World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Doreen Driver 

A schoolgirl in Darnall

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Doreen Driver
Location of story: Sheffield, East Leake
Background to story: Civilian

                                                                                        Doreen Driver


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Geraldine Roberts of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Doreen Driver.


A schoolgirl in Darnall


Miss Doreen Driver

I was 9 and a half when the war began. I lived in Fitzmaurice Road with my mother Minnie and father James. My father worked at English Steels on the River Don. After Blitz he used to do 36 hour shifts which were a combination of work and fire watching.
The majority of children from my school were evacuated on Friday 1st September 1939. We all gathered at Philimore Road School. There were several buses waiting to take us to the station. There was no transport for our parents but they all walked down and met us at the other end.
There was a special train waiting at the station to take us. I was due to go to Ruddington. My mother’s uncle and his family lived there and it was all arranged. Unfortunately the train I was on did not stop at Ruddington so we all arrived at East Leake. When we got there we were taken to the village hall and given drinks and food.
Local women came to choose children to look after. Most of the children were in pairs. I was an only child and was alone. Besides me, there were two young sisters who had been befriended by an older girl so they were a trio. No one seemed to want us. We got more and more upset as all the other children were chosen. In the end it was decided that one of the young sisters with go with the older girl and the other young sister would go with me. Mr and Mrs Dufty took us home.

Their house was on Main Street but seemed to have very few of the amenities which I took for granted at home. There was no electricity in the upstairs rooms so it was a candle to bed. There was a pump in the yard and an earth closet down the garden. This was cleared periodically.

Mr and Mrs Dufty were kind and at Christmas my parents came to be with me and they stayed with the family. Many of the people who took in evacuees were equally kind when parents came to visit. I had long ringlets when I arrived but they were soon cut to minimise problems with lice. I looked like a little waif.

We went to the village school. The age range was 5 to 14 but we were just divided into three broad age groups mostly based on existing learning. Even though I was only 9 I was in the top class along side 14 year olds. In general the evacuees seemed to be more advanced educationally than the country children.

A dentist’s van used to come to the school periodically to check our teeth. Those who had problems were called back and treated there and then without gas or anything else.

Being evacuated was an adventure at first but after a time it became a bit boring. At the same time the bombing which had been feared in Sheffield had not happened so in April 1940 I returned home.

While I was away my parents had moved to Industry Road so I went to Whitby Road School on my return.
My father’s sisters were both nurses and were working at Wharncliffe Military Hospital at Middlewood. I was very interested in their experiences.
Summer 1940 was warm and sunny. One of my friends, Lillian and I made lavender bags and kettle holders which we sold and with the proceeds bought Brylcream, chewing-gum and cigarettes which I took to the wounded in Wharncliffe Hospital. Sometimes some of the men would turn up at our house as my aunts had given them our address as somewhere they could go in the time they could spend out of hospital. I liked listening to their tales

My mother had worked for most of her married life and she was asked to return to look after an old lady she had helped before. This lady died in December and I was given her two budgies. That night I was in bed and my dad was having a bath in the kitchen when Aunty Bet rushed in and said, “The sirens have gone and there are planes overhead. Get into the shelter.”
She wouldn’t stay as she was on night duty. By the time we were ready there was gunfire and bombs so we went into the cellar. I fell asleep. When the “all clear” went and I was woken I was covered in flakes of whitewash from the cellar walls.

I went to school on the Friday day but there was so much damage in Sheffield that no teachers could get through. Water was off and we had to fetch it from standpipes.

My Mum was working in the W.V.S. and had to be on duty at the Attercliffe Vestry Hall which was a “rest centre” so she took me along with her.

