World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Mabel Dennis 

Na Den Dee, It's Die Turn! Sheffield Dialect: Now Then You, It's Your Turn!)

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Mabel Dennis
Location of story: Sheffield, England
Background to story: Civilian


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


On the 3rd September 1939, it was on the radio that we heard Neville Chamberlain made the dreaded announcement that we were at war. The next day, I went to Leopold Street in Sheffield to catch a bus to Matlock, eventually arriving at the Whitworth Hotel in Darley Dale, complete with Gas Mask and a tin helmet. I was starting work as a nanny to David and Diana Lee. Their mother, Mrs Kenneth Lee, her twin sister Mrs Wilton Lee and her children, had decided to move into the countryside away from Sheffield. The “Lees” were owners of a large Engineering Company in Sheffield, Sir Arthur lee and Sons. Two of the four sons, Major Wilton Lee and Captain Kenneth Lee were both in the Army. Shortly after moving to Darley Dale, the “Lees” acquired a house near Stanton, up the steep hill opposite ‘The Peacock’.

In the Peak and from my window, I could see Haddon Hall. The first winter, it snowed so much that the stonewalls and hedges were completely covered. The two Mrs Lees were unable to get back from a visit to Sheffield. When the roads cleared, we started having visits to Bakewell; we went to the market and the Bakewell Café, a real treat for the children. The Bakewell visits had to stop very soon because an army camp was established nearby. The camp tents were for soldiers who developed scabies and a contagious spotted fever, so Bakewell was out of bounds for us for a period. Mrs Wilton Lee, who also had a nanny named Hannah, for her children, Peter and Nigel. The gardener was Mr Nuttall, the local postmaster. As we had bicycles, on one of our half-days, we cycled to Chatsworth House.

We met a group of schoolgirls from a public school who were living in Chatsworth House, because they had been evacuated to be safe from the bombing. I recently recognised some of them whilst watching a reminiscence programme on Television. I had to leave the Lee family because my mother was seriously ill, and unfortunately she died; she was only 49 years old. I, then, went to work for Sir Samuel Osborne (a stainless steel specialist in The Wicker), and lived in a flat above the offices. The six directors (Sir Samuel Osborne, Mr Fred Osborne, Mr Eric Osborne, Mr Brian Pye Smith, Mr Frank Hurst and Mr Cecil Hurst) had their mid-day meal in their special dining room above the back offices. I felt that all of these gentlemen were the backbone of Sheffield. I had to swear on the Bible that I would not divulge Anything that I might hear whilst serving them, nor the identity of any visitors such as a couple of gentlemen from New Zealand. I was dressed in a black and white uniform and I used to use a dumb waiter to bring up the meals from the kitchen to serve them (silver service).

One thing that I remember was that, as a seemingly tee-total family group, was that their gratitude for their excellent meal, cooked and served, was finally rounded with six different drinks: a cup of tea with milk, one without milk, one with sugar, one coffee with milk, one black coffee and one coffee with milk and sugar. The cook was an elderly lady of 76 years who was called Mrs Wilson, a Canadian who had cooked for soldiers in Nova Scotia earlier in her life. She was a diabetic and had to inject herself in her leg one day and the next day I had to jab her in the top of her arm. She was a fantastic cook and I had to do all the buying of food from the market and Davy’s (a good quality grocers). Mrs Wilson’s son had a post office job, which consisted of spraying telephone boxes and mouth pieces with disinfectant and giving them a thorough cleaning. The other member of staff in the kitchen was Joan Marks, a beighton girl. One night, Joan and I went to the “Wicker” cinema, which was only next door to our flat when the sirens started wailing at about 7 p.m. The sirens meant that an air raid was about to take place and we must quickly find an air raid shelter.

The wardens outside the cinema told us that the shelters under the cinema were not reinforced, so, in panic, having gone to the Wicker Arches shelter, we decided to run back across to Osborne’s shelter where we would have to show our identity cards at their safety gate. Joan was screaming hysterically and I remembered that some sort of shock would help her come to her senses. I was wearing a hat (our hats were our status), secured by a large hat pin so I stuck the hat pin into her bottom. She screeched, stopped screaming and started to sob but she wasn’t hysterical anymore. Mrs Wilson had already been taken down to the shelter (our allotted underground shelter was next to the main road (the Wicker) and we hadn’t been in there very long when we heard very frightening bombing, loud banging and shrill noises.

