Standing in the school yard at Southcoates Lane Senior Boys School, watching the sky shining bright yellow, with black clouds scurrying across it, I thought are these the war clouds everyone is talking about.
It was August 1938, nearing the summer break from school. Time for me to leave, I was now 14 years old; 15 in October. I had had one or two interviews for jobs, which were unsuccessful.
Just before the end of term my father said I had to go one morning to Reckets works were he had arranged for me an interview. So I went early to school to tell the head teacher where I was going He said I had to go back to my class room, there are no vacancies there.
Being early I decided to go back home and tell my mother what he had said. I was told that my father had made the appointment and I would have to go. What dad said, you did.
On arrival at the office, I was sent in for the interview with my mother, we were told, the headmaster had sent a letter with the school’s head boy. To say I had played truant from school and, gone against his orders. So I lost the job.
Later I learnt the headmaster chose which boys could have interviews, this was an arrangement with the man I saw.
I also had an appointment for employment at the Hull Brewery. While waiting for a reply, I was taken on at the Balloon Yeast Stores as a warehouse boy all week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, I delivered yeast round shops in East Hull.
Each morning I had to go from the warehouse in Prime Street to the shop in West Street, to wash the shop windows.
The war came on a beautiful September morning. I saw my father cry for the first time when it was announced.
That night the first air raid warning sounded.
Instead of going to the air shelters, and taking cover, we went to look for war planes, which never came There were plenty of search lights though.
The war came nearer home in January 1940. My brother was called to the colors. This was the phony war. Then the Germans made it a real war. Attacking, my brother told me later, and pushing them towards Dunkirk. Just before he arrived there, he was captured.
We at home received a War Office telegram, telling us he was missing believed killed. Once again I saw tears come in my father’s eyes. He knew what war was like.
After Dunkirk the air raids became more intense. The battle for Britain had begun.
August 10th, 1940, my father and I had a weeks holidays from work. We bought an East Yorkshire bus rover ticket for Mama, Dad and myself. This allowed us to travel to Selby, Witherensea, Hornsea, York, Bridlington and Scarborough.
On the Thursday we visited Scarborough for the day
We were walking on the south side, from the Spa towards the harbor, when an aircraft came towards us from the sea side. I told my dad it was a Junkers 88 bomber. He laughed at me.
The crew turned their guns round and sprayed all around us with bullets, he no longer laughed. We dived under St, Nicholas Garden shelters, good luck must have been on our side, and none of the bullets hit us.
Under the shelters the long seats were occupied by about 100 surprised looking soldiers cleaning their rifles.
My father said’ Those are Lee Enfield rifles, in the last war my mates and I could fire five rounds a minute, you could have shot that plane down.’ One replied, don’t be daft mister, we have not got a bullet between us, and if we had we would be on a charge for firing it.
In later years I was telling our Alf this story, he said, ‘When I went to France we had only five bullets each.’
In later years I learnt that a close friend of mine from Hessle, when he was fifteen years old he had been on the receiving end of those same bullets as me. The plane was flying back from a raid on Driffield airfield.
Passing the Scarborough Gasworks, they dropped a bomb, killing a young child playing in the fields.
Travelling home on the bus, just passed the Grindall road junction, with the main road on the top of White Hill, was a crashed German Bomber.
Running up the hill towards the aircraft was a Scottish soldier, his kilt flying, in his hand was just a bayonet, he was shouting at the top of his voice, “Surrender!”
The aircrew were just climbing out of their plane, had Lugar pistols strapped to their waists. They could have shot him down very easily, Yet they all raised their hands and surrendered.
Passing Driffield airfield, where the raid had taken place, we saw dead and wounded being brought out on stretchers into ambulances.
It was a reprisal raid, because Driffield aircrews had bombed their aerodrome. About sixty German aircraft had been involved.
As we approached Holderness Road in Hull; our bus ran into an articulated lorry. We all ended up with cuts to the arms and faces. What a day.
