothers and another lad called Ronnie. I wanted to go to Lands End and they agreed to go as well. So the first week of our holidays, we got on our bikes and off we went.
Our first stop was Shrewsbury. Everything went fine but during the journey I found out that I did not have many friends. The only time they wanted anything to do with me was when I was helping them. The next day we headed for Bristol; we all got punctures and guess who fixed the punctures? Soft Joe.
When we finally arrived at the youth hostel, we were so late, there was no room left so we had to sleep outdoors. The two brothers found shelter on a bench in a churchyard and me and Ronnie slept under a tree in a field — it was very wet and very uncomfortable.
The next day I had nothing to eat so I went into the youth hostel to have a look in the kitchen to see if I could get something. There was nobody about so I helped myself to what I could pick up and ran like hell. When I got back to the others they were tucking into a food parcel that had been sent to the brothers from home. They didn’t offer me any. After I had called them a few names we then went off to our next port of call, Devon.
I had to buy a new tyre and that took most of my Money. It took me about an hour to fix it and by the time I had finished, I was about two hours behind the others. I knew I was not going to get any dinner so I stopped for some chips then carried on to the hostel. I was lucky I got a bed. I thought the other lads were mean to me: if it had been me I would have saved them some food.
The next day I looked for the other lads. I found Ronnie and he told me that the two brothers had gone, so Ronnie and me went on together. We got as far as Bridgewater and I said to Ronnie, “I think I’ll get the train back home; I don’t think I’ll have enough money because of all the break-downs with my bike.” He said he would cycle to the station with me.
On our way to the station we passed some of German prisoners digging potatoes in a farmer’s field. There was girl on a horse and me and Ronnie were so busy looking up the girl’s dress we crashed into each other. All the German prisoners burst out laughing. I gave them the ‘V’ sign (although not as Mr Churchill would have!)
I said goodbye to Ronnie and cycled to the station. To my surprise the train had arrived and the ticket officer told me I would have to change at Crewe. When I got to Crewe to change trains, the Liverpool train was already standing at the platform ready to go, so I had to grab my bike and dash onto the train. It was only as I pulled out of the station, I realised I’d left my sandwiches on the other train. I was very hungry and tired. In the same carriage as me was a young couple eating a load of sandwiches. They must’ve felt sorry for me because they gave me some of their sandwiches -- ham and mustard — I hate mustard — but I was so hungry I ate them anyway. At the end of my journey I vowed never to take any long bike rides again.
Before I knew it I was leaving school at the age of twelve. I got a job in a hardware shop. I was there for about six months before I got found out through my national insurance number. My mother said to me, “I don’t know where I got you from.” I then got a slap over my head. My mother was told that I would have to go back to school for a further two years. So she arranged for me to go to a private school was called Skerrys College. I was completely lost for the first month. I then started to catch up, after a lot of abuse from the teacher and sniggering from some of the kids. I sorted them out after school!
Time went by and the air raids were few and far and between. One day, I was with a friend in a record shop in Bold Street looking for a record by the Ink Spots. When I left the shop I noticed that all the people in the street were screaming and jumping about and kissing each other. I instantly knew then that the war was finally over I was 13 years old.
I finished school when I was fifteen years of age. My first job was in an insurance firm, as an office boy. I changed my job after six months and went to work for a bespoke tailors. I learnt a great deal during my time with the company, which was six months. The name was Stanley Barnes. I then went to work for Jackson’s the Tailors and stayed with them until I went in army. I was eighteen years of age.
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