World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

R Corker 

My recollections of wartime living and experiences

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: R. Corker
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 R. Corker.

My recollections of wartime living and experiences
R. Corker

When war was declared in 1939 I was nearly 9 years old years on I can only remember a few items which I hope will be of some use to you.

The first major items were the ration book and the identity card. The ration book itself was a mystery in that it contained page after page of coupons. some were stamped by the retailer with whom you had registered for the supply of food such as sugar, butter, fats, tea, meat etc. Other coupons were cut out by the retailer e.g. clothing coupons. Each person had a ration book and each person was allocated a certain amount of these food items. The exact amounts I am not quite certain of but they were only ounces.

The identity card as its name implies gave full description of the person named in it, together with a unique identity number. My number was KKCM 159/S.The 5 was I know indicated that I was the fifth member of the family. The other numbers I do not know what they stood for.

The next memory is of the delivery of our Anderson shelter and the instructions of how to construct it and where to place it. This was an air raid shelter constructed of corrugated sheets of iron bolted together, It had solidly sheeted walls sides back and an entrance aperture at the front. The roof was made up of rounded sheets of corrugated sheets to give a domed effect. A hole big enough to take this shelter was dug in the garden and the shelter fitted into it. The earth dug out was then replaced over the shelter helping to hide it and also to minimise blast from bombs. As far as I can remember, though the shelter was in the back garden we never used it as it continually contained a level of water that increased every time it rained. The remainder of the garden was dug over to vegetables as instructed by the government adverts "Dig For Victory" to supplement the small rations of food.
During the whole time of the war I lived in Psalter Lane Sheffield opposite the Blue Coat School. This was a school for orphan boys and was run by Mr. and Mrs. Chesham the headmaster and his wife.

The school quite a large building had an enclosed playing field with it which was used for cricket football etc. One day early in the war the school was disbanded and the boys and staff dispersed. The building was left empty for a while and was then taken over by the war dept. A regiment of the Royal Army Service Corps moved in together with a large number of motor vehicles ranging from large lorries down to motor cars and motor cycles. The playing field was dug up and asphalted and used as a large car park for these vehicles. Two guards armed with rifles were posted continually at the gates of the school and only military personnel were allowed in. Armed guards also patrolled the outer limits of the school grounds. An area of allotments at the corner of Psalter Lane and Brincliffe Gardens were
taken over and became a system of trenches. {used by us local boys to play in until chaseds by the guards though non of us were ever captured]
Every time the air raid warnings went off all the parked up lorries were started up left the school and were dispersed into the neighbouring roads, mainly Cavendish Rd, Chelsea Rd, Clsborne Rd and Lyndhurst road The reason being I suppose was because all these roads were tree covered, large mature trees all the way down them hiding the lorries from the air. Some lorries were parked in these roads during the daytime also and I suppose the area became one large motor workshop. When the vehicles were parked up they all had material placed over the windscreens to stop the moonlight reflecting from them. Later in the war these same roads echoed with the sounds of tanks and tank engines which, though we didn't know it at the time, must have been getting ready for "D" Day.
The army vacated the school soon after the end of the war and shortly after the building’s were taken over by the Education Committee and used as an art school, though the playing field has not yet been restored.
The next memory concerns the street lights and the street names. Firstly council workmen came round and took all the road signs down -next it was the extinguishing of the street lights.

At this time all the street lights in our area were gas lights.s ervqced by a small built elderly man complete with his small ladder with hooks on one end to clip over the arms of the gas lamps, and a satchel on his back containing a leather and duster to clean the light glasses and also a supply of gas mantles to replace those that had burnt out. His final job at this time was to take oiut all the gas mantles, disconnect the gas supply and I believe the glass surrounds were also taken out so they did not reflect the moonlight. Only one gas lamp was left burning because I think it was using gas from the sewers and was alight 24 hours a day. It had a cover put over it.

Next came the removal of all garden fences and gates etc made of iron to help the war effort. The neighbourhood was suddenly invaded by a gang of workmen complete with acetylene burners and lorries. They burnt off the iron railings, iron garden gates, and iron gate posts from all the houses in the area. This operation left behind a large quantity of small metal balls, the bits left from the acetylene burning picked up by us boys and used as ammunition to throw at each other.

Another end product of this operation was the fact that as all the houses were terrace types you could chase across all the front gardens without getting hurt on the fences, more exciting than running down the pavements, that is until someone caught you at it. Further to air raid precautions, all windows in the houses had to be attended to. This entailed putting a pattern of sticky paper over the glass so that if the windows were shattered by a bomb explosion the glass would not fly about and injure the occupants so much. the next layer of covering for the windows were Black Out Curtains. These were lengths of black material made into blinds or curtains to cover all windows after nightfall. Ordinary curtains were then drawn over these blinds. The local ARP warden would patrol his area every night and should there be a chink of light shining through the curtains a knock on the door and a cry of “Put That Light Out” was enough to remedy the fault.

Every person was issued with a gas mask initially fitted and made to measure so they said. The mask fitted into a small cardboard box had to be carried with you at all times whether at school work or pleasure The sound of the ARP wardens rattle signified a gas attack thankfully as far as I am aware no rattles were rounded for real At school unrehearsed practices in putting on gas masks were frequently made.

Other air raid precautions
Situated all round the neighbourhood were buckets of sand, buckets of water, stirrup pumps, and long handled shovels. These were for use in case incendiary bombs were dropped in order to help in putting them out. As far as I am aware in our locality none of these pieces of equipment were vandalised as lives may be depended on them. the sand buckets were used as ash trays for cigarette ends. Sheffield Blitz Night.

