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Heroes Of Our Time

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J Wakefield nee Baker

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My memories of 1939 - 45


At the beginning of the second World war I was nine years old and the second eldest of our family living in Gorleston near Great Yarmouth on the east coast of Norfolk with my sister Jean and brothers Reg and Tony and attending Stradbrooke Junior School at Gorleston.


My elder brother Fred was already in the navy having joined At the age of 16 he went on to serve in the same ship as the Duke of Edinburgh.


Soon after war was declared we were all issued with gasmasks which we all had to go and be fitted with they fitted into a brown cardboard box which had string slotted through it and we had to carry them everywhere we went babies like Tony were fitted with ones which fitted over the pram, these were nicknamed Micky Mouse masks.

Families were also issued with Anderson shelters which were dug into the garden and the roofs covered with sand bags and soil they were made from corrugated iron and although they were very cold you made them as comfortable as possible with a supply of candles and blankets to keep warm. Some people who did not have a garden or were unable to get into a garden shelter because of age or disability were issued with indoor shelters which were a bit like big cages put on the floor they were made of steel and had to be crawled into, they were called Morrison shelters As soon as the air raid siren was sounded, we all had to put on our gasmasks and get into the shelters as quick as possible and stay till the all clear went. It was nearly always at night and we children thought it was great fun. But then of course we had no idea then what it was really all about not so our poor elders who had probably experienced something of the horrors of world war 1. Some places had big communal air raid shelters. Later on when we were evacuated I never saw another shelter


We learnt to distinguish between the sound of our own aircraft and the Germans the German ones had a distinctive drone and as soon as daylight began to fade and had to have a light on a black out curtain was put over the windows so no chink of light could be seen from outside, there were no street lights allowed for obvious reasons and air raid wardens patrolled streets making sure no lights were showing


After the Germans began bombing Gt Yarmouth , It was decided that all school children and even younger ones were to be evacuated away inland where it was considered to be safer. It was the same up and down the country . I remember some Yarmouth children were evacuated to Scotland, But we were sent to Nottinghamshire.


One morning we were all put onto a bus along with other children from our area we each had our gas mask boxes on our names pinned to our chests, and carried our spare clothes in a brown paper parcel. A teacher and our Head Master went with us, I think we were told that we were going away for a short while , and I remember we were all waving goodbye to our parents not realising that it would be quite a while before we saw them again, Dad who was in the RAF, was allowed compassionate leave to see us off Mum and Dad along with other parents were crying as they waved us goodbye . They were wondering what they had let their children in for. It was a terrible decision for them to make, as it was all done very quickly.


Being children having a bus ride not knowing where we were going and kissing goodbye to tearful parents and our little brother was rather upsetting and daunting as we wondered where we were all going. I can’t remember which station the bus took us to. But I remember the train stopping at Peterborough where we were given refreshments . We finally arrived at a place called Bircotes which was to be our home for over a year. We were then  taken into the school for some refreshments. Afterwards we were all taken on a short walk and lined up outside each street as each householder who had arranged to have an evacuee come out and picked who they wanted ,gradually the line got smaller, then a lady choose Jean as she had a daughter of about the same age she was about seven, and the lady next door who happened to be her sister in law choose Reggie as she had lost a little boy who  would have been about the same age about four years , We were then told to move along to the next street, but I told them that mum had told me that as I was the oldest I was to make sure that we all kept together and I was to look after them. There was a discussion among the grown ups and then the lady who had chosen Reggie said she would take me as well So we were lucky that we were able to live next door to each other.


Bircotes was a nice little place with the shops along one side of a long street an indoor market. I remember the fish and chip shop where you could always ask if they had any pieces which were little pieces of batter that were scooped off the hot fat and given free they also fried scallops which were sliced potatoes dipped in batter and fried, I have never found them anywhere else there was a little cinema where we children could go to the Saturday  matinee.

I think my biggest impression of Bircotes was the coal mine with the huge slagheaps which always filled the air with an unmistakable smell of sulphur and all the men there worked down the mine we watched them going off to work each day all dressed alike with the black clothes and lamps on the front of their hats, carrying  their sandwiches in metal tins. with their clogs clattering on the cobble stones, when they came home from working their shift they would be as black as the coal they mined but luckily the houses in the street where we were all had bathrooms and the living rooms had a cooking range which heated the water, the pits didn’t have the showers then.


The nearest town Bawtry was a bus trip on a Saturday night for the miners to get together to enjoy billiards and darts in the working mans club and wives and children could go into another room to enjoy a gossip and a drink and children could enjoy a bag of crisps and lemonade this was  a new experience for me Jean and Reggie we all looked forward to those Saturday nights out.


We shared the local school having our own teachers teaching us and when we were old enough to sit the eleven plus, our exam papers were sent from Yarmouth. We attended the Methodist Sunday school every Sunday afternoon and evening as we had at home.


One day when we came out of school we found a group of Gurkhas resting by the roadside they seemed very pleased to see us and although we could not understand them and they could not understand us they laughed and talked to us.


Mum once came to visit us for a few days at Bircotes and was going to bring Tony , but at the last minute he had caught measles and she could not bring him, we were disappointed not to see him.


One day our teachers informed us of the sad news that Some of the children from our school at Gorleston who stayed behind because their parents did not want them to go away, had been killed by tracer bullets as they walked home from school. German planes possible heading home from raids on London would fly low over the  town and fire their guns at people as they walked in the street.


Mum was beginning to find it very hard to manage money wise as she had to send money for our keep and buy whatever clothes we needed as well as to keep herself and tony.


We had relatives living around Briston in north Norfolk and after finding a cottage close by she decided to bring us all home again to live there. We had been evacuated for just over a year. We later learnt that our old house in Gorleston was bombed along with others.