World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                                     Elsie Cartwright


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Elsie Cartwright (nee Marshland)
Location of story: Oldham
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Elsie Cartwright and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Elsie Cartwright (nee Marshland)

I remember 1938, when there was much talk of "war" and what became known as the "Munich Crisis" sometimes I would be very frightened, imagining that we would find German soldiers under the bed! A brighter side to the summer was that a very good school friend of mine had moved to London, for her Dad to get work there. But she was sent back to stay with relatives, because of the threat of war, and I was able to spend the summer holidays with her, until she eventually returned to London.

It would be about this time that my Dad was in touch with his sister in Australia. It was suggested that I ought to be sent to Australia, to avoid the war, and many arrangements were apparently made.
My only strong memory of this was of going for a medical examination and given a list of things I would need to take on board the ship.
After some time, my Dad just announced that if there was to be bombing, and we were bombed, then we would die together, and I was not going to Australia.
No discussion or consultation with me, and I suppose, as with children then, whatever parents said, was just accepted. So to September 1939.

As an 11-year old when war declared, and a 17-year old when it was over, my memories are very much of “growing up”, school and work during those wartime years of rationing and shortages, blackouts, sirens, and then a boyfriend.

Because it was Oldham "Wakes Week" Mother had taken me to Cleethorpes to visit an Aunt & Uncle who lived there. Uncle was the Railway Stationmaster.
There had been much talk about a war but at 11 years of age this did not mean very much - until on the Thursday evening, all the householders were told to prepare their windows for a possible ‘blackout’.
Not a chink of light had to be seen, and this was quite a problem. Even the 'fanlight' above the door, had to be covered. I went along to the local amusement arcade (Pleasureland) and all the stalls and rides were preparing to close down. I remember being given lots of bags of sweets.

When the locals saw the battleships moored out at sea, they were saying that it wouldn't be long before the war started. Mother said we ought to be on our way home, and we returned on the Friday; the trains were packed, with lots of soldiers reporting far duty and it was a difficult journey, My parents kept a small Ironmongers shop, and it may be a surprise to some people now to know that even one or two of our products on sate needed ration books. I remember particularly that soap powder (Persil, Oxydol, etc for washing) was strictly rationed and once they were marked off the ration book for that month no more could be bought; and many Rams either unobtainable or very scarce. For instance, torch batteries, which were so much in demand, trickled through occasionally, and were grabbed up when people knew we had received a stack.

One of my very strong memories is of school swimming lessons at the local swimming baths, once a week. As clothes were taken off in the cubicle they had to be folded neatly, shoes on top o€ the pile, covered by a towel. This was so that when the sirens were sounded, or when an air raid practice was held, the teachers' special whistle meant that we had to get, quickly, out of the water, go along into our cubicles, put the towel round our shoulders and then file out of the main building, through some passages leading to the boiler house cellar, where there were forms for us to sit and change into outdoor clothes, in the warmth. Of course, we had to carry our gas-masks around at all times.

During school lessons we had to go into dark, damp shelters if there was either a practice, of an air-raid warning. If we were lucky enough to have saved some of our sweet ration, our own tin of toffee would be there. I remember, I am sure, that Horlicks tablets, were not rationed, and we often liked to put some of these in our tins as and when they were available.
There was a severe shortage of paper, and often enough we had to make do with odd scraps for our lessons, I still have one or two 'class reports' on paper ruled and written up on a page of an old exercise book.

1 was in the Guides from the age of 10 years and as the war progressed we were, as were the Scouts, asked to go along to a Casualty Clearing Station at another local church hall, to ad as casualties for the First Alders to practice on. We were given imaginary injuries, and those unlucky enough to have received some `chemical' contamination had to take a cold shower. Fine an a hot summer night, but so cold in winter.

I left school just after my 14th birthday in 1942, having been to a Commercial College for shorthand, typing and book -keeping for two years on Saturday mornings.

I got a job in an office where there were 4 or 6 older girls In the office, but as they became 17/18 they had either to go into the Forces, or work an munitions, or other essential war work.

The firm t worked far was a paint manufacturers and we quickly teamed how to spell 'camouflage', as this was one of their main paint products. So my job, as a very young junior soon meant that I had a very responsible office jab with 3 or 4 others around my age, which I enjoyed, I was soon quite competent with the switchboard - three main tines and about 20 extensions of the old 'eye-ball' type.

Office hours were 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with an hour and a quarter far lunch, and alternate Saturday mornings.

The air-raid shelter at work for the office staff was, I believe, an Anderson shelter, dug out of same spare ground down about 5 steps. I have no recollection of having to use that shelter during the day, [were they all night-time raids at that time?]; but it was the jab of the office girls to gather up all the heavy ledgers at the end of the day and carry them down the steep steps into the shelter, far which we were allowed five minutes.

Each morning back down into the shelter to carry up these ledgers and flies. I imagine the information contained in one of the big heavy books would now fit easily onto one PC disc! Many of us became good friends, and often had our tea at work and then went to the local pictures.

Our own church, St James' Free Church of England, Hollinwood, housed an Air Raid Warden's Post and a light had been fixed in view of the Minister, to warn when an air-raid siren was sounding.

