World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                          Bert Hobson 

Women's Volunteer Service - Birkenhead

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Bert Hobson
Background to story: Civilian


Women's Volunteer Service - Birkenhead

Bert Hobson of Queensland, Australia

I was involved in ferrying three R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue launches from Dartmouth to Birkenhead for shipment to places unknown. On arrival at Birkenhead some modifications to the gearboxes were needed. I was left in charge of the boats with a crew to test run them, and to see that they were loaded on board a ship in good order and fitted out for service. We had to live on the boats (no hardship); I was supplied with food coupons and informed that we would receive an allowance of 2/10 (13.5p) per day (2 shillings and 10 pence) per man. Because of rationing and that we were in a strange place, I approached the manageress of the local W.V.S. canteen with the problem of supplying three meals a day for six men, for an undetermined period of time. The first difficulty was that the canteen opened at 10.00 am. The staff did not arrive until about 9.45. The Lady took on the job of coming in at 7.30 and providing us with breakfast, which she had to do in two shifts, because I had to keep a watch on the boats 24 hours a day. The arrangement worked very well, but that is not the story.

During the six weeks we were in the docks, Birkenhead became "The Target for Tonight". On the morning after the first raid, we walked along a road covered in debris from burnt out houses, wondering if there would be a canteen. It was some 15 minutes walk from the dock. It had escaped damage and the lady let us in with her usual welcome.

Seated at our table was a man dressed in civvies, surrounded with notices that proclaimed that nobody dressed in civilian clothes would be served or even allowed in. She said, "This is my husband, would you mind if he had breakfast with you? I did not have time to give him breakfast and he has to go to work." "No," I replied being surprised at the request, especially after what had been a pretty bad night.

As breakfast, we began chatting on the topic of the raid; the husband said, "She couldn't give me breakfast because our house took a direct hit, fortunately we were in the shelter when it hit. There is nothing left of the house and at the moment all we have is what we wear."

It was a very humbling experience, not a word about her problems. She was the manageress of a relatively small canteen run by the Women's Volunteer Service. I do not remember her name, but I never forget the lady who arrived at work two hours early each morning to provide half a dozen airmen with breakfast, especially on the morning she lost her home and its precious contents.

I am 92 and I remember that incident far more clearly than the raids.