World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Nora Reeve 


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: KENNETH REED, Joshua Reed, Elsie Reed, George Teal, Gladys Teal
Location of story: HULL, Grimsby
Background to story: Civilian


My War Time Experiences.

On the 3rd September 1939, I can recall the sombreness of Mum and Dad, Aunt and Uncle, who lived next door to us, and all the adults who came out into the road to chat after the announcement was made by Neville Chamberlain that we were art war with Germany. We children had little idea of the seriousness of the situation and what it would ultimately mean for us all.

A few weeks before, the Anderson air raid shelters had arrived and one and all set about digging out huge holes in their back gardens. People helped one another in this task and some elderly people, who couldn’t do theirs, had friends to do it for them. After they were installed, many planted flowers on top and made the interior comfortable. Most had bunks for four persons. We were all shattered when on that first Sunday night the air raid warning sirens sounded. A most sinister wailing sound that struck fear into us. My brother and I had an aviary to breed budgerigars in a garden shed, and in air raids we would prepare a big wicker basket for our two starter pair, named Punch and Judy, and take them in the shelter with us. It was a relief that first night when no air raid took place. There were many more nights when the sirens sounded, and the blitz nights of December 1940 were very frightening, both hearing the bombs drop and the shelling from our own anti aircraft batteries.

One night it seemed a large bomb had been dropped very near our shelter and on investigation the next morning, a hole was found in a piece of wasteland next to our allotment. The bomb disposal squad was called out and we were advised to take some belongings and proceed to the Reception Centre at Trinity Church School rooms nearby. My father and brother had gone to work so we left a note for them in case we had to stay for some time. Later, we were told it was an unexploded anti aircraft shell and were able to return to our home. It was a great relief . All of us used to take important papers etc. into the shelter, and I recall having a small attaché case in which I kept treasures of my own, and that would always accompany me.

After leaving school at 13 years of age, as many schools had closed, there was a system called Home Service, where householders were asked if their spare rooms could be used for groups of children from school, to continue their education. My mother said our 'front room' could be used and so several boys and girls came about twice a week to be taught by a teacher from our school. It was unusual and we had a lot of homework to fill in the gaps when the teacher was at another location. After leaving school at 14, my Dad enrolled me on a course of typing, shorthand and business studies in the Campo Lane area of the city. This was a great adventure, if not a little scary. I was there for nine months and made some good friends. My first job was at an automobile parts and services centre. It was interesting getting to know all the different spares of a car. However I had always wanted to work at the General Post Office as a telephonist, where my cousin, Win worked. There were no vacancies when I first applied, but later, one was available, so I left my first job and started training at the Wing school. I was on probation for a while and then took the civil service examination. On passing this I was an established telephonist. The work was interesting. We did all sorts of different duties, sometimes working all night, and we always had to take with us our tin hats and gas masks. The latter were rather large as they had to accommodate the head set telephone. Whilst there, volunteers were called for to go to the exchange in London, where there were some shortages of staff. I volunteered for this and spent some time there in a very large exchange. Our group of girls stayed at a hostel outside London, which necessitated our travelling by tube into work each day. One evening, two of us came out of work, and found ourselves in the middle of a pea-soup fog, and it took us a long time to find our way to Blackfriars Station. There were of course many interesting things to see and do so we took full advantage on our days and evenings off by going to places like Hampton Court and dancing at Hammersrnith Palais and the Lyceum. Glen Miller dance numbers were all the rage then and I can still remember how wonderful it was there. Fortunately at this stage of the war there were few air raids. On return to Sheffield I settled down to learning new jobs in the telephone department sometimes training new telephonists and various clerical jobs. The air raid warning messages to various places were handled on a special position and it always gave one's stomach a bit of a jolt when the light and buzzer went off.

One day a loose barrage balloon came down in our garden, and the crew came to rescue it. Everyone in the neighbourhood, it seemed, came up and down our garden to watch this event and the flower beds were much the worse for wear after everyone had departed. My dad had a large allotment adjoining our garden and grew a great deal of vegetables, which greatly helped out our rations.

