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Second World War Oral History Project

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Second World War Oral History Project

The main objective of this project is to encourage school students to carry out interviews with people who experienced the Second World War. If possible contributions should include biographical details of the person being interviewed.

It is hoped that we will be able to produce a substantial resource for the study of the Second World War. It will be possible to search the database of contributions. Initially the material will be in English but in time we hope to have interviews in different languages.

I have posted a couple of interviews to show how it is hoped the project will work. It is hoped that others will also add their teacher/student interviews.

Article on Oral History: Voices From the Past


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Muriel Simkin: Biography

Muriel Hughes was born in London on 29 July 1914. She was the eldest daughter of Thomas Griffiths Hughes, a haberdasher's assistant from Aberystwyth, and Elizabeth Ellen Hughes a domestic servant from Bethnal Green. They also had two other children, Jack Hughes and Stella Hughes.

Muriel was educated at Rams Episcopal Primary School and Hackney Parochial School and left school in 1928 at the age of fourteen. Her first job was working at Barlow's Metal Box Company for 5s 6d a week. She also worked as an examiner and finisher for Horne Brothers Tailoring in Hackney before marrying John Simkin, a porter at Billingsgate Fish Market, on 26 August 1939 at West Hackney Church, Stoke Newington.

While on their honeymoon Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. When they returned John Simkin joined the Royal Artillery and she was conscripted to work at the Briggs munitions factory in Dagenham.

Muriel Simkin left work in 1942 when she gave birth to their first child Patricia.

After the death of her husband in 1956, Muriel Simkin found work in a factory in Barking. Later she worked at the Electric Windings factory in Romford. She continued working until breaking her leg at the age of 70. Muriel Simkin now lives in retirement in Basildon, Essex.

The Interview

The Second World War was declared when Muriel Simkin and her husband, John Simkin, were on their honeymoon.

We were on our honeymoon when war was declared. We had planned to have a fortnight's holiday but we had to come home after a week. It was not a very good start to our married life.

I went with my parents to London to see off my husband and brother. They had both been called up by the army. After we left them at the railway station we got caught in an air-raid. We had to get off the bus after it caught fire. We ran for shelter. While wee were running I looked at my dad and he appeared to be on fire. I said: "Dad, you're alight." He nearly had a heart attack and I was not very popular when he discovered that I was mistaken and that it was only the torch in his pocket that had been accidentally turned on while he was running.

Muriel Simkin worked in a munitions factory in Dagenham during the Second World War.

We had to wait until the second alarm before we were allowed to go to the shelter. The first bell was a warning they were coming. The second was when they were overhead. They did not want any time wasted. The planes might have gone straight past and the factory would have stopped for nothing.

Sometimes the Germans would drop their bombs before the second bell went. On one occasion a bomb hit the factory before we were given permission to go to the shelter. The paint department went up. I saw several people flying through the air and I just ran home. I was suffering from shock. I was suspended for six weeks without pay.

They would have been saved if they had been allowed to go after the first alarm. It was a terrible job but we had no option. We all had to do war work. We were risking our lives in the same way as the soldiers were.

While her husband was away in the army Muriel Simkin was forced to live on her own.

We had an Anderson shelter in the garden. You were supposed to go into the shelter every night. I used to take my knitting. I used to knit all night. I was too frightened to go to sleep. You got into the habit of not sleeping. I've never slept properly since. It was just a bunk bed. I did not bother to get undressed. It was cold and damp in the shelter. I was all on my own because my husband was in the army.

You would go nights and nights and nothing happened. On one occasion when my husband was on leave, I think it was a weekend, we decided we would spend the night in bed instead of in the shelter. I heard the noise and woke up and I would see the sky. They had dropped a basket of incendiary bombs and we had got the lot. Luckily not one went off. Next morning the bombs were standing up in the garden as if they had grown in the night.

Rosie, my mum's sister, had to go to hospital to have a baby. Her mother-in-law looked after her three-year-old son. There was a bombing raid and Rosie's son and mother-in-law rushed to Bethnal Green underground station. Going down the stairs somebody fell. People panicked and Rosie's son was trampled to death.

Muriel Simkin admits that she enjoyed some aspects of the Second World War.

People on the whole were more friendly during the war than they are today - happier even. People helped you out. You had to have a sense of humour. You couldn't get through it without that.

The worst part was having you husband and brothers away from you. We never heard from Jack, my brother, for five months. He couldn't communicate at all because he was involved in important battles in North Africa. It was very worrying. We knew a lot of his regiment had been killed. Then we saw his picture in the Daily Express newspaper. He was being inspected by General Montgomery. It was not until then that we knew he was alive.

For photographs of Muriel Simkin see:


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Stella Hume: Biography

Stella Hughes was born in London on 5th June, 1926. She is the daughter of Thomas Griffiths Hughes, a haberdasher's assistant from Aberystwyth, and Elizabeth Ellen Kershaw, a lady's maid from Bethnal Green.

Stella attended Wellington Avenue School for Girls in Chingford and was thirteen years old when the Second World War broke out. During the Blitz Stella, like other children in London, only "attended school on Monday mornings in order to collect books and homework and this was returned to the school on Friday mornings (air raids permitting)".

In 1940, Stella, aged fourteen, began work as a machinist at Rego in Edmonton, making soldiers uniforms. She worked a 48 hour week as a three pence three farthings an hour. Stella also joined the Voluntary Nursing Service and nursed at Whipps Cross Hospital in the evenings and at weekends.

After the Rego factory was hit by a V2 Rocket Stella fund work at the Luxrum the light bulb factory. When the Rego factory reopened Stella returned to making officer's uniforms.

In 1943 Stella met George Hume, a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery S/L Regiment. He took part in the D-Day landings and the liberation of Paris. He also reached Germany and helped free those in Concentration Camps. After arriving back in England they married in 1947.

After the war Stella worked at Standard Telephones before joining George Hume in his business in Harlow. Stella Hughes retired in 1984.

Stella Hughes was interviewed in June, 2001.

My father, Thomas Griffith Hughes was born in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1880 he was a well educated man and started his school at the early age of two years old. He prided himself on the fact that he never missed a day from school during the whole period of his education, for this he won many prizes for which he was equally proud.

Being Welsh, he was very keen on singing and despite his age developed a fine tenor voice. At the age of fourteen he sang Jerusalem for and in front of Queen Victoria and for this he was awarded the honour of kissing the Queens hand. This was another occasion for which he was very proud.

Shortly after this my father's mother unfortunately died and this resulted in his father bringing the whole family of six sons and one daughter to London to settle in Stoke Newington in North London. All his family was old enough to work and my father went into the Drapery trade working for a company called Rouse in Old Bethnal Green Road East London.

My mother, Elizabeth Ellen Kershaw, was thirteen years younger than my father being born in Bethnal Green in 1893 she attended school in Bethnal Green, East London with her twelve sisters and brothers. Two of these children died in their infancy with seven girls and four boys surviving. Her mother was an extremely strict person and all her children revered her. At the age of thirteen my mother was sent out to work by her mother.

My mother and father met when my father visited the Vicarage for tea with the vicar with whom he had business; the Vicarage was opposite where he worked. My mother was working there as a parlour maid. She was pleased with her job and rose eventually to the position of lady's maid to an actress Sybil Thorndyke who latterly became Dame Sybil Thorndyke.

My mother and father married when my Mother was nineteen and my father was thirty-two. Shortly after this the First World War broke out and my father enlisted into the Royal Medical Corps.

I was the third child of my parents born in 1926, which was the year of the General Strike!

