World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Margaret Tews 

Memories from the Second World War - 1939 to 1945 in the Eyes of a Child

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Margaret Tews, frank Timmins, Violet May Timmins, John Warren Timmins, Ivy Parsons, Barbara Parsons, Mary Parsons, Frank Warren, Beatrice Warren
Location of story: Sheffield, Yorkshire
Background to story: Civilian



Margaret Tews

I was born in Sheffield on the 24th of January, 1931, so on the outbreak of war was eight and a half years old.

I remember being on holiday with my family in Cleethorpes a few days before the war. Barbed wire was stretched along the beaches and an air of impending gloom and doom hung about. We returned home to Sheffield the next day.

I recall the voice of Neville Chamberlain over the radio telling the population that we were at war with Germany. Everyone in our house wept. That day, an air-raid siren sounded and we all rushed into the Anderson Shelter; it wasn't long before the "all Clear" was heard.

After that, everyone was told to carry their gas-mask with them at all times. The gas masks were issued in brown cardboard boxes that didn't last very long. Later, all types of gas-mask cases in all colours came on to the market. They became fashion accessories.

My Dad was an Air Raid Warden and one time he had to go away for a few days to attend a bomb disposal course. He used to teach "fire watchers" how to enter a smoking building (people conscripted to watch out for fires during air raids, etc.) My Brother, John, was the Mascot for the Air aid Post. He was just a toddler then. My Dad's Sister, Alice, made a miniature A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) uniform for him and he looked very cute and smart. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the A.R.P. held dances in St. Thomas's Church Hall, Holywell Road, which also housed the Air Raid Post. Pastries and soft drinks were available in the Interval. This was a great treat in those days. The Wardens and their families formed a concert party. The acts consisted of vocalists, choral singing stand-up comics and comic sketches, the content of which mostly concerned the "Nazis". I remember singing "The Holy City" dressed as a chorister. The people in the neighbourhood welcomed this entertainment.

There was a Barrage Balloon Site in Skelwith Road during the war and we children would go to watch the balloon being raised into the sky in the early evening. It was lowered to the ground the next morning. This duty fell to the R.A.F and W.A.A.F. (ground staff). The nearest bombing to us was when a land mine dropped in Skelwith Road. This resulted in a huge crater, two houses being destroyed and four others badly damaged. Some people were rescued from nearby air raid shelters. Sometimes, incendiary bombs dropped in the street; children collected the end pieces from these, painted them and put them on their mantelpieces as ornaments. Pieces of shrapnel were also highly prized.

The Sheffield "blitz" caused a great deal of damage. At the Marples public house
in Fitzalan Square, The customers went down into the cellar for safety, but the pub had a direct hit and many people lost their lives. For many years, on the Anniversary of the "blitz", floral tributes adorned the bomb site. My Dad, who was in the City centre during one night of the "blitz", told us that "Walshes" Department Store folded like a pack of cards. One night, we all knelt down in the air raid shelter and prayed. On one occasion, when we left the shelter, it appeared that that the house was on fire, but a gas holder was ablaze and the flames reflected in our windows. The steel works in Sheffield had little damage, but The Moor (a shopping precinct in the city centre), suffered a great deal. The Luftwaffe followed the tram route and most of the shops experienced damage.

The first December after the "blitz", my Main and Dad gave us our presents early, in case we were not there to receive them at Christmas. For years afterwards, they would put any new clothes in the shelter for safety.

When the bombing was severe in London, my Mother's Sister, Ivy, who lived there, brought my Cousins Barbara and Mary to live in Sheffield for a time. They stayed with my Grandma and Granddad, and us. This was the time that the "Flying Bombs" ("Doodlebugs"), were rife, over London. Barbara and Mary attended school in Sheffield whilst they were living in Sheffield.

After the "Blitz", the schools closed for a time; we had part-time schooling known as "Home Service". A teacher would teach a small group of children in the front room of a house. For a long time after the "blitz", we slept all night in the air raid shelter. There was a fireplace in the shelter, fuelled by riddling the ashes from the fireplace in the house. We also had a gramophone, the wind- up variety, tea making facilities and refreshments. We joined three shelters together, two on one side and one on the other, connected by a flight of step. We distempered the walls of the shelter in bright colours.

Naturally, there was rationing during the war, of food, clothes, confectionery, etc., which were all in short supply. The meat ration was one shilling and tuppence per person, per week. Main tried to spin out the meat rations by making onion and potato pies with OXO gravy ("Lord Woolton" pies, the Minister of Food at the time). Once, we even tried horse meat but found it unpalatable, (it was sweet in taste). Main used to put our weekly sugar ration in four separate jam jars with our names on them and my Dad's jam jar was always the first to be empty. One day, Main said we would have imitation bananas and custard for tea, boiled, sliced parsnips served with custard, horrible! My cousin Edna, and I, used to queue in the Sheffield Market every Saturday morning for frozen rabbits My Dad used to keep chickens to supplement our diet. He also supplied the neighbours with eggs in return for their egg coupons to enable him to obtain "balancer meal" to mix with boiled potato peelings to feed to the chickens. He kept cockerels as well as hens and we occasionally enjoyed roast chicken for Sunday dinner. This was a real treat!. We certainly didn't go hungry. Cigarettes were also scarce but my Dad decided he would stop smoking. He did, straight away, he never smoked again. As he used to smoke heavily, this was a big achievement. Main found it difficult to eke out the clothing coupons. Sometimes, my Auntie Alice would make dresses for us out of flowery curtain material, which I believe was not rationed. I can remember having my feet measured at school, as every child with feet over a certain size received extra clothing coupons. I was lucky; my feet were big enough.

On V.E. Day (Victory in Europe), everyone celebrated. The children made effigies of Hitler, Mussolini and other " Nazis" and tied them up to the lamp posts, with nooses "round their necks. We burned them on huge bonfires, in the evening. The adults set - fireworks alight and hung electric lamps out of windows; and everyone danced in the streets. In the days that followed, we enjoyed street parties and Victory Parades. The boys from the Forces came home to much rejoicing. On V. E. Day (Victory over Europe) and V.J. Day (Victory over the Japanese), everyone had a day off from work. On both of these days I had a £1.00 bonus in my wage packet. Considering that my weekly wage was only £ 1.3 s.6d. at the time, this seemed a huge amount.

Rationing continued for a long time after the war but everyone was relieved that peace had come at last.