After the blitz, when the city centre was so badly hit, my Dad went to see what had happened to his work place. He was a cabinet maker at the John Walsh store in the High Street. The building had not been bombed but had caught fire later on from buildings at either side There were just one or two windows in the arcade of the building that had not been totally destroyed. Dad made his way into the basement and found the remains of his tools. Just the metal parts were left, the rest burned away including his carving tools. There was a lot of devastation and many buildings were destroyed, trams burned out too, which made the transport system very short, so much so that we were loaned some trams from Newcastle-on -Tyne. These were trams with very narrow stairs, narrower at one end. I was travelling on one of these to work one morning, and coming down the stairs when the tram gave a terrible jerk going round a comer. I lost my footing and fell head over heels down, landing on my feet on the platform, still clutching my carrier bag holding a casserole my mum had prepared for my lunch. We had an oven in the staff room where these could be reheated. I couldn’t believe I was still all in one piece and when I checked the dish, only a little gravy had spilled out.

Lots of people 'laid to be temporarily rehoused, and a lot of distress resulted. A nice thing some of my friends and I enjoyed was going to the youth club that was held in the same rooms we were evacuated to earlier. Here we could meet and talk, learn to dance and play different games such as Bagatelle, and table tennis. I had a very good friend, a fellow telephonist who was engaged to an RAF air gunner. They had decided to get married and asked if I would be a bridesmaid. I was delighted to do this and set about trying to get a suitable dress, which was difficult, as we had clothing coupons. Fortunately I owned a party dress, a rather nice pink taffeta, and I bought a headdress and shoes to go with it. The bride to be bought a beautiful dress made of white cloqu'e. I went with her to purchase it and we were both very excited.

The war by this time was at a stage where England was beginning to turn the tide on the Germans, and it was really with a feeling of relief that on the summer evenings, we used to watch the bombers going out in droves to drop their bombs on targets in Germany. Professor Barnes Wallis had been working on a special type of bouncing bomb to try to breach the walls of several dams in the industrial part of Germany. We had never heard of anything like it and were astonished when these went bouncing several times, over the water and burst against the dam walls causing severe flooding in the valleys and disrupting production of war supplies over a wide area. The air crews were very brave on these missions as they had to fly in low and were under constant anti aircraft fire. The Germans were ever resourceful and the next weapon they used against us was the Buzz bombs. They were frightening and made a distinctive sound, even making the window frames in the house vibrate as they went over. Of course we were glad when the engines did not stop, because if they did, down came the bomb.

The last weapon tried was the VS rockets, these were even more sinister, and came down without any warning at all; they carried a great deal of explosive. However it was soon clear that our allied troops were nearly in Berlin and the war was coming to a close. People were ecstatic and when the final day came, May 8th 1945, there was great rejoicing everywhere. Some friends and I went up to Barkers Pool in Sheffield and joined in the celebrations, dancing and cheering and generally letting our hair down. Of course the war in the Far East was still in progress and did not end until August, after the most devastating weapon, the atom bomb was dropped en Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the Japanese mainland. It was terrible to see the damage done, but this was tempered by feelings that the Japanese had got their deserts after the very cruel way they had treated our prisoners and civilian captives.

The war had ended, but it was a long time before things were back to normal. There was great relief, no more air raids, and folk getting killed. Fortunately, my brother who was serving in the RAF in the Far East, was not taken prisoner, but did not return home until the severe winter of 1947, when a great deal of snow fell and remained on the ground until late March. He had recurring bouts of Malaria, contracted abroad, but the main thing was that he had returned safely.

A lot of returning servicemen had difficulty getting their old employment back, which was not good when they had served their country.

The children of 1939 certainly knew by the end of hostilities what a devastating difference war could make in their lives.

Nora Reeve October 2005.