WW2 Memories
My memories of WW2 from 1939 to 1945 I was 8 years old when the war started, I don’t remember feeling any excitement or reaction at the time, I do remember my Mother saying to my Dad will you have to join up, but that is as far as it goes. My father worked as an Accounts manger at James Kenyon and Sons Ltd, Heywood and my mother was just a housewife who waited on my Dad hand and foot, he wanted for nothing. We lived in a modern three bed semi-detached house in a nice area on the outskirts of Bury in Lancashire, purchased new in 1936, quite a leap in those days so my Dad must have been earning a good wage. I attended Fishpool Infants School which was over a mile walk from home and my Mother would take me in the morning with packed lunch and collect me in the afternoon, I do not have much recollection of school at that time except for one incident which I will never forget, the Headmistress went home at lunch time, she lived just across the road from the school and two pupils were given the task of taking a tray of tea across to here very day ----(I have no idea why she could not make her own tea at home!). The tea set belonged to the lady and she was very protective of it, it was bone china! It was an honour and a privilege to take the tea to her and one day I and another pupil were given the task, with instructions - DO NOT DROP IT! You guessed it - when we got to the front door and my helper could not reach the door knocker as he was quite small so I handed the tray to him to knock and he dropped the tray! Ho dear - - panic, the Headmistress came to the door and nearly fainted at the sight, we were sent back to the school in disgrace but we were not punished. To get back to the war - my Mother was a devout Methodist and just down the road was Zion Methodist Chapel, Warth, which was a small cluster of houses near the chapel, so I went to Sunday School on Sundays with my Mother but she soon let me go on my own as it was not far and other children were going at the same time, I enjoyed it, particularly singing and I was soon recruited into the choir which meant a Service at 11am, Sunday School at 2pm and another Service at 6pm so Sunday became a busy day, we had a good lady organist Elsie Bainbridge and she was also the choirmaster with a choir of about 50 when we all turned up, rehearsals on Wednesday evening. To get to the Chapel we had to walk past a derelict cotton mill., J.J. Mellors & Sons cotton spinners which closed about 1936 but we realised that something was going on, diggers, workmen, high fencing, barbed wire - - - It was being turned into a prisoner of war camp, how exciting! Very soon soldiers began to arrive and one day an official came to our door and asked my Mother how many rooms she had and how many people lived there, the upshot being she had to take an officer in to billet from the camp, no choice. So our tiny box room became a bedroom for an officer, he had a batman who looked after him, he had a key and let himself in and made the officers breakfast, they were gone by the time we got up. One day my mother said she was going to the chapel for a meeting, when she returned she had a young lad with her, our first evacuee from London, Jack who had been bombed out, his parents were safe but decided to send him to safety.. So I was now sharing the back bedroom with Jack, he was a very quiet lad and not very healthy, he suffered from Emphysema and had to do exercises every day to keep his lungs clear, another job for my Mother. Shortly after another boy Tony, turned up from Liverpool, he was a distant relative from a family on my Father’s side, the household was expanding fast! I then had to move into a camp bed in the front bedroom with my parents and the two evacuees in the back bedroom. Unfortunately Jack did not stay long, he was home sick and cried a lot so his parents came and took him home to London. One night early in 1941 there was a strange noise outside, we could not think what it was, a loud ‘shuffling’ sound, my Dad got up and looked through the curtains
