Memories in a living memoriam
By Simon Quinn
Memories in a living memoriam
By Simon Quinn
These are just some of the stories and lifelong anecdotes collated from the people who now reside in Longford Court, High fields, Caxton Court, St. Barbara’s House and Grace Moor in Cannock and Rugeley.
Four ladies from High fields, Chadsmoor describe their lives during the Second World War. Many people migrated to the Cannock Chase area from different parts of the country throughout the 1940’s.
School life in the Second city also proved to very different from today, as Rose recalled. ‘If there was bomb damage or for the purposes of safety, lessons were sometimes transferred to other places, I remember that happening when our lessons were move to a café in Balsall Heath.’
‘I worked in the Birds Custard Factory in the Deritend area of Birmingham in wartime, albeit in the office. I used to get 10 shillings a week which was a lot of money then and I worked nine ‘till five, Monday to Friday and most Saturday mornings.’
‘I lived around Yardley before coming to Cannock, and I lived near to a recreation ground in Yardley. There were four big artillery guns nearby and a soldier’s camp. Loud they were, those guns when they boomed in the middle of the night. There used to be a lot of shrapnel about after a big air raid and I always remember some kids used to go collecting them.’
Olive remembered the difficult decision made for her when it came to serving her country.
‘I volunteered to serve in the WACS (Women’s Army Corps), but I was half an inch too short to be accepted, so I ended up working on the buses as a clippie.’
‘My family life was spent in Newton Abbott, my husband was a miner hence my move to the Cannock area. I do remember obviously, living not that far from the city of Plymouth and remember how horribly bombed it was. In fact around that time things were so dangerous when the bombing in that location was intensified, that sometimes we were prevented from going to different events and were even stopped once from going to Church.’
There is something of a similarity in Jean’s life to that of the late Private Alfred Walters,
‘My youngest brother served in World War Two, he was based in Cyprus as a despatch rider.’
Jean still has in her possession a clutch of photographs to affectionately remind her of her family past.
Above, an example of an old abandoned empty bunker interior with white walls and rusted constructions.
‘My father was Italian and he was a partisan fighter for his country, I was born just after the Second World War and I had to obtain a special work permit before being allowed to live in the UK. I had friends who have told me since that in the Cannock area in the war, road signs were removed so if any enemy had invaded, they would not have found their way around the location.’
There were some ‘aliens’ however who were more than welcome, particularly as Eileen from Longford recalled. ‘There were American bases in and around Cannock Chase and of course some of the girls were taken by them Yanks-me included! They had things that we girls had never come across before like nylons, cigarettes, razor blades. Before we had nylons we used to draw a lipstick line up the back of our legs to get their attention at some of the local dances that took place in and around the area.’
Transport in 2014 and in a modern contemporary global society is almost taken for granted, but as Fred another Cannock resident recalled, in the Second World War and in Cannock Chase, the sight of a motor vehicle of any description was indeed a rare commodity, ‘There was no motor cars then, well not many. In fact the only person I can remember having a car was the midwife who was, I think, supplied with one to get to expectant mothers without haste. The only other people I can remember having any transport of any description was the milkman and the baker who both had a horse and cart to deliver their goods.’
He also pointed out that key innovations were tantamount to the overall history and heritage to Cannock Chase’s importance in the Second World War, in addition to its much vaunted German Cemetery, ‘Nearby Kick bag Hill, there was a railway line and station for RAF Officers and soldiers, and in Birches Valley there was a concrete bunker especially made for aircraft guns. I suppose the forestry mad it an ideal area of concealment from the enemy.
‘I remember the lack of food. I mean we never saw fruit, well not that I can recall and I remember my Mother getting the families ration of butter, which then was about an ounce for the week.’
Mary was born in 1925 and recollected how she was one of many thousands of young girls who undertook an extremely dangerous job during the hostilities, I along with many others worked in an ammunitions factory. I got paid seven pounds a week. When the men joined up to fight, the women went into the factories to make the shells and the bullets. The one thing I remember above all else was that the paintwork on the shells had to be perfect to be fired from a gun. The only men who worked there, were those who were past conscription age or who had something medically wrong with them that prevented them from going into the forces.’
