World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                                    Anthony Hodgetts

Life in Old Bramhope in Wartime - Part 1

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Anthony Hodgetts
Location of story: Wharfedale
Background to story: Civilian

 


Life in OLD BRAMHOPE in Wartime
Part 1

I lived from 1934 to 1948 in Old Bramhope, at the top of Pool Bank, at what is now the Hilton Grange estate developed by Redrow from the buildings 1 knew as a child. In those days, the buildings were the National Children's Home, where my father was the Governor of the Home and the Headmaster of the new school that had been built on the site in 1933-34. I lived in "The Homestead", which still stands, beautifully renovated and enhanced, at the entrance from Old Lane to the site.

The Home housed 150 boys and 100 girls, aged from toddlers up to sixteen years, in four girls' houses and six for boys. It was to an extent self-supporting, as there was a farm, gardens, greenhouses and a bakery; the farm had a dairy herd, chickens and extensive piggeries, and some land was also given to arable produce, the threshing being subcontracted to a unit that travelled the area in season, with a steam traction engine pulling a thresher/baler from site to site. Three magnificent Shire horses powered ploughing until the end of the war, when the farm acquired a Fordson Major tractor. The gardens supplied fresh vegetables in season. The bakery produced fresh bread and simple cakes each day, and we had our own artesian well and pump to supply fresh water. Groceries were bought in bulk and stored in the administration block, from whence they were issued to the houses on requisition.

The "Block" also contained a sewing room, where clothes that were outgrown rather than worn out were repaired, cleaned and re-cycled to smaller children, and at the back was a fully equipped cobbler's shop for the repair or renovation of shoes. There was an excellent carpenter's shop, and a resident decorator/handyman, to deal with essential repairs. All these facilities existed to provide essential services, but also to train the older boys and girls for life when they left the Home at sixteen. The Home had its own small, modem hospital, built in 1934, with a qualified nurse in charge, with separate wards for boys and girls and a south-facing veranda onto which beds could be pushed, through sliding windows, for the patients to enjoy any fine weather. Above the hospital at the northern end of the site, the School served the resident children, and children from nearby farms and the small village at Old Pool Bank, up to the age of fourteen; in the evening the school was the centre of social life for the community, housing Scouts, Guides, Cubs, Brownies, dance classes, amateur dramatics and film shows.

Most of the members of the staff were resident on or around the site; each house had a Sister in charge, usually with a trainee assistant, and the gardener, cowman, carpenter and baker all occupied nearby houses, mostly at the top of Pool Bank at Hiitcrest. The farmer, Mr J Thompson, lived in the farmhouse on Old Lane that has recently been the last building on the site to be refurbished for sale. The teaching staff and my father's secretary came in to work, the latter on a bicycle from Menston, over the top of the Chevin in all weathers, including snow! (They built them tough in those days!)

This was the way in which the Home operated in normal times, but its isolation up on the moors, and the self-sufficiency arising from the provision of training of the older children for work in later life, meant that life continued after the outbreak of war with much less disruption than in the general community. We were accustomed to a fairly simple life style already, and while we missed ice cream and bananas, many of us were too young to really remember them anyway - though I think everyone can remember their first banana when the war was over, I certainly can!

The children were not all "orphans", some were from broken families, and many were there because their parents could not afford to keep them. Many regarded Old Bramhope as their "real home", but in the long summer holiday may of them had the opportunity to meet up with their families for a holiday break, which also gave some of the staff a chance to go away. It is in the middle of such a break that my narrative of World War 2 commences, with the staff and children scattered over the country on their holidays....

WARTIME
The outbreak of war in 1939 caused a flurry of activity, as the majority of the children were on holiday and had to be returned post-haste. We were on holiday in Morecambe, and I recall a slow and hazardous journey home in Dad's Rover 12, on sidelights in the dark. As we came through Clapham village, my father took a wrong turning and drove through the old ford rather than over the bridge; I remember kneeling up in the back and looking out at the water splashing up the side of the car in the dark.

