News, events and discoveries of the Walkley Ways, Walkley Wars history project.
What is a jug, a jug that is of Art Deco style bright orange and black, a thing of beauty to Aunt Glad but to Uncle Bill her husband something that would be better left in a cupboard. Well to me it was so much a part of my life during the war in Sheffield it was the thing I looked for when I came up out of the air raid shelter at my school, Bole Hill County School, after a bombing raid which was a regular occurrence during my childhood.
Whenever there was a raid and I was not at home if the jug was in my Aunt’s window all was well this was the code my aunt had devised so that I would know if everyone was still alive.
Being a child of the war was a way of life for me and for everyone in the early forties.
I was born before the war but when it broke out I was still a baby so my earliest recollection was of bombs dropping and a second house to live in, Air Raid Shelter.
We had a shelter to share with the next door neighbour and we were so close that I thought of and called them my aunt and uncle, even years later they are still my relatives as far as I was concerned.
A Barrage Balloon was anchored on the Bole Hills and knowing the whereabouts of the shelters in the area became second nature.
Being very young there was no trauma just a happy life although it was because of the war that I was an only child my mother did not want to bring another child into this unsettled world.
Rationing was hard and the butcher’s shop that we were registered with did his best for us, the meagre meat that my mother managed to make into a feast was pitifully small.
Every day of every week was the same meal for instance, Sunday, the joint was roasted with a large Yorkshire Pudding and potatoes. Then Monday was washing day the chenille table cloth had the corners folded up and clean news paper spread over the top to guard it from the water because we only had the one room a kitchen cum living room.
For dinner that day it was cold meat and chips, but for Tuesday we would have a stew made from the same joint always followed by a rice pudding made with powdered milk.
Wednesday, we always had bacon and tomatoes with fried bread and if my Father had helped to kill a pig for someone we had plenty of dripping to not only fry with but to spread on bread.
We kept two chickens for the eggs and they were so well looked after because the eggs would be our dinner on Thursday with fresh made bread that my mother was so adept at making.
Friday, Dad’s pay day was always special we would have tripe and onions with mashed potatoes and what ever greens my mother could find (these greens were quite suspect and tasted of nothing at all but they were greens and that’s all that mattered).
Saturday was jacket potatoes and whatever mum had left and always bread and butter pudding unsweetened because sugar was saved under the bed to be swapped for essential items like a coat for me or clothing coupons.
We had quite a lot of bread and jam, no butter with jam, one or the other and even to this day 60 years later I can not stand butter and jam together.
We lived in a long row of houses with a yard running the full length and the middle house in the row was set up as a shop where we bought our dairy products.
Miss Fox ran the shop and every time she needed an errand running she asked me, the payment would be a handful of dried fruit or a few dates cut from a large block that stood on the little counter.
I learned how to weigh sugar into 3lb blue bags and cut butter and lard to ration portions, I was so happy to help because my payment of dried fruit went towards a fruit cake, a sheer luxury.
Another great luxury was my first piece of banana a very thin slice placed on my hand by my friends father and with such excitement I ran home to show my mother I was so thrilled a piece of banana all to myself.
Fruit was so short that the government provided concentrated orange at the clinic and it was so strong especially mixed with milk of magnesia to make sure we remained healthy. Also we had a spoonful of Cod Liver oil and Malt and Sulphur tablets how do we survive today with out all that medicine.
Small things were a great treat like visiting Lodge Moor for a picnic in a field along side the Italian prisoner of war camp and standing near the wall watching them all careful not to touch the barbwire as my mother said I would be shot (I believed her then but thinking back I don’t think they would have shot me.)
One day we went into the city centre we had to walk but we knew a quick way and a journey that would take us about 30 minutes on the tram we could walk it in about 20 through yards and back streets always in a straight line and we had just come down Cockaynes passage when there was an air raid. We just crouched down under a wall and waited for the all clear which was a long time but mum would sing to me and all my life after that I always felt safe as long as Mum was there she had this way of holding me to her, shielding me from danger.
When the all clear sounded we came into the city centre and the devastation was immense, Sheffield was on fire and bells were clanging as the fire service was trying its best bring order to chaos. The picture house in Norfolk Street had gone and the large public house Marples in Fitzallen Square was just a mass of twisted metal.
