World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         Irene Roberts 

Travelling on the Athenia

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Irene Roberts
Location of story: Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Louise Treloar of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Irene Roberts.

My sister lived in Canada, and she came back to see our Mother, who’d had a stroke. She used to stay for 2-3 months, and the war broke out while she was here. She was supposed to be going back on the Athenia. War broke out on the Sunday, and the Athenia sank on the Sunday night. She had decided not to go on that night, luckily, but her husband was frantic, because he didn’t know. She had met 5 or 6 friends when she came over, and one of them wouldn’t go back until my sister did. She found my sister later and told her that she’d saved her life. There were no televisions then, you had to go to the pictures to see the news. She saw all her friends coming down the gangway with blankets, soldiers helping them down.

One friend came down – she had lots of purses in her handbag to take home as presents. She came down barefooted – they’d had to scoop the water out of their lifeboats with their shoes. My sister had to go back on a cargo ship eventually. It was horrible – she was hung over the rails night and day with lifebelts on. They kept seeing a whale and shouting “Submarine!”. The ship sailed to New York, and she was so thrilled to see the lights of New York after the blackouts here. Her friend, Mrs Ellis, wrote in the newspapers about the hardships in England.

I was 22 then. My mum died soon after. We got through the Blitz, but we were so frightened. The sirens used to give me stomach-ache. I got married in 1940, and my mum had another stroke in church. After that, I had to look after my father on my own. My husband was in the steelworks. He wanted to join the army, and tried twice to get in. He wasn’t allowed in though – they needed the steel.

My sister came back over from Canada to have her baby – she wanted her son to be British. Our brother bought a big firework, but when war broke out, we couldn’t use it. We couldn’t keep it in the house in case it went off. My husband took it to his mum’s porch and set it off in there. It blew 2 bricks out! People thought it was a bomb.

They dropped a time bomb near us once. There was a young woman who lived there, and she wasn’t allowed in to get her things, because it could have gone off at any time. The bomb went off two weeks later, and the young woman lost everything. It took 3 or 4 houses out and sent bricks flying. One landed in our back yard. We thought it was a bomb, stuck in the asphalt. The bomb just smashed our windows – we were lucky.