The raids were getting more persistent, so we moved over to where my sister lived in Riverdale Road, on Beverley High road. Living with our Lillian, meant we were further away from the dock area, the large factories and mills.
This did not work out like that; we were bombed there just as much.
One night the air raid warning went, and then half an hour later the all clear sounded about two am, we were just getting settled down in bed, when to our amazement the whole area began to shake with falling bombs.
Looking out the bedroom windows, what with the moonlight and light from the moon, we could see low flying planes: A type not known to my mates and me, we did not have them on our identity cards.
These cards were issued to fire watchers and home guards, they had German aircraft shown at four different angles. Playing card games with them taught you to know the different types of planes.
The word went round that they were Italian aircraft.
Later that day my sister learnt that Silverdale road had suffered the most and one person had been killed, considering the damage done we were very lucky.
Later that day my sister was told of one of her neighbours, waking up in their shelter, got up and went into their back kitchen. As she was putting the kettle on to have a welcome drink of tea her daughter said,’ Mam this not our house.’
’Don’t be daft,’ came the reply. Looking round the kitchen she realised that she did not recognise anything there.
On going outside they found that as they slept in their shelter a bomb had moved it two gardens up. The shelter was made of solid concrete, built on soft garden soil. The bomb blast had been strong enough to move it to opposite the back door of their neighbours.
Leaving work one evening I decided I would call at our house in Stevenson Street to see if there was any mail for my mother. As I turned into our road end I saw Mr. Hurran our postman, shouting and waving a postcard he said, ‘Get this to your mother’ ‘It’s a card from your lad he is alive’.
It said he was a prisoner of war and could we send him some food. The address was a Stalag in Poland.
He had been missing fourteen weeks, being alive was all that mattered, even though he was away five long years, at least we got him home. Not like a lot of lads.
My mother and father decided to return to our house in Stephenson Street. My sister’s house was no safer than our house. It just seemed to get worse and worse.
After we left, my sister had to move two or three times, because of the bombing.
While delivering yeast on my rounds of the shops, I never knew if the shops or bakeries would be still standing or blown down. If any of them were, at the end of my rounds I would call at the police station to look at the notice board and read the lists of names to see if the people from my shops were still alive.
Each morning the police posted these lists, they had a big black edge to them like a death card. Rather upsetting.
In Garden Village area I saw a house looking like as if it had three levels, the bottom third had moved to the left, the middle to the right and the top to the left like the bottom. But it was still standing.
A lot you saw was hard to believe.
I called at one in Stoneferry, as I walked up the front path I noticed the green shades and curtains were still drawn. I knocked at the front door, I received no answer. Waited a while, and then decided to try the back door. There was no back door.
The whole of the back of the house had been blown away.
Like something out of a film set the front way was still standing. It had not even disturbed all those curtains.
The elderly lady lived by herself, who kept the shop on her own. I found she had been taken to the shelter of a friend’s shelter, before the raid began, at least she was still living, thank the Lord.
My father earned his living as a spell foreman in an oil mill in Stoneferry, working three shifts. He had the right to employ and sack men, which was a very hard task before the war, with all the poverty and the hard times in the twenties and thirties.
One morning one of his men reported two hours late for duty. When asked why he was late, he replied, ‘Well Fred, I got up at the usual time five am, had my breakfast, gathered up my grub tin, picked my cycle out of the shed, set off down the garden path in the blackout. I reached the front end of the house, I tripped over some rope and fell flat on my face, and I thought I’ll kill my daughter for leaving her skipping rope laid about.
But Fred, when I turned over, I was looking at the biggest unexploded bomb, you have ever seen’.
Dad said, “What did you do.”
‘I messed myself. After warning every one, I got washed and changed, and then I came to work.’
After the bomb disposal men had dealt with it, I went on Sunday morning to see it. It stood leaning against the front window, without its tail fin, it was rounder than a large dustbin and stood from floor to ceiling. Level with the upstairs guttering.
