War Declared – Sunday 3rd September

The news broadcasts, with the well-known voices of John Snagg and Alva Liddell, attained almost religious significance.

 

We had heard for days how the European situation was deteriorating and the radio news got blacker daily.  You cannot underestimate the importance of the radio during wartime.

War closed everything but the radio offered a new and valuable way to reach the people.  There were a variety of programmes like Worker’s Playtime and The Tommy Handley Show.  The news broadcasts with the well-known voices of John Snagg and Alva Liddell attained almost religious significance.  In pubs and clubs conversation stopped, to hear the news, people hanging on every word.  Families gathered reverently around radio sets.  So, it was with my family on this sunny September morning at 11 am when the world stopped to hear the voice of Mr Neville Chamberlain, “as from 11 o’clock this morning we are at war.”

We hardly had time to get our breath when the air raid siren moaned out news of our first air raid.  It turned out later that the siren was an error of enthusiasm, but at that time it was serious.  As a child of eight, I had heeded all the Air Raid Precautions and information passed to us in the previous few months.  So, I ran from the family group and reappeared clad in my newly issued gas mask.  Everyone laughed.

During the war we were in the direct bombing run of German aircraft, hell bent on destroying the New Bridge Goods Station in Newcastle – not a pleasant experience.  Without air raid shelters the family, including my very pregnant sister, were crammed together in a converted outside coalhouse.  Guns and bombs crashed and exploded for perhaps two hours, the sky was a ring of fire and there was the sweet smell of sugar burning.

Next day my sister gave birth to twins and I became a young uncle.  But a day or two later my sister became extremely worried at the constant violent twitching of her new babies.  The doctor came and examined them most carefully, concluding that they were in fine condition physically, but probably showing signs of shell shock.

I also remember my brother in law was working at New Bridge Street Goods Station the night before it was bombed.  There was a serious air raid and the noise of guns and screaming bombs made them dive for cover beneath the wagons of a stationary train.  Eventually, the noise ceased, and they came out of hiding to see the sign on their place of shelter, “High Explosives – Handle with Great Care”.

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