Archive for the ‘ack-ack guns’ Category

The Pocket Watch and Route Noir

July 19, 2015

THIS MONTH TWO MORE GREAT TALES FROM ERIC SANDERSON

THE POCKET WATCH & ROUTE NOIR

 

 

THE POCKET WATCH

By Eric Sanderson

Long summer evenings in the fifties would find a group of us, anywhere between four and seven, on the playing field at the top of Snake lane. Very rarely had anyone any money, not a single penny, we mostly went out with nothing in our pockets.

Games of 3-a-side football, shots in, touch and pass or even cricket was played in fiercely competitive spirit for an hour or so. We then flopped onto the grass to recover and shoot the breeze over any and all subjects – most of which we knew very little about. The comparative merits of bikes was a favourite topic – Claude Butler; JRJ; Dawes etc’ We would argue over the minutiae such as the frame tubing, diameter of the rear stays, tires and (especially) the width of the wheel rims as well as the lustre of the paintwork. I hasten to add that none of us had the slightest chance of owning such a magnificent machine, but you could dream.

One evening Ronnie Cockill told us he had acquired a Smiths pocket watch from his brother Stan and that this model was regarded as the “toughest in the world”. This outrageous boost was widely scoffed at and the evidence, nay, the incontrovertible proof was demanded. Ronnie was extremely indignant at our scepticism and showed us his admittedly fine and robust looking example of horology. With some remaining unconvinced, Ron volunteered to demonstrate the watch’s credentials by hurling it as high as he could into the air and letting it fall to the ground – which he duly did. Sure enough it looked undamaged and continued ticking away like a time bomb. Fairly impressive but it was pointed out that its impact had been cushioned by falling into thick grass. The discussion continued to consider other ways for a more rigorous test, dispensing with placing it on the rail line for the “Paddy” train to run over it or throwing it against a brick wall as being perhaps too severe. A solution was finally agreed upon which, if passed, would satisfy all doubts, the following evening one of our group turned up with a Webley air pistol which belonged to his brother. It was a fearsome looking weapon obviously capable of bringing down a charging rhinoceros. The gun was tested against a nearby goal post, chipping the paintwork as well as burying the slug deeply into a nearby wooden post. We all felt this was going to provide a suitable examination of Ron’s claims. The agreed procedure was that the watch would be hung from a nearby sapping and we would each have two shots at it, one to the front face and one to the back of the case. All shots would be taken before the final examination so that if any damage resulted no individual could be blamed.

With great anticipation the test took place from a distance of about ten yards from the suspended watch. During the test the slugs pinged loudly when they struck the watch but there was no obvious damage from our distant vantage point and at the end the watch was solemnly passed around for detailed inspection by everyone. Remarkably, the watch continued to tick away merrily without a single mark, scratch or indentation to be seen. Honour was satisfied and Ronnie was justifiably triumphant. Secretly, we were all slightly envious of him owning such a remarkable timepiece which would surely last forever.

However, Ronnie’s joy didn’t last long because a few days later he lost his prized possession, probably when we were scrambling up and down the embankment to the “navvy” which we always used to access from the Bridgefield car park because under the bridge there was a small pond which was home to a number of attractive red bellied newts.

So if anybody happens to find a grime encrusted Smith’s pocket watch from the East End Park navvy, still ticking away, it may just belong to Ronnie Cockill.

ROUTE NOIR

Inevitable, after 50/60 years some of the fine detail in such memories can be a little hazy, certainly with my stories. Nonetheless, the thread and the main content remain faithful to the events at the time but apologies in advance to any whose recollections may be slightly different.

The Bridgefield Hotel was the origin of three roads running in a southerly direction from there. Cross Green Lane ran approximately south west with a sweeping left hand bend past St Hilda’s and terminated in those days at the Cross Green pub and the junction of South Accomm, East Street and Easy Road.

Halton Moor Road, always known as ‘Red Road’ because of its red shale surface (at least as far as the ‘basins’ more of those later) than roughly south east parallel to Neville Hill railway sidings and gradually petering out and terminating at Temple Newsam Road near the now defunct athletic track.

There was also another road called ‘Red Road’ by some. This ran along the bottom of the Snake Lane playing fields to Knostrop lane. I always considered this to be part of Snake Lane (but this may not have been strictly correct) and Halton Moor Road to be the ‘proper’ Red Road.

