Let's Mention The War

Chapter I

 

As I had now reached the age of 15 years and 3 months I was now able to follow my brothers footsteps into the Air Training Corp, whereas Geof was now in the RAF. Once in, I found out just how bad my education had been at school, and how weak was my knowledge on most of the subjects taught, I was struggling.

I was alright on aircraft recognition, and rifle shooting,  which I seemed to have a flair for. Even learning the Morse code I seemed to master, but when it came to navigation, where maths were needed, I was hopeless, until one of the sergeants,   a public school boy, by the name of Percy Trett, took me under his wing, and gave me a lot of help, and encouragement.  Percy, in later life, became Norfolk's leading naturalist, and was often seen on television.

Being in the ATC was the beginning of my re education, as there were no such thing as night school, because of the war,  one of the youth services was the next best thing.

I suppose the part of the week I looked forward to, was Saturday night, when the ATC, and the GTC (Girls training corp) got together for dancing tuition. This would be given by a lady named Miss Hoare, she would insist that every boy would have a partner, even if it meant her dancing with him. She would teach the etiquette of the occasion, such as the boy approaching the girl, and him, asking her, with a bow, if he could have the pleasure of this dance. Most of the boys being embarrassed by this opening move. However, a girl

was not allowed to refuse this request, even if she didn't fancy the boy. The girls seemed very friendly, but as they were mainly still at school, i.e., the High school, most of us were outclassed, and as I was at that time quite plump, I tended to be shy.

I was also at the age when matter spots, or pimples erupted on my skin, mainly my face, which did not help, my appearance.

I kept complaining to Mother about them, who decided to have a word with a herbalist in the town. His shop was near the Parish church, and in his window was a display, in large glass bottles, the tape worms that his medicines had removed from humans. I believe the longest one was over a yard, and must have been an inch wide, an eighth of an inch thick. All these worms that he had on exhibition were pickled in some clear liquid, possibly alcohol.

The man, Mr. Ceiley, sold her some liver pills, which I had to take, one a day, for 2 days. I likened them to a quarter inch ball bearing, and just about as hard. I had a devil of a job to swallow them, trying to wash one down with tea, wrapping it up in a piece of bread, whatever method I used, the carrier would go down, always leaving the pill in my mouth. It did eventually go down my gullet, possibly being forced to go with the sheer weight of bread that I eat with it. But the pills did the trick, within 2 days of taking them, all the spots had gone, and as soon as they reappeared, down went another pill. Little 'wonders' were these liver pills from Ceileys.

This is about the time when I started my physical education phase with Dougie Friend. I had formed a friendship with Cyril Curtis, possibly because he too, worked in a shop, whereas my other friends were mainly apprentice bricklayers, and I could only see them at nights or weekends. On our Thursday afternoons off, we would go for long cycle rides, sometimes calling in secondhand shops, now called antique emporiums, as Cyril liked to buy records, mainly of the classical type. Once he had purchased his choice, we would return to his house, maybe I should call it a flat. It was the floor above the Lichfield Road Post Office, cum grocery shop.  The entrance to this, which he shared with his Mother, was via some outside steps, leading from the back garden of the shop,  to the first floor. His Mum, I believe, was a widow, and gave me the impression of being slightly backward. She always made a fuss of me, and would ply us both with tea and cakes when we went in. Then we would go into another room as Cyril wanted to play his new purchases. As I had the game of Monopoly, at home, he asked me to bring it around, and we would often have  a game, sometimes lasting 2 or 3 days, or rather evenings. Both Cyril, and his Mother were extremely shy people, maybe this is why she made me welcome. Cyril had another brother, much older than him, who was a prisoner of war, in German hands. I met him on his return, after the war ended, he seemed such a pathetic sight, with hands and feet both frostbitten, and had to be hospitalised for some time, before he recovered nearly all the feelings back in these parts, but never completely returning to normal(Cyril is a godparent to David).

One of my bricklaying friends had been bombed out, and the council moved him, and his family, to a house known as Anson Lodge, quite a big property, that had been requisitioned by the council to house the homeless. Billy, my mate, felt like landed gentry, moving to this 'palace' from the rougher area of Yarmouth. After the war, and council houses were being built, the family lost their 'palace', which was then returned to the rightful owner.

