WWII Memories
WWIIMEMORIES
Personal Histories of World War Two

A West Riding Village in the War

This is a record of an interview with Laurence Perry grandfather of Michael Partington. Mr. Perry was born 8th May, 1935, in Dewsbury in the West Riding of Yorkshire.


Record of an Interview with Laurence Perry

During the 2nd World War life was completely different for a young child compared with today.

I was only four when my father joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and was ten when he came back home.

Like many others of my age we didn't see very much of our Dads.

Indeed, some never saw their Dads for six years.

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Food and Rationing

Everybody had a ration book with coupons in it.

We also had an identity card; I've still got mine.

The coupons were for clothes, bread, meat, sugar, sweets and several other things.

Every effort was made by our mams to preserve them and patching clothes was the order of the day.

We could not just go to the shop and buy sweets, we had to save the coupons so that it was usually two weeks before we could have the next lot.

Not like today.

No popping along to the shop for a loaf of bread, no bobbing down to M & S for a new pair of trousers, no calling in at the butchers for a bit of meat.

Shopping had to be very carefully planned.

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...we were caught by the farmer and given a kick up the backside or cracked across the legs with a stick.
Laurence Perry

That was one thing that mothers were very good at.

Sometimes we had presents from North America given to us, usually sweetened cocoa.

Fruit was usually confined to apples, pears, plums, damsons, blackberries and rhubarb.

Oranges were only obtained at Christmas.

The only time we saw bananas, pineapples, lemons, peaches were on old posters in fruit shops.

We, as lads, used to raid the farm orchards around the village, pinching unripe apples and pears.

All we needed to do was wait until the fruit fell off the trees and the farmers' wives usually let us go and pick them up.

But that was too easy and quite often we were caught by the farmer and given a kick up the backside or cracked across the legs with a stick.

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Turnips and potatoes were often pinched from the fields.

Spending money was not given in those days, and if it was, it was usually borrowed back by our mams a day or two later.

On one occasion my brother and myself were asked to go to the shop to fetch some cooking apples.

The nearby orchard was full of ripe, red apples.

Here was an opportunity to “earn” some spend.

What should have been a five-minute journey took us half an hour and it earned us a good hiding from Mam.

During summer, we had double summer time.

We now alter the clocks for one hour during the summer, but during the war, another hour was added so that it was light almost to midnight and we didn't feel like going to bed when it was light. (Mothers are funny people, aren't they?)

When an air raid warning was sounded during the night we were allowed to go to school at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. and if the siren went off in the early hours of the morning we didn't have to go to school until after dinner.

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School dinners were the only hot meals available to most children.

Sandwiches were not allowed.

At the morning break, we had a bottle of milk and we had to drink it whether we liked it or not.

Fortunately I did and still do.

The farm next to the school was a dairy farm and the farmer sometimes let us have a scoop of cream off the top of a milk chum.

It was delicious. Do you know, you should never, ever, as a child, drink milk that is skimmed or semi-skimmed, it is not good for you.

In autumn, when apples and pears were plentiful, we used to sit in front of the coal fire and peel them, take the cores out with a special tool, then slice them into rings.

These were then placed near the fire to dry out for use later on, in the winter and spring.

Gooseberries were bottled.

Rhubarb makes a smashing pudding with custard.

Mothers were very good at baking; all sorts of delicious things were made from very little.

The bread was baked on a Thursday or Friday.

The dough was placed in a big dish in front of the fire so that it rose.

It was then put into bread tins to make a few loaves of bread.

A lump of dough was put to one side to make a large teacake, which went into the oven bottom.

This was for tea when we got home from school.

It was cut into long thin strips, and margarine, lard, jam was spread on.

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Domestic Routines

Washing was done on Mondays, Tuesday for ironing.

No electric irons in those days, they were put on the hob near the coil fire.

The coal was delivered and dumped outside the coalhouse; it was my job to shovel it into coalhouse.

Colliers had their coal delivered from the pit by lorry at one ton at a time.

My younger brother and myself used to shovel into wheelbarrows and put it into their coalhouses.

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He was responsible for repairing the radios in aircraft, especially the ones that flew the British spies into France.
Laurence Perry

For doing this we used to get two free barrows full for our house.

It used to take us ages because the wheelbarrow was a very heavy wood one.

Sometimes the colliers came when we were still struggling and (would) do the job themselves, but we still got the coal.

My dad was stationed on an airfield on the south coast of England.

He was responsible for repairing the radios in aircraft, especially the ones that flew the British spies into France.

The bonus was that dad would occasionally send us peaches that the spies had brought back from France.

Of course, we didn't know this at the time.

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When I think about things, we were brought up by our mothers for five or six years, with no father to look after us.

One-parent families have a lot of help today.

We didn't and we were better for it.

We didn't turn to crime to solve our lack of money; we just accepted it.

We didn't have television for entertainment.

Some didn't even have a radio.

We made our entertainment.

Toys were made from imagination using almost anything that suited us.

If you really want to know what it was like during the war, I suggest you ask the teacher to arrange a visit to Eden Camp at Malton in Yorkshire.

It's a smashing day out.

When we went to school we had to carry a gas mask with us.

This was kept in a special box, which was hung round our necks on a length of string.

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The Village

I was brought up in a village, which is on a hilltop, much like Brinscall, with old stone quarries on one side, steep hills on the other sides.

One side led down to a beck which had all soft of fish in it including brook trout and fresh water shrimps.

On one side of the village, an old ruined hall, which Cromwell knocked down, has a moat around it and we used to try and dig fresh water oysters out of the mud to try and find a pearl.

We didn't know at the time that fresh water oysters didn't have pearls, but it's good getting filthy.