The third road was known colloquially as ‘Black Road’ probably because of the contrast of its Tarmac surface with the red shale of the adjacent Red Road. Black Road is more correctly a continuation of Pontefract Lane which started at the Hope Inn on York Road but this section was never called any other name than Back Road or ‘Blackie’ as in ‘we’re going down Blackie.

For young boys Black Road offered by far the most opportunities for adventure and so the following few yarns will focus on the East Leeds version of the iconic Route 66. It ran roughly south east forming the southern boundary of Halton Moor and Temple Newsam Country Park. terminating at the junction with Bullerthorpe Lane near Woodlesford. Little traffic traversed this road other than the leviathans carrying the excavated material from Parkinson’s strip mining site, located between Temple Newsam and Woodlesford. They would thunder up the road discharging billowing clouds of dust and fine soil which is why, after rain, the road below Blue Bell Wood was covered in a thin film of treacherous sludge, hazardous to any bike rider and, I dare say any other means of transport. The open cast mining site is now completely landscaped and there are very few obvious traces of mining activity.

The Snake Lane playing fields at the top of the road and Cross Green Lane were the source of great pleasure to many with its football pitches, bowling Greens and tennis courts. We spent many hundreds of hours there, as was the picturesque East Leeds Cricket Club (what a gem that was) the site of many keenly fought cricket matches and pleasant afternoons.

The ‘Basins’ were further down and located between Red Road and Black Road. I’ve no idea how they came to be there but suspect they were some kind of ancient soaking pits. Perhaps others may know. Anyway, they were a series of partly spherical depressions in the ground about 25/30 yards in diameter and about 3 or 4 yards deep and they were great fun to whizz around on your bike at breakneck speed – just like the Wall of Death (almost) before skimming over the rim, wheels leaving the ground and into the next basin. Of course it didn’t always happen as smoothly as described, especially after rain and the surface was very slippery, often resulting in a tangle in the cusp of the basin. I guess these were early versions of BMX parks but without the manoeuvrability of modern stunt bikes.

Bike races down Black Road were a popular pastime for us and one summer evening, a few of us were at the top of Snakey where it met Black Road and participating in a few bike races down towards the Woodlesford end. One of the group was a lad called George Dawson who lived somewhere in the Glencoe’s during the early fifties and drifted in and out of our regular group. George had a top quality bike with a fixed wheel arrangement whilst I had bike with a derailleur type gear change and we challenged each other to a race, exchanging bikes with each other. Off we went fairly evenly matched down to ‘Red Walls’ or was it ‘Black Walls’? the bridge over the Wyke beck which then ran along from Halton Moor and beyond On the return run I hit a large pot hole (probably caused by the huge trucks mentioned earlier) at speed, which sent me spinning from his bike and skidding along the road for what seemed about 50 yards. My clothes were torn and I suffered considerable gazing, still carrying the scars to this day and it didn’t do George’s bike much good either. When I see bike crashes in today’s Tour de France it makes me shudder, bringing back unpleasant memories of that day. George’s first thought was to make sure I was OK and even through his bike was badly damaged. He was completely unconcerned, ensuring that I got home safely if somewhat painfully. He absolutely refused to accept any payment for repairs as it had been his ‘challenge’ but it must have cost a small fortune to put his bike back into shape. Unfortunately, we shortly lost contact with George because I believe he went to live in Australia. Bike racing also disappeared from my routine activities for a long time.

Another time we thought we had discovered a highly efficient way of collecting blackberries which grew in profusion further down Black Road. At the time it was possible to buy fireworks long before bonfire night and there was a particular vicious little banger called ‘The Little Demon’. Armed with a few of these we thought that tossing a few into the blackberry bush just a fraction of a second before the explosion, would blow bucket loads of berries from the bush and become much easier to gather. I have to tell you that this idea was a total failure, resulting in not a single berry being dislodged and a total waste of a week’s pocket money. Still nothing ventured, nothing gained.