The other bricklaying friend, Kenny, lived just across Southtown Road, against the river, where we would spend a lot of our time, climbing over piles of wood in the neighbouring timber yard, until told to clear off. This caused us some excitement, as occasionally the wood we were climbing on would suddenly start to move, causing us to fight for a foot hold, often giving us splinters, not only in our hands, but our backsides as well. when this happened, you found out who your friends were.

The ARP were asking for boys our age to become Messengers,  who's duties were to carry messages from one ARP post to another, if the phone lines had been damaged by enemy action. Cyril, and I, offered our services, and once accepted were each given a smart, dark blue, battledress, tin hat, and a better type of gas mask. We had to attend the local ARP post,  2 nights a week, and be on call the rest of the time, and who should be in charge of the post, but Dougie Friend.

The air raids were still continuing, and getting worse, and longer. One night, from our back bedroom window, we could see what appeared to be, Yarmouth alight, from North to South.

St Nicholas Church 

St Nichols Church

Jerry had firebombed the Parish church, it was said that people saw pigeons flying about with their wings on fire.  Across the road, from the church, at Lacons brewery, bottles were popping off in the heat. That scene was to the left of our view, sweeping to the right, the Rows, that contained quite a number of the poorer class houses, was aflame. When our eyes got to the area near Camden Place, factories, and warehouses were burning. A few parachute mines were dropped, similar to that we had seen when we were in Ilford, one of them completely demolishing a garage, which was about 300 yards from No. 12, and taking most of the roof of our old house. A large number of people were killed, and injured, especially in the Row area, these were very narrow lanes, built East to West, and heavily populated, even though a lot had left the area, a great number still lived there.

Because of the age of the buildings, which was in the oldest part of town, they were considered to be irreparable. They were totally demolished, after the war, and council houses and flats took their place.

Once all the people had been moved, the area was cordoned off, and the army, and Royal Marines moved in, to make it  into a training ground, for the Parachute regiment, and Commandos.

Cyril and I would go sneaking around the training ground, on our Thursday afternoons, to watch the mock battles take place. 

Ropes would be strung across the roads, high up from house to opposite house, and the trainees, carrying their weapons,  would clamber over roofs, then using just the strength of their arms, go overhead, from one place to the other. Whilst this was being done, thunderflashes, and small explosive devices would be set off. Eventually we would be spotted and told to go, in slightly stronger terms. It was better than a night at the pictures.

It would be around this time that No. 10 had a very close call. At the bottom of our small garden, the other side of the wall, was a wide path that gave access to each house back door. Across this path was a large garden that was owned by Mr. Shipley, the town vet. A German bomber dropped a bomb, which landed just the other side of the fence. Because the bomb was dropped from a good height, and the ground being soft, it went down quite deep, into the soil before it exploded, sending up a load of soft soil, that covered our back garden path, and gave our roof a good layer, even sticking to the house windows. If it had landed on concrete, the bomb would have exploded on impact, and possibly No. 10 would have been badly damaged. Another time, this was about 7 in the morning, a German fighter bomber, sneaked in low over the town, and dropped his bomb on Southtown Railway station.  But this time because the aircraft was so low, the bomb did not have the chance to turn vertical, and hit the concrete at an angle,  causing it to ricochet up, flying over our row of houses,  coming down on the Lichfield Arms pub, about 200 yards from us, and flattened that, killing the landlord and his wife.

Another casualty was White's general stores shop, on Anson Road, next to Anson Lodge, again just 200 yards from No. 10.  this too was demolished, but more by bomb blast rather than a direct hit. The White's kept a St. Bernard dog, who, when you entered the shop, would jump up, put his paws on your shoulder, and about knock you over. They also had a cat, which was no doubt used to keep the mice down in the shop. Mr. and Mrs. White were not injured, though as I said, the place was flattened, but there were no signs of the animals. The ARP rescue squads moved in to make the ruins safe, and once they had removed all the fallen masonry, and roof, they found the cat under the dog, sheltering beneath the kitchen sink, which was supported on brick pillars only. how they had survived was classed a miracle.

