World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

               Mary (Molly) Barrow 

Molly's memories of wartime Derry

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Mary (Molly) Barrow
Location of story: Derry, N. Ireland
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Jo Thomas of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mary Barrow.

I was born on 19th October 1921, so was 17 when war broke out. I remember listening to Mr Chamberlain on that Sunday through the radio. I was living at home in Derry, Northern Ireland . My mother died just before the war, and I was the oldest of 13 children, 9 boys and 4 girls, including two sets of twins! So I stayed living at home helping to look after the children with my stepfather.

When I was still living at home, early on in the war, there was an air raid. The planes followed a ship up the coast and dropped their bombs. We did have an air raid shelter right outside the front door, it was above the ground, made of concrete like breeze blocks, but there wasn’t room in it for everyone, and nobody really used them anyway. Only the rich people could afford good air raid shelters. Most other people who lived round us took blankets and their bedding and went out to the country at night. They slept in the open fields. It wasn’t very far, up to the top of our street, through some other houses; Breeze Lane we called it, and then into the fields. My stepfather said I could go if I liked but I couldn’t take the children, so I stayed.

When the air raid siren went, I was in bed and I thought, ‘They’ve arrived and we’ll all be wiped out’, I put my head under the covers. It sounded so near, I thought I’d be next. There was a whistling and waiting, then you heard the noise and knew it wasn’t you. The next morning, we all went outside and everyone was talking about it. The bombing had been about a quarter of a mile away and had taken out a whole row of houses in one place and all the people. They eventually got rebuilt. The planes came over about four times during the war but that was the only time they dropped anything.

When I stopped to think about the war, I was angry – mad about it all. I thought why should the people that we love get killed like that.

I’d left school at 14 and started working at a shirt factory, but when business slowed down I moved to the laundry. When the war started the laundry was contracted to do all the soldiers’ shirts and kit. There was a naval base in Derry and lots of soldiers stationed there.

When I was about 20, I moved out of home. I lived in a house with 4 other girls. We shared the cooking and used to put our rations together. We also swapped clothes, we were all roughly the same size. I remember I had a black dress with short sleeves and a cowl neck so you could change the style of it. I used to change the trimmings on the hem, neckline and pockets, buying a couple of yards of green ribbon, lace and other things to change how the dress looked. We would share shoes and bags too. We painted our legs with dye and used an eye pencil to draw lines up the back of your legs instead of nylons. We went to the free dances with not much money to spare. I didn’t dance that often, just sat and watched – I was quite shy. Two of the girls I lived with ended up marrying soldiers they’d met going out to the dances though.

We girls also used to go to the cinema a lot. There was always a Pathé newsreel before the main feature, we wanted it to be over so the feature could start. I went to see Gone with the Wind five or six times and I’ve got it on video now! My grand-daughter bought it for me.

When the war ended there was a big dance in a posh hotel that the American soldiers had taken over. They used their rations for everyone and there was music from a U.S. big band.