At the age of thirteen the Second World War broke out, although I was aware of the presence of the war initially, it had little effect on me. I attended Wellington Avenue School for Girls in Chingford, North London at the time and I remember the school being some two or so miles from our home and I walked to and from school daily.

When the Germans started their air raids, they progressively got worse and therefore we only attended school on Monday mornings in order to collect books and homework and this was returned to the school on Friday mornings (air raids permitting).

This lack of attendance to school did not effect my education to badly as my father, who was a stickler for good education would help me and my friends with our lessons and I do recall he certainly made sure we worked hard.

I left school at the age of fourteen to start work and my mother escorted me to get suitable work and I recall leaving school on a Thursday and starting work on the Friday. This was literally "being thrown in at the deep end" as I had no time to adjust to this change to my life. I worked forty-eight hours a week as a machinist at an hourly rate of three pence three farthings, (which is less than one and halfpenny nowadays).

All was not gloom and doom at this time especially as a young girl who perhaps was sheltered to a certain extent, not realising the full extent of what was happening. When the air raids got extremely bad we had to go to the air raid shelters, that's where I learned to dance and do the Jitterbug to the sounds of the bombs falling around us. We all made a point of enjoying our lives to the full because we were all aware that each day could be our last. It was really strange on reflection as facing the reality of death at any time no one seemed to moan or complain too much unlike nowadays when such problems are a thing of the past for us in this society.

I had a dog, a Sealyham named Bob, and I walked him daily and I do recall on one particular day when there was a bad air raid shrapnel was falling all around us. An Air Raid Warden shouted at me to take cover but they would not let me take my dog in the shelter and I was not prepared to abandon him so I ran all the way home, we were very lucky to get home safely.

Quite often the German Bombers would off load their deadly cargo over Chingford if they could not penetrate the Barrage protecting London. One evening my father, mother and myself were just opening the back door to go to the air raid shelter in the garden when there was a terrible explosion and an enormous whooshing sound! The next thing I recall was that we were all blown back through the house to the hall and landed in a heap. We soon learnt that the Bombers had dropped their bombs into the fields at the back of our house it was a miracle that no damage was sustained.

I joined the Voluntary Nursing Service working from the Chingford post most evenings and at weekends in order to do my bit, so to speak, in the war. Five days a week I made soldiers uniforms working for Rego in Edmonton North London and then nursed at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London travelling there by bus. Along with my "indoor and outdoor" uniforms, which I was given I was issued a tin hat (which I had to pay for) but all this made me feel great.

I recall on one occasion our factory where I worked was hit by a V2 rocket and my nursing training came in handy. When I got home I was filthy and dishevelled and I remember my Mother saying to me "why are you home early?" no mention of the state I was in.

Due to this rocket attack I was out of work until such time as a temporary factory was opened so I looked for other work. I found a job at Luxrum the light bulb factory and I stayed there a year until the Rego opened again when I returned to tailoring officer's uniforms.

When I was seventeen I met my husband George he was a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery S/L Regiment and what a fine soldier he was. George was twelve years older than I was; he was born in 1914 and was brought up by his two elder sisters in Hackney, East London as his Mother died when he was very young.

He joined the army immediately after war broke out and he saw a lot of action in Europe.

He went to France shortly after the D-day landings via the Omaha beaches and went through Europe to the Russian borders. His battalion joined forces with the Americans to liberate Paris.

During the campaign, he was involved in the freeing of the poor people held in Nazi concentration camps. He witnessed some terrible sights but would not talk about them at all. He was demobbed from the army after serving six and a half years in 1946 and we were married in 1947.

For a photograph of Stella Hume see:


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Jack Hughes: Biography

Jack Hughes was born in Clapton, London on 11th March, 1920. The eldest son of Thomas Griffiths Hughes, a haberdasher's assistant from Aberystwyth, and Elizabeth Ellen Hughes a lady's maid from Bethnal Green. The couple also had two other children, Muriel Hughes and Stella Hughes.

He went to school in Clapton and Stoke Newington before leaving at the age of fourteen to work as a warehouseman and trainee salesman in London.

In 1940 he was called up to join the British Army for military training. The following year he was sent to Egypt to take part in the Desert War.

He was at Tobruk but got pushed back to El Alamein where he was wounded in the arm and was hospitalized in Alexandria.

He returned to duty and took part in Operation Lightfoot and Operation Supercharge. He was also involved in the capture of Tunisia in on 11th May, 1943 and the war in Italy in 1944. He remained on duty until arriving back in Liverpool in August 1945.

After the war his brother-in-law, John Simkin, introduced him to my future wife, Eileen Kane, who he married on 28th June, 1947. They lived in Loughton before moving to Rayleigh in 1960. He worked as a commercial traveller until his retirement in 1985.

Jack Hughes was interviewed in June, 2001

I was called up in 1940 to join the army for military training. I was told to report on the 13th June to Winchester Barracks as a rifleman.

In March 1941 I was drafted to Egypt. I arrived six months later at a place called Port Taufiq. It was very hot (108 degrees). We were there a couple of weeks then we joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps B Company. From there we moved into the desert proper.

I was at Tobruk but we got pushed back to El Alamein where I was hit by shrapnel and ended up in hospital at Alexandria. When I came out a month later I rejoined the battalion to get ready for the big push on 23rd October, 1942 at El Alamein.

We got detailed to clear the way of mines by bayonet proding. We then started the push in our carriers to Tunis that took about six months. We had a visit by Montgomery and I had my photograph taken with him.

The next lot of action was Italy 1944. That took to the end of the war. We got the ship to Liverpool from Naples. It was not until August, 1945, that I got home.

For photographs of Jack Hughes see:


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Guest Andrew Moore

Liberating Belsen

This is a transcript, made in 2001, of an interview recorded in 1981. Muriel Gofton (MG) was with the Red Cross organization when the Allies liberated Belsen in 1945. She saw at first hand what had happened in the notorious concentration camp. The interviewer is Sylvia Usher (SU), a teacher from the East Riding of Yorkshire. Muriel Gofton died in 1995.

SU: Easter 1981. I am going to be talking to Muriel Gofton who was one of the first people who went into Belsen at the end of the war after the Allies had liberated that area.

MG: During the war I joined the civilian relief section of the Red Cross in the hope that I would help to feed some of Europe's starving. In February 1945 we sailed from Tilbury to Ostend in a flat-bottomed tank landing craft. It took 12 hours. We were stationed on the outskirts of Antwerp, waiting to go into northern Holland, when the Germans withdrew. We were able to help the Belgian Red Cross with transport for air raid precautions because Belgium was heavily bombed with flying bombs at this time.

On April 15th the British army uncovered Belsen concentration camp. The result was that we never went to Holland, but we were called in to help clear up the mess at Belsen. It took us three days in convoy to reach Belsen. I remember as we crossed the Rhine, on a Bailey bridge, with notices everywhere, "FRONT LINE TRAFFIC ONLY" wondering to myself how I had managed to get into this position with the war still on.

We finally arrived in the afternoon of April 21st. at what is now Honagh Camp, three miles from what was the actual concentration camp. Although we could not see the camp, you could smell it miles away. When we arrived and were waiting for instructions about our billets, etc., an army major, a doctor, came out of what he called the "human laundry" and said,

"You may as well come and see what is happening."

The victims were being washed and cleaned before going into what was an improvised hospital. I shall never forget the sight of these living skeletons, and the hard faces of the German women warders who were being made to wash the victims. Their faces were so hard they were hardly human.