to see a long line of prisoners being marched down to the camp, there were thousands of them all guarded by soldiers with rifles and fixes bayonets, how thrilling, they were the first lot of Italians to be sent there, followed by many more later. The camp had a large field across the road from the mill and it became an exercise compound for the prisoners which meant the Chapel was now cut off from the public! Big problem, sorted out by anyone requiring access down the road had to have a pass to be shown at the guard house every time we went to Chapel which I thought was great! Very soon the guards knew us so well they stopped asking us for the passes but strangers were often turned away without passes. We had numerous officers billeted with us including some characters, we had an actor called Theobald, a film star called Forbes-Robertson who used to smuggle his girlfriend into the tiny box room at night, naughty man! We had Peter Fonteyn who was some relation of Margot Fonteyn the dancer, he wrote and got published a book called ‘The Last to leave Paris’ and he gave my parents a signed copy with lovely testament to his stay with us, I still have the book, he was a lovely man and very interesting to talk to, he used to sit in our back room in the evenings smoking his pipe (with my fathers permission as there were no smokers in the house) telling us about his exploits, I could listen to him for ages. He was one of the longest stay officers we had and his batman Enenver became a friend of the family, my Mother kept in touch with him until she died in 2000, he came to her funeral all the way from Bishops Auckland. During the imprisonment stage the Italians were shipped out to the Isle of Mann and replaced by Germans and eventually the hard core SS and Nazis and the British guards were replaced by Americans, who were very strict, there were few escape attempts but one night two Nazis tried and were shot trying to cross the River Irwell which ran at the back of the camp. The Americans were very generous to the locals with sweets and tins of food which we all appreciated. We had an American officer billeted with us and he used to bring us all sorts of goodies. When he finally left he brought my mother a huge bunch of flowers and a large hamper full of food including BANANAS! Wow! The Chapel was still very active during all this time, there was a large group of young people including me and we had a youth club twice a week, we made table tennis tables and my Uncle gave me a Bush radio with a large amplifier and I coupled it to a turntable to play records for dancing, every Saturday night , 3 (old) pence admission, we soon increased it to 6 pence as it was so popular, half the profits going to the Chapel fund and the rest to the Youth Club, this included sandwiches and cakes with catering from Bury Co-Operative society and some times pie and mushy peas, 1 shilling, cooked by our caretaker on a large gas cooker in the school kitchen, he used to soak the peas overnight and then put them on a low heat on the Saturday morning ready for the evening dance, lovely! The dances were very successful and sometime we had to turn people away for safety. The Sunday School room would hold about 200 but that was the limit. We put on variety shows at least twice a year and as I had access to electrical equipment from a friend of my father I slowly fitted the stage up with all sorts of lighting having got hold a very large dimmer switch from somewhere, I had to make a box to cover it to stop people fiddling with it! We always had a dance on Christmas Eve which finished at 12pm, we all dashed home to change into warm clothing to meet again at 12-30am to go carol singing, lead by our choir mistress, we walked all round the houses singing with many people opening their doors to listen, at one point we stopped at a farm house owned by two sisters Clarice and Eva Taylor, and they had mince pies and hot drinks waiting for us, Eva was blind and used to read to us in the dark, we thought it was wonderful, but I digress. When we had done the rounds we all retired to bed, worn out but happy, the following morning I went round collecting money for the carol singers - but that is another story for later. (SEE BELOW) My Mother used to go to the Chapel twice a week to knit with a large group of ladies, one day she came home and her hands were all green and sore, she had been making camouflage netting! They had suspended large beams on a frame and miles of thick green rope which had to be woven into a net, it was very hard work and could not be done for long periods, they took it in turns under the supervision of a lady who came from some Government Department, it did not go on for long as most of the ladies dropped out - including my mother, so back to the knitting. One day my mother said I had to help her, she had borrowed a small trolley and we went to the Chapel to see a large pile of cardboard boxes and tins just dumped on the floor, they had been recovered from a sunken ship and it was tinned food! Most of the labels were missing so we filled the trolley with as much as we could and went home, we had very interesting meals for a few weeks as we did not know what was in the tins, we used to shake them and try and guess but were never right, we had fruit, meat balls, stew, a sort of spaghetti, my Father called it ‘worms’ and soup, it made for an interesting diet!