Being young we couldn't understand why our mothers played hummer with us.

After all, it soon washed off our clothes because when we put our clothes on next morning they were always clean. (But mothers are funny people, aren't they?)

We were able to wander all over the fields and woods, which surrounded the village.

We were soldiers hunting down the Germans; we were cowboys ambushing the Indians; we were Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

In the woods we played at being Tarzan with clothes lines “borrowed” from our mothers. (Mothers are funny people, aren't they?)

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The becks and brooks at the bottom of the hill were meant to be dammed up to make big lakes behind them so that we could fall in and get wet through. (Mothers are funny people, aren't they; they just don't understand children).

Games, all played in the streets, included cricket football, hide and seek, squat can (a form of hide and seek), hop-scotch, whip and top, knell and spur, skipping with clothes lines stretched across the road, usually tied to a lamp post so that only one person turned the rope.

Another game was “hedge hopping” which involved running and jumping over the hedges of all the neighbours' front gardens, round the back of someone's house and then repeating the game over the back gardens, hoping nobody saw us because grown-ups are funny people, aren't they? (They just don't understand children).

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Games and Mischief

Cricket and football were often interrupted by the local policeman, P.C. Dick Haw.

He would suddenly appear around the corner and scold us for playing in the street.

But on other occasions he would not only not stop us but teach us how to hold a bat or bowl a ball.

We could never be sure what he would do. (Policemen are funny people.)

We used to make catapults out of a forked branch cut from the middle of hedge in someone's front garden.

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P.C. Haw, if he caught us with a catapult, broke the forked branch.
Laurence Perry

The rubber was cut from an old bike inner tube, the pouch from the tongue of an old shoe or boot.

P.C. Haw, if he caught us with a catapult, broke the forked branch.

When another policeman was on duty he used to break the branch, but worst of all, he cut the rubber and the pouch.

Now that was rotten.

On two sides of the village were collieries.

One had coke ovens alongside and the quenching of the coke was a sight to see, especially at night.

We used to play on the slack heaps.

Now a slack heap is made up of waste coal dust shale, which sandwiches the coal when it's underground.

We used to find a piece of old cardboard box and slide down. (Mothers are funny people, aren't they?)

Just because we came home with a bit of a tear in our trousers or jumpers, sometimes both.

The coal dust didn't help, I suppose.

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Lads, as usual, were prone to tearing and wearing out trousers, mainly in the backside.

Sliding down grass banks didn't help.

Trousers were patched on the backside, the patches usually a round shape and often in a different colour to the trousers.

Shoes were trodden down on the heels, mainly because we were too idle to undo or do up the laces.

Some boys wore clogs with iron treads and toecaps.

Playing football was dangerous with those lads.

When holes appeared in the soles, the usual thing was to put in cardboard insole.

This was all right when the weather was dry but when it rained we had soggy feet.

On the way home from school, at a certain time of the year we collected pockets full of baby frogs and waited for the local bus to pass by.

In those days, the double-decker buses had a platform at the back where the passengers got on and off.

The fares were collected by a bus conductor.

However, the bus had to pass us going up a steep hill and on passing, we threw all frogs onto and into the bus.

We then climbed over a wall and run away across the fields. (Some people have no sense of humour.)

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During the war, the army used to practise being soldiers in the woods nearby.

A favourite game was to go and spot where the camouflaged soldiers were hiding and shout to the other soldiers where the hidden soldiers were.

I don't think that they were pleased.

We made our own bows and arrows.

Guns were made from bits of wood nailed together.

We made our own carts from old pram wheels, bits of wood and any old nails we could find.

This was the same for sledges.

The hills around the village were covered in bracken, long grass and gorse.

They used to bum very well. Mind you, we could also run away quite fast.

Silly things used to happen.

We would challenge the other lads in the village at the bottom of the hill to a fight.

This would usually involve us throwing or rolling stones down the hill.

Now, you try throwing or rolling stones up a hill.

Who is going to win?

Thankfully nobody was ever hurt and the day after we were usually pals.

I remember once I had been hit on my eyebrow with a stone and was cut.

I ran home screaming my head off.

My uncle was home on leave and was visiting my mam.

He tried to stop me from yelling my head off by showing his army revolver.

But no, I could not be consoled.

The day after I was miserable, not because of the cut but because I missed holding uncle's revolver, something I still regret even though I'm nearly a hundred (67, at the time of the interview).

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The School

The school playground was a rough area of land with no grass or tarmac.

It was full of large stones so that [a game] such as football was not possible.

Marbles, piggyback, skipping, vaulting, tagging and other team games were played.

Mind you, football was always played with an old tennis ball or something like that.

Footballs were not to be found except at school.

Footballs in those days were made of leather and when the football field was wet the leather soaked up the wet.

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The day after I was miserable, not because of the cut but because I missed holding uncle's revolver...
Laurence Perry

You never tried to head it unless you wanted your head knocking off.

The toilets were outside.

The school was usually cold in winter.

We had a school garden in the local rectory grounds where we grew a large amount of vegetables for the school dinners.

Don't forget - we were only five to eleven year olds, and we had to dig, plant seeds, weed and harvest.

The Yorkshire Penny Bank had a system of saving money by collecting at school.

We saved pennies.

Today, I suppose it would be like saving 25p a week - not much, but it added up.

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Christmas

Christmas was different in wartime days.

We hung up our pillow cases and left a mince pie and a drink of tea for Santa.

In the morning, we used to get up at about three, no four, no five. (Mothers are funny people, aren't they?)

We used to find an apple or two, an orange, a bar of chocolate, a toy, and some money an uncle used to leave us.

We had the money for a short time, then mam borrowed it.

We never really missed it - after all there was nothing to spend it on.

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