World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                             Ann Lumb 

A Soldiers memories of War ( as told to his wife over the years )

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: John Henry Lumb (deceased ) Anne Elizabeth Lumb (wife).
Location of story: Huddersfield West Yorkshire, Wales, North and South Africa and Italy.
Unit name: Royal Engineers (eighth army)
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Alan Shippam of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Ann Lumb.

I was born in June 1935 and my earliest recollection of the war is of going to school in 1940. My brother and I attended Ecclesall C. of E. School on Ringinglow Rd Sheffield. We had our gas masks round our necks, although thankfully, we never had cause to use them. One day the sirens went; in the daytime they were usually false alarms, and I recall some people took us in along with other children going to school. These people had what we called a table shelter, a large re-enforced table which you could crawl under and be sheltered in case of bombs. People would paint a T sign on the outside wall so you could tell which people had them, they were large and filled the room they were in.

I recall the cold damp air raid shelters at school where we practiced in case it was ever necessary for us to use them. They held supplies of thin white chocolate, which I assume were for emergencies. We never used the shelters, but later, I remember eating the chocolate. My father grew vegetables and we had chickens. In summer, we picked wild raspberries and blackberries from the fields and my mother made jam.

I recall on the playing fields of High Storrs School, there was an Army camp, and the soldiers used to come to the houses in our road (Highcliffe Drive) for baths. I think they had guns on the camp, as sometimes our gardens had large piles of shrapnel and our windows cracked.

My father built a shelter at the top of the garden, with railway sleepers and corrugated iron sheets, and he covered it in turf. On clear nights, if raids were expected, they put us to bed, my brother and I had bunks and my little sister Jean had a cot.

We took the canary in its cage and our cat. Two other strays used to stay as well, they never fought. Mother said they must have known to behave.

My father was refused service when war started as he had had a kidney removed, but he was in the ARP Rescue. He left home on the Thursday of the 1st Blitz and did not return until the following Tuesday. My mother must have been terribly concerned.
I can recall him coming home, filthy and covered in dust. He was so exhausted, he couldn’t hold a cup and fell asleep on the floor. Later, when he took his coat off, we found a tiny little cat, which had survived; we had her for a long time and called her Blitz.

My only recollection of the Sheffield Blitz was the red glow in the sky from the burning city centre.

Father told us stories of rescue work. One old lady rescued after hours asked him to go back for her knitting. In the Sharrow and Nether Edge area, there was a lot of damage. One night, father was asked to go for some equipment and when he got back, the house and rescuers had vanished. We assumed a bomb had exploded, he was very shocked.

We were sent to our Aunt's house in Berwick on Tweed for safety, but one day a German plane dive bombed when we were playing outside. My Aunt pushed us in the house and the plane bombed the last house on the road. I still recall seeing the pilot with his helmet and goggles, it was so low.

Father fetched us home after that and said we should all be together. The planes were bombing the convoys taking supplies to Russia.

I do not recall much else apart from listening to D-Day landings in the school hall. I passed my 11+ and went to Grammer School in 1946. My parents survived into their 80’s, my brother to 76. My sister and I are well; we often say how hard it must have been to bring children up in those difficult days, but everyone pulled together. Things were shared, clothes were passed on, everyone helped, and I’m sure we are all a lot stronger for it.


John was called up for service, and joined in March 1940 aged 22 years. He was sent to Huddersfield West Yorkshire, where they were trained to fight for the first few weeks with broom handles, until equipment arrived. They were sent to the Welsh borders and he recalled a red glow in the sky one December night, and was told it was Sheffield burning.

He was later told that his father and uncle were missing. They had been in the city centre on business and sheltered in the Marples Hotel. The hotel was bombed and many lives were lost and never identified. John was given leave to tour hospitals and morgues in Sheffield, but no trace of either of them was ever found.

The Welsh people were very kind to John and his colleagues, and they lived with the locals. Here they were trained to bridge rivers, build Bailey bridges and lay heavy gauge wire for netting soft ground.

They sailed for Africa on the Rangatteti (not sure of spelling) and had to make a huge detour to avoid action, and it was a long journey. When the ship docked, at Durban I think, local people met them and took them on tours round the city. Two ladies met John and they had a big car. They were, strangely enough, from Sheffield and had emigrated years before. They originally lived 2 streets from John’s home.

John was upset when he stepped off a footpath to let an African pass and he was told he should not have done so, he was horrified and it made him all the more determined to do it again if the occasion arose. In 1941 they were in Port Said to acclimatise and the natives used to shave them and make them tea. He recalled seeing the top of a large ship and realised it was on the Suez Canal.

On the coast road leading west, they were in Meesa Matsu and Sidi Banini , and were involved in mine clearance. Some of the mines were 2 feet long and cylindrical, but most were the size of a large dinner plate; they were connected by wire, so stepping on one triggered the rest. They covered them with colander type things which were later removed by the soldiers following behind. John said the Battle of El Alamein started with an enormous barrage of cannon fire and tanks. He walked with a rifle and was not engaged in the activity, but as the enemy retreated, they went ahead to replace the bridges.

Sometime around this time, I’m not sure at what point John and his mates were sent to get Montgomery and Earl Alexandra’s caravan and car out of the mud where they were bogged down. He said Montgomery thanked them, but was very reserved. Earl Alexandra was very approachable and shook their hands. John had a leg wound with shrapnel and as he was moved to hospital his I.D. locket and papers were lost and therefore he was sent to Syria by boat. It was thought that the enemy might move through Turkey and attack Suez from the East. Then eventually he was back in the desert but missed his original mates. In the time he was in hospital, they had moved on and he was with different people. He landed in Sicily and British Warships were shelling. As they moved inwards, they were heavily bombed. They crossed the Straits of Medina, I think near Anzio, on to Rimini. The homes were deserted, tables were laid for meals and there were signs of quick evacuation.

Here in a garage John and his friends found a young Italian couple with a tiny girl called Maria. They had fled their home; they were starving and the boys begged food from the canteen where they were fed. At Christmas, John made a wooden trolley on wheels and made little bricks. One boy painted it; they all filled it with their chocolate rations and took it on Christmas Eve to the garage where the couple were. The little girl loved it.

John was upset to leave, but said they should be safe now. He never forgot Maria and often talked of her. Later he became a despatch rider and was given a revolver instead of a rifle. He sometimes called at American bases where they fed him well and gave him food to take back with him. Later, they went by boat to the South of France, D-Day had taken place and he entered Germany near Osnabrook where he saw a concentration camp. He never wanted to talk about the horror of the war, hence his story is a lighter version. He died in November 2001.