Not a lot to remember as our side of Sheffield was not badly damaged but what a noise. I think the sirens went off at about 7pm,out of bed we got, finished dressing and went downstairs and sat in the front room. All the lorries were driven out of the school grounds opposite and the sound of the bombers got louder and louder. suddenly all hell broke loose anti-aircraft guns firing, shrapnel clattering on the roof, bombs whistling down, bombs exploding and then an extra loud explosion. The glass in the front windows blew in with a loud crash and my mother was blown across the room, fortunately she was not badly hurt but we were all shocked. I didn’t find out where that bomb had landed but apart from all the front windows being blown out and slates blown off the roof no further damage had been caused.
After the night’s raid the A.R.P. wardens came round to tell us not to try to go into town because of all the damage that had been caused, the fires that were still burning and the fear of unexploded bombs going off.

Although the smoke over city could be seen for miles full extent of the damage could not be known until some time afterwards as there were no TV, no local radio and no newspapers published. The only information was from the BBC in London saying Sheffield had been bombed.

Boys being boys the following day or two were spent searching the neighbourhood for bits of shrapnel tail fins from incendiary bombs and any other bits of interesting metal.
A night or two after the blitz we had an incendiary bomb raid which kept the local adults busy for a time, extinguishing the bombs. Luckily I don’t think much damage was caused in our neighbourhood but a lot more souvenirs were collected.

The windows in the house were boarded up and the missing slates were replaced Eventually new panes of glass were put in but it was wartime glass which was nearly opaque.
Wartime food.

Because of rationing the range of foods was not extensive but I do not think we were underfed in any way. There were no sweets but there was a concoction of some sort of cocoa powder to which some sugar was added A wet finger made a bag of this mixture last a long time. Liquorice sticks were sometimes available but it was of the hard black variety, did not taste very nice and was an excellent laxative. Liquorice root was also available occasionally and was sucked continually when bought.

As jam, when you could get it, was a luxury I remember my mother using vegetable marrow to make jam as far as I can remember it was boiled up in a pan like making a jam mixture and then a chemical flavouring was added. The finished article tasted a bit like pineapple jam and at least helped out the taste of wartime bread. Cheap cuts of meat were purchased if possible as you then got more for your ration which was so much money's worth. These, were made into all sorts of stews, pies and mince, Bones were always asked for from the butcher as these were put into a stockpot boiled up and used for soup. Liver, kidney and beast's heart were also asked for but not always given. All made substantial meals when served with vegetables. All sorts of recipes were concocted and gratefully received with cuts of meat etc which are disregarded today
All children were given a daily dose of orange juice and also a dose of cod liver oil and malt. This was a wicked looking concoction which slurped out of the bottle on to a spoon and was drunk as quickly as possible. Another horrible substitute were saccharine tablets which were used instead of sugar in tea etc. They were only a small chemical tablet but the horrible taste lingered for a long time. I still do not like the taste of any of their modern equivalents. Wartime bread was available but was of a mysterious colour as if it had been mixed by a person with dirty hands. Suet obtained from the butcher was melted down in the oven and made a wonderful dripping which was delicious on wartime bread. Milk was available and a quarter pint was provided at school every morning in a little glass bottle and drunk with a straw. The cardboard top in the neck of the bottle had a hole in it to take the straw and all the cardboard tops were saved for salvage or made up with raffia to make decorations.
School dinners are a subject best forgotten I think as I can only remember the smell of boiled cabbage and tapioca pudding[frog spawn]
Eggs if lucky could be obtained but the main standby for eggs was reconstituted egg powder which I think came from America this was used in puddings, cakes and occasionally omelets.
Immediately after the blitz gas, electricity, and water were cut off. Gas and electricity were no great problem as we had coal fires and candles. The wireless ran on batteries so that was still used but water was a problem. A large water tanker came round the district every day and you went out with buckets and anything else that would hold water and filled up. It stayed for so long and then moved to another area so if you missed it, Hard Lines, no water. Washing up water was not wasted but saved to flush the toilet and water the vegetables in the garden. If you were lucky three inches of water in the bath were allowed. If more than one person wanted a bath, the first one got the cleanest water
My junior school at this time was Hunters Bar school and though it had minor damage it was still intact and unfortunately lessons continued as normal. The only difference came when after passing the 11 plus exam \\i went to Nether Edge Grammar school„The school and Nether Edge Hospital were on opposite sides of the road and next to a road junction. Hitler's helpers decided to drop a bomb at this junction causing a large hole and much damage so the school was closed for a while.
Instead of getting a holiday we were entered into the Home Service scheme. This entailed several pupils usually 6 or 7 going to someone’s house and being given schoolwork there by a teacher, I went to a house in Brincliffe Edge Rd. This was for mornings only and we were given homework to do also.

This scheme did not last very long as the school and its surroundings were soon repaired
The rest of the war years seemed to pass uneventfully. We were used to the rations we seemed to feed reasonably well and kept on joining queues whenever you saw one. This was because until you reached the front of the queue you did not know what was being sold and you did not want to miss out on anything. Staying at home was the norm because of the blackout and evenings were spent listening to the wireless or reading or doing homework
The only other thing that sticks in my mind are the celebrations for either VE Day ot VJ Day. We had a large bonfire in the middle of a local road enjoyed by everyone that joined in There was just one problem. The road concerned was made up of cobbles or stone setts fixed with tar or pitch, between the cobbles. After the fire had extinguished itself we discovered that the heat from the fire had melted all the tar round the cobbles and an area of loose cobbles was left in the road. The council was not very pleased when they had to come and re-tar the loose cobbles. A right royal rollicking was administered to all concerned children and grown ups.