This happened after Jerry had stepped up his night bombing,  though we would still have his daylight visits, normally using fighter bombers. which could carry 2 small bombs.  Because of the speed of these aircraft, the first you knew about their approach was about 3 minutes before they dropped their explosives, so a new form of warning, to tell the towns folk of imminent  danger was sounded. This was factory hooters, or, and ships sirens.

The cause for this much more attention of the enemy was the threat, to them, of our invasion of Europe plans. The powers that be had already decided that the armada that would ferry soldiers across from England to France would start off on the south coast. So Yarmouth was picked as being the place were the Jerries could be fooled into believing it would come from the East coast. First of all the roads in and out of town were blocked off, and you would have to get police permission to leave, or come into Yarmouth. Then the river started to be filled with invasion barges. Although these were only made of plywood, from the air they looked the real thing. More Anti aircraft guns came in to the town, there were already quite a number of these but there were still more to be stationed, mainly very close to the river side. Barrage balloons were raised as a protection against low flying aircraft. German photographic planes kept coming over, and the subterfuge seemed to work. As the protection was basically by the river, other parts of the town were less protected, and because of a heavy bombing raid the previous night, the telephone service had been knocked out, and my services were required as a Messenger, the following morning, when another raid had taken place. I was told to deliver a message to the other end of town, near No. 12. Just prior to my cycle ride, a lone bomber had dropped a bomb close to where I was to go. I cycled towards my destination, having to pass a small private hotel, named Glenelg. This had been commandeered by the services, as a residence for a group of WRNS, (Women sailors).  The bomb had badly damaged this property, killing, and injuring several of the girls. Just as I got there the rescue squad were bringing out parts of bodies, and the occasional whole one.  Another group were feverishly lifting wooden beams, lumps of concrete, searching for more of the women. One of the team saw me looking, and told me in no uncertain terms, to Bugger off. Possibly because of my age, he was maybe, trying to protect me from this outrage.

I had several sleepless nights after that sight. About a week later, at the north end of town, a similar fate overtook a number of ATS (Female soldiers). This I did not see.

With all the guns in town, plus those aboard the many ships, I never heard of an enemy plane being shot down, in fact, before Lacon's brewery had been destroyed, the owners had offered a barrel of beer to the gun crew that did destroy one. They were on a safe bet.

Mother had joined the WVS(Womens voluntary service), she had also been made to attend a local ARP post as a fire watcher,  then she was compulsorily made to go to work, albeit part time.

Three afternoons a week she had to go on the south denes to a factory making radio components. This was just before Geof was called up. As so many housewives, with children over 14 were made to take on war work, the local council opened up what they laughingly called, a British restaurant, with basically 2 choices of main course, often only one, and a sweet. With Mum being at work, the 3 of us would meet at the restaurant for dinner. The cooks were very skilled into making any meal, unappetising. It was filling, but then so is concrete, but this was wartime and most of us would eat anything, provided that it did not take away the amount we were allowed on our ration books.

Mum's WVS duties were varied, sometimes repairing old clothes for the destitute to wear, to keeping a hospitalised person,  who had no known relatives, company. To working in the WVS shop, that sold salvaged goods retrieved from bombed out buildings. From this shop she would often bring a little 'treasure' home, which she had paid for. If we saw anything new in the house we would ask if it was from the salvage shop. I have some of her purchases here at No. 4.

She would also attend a WVS canteen that was set up in one of the many dry docks along the river side. On turning up one afternoon after a heavy night raid, she had her way blocked by a policeman, "You can't go through there, Ethel, there is an unexploded bomb in the mud, and the bomb squad are working on it". Looking ahead she saw that the usual shipwrights and their teams were working in the danger area, and says to the copper that if they are in there, working, they will need their tea, and that she was going in, to provide it, pushing herself past him. Her mate for the afternoon saw her do this, and with a 'if Ethel can go there, so can I', and followed. The men had heard her chat with the policeman, and gave them both a cheer as they set up their stall. A few days after this, the shipyard owners wrote to the top brass of the WVS, and both of them, Mum and her mate, received a very nice letter thanking them for their work. The owners also wrote to both of them, thanking them, and treated them both to a meal out at a nice hotel.

