Archive for the ‘Air raid Shelters’ Category

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.

From Rags to Riches

April 1, 2012

                              FROM  RAGS  TO  RICHES

 

          Another great tale of East Leeds by Eric Sanderson

Did I say “ Riches “ ?.  Well hardly , that must have been a daydream – a “senior” moment.

When we were young, most things were scarce, especially money. So we had to find ways of trying to earn the odd shilling and these are just a few of the ways that some of my friends and I tried out.

The days I refer to are now over 60 years since so the memory might just be a little hazy – but never mind, a little inaccuracy can often save an awful lot of explanation

Sometime in the late 40’s , probably following the drain on resources of WW2, there was a shortage of most raw materials and people were encouraged to recycle, often by way of a financial incentive to do so.

The most obvious of these was the couple of coppers paid for the return of some types of bottle which for young people who were mostly skint , could be a useful way of garnering enough to fund a trip to the front end of the Princess Cinema, which at that time was six old pence,  two & a half pence in today’s money.

Trawling the neighbourhood for such bounty could only be done at infrequent intervals without making a nuisance of yourself and most people in any case wanted to take advantage of the benefit themselves. There was also a practical problem to overcome. Most shops would only accept returns if they were purchased originally from them, especially if they were being returned by an urchin who’d simply scavenged them, and so trying to sort the empties that way was a bit of a nightmare, but usually worthwhile

            Glass itself must have been in short supply because a small sum was also paid for a collection of clean jamjars which were much more plentiful as there was no refund for returning these to the shop. But, the returns were pitiful and often meant a nasty job of having to clean out unwashed jars so this was money spinning of last resort.

            Even wrought iron railings which normally surrounded schoolyards were in demand and were removed from many schoolyards, even those fronting onto busy roads, such was the need for iron & steel for the post war boom, but this was a job for the serious scrap dealer, not your common or garden youth opportunist.

            The best opportunities, we thought at the time, lay in the collection of waste paper and old clothes. Paper, usually old newspaper, was freely available but was a filthy activity and required a place to keep the paper dry and store the large quantities needed to justify the effort to generate even a modest return.

            Three of us decided one time that we’d try this out and worked our way round the area, knocking on doors for weeks on end , coaxing reluctant householders and storing the harvest in a disused garden air raid shelter. The day came when we decided we had a sufficient haul to cash in but the problem was, we had to get the stuff to a yard some way from where we lived. I seem to remember the depot was somewhere in Hunslet.

It was far too heavy and bulky to carry but we managed to salvage the sub frame from an old pram onto which we piled all the paper. The pram base wasn’t too sturdy to begin with and when we stacked it up to a height about up to our heads, it began to look distinctly creaky. What’s more, it was top heavy and difficult to maneouvre, having a mind of it’s own much like the nightmarish supermarket trolley we’ve all experienced.

Nonetheless, one of our crew , (JT), was of good Yeoman stock – very strong in the back , and put himself forward as driver whilst the other two of us would navigate.

            Off we set and the first part of our journey wasdown EastParkView, a not inconsiderable incline and the laden pram began take on a cussed life of it’s own, rocking and rolling almost to the point of instability on it’s way down the hill.

JT struggled manfully but even he couldn’t prevent the overladen wheels from starting to buckle and throw the whole carriage around , developing an alarming lurch as it began to run out of control down the hill.

Fortunately, the road levelled out towards East Park Parade and so the transport began to slow down much to our relief but, in the process of gathering speed, the stacked up newspapers had begun to blow off in increasing numbers. Whilst JT was wrestling with the control of the bogie, the other two of us were scrambling to retrieve the rapidly disappearing pile of newspaper, with only a limited amount of success.

Coming to rest near East Park Parade and having recovered as much of the newspaper we could (much of it was still blowing around in the wind several days later !), we had to take stock of our position. One solution, to sit on top of the paper pile was tried, but the wheels took on an even more threatening warp and bearing in mind we had some way to go, dispensed with this idea.

We finally settled for tying the paper bundles down with string and rigging up a set of “reins” so that we could all help control the downhill charge of our rickety old carriage.

            Eventually making it to our destination and weighing in our motherload , we came away with the princely sum of about 2 shillings, to be split three ways. Not much for all that effort. So we decided that would be the end of waste paper collection because one form of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting a different outcome and the difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has it’s limits.

            Nevertheless, undeterred by our unprofitable wastepaper project, we thought collecting old clothes might work better. It would be much lighter work ,not so filthy and we’d learned a lot about securing the load and controlling the transport from our previous escapade.

            So off we set once again, all around the district, collecting discarded clothing and “rags”. Of course we didn’t have the faintest idea about sorting them into material types, they were all the same to us. This time, the depot was somewhere along Dewsbury Road, not too far from Leeds Bridge and the journey there went without too much mishap even though the pram was  decidedly on it’s last legs by now and only just made it before expiring beyond repair.

            On arrival at the depot, a stinking dark hole in the wall type of place, we had to “negotiate” with an ageing harridan weighing  at least 25stone and sporting a  moustache that any self respecting Mexican Bandit would have been proud of. She also had a fag with about 2 inches of drooping fag ash hanging from the corner of her mouth which was probably responsible for her hacking cough and deep baritone voice.

            Digressing slightly but on a similar theme, writing this reminded me of an occasion when , many years later, we were taking our 3 or 4 year old grandson for a bus ride. He was between us , kneeling on the seat and facing backwards. He was unusually silent, staring straight behind us for a while and then said in the loud voice young children use – “ Grandpa, why has this lady behind us got a moustache?”. I hastily tried to deflect attention away by saying “oh, do you mean that one on the pavement there?” . “No” he said, “this one right behind us”. I turned and sure enough, the lady in question did have a somewhat luxuriant upper lip growth . Apologies only seemed to make matters worse, drawing attention to the fact and so embarrassed were we that we dropped off at the next stop, miles from our destination to await the next bus home.

            Anyway, back to the rag merchant. She contemptuously tipped our cargo onto the floor, tossing aside much of it and growling that it was of no use. I think that she was interested in only woollen articles and much of ours was probably cotton, rayon and the like. Our haul was soon reduced to a fraction of what we’d collected and we were once again heading for a reality check, finishing up with even less the we’d coined from the wastepaper collection.

            Downcast, we trudged home with a few coppers in our pocket, not even enough to finance a visit to the Princess, which in itself would have been a disappointing return.

            Our spirits soon recovered though, as young people’s do, whilst we thought up our next moneymaking enterprise, which turned out to be offering ourselves as odd job boys , from shopping to garden tidying. Oddly enough, that didn’t work out either but, had we three failed entrepreneurs realised it, there was a valuable business lesson to be learned as a result of those escapades – never put more into a venture that you can reasonably expect to get in return, that is only a certain route to failure.

On the other hand, if you don’t succeed – you can always redefine success !.

What a great tale, Eric!

                                      Next month look out for another £10 Pom tale

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.