About three quarters of a mile down the road from the Bridgefield, a rail spur ran from the ‘Paddy line’ to Neville Hill and a track on the RHS lead to an army camp which was used during WW2 to house POW’s and I think the local defence and Home Guard. There was also an Ack Ack battery stationed there. It was later used by the TA. The prisoners, which I believe were mainly Italians seemed to roam freely and a number of them stayed after the war, merging with the Italian contingent in the community. Part of the army camp was an armoured car testing circuit, which consisted of several deep water filled troughs with intervening humps and hillocks. These troughs teeming with frogs, newts and small fish were a magnet for young boys with fishing nets. On occasions a team of TA soldiers would bring a couple of tanks and put them through their paces around the circuit and once or twice they even allowed us onto the turret for a thrilling ride. However, I dread to think what happened to the wildlife in the water troughs as these armoured beasts splashed through them, churning up anything in their path with their powerful crawler tracks.

‘The Gorge’ was a cutting through a granite or sandstone outcrop near to the Woodlesford end of the road, about 10/15 foot high and about 100 yards long and topped by a line of trees, some of which were horse chestnuts. The sandstone rocks provided many a good hand and foot hold for clambering up for the ‘conker’ trees in September, when the conkers trees came into their prime. As it was a couple of miles from the top of Black Road it was a very long round trip to walk and as such meant that the conker crop would be pretty much intact, enabling a good harvest.

Just around the corner, up Bullerthorpe Lane, the rear entrance into Temple Newsam Park lead into through fairly dense woods. Within them was a pond which was absolutely stuffed with fish which would fight to jump out onto a simple fishing rod or line. Fishing competitions would often yield 30 to 40 catches EACH of fish measuring up to three or four inches long. They were all returned of course to ensure sport for another day.

That which we knew as the Bluebell Wood was in fact properly called Bell Wood and bordered the southern edge of the Temple Newsam golf course. I seem to remember that access to it from Black Road meant crossing private farmland patrolled by a warden who seemed to find the presence of young boys inimitable to peace and harmony. So it was a bit of sport to scamper across the farmland and dodge the bad tempered warden in order to meander up Dog Kennel Hill to the mansion house at the top, taking the short cut home via Halton Moor Road (Red Road)

The final little yarn of this story concerns the illegal and dangerous practice of what we called Paddy Hopping. At times when we were trudging back up the road, the Paddy would often pass by, usually slowing down and sometimes enabling us to jump up and cling to the back of the last wagon. We would dismount quite easily as it approached Cross Green Lane as it had to stop there prior to discharge the passengers or to cross the road when going to the coal staithe. Makes you shudder just to think of it these days but then, what a laugh!

Roaming far and wide was an everyday occurrence for many, just think what today’s youngsters are missing.

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Computer Games V Mucky Knees

November 1, 2012

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Am I an old fool to believe it was more fun to play out and come home with mucky knees than to stay indoors and play computer games?

COMPUTER GAMES V MUCKY KNEES

By Pete Wood.

Way back in the 1940s the door of our house opened onto Jaw Bone Yard, a spacious earth compacted area complete with stables, sheds and dens. It was a magical world brimming with all the possibilities for adventure. When I was about four years old my mother opened that back door and shoed my out to join six other kids already into their adventures. All she said was ‘Go play’. And from that day my life began.               

 

JAWBONE YARD: was the heart of old Knostrop and the centre of our activities. Seven houses backed onto that yard and out of the houses came seven kids, augmented by the lads and lasses from the ‘ABC’ houses, the Hall, the Lodge and sometimes too; our friends who joined in the fun from ‘The Top’; which were the streets which sat at the top of Knostrop Hill.  This was the gang and didn’t we have a ball! We played every game under the sun in that yard: cricket, rounders, kick-out can, speedway bowlers (hoops) and all the general schoolyard games.  The lads and the lasses all mucked in together. We played football with a tennis ball – you were lucky if you could get hold of even a tennis ball while the war was in progress, for just about everything being produced by the nation was to going support the war effort – so proper footballs were out of the question. The positive side to this was: it certainly taught us how to control a ball. Some of the lads became so proficient that they could ‘keepy-uppy’ with a tennis ball. Harold Sedgwick could even keep it up on his ankle! This all made it that, much easier when we finally did progress to play with proper footballs. Was life less dangerous for us than for modern day kids? Well, the Germans regularly bombed us by night and we had to walk the lonely lanes in complete blackness due to ‘The Blackout’ but we had a freedom that seems to be denied to today’s kids and life seemed to be blissfully happy.

