I heard an air raid siren which was based on the roof of the local Social Club.
Small things I remember about World War Two.
I can really picture in my mind the very first day war was declared, but that was 65 years ago. I can’t remember the exact order of things that happened. It was an ordinary Sunday morning with the usual things going on. My father was reading the Sunday paper, my mother was standing at the table peeling the potatoes for dinner, I was sitting on the settee reading a comic, and it was two days short of my fifteenth birthday which was on September the fifth.
An announcement came on the wireless saying the Prime Minister was about to make a speech. My father said shush, and we listened to the Prime Minister saying that the British Government demanded the retreat of German forces from Poland and had stated that it should be done by September the third; this had not happened, and we were at war with Germany. To me, this was totally unexpected, but the Government and most adults were ready for it.
At one o’clock the same day for the first time, I heard an air raid siren which was based on the roof of the local Social Club. At that time, New York was a very small village – two rows of houses and a main road running right through the village. Between the two rows was the village school and a large field behind it. On this field was built a communal air-raid shelter. It was underground, not very deep with four corridors built into a square with three or four toilets on each corner; a wooden bench ran round the corridors.
I can remember running across the field in the middle of the night. It was summertime and it was pouring with rain and pitch black, but I saw the German plane with the searchlights directly on it, and I actually could see the swastika on the wings of the plane; however, no bombs were dropped on the village that night. Later, maybe it was 1940, the village school was machine-gunned on the roof. Luckily there was no one inside the school although it was daytime.
Another time a smallish bomb was dropped on the school field. Again no one was hurt. Incendiary bombs were dropped on Brookland Terrace, they all dropped on the grass and the next day people were picking the dead cases up I remember they were covered in white stuff; we were told it was the chemical that set them on fire.
Every backyard had a brick air raid shelter built in it; it was shared by the people who lived in the upstairs and downstairs flats. We shared ours – my mother, father, younger brother and me. The people downstairs were a mother, father and two young sons.
We had identity cards, a beige colour with a personal number and date of birth. There was the ration book with coupons for meat, sugar, eggs, tea and bacon; I can’t remember what else. Furniture was also rationed so was linoleum, you only got twenty units so if you needed furniture you had to rely on secondhand. There was never enough units if you had been bombed out or if you were just setting up a new home after getting married.
There were barrage balloons based all along the River Tyne with groups of soldiers camps – some were based in Whitehouse Lane. It was all fields at that time. Other soldiers were based in vacant houses in Whitley Bay. The occupants of these houses had been evacuated inland. Another large camp was in Benton where the supermarket and bowling alley now stand.
When I was sixteen and a half, I was sent to work in a cotton mill in Oldham. This only lasted a few weeks as the cotton was sent on to France and Norway to be spun into cloth but these countries were overrun by the Germans, so the mill had no orders and had to close down.
Next, I got a job in a hotel in Kendal where I worked as a general dog’s body. At that time Kendal was safe from the raids and the war seemed far away. Rationing was still very strict. Clothing coupons were issued and there never seemed to be enough. In 1943 I came home and got a job in a doctor’s house.
I met my husband and got married in 1944; this was when we realized how hard it was to set up home, with rationing it was so difficult. A lot of goods were in short supply, but parents and friends rallied round and helped out to the best of their ability. At that time the bombing of our cities and towns was very bad. I remember one time I came home from Kendal on a week’s holiday and Manors Goods Yard had been bombed (among other things sugar and bacon was stored there, the fire was very big and lasted for days).
I travelled from the Central Station up to the Haymarket. I had to walk, and I was stepping over large fire hoses. Very little traffic was moving and of course, petrol was also rationed so there were very few cars about.
My father was in the RVI hospital and when I went to see him, he told me he had been the only patient left in the ward with a nurse when the air raid was on; all the other patients had been taken to the bottom floor for safety.