World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Jo Wheldon 

Memories of a 12 year old

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Mr. and Mrs. John Edgar Nickson and daughters Marie and Jo (now Wheldon)
Location of story: Hessle, nr. Hull, Rivers Trent and Humber, and the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anne Payne of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mrs. Jo Wheldon.


In the 1930’s, my parents had a motorboat, a 28ft. converted ship’s lifeboat. On Saturday, 2nd. September 1939, we’d cruised down the Fossdyke Canal and moored overnight near Torksey Lock to go into the River Trent at the turn of the tide next morning. This was in order to have the flow of the tide with us down river into the Humber as far as Hessle.

At breakfast time, early in the morning, the lock keeper came along the bank with a policeman. A stop had been put on all river traffic, but, one of the large Hull tugs, “Welshman”, was coming down the Trent with a string of empty barges, attempting to reach Hull before the ban, and was picking up a barge outside Torksey Lock. Our little boat (we were not allowed to use our engine) was warped out through the lock with all available men hauling, mother steering, and was lashed alongside the empty barge, which appeared to (and did) tower above us.

My sister Marie and I had to stay below for the next bit, and we peered through the skylight and portholes. As the tug came into view, our barge edged out into the river (the tide had turned); the last barge on tow threw a rope, we fastened on and away we went. Talk about a roller coaster ride! The Trent is not a straight river and we were going fast; we were last on the string! The fact that war had been declared was shouted down to us from the barge. At Keadby Canal, only the tug was allowed to continue. The barges moored at the jetty and we were again manhandled into this canal and moored near the lock keeper’s cottage. There, Dad (John Nickson) left us to make his way to Hull, ready for work on Monday. The lock keeper and his wife gave us a spare room to store our gear and a bed for the night, so after emptying the boat we three females returned home. Unfortunately, during the winter of 1939/40, the canal froze and the boat sank. At Easter 1940, Dad and a friend got permission to retrieve her and she was towed back to Hessle Haven, where she was beached on the fore shore.

Hull was subjected to much heavy bombing, so Dad had strengthened the area under the stairs as a shelter, but when a bomb landed 6 doors away and our home “moved a few inches”, we spent most nights in the public air-raid shelters on the open areas by our front gardens. Some nights we spent on the boat and they were a lot more comfortable than sitting on a narrow wooden bench, although due to the bend in the River Humber, Hessle was directly in line with the village of Paull, downriver, where the Ack Ack batteries were stationed. The shrapnel came down around us and we could hear it landing on our teak deck. Dad had a proper helmet, but the man who lived alone on a boat nearby used a metal colander!

Another exciting night (to me at 12) was when this flaming “stuff” came up the river with the tide. Was it the invasion? Next morning, the tide had turned and it all came back -smouldering timber. Then we learned that Hull’s Fish Quay had been hit. On other nights, Dad saved his petrol ration and we motored out to Brantingham Dale and parked up to get some sleep. We were not the only ones. The Dale was lined with cars and even down there you could see the glow in the sky over Hull as the city burned.

For some months in 1941/42, or perhaps later (I can’t quite remember), we all moved into the country including Dad. I caught the early morning train from Kiplingcotes station. One foggy morning, whilst I was standing with the stationmaster, a German bomber came out of the clouds, circled the station and the pilot waved to us. We waved back and then he disappeared into the fog again. I presume he couldn’t find the Humber to give him his bearings before heading for home, so he looked for the Hull to York railway line instead!