We, who played in that yard, were fortunate in that one of the dads, who worked on the land at the time, would find balls that had been lost down drains and had ultimately found their way onto the land. He would bring them home and leave them in a grate where we would find them. Mind you a ball had a short lifespan with us, especially when we were hitting out at cricket. Balls would fly into the long grass in the adjacent field and become lost. You were out if caught one handed off a wall or if you hit the ball onto a house roof. In the case of hitting it onto a roof the culprit would be the one to climb onto the roof and retrieve it.  The ball would usually be lodged in one of the gutters so you had to climb up onto the roof, via a coal house, then it would be necessary for you to lean perilously over the edge in order to reach it. Like kids all over we were oblivious to the danger. It pleasantly amazes me that trivial incidents can still be brought to mind after half a century and a lifetime of other more important experiences have elapsed. For instance Keith Gale, a participant in our games, can bring to mind an incident, which occurred when we were playing cricket in the yard. On this occasion Gordon (Oscar) Brown was batting – we could never get him out he was like a limpet. Ball after ball he would just play a dead bat: ‘podging’ as we called it. On this particular day Gordon must have had a rush of blood to the head for he smote a ball mightily, it bounced first on a house roof and then onto a coalhouse roof, finally to be caught one handed by Peter Whitehead. By our rules we believed this to have been have been out, but good old Gordon wouldn’t budge, he stood his ground claiming that as the ball had bounced twice this did not constitute being out! The beautiful thing about this little tale is: that although Keith had been out and about for over fifty years carving out a life for himself, with all the toils and tribulations entailed that most trivial of incidents had not been erased from his memory.

Oh the games we played in that yard: there was one particularly daft game that we played where one of us would stand facing the stable wall and the rest would choose a film star’s name without letting on what it was. We would form a line across the yard about thirty yards back and the one facing the wall would shout something like, ‘VeronicaLake take two giant strides’ or perhaps, ‘three fairy footsteps.’ Then the person who had chosen that particular name had to execute the ordered manoeuvre without being seen. Should the one calling the shots turn and catch one of us in the process of moving then the name of the culprit would be shouted and they would be out. The first person to reach wall without being seen won.

At one time we had an old wooden wheelbarrow, we would take in turns to sit in the barrow with our eyes closed while some other member of the gang would spin it around and then set off in a series of changing directions. The idea was for the one having the ride to try and guess where they were. In the middle of the yard there stood a huge wooden shed, it had three large gates at the front to accommodate flat four wheeled carts. We would use the gates as the goals in winter or the central palings as the wickets in summer. We could shelter inside the shed when it rained and perhaps play with the large wooden boxes which were intended to transport the vegetable produce to market; cabbages, cauliflowers and especially rhubarb. The boxes could be fashioned into all manner of constructions, houses, cars, whatever we fancied at the moment.  Pauline (now Mrs Rushfirth) and  one of the gang, remembers a particular night when the bombs were dropping and the ack-ack guns from further down Knostrop were making the windows shake in the little cottages, and how her mam ran out to the shelter, which was across the yard and ran straight into a parked black car which was unseen in the dark. The shock was so great she thought she had been hit and shouted out, ’They’ve got me! They’ve got me!’  In the morning after an air raid we would hunt for shrapnel from the shell casing. Mam said to me, ‘Don’t go picking up anything nasty.’ I thought from her description she meant something like dog droppings but she really meant the ant-personnel mines the Germans were dropping.

Pauline remembers that big shed that bisected yard too and another game we played called ‘Escape’. Someone would stand on top of the granary steps with a torch or a bike lamp, shining it on the shed gates and moving it backward and forward and we would try to escape in the dark bits. Pauline recalls it as: quite frightening. We had obviously been brain-washed by watching prisoner of war films. .

There was another shed in the yard too, one in which sacks were stored – I believe the sacks must have been filled with soot for when we climbed about in there we’d get ourselves ‘black bright’. On other occasions we played whip and top, conkers, hula-hoop. We had phases when we played with potato guns, catapults or sped around the yard with bowlers in impromptu speedway races. We had dens everywhere, sometimes in the bushes where we could pull off the ‘green stick’ branches to make weapons. One type could be hollowed out for to use as a blowpipe while another ‘springier’ type could be fashioned into the bow for bow and arrows. Sheltering from the rain under a den’s green foliage is among   the sweetest experiences life has to offer. We all had nick names and virtually usad a language of our own. Now I’m told The Scout Movement has banned nick names as they may lead to bullying. Corr!

