Roy Remembers

Roy Woodhead

Born in 1932 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire

The day war broke out everybody in our terraced row of houses had their radios turned up full to hear Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s broadcast. He announced that we were at war with Germany. Our radio was big and cumbersome and very unreliable and could only be tuned in to the Home Service and the Light Programme.

For weeks after war was declared life went on in just the same way but everyone had to register with the government so that it knew where everybody was and so that identity cards and ration books could be issued. Rationing didn’t begin straight away but was phased in over the first six months. Food that came from abroad was the first to be in short supply. Vegetables and bread were never rationed and the greatest life-saver was good old fish and chips. Going into a fish and chip shop during the blackout was quite an experience – most shops and public buildings had a double door or double blackout curtain. You had to go through the first door then close it behind you carefully before opening the second door. If children rushed in and let light out then the adults would shout at them to “Put that light out!” Sweets were rationed during the war and we would all try and make our ration last. My granny lived up the road and actually had a shop but she didn’t do us any favours.

The Anderson shelters that many families built soon became damp and uncomfortable and many people preferred to take shelter under the stairs or even under the kitchen table! The blackout was introduced early in the war and people had to adjust their lights and curtains so that no light could be seen from the street. Street lamps were heavily shaded so that only a small ring of light shone directly underneath the lamp and car headlamps were hooded so they could not be seen from the air.

In the first year of the war everyone was issued with a gas mask which had to be carried with you at all times. During lessons the teacher would suddenly shout “Gas attack!” and everyone would dash to put their gas masks on. At first this would happen two or three times a week but as the war went on and there was no sign of gas being used it happened less frequently and going out without your gas mask became less of a crime. When the air raid sirens sounded when we were at school we were supposed to go one of our friends’ houses who lived just outside the school but after the first few weeks we just used to run home.

As cities became targets for bombing raids evacuees were sent to Worksop as it was only a small town and was considered reasonably safe. The first set of evacuees came from Nottingham, just thirty miles away. Their accents were very similar to ours and the relative nearness of their homes meant their parents could visit by bus. In our row of six houses there were three evacuees – sisters living next door to each other and their cousin in the house at the end of the row. They were with us for about six months and then all the Nottingham evacuees just decided to go home.

The next set of evacuees came from Birmingham and they were very different! They sounded like foreigners and were much more streetwise than us. They stole apples from local gardens and then tried to blame us and fights broke out on a regular basis. They really were “tough nuts” and were never quite accepted into our community.

The last to be evacuated into our town were two entire schools from Lowestoft. They brought their own teachers to look after them. They took over two schools in the town and would attend from 8a.m. until week and from 1p.m. until 5p.m. the next. The existing schoolchildren fell in with this rota too and this now meant that the kids from Birmingham had to battle with the combined forces of children from Worksop and Lowestoft!

For many people like us the war was not a time of bombing and deprivation but of restrictions and regulations. We used to have favourite areas where we would gather to play but a lot of these areas became out of bounds as aerodromes, army camps and munitions dumps were built in the surrounding areas. Clumber Park was nearby but was closed to the general public but it didn’t stop us sneaking in for a dare and peeking inside the Nissen huts.

There were no seaside holidays as the coast was protected by barbed wire from enemy invasions. During the holiday weeks when factories and mines closed for essential maintenance the local council arranged open air concerts and sports meetings. As this was in summer time there was no problem with the blackout. The children over twelve were given an extra week holiday in October but this was spent picking potatoes to make sure that the crop was all gathered in for the winter.

Life was not easy for us but at least we all stayed together as a family. My dad was a coal miner and so didn’t have to join up in the forces and my three brothers were at home too. My mum learnt to feed and clothe us on very little money and was quite resourceful. But some of my friends were not so lucky and some of them lost their dads. I was only seven when the war started and thirteen when it ended so it seriously affected my childhood but like a lot of families we just got on with life and made the best of the situation.