By Joyce Waddington
Friday 1st September 1939 was a lovely sunny day and towards tea-time I became aware of our street becoming busier than usual. Children had been brought from Manchester to our quiet Lancashire town, Great Harwood, near Blackburn. The children I saw were some of the first evacuees. They looked small and forlorn, being taken more or less door to door, by adults, strangers to them, in the hope that our neighbours would give them a home. This was just two days before Britain declared war on Germany.
Great Harwood was considered to be a safer place than Manchester. Some big houses in the town had been requisitioned so that mothers and babies could be accommodated in groups.
I had been aware at the age of 14 that war was imminent; we had already been given identity cards and gas masks. On my way home from church on the following Sunday I had been told of Neville Chamberlain broadcasting on the wireless (the radio). By coincidence I was the same age as my mother’s sister had been at the outbreak of World War 1.
As the war progressed the appearance of Great Harwood began to change. Barrage balloons were tethered and oil drums in the streets were installed. When lit, they emitted a horrible smell; the idea was to create a smoke screen, to confuse enemy bombers. A lot of the evacuees did not stay – the culture shock was too great! Adults and children returned to Manchester.
We made our way in the black out carrying candles in jam jars. School life continued normally, but when it came to the long summer holidays a lot of mothers were in full time employment and the fathers were away in the forces. I don’t know if the scheme was nation – wide, but certainly at Accrington Grammar School, the premises were open and teachers were on duty. Pupils could turn up as and when they liked and the staff organised all sorts of activities to keep us busy: craft, sport, plays etc.
Miss Kitchen (yes, her real name), organised cookery lessons for mothers and daughters showing us how to make tasty meals with our small rations, rather like Marguerite Patten, using carrots to sweeten recipes.
I left school in February 1941 for a post in the Inland Revenue and was lucky to get trained in the traditional way. Later in the war, more men had to join the forces and the work load greatly increased. More people were working long hours in munitions etc. and so many more were earning enough money to pay tax.
At one stage, groups of us went on the night shift and took our files to the nearby aircraft factory. This enabled the workers on night duty to have their tax affairs dealt with on the job.
Social life became more exciting in Accrington, Blackburn and Great Harwood. At the local dances there were Poles, Canadians and Americans. The American troops introduced several unknown treats: nylon stockings, Camel cigarettes, fruit spangle sweets.
All premises had to provide fire watch teams. At our office a rota was arranged and each night, one man and two women slept on camp beds overnight.
Towards the end of the war things in some respects seemed to improve and when peace arrived there was an odd feeling of flatness. On the first night of peace John, ( my late husband), and I walked down the main street; there were no celebrations. It was as if nothing momentous had happened.
I understand that in Barrow there were street parties all over but I do not remember one in Great Harwood.
By Joyce Waddington who has lived in Barrow for 60 years.
Additional note by Alice Leach.
Joyce has described herself as a teenager at the beginning of World War 2 for the benefit of today’s young adults. However the word teenager was not coined till many years later. In fact, Judy Garland used to sing about herself as “an in – between – too old for toys and too young for boys”.
I was reading with interest my mothers memories of WW2 as a teenager in Great Harwood on the Historical Society website.
My mother sadly passed away in September 2013 and I am currently sorting out the family estate.
I have come across a portrait of my mother that she had commissioned by an artist in Blackpool in 1942.
She was concerned as many were at the time that they may not survive the war as the outcome was by no means certain and she wanted something that people could remember her by.