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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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I was just 10 when war was declared and still at Charnwood Street Primary School. I don't recall my world changing too much during the first year except that sweets were rationed along with other everyday foodstuffs. I came from a very poor family but my mother was a wonderful manager and there was always food on the table but quantity was very much reduced. I also have recollections of shelters being built at school and practice air raids.
The following school year I won a place at Alderman Newton's Boys Grammar School. I have no idea how my mother scraped together the money and the required clothing coupons to buy me a uniform and the necessary sports kit.
The first day was rather terrifying, all the new boys standing out like sore thumbs in their new blazers, all much too large in the hope that they would last for at least five years. Mine had to last, despite the fact that I suddenly shot up from about 5' to 6'3" over a six month period. There simply wasn't the money or the coupons for a new uniform.
Things were getting tight then and new school books were unobtainable, we had to make do with tattered old books and often had to share. Everything was in short supply, even teachers, as they had been conscripted into the services and much older teachers brought out of retirement, much to their disgust. They took their displeasure out on us with their varied punishments.
At other times we had teachers who were in the services but home on convalescent leave after being wounded. They really had little interest in us but we somehow managed to get an education.
We were once used as a practice for the emergency services and the pupils were the victims of a mock bombing raid and were all either transported to the Royal Infirmary in ambulances or makeshift vehicles.
Potato picking was a very necessary chore as the harvest was considered to be of greater importance than education and this was one thing children could do. We also got paid a few shillings for incredibly hard and boring work.
I remember that the chemistry labs had few chemicals for experiments, the woodwork shop had no wood so we were unable to learn anything truly useful in either class.
Food at lunchime was absolutely foul, often consisting of just one vegetable such as mashed swede. Whatever was on the plate had to be eaten, there was a war on!
We had evacuees from London, Birmingham and the North.
Somehow we scraped together an education and went our separate ways. Often they were hard days, but, there were good memories in there too.
I left school just as the war was ending.

Dennis Neal

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