MEMORIES OF THE WAR YEARS
William Wood recalled his memories of Pontefract
during the 1930’s in The Digest, issue 19, September 2006, and in the
January 2007 issue we published Part Two of his recollections which cover
‘the war years’.
Avenue was a different experience to Headlands Lane. Number 98 was smaller
and so was the garden. The back entrance was via an L-shaped passage.
On the left was the toilet and after turning left the coal house was
on the right, with the kitchen door facing. The kitchen had a Belfast
sink with one cold tap. To the right of this was what appeared to be
a large worktop made of floorboards battened together, but which, when
lifted up, revealed the bath. On the right of this was a copper (a large
cast iron boiler set into a brick surround, with a fire grate set underneath).
On wash day mam would light the fire to boil the water, and the wash
was then done in a wash tub and agitated with a peggy stick (a similar
action to a paddle in a modern washing machine). The clothes were then
run through a mangle (two rollers rotated by a handle on the side) to
remove all the water before hanging out to dry. When the wash was finished
the boiler would be refilled to warm the water for the bath, as wash
day was also bath day. The light in the kitchen came from one gas fitting
in the ceiling which had one mantle (a small silk bag fitted to a ceramic
ring). Once used, the silk turned to ash but retained its shape. If
touched at this time it would disintegrate. Also in the kitchen was
a large black fire grate with another one in front. These could be used
for baking etc. There was also a gas point in the kitchen where a double
gas burner could be connected for boiling the kettle or a pan.
The two large, and one very small bedrooms had no lighting so we had
to use a night light. These were the same as modern tea lights but without
the metal cup on the bottom. They were stood in a saucer of water for
Some of the families living in the area at the time were Cuthberts,
Hills, Ryans, Martins, Childs, Moxons, Dawsons and Jones. There was
a shop on almost every corner. One off licence on Halfpenny Lane was
run by a family called Pagdin. On the top of the road on Love Lane was
the Co-op and further down towards the town was Sandy Illingsworth's
chip shop. He also had a chip shop/restaurant on Ropergate where my
mum and sister Ethel worked for a while.
Our house was the second one down from the ginnel where the miner's
coal was tipped. It then had to be carried in buckets to the relevant
coal house. Both the coal and the milk were delivered by horse and cart
which ensured a small supply of horse manure for the small rear garden
where there was an Anderson shelter.
Each evening you would see the large formations of bombers going out
on raids over Germany, and in the early hours you would hear them return,
usually far less in number than went out. One morning (possibly a Sunday)
we heard that a bomber had crashed at Darrington so myself and a couple
of pals decided to go and have a look. As North Avenue is near the barracks,
we had quite a long journey, along Love Lane, Carleton and into Darrington.
In those days the A1 didn't have a flyover but had a crossroads near
the Darrington Hotel. The plane had crashed just the other side of the
crossroads and had come down on some houses and the road. It was badly
burnt. When we arrived there wasn't much to see, just part of a tail
fin. Probably by then, most of it had been taken away as I did not see
any engines or fuselage. I do not know what type of bomber it was but
it could have been a Lancaster, based at Pollington, as that appeared
to be its destination. I later learned that the firemen had a job trying
to put out the fire because of the exploding ammunition. My cousin told
me later that all the crew had died and been very badly burned. His
uncle, who drove the ambulance at that time, had taken their remains
to a makeshift mortuary, under the Castle Museum.
One day a barrage balloon came drifting over the top of the houses,
trailing its cables over the rooftops. It had obviously broken its moorings.
It drifted off in the direction of Glasshoughton. No doubt it would
have been shot down later as this was the practice in those days.
The air raid siren would go off most nights, but very little happened,
and when the all clear sounded, we kids would play in the streets as
it was mostly moonlight, while the parents would stand and talk. One
night in 1942, Jerry did come over and dropped incendiaries across North
Avenue. One went through the roof of Mrs Child's house next door but
one. Bombs were dropped on Mayors Walk, close to Baghill Station and
one did considerable damage at the back of what is now Ringtons. A Mrs
Fisher, (a friend of my parents) was injured. The bomb that fell on
Mayors Walk landed in front of a house but did not explode. It was recovered
and de-fused and had a slot cut in the side. It was then mounted on
two brick plinths at the front of the Buttercross for collecting money
towards a spitfire. The impact of the bomb had shaken the plaster off
the walls and ceiling of the house and this was piled up in the road.
The morning after the raid we all went round to try and recover bits
as souvenirs. An empty incendiary container was found in our front garden
and was handed over to the police. I still have the fins from an incendiary
today, but sadly no shrapnel.