One dropped in the street next to it, demolishing 40 houses.
Parachute mines floated down exploding on ground level, thus covering a large area. The blast expanded outwards causing a vacuum. The vacuum then sucked everything inwards doing more than its share of damage.
In the spring of 1941, the bombing increased.
I would arrive home from work, have my tea and go to bed.
The sirens would go round about nine to ten o’clock. Mam would wake me up. We were on our own when dad was on night shift. More worry for mam.
The pathfinder planes would come first and drop parachutes with about twelve incandescent lights burning on them. They lit up a vast area, so the bombers could see their targets.
Mobile guns were used to shoot at them to try and put them out. The guns often stopped in our street, firing away over our house tops, the rapid fire droning was deafening.
One night while the chandeliers came floating down, we heard a different sound. A strange whistling, next thing we knew we were covered in incendiary bombs. The whole area was lit up with them as they burst.
We had been told that you must not throw water on them. Just cover them with soil, sand or carpets. We dealt with those near us and then went next door to help our neighbour, just in time to stop her throwing water on them. They would have burst in to small pieces.
Bonfire night had never been like this. Fires were all over the place.
May 8th, and 9th, two nights I have never forgotten.
When the warning sounded my mother woke me up, already the anti aircraft guns were firing. You could hear the high explosives exploding.
Five minutes walk from our house on some land behind Bindley Street, four 4.5 anti aircraft guns were firing, they sounded like express trains going up into the sky.
A sky already lit up by search lights and the glow of fires, seven miles of dock land, would be ablaze before long. You could read by the glow from them.
From Hedon airfield, they fired a barrage of thirty rockets, exploding in a square of steel. Any aircraft caught in it would be torn to pieces.
What goes up must come down and it did in the form of shrapnel. It made a mess of the roofs of our houses and, if you were unfortunate to be outside in the open you could be severally injured or killed.
I went to the back to look outside. I saw what I thought was a man on a parachute coming down. Next thing my father was stood behind me saying, ‘Come inside, that’s a mine not a man.’
As I dived under the table there was a loud explosion.
I heard the sound of breaking glass above the table. The living room window and one in the front sitting room had blown in. There was soot everywhere.
We sorted ourselves when the all clear sounded. Then we heard someone shouting in the street. Dad and I went to see what was the shouting was about. Standing in front of the house opposite was the young policeman who lived there. All he had on was his underpants. He was shouting. ‘I’ve come home”.
The landmine I had seen coming down had landed at the corner of Newbridge Road. He was nearby and the blast had blown all his clothes off and left him just in his underpants.
He settled down when his wife came from her shelter and took him in. He went back on duty the following night, life went on.
The following night when my mother woke me, I stayed in. I felt a foreboding something bad was going to happen. The sound of the guns and bombs seemed louder than ever. Our living room was lit with glow of the fires. I found myself counting the sticks of bombs as they came down.
About midnight, I heard what I thought was a train coming down. Suddenly everything went quite. My father said ‘Take cover, this one is ours.’ (I often have thought had his experience in the 1st world war told him it was ours.)
Next I felt I was floating among soot, broken glass, plaster and bits of wood. A strange feeling as if you were in a dream.
Then I heard Mam shouting. ‘Fred, Fred are you there.’
He responded by saying ‘We had better go to next door’s shelter, until the all clear goes.’
We went out the back door across the yard into the rear passageway. Running down the passage, I could see my mother trying to hide under dad’s mackintosh.
I heard him saying, ‘At least I had a gun to shoot at the thundering Germans last time.’
Over the top of the fences, I could see the night sky lit up with the glow of the fires. Barrage balloons were being shot down, falling in flames.
I saw a German bomber coming nose down, its tail on fire. Later I learnt it crashed into the main bus station destroying a large amount of the buses, leaving a trail of death around that area. One of the crew floated down into a large burning shop nearby, and was burnt to death.