The barracks had been occupied by a Nazi tank corps, and we were put into what had been the officers' billets.The remaining barracks were made into an improvised hospital where the victims of the concentration camp were brought if the army doctor thought that they could live for the another 24 hours. The death rate was 700 per day for the first two weeks. They died mostly of typhus and dysentery.

The army set up a mess in a tent where we took our mugs and mess tins with us for each meal. For the first few weeks everything was tinned. We even had no bread: only army biscuits. But we were given a rum ration. Every morning we were smothered in DDT powder to protect us from typhus; and the fact that each evening we could have a bath saved our lives, I'm sure.

The Nazi officers had a huge bath house, with beautiful tiled bathrooms, in all different colours; the water heated from a central boiler. I was put in charge of some of the kitchens, each of them serving approximately 500. The staff were either former Hungarian guards, or inmates of the camp well enough to help. The army produced the rations each day, and these starving patients were on a very strict diet: the worst cases on a small cup of skimmed milk and a pinch of salt and sugar, every two hours. The stronger patients used to steal the weaker patients' rations, with the result that many died because the could not take so much food so soon. My first morning in one of the kitchens was quite an experience. The huge boilers in which they made soups - I was asked how many hundreds of litres I needed. I had to do a lot of hasty calculations as we weren't used to litres in those days. Language was a problem too.

The army delivered the correct rations for each day, but it was extremely difficult to get the cooks to use them all. They just couldn't believe that more would be delivered the next day. The patients never ate all that they were given : they put a bit of bread or potato under their pillows in bed.

We worked 12-14 hours per day, and didn't even know what day of the week it was. Coming out of the kitchen one evening I saw the corpses being loaded onto a lorry, and taken for burial in mass graves. Somehow, in the midst of these horrors, because there was so much, and so many tragedies, it almost seemed unreal, and one was able to cope, because it just didn't register. In spite of all the ghastly sights that we saw, the worst feature of it all was that people could do such awful things to their fellow human beings. Man's inhumanity to man.

SU: Thank you very much indeed, because that really tells us so much. You told me once how many unburied bodies there were at Belsen.

MG: When the British army went in, there were reputed to have been about 13,000 unburied dead.

SU: What did they actually do with that number? Did they make the Germans bury them, or what?

MG: They made the Germans bury them, at point of a gun, into mass graves of 3 (3000?) and 5000 in each.

SU: And does anybody know who those people may have been? Was there any means of identification, or was it simply impossible?

MG: Most of it I think was impossible. One of the biggest tasks even when they had the healthy people, or the so-called healthy, was to try to get some sort of lists of who they were.

SU: And to know anything about them?

MG: And to find out something about them.

SU: And when they were in the hospital the only thing they could be treated for was malnutrition, and the fact that they were so desperately, desperately thin and weak?

MG: Yes, and the fact that they had typhus or dysentery, or something, or tuberculosis, or they had all sorts of things...they had.

SU: You told me that story of the incredible story (sic.) about the way they had reacted to injections. Can you tell it to me again please?

MG: They brought out Dr, Janet Bron to feed the very worst cases intravenously, and when she produced a hypodermic needle there were screams of "crematorium". They were absolutely petrified because, apparently, in the camp they had been injected with a mixture of creosote and benzene, which had created the effect of paralysis, and dead or alive they had been sent to the crematorium. And in order to do anything for these people, she had to first put the needle into herself before she could do anything with these people. They were so frightened.

SU: And she would have to do it time and time again?

MG: Oh yes.

SU: For each group of people?

MG: Yes until they began to realise that they were not sent to the crematorium.

SU: And then there was that funny story about the people who had the bath in the soup basins.

MG: That was in a Hungarian kitchen, and the little army sergeant, whom we called "Service with a Smile"...

SU: Why did you call him that?

MG: Because he was always so bright and cheerful.

SU: Oh, how nice!

MG: ...was late with the rations, because we were not allowed to leave until they had been put under lock and key, because food was at a premium. They raided German farms, anywhere they could get it, to get the food. And he said: "I shall be late tonight. Go to the Mess for dinner, and come back." So we did this, and when we came back into the kitchen, we found the Hungarian cooks having a bath in the soup kettles, as they called them

SU: Presumably they stand about the height of armchairs, and they could actually get in them.

MG: Oh, they stand higher than that - about the height of that chair.

SU: And would they have hot water in them - not the soup.

MG: Oh yes, they weren't in the soup. They were in the hot water. The soup was made in them the next day.

SU: Who washed them out?

MG: Oh yes, they washed them out. We don't know was the most surprised when we went in.

SU: It was nice that you had some good laughs among all the other things. When you went, you said there were eight nurses, How many doctors were there?

MG: They did get a few more, but when we first went in, it was 32 Casualty Clearing station, and they only had 8 casualty nurses until they recruited some more. They recruited a whole load of medical students, from London, and they were flown out.

Eventually they were some German nurses, and some Swiss nurses.

SU: And how many people were there working with you on the feeding side?

MG: I can't remember now. We were five...you might have four, and then there would be Polish staff.

SU: There was so much work to be done by so few people.

MG: Yes, I suppose so, but you coped...I don't know.

SU: How big an area was Belsen? And they talk about the camp? I mean, was it the size of a small town?

MG: No it was part of a village, a little village called Bergen-Belsen. It was the wooden barracks packed to the roof with corpses when we got there. But we didn't, at the beginning when we got there, go into the camp itself. Some of us did. But on the 21st of May, I think it was, when they were all out, they burnt it to the ground with flame throwers - and were all at that ceremony.

SU: Was that symbolic of ending all of what it stood for, or was it sheer practical hygiene?

MG: Sheer practical hygiene in one way; and also it helped symbolically from the other point of view. From the British point of view.

SU: Thank you very much.

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Guest Andrew Moore

This is a record of an interview with Captain Don Owen from North Ferriby. He was interviewed in February 2002 by pupils from South Hunsley School, in East Yorkshire.


Captain Owen is 83 years old (2002) and joined the navy when he was only 19. He was an apprentice on the Eastern Prince (a merchant navy ship) until he got his second mate's certificate in 1936. In 1938 he became a second mate and he was called up in 1939 when the war started, entering the navy as a 2nd Lieutenant. He did a lot of work with navigation so he became a navigations officer. The first ship that he served on was HMS Keith. This destroyer was lost to bombing whilst waiting off the beaches at Dunkirk on its 7th crossing to rescue troops.

Arctic waters

The second ship he was on was a corvette called HMS Meadowsweet. This ship was torpedoed in a Russian convoy near Iceland. Only four of the crew of eighty-four survived as they were on watch on the bridge at the time. A few hours later they were picked up out of the water from their life raft by a Greek tramp steamer. About ten hours later this ship was also torpedoed and they had to spend twelve days aboard a lifeboat during which they buried seven of the survivors at sea.

Captain Owen said that the hardest convoys he was on were the Russian convoys. These were in icy cold and extremely rough waters and they had to chip the ice off the ship to avoid it capsizing in the water. Once you were in those waters you could only survive for one minute. Once the convoys reached the Russian coast the people on them were not even allowed off their ships apart from once a week to political rallies. Even then armed guards escorted them.


The food was often not very good on board ship because you rarely got hot food due to the water getting into it or washing it overboard. The usual meal was corned beef sandwiches with cocoa. The ships were very crowded and the crew had to sleep anywhere they could find room, for example on tables.