Everyone had to be issued with identity cards and gas masks, and we practiced gas mask drill at school and carried our gas masks with us in cardboard cubes hanging from our necks with string. We had to learn the warnings; for gas it was a wooden rattle that was swung round by the warden to produce a noise like the call of a magpie (football fans use them these days), while the warden shouted "Gas, gas, gas'. The warning of an impending air raid was a siren like a factory hooter, which was set to give an eerie undulating signal (which for years after could strike terror into anyone who had lived through the London Blitz, as 1 saw on holiday in 1951 when a seaside show violinist imitated the air-raid warning using a violin and two girls from Southend collapsed in tears) and when the raid was over the same siren emitted a steady high note to report "All Clear". Air Raid Precaution (ARP) teams were set up, and my father was Chief Warden for Old Bramhope, and was identified by a white steel helmet with a black "W" at the front. Fire drills were carried out, and training was given on how to put out an incendiary bomb with a bucket of sand, or extinguish a fire with a stirrup pump and a bucket of water. Red-painted buckets containing water or sand were placed in prominent positions in all the buildings, and inspected frequently to ensure that they were full and ready.

Fire-watching teams took turns to be on guard each night, with the telephone exchange manned constantly; my sister recalls taking her turn on night switchboard duty, and the older boys took turns to act as "runners", which was a prized job, as the runner got cocoa and sandwiches at regular intervals through the night. Blackout double curtains, blinds and close-fitting window covers were constructed and fitted, and safe areas were designated for each house, to provide refuge in case of air raids; if the safe area had a window it was fitted with a substantial wooden cover to serve as both blackout and blast protection, and strips of linen were glued to windows to prevent splinters flying. If any chink of light showed, the wardens would blow a whistle, bang on the door, and shout, "Put that light out!' The sirens went a number of times, usually for raids on Leeds or Bradford, which attracted attention as centres of production, but we were only seriously menaced once, on the night of 19m. August 1940. A Heinkel 111 of Kampfgeschwader 53 dropped high explosive and incendiary bombs on the Chevin, near to the site now occupied by the Chevin Lodge Hotel. We all thought at the time that the target was RAF Yeadon and the Avro factory that was under construction nearby, but apparently the pilot was off course and thought he was bombing Leeds, according to post war studies (by Gerald Myers for his excellent book "Mother worked at Avro") of LufiwafFe records. It appears that he was so surprised at the reception he received when searchlights and the light ack-ack battery at Carlton crossroads opened up, closely followed by the heavy ack-ack at Adel, that he reported on his return that there must be something important in the area. So a week later they sent a Junkers 88, a much faster light bomber, which came up Wharfedafe and round the Chevin, and dropped some more bombs, roused the reception committee and fled. After the first raid, the Home was scattered with shrapnel from the airbursts of the anti-aircraft fire, and my father found one of the canisters that had held a batch of incendiaries, known as a "Molotov Cocktail", on the hockey pitch. We felt that we had had a close shave, but I only recently found out how close when I received a copy of the official plot map of the bombs that fell. There were about 60 incendiary bombs, ten high explosive bombs, not all of which went off, and two very unusual bombs that were high explosive and filled with oil for greater effect which fortunately failed to detonate and were taken away by bomb-disposal experts for examination. The incendiaries fell in a wide grouping to the east of the main cargo, and came within a few hundred yards of the Home, so we had quite a near escape. The sound of the bombs falling, getting nearer and nearer, was quite scary, but I remember being alert and wary, rather than terrified, as I lay wrapped in a quilt under a substantial mahogany table.

The light anti-aircraft batteries at Carlton crossroads were on either side of Harrogate road; the one above Green Gaits farm was very accessible, and was on the site what is now the animal rescue centre, and the living accommodation, in a wooden hut, was just through the field gate which is used for access to the car boot sale in the big field to the south of the crossroads. I went there several times, as it was only a quarter of a mile away, and was allowed to sit on the seat of the Bofors gun and rotate and elevate the weapon.

