World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                             Bill Cooper 

My father, the ARP warden

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Robert Cooper.
Location of story: Darnall, Sheffield.

                                                     Bill (left) with his dad Robert and mum Annie


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Bill Cooper.

September 3rd, 1939. Time 11-15, a bright and sunny Sunday morning. Neville Chamberlain, our Prime Minister had just been on the radio to announce that he had issued an ultimatum to Germany to withdraw their troops from Poland, and that should Hitler fail to submit such an undertaking,  England would declare war. No such undertaking was given, so for the second time in just over twenty years, our country was at war with Germany.

I remember standing with my father at the bottom of our passage, basking in the Autumn sunshine. All at once the eerie sound of the air raid siren was heard. We expected bombs to rain down on us immediately, but life went on just as before. Our family used to like Sunday for the simple reason that the radio series ‘Hippodrome’ was broadcast on Sunday night. Its main characters were Harry Korris and Enoch, who played the stooge.

An air raid shelter had been delivered to our humble home, and had been erected in our back garden. My father planted mushrooms at the back of the shelter, of which he was very proud. My eldest sister, who was named Gladys, and my elder brother Robert used to volunteer to clean the shelter out after it had rained, as the water used to settle on the shelter floor.

There was another reason that they were so keen, and that was that they had both started to smoke. Eventually my father found out about this and caught them. He pulled both of them out of the shelter and made them smoke a cigarette each. After smoking about half of it, their complexions turned a funny gray. For the moment both smokers decided that it was bad for their health in more ways than one.

My father was a labourer at Kayser Ellison’s steel works which was about a mile from where we lived. During the next few months, we went through what was called the Phoney War. The Germans mounted a few nuisance raids and we did the same. At this moment in time the war was not going very well for us and the miracle of Dunkirk had just been accomplished. After this, the raids began to be more frequent and mostly at night.

My father, Robert Cooper, who had been injured in a steelworks, joined the ARP as a warden. He would come home from work, have his tea, don his ARP overall and helmet and report to the local ARP post for duty. After Dunkirk, the sirens were sounded more frequently. When my father came off duty he would tell us what state of alert the town was in.

The highest state of alert was the purple. When he told my mother that the purple was on, she would gather us all together and we would sleep in the shelter. This went on, on a regular basis until my father put his foot down. He said that we might as well get killed by a bomb as die from pneumonia in a damp shelter. My youngest brother John, was only six months old at the time. When the ack-ack guns had been firing at passing raiders, my friends and I used to go round the roads looking for shrapnel from the spent ack-ack shells.

My father gave his life during the Sunday night blitz, along with nine of his comrades; they did not find his body for a week. Our home had been completely destroyed and we were living with our Aunt Ada, my father’s sister. They brought my father’s body there for burial. It was screwed down with orders that it was to remain that way, but my mother had other ideas. She wanted to say her goodbyes and to see who she was burying.

Waiting while we were all in bed, she unscrewed the coffin lid and took her last look at my father’s body. His body was so badly damaged that she could only identify him from his clothing. At the time of the Sunday night blitz, my father was working. As soon as the sirens went, he came home in his working clothes. He always wore a waistcoat. Somehow or other, my mother got hold of this waistcoat, and she treasured that piece of clothing for thirty years, until she was persuaded to throw it away. The bizarre thing about the waistcoat was that you could still see the bloodstains after all that time. With my father gone, my mother had the task of bringing up six children. A few months after, my mother’s sister Nellie died in childbirth, leaving two young children, which my Mother, Annie Cooper, added to her own brood, therefore bringing up eight children in all.

By this time my sister Gladys and brother Robert were of working age, but at the time of my fathers funeral, there was no state benefit. Through his kind generosity, my Uncle Cedric, paid all expenses for the funeral and our funeral clothes. Those two nights, Thursday and Sunday, the 12th and 15th of December, 1940, even at the age of 75 are still fresh in my mind.