World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                       Jean Hampshire 


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Jean Hampshire
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 Jean Hampshire.


Jean Hampshire

In September 1939, preparations for the war became part of life. Mam cleaned the windows and hung what she called `the blackouts'. Dad demolished his rambler roses and dug a deep hole in the back garden for the `Anderson'.

When he joined the ARP, he got some ladders and a stirrup pump. "Lend us yer ladders," a neighbour said, "I'm gonna do me staircase." But Dad was a stickler for rules. "They'll be droppin' bombs, not tins o' paint!" He painted a big SP on the house and lads pointed and laughed. "Shit Pot," they shouted, and ran off. We had to carry gas masks to school and teacher made us practice. "I can't breathe," I told her. "You'll never breathe again if you get gassed," she snapped, "put it back on."

Every Christmas, we went to Granddad's party. He was caretaker of a scissor works in town. All five sons would be there. Henry, the youngest, already lived there with Auntie Hilda and baby John.

In 1940, Granddad held his Christmas party in the first week of December. We weren't to know it, but that was the last time we would all be together in Cocker's Yard. After tea, the women cleared the table and washed up in the kitchen. The men trooped up to the billiard room, and I followed behind. The Christmas tree already stood in the window overlooking Carver Street, and a log fire blazed in the grate. The mantelpiece reached to the ceiling, and I took little ornaments from the alcoves on each side. Granddad liked to argue and I liked to listen. It was the only way I got to know anything.

"They're calling it the Phoney War," said Granddad, "but mark my words..." Uncle Lol turned to the scoreboard and Uncle Henry looked up from rubbing chalk on his billiard cue. "Me and Lol are joining up tomorrow." Everything went quiet. Then Granddad exploded. "You'll not come back here if you do. They could send you anywhere!"

I pulled out a length of cotton with a needle an the end. Uncle Henry couldn't go away. He mustn't go away. He was the only one who stuck up for me. He yelled and clutched his bottom just as Mam came into the room. "I saw that," she shouted, and smacked my bum. "Wait... 'till I get... you home... Milady."

On Thursday, December 12th, 1940 the siren wailed. It was nearly seven o' clock in the evening and Dad was about to sit down for his tea. "Blast!" he said. "You'd think they could've waited while I had me dinner." Mam carried her case with her bits and pieces, Dad carried my little sister, and I followed them out in my siren suit. Soon after, came the drone of aircraft and the thud, thud, thud of anti-aircraft guns. Dad stuck his tin hat on. "You'll be safe as houses in there." Mam climbed out from the shelter, watching him run down the road with his stirrup pump. I stood behind her and looked towards town. There was a smell of smoke and burning, and the sky was on fire. I hoped Uncle Henry was all right. "Get in that shelter and go to sleep," Mam shouted.

When the `All Clear' sounded, we went back in the house. "Gone four o'clock," Dad said, "might as well have me breakfast and get off. Be a good two hours walk if I'm to get to work on time. Trams have stopped running and there'll be burnt out buildings everywhere."

In the New Year I had a sore throat. It turned out be diphtheria, and I was taken into Lodge Moor hospital. Mam had threatened to send me away for what I did to Uncle Henry, and she didn't come with me. Every night I whispered a prayer: "Dear Jesus, please don't let me die. I need to say sorry to Uncle Henry for stabbing his bum."

Most Sundays, Mam and Dad came to see me. It was snowing and they had to stand on sandbags outside. Mam pressed her face to the window, "Your number's in the `Star'," she mouthed, "it says you're comfortable." One Sunday, Dad came on his own. "Your Uncle Henry's in hospital; Leeds army hospital."

One morning, Nurse brought me a letter. It was from Uncle Henry! "I'm in hospital too," he wrote. "Keep your chin up. Get better soon. Won't be long now before Spring is here. Love, Uncle Henry. X X X ." By the time they let me sit up, Nurse brought me jelly for my tea. "Happy birthday," she said.

When they let me go home it was summer. It rained on the day of the funeral and Uncle Lol came up in a car to take Mam and Dad to the cemetery. "It was the needle that did it," he said. "They're keeping Hilda in hospital till the baby's born. And off they went. Nellie from next door came to sit with me until they got back. But I sat in the porch, watching the summer rain. I had killed my Uncle Henry.

When they got back, Uncle Lol was angry. "I should know," he shouted, "it was that Blackwater Fever jab we had. I felt that poorly, I thought I was on my way out."

Most of that summer, I sat on the wall, thinking about Uncle Henry. I knew it wasn't me who killed him, but it didn't make me feel any better. I felt so lost. If only they had let me keep his letter, I could have read it again, and again, and again.

I sat on the back porch step
scouring the sky,
heavy with rain.
They say that's where Uncle's gone.

He'd written.
He was in hospital too,
"Keep your chin up. Get better soon.
Won't be long before spring is here."
Kisses. From Uncle. With love.

That day, they'd taken his note away.
Fingers prised open, I cried.
"Paper has to be burnt," they said.
"Infectious. You can't take it home."

Droplets of rain, warm on my face.
Each unit gathered,
a message, mirrored.
Kisses. From Uncle. With love.

Jean Ashton