World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         Marian Maris 

Three Sisters from Sheffield

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Pamela Mary Burkinshaw, Marian Burkinshaw, Patricia Burkinshaw, Frederick Burkinshaw, Olga Mary Burkinshaw, Peter Maurice Burkinshaw, Lieutenant –Colonel Holmstrom, Major Wilton Lee, Major Parkin, Mr Dalton, Mr Hadfield, Major Lees, Mr Harrop, Mr Massey
Location of story: Handsworth, Sheffield
Unit name: 65th WR Battalion Home Guard Headquarters Company No 3 Platoon
Background to story: Civilian Force

 

Marian Maris

Three Sisters from Sheffield

We are –Pamela Mary Burkinshaw. Born 12th June 1933

Marian Burkinshaw. Born 1st May 1935

Patricia Burkinshaw. Born 31st December 1936

Our Parents – Frederick Burkinshaw born 7th January 1905 and Olga Mary Burkinshaw born 24th June 1906 were married on the 23rd July 1932.

Our brother –Peter Maurice Burkinshaw Born 24th March 1942

A few years before the war began we moved to a new house on Handsworth Crescent, Sheffield. We stayed together as a family throughout the war, because married women with children were not conscripted and our dad who was a forman in a rolling mill at Brown Baileys Steelworks had a reserved occupation, as did several of our uncles.

Uncle Albert had been in the Royal Navy since 1924 and was appointed Electrical Officer on HMS Edinburgh, a powerful warship that joined the Home Fleet just before the war started. After two and a half years she was torpedoed off Northern Russia. Our uncle was a survivor, his reports on the Russian convoys are now in the Imperial War Museum. Uncle George was in the Merchant Navy and he became a prisoner of war in Germany suffering many hardships, Uncle Harry joined the army and a further uncle and cousin enlisted in the RAF.

Our dad did join the 65th WR Battalion Home Guard Headquarters Company No 3 Platoon. The Sheffield Battalions were numbered 64 to 69; the 65th was the largest with 3,195 officers and men. We have his notebook that lists details of the battalion, weapons with firing applications and map readings. At some stage he became a lance corporal. The first page of the notebook gives the command structure of No3 Platoon;

Battalion Commander. –Lieutenant –Colonel Holmstrom.
Second in Command. – Major Wilton Lee.
Company Commander- Major Parkin.
Platoon Commander- Mr Dalton.
Second in Command -Mr Hadfield.
Medical Officer- Major Lees.
Officer in charge of D. R. –Mr Harrop.
Officer in Charge of Transport –Mr Massey

Dad also helped the war effort by ‘Digging for Victory,’ we grew most of our vegetables and some fruits in the back garden and adjoining allotment.

Soon after the war started we were supplied with an air raid shelter called an Anderson shelter. Dad and some of our neighbours dug a large hole up the garden and built the shelter into it with a plank floor, wooden steps, bunk beds and grass sods on top.

How exciting it was for us girls, waking up when the sirens blared out so insistent it made one’s nerves tingle. Downstairs, sitting in our particular chair on which our siren suits had been placed, we struggled into them as quickly as possible, Pamela in her sleepy, languorous state sometimes removed hers and had to start all over again. Siren suits were warm all in one trouser suits worn over pyjamas, ours, made by Mum but copied from Winston Churchill were in different colours. Pamela remembers hers was in dark blue with a red plaid- lined hood.

Loaded with candles, matches, torches, flasks, pillows, blankets and dolls we trooped out of the house, switching off the electrics because of blackout. Out into the blackness, unless it was moonlight or the searchlights lit up the sky making a spectacular light show like the start of a 20th Century Fox Movie. The drone of planes, the sound of ack-ack guns and occasionally the shriek of bombs aiming for the steelworks nearby sent us tumbling down the steps of the shelter and into our bunks.

Once we became accustomed to all this and the damp smell and tickly blankets, we promptly fell asleep. Except for mum, probably the reason why for the rest of her life she never went to bed before 2am was because of what must have been for her an anxious and distressing time. How did she cope? She was expecting our brother in 1941-42 and dad was often on night shift or Home Guard duty and could not be around to help her most nights. There we spent the night, until dad, on his return or after getting up first, brought us cups of tea. That damp, pervasive, claustrophobic smell of the shelter comes back to us occasionally when entering some cave or cellar, it coated blankets, clothes and us, quite unforgettable.

