World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                          Frank Hitch 

Nothing To Brag About

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Frank Edward Hitch
Location of story: UK
Unit name: Artillery, Field Regiment
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Frank Hitch,.
Interviewer: Were you in the army?
Frank Hitch: I was, later on, I was in everything; Home Guard, Artillery, and I worked on the bombs and I worked on the Rolls Royce Merlin Crankshaft, which was the main engine for the Lancaster Bomber.

Int: Where were you doing that?

FH: Avril Shardlow’s, between Sheffield and Rotherham, the only firm that was making them. There were two to an engine. It was what they called a 12 cylinder engine.

Int: Was this a reserved occupation?

FH: It was, when they got hold of you, but if you told a few lies, you could get away and join before they found out.

Int: Which regiment were you in?

FH: Artillery, Field Regiment.

Int: Did you go overseas?

FH: No, nothing to brag about; I’ve nothing to brag about, although I’ve done my whack. I’m 89 now and I was 23 when it (the war) started.

Int: So, you were always around Sheffield at the time were you?

FH: No, I was in various parts of the country, I was in North Wales, Durham, I was fully occupied, but nothing outstanding. I’ve ridden an army motorbike up and down, and a few tanks.

Int: Were you actually manufacturing stuff?

FH: I worked at the firm that was the only firm making them, they being the Rolls Royce Merlin crankshafts, which powered a V12 engine. You probably know a V8 is pretty powerful, but this was a V12. Now, they didn’t make that plane until the middle of the war, 1943. They started getting these planes to retaliate, which they did do. But between the war starting in 1939 and 1943, we were, in this country, all we were doing was suffering the bombing that the Germans were hitting us with. London lost 40,000 civilians, just with the bombing alone. And then, when we started, when we had something to attack with, the Yanks came over and helped us. They provided us with the Sherman Tank.

The reason the war went on for so long, six years, was the fact that we were not prepared. Had we been prepared, it wouldn’t have lasted so long. We declared war on Germany on September the third in 1939, and we should never have declared war on them because we had nothing to fight them with.

I worked with people who said, “I’ll have to go if there’s a war,” and the next thing, they’d gone, but three months later, they were back.

I was quite interested in everything I did really; I was in Sheffield during the blitz, which was in 1940. I remember, after the blitz, looking at the bombs that hadn’t gone off, the German bombs, thousand pounders they were. It was interesting to compare them with the ones I was working on. Our bombs were taper-bodied, whereas theirs were like a shell, the same diameter all the way along until you get to the point. I examined some, they were thousand pounders. Luckily they hadn’t gone off, they’d landed near Meersbrook Park.

Int: So were they manufacturing bombs here in Sheffield?

FH: I was on ‘em. I was working on them from 1937.

You know in Sheffield?.....Listen, I left school in 1930 at the age of 14. Now then, I was never out of work because I was able to get stuck in on different jobs, even though there were 65,000 people on the plonk (dole),out of work in Sheffield, people who were workable who could have had a job. They were all on benefit. I’d never been on the plonk. I worked on a Monday night at a firm down at Meadowhall, for twelve hours. I was working with a chap who said, I think you’d be better off if you were working at Hadfield’s, so I completed this twelve hour shift, then went home on my pushbike, a distance of eight miles, got my breakfast, and said to my mother, I think I can get a better job, so I went down. It was still dark, it was a February morning. When I rolled up, they said to me, “Are you after a job?” I said, “Yes.” I didn’t tell ‘em I was working already. So they told me who was the bloke I was to see. So now, we got talking, I asked him if he needed any hands, that means men to work. He was the top man at Newhall Road. He said, “What yer done?” Well, when I told him what I’d done, he sent me round saying, “Go and see Mr. Anderson in Number One machine shop, tell him I’ve sent yer.” I got a job.

I had to walk past the other men there. They said, “What did he say?” I told them. They were labouring, you see, they’d no qualifications, so they were just labouring. Luckily, I knew a bit about armed machines and he wanted to start me straight away. Well, I’d been working all night, for this other firm down at Meadowhall. So I said, “No, Wednesday will do.” With that, he said, “When Wednesday comes, don’t come late or you’ll get sent home.” I worked with people who got fired for being late, because they were under the Ministry of Labour, and the came under the army regime.

Anyway, they put me on a machine and said, “There you are, you can do them," they being 500 pound bombs. Of course, there were other jobs that needed doing, such as shells, fourten inch shells. Well, a fourteen inch shell was a big ‘un, about four times as big as a 500 pound bomb. They were fired from the new battleships that they’d got. The navy was just commissioning. But anyay, I think I’ve said enough.