34. Personal Experiences

In addition to the diaries, among mum’s papers, I found a collection of news cuttings related to life during the war. These appear to be, in part at least, from articles written by Norman Longmate entitled “How We Lived Then“. He also wrote a book by this title which was first published in 1971 so I assume these articles were from around that time. They covered a range of issues including blackouts, evacuees, the role of women, air raids, “make do and mend” and wartime entertainment.

Collection of news cuttings mum compiled related to how ordinary life had been during the second world war. These were based on the work of Norman Longmate which was published as a book in 1971
Front cover of Norman Longmate’s book “How We Lived Then” which was published in 1971


Grandad did not note any preparations for war that affected him prior to the declaration of war on 3 September 1939 except that he noted collecting a gas mask for mum at the end of August (see box note 1). He and grandma had been supplied with gas masks in September of the previous year when war seemed likely (see Chapter 12). After the declaration of war, he made screens to black out the shop’s windows (see box note 2) and he also made a night commode, presumably for whenever they intended to shelter from air raids (see Chapter 31).

[1] There was a special “Mickey Mouse” gas mask for children under four but I am not sure whether gas masks for older children differed from adult ones.

[2]  According to Norman Longmate, in his articles “How We Lived Then”, most shopkeepers had adequate supplies of blackout material by the time war broke out.
Children with their WW2 gas masks © theirhistory and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
News cutting from the work of Norman Longmate “How We Lived Then” showing a family in gas masks being directed by an ARP warden

Air Raids

Grandad noted air raids of local or family interest. Similarly, in her booklet “I Remember” (pp52-53), Edith Searson describes her experiences of the war in some detail including blackouts and what she did during air raids.

Air Raids on Pinxton, Papplewick, Derby and Nottingham

In August 1940, grandad he noted that German bombs had been dropped on Pinxton. Apparently, a council house was hit and one person was killed. The next day he went to see the damage caused. Later that same month, he noted that bombs had been dropped on Papplewick. In September, he went to see air raid damage in Derby and to Nottingham to see a Juncker 88 that had been brought down. In November 1940, he noted that the first air raid siren was at midday.

Air Raids on Sheffield

On 12 December 1940, grandad noted an air raid on Sheffield and that they had got up at 10.45 and gone back to bed at 1.30. Although Sheffield is almost 30 miles away, grandad noted that they had heard the bombs and they had shaken their windows. This was the first of two heavy air raids experienced by Sheffield in December 1940. Mary Walton and A P Lamb have written a book about these air raids entitled “Raiders over Sheffield”. On Christmas Eve 1944, he noted that the first flying bomb came over about 5.30pm. In April 1945 he noted that the blackout ended.

Front cover of the book “Raiders over Sheffield” about the December 1940 air raids
Replica booklet on how to get help after an air raid
This image and the one below provides dos and don’ts in case of a second world war air raid

Air Raid on Grantham

In February 1941, grandad noted that there had been an air raid on Grantham and that Olive and Alf had had windows and doors blown out. It appears that Grantham was targeted because it was the location of the British Manufacture and Research Company (BMARC) who were making aircraft cannon.

Air Raid on Newark

On 7 March 1941, grandad noted that there had been an air raid on Newark at noon and several people were killed. It appears that this raid targeted the Ransome and Marles bearings factory and that this was destroyed. In addition, 41 people were killed and 165 badly wounded. Because of its importance, the factory was rebuilt within three weeks.

Air Raid Shelters

In July 1941, grandad noted that the Council began building an air raid shelter on “Heaths land”. I don’t know where this was. I presume it was on land belonging to someone called Heath as it was capitalised and I am not aware of heathland in Kirkby! It may be related to Elias Heath who, I believe, donated the land on which the Market/Festival Hall was built.

Cuttings from the work of Norman Longmate on “How We Lived Then” illustrating the types of air raid shelters in use during the second world war

Family Members and Their Military Service

Grandad did not say a great deal about family members and their military service in his diaries. He certainly did not give any information about where they served or how. He did note, in May 1940, that Jim (Seville) had joined up and, in March 1942, that Roy (Evans) had joined up too and had gone to Rhyl. Among mum’s papers were a number of photos showing family members in uniform.

Bert Seville
Family members during WW2 with some in uniform. Those shown are Uncle Frank, Uncle Bert, Evacuee, Aunt Bertha, Uncle Jim, Uncle Ray (back row)  Aunt Edie. Kenneth (middle row) Marilyn, grandma, mum, Aunt Winnie (front row)

The Home Guard

Of course, during the war, there was also the home guard as portrayed in the 1970s TV show “Dad’s Army”. I remember my father talking about it saying that they took down the fences between gardens to allow the home guard to train.

Jack Attwood

Grandad mentioned the home guard in July 1943 simply saying that Jack Attwood “got shot in the Home Guard” without giving more detail of what had happened. What I did not know was that, over the course of the war, 1,206 men of the Home Guard were killed on duty or died of wounds. Fortunately, Jack Attwood did not die but he did spend three months in hospital. According to his niece, Pauline Cartwright, “as for the accident in the Home Guard, the men were in a crouching position doing an exercise and the sergeant in charge did not realise the gun was loaded. That was why the bullet went thru his body in two places. I remember there was a lot of worry in the family as to whether he would make it or not. I was too little to visit him in hospital and would have waved to him thru the window.” The Attwoods, Jack, his wife, Phyllis and their son, John were firm family friends of the Parkins over many years. Mum referred to them as Uncle Jack and Auntie Phyllis. Apparently, in later life, Jack was quite well-known as a self-taught painter. There is a photograph of him in the book “Kirkby & District: A Second Selection” (p114) by Frank Ashley, Sylvia Sinfield and Gerald Lee with some of his paintings at one of St Wilfrid’s festivals.  For a sketch of Jack’s in mum’s autograph book, see Chapter 36.

