World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Pat Campbell 

Austere Years

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Pat Campbell
Location of story: Sheffield
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 Pat Campbell.
The story was transcribed from audio tape recordings.

When the war started, I was four years old. I don’t remember the war being declared, but when we had the blitz, I do remember that we had an Anderson Shelter. I was taken out of there and I put my father’s tin hat on. I saw the Doodlebugs – V1’s and V2’s. I remember seeing one of them coming over with its tail on fire. Where I lived, at Grimesthorpe, there were wooden huts that were known as “the huts”; they were wooden houses, all along the road there. We were quite near the industry. At the beginning of the war, they burnt them down because if the enemy had bombed them, they would have lit the sky up for many miles around. They did it there and also on Holywell Road.

My first memories are from 1940 when the V1,s and V2’s went over. My mother was permanently in hospital. She was bombed out of the City General (as it was then), then they moved her to the Nether Edge Hospital where a bomb dropped outside the main block in front of the main door. They couldn’t take her out, so they just placed her under the bed and smothered her with pillows. They had to send her home; she couldn’t walk because she was paralysed. She had to have nursing all the time; it was six months before they could get her back to the hospital.

One of my memories was of the gas masks, the Mickey Mouse gasmasks that they would put babies in. I remember going to be fitted with a gasmask and seeing these big ones, and of course, we got to know our identity number, which is now the medical number, so that’s a thing you never forget. I can remember that from me being little. They were very austere years, but I was never hungry, we were never deprived of food; my granny was a very good manager. She could make a meal out of almost nothing. I remember the points – A’s and B’s, of food rationing – we got about 2 oz (ounces – 35 to a Kg) of sweets, then there were clothing points.

Granny used to make under slips. She used to cut my dresses down, the ones I had grown out of, and she’d cut them away so that she could make, whatever them in colour. We had to wear them underneath, for wamth.

One of my favourite foods was reconstituted egg, and mashed potatoes, when we could get it. I remember saccharin being on the table, there was never a lot of sugar. There was dried milk, but I was never hungry. We tried growing vegetables on top of the air raid shelter – there was a slogan: “Dig for victory.”

We had two rabbits but they disappeared. I found out what happened to them and I never ate rabbit after that. I can’t even eat it now.

There was queuing for cigarettes – a neighbour would come to my granny (whom I was brought up by) and say, “Mrs. Ashmore, Mrs. Ashmore, they’ve got some cigarettes at such and such a place," or “they’ve got some tomatoes.” There they’d go and get them. I remember going down Attercliffe when it was a proper shopping centre, with Banners, a big departmental store. We didn’t need to go to the city. Granny went in with a head scarf on, queued up, then she came out, took her headscarf and glasses off, then went in again. But, I’ve still got my own teeth, there weren’t many sweets and I think on the whole, it was a healthier diet, much healthier than now.

I didn’t like school, I went to Grimesthorpe School until I was eleven. We had double summer time which was lovely, because we had late nights when it was really light. That was brought in to help the farmers and to hinder the enemy aircraft, so when the bombers came over from Germany, they wouldn’t be able to bomb as early in the day. There was also the barrage balloon on Petre Street – sometimes the balloon would be up, or it would be down – it just seemed so normal.

When the war finished, my granny took me onto the hill on Petre Street and I saw the lights for the first time, all across the east end and Attercliffe. It was the first time I’d ever seen lights on. The first banana I ever saw was when a soldier brought one back from somewhere; I was at Sunday School. Rationing didn’t finish until the 1950’s. During the war, there were no road signs anywhere. A gentleman I knew used to deliver around the countryside and there were no signs to say this way, or that way to wherever he was going.

None of my family went away to fight, because we didn’t have a big family, but my father was called up after the war; he said, “I’ve got an ulcer.” He was told, “Don’t worry son, it’s all in yer head.” Six weeks later, they invalided him out; he’d got an ulcer. During the war he had been in the steelworks, as was my grandfather. They worked at English Steel and an incendiary bomb did drop there, but they must have put it out OK.

There was a lot of tension in the families because nobody knew what was going to happen the next day. My father was in the armed guard and my mother would get upset every time he went out, in case he didn’t come back. I think housewives had it hard because they had to manoeuvre the budgets and the food coupons. I had to have my feet measured to see if I could have extra coupons because I was so tall and needed bigger shoes. I had to have boys’ shoes. I think that after the war, little boys and girls would see their fathers came home, and it wasn’t always a happy reunion; it was like having a stranger coming in.

Because of the war, many women in Sheffield had to work in the steelworks and I remember them coming home, smelling of oil. Women started wearing trousers. That was the beginning of the emancipation of women. They were recognised as, although not independent, certainly a contributory factor to the economy because of what they were earning and how they could do things. I think some of them were dis-satisfied after the war. The whole workforce seemed to be mobilised because there didn’t seem to be anyone who didn’t work, whether it was in the Land Army or whatever, guards on trains and things like that.

There were some single storey pre-fabricated cafes called the British Restaurant, where we could get dinners at reduced prices. They were run by the council, they had them in Leeds, at the Town Hall and would produce food for people who wanted to come in and eat, and it was for anybody.

People didn’t go our much; going to the cinema was quite an adventure. We used to go to the cinema to see the news. At the end of the war, I went to the Coliseum in Spital Hill. They showed us Belsen; the ovens at Belsen. I never forgot seeing that. They always used to play “God Save The King” at the end of a performance, but they don’t do that now. One aspect of the war was that we were shown how to manage on what was available, rather than taking things for granted, as is the case today.

In Attercliffe, on Brightside Lane were houses on one side, and a wall with the sidings over on the other, and it was amazing how much coal used to go over that wall on dark nights. People used to take wheelbarrows and cans and they got bags of coke too. That was to supplement the coal that they already had.

The war was a very good time for some people because a lot of people made a lot of money, producing armaments for a start. My granddad used to bring wedges home from work. He had a case with his lunch in it and he used to come back with this wood in it, again to supplement the heating.

Things changed here when the Americans came over, things became more glamorous. There were films such as, “The Yanks Are Coming, The Yanks Are Coming”. I think a lot of the girls fell in love with the Americans.

Again, I say that we should appreciate what we’ve got here, because that little stretch of water saved us; it was down to a few men. Being in this country, we didn’t know what was going on with the Jews in the labour camps. I think a lot of people didn’t actually believe it anyway when it was brought to the fore. You can imagine it was just a kaleidoscope in a melee of different emotions, spiritually and whatever. It was just a time we had to get through.