Wartime in Knostrop

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Blog Knostrop at war.Wartime in Knostrop (East Leeds) is the story for July – but before that I would like to bring to attention that the film: Brought to Justice – produced by the children of Ellerby Lane School (Cross Green) in 1953 and directed by Mary Miner, at the time a schoolgirl herself, has come to light. Anyone interested in receiving a copy,  now on DVD or who has any information regarding this film – would they please leave a comment on here.   Regarding Wartime in Knostrop these are my own memories of life in Knostrop during the Second World War. I was born in Knostrop in December 1937 and just about remember: the air raids, the black out, food deprivation, the battle of Britain and the ‘black market’.   

                                     WARTIME in KNOSTROP

                                                By Pete Wood

Folk would paint you pictures of the fruit we could expect when the war was over: bananas, oranges, grapes and pomegranates. Pomegranates turned out to be a great disappointment for me, they were built up to be something so special and yet when I finally got to try one it tasted of nothing – just a bit of red water and a seed, if you were unlucky enough to put the yellow part in your mouth it tasted really bitter.  A thriving ‘black market’ was alive and well during the War: it was considered to be antisocial of course but nevertheless like all forbidden fruits: exciting. I reckon most folk would take a chance of delving into the black market on a small scale if they thought they could get away with it.  I suppose it was a bit like being a bit ‘sparing’ with the truth on an income tax return, ‘nice work if you could get it!’ Most folk wouldn’t find it untoward to try for a bit of butter or sugar ‘under the counter’ if they could. People would be counted as lucky rather than as rogues if they had managed to hang a leg of pork up in their pantry (there were few fridges around for domestic use in the forties). Others might be a bit more daring and have a drum of petrol buried in the garden. Of course, there’d be a real flap on if police appeared on the scene but it was worth a bit of danger if you managed to get away with it and the blackout made it easier.

People who had not been called up into the armed forces for some reason or other, perhaps because they were too old or less than a hundred percent fit, would be called upon to do Civil Defence duties such as: fire watching or as air raid wardens.  Most of these old guys took their job real seriously and I’m convinced it gave them a new lease of life to know they were contributing to the war effort.  Every night they would be out in the yard or streets keeping watch; if you opened the door and let out the smallest chink of light you were likely to hear a resounding chorus of  ‘Put that light out!’ One of Knostrop’s mansions – ‘Knostrop House,’ better known to as; ‘Ryders’, the name of a former occupant – had a somewhat eccentric, foreign servant; the old fire watcher guys were convinced she was a German spy using a torch to signal to enemy aircraft. ‘There she goes again, the silly old b…’ would be the cry if they saw a torch flash in the vicinity of the mansion and off they would go to sort it out.

The blackout lasted for several years, during that time, we had no street lamps, and the car headlights were cut to mere slits so they could not be seen from the air. I had an uncle who had the job of masking out the traffic lights outside the Dyneley Arms at dusk on weekends. The Dyneley Arms being a pub located on the crossroads at the top of Pool bank. He had to walk many a mile to complete this task and then had to return across the fields in the dark having completed the job.

There was one particular period in the early 1940s when the wail of the sirens would wake us almost every night. It was the signal that an air raid was imminent.  Coats would go on over night attire: in fact there was a special all over garment produced just for this occasion: the ‘siren suite’. That’s where the name originated. If you were little you would be plucked up into the air and rushed to the air raid shelter. I can remember my father tripping and falling with me but he had me again before I even touched the ground. Some families had their cellars reinforced to act as a shelter, which may have protected the family from falling masonry but as was the case with almost any shelter; a direct hit and you’d had it!  Some others had communal shelters built of brick.

Our shelter was the ‘Anderson’ type made from corrugated iron with a semi-circular roof. The shelters came in kit form and had to be assembled by the householder with the aid of diagrams, spanners and numerous nuts and bolts. Then the shelter had to be sunk into the ground in a pre-prepared hole. Maximum protection was achieved by piling earth across the top, which would eventually sprout weeds and miscellaneous vegetation. As the floor of the shelter was now probably below the water table it would likely fill with water. ‘Duck boards’ were provided in order to keep feet off the damp ground but these tended to float on the top of the water.   On one occasion when my mother was showing our shelter off to a neighbour who hadn’t yet received hers she was too late to stop the neighbour stepping onto the floating boards and disappearing up to the waist in cold water. To offset the water problems families were issued with ‘stirrup pumps’ with which to pump out the shelters before darkness on a daily basis, the German bombers rarely came in daylight.    