The planes were enemy planes and they had been using the shining rail tracks to guide them into Sheffield. The tramcars had stopped running because they had been pre-warned that their flashing lights (electrical contacts on the overhead cables) could be seen from the air. The wardens shouted through to us to break the glass in the little box above the escape passage door (four feet high) and to open the door and crawl into the underground passage until we found the lads from the works under the (cable and wireless) shop shelter. We crawled along and we started hearing someone singing Vera Lynn songs, I then heard them talking in broad Sheffield dialect; one lad nagging at another who was apparently scared stiff to leave the shelter. “Na Den Dee – Its Die Turn (Now then you – its your turn). It was his turn to go up onto the roof to put out any firebombs and was too scared to go. After the longest night of my life, scared out of my wits, it was a great relief at 4 o’clock in the morning, to hear the “All Clear”.

Knowing that Mrs Wilson needed her insulin jab and tablets I went to fetch them from our flat, the enormous glass dome above our wide staircase which led up to the flat and kitchen was smashed and glass was splattered all the way up the stairs. We tidied up as much debris as we could, knowing full well that we wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be going back to work there again. Afterwards, Sir Samuel Osborne put his arm around me and said if I ever needed help in any way to go and see him. That was my fondest memory of him. I’ve never seen the 3 shoe cobblers, Curley, Larry and Mo, in the three windows, across The Whicker, since. At 8 a.m. I set off to walk the ten miles back to Beighton village where my family lived. I saw a tramcar roof hanging off; all the way up City Road, the signs of destruction were horrific. Cars were up lampposts, windows blown in, doors hanging off, roofs blown down and glass and debris all over the place but there was an incredible silence! Marples pub in Fitzalan Square had a direct hit and was completely demolished that night and many people were killed there because there was a shelter underneath the bar that people had run to.

Many years later, a friend of my son told him that he had had the awful job of clearing out the bodies, there were some barrels of beer still in the cellar, so they were drunk for the 3 days they had to work there. It helped numb the awfulness of it. I lived back at Beighton for a little while and there was another terrible disaster happened at Beighton station. From what I gathered later, there were some railway wagons stood on the track and one of the wagons had a girder sticking out across the other railway line. A train, carrying army, navy and air force personnel, was travelling at speed and came past through the level crossing. The wagons and the girder ripped out the side of the train. It was very dark because of the blackout and there were no lights on the train. We could hear but did not know why there was such a lot of screaming and shouting. It was terrifying. My fiancé, who lived at Aston, and I were walking back to my home and wondered what had caused the lines to be littered with all sorts of debris, and quite a lot of it. Turning right, along the terrace, into Woodhouse Lane, within only a few minutes, we could hear but not see, what was causing the noise in the field. Many army and navy boys had been injured and other villagers also came to help.

One sad instance, a doctor was going to the injured giving them injections to relieve their pain when he came to my boyfriend who was holding a badly injured soldier. The doctor looked at the poor soldier and said, “It is no good giving him an injection, he won’t last! “ The poor soldier was awake and heard the doctor. It upset my boyfriend and he spoke about it years later. The people of Beighton really turned up trumps, they took in anyone who was not seriously injured, giving the cups of tea, meals. Some of the lads stayed in Beighton for 2-3 days. In those days no one ever worried about locking doors when you went out. One night when I was returning from a dance at Swallownest church, I walked into the kitchen and realised that the blackout curtains were not closed but the radio, which was plugged into the light socket above my head, was still on. I closed the curtains and as the radio was connected to the light socket, I climbed onto the chair to disconnect the radio.

As I went to switch the light on from the hall light switch, I saw somebody move across the front door so I ran out of the backdoor as fast as I could. I stood trembling for 2 hours not seeing anyone about, it was very dark because of the blackout and then I plucked up courage and looked through the front door letterbox only to see that the movement had been the blackout curtain falling down! After the Blitz, one of the directors called Mr Cecil Hurst wrote a letter to me. It said “Dear Blondie, I’m sorry that this is how I’ve addressed you, but we (the directors) have never known your correct name, all of us used to refer to you as “Blondie”, I have been informed that you used to be a nanny, but was told that this was not exempt war work (that was why I worked at other jobs, but working with Mr. Cecil Hurst’s family would be OK). My wife and I need help with our two children: if you are interested please write. My address is enclosed”. I went to work for him at his home because after the bombing started on Sheffield, the directors went for lunch at the Rutland Road building which was further out of the city centre.