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The Outbreak of War

The date was 3 September 1939. We were returning home when the sirens started.

One Sunday my mother sent me and my brother Howard to Johnson’s Diary shop at the Buildings (our name for top Percy Main) for some yeast. The date was 3 September, 1939. We were returning home down the Tipping Bank when the sirens started. We met Mr Hildreth who told us to go home as fast as we could. We thought this strange. We realised later that this was the start of World War II.

It was during an air raid that the Charlton’s met the Bennett’s. They were moving into Burdon Street, the back yard was in our lane. They came from the Ridges Estate (now Meadowell). All their possessions were on a wheelbarrow. When the sirens went, my mother took them into our air raid shelter. That was the beginning of a friendship that exists to this day.

My friendship with their son Gordon however, did not get the best of starts. As boys do, we had a fight and bloodied each other’s noses, but nevertheless were firm friends from then on. One of his failings in later years was his time keeping. In our teens we would try always to get him ready to go out but he always kept us waiting in his back yard. One winter’s night we got sick of waiting and shouted up the stairs, “We are away”. We all hid in the outside wash house. I found a white sheet in his mother’s washing and when he came down into the yard I jumped out. He screamed and nearly passed out, in fact for a time the lads were worried he had had a heart attack, but it never changed him. He was always late no matter what we did. We even told him a different time to be ready, at least half an hour before, but we still had to wait for him right up to and even after some of the lads were married. He was such a likeable lad; we never fell out.

As youngsters we obviously didn’t realise what it meant to be at war. Our parents must have been worried sick for us, but as children we were excited by guns, bombs and aeroplanes. After an air raid we would go and comb the streets looking for shrapnel, bullets and anything else we thought was something to do with an air raid. We all had collections and we would swap things.

My mother used to put us in the shelter to sleep to save disturbing us through the night. This was built of concrete and bricks and took up nearly all of our back yard. We thought it so exciting.

On one occasion, a squadron of German planes flew right over Percy Main in broad daylight. Everyone stood and watched. You could clearly see the crosses on their wings and fuselage. We all held our breath but thankfully they passed over us without dropping their bombs. The nearest we had to being hit was a land mine (so we were told) which landed on the allotments north of Howdon Road, making a huge crater which eventually filled up with rainwater. We used to go up and throw things in, it was said that fish were in there but we never saw or caught any.

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