We were a bit light on girls but the ones we had were great, Pat and Pauline from the yard, Brenda and very occasionally, Lizzie, from the ABCs. Later there was Rita from the ‘New Hall Lodge’ all the rest were lads but the girls all mucked in and pulled their weight especially when we were collecting wood for the bonfires. You could tell which were the girls: they were the ones who practised their pirouettes when there was a lull in the game and did ‘crabs’ up against the wall with their frocks tucked in. Girls wore frocks or gym slips (no trousers or jeans) and we wore short pants ‘long ‘uns came along when we were about twelve but my mam said lads in long trousers looked like little old men hence she kept me in short pants to an embarrassing fourteen.

At one particular time everyone seemed to be wearing wooden clogs – I think they may have been an attempt to offset the problem of shoes wearing out too fast, or was it that being made out of wood they did not attract clothing coupons? Whatever, the idea was a fad and went out within a few weeks. Then of course there were the bikes, Denis Harrison had a bike on ‘fixed wheel’, it was unforgiving, if you put you feet on the ground before the bike had properly stopped it would punish you by trapping the back of your legs with its pedals; that was really painful. There was another bike which had a bell as big as a teapot and yet another, a butcher’s bike, which had you scared for the basket bit didn’t turn straightaway when you turned the handlebars giving the impression you were not going to make a corner. Peter Whitehead later organised ‘East Leeds Wheelers’ a proper cycling club. Meetings were held in a little building where the dustbins were usually kept. Membership to this club was quite exclusive and mainly taken up by a more ‘up market’ class of cyclist than us ‘yardies’, who rode ‘drop handlebar’ bikes and mostly lived at ‘the top’.

THE ABC HOUSES: As an alternative to playing in the yard we would often join the gang from the ABC Houses on their patch, they had lots of places on their doorstep to explore. There were two plantations; which we unsurprisingly called; the first wood and the second wood, the ‘Red Hills’- which were in fact red shale slag heaps from anold mine. This shale could be seen forming a good hardcore base for paths and minor roads throughout the district, tagging them as ‘Red Roads’ due to their colour.   The old mine itself: ‘Dam Pit’ was located between the two woods and would find us messing about dangerously in the brick filled shaft. Wagons from the pit would be left shunted onto a branch line allowing us to climb all over them. The lads from the ABC Houses always seemed to be more agile than us ‘yardies’ they could shin up the trees in the plantation like monkeys. We were allowed to cut down the dead trees for our bonfires but all we had to do it with was that which we called a ‘hunting knife’ so you can imagine it was a long job and oh those calluses.

SCHOOL: Now, alas, in my seventies, I pass our local primary school on the way to collect my morning paper. The surrounding roads are absolutely clogged with the cars of mums taking their kids to school (Chelsea Tractors) some of the kids seem to be at least nine or ten; they’ll be back again to take them home at 3.00.

With deference to busy working mams, who I know have to drop off their kids before going to their own place of work, I still have to hark back to, what happened to walking to school and giving kids space to learn responsibility for their own safety. I know there are a lot more cars around today and ‘strangers’ (there were always ‘strangers) but I recall that our mams took us to school on the first day at five years old and after that we were on our own and getting to grips with the world of lonely rural roads and busy crossings for ourselves and it made us responsible and street wise long before we were ten!