Sometimes when things were not so bad ‘nowt doing’ between alerts and the all clear, we children slept under the kitchen table, placed under the window in case of falling glass. Our next-door neighbour, a buxom lady, with no children, would join us in the kitchen when her husband was on nights. On her own she was very nervous and she and mum would sit talking whilst she hugged her shopping basket into which she had put all her ‘valuables.’

The Sheffield Blitz in the first half of December 1940 increased the danger, this was real war, Sheffield, City of Steel had heard and read of the Birmingham, Coventry and Bristol all- out raids, now it was our turn. At 7 o’clock on the night of December 12-13th it began .On Sunday 15th, Brown Baileys Steelworks were the worst hit industrial site in the district. One bomb almost certainly a 2,000-parachute mine put four rolling mills out of action by destructing the buildings and switchgear and doing a large amount of damage to the machinery and rolls.

We lived near Davy United Engineering Co.Ltd., not far from the railway and during several heavy raids the German planes came looking for both. They dropped incendiary bombs all around in an effort to spot the works, setting alight all the fields. The bombs fell but missed both the factory and the railway, falling instead in the next road, badly damaging some houses and shattering many of our fashionable leaded-light windows, never to be replaced.

After the all-clear Dad took Pamela to the top of our garden to see the fields burning and the searchlights still on looking for any stray German bomber. Pat remembers standing at the bottom of the garden path with Dad one evening watching our bombers going over and him saying they would be over Germany later that night.

Our primary school was Pipworth Road on the edge of the Manor Estate, chosen perhaps because unlike going to Handsworth School or Whitby Road we did not have to cross any main thoroughfare. We walked the mile to school, came back for lunch and did it all again in the afternoon. We were told if we heard a plane to lie flat down in the field or if near enough to a hedge to quickly run and get down under it. Because it was wartime we wore an identity disc and carried a gas mask. Fortunately we only needed to put these on for practice; they were hot, smelly and uncomfortable. Our baby brother had a huge affair, nick-named Mickey Mouse.

At school air-raid drills and siren alerts came and went calmly the teacher lining everyone up, marching us as quickly as possible to the shelters built into a grassy bank away from the school building, then calling our names from the register. Anyone missing? Nothing much happened but Marian remembers receiving her first ‘kiss’ from a boy in her class in the darkness of that shelter. When we came out at ‘all-clear’ we looked across the fields to our house to make sure it was still there and our mum was all right. Many of the houses on the Manor Estate were bombed and the people made homeless were put up in Pipworth Road School so instead of lessons there we had groups of pupils doing their schoolwork at home.

During the 1940 Blitz mum who had been saving sugar, dried fruit and fat for ages, made a Christmas cake. After the cake had been in the oven for a while the sirens went and we had to go into the shelter. Should mum turn the gas down low or leave it and hope the raid did not last long. The gas stayed put but the raid was a long one and when the cake was inspected it was burnt. A few days later the whole episode was repeated, the gas was turned very low, too low and the cake sank in the middle. Mum was not very happy.

Food was in short supply and lots of things were rationed, tea, sugar, fats, eggs and meat. Occasionally mum got a rabbit, which was not on ration, the butcher tried to give these to mothers with young children. Sometimes she wangled a large marrowbone to cook with our meat ration and lots of vegetables, this lasted a couple of days. Dad got the largest share of the meat as he worked long hard shifts. Sweets were rationed too, two ounces a week per person, so it was exciting to go at the week-end to the sweet shop and spend ages trying to decide the best value for our coupons. Occasionally mum would make some peppermint sweets to eke out our ration.

In spite of rationing we still tried to have parties at Christmas, families pooling whatever they could spare. One Christmas when Pamela had German measles a thoughtless, tactless aunt told her she would be covered in little swastikas she was so upset she hid in the pantry.