Inside the shelter we had a stove, which smoked badly and I can still smell and an oil lamp we had to provide minimum light.  There were things inside the shelter to keep me amused that were not allowed outside; no doubt the intention being to make the shelter like a treat for me and not as a place of fear. The first time I heard the guns go off; we had an ack ack battery nearby – we called them ‘pom poms’ I evidently said, ‘Who’s knocking at the door?’ Seemingly it gave the rest a laugh – but that’s one I can’t remember personally. The dog we had at the time though heard the guns and ‘took his hook’ we never saw him again.

Pauline has the following account of air raids at Knostrop: ‘I remember my mam waking me up and wrapping a blanket around me to carry me out to the air raid shelter while the sirens were going and the guns were firing. The artillery guns were quite close, I don’t know quite where, further down the lane, I think near the woods. It was very frightening the whole house was shaking. The tiny windows had been taped with brown sticky tape in a diamond pattern so they would not shatter into pieces. One particular night when mam was running to the shelter she went ‘smack’ into a black car, which had been parked outside the door. Being so dark (remember we could not show any kind of light during that which we called ‘the blackout’) anyway mam was heard to shout: ‘They’ve got me! They’ve got me!’ The shock was so great she thought she’d been shot.

When the aircraft came over you could distinguish the sound of our aircraft from the sound of the German bombers, theirs had a more irregular engine note than ours. People would ask, ‘Is it one of ours or one of theirs?’ and you would be able to tell them. The Germans had: Dorniers, Junkers and Heinkels, these were two engine bombers. We had the Lancaster and the Halifax bombers which both had four engines as well as several different types of two engine bombers. The Americans, who carried out their bombing raids by day, had ‘Flying Fortresses’, they were huge with four engines and gun blisters everywhere. They also had a plane called a ‘Dakota’, which had two engines and as the furthest engine away tended to be masked by the fuselage it always seemed to the eye that one of the engines was missing. We became familiar with the sight of our aircraft for we saw them in daytime; you began to recognize them by their shape, number of engines and tail fins etc. You could only become familiar and recognize the German aircraft by their engine note because coming only at night you never actually saw them, just heard them. The spitfire made the smoothest noise of all, it was a hero and the note of its Rolls Royce Merlin engine is still unmistakable to any who heard it.  In the mornings after a raid we would hunt ‘shrapnel’ which was the rusty metal from exploded shell casings. My mother would say, ’Don’t pick anything nasty up’. She was probably referring to the explosive anti-personnel devices that the German’s were dropping, but with her saying ‘something nasty’ I was expecting these items to look something like dog droppings. In actual fact, between August 1940 and August 1942 there were 87 alerts in Leeds, but only nine air raids. In this period 77 people were killed and 327 injured. 197 buildings were destroyed and 7,623 damaged

(Illustrated History of Leeds)

We’d listen expectantly to the news bulletins too. At the end of each bulletin the announcer would say; ‘Today the RAF shot down ……enemy aircraft for the loss of….. our own.’ This would probably been ‘Battle of Britain’ time? We’d seemingly always managed to shoot down more of theirs than they had done of ours. I suppose there was a bit of propaganda in there somewhere but we didn’t realize it at the time. If we’d had a good day we’d cheer just like for a good football result.

One night towards the end of the war I can recall my father coming to the door; we were all playing out in the yard as usual, and he shouted, ‘Italy has surrendered; you can play out for an extra half hour tonight!’  We all cheered, I don’t quite know whether it was because Italy had surrendered or because we could play out for the extra half hour, to be honest most of us were really too young to realise the full implication of it all. 

I can also recall a period when for three or four nights in a row the whole sky would be absolutely filled with our bombers. They would begin coming over around dusk, wave after wave of them, lights winking, engines droning, and hardly any space between them. We were used to seeing a lot of aircraft flying overhead but this was obviously something quite special. I have wondered since if they were part of the invasion build up? Or perhaps they were the ‘thousand bomber’ raids we were to learn of later?    I’ve tried to picture in which direction they passed over the yard, it was definitely a north/south axis but was it south or was it north?  I think it was north but I’m not quite sure – after all it was a long time ago!  