During these years I went to Love Lane Junior School and as the school
was below road level the entrance was through a gate (one at either
end) and down a ramp into the playground. Some of the teachers at that
time were: Mr. Wheatley who lived at Purston. He only had one arm. As
he was a smoker he kept a box of matches in his coat pocket (always
a sports coat), and invariably they would burst into flame to the joy
of all the class! Mrs Wilberforce who was very nice and kind. The Headmaster
was Mr. Tomlinson who lived in Hartley Park. He was a rather stocky
man and always wore a dark suit with a waistcoat and tie. Once a week
he would assemble all the school into the hall for what could be described
as a music lesson. Usually this was the singing of Hubert Parry's 'Jerusalem'.
We had to keep singing over and over again until we got it right, and
sang it as Mr. Tomlinson wanted to hear it. He seemed to take great
delight in conducting. The singing was accompanied by one of the teachers
playing the piano. I can only remember two of the other pupils at the
school, and funnily enough they were girls - Sheila Webb and Violet
Wormald, who both lived at the top of Spring Gardens.
Dad would come home on leave on odd occasions and on one occasion he
came home looking as if he had gone through some barbed wire. It transpired
that he had borrowed a bike from the camp and gone into the local village.
After a few drinks he tried to return to camp and in the dark with no
lights had ridden straight into a slit trench.
In the apple season dad would send us a large cardboard packing case
full of apples, which was very well received. On one occasion he told
us that he had met David Niven who was filming on his base. The film
was to be called 'The Birth of a Spitfire', a film which we all came
to know later as 'The First of the Few'.
Dad had progressed very quickly up the ranks to Flight Sergeant until
disaster struck. Mum was sent for, as dad was seriously ill in hospital.
She took my eldest sister, Ethel along with her whilst an aunt looked
after my sister Mabel and I. The outcome was that dad had most of his
stomach removed and was medically discharged. He went on to take a job
at Robinson and Wordsworth's at Nevison, a firm who overhauled aero
engines. At Ferrybridge crossroads there were two concrete bunkers containing
engine test beds. The engines were taken there after overhaul to be
run up. Propellors would be fitted and the engines run flat out. The
noise was horrific and could be heard in Pontefract. Those test sheds
were still there many years after the war.
Radios seemed to be a rarity during the war and the only one available
was called Radio Relay. We supplied a speaker which was fitted with
a three way switch - on/off, light program and home service. The volume
was fixed at a level and could not be turned up or down. A small fee
was paid to Mercer's at Castleford who relayed the programs. Every evening
at 6.50pm, no matter what we were doing, we would rush indoors to hear
'Dick Barton, Special Agent', and never missed it if we could help it.
We also listened to 'Workers Playtime' and ITMA with Tommy Handley.
Mam worked for a while in the munitions factory at Thorp Arch. She caught
the train from Baghill Station each evening and returned home early
each morning. On one occasion she told us that a colleague had tried
to get off the train before it came to a halt and had fallen between
the train and platform and lost both her legs.
I now had a brother, Brian, born April 1943. We heard that a plane had
landed in the park so went to take a look. It was a Lysander, the sort
used to take agents into France. Dad had taken up politics again and
had also taken over the Horse Vaults Hotel next to the Town Hall. It
was around this time, late 1943 / early 1944, that we left North Avenue.
During the war, cinema played a large part in our growing up. There
were four cinemas to choose from - The Alex, The Crescent, The Playhouse
and The Premier. There were many favourite films such as Buster Crab
as Flash Gordon, Our Gang, The East Side Kids and of course the western.
Johnny Mack Brown, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and not forgetting The
Sisco Kid. The baddies in black and the goodies in white. At The Alex
you would find Mr. Thompson in his uniform with long frock coat and
peaked cap, all in blue, with gold braid. He used to keep us all in
line. The Premier was rather quaint in as much as you had to go round
the back, where there were two wooden doors, through which were some
concrete steps. We went up the steps to where a cubby hole was set in
the wall. This was where you paid and then you went down the side of
the building and were let in through a fire door by an usherette. We
were only allowed to sit on the front three rows. It was during these
years that tunes would be played with the words on screen so we could
sing along. A ping pong ball bounced along the words so you could keep
up with the music. They always started with a 'B' picture, then the
news, followed by the main picture. The National Anthem would play at
the end, and everyone would stand for the King.
Also by William Wood:
Senior Boys and Beyond
Memories of the 1930s