People were arriving some brought in by air raid wardens. Many were in their nightclothes and were dirty, as they had been dug out of the rubble.
On the Sunday mum was on duty again until four o’clock so after Sunday School, dad and I met her and walked back home. As we were having tea, about 6 o’clock, the sirens went. Dad said “Shelter”. We grabbed our coats and ran down the garden. The lady next door had gone for the next shift at the Vestry Hall and her husband had gone to chapel. About 9 o’clock there was a lull in the bombing and the son, Bill, came to us in the shelter.
He said both houses were damaged. The bombing began again and the garden wall from next door collapsed and trapped us in the shelter.
Early next morning a warden came to tell us we had to get out because there was a time bomb in the petrol station just down the road. My dad said “It would be sensible if you dug us out!” They did.
As the door opened and dad began to go out, he turned and said,

“Be prepared to see nothing.” I did not know what he meant. The backs of our houses were damaged. The windows were blown out, the cellar door was blown off its hinges, and the kitchen roof was missing and part of the main roof. We were told to be careful if we went in and told to get essentials, then directed to a rest centre. The warden had been talking to dad, as they knew each other well. As we went off we met a girl and her young brother who we knew, they asked dad if he could tell them where their parents were because the children had been in the shelter but their house was completely destroyed. Dad had to tell them that their parents had been killed. During the lull six couples who were air raid wardens had gone into the wardens’ post for a cup of tea, when a time bomb had gone off and killed them all plus another man.

Mum was anxious about her parents as granddad was 80 and as an ex-guardsman would not go in the shelter. We walked to Chinley Street and passed lots of fire and damage but when we got to them they had one pane of glass blown out and soot!
Granny was on her knees cleaning up the fireplace and she was fuming…she only just had the chimney swept.

As we could not go back home we went to Fulwood where the daughter lived whose mother my mum had helped, because they had said if we were bombed out we must go to them. We stayed with them over Christmas, sleeping in their shelter. On Christmas Eve their two young daughters (one aged 10 and the other 7) and I were given a triple jab. Christmas Day we had sore arms.

After Christmas we moved into the old lady’s house.
I went to Nethergreen School where the children from Fullwood Cottage Homes went.
I made friends with one girl called Marion. I had always wanted a sister so as my so as my birthday drew nearer I asked if my parents would adopt Marion. I was told I would have to share everything, including pocket money. I agreed. They asked first if she could come to tea, which she did with another girl called Irene. They came several Saturdays.

Then just before Easter our house was patched up with tarpaulin and we went back home. The plans to adopt went forward but as Marion had other family in the Home she could not be separated so Irene was to be adopted instead. Mum and I went to fetch her on Maundy Thursday evening. She had been told to leave her good clothes at the Home so she came out in patched underwear and stockings and her knickers were just like a bag tied up with string.
The next day Mum took her out to buy new sets of clothes. At that time there were no children’s allowances and nothing extra for a child living with us.

After that time for some months we slept every night in the shelter because the sirens would go at any time and we did manage to sleep that way. My father like many other men was working two days and spending the middle night “fire watching” at the firm, so when he did come home he was very tired.

We tried to carry on as normally as possible. Irene and I went to Whitby Road School. She was a year older than I so she was in the next class. At school we had air raid drill; which meant sitting under the desk with our gas masks on. Later on the air raids were built in the schoolyard and we ran into those. Fortunately it was never for “real”. I passed the 11+ and in September 1941 started in Hurlfield Grammar School, which was on a split site. We hoped I would be going to the Eastern Avenue building, but no, I was sent to the Abbeydale Grange part. This meant I had to go through town and actually change trams in town. We were to travel with two or three other girls and an older girl who lived in the same area so we wouldn’t be alone if the sirens went whilst we were travelling. It worked all right for the first year but as no air raids happened during the day, we just began to travel with our friends.
At school we did the usual lessons but also “adopted a ship”. I can’t remember its name but we were allowed wool to knit jumpers and socks for the sailors and to write letters to them. I became quite good at knitting on four needles.

We still went to Sunday Schools and Chapel at the Attercliffe Methodist Hall. On Saturday afternoons in the summer adults and children went hiking into Derbyshire. We had great fun. Then by 1942/3 we added social evenings on Saturdays at the Chapel. As food was rationed we all took for ourselves but then put it together and shared. There was always plenty. Girls’ Life Brigade, Boys’ Brigade and Band of Hope all re-started so life went on.