World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Dorothy Wright 


By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright - Victoire Desperez
Location of story: Belgium - England
Background to story: Civilian


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

When I was 15 I started to write to a girl called Victoire Desperez who lived in Brussels, Belgium, and this was the start of a very long friendship. Vicky was born in the same year as I, but actually on the same day as my Cousin Reggie. This made them both about two months younger than myself.

She had one brother, Jean, who was younger than she, and they lived in the Uccle St Job district of Brussels. It was to be a long time before we eventually met after the War, but we remained the best of friends over the years. We wrote to each other in both English and French.

In the early years when we were still at school, and then afterwards when we both started work, it was fun to be telling each other of our various boy friends, the holidays we were having, and the clothes we were wearing. It was all fun, and frivolous, and then in 1939 along came the War, and we lost touch for some time because of the regulations; it was not possible to write to Belgium for about eighteen months. During this time I had married and come to live in Rotherham and our Daughter Jacqueline was born.

We had not had any news from Brussels, but we read that the conditions on the continent were no better than ours and in some cases they were worse. However, one day I learned that it was possible to send a Red Cross Message that had to be written on a special form, and the recipient had to write the reply on the reverse side of the form. Both messages were allowed to be 25 words long. I immediately set about composing my message.




City Of Benares

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dr. Peter Collinson - Dr. F.R. Collinson
Location of story: North Atlantic
Background to story: Civilian

Dr Peter Collinson


I recall an incident that has etched itself on my memory forever more. Some parents accepted the Government's offer to send their children abroad as evacuees to Australia, Canada and the United States. One such party was leaving on a ship called The City of Benares, and they were bound for America. Each small group of children was put in the charge of a volunteer chaperone and they were really enjoying the luxury of the liner as they set sail for America for the duration of the war.

The boat was well equipped and had a plentiful supply of food, perhaps such as these children had never seen before. The ships travelled in convoy with the support of some of Naval vessels to protect them until they reached waters where attack was unlikely. Then one midnight, the 17th September, 1940 when they were all in their beds a torpedo struck the Benares and the evacuees and their chaperones had to try to remember the Boat Drills they had been taught and hurry to make their escape.

The escorts and their charges had left Liverpool on September 13th. 90 children were aboard in the care of 10 adult escorts. Other passengers were travelling privately to Canada. About 600 miles out in the North/ Atlantic in the Convoy the ship was attacked by torpedo and boat drill was necessary at once. Some of the children got separated from their escorts and there was a rush for the lifeboats.

One of the escorts was a 41 year old Music Teacher by the name of Mary Cornish and she had in her charge a group of girls. When the order to abandon boat was given Mary tried to gather her charges together and got them all but one little girl and she left the group in the charge of an older girl and began to search for the missing one. The crew had declared 'all clear' but she felt bound to search for the missing girl and she went below. The group of children were ordered to board Boat 10 which was the boat Mary was the escort for and when she returned empty handed she was ordered to join Boat 12 joining Father O'Sullivan and six boys he had grouped together.

The Benares was sinking fast, 600 miles from the nearest shore, and the escort vessel had left them 21 hours before. The sinking ship was in danger of sinking the lifeboats themselves. Several lifeboats capsized, the sea was very turbulent but because Boat 12 was the last to be launched it was the furthest astern and was away from the currents which had capsized the other boats and was able to get free.

We were reading in the newspaper about the missing boat and I followed the story closely and it was at 1300 hours on Wednesday September 25th when we heard that they had been rescued after 8 days at sea without any support. 46 persons were on this boat, many were crew, and many were Lascar seamen. In all 134 passengers died.

5 adults and 77 children, 121 Crew died, 20 were Europeans and 101 Indians. This brought the Overseas evacuation plan to a stop. No more children were sent overseas after this.

Some years later we got a new G.P in our Family Practice and he was the Sailor Son of Doctor F.C.Collinson who had been John's family Doctor for many years. After some time I met Doctor Peter Collinson and was most interested to learn his story of the part he played in the other part of the Benares Drama.

Doctor Peter later wrote an account of the part in which he was involved, so I will take the opportunity to use his words to describe what happened. I have always been very interested in this incident so I am glad to record it in my memoirs. I do not think he will mind my using his account to include here.

"The ship sailed from Liverpool on Friday 13th September 1940 with 191 passengers, including 90 Children with 10 adult escorts proceeding to Canada under the Government Evacuation Scheme. She was torpedoed about 600 miles out in the North Atlantic.

At about midnight on the 17th September I unscrambled the ciphered signal in which Their Lordships commanded H.M.S. Hurricane to proceed with 'utmost despatch' to position 56.43 21.15 where survivors are reported in boats. On taking this to Captain Simms he remarked 'Utmost Despatch' I bet this means there are women and children amongst them. Apparently a normal signal would say 'proceed forthwith'

We sighted the survivors at about 2pm. The first raft about 6 ft by 3 ft had two men and a boy clinging to it.

