World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Betty Hill 

The Day Before War Broke Out. Blackpool

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: BETTY HILL
Location of story: Blackpool, Doncaster
Background to story: Civilian




My war experiences began on the 2nd September, 1939.

My parents had taken me on holiday to Blackpool. My father, a butcher, had to return home on Thursday for the weekend trade. He begged my mother to accompany him but she refused. As we walked with him to the station it seemed everyone was leaving Blackpool, my mother was adamant. We went to the Pleasure Beach on Friday, many of the amusements were closing down. As we walked back we saw men boarding up booths on the Golden Mile. We stopped at Woolworth's for beans on toast and the waiter had already put chairs upon the tables. I looked through the window and saw the boat-shaped tram pull up and the lights go out.

On Saturday we were wakened by the landlady telling us the government had taken over the railways. At the bus depot we found chaos and people panicking.

Everyone became desperate, as the day wore on, men fought for seats and women threw their cases through the bus windows as they drove in, hoping to reserve a seat, consequently many lost their belongings. We stayed nervously on the edge of the crowd nothing to eat and nowhere to sit. My mother sent me to a kiosk to see what I would find. The only thing left on sale were Fry's chocolate cream bars – I haven’t eaten one since.

Finally, at dusk, a policeman cycled into the depot followed by three buses which parked away from the crowd. They announced everyone would get home but must proceed in an orderly fashion, get on the bus and tell the driver where they wanted to go. The first category called were women travelling alone with children. I wondered if my mother felt guilty as she realised she was the only woman daft enough to remain there with a child. The buses were filled, there was some rationalisation where people were going and I had to sit on someone's knee. I remember my mother passing me round like the refreshments and telling everyone that it was "all ridiculous, there wasn't going to be a war."

After a tour round all the mill towns of Lancashire and pit villages of Yorkshire in a blacked out bus, we arrived in Doncaster at four o'clock in the morning. My father was waiting at the terminus and took us home where my grandmother greeted us to say she had made up beds downstairs in case we were bombed. My mother snorted in disgust, picked up her pillows and eiderdown and marched upstairs, leaving me to crawl on the settee in my outdoor clothes.

The following morning I was wakened by the sound of the radio, I shrugged off my coat and shoes and paddled over to the table to hear the words. "I am speaking to you from 10 Downing Street..."

"Never heard anything so stupid," my mother said, "It'll be over by Christmas."

The day after war was declared we returned to school to find it had been taken over by the army. Eventually questions were asked in Parliament and the army retreated by Christmas, but then we had to wait for the air raid shelters to be built. In the meantime, we attended another infant school on a shift system. It seems the local Army Officer had watched the school being built and he had ear-marked it as a possible headquarters for in case war was declared. As soon as Chamberlain had finished speaking, he marched in!