Dr Colin Harris Remembers World War Two
I feel a bit of a fraud about my own wartime memories since I was born in August 1941 and really, compared to many Moseleians who are able to give their own accounts and memories of their daring do in the war, mine pale into insignificance! For what its worth, here are mine… a young boy in sad and puzzling times but I knew no different – I have simply brainstormed memories under different headings:
A cardboard train set made from Cadbury’s cocoa tins and painted a vivid red. I used to scoot down the churchyard at Hall Green frightening all the parishioners as they went to their services.
My first red Indian outfit – in these politically correct days, my first Amerindian outfit – made from goose feathers, chicken feathers, old curtains and air-raid blackout sheets – lots of shells and beads were sewn into it and I revelled in the name of Big Chief Cave-in-the-Face – some say how appropriate since nothing has really changed!
I well remember these under the table, in the garden and a large one in the church grounds next to my grand-dad’s house who was the verger at Hall Green Church. This land later became the Chatterton Hall, named after the Reverend Percy Chatterton who many will surely remember as a dynamic vicar who created the Hall Green Church Fellowship – my mother and father were founder members.
Siren and Gas Masks
I can’t really remember running for shelter but I do remember waiting for the “all-clear”. I distinctly remember the deep penetrating sound of the one o’clock bull at Joseph Lucas factory in Shaftesmoor Lane and within 5 minutes of that, my aunties had returned from their piece-work and we had lunch. I can recall the sounds of bombing and shrapnel from a bomb which came through our roof into a bedroom and brought the ceiling down.
I went to Hall Green Infants School – its quite interesting to spot names of friends on the Web-site www.friendsreunited.co.uk There were air-raid shelters (strictly forbidden territory but great for kiss-chase), outside toilets which froze in the winter and we had to drink ice cold milk each day. Girls performed handstands against the walls with dresses tucked into their navy-blue knickers. On a Monday we needed to take 10 newspapers to sit on to keep our bums warm. It was a great honour to be Ink Pot Monitor when you mixed an evil Prussian Blue powder with warm water, topped up all the ink wells in each desk and basked in the glory of being teacher’s pet. Our clothes were quite austere. Our short grey trousers were held up by snake belts and we wore string ties, school caps were obligatory and gloves were threaded through the arms of the regulation blue gabardine Macs to dangle to the ground. We read and giggled at Just William books by Richmal Crompton – I was regularly told off for giggling as I read them by torchlight under the bedclothes until late at night. Uncle Mac used to read us wonderful stories on Children’s Hour on the wireless each night – at 645 Fox Hollies Road we religiously bowed since this was the time (6.45pm) that Dick Barton, Special Agent, was on the wireless.
Quite a killer in those days was Scarlet Fever. I was in the Little Bromwich Fever Hospital for 9 months with it and Septicaemia. This treatment was to be stuck outside under a tarpaulin each day come rain, sleet, hail, snow, frost, fog and even sunshine – this kill or cure treatment must have worked. My motto to this day is “fresh air never killed anyone except Scott of the Antarctic”.
All our kitchen waste was regularly put into a pig food bin for the farmer to collect each week. Most people kept hens for eggs and meat. The radio doctor gave us recipes for cheap nutritious meals usually containing cabbage (yuck!) egg powder (double yuck!) tapioca (treble yuck!) and often called frogspawn and blood. We bought everything from the Co-op for the “divvy” which was paid out each year – coal, bread, milk, vegetables, meat, the lot – no-one ever forgot their number. (196649 is embedded in my memory for ever!). The milkman used a horse and cart and Mr Holbeach used to ladle the milk from a churn. An extra bonus was a bucket full of manure, hot and steaming, to bring on the rhubarb. Sweets were very rare. There were queues at the tuck shop in School Road when they came off the ration – The terrifying Miss Moss, with a grey beard and whiskers, worked there. She was very slow, methodical and reeked of mints as she marked out the boxes in your sweet ration book. She was the “Sweet Control” freak of Hall Green to my generation.
Fruits which we take for granted today were unheard of – I didn’t believe that you could unpeel a banana and eat the flesh inside when we first saw them at the end of the war.
I was particularly lucky since my father, a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy and an old Moseleian, (1928-33) sent me a Mars bar and a comic each week from Sydney, Australia. Such was my total faith in him that I cut the Mars bar into 7 equal pieces, one for each day until a new one arrived on the following Friday.
We played conkers, Polly on the Mopstick, Hopscotch, Letters, Skipping and Steps to London in the playground.
We all made crystal sets using cats’ whiskers and lead blende crystals to listen to the wireless. Each Saturday we went to the ABC Minors at the Robin Hood Cinema. There were always long queues at the Springfield, the Rialto, the Warwick and the Piccadilly.
Italian prisoners of war came to cut the trees, sweep the streets, empty the dustbins – we were given strict instructions never to speak to them.
Lord Hawhaw regularly came on the wireless to mock and hurt the English people. Everyone hated his voice. The Army and Navy stores in Sparkhill (Grange Road) sold lots of boots, uniforms, belts, gas capes which we bought to dress up.