World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                       Milton Graham 


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: MILTON GRAHAM
Location of story: Atherton, near Bolton
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Milton Graham.



I was born in 1932 in Atherton, near Bolton and at the age of five I went to Bolton Road nursery school, a Church of England school which was about 50 yards from where I lived. I stayed at the nursery school until I was 7 when I went to the 'BIG school' Hesketh Fletcher School for Boys (although part of the school was also for girls, but we were strictly segregated!).

I had just started at this school in September 1939, when World War II broke out. I remember the headmaster calling all the boys to the hall and telling us that we were now at war with Germany, but not to worry as it probably would not effect us that much. How wrong can one be?

After a couple of years - I would think it would be about 1941 or '42, we used to go out from school to the local farms potato-picking to help the war effort. All the class went on one or two days a week and we had to fill ten 561b bags of potatoes, and if we did manage to do this we were given the princely sum of 2s.6d (12 ½ p in today's money). If we could not manage this we got 1s.3d if we filled five or more bags (about 6p). We thought it was great fun and we felt like proper workmen with our sandwich boxes and pop drinks under our arms.

We had air-raid warning exercises at least once every couple of weeks, usually at the last lesson of the day. We had to be careful with our clothes, because we didn't get many new ones as they had to be bought with Clothing Coupons issued by the government. We also had food rationing and we had to take our Ration Books to get eggs and meat from the butcher, bread etc from the bakers - all bought with the understanding that there was a war on and things were in short supply, so we didn't get very much of anything. In those days we all wore clogs, wooden shoes with irons on the soles, which were very hard-wearing - and great for ice skating when the local ponds froze over.

Because our town was at the side of the main Manchester/Preston/Liverpool railway line which was a prime target for the German bombers, at least three of four times a week, the air-raid siren sounded and everyone used to make their way to the communal air-raid shelter which held about 50 people. We would huddle in our blankets, clutching hot water bottles, sitting or lying on the wooden benches in the shelter. The air-raid wardens, dressed in their blue uniforms and wearing steel helmets, kept going out and coming back into the shelter to tell us what was happening. Usually we would spend a couple of hours or so in the shelter. I remember one night when the siren went and the bombs started to drop and my mother, father, grandfather and myself did not have time to get to the shelter. My dad kept shouting to us to get under the table, which we did. The next thing I knew there was a very loud bang; dust and glass flying about, the table blown over, and the front window and door blown in. It turned out that a land mine, which was a bomb dropped at the end of a parachute, had landed about 40/50 yards away in the back yard of the local pub.

People were shouting and screaming and we thought the Germans were really coming this time!

I remember my dad grabbing hold of me and running to the shelter followed by mum and grand-dad. That night two land mines had landed within 100 yards of each other.

The following morning as we left the shelter, we could see what damage had been done. The local school was badly damaged, walls of houses had fallen down, the roof had been blown off the pub and the cotton mill where my mum worked was badly damaged. When we got back to our house, all the front windows were smashed, the door was in the front room and there was glass and dust everywhere. But the strange thing was that the kitchen and bathroom and back bedroom, and the windows at the back of the house were intact - so we were quite lucky really.

Some people who we knew had been killed. Even when I was grown up I apparently often used to shout out in my sleep, "The Germans are coming, the Germans are coming". But things just carried on, and eventually the house was repaired, by the council I expect, after what seemed a life time, but was probably a couple of months or so. We were bombed several times after that, but the bombs mostly dropped in the fields just up the road from where I lived and caused little or no damage.
Following that bad raid we had half-day lessons at my school, which was about three or four miles from where I lived and was undamaged. The local primary school was closed for a long time and the children under 7 used to go a couple of days a week to the church hall for lessons. To be honest we did not really understand what was going on - we were too young. We knew that we were fighting the Germans and we listened to the radio, (no TV in those days) and we saw newsreels at the cinema. Two of my best friends' brothers were killed in the war - one a sailor on a ship and the other in the army. When we heard about it I remember we cried a lot.
When the war finally ended I was 14. I left school, went to the local cotton mill and asked for a job, and I started work the next day.