Mum ran with me up Norfolk Street to try to get away from the city centre and I remember so clearly a man screaming and digging with his hands in the rubble trying to find his family.
When we reached Weston Park she stood me on a wall to look
down the valley to the steelworks the target for the bombers and they must have missed them because mum said Dad would be safe for he was working in the Steel helping to keep the big hammers going.
Life with bombs was not all doom and gloom there were moments when in the evenings Dad would tie a clothes line to the gas lamp in the street and make a gigantic skipping rope and everyone would come out into the street skipping in and out while the lads from next door to us would play on the mouth organ so everyone could sing.
One night we were all sitting on our front steps nearly everyone in the top half of the street about 30 houses in all when the sirens went off. The lads who were playing their mouth organs just stopped and everyone went to their shelters but nothing happened so everyone came out again. Now this was not done for we had been told never to leave the safety of the shelters until the all clear sounded.
Dad and a neighbour stood out side having a cigarette so we all stood on the garden thinking it was a false alarm. Mum was just about to go into the house when we heard a strange motor like that of a motor bike only in the air when it suddenly stopped and began to whistle as it dived to earth it was terrible.
Where would it land? Well we all dived into the shelter remember I was only a little girl of 5 or 6 but I got there first and Dad tumbled in where we held our breath waiting for the bang.
It was a mighty bang and everything in the shelter shook, we had no damage to the shelter or the house but at the end of the street the Spiritualist Church took a direct hit and when we came out the big hole that was there began to fill with water.
We walked down to have a look and everyone talked a while then went home for it was something we could do nothing about only be grateful that it had not been our homes.
Dad had an allotment on Rivelin valley and each Sunday if we could we would all go down to inspect it and what a surprise the next doors allotment had vanished only a big hole full of water the bomb had missed us by a few feet.
Even though there was always a risk that we could be bombed and lose our home my dad still decorated on a regular basis because he said that we had to make the most of what we had and the war was no excuse to let standards drop.
He used to take me with him on to South Road to a small shop at the side of the Palladium Picture House where a lady with large bins of solid emulsion in only four colours would weigh out a large lump and we would take it home for my mum to work her magic on it.
I don’t really remember what she did but I guessed she mixed it with water to make what we know today as matt emulsion. We sometimes had green surrounds with yellow in the square in the middle and then next time we would have the reverse.
At each corner of the square she would have a fancy paper mould stuck on with flour paste and before the emulsion dried she would roll a piece of screwed up netting down the wall to make a pattern (what a woman).
I was fortunate to have my Dad at home for he failed has army medical because he had Infantile Paralysis as a child and it left him very lame. Nothing stopped him from helping others especially when a pig needed killing, he was know for his ability to kill the pig silently only taking for his fee a bacon joint which was hung in a cloth on the back of the door till it was dried. I dreaded breakfast on Sundays we always had a slice of this bacon fried and it was to me appalling but Mum and Dad enjoyed it so that was fine he had earned it.
One day I came home from school to be told there would be no more bombs that the war was over and I can clearly remember how confusing this was as I had never known a time without bombs they were as much a part of my life as breathing.
That night we had a street party and everyone danced and sang we shared the food that we had and I can still see the joy on people’s faces and everyone kissing and hugging each other.
Later came the evidence of the brutality of war as they wrote in big letters on the gable end of the houses at the top of the street,” WELCOME HOME WILF” for the Red Cross were bringing home my Uncle Wilf from a prisoner of war camp in Germany. He looked very ill and suffered the rest of his life with diabetes brought on by shock.
Next home was uncle Mac all unknown to me for I was a baby when they went away but they were my family and it was great to get to know them.
Of all the things that happened to me as a child in Sheffield the most memorable thing that I remember was the little jug a symbol of love that we all had for each other.
The jug is gone so are nearly all the lovely people who shared my life in those war torn days, I’m still here and writing these memories has been for me a pleasure.
I wouldn’t change any of it and I know that some remarkable people have shaped my life which leaves me feeling very blessed to have been a part of it all.
It’s not just a story but a way of life and it all started the day my Aunt Glad bought a little Jug.
Valerie Moncaster, WW2 People’s War.
This article is reproduced from the BBC, WW2 People’s War. This is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.