Jean W

In September 1939 I was nearly 5 years old and I lived in Collyhurst, Manchester. We were quite poor.

Jean Age 15

My dad was in the Royal Engineers in the Army; he had been a soldier when he was a younger man and when the war began he rejoined his old regiment. At first he was training in Halifax and came home at the weekend, but then he was sent to India. He did not come home again until 1945 when the war was over.

In Spring 1940 bombs were dropping on Manchester and it was decided that children needed to be evacuated out of Manchester. The schools organised this and since I was very young, my mum decided that as there was only the two of us, she would come with me and we were evacuated together. We went on a coach to Marton, near Blackpool. When we arrived we had to assemble in a school playground; wearing name tags and our gas masks around our necks. My mum held my hand as local families arrived to volunteer to take us to stay in their homes. (My mum was only young too at 24 years old.)

We waited for quite a while and we were the last to be chosen by a couple who had a little girl who was about my age. In our eyes, their home was really nice, with a lovely garden (which we did not have at home). The little girl had a sandpit and swings in the garden so I thought their house was like something in a film!

Unfortunately, we did not stay very long because the little girl got sick with chicken pox and we had to move out. We went to stay in a room above a butcher’s shop and things were very different there. It was an attic room and it was horrible! It was scary and the room was full of cockroaches!

My mum decided that we should not stay there any longer and arranged for us to go home to Manchester. She said she would rather face the bombs than try to sleep with cockroaches on the bed!

Back at home, an air raid shelter had been built in our street, but mum didn’t like it in there (it was smelly). So when the siren went off, we would run as fast as we could to the underground shelter which was a few streets away. Lots of families were down there; people would take knitting or sewing to do, or read. I took my skipping rope with me and skipped up and down the length of the tunnel. As the planes flew over, the Air Raid Warden would shout, ‘Brace yourself, here comes another one!’ and we would all huddle together. We were down there most nights and we still had to go to school in the morning, even if we hadn’t had any sleep.

My auntie Polly lived across the river from Cheetham Hill when it was bombed and we could see it all ablaze from her house – even the factory where my mum worked was on fire. We think the planes missed their target because they were trying to bomb Salford docks.

Jean Age 17

During the war and for some time afterwards, food was in short supply, so it was rationed and we all had ration books. Mum had to choose one grocer’s shop to get her food and use her ration book. Food was very limited, for example 2oz of butter and one small loaf and very small amounts of meat and vegetables. Children had coupons for sweets, some had D on them which was 2oz (50 gms) of sweets or E which was 4oz (100 gms), which wasn’t much!

When it was announced war was over, I was 11 years old. I had not seen my dad for about 6 years. I was a bit nervous when he eventually came home from India. When I first saw him I noticed that his skin was tanned and he looked different. But for me the most important thing was that we were all together again.

Jean Nov 2021