To some, the Coronavirus pandemic feels like the end of the world, with the majority of shops, restaurants and pubs closed and having limited travel. But to those of a certain age, it’s a reminder of the Second World War.
Only this time the enemy is practically invisible, but the results are easily seen, with hospitals filling up with contagious patients. Food of course had to be rationed from 1939, as German U-boats were sinking UK supply ships. This led to food shortages and stockpiling. Something that we’ve all experienced, with supermarket shelves stripped bare.
This behaviour has caused food to be binned, as it’s past its sell by date. Whereas, in 1939 and indeed until 1954, every scrap of food was eaten. Yes, rationing went on for nine years after the war had ended. Not all foods were rationed at the same time. Meat was one of the first commodities to be limited, with other staples following a year or two later. But it wasn’t just food that was controlled. Movement was too, especially at night, as all lights were switched off. The Air Raid Warden would knock at your door, with that famous Dad’s Army line, “Put that light out”…
To compare life now, with that of 75 years ago, Jean Mary Barton, the granddaughter of Thomas H Barton OBE, founder of Bartons buses remotely spoke to her sister in law Barbara Barton, about her wartime experience.
“I was born in 1926 and lived firstly on Denison Street, and then to a new house on Hallams Lane in 1938. My father Carl worked very long hours on buses and lorries for his father. When he had time off, he took flying lessons at Tollerton Airport. When the war started, he was hoping to join the RAF, but at 38 he was considered too old. He was not ‘called up’ as he worked in a ‘Reserved’ occupation; transporting supplies and men. He also did Fire Duty during the evening. I had two younger brothers, and so mum had her work cut out looking after us and the house. I was tasked with keeping an eye on the boys, and it was difficult. Whilst riding our bikes, my brother Elson, rode under the back of a lorry going down School Lane. He hurt himself quite badly. mother was very cross with me”.
“I was 13 when it became obvious that war would be declared. I was going to attend boarding school at Hatfield, North London. Queenswood was recommended by a family friend. Although war started before I went, Mum said I would have to go, as she had already paid and it was expensive. I was absolutely terrified when Dad took me down with my trunk. I asked him years later how he could have taken me. He said that his children weren’t his concern, and it was up to our mother. So, when children from London were being evacuated to the country, I was going from the country to London”.
“There was a gun turret in the school grounds and it tried to pick off the planes before they dropped their bombs…”
“When we arrived, there were other girls there too, mainly daughters of officers in the Armed Forces, or politicians and other professions. Not too many were from ‘Industry’ like me, so I found it rather difficult fitting in. But as the war progressed, quite a few girls left for the country. So by 1945, only about 10 remained. We were only allowed to walk in the grounds for exercise. When the German bombers came over for the Blitz, they flew to the north of Hatfield and then turned and made a southerly run over our school to London. There was a gun turret in the school grounds and it tried to pick off the planes before they dropped their bombs. This made our school a very dangerous place to be”.
“We were not allowed to sleep in the dormitories, we had to sleep in the corridors downstairs on camp beds and I remember mice and rats running around. It was very cold too, as the windows were open and we had little heat. It was considered healthier to sleep in the cold and we were not allowed to be ill. During the school holidays, I would mostly help mother with the boys again. I felt the effects of ‘rationing’ more at home, as dad would get the most, and mum would give the boys more than me, as they were growing. We kept chickens in the garden for eggs. A local farmer ensured that Queenswood was well supplied with food”.
“My father built a very unusual air raid shelter, which I understand is still there today. He used a liquid tanker and sunk it into the ground. We had bare essentials in there, but felt safe when there was a raid over Chilwell Depot. I remember one night, incendiary bombs were dropped in the fields at the back of our house and we all came out to look after the plane had gone. It was really beautiful to see the fields all lit up. Once when the Trent was flooded, the bombers used an incorrect trajectory to Chilwell Depot and bombed Hurts Croft instead. One house was demolished, but no one was killed, as apparently the lady was warned by the ghost of her dead mother, and they hid under the kitchen table. A reconnaissance plane flew so low once, that I swear I could see the pilot. It flew towards me as I was walking up Chilwell Lane and I thought he was going to shoot me. They were charting the course from Chilwell Depot to Stanton Ironworks, so that they could bomb two targets in one run”.
“As today, all the theatres and other entertainments were closed. Shops were almost empty, and it was not until the American soldiers arrived, that fun for teenagers like me returned. They brought nylons and chocolate and they liked dancing. So they brought much needed merriment, as they were based at Wollaton Park. This went on for almost a year before they left. When I left school, I joined the Health Service. My payslips came from Nottingham Council. But that changed in 1948, when the NHS started. I worked as a Radiographer and specialised in chest conditions such as TB, which was the number 1 killer at that time. I worked for the Chest Clinic on Forest Road and the City Hospital until I retired”.
Thanks to Barbara Barton for organising and conducting the interview with Auntie Jean.