The story was often told of the Sunday night just before Christmas in 1941?. (or maybe 1942). As was the custom the choir was singing selections from 'Messiah'; during this time the light went on to warn of a raid. The Minister had to decide quickly, as gatherings were advised, usually, to disperse. He decided that they ought to stay and finish their singing, which they did, without incident.

This turned out to be the night of one of the worst air-raids on Manchester, about six miles away. To be singing the Hallelujah chorus with the noise of aircraft, shells and bombs around was such an uplifting experience and talked about for years.

On Christmas Eve 1944,1 went out at midnight with the Church Carol Singers, far Me first time, and remember still what a dreadfully foggy night it was. The tradition was that the Singers went round to those families who had requested them to call.

We were sometimes invited into homes far a hot drink and even potato pie at one home. Incidentally, this was the start of a romance which has lasted for 61 years this year, married in 1947 (58 years at the time of writing) and, hopefully, much longer yet!
We later learned that a V1 `flying-bomb' {`doodlebug) had dropped an a row of houses an Abbeyhills Road earlier that evening, about 4 miles from where we were. 27 people were killed and 49 seriously injured.

Food must have been a problem far many people, but we seemed to manage. Quite near to where ! worked was a British Restaurant. These had been developed in many towns so that anyone could get a decent meal far a small price (perhaps two shillings - 10p), and the meal usually consisted of same kind of meat, sausage or pie, and any vegetable that may have been available, and a sweet of steamed pudding and watery custard. Of course, we had not seen a banana or an orange far years. It was a great treat when a friend used to call occasionally with 6 new laid eggs, which I believe, would be black-market, but we didn't ask questions!

Mother used to swap a little of the tea ration, for sugar, and we later understood that this was, strictly, illegal, even though no money was involved! Onions were quite scarce, and bananas and oranges quite unobtainable. Sweets & chocolates were strictly rationed.

We had to use clothing coupons for most clothing and shoes and stockings. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was a keen dress-maker, and we could buy remnants of dress material an the market far a reduced amount of coupons. Also sometimes there would be parachute silk remnants available, not on coupons, and this was particularly suitable for underskirts or nightwear.
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Elsie Cartwright and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.


Transport was also very limited. Very few private cars on the road as there was no petrol except for essential services. Public transport, trams, trains and buses had to have windows painted to prevent any light from shining outside.
The black-out was another thing we coped with without even feeling afraid of going out alone, but a torch was a good companion, although the glass had to be covered with just a slit to show the way. The torches nearly al1 used No.8 batteries, which were often difficult to obtain. We very soon appreciated a bright moon-lit night, which made some difference, when there were no street lights.

Our main entertainment, apart from a busy church social life, was the cinema. The local cinemas usually showed one film Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with a change of film for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the cast would be about 1/3d. [8p], and we could listen to the radio for the latest songs.

We had several night-time air raids nearby, one of which caused one of our windows to be blown out. At first we went `under the stairs' to be safe, but later Mother insisted we went into the public shelter which had been built to accommodate some of the neighbourhood. I still have a small piece of shrapnel found in our back garden, which we think may have come from a shell.

Although we could listen to the news an the radio, we were unaware of much that was happening around the world, and in the war zones. Newspapers were just one double page, due to the shortage of paper, and the many restrictions an news reports.
As an only child, and my father too old to be conscripted; I had no immediate family in the Forces, but some cousins were in the Army, Air Force and Navy.

My father had always been an extremely competent bell ringer and on the team at Oldham Parish Church far a long number of years (a fellow ringer and good friend of his, was Vemon Sykes, father of comedian Eric). He missed it terribly when all church bells were silenced at the beginning of the war, only to be rung as a warning if there was a danger of Imminent invasion by the enemy.

He kept in touch with many of his bell-ringing friends, and it was after attending the funeral of one of these friends in 1943 that he became ill. He was taken into hospital in the March and died on the 22nd April, which was Maundy Thursday.

One of the last things he knew about just before he died was that church bells may be rung again, as signs of enemy invasion had diminished.
I had to `borrow' same clothing coupons in order to buy a new gray coat and black dress for the funeral. Because Mother was upset and not as used to the telephone as I was, I made many of the funeral arrangements. It was Easter weekend and the funeral was to be on the Tuesday; had the job of going to the telephone kiosk to dictate telegrams to send to close relatives about the funeral time, as very few homes had telephones then.

One of Dad's friends had been cremated, which was quite unusual, and apparently he said that he wanted to be cremated when the time came. So an the Easter Tuesday 1943 we went to Rochdale Crematorium and his ashes were buried later in Roytan Cemetery. I still have the bill for the funeral, which had a total cost of £33.9s,6d; this included £8.8s,0d. for ‘hearse & 3 motors from Oldham to Rochdale Crematorium’, £1.18.6d far teas (12 of us?) at the Co-op restaurant an King Street; 6s.0d. far an obituary notice in the Oldham Chronicle.

Eventually, VE-day [Victory in Europe) came and we walked dawn to see the big building of the Ferranti works with coloured lights shining out brightly. Bonfires were fit to celebrate and the local park put on same special family events the following day. May 7th and 8th 1945 were declared public holidays.