Like so many women, Jean married a soldier, but unlike so many other men in the forces, her husband was not one for reminiscence, as she pointed out, ‘After the war had finished, and for many years afterwards, my husband had countless number of invitations to army reunions, but he never accepted any of them. To him, ‘what was done, was done’, so he just saw it as a job, something that had to be carried out.’
‘I remember being 14 and working as an apprentice in a factory that made dynamo’s, I took over from a young lad who was called up to go to war. In those times so many of us girls took over boys jobs ‘cos they went off to fight. I met my Len who was then a soldier in the North Staffs, South Staffs regiment, but eventually he also served in the Merchant Navy and they of course lost a lot of ships during the war. We got married in Wimblebury Chapel and he was actually billeted at our home.’
‘Christmas in the war was about making something out of nothing. There was no fancy decorations then, we used to make our Christmas decorations out of crepe paper. As kids we would have a stocking hanging over the bed or the fireplace and they would have an apple and an orange and some nuts stuffed inside them and if you were very lucky a small tin of sweets. I don’t know what it was then, but we seemed to have snow every Christmastime and all through the winter.’
‘In the bottom of your stocking, the prized present; if you were lucky, was getting a brand new shiny penny, and I also remember that for decoration the mince pies used to have cotton wool on the top.’
Then she talked about some of the events of her childhood of that era, ‘Sunday school anniversaries were very popular then, I did remember day trips to Rhyl, Blackpool, Llandudno and New Brighton. We used to have chats over spam sandwiches and scones. I remember in the house, part of our rations was powdered egg and you would get so much per week.
Food was very much in the mind of Janet from Cannock, ‘Food was very basic in those days. I can remember smelling the aroma from and then eating tripe, brains, pig’s trotters, pickled herrings, and cow’s hooves. Not stuff you would eat nowadays.’
‘I remember a searchlight over Chase Hill, picking out the planes and bombs. And people think we didn’t have bombs dropping, but we did.’
Above, World War One Fighter, cock pit view
‘At that time, although I cannot remember the actual year, we took in two evacuees from Liverpool. That city was a dangerous place to live in during the war, and Cannock was semi-rural so it was a place where people moved to for safety.
Safety measures could seem almost archaic by today’s standards, but as Freda recalled, equally necessary, ‘At school, children would practice putting on a gas mask and that feeling of suffocation, or the getting used to wearing it was horrible, especially for young people. But even more extreme was what we had to do with babies. Sometimes you could spend up to six weeks down in an Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. Babies used to be put into a gas mask contraption-like a mechanical aqualung, to protect them.’
‘The air raid shelter was frightening, but funnily enough an exciting thing as well,’ remembered Pat.
Audrey explained further, ‘Whatever they made the shelters out of, would sometimes collapse, so in the daylight the kids would clamber on top of them and play on them as if they were a see-saw.’
Betty remembered the cold sweat of fear that everyone experienced at the time, ‘Everything was in darkness. Total blackout, no light whatsoever anywhere. We did have help from the local air raid wardens who would help people from all the surrounding streets to get down the shelters, and the medical corps were on hand to help out. Don’t forget we were close to RAF Hednesford, a target; and Pye Green was a demolition yard of crashed planes.’
Eileen cited just how the war effort was about people of all ages contributing to the cause,
‘I remember kids at school, those aged about 11, helping to dig the shelters, and I remember all the windows in the houses totally blacked out with any black or dark covers anyone could get their hands on. Also where food was concerned, in those days some families and houses would rear their own pigs and also a lot of them had chickens.’
Betty also remembered how in the war, people’s entertainment was very interactive and empathetic in value, ‘Families would sit round the table and play cards and dominoes. Sometimes we would play darts. Also I can remember sitting and listening to the wireless to such programmes like ITMA ( It’s That Man Again), Billy Cotton, Family Favourites, Dick Barton and The Man in Black, the last two would be a bit spooky!’
People who migrated here
Lack of food