World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

John Drewell 

War-Time Civilian Life in Hunslet Carr, Leeds

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: John Drewell
Location of story: Hunslet Carr, Leeds
Background to story: Civilian


One morning during the winter of 1940/41 at about 5 o’clock, in complete blackout, the sirens went, waking everyone up and telling us to go to the air raid shelters wearing our gas masks.

Suddenly in the distance I, John Drewell, heard the drone of aircraft engines in the sky, eventually they were returning from a raid on the Liverpool area. The sky was suddenly illuminated by searchlight beams combing the night sky above in order to find these aeroplanes.
Eventually one beam found its target and all the others joined up to light up the planes which appeared to be painted black. Within seconds Ack Ack batteries at Dewsbury Road and Middleton Clearings were pounding shells at the enemy aircraft. At least one was hit and I know that one was brought down, although I have no idea where it came down. It was displayed in City Square, Leeds for several days for morale purposes.

The might of the German army was fearful at that time and we weren’t prepared for combat against such a well equipped force.

The City of Leeds adopted an aircraft carrier HMS ‘Ark Royal’ which was sunk by U-boats early on in the war.

There was an immediate appeal to the citizens to raise cash for a replacement ‘Ark Royal’. A savings certificate sales drive was made, selling saving certificates for 15/- (fifteen shillings (75p) each with a promise of repayment of £1-0-6d (£1.02½) after five years. The schools ran the sales drives and also there was a city wide jam jar collection at all schools for the ‘Ark Royal’ fund. Hundreds of kids brought prams, barrows and bogies laden with jam jars all for the fund.

Eventually a new ‘Ark Royal’ was built bearing the plaque, “Donated by the People of the City of Leeds”. Unfortunately this ‘Ark Royal’ was sunk by the enemy too.

One thing that stuck in my mind was when the U.S. servicemen arrived here and the first Blackman I ever saw was a U.S. soldier in Leeds City Centre, around 1943. English girls began to be friendly with the Yanks, as they were called, and my own cousin brought a G.I. home to meet the family. They married and after the war she emigrated to California to be re-united with her husband in Sacramento, I never saw her again.

On V.E. Day, May 8th 1945, all the streets began to put out flags and bunting. “Welcome Home” signs were also hung out, but it was a long wait for some. One lad I know didn’t even know his own father as he came down the street, back from war after five years away. This may have been a common situation!