World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         Letty Thornton 

My Wartime Experiences

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Letty Thornton
Location of story: Barnsley, Huddersfield and Sheffield.

 Letty aged 18

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Letty Thornton.

I left school just as the war was getting started. Evacuees were being moved around the country, away from the cities. Our headmaster asked me if our parents would be willing to take any of them; this to a girl with four brothers and six sisters at the time. He had to be joking!

There wasn’t much work for a girl of 14 ½ years old at the time, so I stayed at home for a while, just doing odd jobs. By the following summer, I was still too young for the factories or the forces, so I went to Blackpool with my sister Madge who was 1 ½ years older than I was. We did a season looking after the soldiers who were billeted in a boarding house. The entire town was in darkness; there were none of the bright lights that Blackpool is famous for.

At the end of September, I came back home and shortly after that, I went into service in Huddersfield. The lady I worked for was Mrs. Mason, mother of James Mason, one of our finest film stars. James’ father was an air raid warden and every time the sirens went, Mrs. Mason, George the dog and I went into the cellar. Whilst I was in Huddersfield, I joined the Junior Air Corps, where I learned shorthand, signalling with flags and of course, how to march. I enjoyed this and I managed to become a Sergeant. There were lots of soldiers billeted there. We enjoyed going dancing and to open air concerts in Greenhead Park. By this time, I was almost 18 years old and I knew I would have to make a move.

I had the choice of either going into the forces or joining my sister in Sheffield on munitions. I chose the latter and went off to Brightside, an industrial area of Sheffield. I cannot imagine how it got the name Brightside. First of all, I worked in an area where the furnaces were and I was put to work on one of them. It was awful; I couldn’t even see what was in there. We had to take trays of small objects out of the furnaces and place them into cold water, so then we got a horrible deluge of steam. The purpose of this operation was to harden the metal. It was quite an unpleasant job for a very slim young woman to have to do!

I tolerated this for a while, but eventually got a transfer to a machine shop, which was much better. Big guns were bored here; I was taught how to work on a turret lathe, which was a very skilled job. We made aeroplane parts and pit props. I was putting threads in the top and bottom of the tubes, also coal cutters. When I went to the Mining Museum in Wakefield one time, I actually saw how they were used. The man in charge of the museum was impressed when I told him that I had made some of them during the war.

By this time, I was living in Brampton Bierlow (between Barnsley and Rotherham) and the railway station was at Wombwell Main, about 2 to 3 miles away. Many times, I had to walk in the blackout to catch the train at 5.30 in the morning, to get into Sheffield. The trains were quite old; there weren’t any corridors or toilets on them. Everyone was packed in. We worked a shift rota; the morning shift started at 6 o’ clock lasting until 2 p.m.. The nights ran from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. There wasn’t much in the way of social life however. My mother bought me a bike, so now, I could leave it at the house across the road from the railway station at a cost of £1.00 per week. Sometimes I would put the bike in the guard’s van on the train, and then I’d be able to cycle all the way home (I must have been incredibly fit, or mad).

My mother had a baby at the time of the Sheffield Blitz (this was number 12). She was taken to Jessop’s Hospital in Sheffield, in one of the Green Goddess ambulances. It was her first baby in hospital. She eventually went on to have her 13th child, a boy who will be sixty years old next year (2006). At the present time, all of her thirteen children are still alive. Some of them did time in the army in Egypt and Germany.

My wedding, which was just after the war, was at Brampton Parish Church. Clothes were still on coupons and food was still scarce, but we did manage a cake. We went to Blackpool for our honeymoon. The train was packed full of members of the forces and we had to travel part of the way in the guard’s van. We arrived very late and it was Christmas Eve. When the landlord of our digs opened the door to us, it was midnight and the family had gone to mass. He gave us some tea and a sandwich, then off we went to our room. Shortly after that, the house vibrated to the shouts of “FIRE! FIRE!” and there was banging on the stairs etc.

My husband, Walt, went to see what was happening. He came running back and said, “Grab something to put on.” I actually thought they were just having a bit of fun because we had just got married. It was white over with frost outside; we sat in someone’s car for ages. Somebody lent my husband a pair of slippers. It was early morning when we finally went back to our room. The panic over fire was due to the shop next door. The owner had left his iron running (he was a tailor) and it had burnt through the board. What a mess, and what a start to married life.

When I went back to work and walked into the machine shop, all the workers were banging on their machines and shouting, “FIRE! FIRE!” I continued to work there for a total of six years.

Now, in year 2005, I am a mere eighty years young.