World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Ann Roberts 

Wartime Childhood in Leicester

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Ann Roberts
Location of story: Leicester


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Jo Thomas of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk Team on behalf of Ann Roberts.


Ann was a child during the war. Her father was a professional musician.

My earliest memory is of my father being away from home and writing to me annotating his letters with little cartoons and drawings. We originated from Sheffield but were then living in Chesterfield at my maternal grandparents' request, to get us away from the bombing.

My father had been conscripted into the army and was serving as a bandsman in the RAOC based in Leicester. The musical director was Captain Jarman and was known to his bandsmen as Pots! Just prior to his conscription, he had volunteered for the RAF band and after he had done his army training, he heard that he had got a place with the RAF. However, after doing his three weeks' training which resulted in great craters in his heels (in fact thereafter he was excused boots; and allowed to wear ordinary laced up shoes), he felt he couldn’t go through another training session and remained with the army.

Within a few months of my father being called up, he learned that many of the bandsmen had brought their wives and families to live in digs in Leicester, and so he found us lodgings and we moved there. We stayed with a Mrs Poole who looked just like Giles’ grandma! When I came home for lunch on the second day at school I decided I didn’t want to go back in the afternoon, as my friend next door hadn’t started school, so we hid under the table which was covered with Mrs Pooles' best chenille tablecloth, which hung to the floor and made a lovely tent. Our respective mothers frantically searched for us but we kept quiet as mice until after school started.
On our first night in Leicester, the first and only bomb was dropped on Leicester station - so much for moving to avoid the bombing!

The band used to tour the British Isles entertaining the troops and my father related an occasion, when in barracks, when a bomb was dropped, and all the bandsmen fell down the stairs with their instruments. My father never said what the damage was or whether anyone was injured. I remember my father acquiring a small lock-up workshop where he repaired musical instruments. I recall some of his customers came from the American army base nearby and they used to bring me ‘candy’.

My father used to go to the NAAFI and bought sweets about every month. He would hide them all over the lodgings and when I got home from school, he would tell me the fairies had been and then I’d hunt all around the room for these sweets he had hidden, often finding them under the piano lid! You have to remember, sweets were rationed so this was a real treat, and of course I did believe the fairies had been.

On one tour up to Scotland (the band always travelled by coach), he brought back a high chair for my sister, Shetland shawls for my mother and a Windsor and Newton paint box for me, totally unobtainable at that time.