World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Peter Wolstenhome 

Childhood 1939—1945.

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Peter Wolstenholme
Location of story: Sheffield
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 Peter Wolstenholme.

Childhood 1939—1945.
Peter Wolstenholme

I was born on the 12th of December 1935, consequently my fifth birthday coincided with the Sheffield Blitz nine hours bombing on December 12th 1940. Dad, served with The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry on the Somme in WW I and was too old for active service in 1939, so he became an ARP Warden based at St Swithen's Hall on the Manor Estate. He would don his Warden's steel helmet after dark and walk the streets checking that house blackout curtains were in place and not allowing any light through to guide enemy aircraft. He went out on my birthday night and I was put into Mom's bed as a birthday treat. I remember being woken and bundled into a dark brown woollen one piece "Siren suit "and carried into our next door neighbour, Mr. Harvey's brick shelter at Scotia Close, Manor Estate. We had an Andersen shelter, these were corrugated steel and sunk into the back garden but in spite of regular use of a stirrup pump ours was always full of water so we used next doors.

That night, the bombers came in several waves so many times during the nine hours bombing, we would go back to bed only to return to the shelter when the next raid started. I remember being scared of the whistling of falling bombs and the loud explosions.

Sometime before dawn my brother came home from Vickers works, Attercliffe where he was a trainee metallurgist. They had a direct hit by a land mine and he had helped clear debris. After the ‘All Clear’, he carried me to the end of Scotia Close that provided a panoramic view of the centre of Sheffield. Sheffield in 1940 was pitch black after dark. All houses, shops, trams, buses and trains had to be blacked out. Street lights, vehicle lights and torches were masked to a tin slit to prevent any light escaping to aid enemy aircraft, so usually, the scene from the end of Scotia Close was completely black but on this blitz night the whole of Sheffield and the sky above was glowing red from hundreds of tyres, a sight a five year old would never forget.

Water was cut oft so army water bowsers brought water round the streets and I remember my parents carrying a copper bath onto the Manor fields and filling it with water from a spring not far from the Travellers Rest public house. This water was boiled and used for washing.

Some time later, Dad had to go to town and he took me with him. The streets were cleared but wisps of smoke were still drifting from bombed out Burtons, Marples and
Walshes (now T.J. Hughes).

My brother joined the submarine service and I remember the sounds and smells of a dimly lit Midland Station crowded with soldiers, sailors and airmen as we saw him off to war. Boys my age collected shrapnel from either exploded bombs or anti-aircraft shells, we could hear it landing on our roofs during air raids and then we’d find it on the road or in the garden the following day. We would show our collection at school and "Do swaps" I had a prize piece with a serial number stamped on it, I wonder where it went.

One night we heard a loud rhythmic growling noise, my eldest sister thought it was an aircraft in trouble but later an evacuee from London told us that it was a "Doodle
Bug" we had heard our first V1flying bomb. We had gas masks, mine was blue, yellow and black called, I think, a Mickey Mouse mask, designed to take fear away from gas masks. My baby sister had a large mask that covered her entirely and was fitted with a hand pump that had to he operated constantly.

We regularly saw allied aircraft overhead and could identify many of them. I remember one day, hearing aircraft and running out of the house to see an American flying fortress with two of its four props not turning, smoke trailing from one engine and part of the tail plane missing. Barrage balloons were a regular sight above
Sheffield and anti aircraft rocket launchers were installed on the fields near the Manor
Castle, I don't think they were ever used in anger but on one occasion the camp had a public open day and one was fired as a demonstration. On several occasions Dad took me to military parades in town and at one event, there was a Lancaster fuselage on display in Barkers Pool, and I think a shot down Messerschmidt. He showed me deep gouges in the columns at the City Hall caused by shrapnel from exploding bombs during the Blitz; these marks can still be seen.

On one occasion I left St Theresa's school to come home for dinner and couldn't cross prince of Wales Road due to a convoy of scores of army vehicles, I suppose they must have been travelling south for the D-Day build up. Dad once walked me to the canal basin, now Victoria Quays, and we were allowed to board a Fire Boat. This was a boat fitted with a high-powered pump and fire hose used to fight fires on many of the factories bordering the canal.

I remember the day we were assembled in the school hall and told that the war was over, and then in the classroom, we were each given a whole bar of chocolate. They were Fry’s Sandwich bars. Those in the blue wrapper had two outer layers of dark chocolate with an inner layer of milk chocolate and those in the red wrapper had two outer layers of milk chocolate with an inner dark layer. I always had a sweet tooth and to this day, I remember being a little disappointed that my wrapper was blue.

We had more freedom as children during the war than the same age group have today.
We walked the mile from home to school and back alone, played on the streets and
Manor fields unattended. I think its ironic that at a time when the general public had neither cars nor telephones and invasion was a strong possibility, children were safer out and about than they are today. That’s progress?