Different ships, weapons and places

The next ship he was on was a tribal class destroyer called HMS Zulu. This ship was also sunk on one of the North Atlantic convoys. The last ship he was on was another tribal class destroyer called HMS Eskimo. This survived the war and was the best ship he had ever been on. It was well armed and very quick. There were three different types of guns used on the ships; these were the Oerlikon (a Swiss gun), Bofors, (a Swedish gun) and then his personal favourite, the English 4.7 inch gun. He visited lots of places in the war including South Africa, America, Newfoundland, Halifax, Malta, Iceland and Russia. He enjoyed going to some of these places because they were not blacked out like everywhere else and goods were more freely available in the shops.

Memories and home life

His worst memories of the war were of being torpedoed, as this was very scary for him. The only happy memory he has from the war is when he was told that it was over. He was on HMS Eskimo, based in the Far East at Trincomalee at the time.

His family lived in Wales away from the bombing. He had two brothers, one in the Navy and one in the Army. The one in the navy was lost overboard during the war but the other one is still alive today. Whilst at sea there was very little news of events at home and the captain and officers were reluctant to let the crew hear news in case it disturbed them.

Captain Owen was happy to help with this interview but wished to be reassured that it would not result in him being contacted by strangers about it. As I left his home he showed me a picture of HMS Eskimo on the Russian convoy being narrowly missed by a bomb. He also had pictures of other ships that he had sailed on.

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Guest Andrew Moore

This is a record of an interview with Gordon Chapman. He was interviewed on 14 April 1992, by Brian Catchpole for his book Balloons to Buccaneers: Yorkshire's role in aviation since 1785.

On a late night train I arrived at Brough (East Yorkshire), hiding in the gloom of a blackout still in force. The railway footbridge was shipped by a chilly March wind that carried a salty tang, a hint of the river close by. Daylight revealed the Blackburn factory.

I and the other new arrivals made our way with the early shift workers to the airfield and breakfast. The first days were spent in classrooms where we were introduced to the flying programme and some of the potential hazards. Temptation to fly between the brickworks' chimneys at Gilberdyke would mean a quick end to our flying activities… With patient instruction I at last began to learn to fly the wonderfully sensitive Moth. And to get it back safely on the ground without subjecting it to the unkind thump of a landing from twenty feet.

Going solo was the high point. After about six hours in the air I was handed over to the Squadron Leader for my solo check. This fearsome individual could have been the model for the aircrew "type". Dashing manner, handlebar moustache on a lively face crowned with a silver painted helmet!

I managed a textbook take-off and felt reasonably pleased with my performance as I flew the downwind leg of the circuit over the river. Without warning, the stick was grabbed from my hand and the aircraft tipped on its side. Through strapped in, I had the impression that the Squadron Leader had gone mad and was trying to tip me out of the aircraft. A thought confirmed, for he gesticulated towards the river below. Above the roar of the wind and the engine I heard the words, "Tidal bore!" Sure enough, there on the wide river was the wave of the bore running on the surface. In other circumstances I might have enjoyed sighting this phenomenon but not at this critical moment... I must have completed the rest of the circuit in competent fashion as he (the Squadron Leader) left the aircraft after we landed and gave me the thumbs-up to take the aircraft up on my own.

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Guest Andrew Moore

This is a record of an interview with Sigrid Scott (Laura Davies's "Oma" - German for grandmother). She was interviewed on 11 and 12 December 2001 at South Hunsley School.


I was nine when the war broke out on the 1st September 1939. I was living in a place called Silesia. It used to be in East Germany and is now part of Poland. I lived in a little country town of 22,000 people. The name in Polish is Boleslawiec. The old German name was Bunzlau. My father died when I was very young. My mother was an overseer in a wool mill, which was changed over to build parts for aircraft for the German airforce. All the staff stayed and began to make aircraft parts and so she had to retrain.

Family life

As I come from a working class family I only went to an ordinary school. In our school we didn't learn any second languages. We learnt Maths, History, Religious Studies. I can still speak German; it is my mother tongue and I will never forget it, although sometimes it takes me a while to recall certain words.

Outside school I did baby sitting, I worked on a farm and I liked swimming. But most of the time, during the war years, school children were encouraged to work on the farms, doing the harvest and helping gather potatoes. Most of the farm workers, especially many of the men, were either called into the army or they were called into the munitions factories.

The Nazi regime

The Nazi regime...When you live during the time, you don't realise. I remember my first introduction to the Nazi party was when they carried out Kristallnacht against the Jews and that was a horrifying experience for us children. It was indescribable how anyone could treat another human being like that. Most of our young teachers were called into the army. Retired teachers were called in to work again. They told children: "If you see a Jew (they had to wear yellow stars, so you could tell they were Jews) you have to run them off the path, or spit on them". I could never understand why you should treat another human being like that. I asked my grandmother: "Why have we been told to do this?" My grandmother just shook her head and she said: "You behave how you would normally behave. Don't you follow suit."

Jews and prisoners of war

We had quite a lot of prisoners of war there in our town. We had French and Polish prisoners of war and all were supposed to be well treated by us, but the Kristallnacht was unforgettable. Our town smelt like a brewery, because the brewery was run by Jews and that was all smashed. The liquor and the beer was running down the road. The synagogue was in front of the Catholic kindergarten. That was burnt to the ground. All Jewish shops were smashed to smithereens, the goods were thrown out on the road and trampled on. It's something one doesn't forget.

My aunty was nearly arrested twice, because she fed some Jewish prisoners. They were starved and walking about like skeletons in blue and white stripped suits, like pyjamas. They were working on the road where my aunty lived. She caught them stealing potatoes that she had boiled, from her back kitchen window. Knowing this, she made packets of sandwiches with some cigarettes and threw them out for them. She was caught twice and they nearly arrested her. She had to go to the Nazi headquarters and because of my uncle being a soldier she escaped. Otherwise she would have been put into concentration camp.

The Nazi party's rules

You had no freedom of speech. You were afraid to talk to your next door neighbours, because you didn't know if they would report you to the Nazi party and get you into trouble. At the age of 10 you had to enrol into either the Jung Mädchen, (Young Girls) organisation and boys into the Young Boys (Hitler Youth) organisation. If you wanted a job, you had to join the Party. If you didn't, you didn't get a job and you were known as an undesirable in the country. You would be arrested for no reason whatsoever. You wouldn't know where you were ending up. You could go to a labour camp, but it was only after the war that we discovered what really happened to those people. God knows how many of them died in those camps, with the excuse that they had maybe an illness and they died of an illness. We only discovered after the war how evil the Nazi Party really had been, because there was no freedom of speech. There was only one newspaper in our town and that was censored. They only let people know what they wanted us to know.

No one discussed the Nazi Party, because you were afraid you spoke to the wrong person. Even children were encouraged to inform on their parents to the Nazi Party. The majority of people just kept quiet, because they were afraid of being arrested.

Persecution of Jews

Our house was not taken over. However, across from our girls school, there was a Jewish doctor and he was thrown out of his house. He had to leave everything as it stood. Luckily they had no children, as he and his wife walked out with a little handbag. The Nazi doctor moved into his house. I will never forget him. He was in the SS and he always wore his uniform and he was not a very good doctor. The Jewish doctor was a very kind doctor, he saved my brother's life. My mother saw him one day and she did not recognise him and he warned her she would be arrested if she spoke to him. She asked what had been done to him and we heard that 3 days later he and his wife poisoned themselves, because they knew that they would be transferred to concentration camp.

