Memories of war brought to life in new book

Alnwick U3A members Maureen Stephenson, Joy Taylor, Eddie Bish, Hilary Whitelam, Mora Rolley and Hazel Shell with the book of war time memories. Picture by Jane Coltman
Alnwick U3A members Maureen Stephenson, Joy Taylor, Eddie Bish, Hilary Whitelam, Mora Rolley and Hazel Shell with the book of war time memories. Picture by Jane Coltman

From living with food rations to sleeping in an air-raid shelter and having to evacuate your home – these are just some of the poignant experiences which feature in a new book of childhood wartime memories.

Growing up in World War Two has been created by Alnwick U3A (University of the Third Age), which is one of almost 900 U3As in the UK, giving retired people the opportunity to share many educational, creative and leisure activities.

Maureen Stephenson with her mother Betty McIntyre.

Maureen Stephenson with her mother Betty McIntyre.

The recently-published book is made up of a collection of stories from a number of group members who grew up in various locations during the war.

This fascinating and illuminating compilation of memories not only shows the similarities and diversity of experiences, but the deep and long-lasting effect they had on future lives.

Alnwick U3A secretary, Maureen Stephenson, said: “To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and to recognise the role of the women left behind to hold families together while their menfolk were away, members of Alnwick U3A have produced this booklet of their memories of growing up during the war and we are really pleased with it.”

Maureen herself did not meet her father – who was a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down while on a reconnaissance mission – until she was six.

Mora J Rolley and her older brother Alasdair.

Mora J Rolley and her older brother Alasdair.

Having grown up on a farm in Northern Ireland, Maureen said: “I knew that I had a father, but, as far as I was concerned, he was somewhere up in the sky in an aeroplane and I did not give him a passing thought, except on rare occasions when a plane flew over and I assumed it was his.

“I remember the day I met my father. When my mother came to fetch me from school, she told me that there was someone in the car to meet me.

“There, in the front seat, was a strange man. ‘This is your daddy’, she said. Apparently I said that he was sitting in my seat, but I do not remember that.”

For group member Eddie Bish, the war robbed him of his father forever. He said: “My mother and father married in 1940 and I was born in 1941. My father, who was serving in the Army, was killed in 1943 when I was one year old – my only memories are a few photographs.”

Brenda Broxup wanted to be a ballerina.

Brenda Broxup wanted to be a ballerina.

The book’s contributors lived in various places during the war, with some experiencing life in urban areas, while others were living in the countryside.

Hilary Whitelam, who grew up in Kingston-upon-Hull, said she and her mother shared a fearful existence in a heavily-bombed city.

She added: “Another memory is walking home in the pitch dark – there were no street lights and no buses – and tentatively feeling a kerb and other street furniture.”

Sheila Dyson spent the early part of the war in Potters Bar, north of London, before moving to Upminster, Essex, in 1943.

She remembers: “Soon after we moved, the flying bombs started and they really were frightening because there was no warning. You were suddenly aware of the droning noise. Then it would stop and then there would be perhaps thirty seconds’ silence, and then an explosion.

“As they were meant for London, most flew over us on their deadly mission, although a few fell short of their target and we did get a few broken windows. They had to be boarded up as there was no glass to be had.”

Hazel Shell lived on the Wallington estate and describes herself as a country girl during the war.

She said: “One of my clear wartime memories is of the time when the Army commandeered the whole pace for Army manoeuvres. Army beds were carried upstairs and one managed to break the big landing window half-way down the stairs.

“My father was furious. Next it came to milking time. The cows refused to go in the byre as there were soldiers hiding in the hay. My father was furious.”

Throughout the book, some of the contributors reflect on the rationing of food and clothes, as well as spending time in air-raid shelters.

Brenda Broxup, who lived in south Derby, describes her air-raid shelter as a ‘corrugated metal-sided room sunk into the ground’.

She remembers: “I slept so very soundly as a child and hated to be woken when the sirens sounded. I would mutter ‘blooming Hitler’ and would turn over to sleep again while my parents were trying to collect drinks and food etc for our stay in the shelter.

“They would then have to try to wake me again in a panic to reach safety, so it was decided that I should be bedded down in the shelter each evening. I hated the little bunk bed placed up against the wall, where the spiders also loved to dwell.”

She said she used to wonder why a neighbour had left her washing out overnight, as the wind was making a terrible noise flapping wildly at her linen. Brenda adds: “I little realised that this was the sound of incendiary bombs falling in our street, My mother did not enlighten me.”

While the war ended in 1945, some of the contributors admit that the impact of growing up during this period has stayed with them through adulthood.

Mora J Rolley writes: “My earliest memory is being zipped into a siren suit and carried down into the air-raid shelter in the back green of the Glasgow tenement while I lived with my parents and older brother Alasdair.

“I remember the noise, the suit, the shelter, but no fear. However, years later, I was taking a group of schoolchildren round a museum in Cornwall. A huge room was set out to represent a street in London during The Blitz.

“While we were there, the siren signalling an air raid sounded and, much to the surprise of the children and myself, I burst into tears. Some memories must lie deep inside until triggered.”

On top of that, she adds: “My legacy is a fear of confined spaces, loud noises and an inability to waste food or replace something that still has life in it.

“It is only recently that I’ve stopped cutting off buttons, press studs and zips from old clothes in case they come in handy.”

This is similar for Ada Lee, who writes: “I think growing up at this time must have had a lasting effect on me. I hate throwing things away due to the wartime ‘make do and mend’ attitude.

“I had stopped taking sugar in my tea to save the ration and even now I do not use it in tea or coffee.”

The book has been published by Azure and the cover has been specially-designed by Alasdair Gray, a well-known Glaswegian artist and writer.

The book’s publication costs were met by an award received by Alnwick U3A as a result of a research proposal made by Maureen Stephenson in a competition run by the RITA (Research in the Third Age) Project, which is a joint initiative between Northumbria Region U3A and local universities encouraging older people to put forward ideas for research.

The book is priced £3.50 and any profits made from the sale will be returned to Alnwick U3A. For copies, contact Maureen on 01665 575552.

Monthly meetings of Alnwick U3A are held on the third Thursday of each month at 2pm in Lindisfarne Annexe at Lindisfarne Middle School.