I was born in Church Street, Gorton (south east of Manchester city centre) in October 1935. The houses were traditional back-to-back terraces and I would describe my family as poor in a poor area.
Typical back-to-back teraces with cobbled streets and carts
Sydney aged 2 years
I was nearly 4 when World War 2 was declared in 1939 and one of my first memories of wartime is of walking nearly 3 miles in the early morning (and probably being carried part of the way by my dad) from Gorton to Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station as we went to see my father off to war; he had been called up to serve in the Lancashire Fusiliers. After he left my family (mum, my baby brother and me) struggled financially and a solution to this poverty and starvation that I was facing was for me to be evacuated. I was too young to understand what this would involve when my mum asked me “Would you like to go on a nice holiday?” Of course I would! And I was taken to Conway to a Dr Barnado’s Homes, similar to that shown in the photograph.
My mother accompanied me to Conway to see me settled in. I was put in a dormitory with 13 other boys, and lived there for 1 and a half years. Although we were cared for, I did not receive any formal education, probably because I was too young to be sent to school.
Eventually, my mother and my gran came to Conway to take me back home. I believe that my Gran had undertaken to look after me at her home in Compstall near Romiley, Stockport (an area which would be safe from any bombing) since I went to live with her.
Gran’s home in Compstall was rural and as an adventurous boy I often got into trouble for wandering off to ‘play’ and had to be found by the police. I think the breaking point was when I went onto the moorland and fell into a bog. I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper as I struggled to get out and remember putting my hands flat on the bog to try and keep my upper body upright.
The local policeman found me (again) and had to try and swim across on planks laid down by other adults to pull me out. Both he and I were filthy by the time I was saved. As you can imagine, my mum was furious with my gran and not only took me back home to Gorton but refused to talk to my gran for at least a year, blaming her for neglecting me
Sydney aged 6 in 1941
The financial situation for mum was no better and as a designated destitute child Manchester Children’s Services sent me to Styal Cottage Homes (some of the buildings are now HMP Styal Women’s Prison), where I stayed for two years (as shown in the photograph below).
Towards the end of the war my dad came home on leave and he came to Styal to take me home. When I met him I didn’t know who he was, but I remember thinking that he was kind. It was he who mentored me, since I had fallen behind in my education, and because I couldn’t read or know my tables I was mocked by the rest of my class. I suppose you could say I was bullied, but my dad offered a practical solution. He wrote out all of the times tables in a notebook and told me to learn them whenever I had a chance, such as if I was travelling on bus.
I remember the street party that we had at the end of the war – with tables and chairs and all the mums putting out food for us children. And this was a happy time, because my Dad was discharged from the Army and we were all living as a family again. His saved up Army wage was used to put a deposit down for a house in Stockport and we moved away from Gorton.