My aunty used to work for a lady and she was a Jew. My aunty was told not to work for her anymore. Then it was discovered that this old lady had tried to commit suicide, and so they called to my aunty and told her to work for the lady again and they would turn a blind eye. Well that old lady got a letter that she had to bring all her valuables and she was sent accordingly to an old people's home. She had some contact with my aunt because she wanted my aunt to hold some valuables for her. In her last letter to my aunty she said they were going to be transferred again and they didn't know where. That was the last my aunty heard from her, so she must have ended in one of the concentration camps, God knows where.

Concentration camps

I never saw a concentration camp. I have been very fortunate not to see one. In the war we did not know. After the war we were horrified to see the pictures. I knew a little about the treatment of prisoners from my mother, as she worked among prisoners in the factory. In her department, there were some Russian and Jewish prisoners. My mother would come home and she couldn't eat. She said the treatment of those people was unbelievable. They were starved. They got soup, which was like water with a few cabbage leaves. With a slice of bread, this was their food all day. They were not well. They were beaten with big rubber tubes until they could not walk any more. My mother left extra lunch food for the prisoners. She left it in secret under a bench. After the war, we met some of the Russian prisoners. They were looking for the boss to hang him on the nearest tree.

Being a refugee

I was the eldest in my family, but I have four cousins and an uncle who served in the war. One of my cousins was in the infantry and was killed in Russia shortly before his 21st birthday. The other cousins and my uncle had very bad injuries from the war. Let me tell you, war is horrible, war is bad and if you are a refugee nobody wants you. You are like a cast out. You have to leave your home with a handbag, not knowing if you will see your home again. It is a very horrible feeling. I was a refugee. I still have my refugee identity card.

If you are a refugee you have lost everything. In 1945 on the 10th February, we were evacuated from our home town to Czechoslovakia. The evacuation to Czechoslovakia happened because of my mother's work. We stayed in a school, which had been made into a refugee camp, which is where we stayed until the war finished. We expected the Americans and British to come in, but unfortunately it was the Russians who came in. The Russians had made an agreement with the US and Britain that they would stop on the river Eger in Czechoslovakia and that's what they did. So, Russia took all that part of East Germany and Czechoslovakia. We knew if the Russians came we would be treated worse, but now I cannot blame them, because the Germans in their country did not respect people, or property, or anything. You cannot blame the Russians for repaying us. That wasn't very pleasant. They raped, they burnt, they plundered. They took people away as slave labourers. Young girls and young women were most vulnerable. I was lucky, I was in hiding. Nowadays I realise that they did exactly the same as the SS had done in their country.

Returning to Silesia

After the war ended in May 1945, we walked from Czechoslovakia back home to Silesia. On the way home if things got too heavy you threw them away to make the load lighter. We came through Dresden. This had been very badly bombed. There was a firestorm. There was nothing left of the whole city, it was just ruins, like a ghost town. Of course, when we reached our home town, we found our flat had been plundered. There was nothing left in it. There was no electricity, no water, no shops. We had no money, because we were robbed on the way home, including of our jewellery. Hunger was the worst part of it. Luckily our cellar was still full of potatoes, so we lived on potatoes with salt. Then the Russian command took over the house and my mother and I worked for the Russians, washing and cleaning and they fed us. That was very fortunate. You had to get by with what you had. We walked two miles for drinking water and got cleaning water from the pond. You always lived in fear, especially when the Russians had drink in them. They would look out for young women and young girls. You had to hide. If they caught you running away, they would think nothing of shooting you.

Things started to get better and the electricity came back, then the water. We had just settled again and then we were told to leave, in the summer of 1945. We were then put in a Polish military camp and used as slave labour for getting the harvest in. The Poles treated us as Germans had treated them in the war. It was work I had never done before. You were shown how and if you did it wrong you got the boot and if you refused, the rifle butt. We were told we would be found if we tried to run. Two of our young people did try to run away and they searched for them, they found them and they shot them and they brought them back to show us the bodies so we would know what would happen if we ran away. So you thought about it twice. You worked from dawn, until you could not see for the dark. There was no machinery, so everything was done by hand. We slept on hay and straw and even on top of the pig sty. At least we got bread.

Leaving Silesia

Then we were moved again. All the Germans in Silesia had to get out, or take Polish nationality. When Silesia was given to Poland, in our town we weren't asked, we were told to be ready to leave at 10 a.m. the next morning. We had to get out of the flat and they sealed up the door so we could not get back. Then we were put into a camp until there was a train load of us together and we were moved over to West Germany; as the Americans, French and British had agreed to take the refugees.

Then I met my husband in 1953. I was married and lived in India for 17 years. Then we lived in Ireland for 14 years. Then Ingrid, my daughter, got married over here in England and when my husband died I came to live with her in South Cave (in East Yorkshire).

War is horrible

Let me tell you war is horrible. As children we thought that it was a great event. Excitement it isn't. War is bad. You're killing a person you don't even know, who hasn't done you any harm. It is not an easy thing to accept losing family. Being a refugee means walking out and leaving everything, not knowing if you will ever see home again. At the end I had left just what I stood up in, not even a change of clothes and no shoes of my own, just men's shoes.

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Guest Andrew Moore

This memoir was written by Mrs. Patricia Watson of the East Riding of Yorkshire in 2002.

From Egypt to York

My father was a regular soldier and the day that war was declared we were on our way to Singapore where his regiment was due to be based. It was decided that the troops should be sent to fight on the desert against Rommel's army so the women and children were hastily relocated to Heliopolis in Egypt.


This was a pleasant place to live as the weather was lovely and we were given a big flat on the outskirts of the city and had a servant called Fatima to help my mother with the housework. Dad was away most of the time and as the flat was next door to an asylum for Egyptians who were mentally ill, my mother was very nervous and kept me up to doze in the big chair until she was ready for bed. Then we slept together in her big bed, which I loved.

I was only five so I don't remember important things like being taken to see the pyramids and Tutankhamen's treasures. But, as we lived on the edge of the desert, I remember filling a bottle with different colours of sand in layers and getting scarlet fever and having to be in a fever hospital for weeks, being looked after by nurses who couldn't understand what I was talking about or I them. During this time all the women and children and the men who were on leave were sent to Alexandria for a holiday. Each family was given a tent on the beach to live in and games and competitions were organised for the children. One day we heard that the King of Egypt, King Farouk would be driving past so Mum and I went up to the road to wave. We were the only one's who bothered and the king waved back at us very enthusiastically.


Suddenly there came the news that the women and children were to be moved at 24 hours' notice to Palestine (Israel as it is now) and we could only take with us what we could carry. My mother managed a few clothes and a brass table and I took my teddy, a doll and a book. Looking back, I think that the adults were fearful because the war was looming near but services children learned to accept their different way of life.

The train journey to Jerusalem was long, crowded and hot. Soldiers stood at the open windows of the carriages with their rifles at the ready in case of trouble. It was a very tired group that arrived at its destination, a barracks that had been condemned for the Palestinian Military Police. We were given half a big room to live in. It was divided down the middle by bits of furniture and curtain and another family lived on the other side and we could hear everything that they said and did. My mother didn't seem to like them very much.

The women of the Regiment were horrified by the filthy place, which was infested by cockroaches, but there were some Palestinians working in the kitchen and they and the wives got together and scrubbed the place with hard yellow soap and soda. They used a flit pump on the insects and disinfected everything. I enjoyed myself. There were lots of other children in the building to play with and we were bussed to a British school across the town and used to travel lying on our backs on the seats with our feet on the windows chanting "N'bulsi House and Gitani Home" all the way to school. Those were the names of the two buildings that the regimental wives and families were billeted in. From the windows of N'bulsi House we could see the Mount of Olives and my mother took me to see the place where it is believed that Jesus was born (very disappointing), the Wailing Wall, which was fascinating, and all the other famous sites of Jerusalem.

