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Air Raids and Babies by Edith Lund

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project Edith Lund reminisced about her life as a young mother in the War years. This is her story, in her own words:

I was married in 1938. I was living in Streatham Street and my husband was in the Artillery and I used to write him all these letters. Well I wrote him a letter and I wanted to post it to him. I took the little one, he was about a year and three months old, I took him with me to the Post Office which was in Whitby Street, which was quite a walk, because I wanted a stamp to put on it. So I put a stamp on and posted it in the box and I was coming back, and I just got into Musgrave Street and the siren went. Well, he couldn’t walk very far cos he was only a baby, so I picked him up and tried to run a bit, but I couldn’t. I put him down again and the warden in Musgrave Street said “get off the streets, didn’t you hear the siren go?” I said “yes, I heard it, but I can’t get home any quicker.” I was pregnant at the time, it was just before I had the baby, I think, and of course I couldn’t run very quick. I got round into Rokeby Street, just past the school, and all of a sudden me brother, he’d come home on leave from the Air Force, and he come racing down and he grabbed the baby and grabbed hold of me hand and he raced back with me, back to the house, got into the house, under the stairs. All of a sudden they dropped the bombs. And the poor warden I’d been speaking to, he was killed. I felt so sorry for him. Cos he was worried about me and he was killed hiself. Our roof was hit, and we were sitting underneath the stairs. It never come through the stairs, so we were lucky. Everything was shattered all over the stairs, parts of the roof; you could look straight up and see the sky. And the floor was about six to ten inches in soot, because everybody then had coal fires, so the chimney pots was down. The curtains and the window frame was out in the street. So how lucky, because people got worse than that because all those in Musgrave Street, the shops got knocked down, there was the fish shop called Moons, then there was a doctors and the cobblers, the Fruit Market, all knocked down, nothing left. I felt sorry for them, I did. Anyhow, we stopped under the stairs until the all-clear went, and we come out, we just couldn’t believe it.

Anyway, we got over it, and got the house all cleaned up and everything. Took some doing; I could smell soot for weeks after. I lived in the house on my own with the children. We had two bedrooms and a sitting room and a kitchen. Outside loo and an outside coalhouse. There was a fireman, Mr Mitchell, they called him, lived three doors from us and he got the signal when he was wanted. He had to go straight to …just past Burbank Street there was a place where all the firemen were and when he got the alert we knew the air raid siren would be going any minute. So we used to get the kids, get them all ready, get the gas masks and everything and be all ready for when the siren went and then we’d run straight to the shelter and we’d sit there all night. Oh, there must have been eighty to a hundred people in those shelters. Just wooden forms all the way round and some people would lay blankets down and go to sleep, but I had two babies so I couldn’t sleep. Once when I was in this shelter, my brother was on leave and he sat with me and I felt as if I was going to pass out. I said “I’ll have to have some fresh air, I can’t breathe”. He said “come on, I’ll take you on top”. So we had to go up these steps to get out of this shelter. The warden said “where are you going? The air raids on, you know”. Then all of a sudden we heard the planes. Me brother was in the Air Force and he was listening. He said “that one’s not ours”. All of a sudden a plane swooped down and he pushed me down the stairs and he jumped down after me and the warden come in after us and managed to slam the doors shut. You could hear, it went all over the doors – he dived down and it was firing at the air raid shelter as we went in again. So that was twice I nearly had it!

If you went to the pictures and the siren went anybody who wanted could go out to the shelters. There was a shelter in Grange Road; it used to be a big field there, they called it the Bull Field and they had a big shelter on there. Those that didn’t want to they’d sit right underneath where the circle is. This one night – I never used to get out – me dad said “go on, go to the pictures, I’ll keep an eye to the kids”. Well all of a sudden it come on the screen “the siren’s just gone”, so I jumped up straight away, I wasn’t going to leave the kids with me dad. Just as I got into Stockton Street I heard this plane zooming down so I went into a shop doorway; it was a jewellery shop and I crouched right down. And all of a sudden I seen this plane and it was just like a beautiful big silver brooch and all the searchlights was on it. And it looked so beautiful. And I thought “eeh, that must be one of them, they must be going to shoot it down.” Then all of a sudden another one zoomed down and started firing at all the shop windows. And I was crouched right in the corner on the floor and all the glass windows in the shop was all shot, all smithereens and pieces. As soon as it went off I ran all the way home until I got to the house and me mother said “where have you been when they were dropping the bombs?” When I told her she said “oh, you shouldn’t have gone to the pictures”.

I kept moving around because I was frightened of the bombs and thinking I’d escape them. I went to live in Mainsforth Terrace and downstairs there was a cellar. I was in there with the two babies and there was a raid on and I was terrified and I daren’t go down the cellar because I kept hearing noises. I thought “there’s somebody gone in the cellar” and I was scared to death. I took the babies and got underneath the bed – I don’t know what I thought that would do! When he come home he went downstairs to have a look. He come back up, he said “ don’t ever go down there – it’s full of rats!” So I had to move again! I moved about half a dozen times, I was like a gypsy – one place to another.

