Posts Tagged ‘When the lights went on’

When the War Was Over

July 31, 2010

A night to remember was the night when the lights went on again in Leeds. We had never seen neon signs or shop windows brightly lit before. Thousands of people assembled in the centre of Leeds for the big turn on. Members of the family took me to witness the event first hand. We walked down into town and had been promised a lift back in a big car – it was to be a Humber, I was looking forward to having a ride in the Humber more than seeing the lights go on, of course I didn’t know what to expect never having seen lights on this scale before. In the event there were so many people milling about that wherever the car had been parked it was completely swamped by the crowd, we never found it. So we had to walk all the way home again but the night was indeed memorable: Vicar Lane and Briggate was so crammed with folk we never got as far as City Square and when the lights all went on together at a given signal it was certainly a sight to behold.

Petrol had been unavailable for private motoring during the war and in the immediate post-war period but their came a point when a very basic ration became available. It was an exciting time to see people bringing dusty old motorcars out of garages where they had been ‘moth balled’ for the duration of the War. Ford eights, Ford tens, Morrises, Standards, and Hillmans. It was brilliant to see them taken off bricks and polished up. My dad had a three-wheeler Morgan; he’d kept it in a garage in Yates’s yard. I’d never seen it before; it had two wheels at the front and one at the back and shaped like a boat. Some of the controls were on the steering column, doing away with some of the pedals. All in all it was a bit of a ‘boneshaker’ and I was disgusted that it could only do about fifty-five miles an hour flat out. In fact the fastest I ever saw it go was when my dad used to turn the engine off and let it free wheel down hill to save petrol, it once got up to sixty miles an hour coming down Garaby Hill in this manner, nearly bouncing itself off the road in the process. We kids believed a car’s top speed to be all-important. We would peep through car windows at the speedo and whatever was the top speed on the speedo we thought was the top speed achievable by the vehicle ‘Look at this car ’ we would whistle, ‘It can do a hundred miles an hour!’ of course that was only the clock the car itself might only be capable of half of that. At the time I wished we’d had a proper car, one with four wheels and that could do eighty miles an hour, but gosh, how I wish I had that old Morgan now it would be worth a fortune!

When the War was over the lads came home, everywhere seemed to be a hive of activity.
They were each issued with a ‘demob suit’ – usually black or blue pin stripe, a pair of black shoes and a trilby hat. You could spot demobbed lads a mile off; they still all looked the same even though they were now out of uniform. They were also given ‘demob pay’, although I would guess it would only be a pittance. The ones who had been prisoners of war though and had not been paid for a lengthy period were probably due a tidy sum. A few started up in their own enterprises by buying out army surplus goods with their lump sums, some of these eventually grew into successful business empires. It was the age of the ‘spiv’; some of these guys could put their hands on anything that was in demand at the time and turn it into a profit.

A few of the lads who had been prisoners of war had learned the doubtful art of making whisky stills – quite illegally of course. Nevertheless, we had one going in our washhouse. An uncle of mine and a lad newly demoded opened a garage in the grounds of the Old Hall. It smelled of oil and old leather and was filled with motorbikes with magical names like: Norton, Triumph, Ariel, AJS, Panther, Matchless, BSA and Velocette. After a night working on the bikes they would retire to ‘The Fish Hut’ pub or ‘The Black Dog’ and sink a few pints and I would think what a great life, I’m going to have a crack at that when I’m old enough. And so I did, but somehow those glamorous times of the 1940s could not be re-created.

Things gradually returned to normal after the War, eventually we kids just got beyond the stage of playing out, we were ready to ‘spread our wings’ and there didn’t seem to be another generation of kids coming along to take our place. In the 1960s the houses of Knostrop, which would have sold for telephone number prices in today’s housing market had their woodwork stripped out and burned, and the houses themselves, bulldozed into the ground in order to make way for a concrete industrial estate. Ironically the building, they erected on the very spot where they had torn down our yard went down to the ground itself in a fire estimated to have cost a million pounds. No! It wasn’t me – honest! But could we have ever imagined that our old yard could be the site of anything worth a million pounds?

Pauline as the last of the gang to leave the yard is honoured by having the last word.
‘I was the last of the gang to leave Knostrop; I was in my late twenties. We had to leave owing to re-development. I remember the day we left our lovely old cottage, the only home I knew and loved. I burst into tears I couldn’t help it, I was so unhappy to be leaving. It didn’t seem to matter that we were moving to a new home with hot and cold water, bathroom, indoor toilet, central heating and easy access to town and the shops. I had never been used to mod cons so I didn’t miss them.

The older inhabitants of Knostrop were turfed out of this semi-rural ideal to more modern urban living. But modern conveniences do not necessarily make up for a friendly rural community. ‘You could take the folk out of Knostrop but could you take Knostrop out of the folk!’ Some of the older ones found it difficult to settle and perhaps passed away earlier than they should. Such is evidently the price of progress – and Knostrop – like the War, lives on only in our memories. But when we are gone – who will remember Knostrop then?