World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Deborah Devonshire 

The Second World War, through the Eyes of an Eleven-Year-Old Boy

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Ron Varey, Deborah Devonshire - Duchess of Devonshire, Eric Oliver, Mr. Broom, Allen Titchmarsh and Gloria Hunniford
Location of story: Rotherham, Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Background to story: Civilian


I was eleven years old when war broke out. I had a brother who was two years older. Because my Dad was too old to join the forces, he joined the LDV, which later changed its name to the Home Guard. My dad was a commissioned officer because he had been in the army before. The Home Guard later became known as ‘Dad’s Army’.
During the months of May, June, and July 1939, we were issued with Gas Masks and identity cards, my number was KHCI3514. In the previous February, we were given an Air Raid shelter, we had to dig a hole in the garden to almost bury it.
Blackout curtains, no lights allowed. Sunday, September 3, 1939 the Prime Minister spoke on the radio, there was no T.V. and there were very few private phones. His words at that time were these, “I have received no message from Adolf Hitler therefore we at war with Nazi Germany.”
Rationing of food was introduced in January 1940.
Bacon, Ham and butter, 4oz per week (100grams)
Sugar 12oz (300grams)
July 1940
Tea, margarine and cooking fats 2oz (50 grams)

March 1941
Jam, mince, syrup, marmalade, honey and cheese l oz per week (25grams)
Not rationed:- Fish, vegetables and sausage.
Big queues formed whenever these came into the shops. Eggs were scarce, in 1942 powdered egg and milk were introduced. Fresh milk was 2 ½ pints per week, one fresh egg every two weeks. A loaf of bread, called the national loaf was introduced, it was grey in colour because the flour was not refined. We were asked to share a bath with our families because coal was in short supply, coal was used to heat the water for washing clothes and having a bath. Clothes for children were bought one or two sizes too big then the hems were let down as the children grew. When fruit like bananas did get through only children could have them, some children thought you ate the skin as well. When ice cream arrived in the shops large queues quickly formed and sometimes the ice cream was sold before your turn came.
An air raid took place one Easter Monday and a stick of bombs fell in Clifton Park and Middle Lane.

I finished school in 1942, at 14years old, and before I started work, a school pal and I went on a camping holiday in Derbyshire. We had taken with us a hand painted camouflage tent; this was required by the Ministry of Defence regulations. We were allowed to pitch our tent in the stack yard of a farmer named Mr. Broom. He did not make a charge but asked us to help him on the land. We were working in a field one day, when a low flying German aircraft began firing bullets and buzzing around Chatsworth House in a village near Bakewell. This is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, more about this later. The plane was flying so low the air crew were visible from the ground. It later turned out that the visibility over Sheffield was so poor, the crew had to use all their ammunition and bombs to be able to get back home. What the Germans did not know was that the whole of the art treasures of Sheffield were stored in a barn on Mr. Broom's farm.

I was watching a TV programme in 1993; it was about Chatsworth House and the service it had performed during World War II. It had served as a college for young ladies from the London area, these ladies had been sent up to get them away from the bombing of the capital.
The two presenters of the show were Allen Titchmarsh and Gloria Hunniford. The Duke took Allen to show him round the gardens and Gloria accompanied the Duchess round the house. Whilst Gloria and the Duchess were inspecting one of the bedrooms, the Duchess pointed to a table and pointed to a hole in it. She went on to explain why this was so, it turned out this was one of the bullets the German bomber had fired when I saw it in 1942.
I was very excited and decided to write to the Duchess and tell her how I came to be there at that time.
Some time later a letter arrived for me from her Grace, she was so grateful that I had taken the time to tell her of my experience. I have since written to her again and you can now see both letters, which she sent me.
Transcript of the 1st letter from the Duchess of Devonshire to Ron Varey. This letter was handwritten with the exception of the address.:
(address removed)

Sorry for the poor quality of the photo of Eric’s note -
(Date illegible)
Dear Ron Varey
Thank you very much for your letter. You can imagine how interested I am to read what you tell me.
There are still Brooms at Pilsley (There is a Pleasley but that is 23 miles east of here, near Mansfield), and they still farm there.
I did not know the Sheffield works of art were stored in his barn so that is of great interest.
I enclose an account of the German plane you saw, by Eric Oliver, then a boy as you will see by what he says, now the Comptroller of this House.
I wonder on which occasion you saw them.
Eric’s second experience was the time when the bullet went into the table, from our own side that time!
Such memories are so important to get written down and so I am most grateful to you for your letter.
With best wishes and many thanks for taking the trouble to write.
Yours sincerely Deborah Devonshire
The following is a transcript of a letter from Eric Oliver to the Duchess of Devonshire dated April 4, 1989. This letter was typed However, ‘Her Grace’ and ‘Eric’ was hand written:
Her Grace
Chatsworth under fire – 1940-44
Early in the war, possibly 1942, the house was strafed when two twin engine German aircraft flying South, virtually over the West Front Garden, opened fire scoring some hits on the West side of the building.

These planes were flying so low, we could actually see crew members in the cockpits and front turrets. Both aircraft were shot down South of Derby.

Later in the war, before D-Day, the East side of the House came under fire from Allied troops training on the moors in the Ireland Edge area, resulting in one 303 bullet embedding itself in a Library Table and very recently, one being discovered in the lead over the South East door.

I remember both incidents clearly as these, along with seeing the glow over Sheffield when it was being blitzed, are my main recollections of the war.

On the first occasion I was playing along with other children from the Stable Yard, on the grass below the Strand Wood gate when the planes opened fire. In the second instance we were playing under the Beech trees at the bottom of the Cascade and heared the bullets whipping through the leaves overhead like a swarm of bees.


Transcript of 2nd letter from the Duchess of Devonshire to Ron Varey. This letter was typed however, the last paragraph and the ending was hand written:

(address removed)
24 July 2001
R Varey Esq
X Xxxxxxxx Xxxxx
Thank you very much for your letter, which I am very sorry I have been so slow to answer.
The contents are completely fascinating and I am so pleased to have your record
of what happened when the German bombers flew over this valley. It is now of historic interest and all of us here are very pleased to have it. On looking back all of us who were alive then remember what a strange time it was.
I am sure the children you talk to find it hard to believe.

With Renewed thanks
Yours sincerely
Deborah Devonshire