Black Shirts

Not everyone in the village supported the war, there were a few supporters of Oswald Mosley, fascists, who opposed the war and sided with Mussolini and Hitler, they were called black shirts . I remember some of them being rounded up at gunpoint in the village by plain clothed police. We were standing on the south side of the church when this happened in front of us. There was no resistance and I believe they were interned for the duration of the war.

Two large air raid shelters were built to accommodate the school children and teachers. These were in Danby’s field to the east of the school next to Byefields house (later the home of my brother Billy and wife Peggy). Gas masks had to be carried at all times and came in a cardboard box complete with a string that slung across the shoulders. We had random practices where Mr. Stubbs, the headmaster would go into the corridor and ring a bell as the signal to start the school evacuation. It took a few goes to perfect this move and in the end it was done quickly and orderly. Once while sitting in the shelter we were told to put on our gas masks, a soldier came in and opened a canister of tear gas to test our effectiveness of putting on the masks. Needless to say, quite a few of us were crying from masks that did not fit too well, until adjustments were made.

Identity cards were issued to everyone in the country similar to those issued in the first world war. They were supposed to be carried at all times and everyone had a unique ID number. In our family, starting with dad it was: FHPG 105-1, mother was –2, as the fifth child, I was FHPG 105-7. Paul who was not born until 1940 had a completely different sequence of numbers.

The other government initiative was the introduction of food rationing, prior to the war, a large part of the countries food was imported from other countries. Fruit for example; I can only remember cooking apples during the war years, the first banana I remember was a dehydrated one that Harry and Billy got after the war when on a cycling holiday. Fresh ones came much later. The cooking apples were made into pies which everyone loved, except me. Having a large family gave more flexibility in food purchase as we had more coupons. For example the meat ration was about one pound per person per week (this commodity was rationed by price, not weight), a family of seven could get a reasonably sized roast.

Typical rations per person per week were: 2oz each of lard, butter, cheese, jam, candy and loose tea, 4oz ham or bacon, 8oz sugar, 2 eggs or egg substitute. Most commodities were rationed including clothes and furniture which used a points system.

Despite rationing, we never starved. Mother was an excellent baker and cook. Meat was rationed by price so buying cheaper cuts got more weight which went further in a large family. As the war progressed, she traded some of the egg ration and kept hens getting meal to feed them even though half of the eggs produced had to go to the government. Later the ham ration was traded in and we kept pigs in the back yard, again getting feed in exchange.

While I remember taking the ration book to the local shops and buying items for mother, the most exciting part was the weekend when we were allowed to buy our 2oz of candy from the village shop.


In preparation for war, each house was required to install blackout curtains over the windows and doors to prevent lights from being visible at night. The glass in the windows had diagonal strips of tape attached to minimise shattering. A stirrup pump was provided and we were required to keep a bucket of water outside at the ready in case of a fire and a bucket of sand to use on incendiary bombs. Adults were given training to deal with these. As another precaution, all road signs were removed across the country.

As a child, life seemed to go on as normal during the war years, initially every time the air raid warning was sounded we would all go and sit in the air raid shelter, as the war progressed, we did not bother with the shelter. We were a small farming village without any strategic importance and almost ignored in the bombing raids. I recall only one incident when we were showered with incendiary bombs which did no damage and were quickly dealt with. The major target was the Tees estuary around Middlesbrough and Billingham where there were major chemical and steel making factories. Trimdon is on a hill about 600 feet above sea level. On clear nights, we could watch the bombing raids from a distance, see the searchlights and hear the bangs. The attacking planes after dropping their bombs made a turn over Trimdon as the headed back to sea and we had a searchlight and gun battery about half a mile away which opened up as they made their turn. I never heard of, or, saw any plane shot down by this battery.

The house in Cleveland Avenue was semi-detached, two storied with three bedrooms upstairs, a living room, back kitchen and bathroom downstairs. The toilet was outside and not accessible from inside the house. By modern standards, it was relatively small. The back kitchen was not a kitchen, it did not have any cooking facilities, only a kitchen sink and a cauldron type boiler for washing clothes, and it was unheated. The living room was where the family congregated. It was the only heated room in the house with a large cast iron open fire range taking up most of the wall. Meals were cooked over an open fire with a side oven and a back boiler heated the water.

The family lived in this room. We had a settee and an easy-chair on opposite walls close to the fire. The table was in the centre of the room, there was a small ornate bookcase which had a little glass door display cabinet. A radio in one of the corners and a built in set of draws in the other. Wall space was at a premium since the room has a large window and three inside doors (stairs, pantry and back kitchen). In 1940 mother bought a second-hand piano, which made things a little tighter.

The family life revolved around this room, cooking, eating, schoolwork, sewing, knitting, games, entertainment, etc. Both Harry and Jim were in the Secondary School (High School) and no quiet place to go to do their homework. All seven children were at home at this time ranging in age from a newborn to late teens. Paul who was born in January 1940 slept in one of the large draws, which was used temporarily as a crib. The floor was covered by two large homemade hooked mats.