Rations! Oh, my God, they were a headache. We didn’t have a lot of money so we couldn’t buy a lot of sweets, but we used to make a special day for the kids to have the sweets. Him being in the army, he sent me a food parcel once. There was all sorts in it. There was chocolate in for the kids and there was butter, there was even eggs in and all sorts and oh, I was over the moon! So my next-door neighbour, I helped her a bit. But that’s what you had to do, you had to help each other. I helped them all, but they helped me so it’s only fair. I used to take a coat of mine, cut it up and make trousers for my little lads and I used to do it all by hand, I didn’t have a sewing machine. Once a saw a remnant in a shop, a bit of satin and it was beautiful and it only cost coppers because it was only in pieces. It was a peach colour, and the other was very pale green with little flowers in it. So I bought it – I thought “what am I going to do with it?” So I made myself two pairs of French knickers! I showed me neighbour and everybody in the street wanted me to make them French knickers. My knickers went all the way round the street! I was knitting jumpers while I could, while you could get the wool. I used to make the hooky mats; clip mats with the old socks. I used to wash them and cut them up into little strips and take a peg and break it in half get the kids and show them how to do it. And I had all the kids helping me and I made a great big hooky mat and it was all framed black all the way round and coloured in the centre and it was lovely. But there was only one thing; it was too heavy, I couldn’t shake it. The kids had to help me.

When we were washing we used to have all our lines out in the back lane, right across from one end of the lane to the other. I’d get up at half past six in the morning to get me lines out. Then the coal man would come round with his horse and cart, they called him Tommy Burbeck, and he’d shout “Coal!” so we knew he was coming, so we’d take the sheets off and put the prop to hold them right up. But then the bin men used to come round, and their’s used to be a horse and cart and they used to just come and knock all the sheets down and everything; they didn’t care, they were really nasty. And the sheets used to always be lovely and white. We used to scrub everything. We had a big wooden tub and a big poss stick  - mind we had to be strong. I had a big wooden table outside in the back yard and I’ve stood out there in the snow. I had a cape round me neck what he got in the army – it was a waterproof and he gave me it. And I would scrub everything and I would put it in the poss tub and give it a good poss and then put them through the little mangle and then put it in a copper and put all the fire underneath. The only way I used to get my copper going was I used to put old Wellingtons in and the flames used to come out the top and then the water would boil. We used to boil everything, all our clothes because although we had nothing we were spotless. I used to boil them all, then put them back in a big tub of water, poss them all again. No wonder we had big arms! Then we had to hang them on the line and try and dry them. And if we couldn’t get them dry we’d have to dry them round the fire, oh….Washday started on the morning and it was teatime before we got finished and then we were still trying to dry them round the fire. Then there was the ironing after that. The irons we used to put on the fire, I had two of them. Me dad used to work the shipyard. He used to make me pokers and shovels and all sorts. We couldn’t do any papering because you couldn’t get paper then, so we used to keep the newspapers and I used to paper the wall with newspapers and then it was called distemper, and I used to do it all nice colour, very pale colour, and then I’d go and get me husband’s shaving brush and I’d get a different colour and I’d make little marks like little roses all over. You had to improvise for everything you wanted. They were hard times, but it’s a funny thing, when the war was over you seemed to miss it, because it had been excitement as well.

When Sammy come home, of course, I had another baby. That’s what happened then, because there was no preventions, nothing like that then. So every time they come home on leave they used to always leave something behind! So I was expecting a baby and of course you couldn’t get the ambulance then, because it was all for the war; they had all the ambulances, so I had to have a taxi. And I was booked in at Grantully Nursing Home because I used to have terrible times having me babies, they were always breach babies and so the nurse said “you’ll have to go into hospital next time.” I had the first one at home and I nearly lost me life, and they said “you should have them in hospital”. The second one I had at home and I lived in Grace Street then. I had such a time, the nurse couldn’t bring the baby and in the finish she brought the baby and she said “it’s a shame, it’s a beautiful baby boy, but he’s died”. And they put him on the chair and this old lady, she was about eighty, she picked the baby up and the nurse was messing on with me because I had such a bad time and all of a sudden I heard the baby cry. The nurse said “how did you do it?” She’d been breathing into his mouth. The old woman brought him round. So this time they took me to Grantully. The air raid siren was going as we got into Grantully, and they got me in and they put me on this bed, like, and they were saying “you’ll have to try and push” – well it was a breach baby, you couldn’t do anything about it! They were trying and trying and at the finish they said “you’re not ready to have it yet” and they just left me! They went away and I was in torture. Then all of a sudden the siren went again and then they started dropping bombs so they had to get hold of me and pull me up the bed. I said “the baby’s coming!” They said “well you can’t have it now, you should have had it before” as if I had a choice in it! And so in the finish they had to stop while they were dropping the bombs, I had the baby, then they said “quick, you’ll have to get down in the cellar”. I just collapsed on the floor, I couldn’t walk. So a nurse got hold of me hand and she wrapped the baby in something and they took us all down in the cellar and they brought all the babies and they gave me a baby to hold. And then when we got back upstairs we found out I hadn’t the right baby! It was someone else’s baby – it was a little girl and mine was a little boy! After my husband come home, he said “that’s not my baby”, but when he grew up he was the image of him!

You had to pay for a doctor in those days, sixpence a week, and my poor doctor never got his sixpence. Nobody paid. Some doctors you had to, but mine was Dr Hillis, he was such a good doctor. I paid for quite a while and then I couldn’t pay much more. Me first baby, it was a nurse from Grantully who come to see me. It was a breach baby and she didn’t know anything to do. She didn’t know how to bring it, so she just sat there. And there was a neighbour with her, ever so many people, all sitting there having a cup of tea and I was under the table screaming in agony. And a neighbour went round for my doctor and he come round in his car in his pyjamas and he borrowed an apron off somebody and he give me something to knock me out. Anyhow he gradually got the baby out, and he got me in bed and he chased the nurse. He said “go back to Grantully Nursing Home and be taught how to deliver a baby.”  And he come in every day till I got all right and he was really smashing. And when I went to pay he said “can you afford that? Leave it this week.” How many doctors would you find like that these days? I had four lads at the finish born during the war, and two girls born after the war.

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