Wartime Memories

by Nora Hyett

I think I have previously written to you about my memories of Quinton during World War II but in case not I have been prompted by Dennis Colclough's piece in the last Oracle, here is something for your archives. I was 10 years old when war broke out in September 1939, living with my parents in Ridgacre Road, next to the Christadelphian Church and opposite what is now Quinborne Centre. We were all issued with identity cards (I can still remember my number) and gas masks, which we had to take everywhere with us. The school roll call included "Gasmask"; to be sure we had it with us.

My mother and I went to stay with her sister in Derbyshire on the outbreak of war, but this only lasted about a week, so we came back and spent the whole war in Quinton. We had, of course, black-out curtains at all the windows, no chinks of light were allowed, so it was very dark in the streets and a torch was essential if one went out at night, no.8 batteries were always in short supply, along with most other things.

Quite early in the war my father rented an allotment, there were about seven in the triangle of land between Ridgacre road and Quinton Lane, now covered in houses. The vegetables he grew were a welcome supplement to the meagre rations, I really don't know how mothers catered for their families; fish paste sandwiches featured quite frequently. We also kept about half a dozen hens in the back garden and for most of the year they laid well and kept us supplied with eggs. My mother used to preserve any surplus in 'water glass' in a large bucket, for when the hens moulted and went off laying.

My father was too old to be called up, but did regular stints of fire watching, both locally and at his office in Oldbury, once the air raids started. We had an Anderson shelter in the garden, fitted with bunks and a paraffin lamp, but it was impossible to keep it dry and even with a pump, so during the really bad raids we stayed in the house, lying on the sofa cushions near the chimney breast, which was supposed to be the safest place (much to the delight of our young dog, who enjoyed us down at his level). But I do remember coming out of the shelter in the "small hours", and seeing how bright the stars were, without the light pollution of streetlights.

Later in the war we had a Morrison shelter in our front room, a strong iron table with mesh panels in the sides. I don't think we spent many nights in there but it was very good for doing jigsaws puzzles, and fun to play in.

Our area escaped the worst of the bombing, though many incendiaries fell and left marks about 3" diameter in the pavement. Just one stick of bombs fell near us, demolishing two houses in Wolverhampton Road South and killing the wife and son of our West Boulevard newsagent, Mr Brunner, who was probably a German or Austrian refugee. The bomb fell on their shelter at the rear of the shop.

But in the main our side of Birmingham did not suffer badly in the Blitz. I have one clear memory of the damage in the city. Easter 1941, I went to catch the daily bus at the end of New Street only to find most of the buildings demolished, still smouldering, glass all over the road and fire hoses still being used.

The years passed, life was tedious rather than dangerous and the worst aspect of it was the shortages of food, fruit but especially clothing. Our siren suits were made of army surplus blankets and occasionally there was parachute silk to make underwear. Stockings had to be darned to make them last as long as possible. In about 1945 a few lucky girls obtained nylons from American boy friends.

D-Day had happened and I remember standing on the front doorsteps and watching wave after wave of aircraft heading south. At last V E Day came, there were street parties and bonfires. The hardships and shortages continued, particularly fuel and electricity in the terrible winter of 1947.

Food was severely rationed when I got married in 1950.

One bright thing for teenage girls was the end of clothes rationing (1947?) and the coming of the "New Look". We all acquired longer and fuller skirts after the austerity of wartime clothing. I should also mention "utility" goods, clothes, household linens and furniture etc.; plain but serviceable and they all helped over the next few years.

I do hope this will give you a few more ideas of what our lives were like in those war time years.

© QLHS 2005


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