When Geof eventually left home for his RAF service, this left just Mum and I in the house, except when Dad was home from sea, and I felt, in a way, that I was responsible for her. For instance, if I had planned on going out one night, or any night, she would always ask me what time I would be back home, and knowing if I was any later, than my stated time, she would start worrying, and often I would stretch my return by at least half an hour, viz I would say 10-30, when I planned to be home at 10. This arrangement worked out well, until I went to the pictures one night, with a girl who lived in the country. I had walked her to her bus stop, made sure she was on it, and started making my way home. As I watched her bus disappear in the distance, I suddenly heard the sound of aircraft, and once they seemed to be overhead, they dropped their bombs. Anti aircraft guns were firing at them, then the air raid warning went, so much for early warnings. As the crumps of the bombs were getting closer, I decided to take shelter. All eyes were on me when I entered, as if I was not allowed in there, making me feel very unwelcome. A lull came,  and I left, taking to my heels, as it was now very nearly the time Mum was expecting me to arrive. The raid resumed, and off went the guns, again, and it is said that you are more in danger from falling shrapnel from the anti aircraft shells,  than you are from the bombs themselves. I put a spurt on until it felt like my lungs were going to burst, and slowed down to walking pace. I heard a clatter just in front of me, and then I stood on something, I bent down to pick it up, finding it still warm to the touch, and carried it home, once inside with the light on, I discovered a very jagged piece of shell case, that if I had walked that little bit faster, it could have made a nasty dent in my head. As soon as I went through the front door of No. 10 the all clear sounded. I show Mother the piece of shrapnel, then put it in a box, with my other memorabilia, which I saved for years at home, but they all got destroyed during the North sea floods in 1953.

Jimmy Love had returned to Yarmouth, from being an evacuee. His remaining family had been moved and were now living in the country. Mrs. Love, wrote to Mum and asked her if Jim could stay with us until they could find accommodation in the town. So now I had another mate. He was keen on joining the railway, and started his working life as an engine  cleaner. He would come home, from his shift, smelling strongly of paraffin, which was the cleaning agent used, and give himself a good wash in our kitchen sink, leaving it with a heavy black rim around it. This did not go well with Mother,  and she looked forward to the day that Jim's parents would be back. I believe he lived with us about 3 months. When his working shift pattern allowed, we would go out together, in the evening. He was earning far more money than I was, but he would never brag about it. When his family did return we would only see each other at weekends, but not every week, as he often had to work them.

Later on, Alan came back and our friendship was renewed. He found work at a firm called "Radio rentals" which for a few pence a week they would supply and fit a radio speaker,  complete with a 3 way control switch, viz Long wave, medium wave, (BBC radio programmes), and off. His job was to wire these in, often climbing up telegraph poles, and ladders, to run his cables. The system was possibly cheaper than buying your own wireless, and of course it was trouble free. Part of his work consisted of repairing the amplifiers that were needed to relay the programmes, and he seemed to get a good grounding in the basic electronics required for this purpose. 

As he lived some distance from my home, we would only see each other occasionally. He was not a boy for fun times, being rather serious natured, and was definitely not interested in girls. Actually I don't think he came out of his shell until he was doing his army service. Jimmy, just after I had had my first service medical, went for his, and failed it, he seemed to have some form of kidney ailment. He was told by the medics to see his own doctor, this he failed to do. At 21 he married, and at 22 he died, through kidney failure. I felt his death rather keenly, as we had grown up together, knowing him all my life.

Once I joined the ATC, I found, and made, new friends, one of them I only knew as Greenie. (surname Green, but never found out his first name)We both had an interest in model aircraft, and he would either come around to No. 10, or I would visit his house.

He had a female cousin, who would call at his, but, according to him, she only came when I was there. I doubt if I said more than 6 words to her, and I did not even consider that she had any more interest in me, as I had in her. Gradually, Greenie and I lost touch, mainly because his work did not allow him much leisure time, and our meetings were limited to ATC evenings.

Fieldings had a shop in Lowestoft, and the manager was rushed into hospital for appendicitis ? Mr. Tooke asked me if I would go across and manage the shop, until his return.

Generously, ? offering to pay for the travelling, backwards and forwards. I was given a set of keys, and told to cash up each night and put the money in the bank. He would sort out the wages to the other staff.

