World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

J Drezet

Childhood in War Time London

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: J. Drezet
Location of story: Paddington London
Background to story: Civilian

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Doreen Partridge of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of J. Drezet.

Childhood in War Time London

I was born in October 1938 in Paddington; we lived near to Euston Station, which was a very tempting target for the German planes. My parents had a shop and I used to be put outside of the shop in my pram. I had a narrow escape when presumably, on hearing the siren, my mother took me in. Shortly afterwards, a parachute mine demolished the houses opposite and deposited a large amount of rubble just where my pram had been.

My mother and I were evacuated to Neath in South Wales; she was not enthused with Neath and we returned to Thornton Heath near Croydon

My father worked in a factory making wireless equipment and my mother worked part-time at the Acc. and Tab.

I just about remember the V1 flying bombs. Other local children and I went out looking for shrapnel in the mornings. Apparently German agents captured in London were turned and they relayed to Germany that the V1's were overshooting Central London, so they had better shorten their range. Initially, they had got it right for Central London, so shortening the range meant more were landing near Thornton Heath and south London.

I recall on one occasion, I was looking up as I was on the way to the air raid shelter in the garden and I saw a V1 as it passed overhead. The engine had cut out and it crashed in the local school playing field. Fortunately the school was empty. Although I was small, I realised there was a sporting chance with the V1, in that if you heard the engine, you were ok. If it stopped, it either glided on or it stalled and fell out of the sky and you had a good chance of it falling on you.

I was extremely worried about the V2, having visions of disappearing without warning whilst eating my porridge. Sensing my concern, my parents sent me to the family of friends in South Wales. My mother took me to Paddington Station and asked the guard to put me off at Newport. When the train left, she realised she still had my ticket!

I was met by the family at Newport and went to Wellington Road in Abersychan near Pontypool. The family were the Bakers; Bill Baker and his wife were called Bronwen. They had a son called Paul who was about the same age as myself. The family was extremely kind and like many others, we kept in touch after the war.

If the wind was in the right direction, I could hear gunfire and thought I had gone from the frying pan into the fire.

At the end of the war we went up to London to see the Victory Parade in Whitehall. There was also a free film show for the children of servicemen. My mother took me along and explained that my father had been in the French Army, carefully omitting that it had been in 1918! I got in.

A neighbour or neighbour’s son returned from a P.O.W. camp in Germany. He said that when larking about and the horseplay got out of hand in the camp, the guards used to turn the hoses on them to dampen their spirits. Even then I didn’t think that was too bad.

My Italian brother-in law was in a British P.O.W. camp in North Africa. They used to play cat and mouse with the guards when they searched the camp for smuggled in food. His command of English is limited but he remembers most variants of the F word. To wind up the guards, they would ask, “Cigarette Tommy?” The invariable reply was, "F... off."

Another Italian relative was captured in North Africa. He was taken to Liverpool and then Sheffield where he stayed a bit. He was then transferred to Wrexham. He worked on a farm; he and the farmer suggested to the camp commander that it would be convenient if he stayed on the farm for early morning starts. This suited the farmer, since he would have a baby sitter if he wanted to go out. He seemed to have a fair degree of freedom. He showed me a photograph of him in his P.O.W. uniform, his bicycle and his girlfriend. Only family pressure made him go back to Italy.



 Stella Drezet

My childhood in war time Sicily

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Stella Drezet
Location of story: Puntalazzo - Sicily
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Doreen Partridge of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Stella Drezet.
Stella Drezet

My childhood in war time Sicily

During World War II, I lived with my parents and siblings in a small seaside village called Puntalazzo which is in Catania, Sicily. The Germans not only occupied the village, but also the large castle, which overlooked the village and the sea. The Germans installed a large gun on top of the castle so that they could fire onto enemy ships in the Ionic sea.
I think I was too young to be afraid very much; I remember one day, when I was eating grapes in the vineyard and there was a nearby explosion and shrapnel landed very close to me. My mother came out of the house and shouted at me to run inside for safety.
The Germans were shelling ships and I remember an American plane flying high over us taking aerial photographs so that they would know where to bomb the German gun. Unfortunately, they came but they bombed the wrong village. It was a village called Nunziata.

The Germans were rude and they raided the houses taking anything that they wanted, so the villagers got together and plotted to kill them. My father said that if they did kill any of the Germans, then other Germans would come and kill all of us. I think that he saved everyone in the village by being so wise.

Food was very scarce at this time and wheat flour was very difficult to obtain. My mother baked her own bread but had to use flour made from broad beans. It was horrible! To get food, my mother and father used to take the donkey and walked around the base of the mountain, mount Etna, to the other side; it was very dangerous because they had to cross German lines. They were risking their lives to get food. One Christmas, we had just one loaf of good bread; the rest was made of broad bean flour. My sister suggested that we kept the good loaf of bread to welcome in the New Year; a superstition: “Good bread in the New Year; Good Bread all Year.” I can remember that we cut it into four pieces so there was not much each.
We made coffee from roasted acorns, it was bitter and horrible. I also, remember Carruba Beans, which were like runner beans but brown in colour. One boy at our school was from a rich family who owned the castle; they had been evicted from the castle and were living in an empty holiday home in the village. He came to school one day with a brown stain around his mouth; he had been eating Carruba beans.

In our little hamlet, we had three English soldiers hiding from the Germans. There was also, an Italian captain and two soldiers hiding. They all stayed together in one of the empty holiday homes owned by the rich people from the city or Italy. We fed them and no one told the Germans that they were there. Once the Germans came to search the place and the captain in disguise, told them that his wife was in the other room, so the Germans did not search it.

I remember the parachutists coming down, although they were too far away for me to see them when they had landed. They were coming to relieve Sicily. We found this frightening; we did not know what the soldiers would be like.

When the British – a Scottish regiment- came to our village, it was the 15th August 1944. This is the feast day of our Patron Saint “Maria Assunta In Cielo” and I was a little girl looking in awe at these people. The soldiers had rosaries dangling from their wrists and they respected our day. I stood on a bollard to see more, but I slipped and fell off and hurt my knee. It was bleeding and one of the soldiers took off his belt, spat on it and cleaned the blood from my knee. The soldiers used to give Galleta biscuits to the children.
At the end of the war, the soldiers, who had been hiding in the holiday villa, set off back to England. A lot of people who had lived near them were sad to see them go.