Toys were in short supply so our father made us wooden sewing boxes, dolls cots and animated clowns, which climbed a pole or swung on rods. Our brother had a wooden lorry and a steamroller. Because there was a shortage of paper, books especially annuals had fewer pages, apologies for this were printed inside the covers.

Holidays in wartime when the seaside was out of the question because of raids, mines, barbed wire and no go warnings, we spent in the countryside. A week near Worrall, travelling there by bus then tramping diagonally across seven fields with our bags and cardboard suitcases to the farm.

It was wonderful especially for children. There was no gas, no electricity, instead oil lamps and candles, no running water and you had to go through the garden, a long way from the farmhouse, to a hut by the pigsty, which had a three hole wooden lavatory.

We watched the cows being milked by hand and drank warm milk straight from the cows at bedtime, we fed the hens and collected the eggs, picked apples and went to the fields when the hay or wheat was cut. There we helped to stack the sheaves into stooks, riding back ‘home’ astride the big carthorse or on the horse drawn cart. Water was collected from the village by the farmer, assisted by Pamela and the horse which pulled a bowser full of clean water back to the farm. Cooking was done on the Yorkshire range or by methylated spirits on a stove, there was plenty to eat on our farm, lovely! We often played out the English Civil War in the hayloft. We the terrified Romantic Cavaliers looking out for and hiding from such Roundheads as the postman, or the farmer or anyone else we saw coming up the lane. On finding a battered but workable old chipper w
naughtily dug up potatoes and chipped them. Raw potato tasted good until mum found out and said we would get worms.

To get us children out of the way for a while the adults took us on walks and picnics. Sometimes we picked blackberries or bilberries arriving back at base, scratched and stained but laden and our kindly farmer’s wife made pies to have with cream. We still remember the lip-smacking smell of those pies; in fact the farm like the shelter was another place with smelly association. Not just the farmyard with the strong odour of horses, cows and pigs, but the smell of fresh cut hay, the salty smell of the enormous hams hanging from the kitchen ceiling and the spicy smell of wood smoke.

It was a child’s dream of a holiday.

Another favourite was Castleton in Derbyshire where we stayed at a guesthouse in the square on the edge of the village, in the shadow of the hill on which the castle stood. We climbed up to the castle and visited the famous Castleton caves. A little stream ran at the bottom of the square where minnows darted through the clear water and at the far side was a row of penny slot machines with funny and cheeky films such as ‘What the Butler Saw.’

It was a peaceful place until one day Pamela who was sitting on the wooden seat which curved around the large oak tree in the square was very frightened by the sound of a German plane flying overhead, it machine-gunned something before flying off. Another day tanks came rolling through to remind us there was a war on.

Apart from the holidays we had lots of days out too, to Graves and Millhouses Parks, to the stream below Fox House where we paddled and made dams, to Redmires and Lodge Moor, here there was an Italian prisoner- of –war camp. We sometimes saw the prisoners on the road, the men would shout and laugh and try to talk to us children, they obviously missed their families. We always took a picnic for dinner or tea and came home to porridge for supper. Because of double summer time it stayed light until very late. Pat recalls one of those evenings when on going to bed she looked out of the window and stayed listening to the adults in the gardens around us talking about events.

Sunday school played a big part in our lives; we enjoyed taking part in the Anniversary shows and the Whitsun parades wearing our new dresses made by mum. Every week we went as a family to the Plaza cinema, after the newsreels, mostly about the war, we saw black and white mainly British pictures, later American musicals. Pamela went with a school group to see Laurence Olivier’s ‘Henry V,’ an exciting and patriotic film. An annual show at the City Hall featured at least one patriotic song with Union Jacks draped about and the whole cast on stage singing such rousing marches as ‘Soldiers of the King, my lads.’

It is funny to think that we remember those days, for us children, those happy days, as a time of endless sunshine, with freedom to roam, with lots of jolly occasions spent with numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. At a time when much of the world saw its darkest hours, we three did not see or feel the danger. Yes, we had a lovely war.


On 3rd December 1944 the Home Guard was officially stood down. Some 5,000 men packed the City Hall and the Regent Picture House to hear the King’s message read, and after, they joined some 3,000 of their colleagues from the anti-aircraft batteries in a military parade through the rain-soaked streets.