The dirt and disease caught up with the children and almost all the babies under a year old died. I remember my mother telling me that one lady had lost twins and we would look at the sky to find two stars that were close together. I was then thin, pale and small and I know my mother was worried about me but I never ailed a thing and was perfectly happy to sleep in my bed under the mosquito net with the bed legs standing in tins of mentholated spirits so cockroaches and other bugs would not crawl up and into the sheets. Our food was now carefully prepared under the watchful eyes of a rota of wives. The salads were washed in potassium permanganate solution, which was bright purple, and as all the vegetables were boiled until they were a mush, which was usual in those days, I expect all the bacteria were destroyed.

Leaving Palestine

Then, once again we were suddenly given our marching orders. The short notice was for security reasons but it must have been so hard for the wives. No one was told where they were going until the voyage started so that we couldn't be targeted. My mother added to her collection of souvenirs, six olive wood napkin rings and two small carved camels. Apart from our clothes, my few toys and a few pieces of my mother's jewellery this was all we possessed in the world but my mother made a family of little dolls from hanks of wool tied together, which I loved. I also had two imaginary friends, Mrs Golfitt and Mrs Cauliflower, who invited me to splendid tea parties.

We saw very little of my father during the war but I remember the distinctive smell of his army battledress and how he polished and cleaned all parts of his uniform. He grew a little toothbrush moustache, which was very fashionable then. He sent us many letters from "the front" but they were always censored with whole sentences cut out, in case clues were given as to where the troops were and what they were doing.

South Africa

We went by sea this time and landed in South Africa in the Port of Durban. Here we were billeted in a hotel near the sea front. It was lovely. I made friends and went to yet another school, walking to it along the beach and dropping stones on the small bright blue jellyfish, which we called bluebottles. They had a very long fine thread trailing from them and if you got it wound round you when you were swimming it stung horribly. Some big cactus plants grew on the beach and we would split the leaves open and rub them on the sting and it made it feel a lot better. My mother enjoyed her life in Durban as troop ships were in and out of the port and there were always dances and parties. She had the most beautiful ball gowns and had her hair and nails done. She had no housework to do at all and the food in the hotel was very good. We heard of the strict rationing back in England and knew that we were very lucky. Next to the hotel there was a large piece of waste ground and every few days the Zulus danced on it, wearing bright beaded skirts and the next day we would go out and collect up all the tiny coloured beads.

My father was still fighting in the desert but became very ill and a year after we had arrived in Durban, we were told that he was to be sent back to England and we were to join him. My mother once more had only 24 hours to make arrangements. She packed up her few bits and pieces again having added two fly swishes with ivory handles and a brass dinner gong to her store. I had to give away my teddy but kept a few books and my precious new doll. I had no winter clothes but my mother found a tailor who promised to make me a warm coat in the time and he came running onto the dock just before the ship sailed waving the garment, keen to get his money.

Sailing to England

It was a very dangerous time for shipping in 1942. Most ships travelled in convoy but as the convoys were easier to track and kept being attacked, it was decided that our ship would sail on its own. It was packed, as it was full of people fleeing from Singapore. Dad was separated from us and my mother and I were put into an enormous place right at the bottom of the boat filled with hundreds of bunks, mothers, children and crying babies. One woman had managed to bring her sewing machine and it clattered night and day to make warm clothes for the children.

The weather to start with was warm and most people dragged mattresses onto the decks and slept there. My father for once got us a cabin which we shared with another woman who was not very pleased about it. We did boat drill everyday, which was good fun, seeing how quickly we could get into our life jackets and onto the lifeboat stations. It stood us in good stead for there was a real alarm one night, the klaxon sounded and I leaped out of bed, put on my life jacket and grabbed my little case which was already packed. My mother and father rushed down to collect me and we went on deck. It was a moonlit night and there in the water was a mine, which was floating nearer and nearer to the ship. There was, I remember, absolute silence. At last, it slid by the ship and there was a great cheer from everyone. We found out later that the ship that had sailed before us and the one after us had both been mined and many lives had been lost.


It took six weeks to get back to England and it was cold and wet when we landed. We were put on a train to York with all our luggage. This was where my mother's parents lived but they had no idea we were coming home because no one was allowed to tell. Everywhere there were notices saying, "Careless talk costs lives". York station was so dark and dreary. No lights were allowed and even the notices saying what the station was called were obliterated. We managed to get a taxi and at last got to where my grandparents lived and my mother yelled through the letterbox until they woke and came down. Living in the house were my three aunts, my grandparents and now us, as well as any husbands or uncles who came home on leave.

Housing was impossible to find although, luckily, their house was a reasonable size. It had stags' heads mounted on the walls which I thought were quite horrid and it was very cold. There were only coal enough for the fire in the living room and that had to be eked out by potato peelings and coal dust. Usually there was a clothes horse draped with washing around it but I used to wriggle underneath and get as close to the fire as I could. I felt the cold so much after living abroad. Sometimes it was so cold that our face cloths froze on the edge of the bath. We were only allowed a few inches of water to get bathed in and a line was painted around the bath so you did not go over this. When you lay in bed you could see your breath I the air like smoke.

Clothes and make up

Clothes were on coupons and in short supply. My two youngest aunts were very keen to look good and contrived to knit jumpers in stripes from darning wool which was not on coupons but was cut into sort lengths so that the back of the knitting was covered in little knots. They also knitted stockings in lacy patterns and used leg makeup to make their legs brown, drawing a seam down the back with an eyebrow pencil. Sometimes they got hold of a parachute that was made of silk so they could make beautiful underwear. This was actually illegal but all the women seemed to do it and they were always being told to "Make do and mend". They had a good time though, as York was surrounded by airfields, so there were hundreds of young men to take them to dances or to the pictures. At Christmas, when I was chosen to be an angel in the Nativity play, my mother cut down one of her beautiful evening dresses, which was white satin and silver. I was the best-dressed angel in the show.

The garden and air-raid shelter

My grandfather had a large garden and it was all put down to raising food, so we had plenty of fresh produce. My grandmother had to preserve what she could for the winter as thee were no freezers then. She bottled fruit in Kilner jars, preserved eggs in isinglass, made jam, salted beans in huge jars and managed to feed everyone. The tiny bits of meat and cheese that we were allowed were augmented with lots of vegetables and great suet puddings. Everything had to be queued for and if we heard that a shop had anything unusual to sell we were prepared to wait for hours if necessary.

York was being bombed frequently as it was the centre of the rail network and also because of all the airfields. Most people had Anderson shelters in the garden or metal table shelters in the house but my grandfather was obstinate and wouldn't have one so when the siren went, I was put right under he middle of the dining table and then everyone else crawled underneath. If there were a lot of people in the house, then the adults only got their heads under and their bottoms stuck outside. Some people used the understairs cupboards as shelters as the stairs were a very strong part of the house.

Once when my father was on leave, there was a very bad raid. My mother, who was very adventurous persuaded him to walk into town with her so that she could see what was happening. The bombers had hit the gasworks and the huge gas cylinder had flames coming from holes all over it. There was a street of houses on fire and a woman was trapped inside her house. My father had to kick the door down to rescue her.

School and family life

As children we were mostly protected from the awful things that were happening and enjoyed the drama of it all. We had to carry our gas masks over our shoulders at all times and had "gas mask drill" every day at school to practise putting the masks on properly. They smelt horribly of rubber and dust. We also had to practise diving under our desks in case there was a sudden air raid and also tramped in single file to the big concrete shelters that had been built in the schoolyard.