As a Guide, I joined in the Victory Parade around the town and lots of Victory Events were hold.
In August VJ day was celebrated (Victory in Japan] but thing were not back to normal for a long number of years.

It was generally thought that things would soon be back to normal after the war, but as 1 said they were not normal far a long, long time. When we married in 1947, we had to beg ingredients far our wedding cake to be made. I went into literally dozens of shoe-shops before I managed to get a pair of white shoes to fit. We were allowed some 'dockets' to purchase utility furniture - very plain wooden items, and we bought a smaller wardrobe so that we could also buy a fireside chair.

Our first son was born in 1950, and he had a ration book, a blue one for children. One day I brought him into the house whilst he was still asleep, and when I went to check, he was happily sat up tearing his ration book to shreds, which I had left in the pram, I had to take the pieces to the Food Office, and pay one shilling for a replacement book.

It must have been the winter of 1950-51, when there was a severe shortage of cost, and it was said that if we went to the Gasworks, we could obtain seven pennyworth of coke each. So off we trundled, Mother, me and baby, with pram and pushchair went there in order to get 3 bags of coke (probably the size of present day black bin bags) for 21 old pence.

Our second son was born in 1954, and even then he had to have a ration book, but this was not to last much longer, as all rationing came to an end sometime during 1954.

Lastly, l was asked to mention memories of our parents' experiences in the First World War.

My mother, born in 1887, often talked about it when ! was quite young, and, say, when t was a 6 year old in 1934, her war had only been over for 16 years, but to a 6 year old this was a million years ago!

Mother was the youngest of a large family. One of her brothers, John, had been left a widower with two young bays, about 6 and 8. John felt compelled to `join up' and as he left to go into the 1ST Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers he asked my mother to look after the boys until he came back. Her mother had died in January 1914, so I expect my mother was the one left in the family home. She used to say that any family with a member in the Army dreaded the 'Brown Envelope', which brought bad news. John never came back - he was killed on the 22nd July 1918, on the Somme, at the end of the battle there. The “brown envelope” contained some papers which had been in his pocket, and bore a bullet hole.

She was told at the time that k was a stray bullet which killed him. She had a silk bookmark, printed with his name and number and the date on which he was killed, which I have always kept. With this number we can now trace, via the Internet, the exact battle, war grave number and cemetery where he is buried. The Information on the citation reads that he was killed on the 20th July 1916.

Mother brought up these boys until they were able to earn their own living; she did a full time job in the cotton mill, cleaned at her aunt's chip shop on Sunday mornings to earn some extra and received five shillings per week (25p) to help to keep the boys because they were orphans! Sam has quite a different story about his Father, He was in the Army in the First World War, and Sam doesn't remember him talking about his experiences at a11.
But - Sam never remembered him without a cough, as he had been 'gassed' whilst in France. He had a heavy job as a core maker in a foundry, which didn't help.
When he died in January 1953, it was during one of the very heavy thick smogs, which had lasted for about a fortnight, and took its toll on his already affected lungs.


Samuel Cartwright

My own memories of the beginning of the war; I had left Junior School in the July of 1939, and having passed my 11+ was due to start at Oldham High School after the summer holiday. My sister Ruth and her husband, Wrig, had kindly taken me on holiday to the Aunt and Uncle who had lived in Weymouth since the 1914-18 war.
The last week in August was the annual Oldham Wakes Week and it was probably on the Saturday, 2nd September, when we returned home on the train.
There had been much talk in Weymouth about a war being imminent, and we found that the train was packed, with many servicemen and war was, in fact, declared the following morning.

1 had been due to start at the High School in September, but pupils were not allowed back to school until enough air-raid shelters had been built. I didn't have to wait very long before the shelters were ready and we returned, firstly for just half at each day for the first few weeks. Other schools were much more delayed and had a longer summer break!
By then brother Bill had been called up, as he had been a member of the Territorial Army. He was actually away for about six years, serving in North Africa for much of the time. Later on brother Wilfred was called up as he became 17/18 and was in REME.

Regular air-raid practices were held, and we had to carry our gas masks everywhere we went. At first we thought that there would be air raids, or an invasion, very quickly, and the `phoney war' made little difference, except for the blackout, and shortages, especially of food, and the call-up. Later on into the war we had to go into the shelters when there was an actual air raid warning.

I can't remember the exact year, but I do recollect very clearly that one of my classmates never returned to school having been killed in his home one night during a raid. He was John Hughes and lived on Incline Road. This was probably the night that our house felt the impact, as it was not very far away. The whole class was shocked.
It was March 1942 when my Mother had done her weekly batch of baking. This was no easy task with the rationing, and we looked forward to her Wednesday baking session each week. There would be Mom and Dad, sister Annie and me.

On the Thursday morning when I got up, t was told that Mother had died during the night.
Apparently she had suffered a severe stroke during the night. I was 14, and it was such a shack, and I really think that this is still with me on many occasions.
Social life consisted mainly of Scouting. I attended the church parades, as and when required. I even went on at least two Harvest Camps with our troop and others.