These were Eric Davis and John McGlashen who were shielding Jack Keeley aged 6. As we manoeuvred alongside the raft I managed to take a photo with my box Brownie, which I later sold to the Daily Mirror for 6 pounds. It has since reappeared in several publications. Unfortunately I was unable to take any more photographs of the rescue as the survivors needed medical attention.

All survivors were suffering from severe exposure, and varying degrees of shock being physically and emotionally exhausted. Some were dehydrated and most were suffering from bruised and sprained bodies, limbs, and suspected fractures. Several had severe swollen legs due to prolonged exposure to sea water, the so called' Immersion Feet'

Three little boys could not be revived in spite of the valiant efforts of the Petty Officers' Mess at artificial resuscitation. They were later given a full Naval Burial by the Captain.

After being dried, warmed, and given dry clothing, given warm drinks and food, the majority of the survivors became temporarily somewhat elated, but by the next day reaction set in when they realised the enormity of the tragedy.

S.B.A, Hunt and I did not sleep for three nights except for the occasional cat nap in the Wardroom chair.

We landed the Survivors at Gourock where they were taken to the Bay Hotel and received by the rather portly proprietor commonly known as 'Two Ton Tessie'

Geoffrey Shakespeare, under Secretary for the Dominions, the Press, and the BBC were all there to welcome them and take their statements.

Several of the more seriously injured were transferred to the Smithston Hospital by ambulance."

I was so interested in this incident when it happened, and the anxiety about the boat still missing with the boys aboard so I was particularly interested when I met Doctor Peter, and have been interested ever since. I am grateful to be able to add the account written by Doctor Collinson as he was involved with the rescue personally.

A number of those involved in this incident, survivors, rescuers, and even attackers have kept in touch over the years and there is even to be another meeting in September 2005 although the numbers will be less, for many have passed away now.!



The War Continues

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright
Location of story: Rotherham - Sheffield
Background to story: Civilian


The War years were years of bad news and good news and one could never really be sure that we were getting the truth all the time. I recall that we did not continue to carry the gas masks we had been given for very long although there was always the danger that we may be subjected to a gas attack.

We had arrived to live in Rotherham and the persons who had lived in the house previously had made but a half hearted attempt to dig the hole required to cover an Anderson Shelter, so we did not bother to go in to it when we had an air raid warning. Certain cities and towns suffered very bad attacks, with much damage and loss of life.

Sheffield suffered one such blitz in the first December after our marriage, and the enemy returned for a second attack two nights later. The damage in Sheffield was terrible and now the people of Sheffield learned what it had been like for some time in London.

It took Sheffield many years to get back to normal so when I went every few weeks to visit my relatives I had the chance to see the devastation.

Jacquie was born in August 1941, so now we had other things to deal with. A baby was given a gas mask into which it could be protected and John had to go and collect this and learn how to use it in case of a gas attack. Fortunately this was never needed. We had some difficulty obtaining the clothes and equipment needed for a baby and we had quite a lot of make do and mend, but Jacquie continued to grow and had her daily dose of cod liver oil and her orange juice.

Early in the war there had been a scheme to evacuate children living in susceptible areas for future bombing, to country places where they hoped would be spared this trauma. We are still hearing the stories of the experiences of the children, some good and some bad. At one time some of our neighbours took in two of these children and when the hosts had no space to offer to them for two weeks owing to a family visit, I took these two young lads for two weeks. They returned to the neighbours after two weeks and I was rather relieved as I had not enjoyed catering for them, being an inexperienced housewife.



World War Two Is Declared - Life On The Home Front.

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright (nee Bentley)
Location of story: Sheffield

 On Honeymoon in Blackpool - Jacquie in 1941 and aged 2 years and 3 months


Hitler had invaded Poland and War had been declared. We all carried our gas masks now though it was not a habit which continued for very long, as people became blasé when no gas attacks were reported. Everyone had to obey the blackout rules and many folk stuck brown paper tape across their window panes in an effort to stop the glass from flying if the windows got broken by blast.

I had left Deighton at this point and got a job in the centre of Sheffield, at Tupholmes Sheffield Limited, which was a Warehouse and wholesale business selling household goods. Here I met Eric Tupholme who was the motorist with whom John had collided on that Christmas Eve and he told me his story of the accident.

This Firm was selling out of dark paper blinds that people were seeking to keep the lights from shining out when it was dark. Motorists had to have a kind of shield on their car headlights and of course the streetlights were turned off too. War was declared and that same night there was an Air raid alarm. I do not think that any bombs were dropped at this time but it gave people a shock and a warning of what was to come to our Country.