Sweets were on ration and you could buy very few but the Canadians sent us drinking chocolate powder which we put into little bags, stuck our finger in and sucked the lovely chocolate. We also chewed liquorish root, which was like wood and strong tasting cinnamon sticks. When people got married they often had a box iced for the first layer of their wedding cake and a small cake as the top tier to eat.

Eventually mum and I got rooms in a house, a bedroom and living room and this gave us more privacy. My little sister was born then and dad hitchhiked up from the south of England so that he could see her. He would have been in awful trouble if he had been caught because all the troops were massing in the south ready to go across the channel for D-Day and there was very strict security. But he thought he might be killed when he went over to Germany and he was determined to see her. He went over the channel on D-Day plus 6 and fought his way across France and into Germany. After the war he never talked about it but I know that he must have seen some awful sights.


Christmas was a bit sparse for us but it was still very exciting. Because we had not previously had a home in Britain, we had no Christmas decorations and there were none to be bought. We had a small real tree and made decorations from milk bottle tops and fir cones. Then my Mother found a stall selling baubles made from small painted light bulbs and was allowed to buy two. I still have one and my sister has the other. We had toys, mostly second hand and went round to my grandmother's [house] for dinner. There were no crackers and I expect the food was very plain but we enjoyed it very much. Afterwards we listened to the Queen's speech and the news of the war at six o'clock on the radio. Then all the chairs were pulled up close to the fire and everyone sang and laughed a lot. I fell asleep and was woken up at midnight to walk home to our cold rooms, with my little sister asleep in her pram. We had had a lovely time.

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Guest Andrew Moore

This is a record of an interview with Mrs Doreen Putnam of Welton, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. She was interviewed on 27 November 2001, by James Wood, Daniel Doris, Ashley Kennington and Stephen Hutchenson-Pearce of South Hunsley School.


I lived in the village near the church when the war started. You didn't go far in those days. You never went into Hull on your own on a bus. I was a child, about ten, when the war started and I remember the first air-raid warning. It was a terrible wailing noise and I didn't realise that it was an air raid warning, so I went and woke my father up. My Dad said, "Oh, it's all right, go back to bed, it's only the air raid siren."

By then my mother had died, you see, and I was the housekeeper and I had to teach myself to cook, because by the time I was old enough to go to cookery classes at the school the war had started and everything was rationed. I had to teach myself to do a lot of other things, too.

We didn't know really that there was a war out here in the villages. Welton seemed a lot further from Hull than it is today, because there were long, lonely roads, this school was not built and there was a wood here which I used to play in when I was a little girl.

At school

When we were at school the headmaster said we had to do all the windows. We had to criss-cross them with this white tape, so that if a bomb dropped nearby, glass wouldn't fly all over. At Welton school in the office, even now, they haven't been cleaned since I left and there's still the marks where the tape was. (WE HOPE TO PHOTOGRAPH THIS). That's up in the store room. Then we had to have the windows in the cloakroom bricked up because that was going to be the air raid shelter and also down in the boiler house. You were lucky if you got down there, because it was nice and warm in the winter time. That was also a type of air raid shelter, though if the school had been bombed you would have been buried alive, but people didn't think of that then.

Anyone who lived in the village, if they could get home within 2 minutes of the siren first starting, you were allowed to go home and sometimes you could take a friend with you. I practised til I could get home well within 2 minutes and then I used to get the dinner ready for my 2 brothers and myself, because there was no one looking after us. So, that suited me when the siren went in the morning, because there was no school canteen there and we used to have to go home every dinner time.

Home life

Those that lived at Melton that came to Welton school (and some came from Brough and some came from Elloughton), they had to go into the shelters that were bricked up and built in. If the siren went in the mid afternoon, by the time the all clear went you never went back to school. It was like a half day holiday nearly. So, that suited me as well, because we lived in a cottage where there was no water. We carried water in buckets from a tap in the village. We'd no electricity and only had one gas lamp. We had to use candles if we wanted to work in the kitchen or go upstairs to bed. So a holiday suited me, because to boil a kettle we had to light a fire first before we could get any hot water.

I was once reading in bed, which I wasn't really allowed to do. I had the candle at the side of the bed and I pulled the sheet and the candle went out. I was just going off to sleep, when I suddenly saw flames and I'd set the corner of the sheet on fire. I grabbed it, smothered it and shouted for my father and the sheet was smoking, so I got a lecture. It was so easily done.

Rations and rabbits

Then rationing came in in 1940 and I'd never even heard of margarine, because I'd been brought up on a farm and we always had best butter, cream, goat's milk, cow's milk, things like that. Suddenly on the rations you got this margarine, and it was horrible. You got so much butter and so much margarine and I had to go and ask my neighbour, because I didn't know whether you spread it on bread, whether you cooked with it, whether you fried with it, or what you did, because I'd never ever seen this horrible looking stuff.

So, I had to teach myself to ration these rations out equally between my 2 brothers, my father and myself and it was very hard to have to do that. But in another way we were lucky, because around here there was the corn fields and then they were harvesting nearly to the middle of the cornfields and we all went rabbiting.

Now, you might think that's terrible, but you killed rabbits with a stick to the back of the head. At 10 years of age I was taught to kill, skin and cook a rabbit and you could roast it, stew it, put it in a pie and you had a good meal. It eked out your meat ration, because you didn't get much meat ration and some of that was horse meat anyway. You didn't kill rabbits for the sake of killing them, you killed them to fill empty stomachs and if you had more rabbits than you needed you gave them to neighbours.

I mean the old lady next to us, we kept her supplied with rabbits, 'cause they only got 10 shillings a week pension, the old people - which is 50p today - and that had to last a whole week. They had to pay their rent, buy food, buy their coal, buy everything. So, if they got a rabbit that was extra and it lasted them for a day or two.

My father was in business and he had a lot of farming friends and my youngest brother and I used to bike to these farms and we'd get eggs, extra eggs, which helped with the cooking and the protein. During the war you were so hungry you ate everything that was put before you, you didn't waste a thing. There wasn't much bread and what they did during the war, to make the bread look whiter, was to put chalk in it.

Bombers over Welton

We had one stick of bombs dropped from the direction of Welton Wold. It came in a line and the last bomb dropped near Lowfield Lane, in the fish ponds of the big house (Welton House). It made a big hole in the main road as well as in the field. I'd gone to see a friend at Gibson Lane in Melton at the time, who lived in one of the wooden bungalows. The siren went and I hadn't told my father or anybody where I'd gone, I'd just gone to Melton with my friend. Her Mum and Dad were fire watchers, so they went out when the siren started and my friend was putting all these cushions on the table and everything.

I watched and said, "Why are you doing that?" and she said , "Oh, this is our air raid shelter." That's how the Morrison shelter was built.

I said, "I don't think that would do much good. I'll have to go home". She said, "The siren's gone," and I said, "I can't help that." Well, I opened her front door and the light shone out. You could get into terrible trouble if any light shone out. The air raid warden would come round and knock on your door and say the light must be put out. I'd opened this front door and the light was blazing out and I said, "Oh, come and look at all these!" and there were fire bombs dropping. And they dropped into the garden near the wooden bungalows. Fortunately one wasn't set on fire. She said , "Oh quick, shut the door!" So I shut the door and I said, "I'll have to go home."