The other site was larger and less accessible; probably far this reason it is 'Listed' and still well preserved, in the field between Otley Old Road and Carlton village, near Penny's Farm. This site also had a barrage balloon later on in the war, which was used for training paratroopers when the Airborne Division was formed. Many years later, when I was showing some pictures to friends, one of them, Andy Clements, revealed that he had done his basic parachute training at Carlton, being billeted at RAF Yeadan and jumping from the balloon basket. He told me that his platoon was assembled every evening at dusk, put into the back of a three-tonner and taken up to the Avro factory, where their task was to move the artificial cows around, to maintain the illusion that it was still a farm field - we were aware that something of the sort was going on, but it was only after the war that the activities of the camouflage experts of the film industry became known. He also told me that the three-tonner dropped the lads off at the "Peacock" at Yeadon Fountain to slake their thirsts before going back to base.

The site also had an interesting wire-mesh net mounted an poles surrounding the guns, which in the moonlight looked like a sheet of water. As Yeadon Dam had been drained at the outset of war (which gave us the opportunity to catch all sorts of fish, including pikelets, and the adults to net big pike as the water receded), we thought that the net was a decoy, and noted with some unease that the distance and bearing of the Home from the net was almost exactly the same as that of the Avro factory from the Dam. In fact the net was meant to be an aircraft-spotting device, to pick up and magnify the sound of an approaching raider. It came to light after the war that the Luftwaffe was unaware of the existence of `The Avro' and had in fact been briefed to attack Leeds on the night of their near miss. The worst damage the factory ever suffered was when the roof fell in under the weight of 10 ft. of snow in the 1947 winter.

 

On the morning of 18th May 1943, I was staying with my aunts in Birmingham when we heard on the breakfast time news that a strong force of Lancasters of 617 squadron had carried out a daring raid on the Moehne and Eder dams, causing widespread damage in the Ruhr valley, which was very encouraging news after three years of hardship. We felt proud that our local centre of war effort was much involved in this, for our lives were affected by the roar of low flying Lancaster's being tested under load a few feet above our heads in the middle of the night and the constant bellow of Bdstol engines being tested to destruction at their factory near Carlton. One little oddity was that although the two factories were less than a mile apart, Bristol engines were not used at Yeadon Avro, who got their Rolls Royce engines from Bamoldswick, beyond Skipton. No wonder that I can still sleep through thunderstorms, and even slept through the all-night thunder of an RAF Vulcan on test when I was stationed at RAF Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire. We could recognize many operational aircraft by sound alone, and particularly the locally built Avro Anson, whose seven-cylinder Cheetah engines were absolutely distinctive.

In spite of the dramatic interludes we remember so well, the war touched us much less than in the areas of the country that were of more interest to the enemy; Hull is only an hour's drive away from us, but unlike us it was hammered unmercifully, being a major port. Like everyone else we were subject to food rationing, but we were accustomed to a simple, healthy diet; petrol was unavailable except for authorized users, who had to be nominated as the representative user (in our case it was Mr. Craddock and his Standard 10), but we were accustomed to walking anyway. If we had a long journey, such as my visit to the Birmingham aunts with Mum, it was a bus to Leeds, and a train from Leeds City Station to Birmingham New Street, stopping at Wakefield, Cudworth, Normanton, Sheffield, Derby and many more. The trains were slow, dirty, crowded and liable to stops and diversions and blackout precautions, but they got us there in the end.

There was much ingenuity displayed in the production of food without unavailable ingredients; cakes were made with dripping in the absence of butter, and sugarless recipes for jam were used to preserve blackberries and bilberries picked on the moors in season. Coming from a family of eight children whose father had been killed in an industrial accident, my mother was no stranger to "making something out of nothing'. There was no black market economy in a Methodist organization. We collected rose hips to be made into syrup for babies as a substitute for orange juice, saved paper, and bathed in four inches of water with a "Plimsoll line" on the bath side. What was very noticeable was the result of the "zoning" of well-known brands of food to save transport costs; in the Leeds area you could not get Kellogg's com flakes by normal means, as the zone supplier was Percy Dalton in Torre Road, Leeds, and I'm afraid that Dalton's Cereal Flakes tasted just like damp newspaper.