SCHOOLYARD GAMES: Once we had started school we were introduced to a host of new games either played in the schoolyard itself at playtime or immediately outside the school gates before school started. The staple diet for the boys was always going to be football, played twenty odd a side with a tennis ball and coats for goalposts. In summer cricket took over, the wickets being chalk marks on the wall and three or four balls on the go at once. The whistle for the end of playtime always seemed to blow when it was your turn to bat. I spoke to an old school mate at a reunion recently, he recalled playing football in that old school yard (we called it the field) and how a workman who had been mending the road outside the railings had come over with a whimsical look in his eye and said to him very sincerely: ‘Do you know lad, these are the happiest days of your life’. The old schoolmate said he’d remembered those words all through the years and he thought the old guy was just about right.
As alternatives to football and cricket and to suit the seasons, more individual games would be played. Ice on the ground meant a giant slide and everyone having a go, in the process causing the road to become like glass and a hazard to any unwary pedestrian.   At Whitsuntide, the girls, mainly, would play whip and top: colouring the tops with chalks, so they would make pretty pattern as they spun around. In the autumn it would be conker time and bruised knuckles all round for each time you missed your opponents conker you tended to hit your own knuckles (no namby-pamby ‘elf and safety then)  Each player kept a score of how many other conkers his conker had broken. For example, if your conker broke a conker that had, say already broken two itself, then you added his two to your score as well. Lads would try to make conkers harder by baking them or pickling them in vinegar. Sometimes they had become tiny hard things like the kernel of a walnut but provided they hadn’t broken away from the string hole they were considered to be still ‘live’. When a crack occurred the shout would go out, ‘It’s laughing!’ Last year’s conkers were like iron and would not be played against if recognised: ‘It’s a laggie I’m not playing against that!’ would be the cry.
Another game was played with cigarette cards or the big bus tickets of the day, which all had a sequential number on the back. In this game a lad would take a ‘wadge’ of cards or tickets of roughly the same thickness in each hand, and another lad would take a similar number in his hand and ‘bank’ on one or the other of his opponent hands. Then the bottom card or ticket would be turned over in each hand; if the lad had banked correctly on the wadge with the highest number he would win his opponents cards. If he had banked on the lower number then he would have to surrender his. As school bags were a ‘no – no’ in those old Victorian primary schools a lad’s pockets might well be bulging obscenely with his winnings.
Marbles or ‘taws’, as we called them, was another favourite game. There were several different types of marble: ‘allies’ (coloured marbles), ‘milkies’ (opaque marbles) ‘bottle washers’ (clear glass) and ‘stonkers’, which were made out of stone. Some lads had become real experts and had calloused knuckles to prove it. These experts would have a favourite marble, which they always used when playing – normally it would not be a pretty one but rather a gnarled old thing that gave give a good grip. Should they loose they would surrender any of their stock of marbles rather than give up their ‘player’. I recall some were so expert they could hit an opponent’s taw at three paces, firing from the knee.  The rules of the taw game we played were as follows: two lads would play with a marble each – more could play if required. A small hole was excavated in the earth and called the ‘knack’, the idea was to take it in turns to try and hit the other lad’s marble. After a hit, it was still necessary for the opponent’s marble to be not a ‘needer’; a ‘needer’ meant the opponent’s marble still ‘needed’ to be hit more than two shoe lengths away from the hole. Big shoes were an asset if you wanted it to be a ‘needer’, smaller shoes were better if you didn’t want it so. To complete the game it was then only necessary to roll your marble into the hole. If it missed then the other lad had a chance to ‘un-needer’ himself.
The girls had their own playground at our school (St Hilda’s) it was a concrete affair in an elevated position above our ‘dirt’ field.  From this lofty position they would carry out their skipping games: pitch, patch, pepper etc. Or dance around singing traditional schoolyard songs like: ‘The wind and the rain and the hail blows high, the snow comes travelling from the sky. She is handsome she is pretty she is the belle of the golden city; she goes a courting one, two three: pray can you tell me who it can be?’ Then they would shout some lad’s name, say: Tommy Johnson says he loves her.’ Then they would let out a great scream, silly beggars and then continue, ‘All the boys are fighting for her’ and so on.  The lad in question would probably be playing football in the field below and would blush to the roots of his hair but secretly be pleased – alas it was never I.  Sometimes, to the annoyance of the girls we would sing along with a much ruder version of the song.

 

AFTER SCHOOL: In the evenings after school we would be out again even in the dark nights of winter – no computer games for us. I think our absolute favourite game was one we just called ‘chasing’. We could play ‘chasing’ in all seasons; it was fun whether it was the light or the dark nights. To play the game; first a couple of sides were picked by the old ‘dip-dip-dip’ method, then one team would run off and after a prescribed period the other team would run after them and try to catch them before they could return to base. In the process of this game we covered miles and miles, over fields through woods, haystacks, rhubarb sheds. We had the lot at Knostrop. The area we covered was so vast that when I consider the game now it astounds me how we ever managed to locate individuals who had run and hidden often several miles away and sometimes in the dark too, but amazingly, we did.  When the game was over we would congregate around one of the gas lamps and talk. Sometimes there would be road works and a night watchman – perhaps we would sit with him for a while around his coke brazier watching the blue red flames and choking on the fumes. Maybe we’d tell a few yarns and then accompany the watchman while he checked his lamps.  Pauline remembers being scalded when one of the lads, tried to jump the brazier and knocked the boiling water from the big iron kettle all over her legs, causing here to miss school for a while. When we would finally come home in our frocks or short pants, happy but tired out by our games, it was then time to have our mams sit us down and wash our ‘mucky knees’ .