New Years Eve - Dance until 12-30am, home to bed and then New Years Day - Pantomime time, with professional scripts from a Manchester publisher, after auditions, months of rehearsing, making sets, painting scenery, learning lines etc. we were ready for the fray! The day before that - dress rehearsal, New Year afternoon - final rehearsal, evening the live performance to a packed audience and we only presented it once after all the hard work, we did try and do it more than once but we were tired out and glad of a rest. The Youth Club was very active with a large group of girls who wanted to play rounders, as I was the Club secretary I made enquires with the Bury Rounders League and got all the information to start an official Club, we went to a sports outfitters in Bury and purchased all the necessary equipment, my Mother sowing the tapes used to mark out the batting/bowling creases, we found a friendly farmer with a spare field and started playing, first friendlies with other clubs who were mainly works clubs, the first ever game was against a local mill team who came just for a laugh, they went home astounded, they were roundly defeated! And so it continued winning games and promotion each year until Warth rounders team had an enviable reputation, well done girls. We had a Sunday School Secretary called Albert Marshall who was very good at organising and he regularly had parties in his house with a lot of the youngsters which I used to look forward to because he always seemed to be able to conjure up some goodies which we could not get in the shops, my Mother was very suspicious and though it was ‘Black Market’, I was not bothered where it came from but I know his brother worked in a Manchester wholesale grocery company so that might explain it. As you will have noticed in all this account the school room was used extensively and as the floor was laid in 1891 when the Chapel was built it was showing signs of heavy wear, the large knots in the boards stuck out like mini mountains and dancing was a challenge not an art! The American soldiers were very supportive of the Club and offered to have the floor re-laid, we could not believe such a generous offer and gratefully accepted, so we had a new dance floor, sanded and polished to a high standard, what luxury! So the Club and Chapel prospered until well after the end of the war. There are a few other small things to mention like the air-raids, Bury is only 8 miles from Manchester and during the Manchester blitz lots of shrapnel etc, rained down every raid, my father was an Air Raid Warden and one night came home with a huge dent in his helmet and a headache, a large piece of shrapnel had hit it and he was lucky to be alive, he calmly went to get a new helmet and kept the old one as a souvenir, my Mother threw it out when she moved to a Methodist care home in 1993. I was an avid collector of shrapnel and used to exchange pieces with my friends, my prize possession was a tale end of an incendiary bomb, my mother nearly fainted when she saw it, she thought it was the actual bomb! It was very large and heavy and I had to keep it in the garage she would not let me have it in the house, it finished up in the war museum in Bury. As a group of boys we were always playing games, mainly football and as there were large fields in the area so we never had any trouble in finding somewhere to play. One day during a kick about I stumbled and fell in the field, picking myself up I looked round to see what I had tripped over, there was a neat round hole about twelve inches in diameter surrounded by a small pile of earth??? A bomb!!! We dashed off to the nearest phone and called the local bobby who came and I showed him the hole, he went a bit white and said clear the area immediately, all the houses adjacent had to evacuate and the bomb squad arrived in quick time, it was a large unexploded bomb which had it gone off would have demolished a row of terraced houses, lucky escape. I and some of my friends once got arrested by two soldiers with fixed bayonets for ‘fraternising with the enemy’, there was a narrow path which ran along side the camp perimeter wire next to the Bury to Manchester Railway line and there were notices up saying not to talk to the prisoners through the wire but we were curious and as they seemed to want to talk we talked! The trick as not to get caught, we got caught, marched of to the camp guard room and after a strict telling off we were aloud home, (don’t tell my Dad!) During the air-raids we first we shared the Anderson shelter with our next door neighbours but as the raids got heavier we walked down the road to a large complex of shelters built between two sets of terraced house (he old workers houses from the mill), I used to wear a ‘siren suit’, not very flattering but cosy over my pyjamas, we sang songs and played games but it got a bit tedious as it went on for months. I once had a severe shock in the entrance to the air-raid shelter, there was a local girl called Nellie who had a ‘reputation’!! I was hanging about with a crowd of my friends when Nellie came up and without any further ado dragged me into the entrance to the shelter and gave me the biggest kiss I had ever had, it took me a week to recover but I never did fancy her. Too big! Many year later I was working in Bury selling encyclopaedias (don’t ask why!) and walking down one of the mill streets there was Nellie standing in a house door, we both did double takes and I disappeared in a cloud of dust, once bitten! I mentioned about collecting for the carol singers on Boxing Day morning, it was a ritual and had been going on for many years, the money collected was used to pay for a Silver Brass Band to march and play for us in the annual Whit Walks (if you do not know what they are ask me!) My abiding memory is of stranding at the entrance to Bury Market Street Square with our banner flying high with me holding one of the large poles, our large possession lined up behind and then the band striking up with Crimond the hymn tune and the hairs standing up on the back of my head, a never to be forgotten experience! I think that brings me to the end of this saga, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have writing it, long gone are the prisoners, the camp, the Chapel, the many friends, just two left in Bury who I keep in touch with and that is it, all the rest have either expired or disappeared off the face of the earth - The Whit Walks still go on every year in Bury. HAPPY DAYS!