John and Phyllis Attwood
John Attwood
John and Phyllis Attwood with mum
Pauline Cartwright, Jack Attwood’s niece, with John Attwood. I am grateful to Pauline for this image
Phyllis and John, Jack’s father George, Jack’s brother Ron with Norman, and Pauline with her mother. I am grateful to Pauline Cartwright for this image.
Painting of Newstead Abbey by Jack Attwood kindly supplied by Pauline Cartwright
The images above and below are also of paintings by Jack Attwood and are kindly supplied by Philip Barber who owns both paintings. The location of the first is unknown but the second is the entrance to Newstead Abbey.

Fire Watching

Concerning grandad himself, in August 1941, he went to register as all men born in 1897 were required to do if they had not already done so. In October 1942, he went to the Labour Exchange for an interview about war work but noted that this had been postponed for six months. He also noted in May 1945 that he had heard nothing more about this.

During the war grandad acted as a fire watcher and I wonder if this was the same as the voluntary group of fire fighters, described by Edith Searson in her book(let) “I Remember” (p53), to which her husband Ben belonged.

Grandad’s work as a fire watcher started in January 1941 and continued for three years until January 1944. Mostly, his shifts were uneventful although sometimes the air raid sirens were activated. For example, on 7 May 1941, the sirens went off from just before midnight to 5am because of a raid on Merseyside.

Initially, he was paid a small amount for this. So, in November 1941, he received 12 shillings/ for October (equivalent to just over £20 today). However, in June 1942, payments for fire watching ceased although the activities continued.

In December 1942, he went to be trained as a fire watcher although he had been doing the work for two years by then! This training involved three sessions over a two week period.

On one occasion, in February 1943, he noted that he was the only fire watcher on duty. Shortly after that, a meeting was held and new arrangements were introduced, including a new rota with five fire watchers on each night. It seemed that this worked to some extent. For example, on 14 April 1943, he noted that there were four fire watchers on. But still there were some nights when he was on his own. For example, on 28 September 1943, no-one else came so he packed up just before 11.30.  From November 1943, the system changed so instead of being present overnight the fire watchers were expected to turn out only when the siren sounded. At the winding up meeting in January 1944, grandad bought two hatchets and two blankets.

Selection of WW2 fire watchers badges
Above and below – extracts  from leaflet explaining the fire precautions to take during wartime

Jack and Eileen Fawthrop

The Parkins did develop close ties with one soldier over the war years. His name was Jack Fawthrop. In July 1940, grandad noted that a “soldier’s girl” came to stay with them for a week. Her name was Eileen Wilman.  Throughout the war, Eileen came to stay and both Jack and Eileen visited the Parkins regularly. They got married in Bradford in the first quarter of 1944 and spent their honeymoon with the Parkins in Kirkby. Jack wrote to the Parkins during the war and some of the letters were among mum’s papers.

Jack Fawthrop
Eileen Fawthrop nee Wilman
Above and below – wartime letters from Jack Fawthrop to the Parkins
Jack and Eileen’s wedding
The Fawthrops with us. Those shown are Tricia, grandma, John Fawthrop, Jack Fawthrop, Susan Fawthrop, Eileen Fawthrop and me

Fundraising for the War

Grandad noted a number of local fundraising efforts held over the war years. In May 1941, there was a War Weapon Week in Kirkby. The aim of these weeks was to encourage investment in war bonds to finance rearmament at a time when the threat of invasion was real and the US had not yet entered the war.

Badge from Birmingham’s War Weapons Week © Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In February 1942, there was a Warship Week. Although Kirkby had a target of raising £100,000 (equivalent to around £3.3m today), only £79,101 was raised. Following the week, the community of Kirkby in Ashfield adopted the minesweeper HMS Abingdon.

Badge from Cheltenham’s Warship Week
Warship Week badge
Advert from the Norwich Union using Warship Week to promote its products. Norwich Union also gave £1,000 to support Warship Week in Hitchin

In May 1943, there was a Wings for Victory week focused on raising £75,000 in Kirkby – with a national target of £150m (equivalent to almost £5b today) – for the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm and the Allied Air Forces. YouTube has details of the target.

Badge from Birmingham’s Wings for Victory Week © Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In June 1944, another war savings scheme was launched, this time called Salute the Soldier. Again, Kirkby had a target of £75,000 but exceeded this, raising about £89,000.

Double Summer Time

One thing that intrigued grandad was that, during the second world war, the country operated one hour ahead of its usual time zone, that is on the same time zone as most of Western Europe. So, on 3 May 1941, grandad noted putting the clock on another hour to make Double Summer Time. In August 1941, he noted that they put back the clocks the one hour extra summer time. It was not lost on grandad that they were now following normal summer time in the winter! In October 1945, grandad noted  that he put back the clock to GMT for the first time since 1940.

Extract from the articles by Norman Longmate entitled “How We Lived Then” explaining the details of Double Summer Time

Public Holiday to Celebrate the End of the War

At the end of the war, there was a national holiday on 15 August 1945. Grandad noted, that he worked until 2.30 and then went to the cinema. The holiday continued the next day and he went to the cinema again. He noted that there was dancing in Kingsley Street.