One thing we did miss as a family was motoring, for Dad had long been an enthusiastic motorist but had made the mistake of nominating someone else to receive the authorized allocation of petrol. He put his beloved Rover 12 on blocks in the garage for the duration, and bought a bike for stately joumeys across to Alwoodley to play golf at Sand Moor. He did try a motorbike, which Ted Parkinson found for him, a 350 cc Norton, but his first ride so scared all the onlookers that my mother put her foot down and that project was abandoned. He had one of those early driving licences that allowed the holder to drive any type of vehicle without having to pass a test, but that omission certainly showed up on that day. Before the war, Dad used to get his petrol and service at the White Garage, owned by George Blackbum with Eric Hunt as the mechanic. When their efforts were directed into the servicing of military or authorized vehicles, I could still go there to get my bike tyres blown up.

When VE Day came, the celebrations were not as exuberant as in those places that had been hardest hit - they were very modest as compared with the wild party in London. There was a bonfire at the beacon point on the Chevin (where some idiot threw a banger at me and put me off fireworks for life) and parties for the children, but the feeling was more 'Thank God that's over' with the knowledge that there was much yet to be done. We were on holiday in Morecambe on VJ night, and the revellers there tore up the planks from the pier and made a bonfire on the promenade; as Connie and I walked back to the hotel, a gentleman weaved past us very unsteadily, carrying a bottle and singing loudly; I wondered whether we should go to his assistance when he fell over, but Connie dryly advised me that I had just seen my first drunk!

During that summer a General Election was called; our constituency was Pudsey and Otley, and the contestants were Brigadier Terry Clarke (Liberal), Colonel Malcoim Stoddard-Scott (Conservative), and Major Denis Healey (Labour). The plethora of military titles is no accident; if a serving officer is selected as a parliamentary candidate, he leaves the service at once, so all three gentlemen got out of the Army earlier than scheduled. Col. Stoddard-Scott was elected and remained our MP until his death in 1973, and Denis Healey stood for Leeds North-East at a later election, won the seat and rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Callaghan administration. He is now Lord Healey of Riddlesden. Winston Churchill lost power, to the surprise of most of the world, and Clement Attlee's Labour government took responsibility for concluding the war and shaping the peace, heralding many years of 'austerity" before the country could relax. They were also years of social change, and health, pensions and education were altered profoundly within a few years of the war's end as a result of the Beveridge report, produced during the war as a blueprint for the country's development in time of peace.

At the end of the war a party of children was brought over from Germany, with the aim of giving them security, decent accommodation, and relief from a situation that for some of them had been traumatic, and twenty of them were sent to Bramhope. Although some of them were very disruptive at first, they eventually integrated after a rather tricky start; Jack Prince acted as the interpreter, (and checked the letters home, some of which contained some quite startling stories of things that never happened) but the real integration fell to the Sisters and the common sense of the other children. 1 remember in particular Giinter Matem, who had a beautiful singing voice, and was much in demand for solos in church; Helga Ludtke, daughter of a dentist from Dresden, who won a scholarship to the local grammar school and gained a degree in English on her return to Germany; and Deitlind von Amim, whose father was a General, who lived in a Schloss, and who complained when she arrived that she could not eat from ordinary plates with cutlery that was not made of silver! Walter Maschke was the son of a farmer, so of course went on the farm. He looked after Emie the sheep, and when the time drew near for him to return home to Germany his family sent him a suit of German farmer's clothes, so he had his photograph taken in his finery with his sheep. (I'm not quite sure where Emie came from; the farm was not usually running sheep in the fields, as it was a dairy farm).

Basil Taylor remembered the names of most of the party, many years later, and sent me a list: -
Johan Gauser, Gustav Klein, Peter, Siegfried and Walter Maschke, Gerhard, Hans and Peter Dzimbrowski, Amo Hessler, Siegfried Hunte, Gunter Matem, Paul Routenberg, Emst Gauger, Helga Ludtke, Karen Lange, Deitlind von Amim, Helga Lindenhoff, Alice Ihoss, and Heidi Ascherott.

Eventually they all went back to Germany. Only Helga has kept in touch; she won a scholarship to Prince Henry's, and on her return home she became a teacher. She tells me that she has tried to find her fellow "refugees", but so far without success.