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Wartime Childhood by P. Stewart

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 P. Stewart from the 'Writing Together' group reminisced about her experiences as a child during the War. This is her story, in her own words:

My most vivid memory of the war was when I was about ten years old. My family used to go to Hutton Rugby for our holidays in the summer, where we used to rent a bungalow. One night we heard the bombers flying overhead, presumably to “blanket bomb” cities in Europe. They made a distinctive sound flying out, as they were heavy laden with fuel and bombs. We always counted them out and likewise on their return, but the sound of their engines on their homecoming was completely different, as they had dwindling supplies of fuel and their bombs had been dropped.

This particular evening as I counted them back I was certain that there were two which had not returned. My mother, not wanting to upset me, assured me I must have made a mistake. Aircraft which hadn’t returned were said to be “missing” and this was the case the following morning on a radio bulletin. Later that night, I heard an aircraft, in obvious distress – which was always a distinctive sound. Of course, it was the blackout and it was especially dark in the countryside, but as I looked out, I could see searchlights, which were usually used to look for enemy aircraft during an air raid, moving in unison. They must have used searchlights from the whole area. They all moved first up, into the sky, and then, all together, down to the ground, to the same spot, many times over. It was a very moving experience, watching those searchlights moving as if by some unseen hand, guiding the stricken aircraft to its own aerodrome. I assume the lights must have been guiding the aircraft to Dishforth aerodrome, but exactly to which place I cannot be certain.

During the War clothes and food were all rationed. My mother was an expert dressmaker and also good at altering clothes, so quite often I would have a coat or jacket altered to fit me which she had been given by a relative who somehow or other managed to get clothes quite easily. Black market probably! Rationing made life difficult. I think the then council approached the government for extra soap powder as we lived in a hard water area but this was refused. Ration books came in different colours for different age groups; green up to five years, blue up to sixteen years of age – there were extra coupons in this book for shoes for growing feet – and buff for adults, all of which were obtained from the Food Office. Clothing coupons were located in the back of the ration book.

My sister, Jean, was a fire watcher. She volunteered to do this once a week – no pay! She worked with Steam Navigation which was above Lloyds Bank in Church Square. Fire watching entailed looking out for incendiary bombs which might hit the building during an air raid. Two people took it in turns to do this, two from the bank and the next night, two from Steam Navigation. She was only given a stirrup pump to put out any fires, but she never had cause to use it.

When the war had been going on a short while the cinemas and dance halls began to get going again after being closed down at the start and I used to go to the dances – in St Paul’s Hall in Murray Street, (after the soldiers had left who were stationed there for a time) the Dalton Rooms in Dalton Street (I was at a dance there with my brother who was on leave from the Royal Navy when we heard about the sinking of the Ark Royal with the loss of all but three lives). One of the victims was the son of a family friend called Albert Potts and he had only been on the ship for three days.

In all, we in West Hartlepool were fairly fortunate in that we did not have too many air raids, although those we did have caused a fair amount of damage, one of them destroyed the Salvation Army Headquarters which were on Stockton Street where the present multi-storey car park is.


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