We managed to get into our neighbours Anderson shelter, with her and her two daughters. Their father was on night shift at Saltend. Saltend was a large petrel dump. At the time I used to wonder why they did not bomb it. Later we realised Hitler’ wanted it for when he was going to invade us.
One of the story’s that went around was about a young N.F.S messenger boy. He was given orders to take a message to the fireman at the top of the extension ladder, who was spraying water into a large burning department store. On reaching the top he saw a German airman floating down into the flames, pointing it out to the fireman, who simply said, ‘Let the bastard burn’
He passed on his message to fireman and climbed down the ladder, just as he reached the bottom, there was an explosion at the top of the ladder, which blew the fireman into the burning building. If he had stayed a few seconds longer he too would have been blown into the flames.
(When I moved to York after the war I told this story in our mess room. One of those listening said, ‘I was that lad Ron.’)
The day before these raids, a container arrived from the railway full of china, and copper milk pans. My job was to carry them up four flights of stairs, in a clothes basket, and stack them on shelves.
The morning of May the 8th, when I arrived at the warehouse in Pryme Street, it was just a pile of rubble, and destroyed with it two ford vans and a large delivery van.
I had done all that hard work for nothing.
To get to the shop in West Street, we had to walk down narrow tracks in the middle of the road, passed burning buildings and fallen masonry, there was firemen’s hosepipes everywhere.
Arriving at the shop we found it was also a pile of burning rubble. Later when they managed to dig out the safe, the heat had even burnt the papers inside. We were told to go home and report back in three days time.
When we finally reported in, we were told to go to his son’s house in Princes Street and empty all the rooms.
Then build shelves with wood he supplied us with, were he got it from we never knew.
Within a week he filled it with stock, opened a shop in Princess Avenue and was back in business. For a man eighty four years old it was a marvellous achievement.
His son was a Captain in the Air force; he was in charge of the barrage balloons over Hull. He received the George Cross for keeping them flying during the raids. He had a good team work from his force of men and woman.
So with three days off I could help mam and dad to salvage what we could from the house. We rented a garage for seven shillings and sixpence a week, to store what was worth keeping.
The roof and the bedroom walls of our house had been blown out, destroying most of the furniture. The downstairs was a shambles, the front room curtains had gone we thought. When we moved the heavy oak sideboard, we found them stuffed between it and wall.
The space between the wall and sideboard was only about an inch wide.
Blasts did funny things; the door had a pane of leaded glass, with red roses in it. We found this unbroken embedded in the wall at top of the stairs, hanging there just as if we had put it there.
Lucky for us the parachute on the mine did not open. So the mine buried itself in the ground. If it had floated down on the parachute it would have exploded on top of the ground, the blast would have spread more and most likely I would not be here today.
When the all clear went Dad and I went to see the extent of the damage, there was a crater you could have dropped a bus into.
We heard voices among the rubble, in front of us were two soldiers, when dad spoke to them, they quickly left.
Dad said, ‘They have been looting.’
We found out later there was one man with a broken leg. ‘The shelters had saved them,’ the young policeman was on duty. His wife was safe in the shelter.
Most of the houses were badly damaged.
A neighbour who lived opposite borrowed a spade off us and spent the morning digging among the rubble looking for his dentures. ‘Can’t do without them can I Fred.’ He said to dad.
Another one came down the street carrying a battered enamel bowl. He said, ‘All my worldly goods in here Fred, at least he left us something to get washed in.’
We were a little bit better off we had a few things left.
We were homeless, my aunty Violet took us in till we could find somewhere of our own.
We searched for our ration books, which should have been in mother’s drawer, the blast had ripped it up and the books were in tatters. Like I said, blasts did funny things.
When mother went to the town hall, she found out we were not on our own. She queued for hours, with hundreds of others in the same boat. The official number was 7350.
We had to rely on relatives and the black market for food, till they were renewed.