Some of the female residents of the Knostrop, as of course elsewhere, were called to employment on ‘war work’, more commonly referred to as ‘munitions’. Large factories were located at Thorpe Arch, Barnbow and the Giant AVRO factory at Yeadon. Shifts would commence at all sorts of unsocial hours but the ladies would be ferried to work by trains or buses, sometimes the transport would go right inside the buildings themselves so that they couldn’t be seen from the air. Evidently discipline was very strict, absence without a very good reason was looked upon as a criminal offence and those who spoiled work were rather unkindly branded as ‘saboteurs’. So frightened were workers that they would be punished for even inadvertently making a ‘spoil’ the offending piece would often be brought home and disposed of, perhaps into the river, although a few attractive bits and pieces manage to find their way into toy boxes. In spite of all this security, numerous cigarette lighters managed to be made out of aeroplane parts; in fact one quip was that they had started making aeroplanes that looked like cigarette lighters!

I recall one chap appearing on the scene, his name was Albert. I realise now he must have been a deserter on the run. He kept moving from house to house to keep one step ahead of the red caps. Even through he was letting the side down no one would give him away.

When folk came home on leave they seemed so very glamorous in their khaki, royal blue of the RAF or navy blue of the Navy itself. It was the fashion for the men to have slicked, parted hair and perhaps a pencil thin moustache. They were all seemingly so tall and plucked you up into the air. One particular lad, Denis, he was aircrew, they were enduring terrible losses but he didn’t let it show when he was home, he was the chirpiest guy I ever saw. The ladies were glamorous too; I see long rolled hair, high heels, big coats with high collars and tight-knotted belts and lots of bright red lipstick. Peroxide blond hair had just made an entry too; ‘catty’ folk might remark, ‘Ah, but it’s out of a bottle!’ Perhaps it was but the end result looked good to me nevertheless.

Dad was in the Home Guard; they drilled in the grounds of St Saviour’s Home, more commonly known as Mother Agnes’s (more of St Saviours Home later). It was just across the road from us and you could hear the sergeant shouting orders when they were drilling on Sunday mornings. Sometimes Dad brought his rifle home, I recall it being leaned up behind the settee. Mam didn’t like it but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been loaded.

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3 Responses to “Wartime in Knostrop”

  1. june a fox Says:

    I remember this flmbeing made ,as it was my class that made it .Iwasn’t involved in the making of it, just a by stander. remember sylvia walls,and mary milner.other names com to mind ,brenda waddington, alan altman , graham senior. The mind doesn’t remember anymore names . Another interesting thing that comes to mind and that is that ellerby lane was the first school in leeds to learn spanish as a second language.this again was my class, and mr holmes the teacher that made it all happen! I owe a lot to that school and it’s teachers.

  2. Doug Farnill Says:

    Peter’s reminiscence of the black market in food during the war puts me in mind of the strange way in which our little family – Mam and two boys -because Dad was away in the army did not use all our tea ration up but we were always desperately short of sugar, so Mam used to arrange swaps with the neighbours. When a third son arrived, some months after a 7-days leave for Dad, we were issued with an extra Green Ration book for the baby that sometimes had special entitlements such as an egg or orange juice. I recoil with horror still at those little heavily waxed cartons of dried egg powder. It was impossible to reconstitute anything that tasted like a real egg. I still marvel that as a 12 year old one of my duties was to go to the Thrift Store in Dial Street and do the weekly grocery shopping. I suppose it was simple enough because there wasn’t much discretionary spending. You simply handed your bundle of ration books over the counter and the assistant would dole out the appropriate quantities. But I recall having to make some crucial decisions on whether a can of pineapple or a small tin of salmon should be chosen to use up our monthly quota of Points which were the nonspecific coupons that had to be clipped out of the ration books. I pity the poor shop keepers who had to tally up all those little snipped coupons in the late hours when the shop was closed.

  3. NEIL CLAY Says:

    IN 1935 MY DAD WALTER CLAY AND HIS WIFE EMMA NEE BROOKES LIVED AT 11 PRETORIA RD CROSS GREEN WITH THEIR 2 TWIN BOYS BRIAN AND BARRIE CLAY WITH RELATIVES CALLED THE HOWSONS OR HOWDONS EMMA COULD HAVE BEEN FROM RICHMOND RD OR HILL AND WALTER MY DAD FROM HUNSLET DID ANYONE OUT THERE KNOW MY FAMILY

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