World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                      Winifred Edwards 


By actiondesksheffield

People in story: WINIFRED EDWARDS
Location of story: Rawmarsh, Rotherham.
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anne Payne of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mrs.Winifred Edwards.

I was 12 when war was declared and we were on holiday in Blackpool at the time, on the north pier, and the air-raid sirens started sounding straightaway. My Dad was a miner and it was the first year that miners were given holidays with pay. It was Doncaster Race Week, 7th. September, and we’d gone with some friends from Mexborough. My friend was in the pit with my Dad, and his wife kept a shop in their village. They were very helpful to us as the war progressed and often let us have tinned fruit and other things out of the shop. (While we were there, I can remember one of their lads commenting on the number of fat women there were in Blackpool. Actually, they were pregnant and had come up from Manchester.)

On our return home, we realised that things would change, and by that time, I’d moved from St. Mary’s Church of England Infants’ and Girls’ School to Haugh Rd. Secondary School. I used to love school, and before the war, we used to play away games with other schools in rounders and netball and other activities, but all that had to stop as there was no petrol. Everywhere you went, you’d see crosses of sticky tape on windows, to try and prevent the worst of the bomb blasts shattering the windows. At the top of our street there were air-raid shelters, and they used to put the people from two terraces into one and two into another. There were twelve houses in each terrace, so there was a lot of people who went into the shelters in an air-raid. There really wasn’t enough room in ours and as my Mum had arthritis, she and I and our neighbour Mrs. Whitworth went round to Stocks Lane shelter, and you can still see the entrances in the wall.

The Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens used to come round and tell you if you were showing a chink of light through the curtains. If you were, they’d order you to be more careful. My Dad was in charge of fire-watching and a ladder and a bucket was bought between two terraces. As the war went on, the big guns, known as Big Berthas, were brought onto Greasbrough Tops. The search-lights from there used to meet up with Thrybergh’s lights, and some planes were shot down. On some spare land at the bottom of our road on Chapel St., we had barrage balloons, but the Germans shot those down. Sheffield suffered most in the blitz, but there was some bombing in Rotherham. Masborough Station and houses round there were bombed, but Habershon’s and other steel works were never hit. We could see from here that Sheffield was having a bad time, because even the sky looked like it was on fire.

By this time, my Mum’s arthritis was getting bad and she used to have to go away to Buxton three times a year for six weeks at a stretch, so that she could have wax and gold treatments. That was when I had to start doing the washing and make up the fires, and so on. Like most miners, my Dad came home every day needing a bath, as there were no pit baths in those days. To have a bath, we had to boil every bit of water in a copper on the kitchen floor. Life was hard then. When my Mum came back from Buxton, she still managed to do an amazing number of things, and she was particularly good at making the food go round, though we were always hungry.

Our forces were based on Greasbrough Tops, at the army barracks that were specially built for the war effort, and it included the barrage balloon base. My Mum used to invite 2 lads from the barracks for Sunday dinner, and the following week she invited 2 from the barrage balloon base, and so on. We didn’t always have the same lads back, so as to give as many lads as possible a taste of family life. Because of this, the army camp used to invite us all back for parties, concerts and Christmas buffets.

At 14, I finished school and went to work as a shop assistant in Rotherham for a Jewish family called Kaplan. They had big warehouses on The Wicker in Sheffield. The young fellow who looked after all of us shop assistants was the 30-year-old nephew, and we kept asking him why he hadn’t joined up. He never answered, so it always left us wondering.

