World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Gary Taylor 

WORLD WAR TWO - A child's view

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Gary Taylor, Joe Taylor
Location of story: Sheffield
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 Gary Taylor.


WORLD WAR TWO - A child's view

Gary Taylor

As Rob Wilton used to say-" the day war broke out...." I was 4 years old. So this story is how a 4 to 10 year old remembered the war. I am the youngest of 5 children and my father worked at Blackburn Meadows Power Station on shifts, which often meant working twelve-hour shifts. He, therefore, always seemed to be at work, or in bed, but he also did his fare share on Fire Watch. In our front garden he displayed the Fire Watch Rota in a home made, glass fronted frame, for all the participating neighbours to see.
My eldest brother, Joe was the first one to be called up when he became 18 in March 1940 to be followed by Roy when he was 18 in February 1943. I can remember the family send-off parties. My brothers were in the Air Training Corps and used to read the Aircraft Recognition section of the ATC magazine. They showed side-on and underneath silhouettes of both the British and German Aircrafts. I used to memorise these as well. When Joe and Roy came home on leave I would constantly wear their hats and other gear. Joe's was a sailor hat and Roy's were flying helmet, flying jacket, flying boots and parachute (trailing behind me on the floor) and a Lee Enfield Rifle.
Joe served in the Royal Navy on an Aircraft Carrier called HMS Chaser based in Devonport. He was on convoy duty for the duration of the war, protecting the shipping between America and the Mediterranean, and on one occasion, into the Arctic Circle to Murmansk in northern Russia. Thankfully he lived to tell the tale and he now lives in Somerset. Roy served in the RAF as a navigator in Lancaster bombers. He was in 153 Squadron based at Scampton, Lincs. This Squadron was only formed in November 1944.
However, on returning from only their seventh operation, his plane collided with another Lancaster bomber at 1,000 feet over the aerodrome. Both planes burst into flames and plummeted to earth in pieces. Both crews were killed. Roy was only 19 years old. It happened on January 02, 1945.
Two policemen came to our house in Shiregreen and told us that Roy had been killed on Active Service. You can imagine what affect this news had on our family. As hardly anyone owned a car or had a telephone in the house in those days someone had to go and tell Betty (Roy's fiancé). Gerald, my next elder brother, either volunteered /was pushed into cycling over to Southey Green to inform Betty of Roy's death. He was only 17 at the time and this couldn't have been a very pleasant thing to have to do. I'm glad that I was only 9 at the time. As far as I am aware Betty is still alive and living in Sheffield.

Eventually Roy's coffin was delivered and stood in the Living Room for the next few days prior to his burial in Shiregreen Cemetery. This day was bitterly cold with snow covering the ground. Every Sunday thereafter until my father's death in 1953, we visited Roy's grave.

We had in our garden an air-raid shelter, which I cannot remember having been built. However, I played on this heap of clay and watched the grass, weeds and foxgloves grow over time. In front of the steps down to the shelter was built a 4-foot brick wall and in front of this grew a huge privet hedge, which grew to about 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. We should have been protected from any blast but not from a direct hit. Being partially underground, these shelters always seemed to be damp and smelly. There were two bunks on either side of the doorway and wooden boxes to sit on. My sister, Brenda and I were carried out in our siren suits, carrying blankets, torches, food etc. Sometimes we braved it by sleeping under the heavy front room table.
Like all young boys at that time on the days following an air raid, I scoured the gardens, streets and parks searching for pieces of shrapnel and bits of planes etc. Most of my pals had a biscuit tin an the windowsill full of metal debris. In Concord Park were barrage balloons, which we used to visit, and I remembered visiting the site of a crashed Handley Page Hampton. I also witnessed first hand, a Lysander plane make an emergency landing in the park near to where now stands the Concord Sports Centre. The pilot seemed to be lost and after about 20 minutes he took off again in front of a young audience.
On one occasion, in the evening I saw out of the upstairs window, a VI or VII passing over the house heading north. It looked black against the night sky with flames shooting out of the rear end. One of my cousins lived on Clematis Road, Wincobank and we visited her the day after a land mine had landed on Wincobank Hill. All the windows were shattered and the upstairs ceilings had collapsed and blocked the staircase. She wouldn't let us go to get a better look. They were re-housed into a larger, newer house on Bellhouse Road where they lived until her death in 1980.
My sister, Brenda was taken into Lodge Moor Hospital in 1944 with Scarlet Fever. She was wrapped in red blankets in the blue Fever Ambulance. Later some men came to our house to seal and fumigate her bedroom. Like any loving sister, she shared her illness with me and I was taken into Lodge Moor Hospital with Scarlet Fever in November/December 1944. I was released on December 23, 1944. My release date had been postponed a week because the boys in my Ward had been outside in bare feet and pyjamas having a snowball fight and we had all caught a chill.
Whilst in the Hospital, I had a Christmas card from brother Joe, displaying a good black and white photograph of HMS Chaser. I wanted to keep this but you were not allowed to take anything out of a Fever Hospital. Just before this Christmas, my brother Roy visited in uniform, as uniformed personnel were allowed to visit at any time. Visitors had to talk to the patients through the French windows but Roy was on his own and the weather was cold outside, so he tried the doors and found them open. So in he came and gave all the boys in the Ward some sweets and comics. He told them all to eat the sweets and read the comics and then pass the comics around so that everyone was able to read them. I was one of the last people to see Roy alive as he died on January 2, 1945.
I don't know how often and for how long but we had some lessons at home in some parents' houses. We seemed to be split up into groups of about eight or ten with one of the teachers. This was just in case our school had taken a direct hit and all the future generation wiped out.
I didn't remember this at the time but Mother was taken into the Royal Hospital for a repair to her prolapsed womb on the night of the Sheffield blitz in 1940. When the blitz started she was brought back home and told that she would be sent for at a later date for the operation. Her recall duly came but it was 20 years afterwards when she was in her 64's. She used to say that she never felt the benefit or improvement.

There are still waiting lists for operations under the National Health but surely not this long.
In the school summer holidays of 1945, Mother, Father, Brenda and I went to Leeds by public service bus from Firth Park. A cousin of mine who lived there met us. She took my parents to the bus station from where they caught the service bus to Harrogate. Brenda and I spent the day with cousin Alice at her home in Bramley. She took us back into Leeds city centre, met our parents and then took us back to the bus stop for our journey back home to Sheffield.
My parents had been to visit the Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate where the rest of Roy's crew were buried. They were all Canadians and couldn't be sent back to Canada. My parents bought lots of flowers and took photographs of each grave. My father then wrote to all the next of kin of all the crewmembers and sent copies of the photographs. Some didn't reply, some replied once or twice but one family, the Hoskins, wrote regularly and sent food parcels every few months to the starving poor in England. When my mother wrote to let them know that my father had died in 1953 we never heard from them again.