We rented a bungalow in Chantlands Avenue for three or four weeks, till the young man wanted it back. His wife had decided to come back to him.
Then we rented a house off a young woman whose husband was in the navy. Each Friday when she came for the rent, she cried, when mam asked, ‘How her husband was.’
After about four to five weeks, she asked for the house back. She said, ‘Her husband had been drowned at sea and she had married again’. No tears just a smile on her face. Mother said, ‘Strange things happened in war’.
Mam and Dad went to see Bridlington Town Council, to ask if we could stay in our holiday bungalow on Charity Farm at Sewerby. The Town Clerk did not know what charity was, he sat having a cup of tea and biscuits, never offered my mother one.
The Town Clerk said, ‘They had to go back to Hull, they had enough troubles of their own’. You could not live in holiday bungalows within ten miles of the coast, in case of invasion,
A police officer stopped Dad as he walked out in disgust. He said, ‘Mr. Spendlow I listened to you in there, will you come with me to see my Chief Officer and explain your situation to him, he may be able to help you’.
To Dad’s surprise the Chief Officer gave us permission to live there. Only we would have to report every day to the police station. He also said’ The local bobby would check that we were still there to save us reporting in.’
I now had to travel 36 miles to Hull each day to work and back. Travelling home one evening I heard a conversation between some soldiers. One said, ‘Did you have a good time back home in London.’
You must be joking he replied, ‘I spent my full two weeks in the underground, dodging bombs.’
Living in bungalow at Sewerby we thought we would be safer from the bombing. What we did not realise was that the Germans used Flamborough Head as a marker for bombing Hull.
On the return flight if they had any bombs left, they dropped them on the coastal villages and towns.
Bridlington got its fair share.
One Saturday night three mine sweepers anchored near South Landing. When the bombers returned later in the early morning the three of them opened up with all their guns, the sky was lit up with bursting shells and the return fire of the bombers.
Falling bombs exploding as they hit the water, suddenly there was a larger one that was louder than the rest, it echoed all around. Next morning we learned one of the ships had been sunk.
Just after this happened we heard the screech of a bomb coming down, next thing we knew the bungalow appeared to lift up in the air and, come down with a loud thump. I landed on the floor banging my head.
Then I heard Mam calling, ‘Ron, Ron come and help me.’ I went into her room and found the bed tipped up with her underneath it. I sorted out mother and the bed. The all clear went not long after.
Dad could not travel like me, so he stayed with my sister and, if he could, he would get home to us on a weekend. He could by riding from Hull on his bike.
The blast had broken three windows. Dad asked who had been throwing stones. Then when he saw the crater in the field on the other side of the hedge I think he believed us about the bomb.
At night time you could see the glow of the fires at Hull.
The oil mill in Stoneferry was a prime target for the German bombers. In 1938 they had a new refinery built; all the parts came from Krupps in Germany.
They knew where to find it, first they dropped high explosives, then followed with fire bombs.
The primitive equipment was useless and, when a large bomb dropped near them they went back in the mill.
The summer of 1941 my father told me to apply for a post of engine cleaner. I started at Dairycoates depot on the 20th, October that year.
One of the cleaners I worked with was a member of the army cadets. He came to work one morning looking like death warmed up. He had been called out during the night to help at a street on Hessle Road, to help the people who had been bombed there.
One of the worst that night, Something like 40 houses were affected. He helped carry out the dead and injured, which he said ‘Was not a pretty sight’. He was in a state of shock for a long while.
One of the docket clerks turned grey over night, when he received a telegram to say that his son who was a Spitfire pilot was missing believed killed.
October 1942 I transferred from Dairycoates Depot to Bridlington Depot. We had moved into a cottage in Sewerby village by this time, so I had only to ride to Bridlington on my bike for work.
Out of 192,660 habitable houses in Hull at the beginning of the war, only 5,938 escaped damage, with some 152,000 people rendered homeless at one time or another