So I was walking up Gibson Lane pushing my bike and I met my father and my eldest brother. They'd come looking for me, they'd walked all the way and as we walked back along the main road, we saw where this bomb had dropped and it was a massive hole and there was a crowd of people out of Welton village all stood around looking at it. We'd never seen anything so deep, which you didn't in those days.

Casualties of war

We didn't hear about local people being killed out this way. We knew it was bad in Hull. In May 1941 out this way we could see the flames and the fire, the sky was red and it was still burning next morning and that's how we knew that Hull had been badly bombed. The searchlights every night criss-crossed the sky and we could see the barrage balloons at Hull. But we were lucky. I didn't know any locals who were killed, but I knew the ones in the army. My neighbour was killed, Robert Hyde. Everard Baker, and that is Mrs Baker in the village's father, she was only five when her father was killed. Her uncle Len Key, he got killed. He was nice, he was one of the big boys in the village, and when we were little girls they had bikes and we would beg for rides. They used to sit us on the cross bar and ride us round the village. I knew all the names that are on the church wall.

Saving metal

Pans weren't taken away, because they were only tin. You had to go to the shop and buy a pan mender, because you couldn't buy a new pan. It was little and round and it was made of a metal disc, then there was a ring of cork and another metal disk on top and you screwed it on the inside of the pan and bent it so it didn't leak, because you had to make pans last. We cooked on the fire and on the side oven. But the railings were cut down at the Memorial Hall and they took the chains from round the village green to melt them down. The sad thing was, they were all taken to a dump at North Cave and I'm afraid some of them were still there at the end of the War. They hadn't used them. The railings from the Memorial Hall was still there, which was a bit sad really.


No one was evacuated from the village, but we had some evacuees from Hull. Mrs Davy's step sister, they came out of Hull and they first stayed with our headmaster and his wife, whose house was attached to the school. They then moved to Mrs Baker's mother in the village, who looked after them and she married their father. We had some other evacuees who stayed at a farm too.

Radio broadcasts

We didn't hear Churchill's speeches as we didn't even have a wireless. We had to get an accumulator and take it to a house in the village. We thought they were rather rich because they had electricity and we only had gas. Some houses in the village only had oil lamps and we used to have to take the accumulator to this man in the village because he had electricity and he would charge these accumulators up and charged us 2d and this is what we paid if you had a wireless. Well, we had one, but it broke just before the war started and you couldn't get it mended, so we went right through the war without the wireless, but we did have the newspapers. Now, with the newspapers they used to put a map of the war and we took it in turns to cut these maps out, take them to school and put them in our books. I still have all these books with my maps in.

Aeroplanes overhead

We used to see enemy planes, especially on light nights. We used to sit outside and watch our planes going over, the Lancasters. We used to count them as they went droning over and over and sometimes we'd hear them coming back and we'd count them and there may be one or two missing, probably shot down or landed somewhere else. The Blackburn aircraft went from Brough.

Soldiers and prisoners

We had soldiers staying at the big house and the old vicarage. We'd never seen strangers and we couldn't understand half of them because they were from down South and we couldn't understand their language. There was all these soldiers with these Cockney and Southern accents. You gradually got to know them. Then they stopped the Chapel and made it into a YMCA. The soldiers used to go there for tea and coffee and they used to hold dances in there. We used to climb on the wall and look through the window. Sometimes they let youngsters in, which was most unusual for us.

Once the soldiers had moved out, I think the German prisoners of war were first. They used to have a coloured patch on their back, a square on their battle dress. Now, the Italian prisoners of war came in after the Germans had gone and they had a diamond patch on their back, which was a sort of yellowy/fawn. They stayed in the squire's big house and they were guarded by British soldiers.

There was a bomb dropped at Brough and I think it was meant for the Blackburn aircraft factory or the railway. It fell near the railway on two houses and no one was killed, because people were in the shelter. One of the boys was at our school. They only had a day off school - they were back at school the next day.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Received this yesterday. I can't credit the person who sent me yet as they didn't include their name. I've asked if they'd be willing to add to this.

I remember my father and mother telling me stories of the war,as I was born in 1943 which was the end of hostilities.  They lived in Glasgow near to a power station and so it was a very dangerous situation.  On nights when the moon was full the river Clyde would light up like a silver ribbon and lead the German bombers to the power station at Dalmarnock.  Funnily enough the station never really got hit but a street very close by called Allan Street took a direct hit one night and many poor sould lost their lives.  For many years after the war the scars were still visible and my father used to take me down there to see where the bombs had hit the big tenament buildings. 

At the time of the blitz my uncle and his family lived in a town called Clydebank which was a great ship building centre and word famous for ships like the Queen Mary and so on.  My uncle was a fireman during the blitz on Clydebank and the German bombers would come over night after night in waves to try to destroy the ship yards in Clydebank.  They never really managed this but the town itself was very badly hit by the bombs.  My mother and her sisiters along with my grandmother went along after one particularly bad night and the town was completely shut down and nobody could enter.  There were ambulances and fire engines running everywhere and the town blazed from end to end.  Fortunately my uncle and his family survived but many people did not and to this day people who were only children at the time can still tell the story of the droves of German planes flying over the town of Clydebank.  It is a sight that would never be forgotton.  Clydebank is now a modern place but has been very badly hit by the closure of its main industry, ship building.

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  • 1 month later...

I was born in June 1942, so I was only three when the war ended. I have vivid recollections about WWII - I am gifted with an excellent long-term memory. We lived in Kent near the fighter base at West Malling and I clearly recall my father taking me into the garden to watch a Spitfire engage with a V1 on its way to London. I recall barrage balloons, searchlights, air-raid warning and all-clear sirens, and sleeping in a shelter - a kind of metal construction that was erected in a ground-floor room in our house. I remember the victory celebrations on a patch of waste ground near our house. I was terrified of the huge bonfire bearing an effigy of Hitler - I thought they were burning a real man. My father told me that I could tell the difference in the sounds of the engines of British and German planes.

I might also mention a book written by one of my relations in Canada about his World War II experiences. He was shot down in a Lancaster over Holland, hidden for a short time by a Dutch family, captured by the Germans and imprisoned, nearly died on the long march from East to West as the Russians approached - and survived. In 1983 he went back to Holland and tracked down the Dutch family who sheltered him. He also managed to correspond by letter with the German fighter pilot who shot down the Lancaster. He gives talks in schools all over British Columbia. See "Almost a Lifetime" by John McMahon, originally published by Oolichan Books and now published by Shamrock Publications, British Columbia:



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  • 2 months later...

Hi Colleagues,

We are working hard in Belarus because of 60 anniversary of WW2.A lot of our students and tecahers are working with and for veterans and we collected many interesting materials about this period of time/certificates,photos, letters from battle fields and concentrations camp and etc./We would like to share with you our materials but need to transale them into english.

Some Certificates are from Stalin ,herous of the war were awarded by it.Very interesting like our past history is showing their face thorugh these documents.

Veterans do not like our current period of development because what they were fighting against we had lost and all countries who had been defeated during WW2 are living better and recover their society and economy very fast compare with us.

But the main lesson we tought from our veterans that nazi regime was crushed and the main value in this world -Peace.


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  • 3 weeks later...

As promised in an earlier submission I have created a webpage with embeded recording of recollections of Second World War event.

At the moment the sound files are .wav but small enough to work with broadband.

They are personal accounts of bombing raids on Southampton.

They can be found here


Edited by Nick Falk
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Excellent stuff Nick. Would it be possible/feasible to get students to ask questions of the participants having listened to the wavs using a message board or forum?

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