Zion Methodist Chapel, Warth, Bury, Lancs, C1996, closed 1965 and purchased by Donald McPherson paint manufacturers as a motor workshop. Demolished ? 2018 see next picture.
To the left is the Bury to Manchester Metro line
The tree
The same view with the Metro line at the back, the tree is left in the top picture, unrecognisable! It’s called progress.
Warth Mill C1996, McPherson's paints’
Part of McPherson’s today, the front of the mill has been refurbished and looks very smart - see pic lower down.
River Irwell with works on the right, this is where the escaping prisoners were shot by the American guards.
The mill, River Irwell and weir. C1920
Mural painted on one of the walls in the prison. artist unknown.
One of the last survivors of the camp. Henry Wuga and his Wife who has made a video of his experiences - his account below and video HERE
A selection of sketches by unknown prisoners interned at Warth Camp
Prisoners at Warth Camp C1944
Weavers C1922 what a contrast
Churchill in ‘my siren suit’!
This report in the Bury Times just after the war, says a lot.
A few examples of Whit Friday festivities.
I was taking the photograph with a borrowed camera, I could not afford one! Banner behind.
Preparing to walk, note mill chimney in the background.
In the field next to the Chapel after the Walks
Ladies race 1946, ‘Big Nellie’ leading! As usual!
There are a number of questions I have unanswered - We had a wonderful three manual organ in the Chapel which had been well maintained, it went to another church - but where? The kitchen had crockery for over 200 people, my Mother got a plate when the Chapel closed, what happened to the rest of it? There was a large cellar under the stage which housed the coke boiler and all the staging for the Annual Chapel Anniversary, what happened to that? Did they fill it in to build the new road which now occupies the site (see photograph above) or will it collapse into a ‘sink hole’ one day and people will wonder what happened, I can only hope! Where did all the time go? One big regret - not one photograph of the Youth Club activities, what a waste of social history I think that this is THE END but you never know. Fred Brown’s WW2 Memories May 2020
Chapel cellar under here somewhere! Probably just behind the road sign.
An old view of the mill.
I do not have much memory of VE Day, my Mother and Dad were not great party goers but I do remember a street party down the Avenue adjacent to my house with lots of food but that is it, what I do remember vividly is VJ Day in August 1945, my parents were great lovers of the Yorkshire Dales and had visited a B&B in Threshfield, just outside Grassington in Wharfedale several times before the war, so that is where we were on VJ Day, there was a lot of excitement with the family in the house, Mr and Mrs Falshaw had two teenage girls who were going to attend a torch light procession in Grassington, I was dying to go but my Farther would not let me and he would not take me as it was a mile and a half walk there and then the walk back - plus the procession was going into Grass Woods to light a beacon on the summit. So I was left standing in the front garden of the B&B watching a long trail of lanterns snaking their way through the woods and then the beacon, a sight I will always remember.
Grass Woods from Threshfield, Grassington just visible on the right, the beacon was between the tree and the pole
Warth Mills today, split into small commercial units.
The tree
A contribution from Jenny Thurlow, many thanks. Any more? Hello Fred, Well my memories of VE day are hazy but here they are for what they are worth. We lived in an 'L' shaped avenue and it was decided to celebrate the end of the war by having a bonfire in the corner of the road. This bonfire was duly built and an effigy of Hitler made to go on top. Come the evening the bonfire proved hard to light but someone had some petrol which was poured at the base. In no time the bonfire was fully alight so much so that the nearby tree also caught fire and the fire brigade had to be called. Hitler though received his due deserts!Hope you are keeping well, at least the weather is good. Best wishes, Jenny Thurlow.