Each morning I would pick up my bus a couple of minutes walk from home, this would drop me more or less outside the Lowestoft shop. I was told that 2 others worked there, one a girl, my age, and a boy of 14, just having left school.

I did expect that the other 2 may not like my presence in the shop, but from the time I opened up the first day,  everything went well. The boy was mainly used for cleaning up and running errands, much the same as when I first started.  The girl was extremely attractive, and knew it. Very flirtatious, and a bit of a teaser, although we hit it off.  Any male that came into the shop, or even walking past the shop, in uniform, would cause her to lose interest in whatever she was doing at the time.

On my bus journeys, I would occasionally see, sitting a few seats away, a girl who I thought, but was not sure, Greenie's cousin, but I was, like an idiot, too shy to talk to her. Some little time after I had finished my stint at Lowestoft was St. Valentine's day, and in the morning post came a card,  addressed to me, mentioning that the sender had seen me on the Lowestoft bus. I had a damn good idea who she was, but lacked the bottle to ask her.

Working in the Market Row, which was a small shopping street, the majority of the staff in the shops were girls, of all ages. There were 3 in ours, 3 in the shoe shop next door, and dozens more, scattered among the 20 to 30 shops in the Row.

Most of the girls in any shop, knew the girls in our shop, and so I got to know them too. When a particular friend of Irene, who was my age, had a birthday, or Christmas party, I would, on an odd occasion, be invited, I mentioned previously about going to Helen's party, the girl who had had some teeth removed. These parries were more or less all the same,  basically somewhere where boy could meet girl. At the party, after having sandwiches, and a slice of the cake, the parents would disappear into the kitchen, and we would take over the front room. Games would be played, such as Postman's Knock, Spin the bottle, and any other form of game that would give a couple a chance to kiss, which would be done out of the room, in the hall. When all games were finished, the boys would sit down in a comfortable chair, with the girl of the evening on his lap. There was very little danger of any hanky panky happening, as every now and again, one or the other of the parents would knock on the door, and enter the room,  asking if anyone would like a drink, this would often be coffee, not your Nescafe, but Camp.

Often the girl whom sat on your lap that evening became your company for the next few weeks, or until one or the other tired of their new partner.

We were a pretty clean living, sober group of youngsters,  we knew the facts of life, and also knew the consequences if something, unplanned, did happen. This would mean either marrying the girl, or paying an allowance to her until the resulting child left school. There was no state aid for unmarried mothers, and being in a certain condition, would often get the girl thrown out of her home by her parents. The father would not get off scot free, as his name, and fame,  would spread like wildfire through the town. Taking all these things in consideration, would stop the decent girl from going the 'whole hog' often to the boy's frustration.

This was during the time of my ATC and messenger duties, and as I was still in the church choir, though by this time I was singing in a bass voice, every evening in every week was occupied, one way or another.

It always amazed me that if I was to go to a dance, and meet a girl, nine times out of ten she would live at the extreme north end of town, this would be a good mile and a half from the Wellington Pier, then after seeing her home, I would have over two miles to walk to No. 10. I must have been fit in those days.

With Dad at sea, and Geof in the RAF, often meant Mum and I spending Christmas without their company. Aunt Alice, the strait laced, or so we thought, sister of hers, had moved to London, well New Barnet, North London, together with her husband, Uncle Will, so that they could live near a married daughter, Marjory, and her 2 children, Colin and Linda.  She, Marjory, had married a chap from that area just before the war started, and as soon as war was declared, he, her husband, was called up.

As Aunt Alice knew we would be on our own, she invited us to spend the holiday with her. With me being at work on the Eve of Christmas, I couldn't get time off, so Mum and I traveled to London on Christmas day. Arriving at Liverpool Street station, we went by tube, then steam train to Southgate station, we had been told that that was the end of the line,  and we would need to change again for New Barnet. We waited on the platform, watching our the train we had just left leave the station, and enquired when our next one would leave, only to be told that the one we had just left was going there, and that it was the last of the day.

There were no taxis outside, so we asked the general direction for Aunt Alice's, and were told that it was a good two miles away. I was really pleased about that, as we had a heavy suitcase to carry that distance. Eventually we arrived at the Pelican Cafe, which was owned and run by our relatives.

