World War 2 Stories for Sheffield


                       Betty Thompson

My Unusual Childhood 8-13

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Betty B. Thompson
Location of story: Banstead, Surrey
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Doreen Partridge of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Betty Thompson/

My Unusual Childhood 8-13

Betty B. Thompson

I was 8 years old when war was declared. I heard the announcement on the radio; things began to change. John Joyce and I were sent to Chippenham in Wiltshire to stay with relatives. All I remember is a long car journey, learning how to read a gas meter, acres of grass and the smell of furniture polish.

Back at home in Banstead, things had also changed. Male teachers had been replaced by female teachers from Australia and the Dominions. The jobs of bus conductors, porters at some railway stations, some tradesmen and roundsmen were now being carried out by ladies. The Home guard was formed; gas masks issued and we had to carry them at all times. Our Anderson shelter arrived and was erected one Sunday morning. Blackout curtains and tape were put at the windows.

Early in 1940, things were quiet. We holidayed at home, picked fruit to bottle. We, also, picked rosehips for the Government to make a vitamin drink for babies. Acorns were collected for the pigs and we had weeks off school to help with the potato picking; we were always watching out for the Colorado beetle that could destroy the potato crop.

Walking to school one day, I heard the sound of a plane diving and was surrounded by machine gun bullets; a German plane had strafed the high street. That was the start of the Battle of Britain of which we had a “grandstand” view. Every day, there were dogfights in the sky, planes crashing and parachutes descending.

My father in the Special Constabulary, had evening and night duties guarding the water works, the electricity installations, the dams, the dumps and other things. He kept watch after working a full day in London. He had an allotment that he had to grow vegetables on. How he did all of this as well as coping with all the numerous other duties, instructions and warnings that were issued by the Government, I will never know. He was given a medal and bar for 6 years faithful service and I think that he richly deserved it.

My mother worked equally hard. In spite of shortages of almost everything, she made all of our clothes and swapped others at a weekly clothing exchange. She cooked at night, had four children and also had a part-time job.

When the air raids began to affect us, I sometimes spent all day in an air raid shelter at school and then all night was spent in the Anderson shelter at home. The raids were frequent and disruptive.

A day went:
9-07am 9.39 am
9.57am 10.52am
12.08pm 12.35pm

All our schools were damaged and between September 16th and November 8th, there were 59 raids during school hours.

Our handiwork consisted of making jam and soap. Other things were made from the perspex that we collected from the damaged planes' windscreens.

National Saving was almost obligatory and the stamps were bought at school with our pocket money. We all had jobs to do before and after school. I had two jobs; one was hauling 2 huge scuttles a day of coal and wood twice a day, and take them up three flights of stairs for an invalid lady. I also had to collect wood for the kitchen stove; I had a small cart and saw for that job.

Various obstacles to invasion were also erected in the fields; these consisted of tank traps and concrete blocks. Nothing metal was thrown away and there were huge dumps of iron, aluminium and copper. My friends and I, all in the Girl Guides, helped to collect newspapers.

At school, I remember looking through the window and seeing a tiny dark child with thin legs, huge black boots and a very pale face. It is a memory that I have never forgotten. Refugees from France, Holland and Germany had come to our shores; they all looked so lost and ill.

In some ways I had a lovely childhood, rambling, fishing and gathering nuts, fruit and mushrooms. We all had bikes by now and enjoyed riding on them. We spent some of our free time queuing for potatoes and fruit, which was rare. We also had to queue for chicken meal because most people kept chickens. We always had to carry an identity card and our gas masks.
We had a lot of raids and many bombs of different kinds; incendiary, high explosive, oil bombs and thousands of tiny “Butterfly” personnel bombs, so we had to keep out of the fields and woods until they were cleared.

Enemy aircraft that were being chased often jettisoned their bombs down on us. They had either lost their way or nerve, or were lightening their load. One bomb I especially remember, was an Ariel mine on a parachute dangling from the telephone wires, it was a nasty looking thing. The navy came to see to that.

I remember once standing in the shelter of the W.V.S. van, eating “sticky” buns and drinking tea as a large defused bomb was raised from a large hole; it was raised with block and tackle.

Italian prisoners of war were sent to help the farmers; they were often seen going to and fro from work singing. When the Canadians and Americans arrived, they were billeted locally. I saw them shopping and going out with girls to the cinema and other local events such as “Wings for Victory” days, village fete days and parades.

Mother was at St. Helier hospital having a baby when the V1's started and one landed near; things moved fast and when the baby was three weeks old, all of us, except father, were evacuated to Sheffield; this was something of a culture shock. No indoor bath or loo but our welcome and welfare were well handled, and we received sanctuary, safety, kindness and friendship. This epitomised the whole experience from June until September 1944; lasting friendships were made and I, eventually, married someone whom I met at that time.

Back at Banstead, the V2's had just started and Dad said that we will stick together now and we did, although it was the most terrifying bombardment of all and caused considerable anxiety.

I discovered, later, via a television broadcast that misinformation was allowed to seep out about the arrival sites of the V1's and the V2's, so that a percentage fell in the Surrey Downlands rather than London.

V.E. day found me discharged from the hospital after a week stay unconnected with the war.

My overall impression of childhood was so different from that of either my own children or my grandchildren; a freedom, changes, danger, going without, all left me with the ability to cope with almost anything, and has left me with an admiration for my parents and great thankfulness.