Which would I prefer – a computer game or my mucky knees back?

NO CONTEST

Alex had last month’s mystery building correct. It was of course The Parkie’s House on East End Park. Now for this month’s mystery building. What did we  better remember this building as? look out for another Audrey special next month.

My (very) small part in the Downfall of Adolf Hitler

May 1, 2011

                                My (very) small part in the Downfall of Adolf Hitler

Eric Sanderson this time entertains us with his war time memories.

Coming on to this mortal coil in the very same month that WW2 broke out – September 1939, in fact, war commenced just a couple of weeks prior to my arrival and being fair to myself, although I can be blamed for many things, I can’t be held accountable for the outbreak of hostilities between ourselves and Germany.

  Naturally, I don’t have full recall of those fateful years but some incidents and circumstances  are still quite vivid whilst the general background has been filled over the years by chatter amongst family & friends , mainly, my dear departed mother.

Many will have experience of very similar events and these few reminiscences (out of many) may just trigger, hopefully pleasant, memories of those long ago and soon to be forgotten days.

 My father was “called up” within a very few weeks of my coming onto the scene and spent the next five years or so away from home, mainly overseas. Consequently, the first time I remember him was when he came home on demobilisation leave in mid 1945 by which time I was nearly 6 years old. Who was this stranger coming into our lives after all these years with a settled and comfortable existence, telling me what to do and how to behave?. It was a difficult period of adjustment and speaking to others, years later, many had much the same experience.

 My mother always had sympathy for many of today’s single mums because she said that she was, along with many others , in effect, a single mother for over 5 years, struggling to survive on meagre means and raise a young child whilst at the same time, living in constant fear  for loved ones away from home and, of attack or even invasion at home.

In addition to my father, three other close family members were involved, two in the Royal Navy and another  a Lancaster rear gunner . So, plenty to worry over there.

 Several of our near neighbours also had father, sons & even daughters involved as sailors paratrooper, submariner and so on. Others includes firemen , train drivers (how I wished I could have been one) and everyone  involved in a variety of other occupations, including the local alcoholic who thought battery acid was a soft drink . Thinking back, I can’t recall a single man who was unemployed .That’s not too surprising during the war years but even long afterwards I can’t recollect anyone being unemployed or “on the dole” – somewhat different to today!.

 Although food was obviously much scarcer than today, I never remember having to go without. Rations didn’t go far but people were perhaps more resourceful, baking and eking out every possible scrap into something tasty, soups, stews, meat & potato pies and the like. My mother used to pick blackberries and make blackberry & apple pie with a delicious short pastry and it remains a favourite of mine to this day. The exception being school meals which, even to hungry young boys, were sometimes inedible. I’m sure I remember seeing the cockroaches knocking the top from a bottle of Gaviscon on a couple of occasions

My father , as did most soldiers, used to receive a (Black Cat) cigarette allocation and being a non smoker, would send them home  to be traded for butter, eggs, sugar and so on .Smokers at home were often happy to trade because cigarettes were difficult to come by, other than the much detested “Pasha” which consisted of dark, Turkish tobacco rather than the milder Virginia tobacco favoured by most.

I clearly remember seeing my first banana, some years after the war though and although sweets were rationed until well after the war, my Grandfather had a neighbour who worked at a local sweet factory and was able to obtain a few extra dainties for us from time to time. Goodness knows what he had to sacrifice for those treats.

Remember the ration books ?. You’d take these along to the shop where they would clip out a tiny coupon, god knows what they did with those minute scraps of paper and although many items were rationed, there was a range of goods known as “Utility” which could be purchased without ration coupons but they were generally of poor quality and shoddy nature. A friend recently recalled that her father, until he died,  still had a piece of “Utility” furniture surviving from the early post war years and which carried a large brand or stamp mark to distinguish it from the real article – perhaps not so shoddy after all?.