Food was becoming scarce even at this early stage as people were stocking up having heard of the shortages of the previous war. It did not take long for shortages to appear in the Clothes Trade and the Furniture trade and eventually everything was short or none existent and rationing began. The ration books must have been held in readiness long before the War began.

We were married on August 10th 1940 at 8 am, the earliest time for weddings to be carried out. My cousin Jean was Bridesmaid and my Cousin Jack newly back from Dunkirk gave the Bride away. John’s Mother had been difficult, she had hidden away the Banns which had been delivered from the Whiston Church and John had had to go to search for them. She did not even get up to wish him well when he left the house, but his Dad did. John’s sister Margaret and brother in law Joe would not bother to come to the wedding because John had not arranged for a car to pick them up to come to the Church.

A couple who were our friends brought John to the Church and the young man acted as Best Man. His name escapes me at the moment though his surname was Weightman. I think his name may have been Terry. After the ceremony the Verger Joyce Hulett’s Dad carried the suitcases to the bottom of Burgoyne Road and there was an empty Sheffield United Tours bus to take us to Blackpool for our honeymoon waiting for us. My Friends and relations bidding us farewell and good luck threw confetti into the bus and at the eventual pickups people got on to the bus saying “looks as if there has been a wedding” and gave us a good look over. Don’t forget this was a Wartime wedding and things were very difficult. The journey to Blackpool took forever as we ran into Road blocks en route and this caused hold ups. We stayed with Mr and Mrs Stainton who were the parents of a fellow who had previously worked at Deighton and was now at Blackpool. I recall that we went to the pictures that night to see the film Pinocchio. We had a good honeymoon and returned to remove to Rotherham the following week. Readers may think the circumstances with John’s Mother were very strange but the same kind of leaving the family home happened to both his sisters before him. Hilda Lucy Wright was a strange woman.

John and I got married on August 10th 1940 and we managed to exchange my Grandma's house after she had died, with a couple in Rotherham who wanted to move to Sheffield to be near to relatives, so we moved almost immediately to 5, Marlowe Road, Herringthorpe, Rotherham and remained there until November 7th year 2002 when we needed to get more convenient accommodation to suit John in his illness, and he passed away on January 14th 2004. We had been married 64 years.

During the War John had continued to work as a mechanic on the large lorries belonging to the Army as Deighton Motor Company became an Army Auxiliary workshop.

Our daughter Jacqueline was born on August 20th 1941 so her baby years were spent during the War and she never saw a banana until well into the War years when a Sailor who visited Deighton gave John a tiny banana about three inches long and as thick as one's finger. Clothing was a problem and we made do and swapped and changed things, but we got along. The men who were still at home had to take up Air Raid Duties, nightly parading the streets in case of any damage. Sheffield suffered greatly in two nights of blitz in December, many people lost their lives, and many more lost their homes

Thus it was a time of great changes. We began to learn of the Concentration Camps of the Germans and eventually, much later on, the wickedness of the Japanese to our men in the Far East. Gradually, little by little, we found we lived in a changed World.

We had shortages of everything really, clothing, food, furniture, coal, etc., and we had ration books and clothing coupons to ensure fair shares. Newspapers became very small, as paper was in short supply, and this was the time when we could not buy wallpaper so the practice of painting over the paper with distemper or what evolved as Walpamur, the fore runner of emulsion paint.

During the War it was often necessary to have children doing their lessons in the homes of the other children. Sometimes it would be caused by enemy action having destroyed or damaged a school, and at other times it could have been because the school was short of heating facilities, and the teacher would take a class here and there. Jacquie had not started school at this time so she was at home during her first five years.

Nurseries grew up in this period in order that some Mothers could go out to work. This was the time when it became the norm for women to go out to work, as before this a woman was expected to stop working when she became married, although during the War mothers with small children were not expected to work.

The extra income was very useful so women continued to work after the war and now it is practically expected that two salaries are necessary in married life these days. This brought the growth of Nursery Groups for the under fives and now most small children have one or two half days in a pre school environment.

Our days of rationing continued for several years after the end of the War and the statistics show that we were a healthier Nation in those days than the present generations are with the modern eating habits.



Chopping Sticks

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright
Location of story: Sheffield


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

My husband was called up on the 11th of November in 1939. I worked in the steel industry throughout the war, working from 7.30 am until 7.30 pm, Monday to Friday, and Saturday and Sunday from 7.30 am to 4 pm.

We were married in 1941 and a few months later, my husband joined the 8th army. On the night of the blitz, I was chopping sticks of wood; I stayed in the cellar until 2 in the morning. All we could see was the whole city ablaze, but my house wasn’t bombed. I had to go to the cinema to hear the news. It was a wearying experiences, having to work all hours, there wasn’t much fun.

Towards the end of the war, things became a little better. One member of our family was shot down in an aeroplane, and killed, but my husband survived well.