I started to get to know the girls in the shop, who had come from all over the place, and had varied backgrounds. I met my husband through one of them as she asked me if I wanted to stand in for her on this date with an RAF corporal named Doug, who was based at Swinderby, but came from Somerset. I was just 15 at the time, and my friend had also got to know another lad from the forces. I’d only known him about 5 months when he was due to be sent to Egypt. They’d both asked us if we’d go up to Morecambe, where they were based (though everyone was in boarding houses, mainly) and sew all the flashes on their uniforms ready for them moving out. I never thought my Mum and Dad would let us go there, but they did. We went for the day and left Morecambe at about 4.0.p.m. As we arrived in Leeds, the station was bombed and the station-master locked us all in the waiting room for our own safety. I remember that was the first time I’d ever seen black people, for there were 300 of them from America on the station - all G.I.’s - and the sergeants were all bawling and shouting at them. Eventually it was quiet enough for us to continue our journey and we caught the train for Rotherham, but in our anxiety we got off the train too soon and had to walk 5-6 miles, bare-foot to Rotherham (we’d long since lost our shoes in all the upheaval). My Dad was waiting for us to return, before going down the pit on shift at Kilnhurst, and he and Mum had been beside themselves with worry.

Doug left for Egypt in 1942 and was away for four years. We agreed to write to one another while he was away, and we kept in touch all that time. Meanwhile, life went on and everyone got on with their jobs and the whole business of surviving. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, and sometimes we used to get on a train on Sundays and go hiking in Derbyshire. I carried on working in the shop and we knew that my employer’s son, Carl Kaplan was acting as an interpreter and a photographer. One day he came home and told us he’d been into some of the concentration camps. He showed us pictures of the inmates and some of the photos were as high as the room. I couldn’t get the images out of my mind and went home and told my Mum and Dad about them. They didn’t believe me and said I must have been mistaken, but later when all the news and publicity was issued to the public, my Dad apologised to me and said he should have believed me the first time.

Then in 1946, there was a knock on the door and Doug was home. It was a complete surprise, and we were all sitting down to an early tea of one of my Mum’s meat and potato pies, because we’d all got tickets to go to the pictures. That sent us into a flurry of activity and my Mum said, “I can feed you but I can’t sleep you.” So while he was sitting down to eat some meat and potato pie, Mrs. Thompson from next door had come in and said, “I can sleep you but I can’t feed you!” So it was agreed that he would come to us for meals and would sleep next door, sharing with their Ernest. Meanwhile, my Dad ran down to the cinema and bought another ticket, arranging for everyone to “shuffle down one” in order to let Doug sit with me. As he’d enjoyed the meal so much, it was much later that I admitted to him that the pastry crust had been made with liquid paraffin, as we were always short of fat! He laughed and laughed and said it still tasted good!

Now that the war was over, Doug couldn’t get a permanent job, but filled in for lads that were still away. Of course, when they came home, it was only right that they should get their jobs back, so Doug moved on to the next fill-in job. These jobs were getting harder to find and my Dad suggested he went down the pit instead, which he did. He loved it and always said he couldn’t wish to find a better bunch of men who would do anything for you. Considering he was a country lad from Somerset, I think even he was surprised at how much he took to it.

We got married later on in 1946 when I was just 19, and life was hard after that. We lived with my Mum and Dad for 6 years in a house with two rooms up and two down, with a toilet up the yard, and having to boil every bit of water daily for baths for two men in the pit. We were very poor and lived on £7 a week at one point. Then Doug had a bad accident and was blown up in the pit. He was repairing a machine when someone fired a shot without checking who was there, and all the coal fell down on him. He was taken to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield and nearly didn’t come back.

Our first son was born in 1947, and we went into our own home when he was six. I used to make all the lads’ clothes - I’d learned this from my Mum who used to make all our clothes, and Doug used to make all the kids’ toys. He was good with his hands. When Glyn was born, I was ill in hospital with pneumonia and everyone was worried about me. As I left the hospital, I was given a note to take to the Electric Board to say that I mustn’t stand over a wash-board any more as I‘d had a collapsed lung. Washing machines weren’t generally available then, but as a result of that, they sold me one of only two electric washing machines in the place.

Life got a bit easier and eventually, Doug became a councillor. We were married for 54 years and had a happy life together. As for now, I feel as though I’ve come “full circle” because my bungalow was built on the site of my old infants’ school, St. Mary’s Church of England.