 Also, some food products such as sausages & offal were (I think) off ration and fairly plentiful. That may explain why sausages became a lifelong staple for many.

 It’s true to say that communities were more considerate & helpful towards each other than today, for example, neighbours would come into the house, prepare & light a fire so that the home was warm for those returning home from work. Sometimes, even preparing food and taking on laundry to help the hard pressed “single” mums who needed to work long hours in order to make ends meet.

My father used to send home seven shillings (35p in todays money) per week which, even in those days, was totally inadequate, albeit given that house rent in our streets was reduced for families with members in the services. Whether this was a regulatory matter or the benevolence of the local landlord, I’m not sure but in any event, many housewives had to work, often doing factory jobs previously done by men  such as turning, drilling, crane, truck driving and other heavy manual labour.

My own mother took a job at Burtons whilst I was despatched  to a day nursery for a very early start & late collection and so we were very much beneficiaries of the kind, neighbourly acts mentioned earlier.

During the war years, Burtons, who employed many “war wives” had a reputation as a  good employer, as well as providing good welfare facilities they even allowing paid, short term absence when their men returned home on leave.

Those living in the area will remember the crowds of workers ,flooding out of the likes of Burton’s, Sumrie, Hepton’s  and others at finishing time – just like going to a football match so dense was the crowd for a brief period. The buses & trams were all full, and crowded, such that two or three would often pass before you could scramble on, usually to standing room only.

Father’s employer was also generous, often sending gifts of money and food parcels with precious commodities like tea, sugar & eggs – coffee being unknown to us in those days.

Andersen shelters were provided in the gardens of every 5th or 6th  house, in our case next door and I clearly remember climbing into my siren suit, a warm, cosy maroon one piece suit  with enclosed leggings and  a large hood, prior to going down into the air raid shelter along with the much dreaded gas mask. Some of these shelters were prone to flooding but ours always seemed to be warm ,dry and , as I recall, very neighbourly.

 Although we were never bombed directly, some incendiaries were dropped nearby and the men, with only one exception, went out from the shelter armed only with dustbin lids in order to douse the flames.

Oddly enough, the “exception” in later years used to boast about being “over there” when in fact the extent of his military experience was a short spell in the Home Guard, based at Knostrop where POW’s were held and an Ack Ack gun emplacement was active .The POW’s, which I believe were mainly Italian, seemed to have comparative freedom to the area, particularly East End Park where they could often be seen wandering around in groups and speaking in what to us was a very strange language. However, they never seemed to cause any problems and some of them integrated into the local community after the war. 

Neither my father nor other family members ever spoke of the dark side of their war years but would, from time to time ,regale us with the often hilarious capers and scrapes they managed to get themselves into , a not uncommon pastime for many families.

 My father’s final homecoming was a strange affair. Mother told me that she’d collected me from school and on the way home, I said to her ,”Dad’s coming home today”. “No” she said, “he’s not coming home for a while yet”. When we reached home, who was sitting there, waiting for us to come home but my father, having been demobbed a few days early – something that my mother remained fascinated by and frequently recalled for the remainder of her life.

Massive street parties abounded all around & I remember at least two in our street , I think VE and VJ days which in my memory were gloriously sunny days, where tables were laid in the street, groaning with tempting delicacies and everyone having a good time after 5 or so years of being unable to do so.

 My family was lucky, all returned home unscathed, unlike some and a striking thing, looking back, is that most seemed to go about their lives with stoicism , optimism and good humour. I suppose the prevailing opinion was that the certainty of misery was preferable to the misery of uncertainty.

I don’t remember it being a depressing time , given the hardship and worry attached to most people’s lives, often the only relief being provided by the occasional visit to the cinema, in our case usually the “Star” or the “Princess” – where the celebrated Big Ernie presided.

 However, as I slide down the bannister of life , one of the remaining splinters in my a**e, is the concern that the life & spirit which was experienced & endured  during the war & early post war years will, very shortly, be outside the experience of anyone alive and even worse, be forgotten.

Of all the thing in life to despise, such as pestilence, famine, Bruce Forsyth etc, my recollections of those years isn’t one of them

 So, whilst I cannot claim that Hitler trembled in his shoes at the thought of my existence, neither did he roll his Panzer divisions up to our front door and so my claim to have played a small part may not therefore be too far fetched after all.

Wartime in Knostrop

June 30, 2010

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.