We were met at the door by a huge soldier, who carried the  suitcase in. he then took us into the main cafe area, which was occupied by men in Khaki, all of them French Canadians,  and in the middle of them was my Aunt.

Mum and I were introduced to each one in turn. We were shown our beds, I was to sleep with Colin, Mum was to bed with Marjory and Linda. Tea and sandwiches then were made and eaten, by us. My aunt's other daughter, Phyllis was there, she was also married to a soldier, though he was a Yarmouth man, as he, again, was called up when the war started, and was now in the Middle East.

With Phyllis being on her own, she joined the WRAF (Airwomen). 

 We naturally chatted to these soldiers, as I always found it interesting to learn how others lived, especially with them being Canadians. They evidently were a special unit, a form of commando, living just up the road in a park. Most of them had at one time or another, called in the cafe for a cup of tea, got chatting to my aunt, who felt sorry for them being away from their home at that time of the year, and invited them to join her family gathering.

That evening they all went to the pub that was 100 yards away, leaving me to baby sit, as I was under age, and could not go with them, or at least that was the excuse. On their return, they brought back some of the girls that they had chatted up in the pub. The record player was put on, the cafe floor was cleared of all furniture and they started dancing. All these Canadians were built like Charles Atlas, and were mainly over 6 foot tall, the females were lucky if they topped 5 foot 3, the men towering above them. A couple of times the one who was dancing with Mother, they all called her, Aunt Ethel, stood on her toes, and decided that she would be safer if he carried her around the room.

During a lull when more sandwiches and tea appeared, Mum thought she heard one of the children cry out, and went into the child's bedroom to find the cry was not of a child, but of enjoyment, a couple had nipped in there to try the softness of the bedroom carpet. Mother apologised to the couple but also told them that it wasn't the right place to be doing what they were doing, in case the child woke up. She quickly left the room, and shut the door, A moment later the two came out, looking rather sheepish, and spying Mother asked her not to tell anyone what she had seen. She didn't, for about 20 years when, she told me, I suppose she thought that as I was a married man with my own children, I was sufficiently old enough to be told.

The party broke up in the early hours of the next day, the soldiers going back to their camp, to return the next morning, when the party would continue.

So daylight dawned, and after breakfast, I took Colin for a walk, whilst the rooms were tidied up. On my return, the soldiers were back, and all the adults went off to the pub,  for a midday session, returning at closing time, to devour a huge load of turkey sandwiches, and wash them down with lots of tea (I cannot recall, all the time we were there, eating anything else but sandwiches). After the eating, came the quietness, only to be broken by snores, or one of the kids.  wanting attention. Bodies were spread out all over the place,  those without a chair, sat on the floor against the wall. An hour or so went by, when, one by one they came to.

Discovering it was time to go to the hostelry again, and adopting the same procedure as the previous night, returning with the same girls. Though there was one change in the pattern, and that was caused by my aunt's false teeth. There was only one toilet in the building, and that was on the blink, often not flushing, even after many attempts with the handle, then, on the odd occasion, it would flush on first pull.

Aunt Alice had imbibed too much, and just after their return from the pub, she went to the toilet, and was sick, losing her  teeth down into what was the remains of the previous persons unfortunate lack of patience with the flushing mechanism.  laughing her head off, telling all of us what she had just done, she then turned to me, and asked if I could retrieve them for her. I went in the little room, saw her teeth, and what they were embedded in, I also knew if I tried to flush the toilet then this time it would work first time, another part of Sod's law. I went into the living room, got some coal tweezers from the fireplace, filled a large bucket of water in the kitchen, went back to the toilet, filled the washbasin full of water, put in a large dose of disinfectant, reached down, retrieving half of the set of teeth, rinsed them well in the bucket, and, once clear of any 'foreign matter' dropped them in the sink, doing the same with the rest of the set, flushed the toilet, which worked on the first pull, to my amazement.  Picking up a nail brush, I worked on the teeth, until they were cleaner than they have ever been, went back into the cafe, handed them to my aunt, who popped them straight into her mouth, with a smile, said "Thanks Roy, they seem better than ever.

 

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