- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr CH Brett
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 November 2003
Mr Charles C BRETT worked at Firth Brown and Towser of Saville Street, Sheffield, when the war started. He gave me this story:
Girlfriend's war work at outbreak of war
The outbreak of war came, and suddenly everything changed, and I was placed on Essential Works Order, which meant I could, if need be, be transferred to any part of the country. It was at this time, just before Christmas 1939, that I met my future wife Marjorie. She was employed part time in one of the pubs I visited, the Alexandra Hotel, Parkgate.
She also had a job during the day, but as war progressed it became more important for people of certain ages to be employed in vital work - so she became a crane driver at, what was then Steel, Peech and Tozer - later to become United Steels and eventually, on nationalisation, BSC.
She was also told she was in a protected job, but it was very hard work for her, high up in a crane box, hovering over red-hot steel, which was being pressed and forged into steel rings for tyres for the railways. She also worked shifts, which was not very nice for either of us, because we could be on opposite shifts and not see each other from one week to another. But civilians had to put up and shut up!
I well remember the year before we were married, during and after the Sheffield blitz. I have vivid memories - I was at Parkgate on both nights because on the first night (Thursday) I was off work with an injury to my eye, which I couldn't use, and I had to report to the Royal Infirmary the next morning.
I walked all the way to Sheffield, because the trams weren't running past Tinsley - however, when I got to the Royal there were hundreds of people there - so it was hours before I could be seen, and was then told to come back in a week. This meant I was in Parkgate again on the Sunday evening.
We were standing at a viewing point on Parkgate, from where we could see all the activity over Attercliffe. After the 'all clear', I set off to walk to Darnall, where I eventually found my home badly damaged - and most of the family staying with friends. We had to make the most of it, with the roof badly damaged - it took days to turn things round, so that we could manage to sleep somewhere. Those two nights were horrendous to say the least.
Anyhow, back to November 1941, it was a nice day on Saturday the 29th, and the wedding was timed for 3 o'clock, which meant we had to arrange travel to Parkgate for my family and quite a few of our friends and workmates. We also had to arrange for photographs, all the time knowing that things could be suspended if an alert alarm went.
We were pleased when we got to the church and the service started. Everything went well until it came to signing the necessary documents, when we were told we couldn't sign the most important one. It had to be locked away because, as we had feared, a warning was imminent. We were told the vicar would bring it to the Alexander Hotel where we had a room for the wedding tea.
At the photographer's in Rotherham we had to wait an hour for the alert to finish, then we went to the Alexander. How we all got into the room I don't know - and the meal! Considering we were on extreme rationing, I couldn't believe the way everybody had contributed to make such a splendid tea. The night continued, even the vicar came and said a few words about the ceremony and the signing of the official document, in fact we were officially married in the best room of the Alexander Hotel where we signed the document and there is a photo (complete with the vicar) to prove it! The vicar said how much he had enjoyed it - I seem to think that two of my mates from Sheffield had laced his tea with a tot or two. It was a memorable evening, which continued well into the night. I was now a Parkgate resident officially.
I would like to comment here on how severe wartime rationing was. At the very start ration books were issued to everyone, and included coupons (or units) for all foodstuffs - including coffee, tea and milk, and there were also coupons for clothes.
Each person was allowed weekly amounts, such as two ounces of cheese, two ounces of lard, two ounces of margarine, butter only on occasions, one egg - but you could get powdered milk and powdered egg. Meat was rationed by units, which were equal to two ounces, and this had to be taken whatever was on offer. Sweets, sugar, flour, bread and sometimes cakes could be obtained by submitting coupons, but you could only get them from certain shops, which would mean queuing. It was better if you had a big family, then the chances of concocting a meal was easier. Apples, pears and tomatoes were often available (in season), but such things as bananas, oranges and lemons were not.
Everyone was on the look out for extras. You could sometimes pick up garden produce from friends, and occasionally local farmers would have sales, which provided potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions. You would get to know about these sales by word of mouth, and it would sometimes be a very long tiring journey, carrying the heavy vegetables home, but it was worth it.
There were other offers, if you were fortunate enough to get to know about them. I remember one in particular, it was a trader in Rotherham, a very popular local butcher come fruit trader, who always had a good supply of green vegetables and potatoes. His name was Sammy Moreton, well known to all sections of the community including the police!
In later years he provided entertainment on Sunday afternoons with all-in wrestling shows in Rotherham. Well, Sammy was ever ready to help the public with his sales. Every other week he would put on offer a bargain, consisting of a rabbit, green vegetables, potatoes, an onion and a turnip. All these were put together in a carrier-bag, and the charge was two shillings and sixpence. At the same time you could get a bag of fruit for a very small price. The Rotherham public always had a good word for him, and were always on the lookout for his bargains.
I should also mention that items were introduced, to supplement rations, which we could get at most food stores. I recall items like Spam, and corned beef, which were sold in tins - and for many of us it was a regular item for the sandwiches we took to work.
You could, if you wished, visit the works canteen where, sometimes, you could get some form of meat with your chips. It was very popular with a lot of workers, but I only went occasionally because I had a problem with my diet at the time. I had a note from my doctor allowing me to get milk on a daily basis, which helped. Sometimes some of my mates would bring food in the way of pies, which would be warmed up and shared round. We were always prepared to help each other in many ways.
As the war progressed and shortages got worse, we would follow up any chance we could to get food, sometimes queuing for hours after our shift, often for very small amounts of vegetables and very occasionally fish.
However, we struggled on from day to day, later on even furniture was on coupons. It was called utility furniture, which was sparsely built and very darkly stained. When we eventually moved into our own home, most of my furniture was utility - but by this time everything was going well on the war front, and we were getting better news from all the battle-fronts. The Russians were in Berlin, and Allied armies were moving fast across Germany. The end was very near.
When the war finished and peace was declared, it was unbelievable how everyone reacted! After family celebrations, everyone went out onto the streets to sing patriotic songs, and straight away people started to plan street parties. Where I lived, the whole street was taken up with tables and chairs - everyone took part in doing something in preparation. It was amazing where all the food and drink came from, to see the plates loaded with sandwiches and cakes - and we'd been on severe rationing for nearly five years. My wife, along with many more, had spent hours going round to collect flour, yeast and fat to make bread and cakes.
After the meal was over, and tables cleared away, pianos and even organs came out, and dancing and singing started. It carried on into the night - by which time the blackouts had been torn down, and the light from people's gas lights, helped by lamps and lanterns, brought light onto the street, so that dancing and singing could continue.
By this time, some of the armed forces personnel had arrived home, and couldn''t wait to join in. One of the strangest things about those two or three days of celebration was that no one thought about work. In fact I recall we had a hurried meeting with the management at Parkgate, when we were told that the works would be closed, and we would be called to return to work by letter or word of mouth - no one seemed to care! Every pub and club was kept open, and still the singing went on. The number of times we sang 'Rule Britannia', I couldn't count!
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.