WW2 - RAF in Canada
My Great Uncle Stan Collins, age 94, now lives in Sunderland. Above his mantelpiece he has, in a picture frame, a 'droopy' miserable looking cartoon dog. The dog is saying "after a week at Pennfield Ridge even the dogs look lime this" Pennfield Ridge was a British Air Commonwealth Training Plan, Air Navigation School. It is on the coast in New Brunswick, half way between the USA border and the town of Saint John. Aircrew spent about 3 months here in training, before returning to fly in Europe. Leading Aircraftman Stan Collins worked as a clerk in Store Accounts and was responsible for looking after inventories for each section of the base.
Last summer I was privileged to visit Pennfield Ridge. I was able to tour the airbase with a local historian, Chris Larson, who has been collecting memories from veterans for several years. He is continually updating a website with photographs and memories. Only a few concrete buildings remain. The runways and concrete roads are now used to dry seaweed and store gas pipeline construction materials. I was able to give Chris, on behalf of Stan Collins, original airbase 'Adventura' quarterly magazines, a 1944 Christmas Menu, a blood donor card, and over 100 photographs.
Amongst many memories, Stan can still remember his daily routine;
8am - dressed in uniform followed by breakfast in the dining room. Return to barrack block.
9am - Called out to march to unit where he worked.
12pm - Marched to lunch in dining room. Uncle Stan remembers fresh salmon being on the menu in summer. Return to barrack block.
1pm - Called out to march to unit where he worked.
5pm - Marched from unit to dining room.
Most evenings there was a cinema in the main hall. This was run by Store Accounts staff. There were two showings. Corporal Shepherd was the main organiser. Clerks took turns at collecting payment and tearing tickets.
There was a radio in the barrack block. The second hand radio was purchased when everybody had donated a small amount of money. A second, better radio, was purchased by raffling the old radio.
Regularly everybody had to take a turn as duty clerk, overnight, in the stores office. The next morning before everyone else came to work you had to sweep the floor and dust the surfaces.
The barrack blocks were cleaned by rota every morning. There were toilets and baths but no showers.
Dances were held every so often. Locals Canadians would be invited. Sometimes a bus load of women' from Saint John would be there. The airmen were the musicians. I can remember a pianist and violinist.
A service bus could be taken to village of St George for the service at the Church of Canada or the Non-Conformist Church.
You could get a 48 hour pass, every six weeks or so, to go by service bus to Saint John. The bus was once a day to Calais and Maine. You could stay in a hotel for the night. Dunlop Hotel is one name I remember. There were a few Canadians on the base ('working for works and bricks') who, if they had a ten day pass, would use 5 days to get home, and another five days to get back to the base.
On two separate ten day passes Stan went to Blandford, Ontario, with Tubby Fishlock to see Tubby's cousins. He also travelled to London, Ontario to see people who had friends in Gosforth, Newcastle, UK.
Uncle Stan says that everyone accepted that they 'were all in the same boat'. He obviously has happy memories of Pennfield Ridge, particularly the people. He says 'I met some nice people'. Friends were made at the local YMCA. Some locals would invite you to stay at their house. He still receives a Christmas card from Grace Archbold whose parents invited him to stay with them. Grace was a young girl during the war and now lives in Derval, Quebec.
Stan also remembers Ginger Harrison, Corporal Shepherd from the Isle of Wight and Sergeant Stokes. He does not know of any who are alive today. He would love to hear from any that are.
Stan remembers one accident. A Canadian Sergeant Sullivan had been on operations and crashed on the airfield. Volunteers were asked for to help with any funerals as under bearers. He remembers Edgar King from accounts volunteering. A runner in the orderly room died of meningitis.
Blood was donated regularly at St George. He says 'you were given a lift there and a cup of tea' He still has a mark on the inside elbow on his right arm from giving blood.
Before going to Canada Stan married Peggy Margaret Cruddes in 1942.
At the end of 1944, Stan worked for the RAF in Zellick, nr Brussels, Belgium. He looked after a workforce of 600 civilians who maintained RAF vehicles. He organised an efficient and honest meal entitlement system. For this work he was mentioned in despatches.
WW2 - North Africa
Walter Seckerwas a friend of my Grandfather Herbert Ridley Glover. I have one of the last letters Walter wrote before he died. Both men worked in the wholesale fruit and vegetable trade in Newcastle. In his letter Walter mentions eating fresh fruit straight from the tree. This year I used the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website to search his name. I now know that he served in the Durham Light Infantry, 16th Battalion. Walter died on 27th February 1943 , three months before the end of the war in North Africa. He is remembered , alongside 2,000 other men, on the Medjez-El-Bab-Memorial in Tunisia.
WW2 - Liberation of Europe
Douglas Langan, my Great Uncle from Kilmarnock in Scotland, served in the Royal Engineers. Photographs of several destroyed European towns and cities, including Cologne and Hamburg are displayed in an album. More disturbingly are the Nazi armband and medal that he brought home with him. Douglas also kept his Army Service Record. His wife kept two postcards sent from Margate before he returned to Europe after a leave. A Christmas card envelope has been stamped 'PASSED BY CENSOR no 15139). I know he served in the Royal Engineers constructing 'Bailey Bridges'. I remember his wife, Ellen Langan, recalling how she would be physically sick if she did not receive regular news from him.
WW2 - School Children
As a young child on long car journeys, my sister and I would often ask our parents to 'tell us about the war'. I remember my mother telling us that she had to carry a Mickey Mouse gas mask to school, and wear it during the air raids in Newcastle upon Tyne. She told us that instead of sweets children would be given black treacle in tins. One day on the way back from the shops the lid fell of the tin and treacle trickled out of the bag onto the pavement. I can still see the same image in my mind when she told us that convoys of tanks would drive down the West Road. Her father was an air raid warden.
WW2 - Evacuation
Catherine Stainthorpe (nee Henderson) was evacuated, with her brother and sister, to Retford, near Doncaster. Catherine was 10 years old, Irene 8 and Ian only 6. She remembers leaving Leeds City Station by steam train with only a small suitcase, a brown card name tag around her neck, a gas mask and a brown paper bag with an orange and chocolate inside. No family could take all three children so Catherine stayed with the Clarke family, who owned a jewellery shop, and Ian and Irene lived with another couple, who had no children of their own. Meals were eaten in the kitchen with the cook and butler. The two children had a bedroom in the loft. Ian recalls that since they did not like the food, he regularly stood on a chair and reached onto a high shelf where he could reach jars of homemade jam. He passed the jars down to Irene and when she found a flavour she liked they would both empty the jar. Eventually they were caught, and Ian decided to run away. He was found at the bottom of the garden high up in a tree. The fire brigade were called to bring him down. Alastair Henderson, aged 4, was too young to be evacuated. He stayed at home in Upland Grove, Harehills. He remembers visiting Retford and having to wait, late at night, on a very dark Doncaster railway station platform during the blackout. The children were often visited by Hannah, their mother, and Blake, their father. Hannah complained that her children were always wearing their old clothes which sometimes were a little dirty. After a few months Ian and Irene came back to live in Harehills. Catherine stayed a little longer but not as long as a year. She liked living in Retford and going to the school there. Some of their friends and relatives were also evacuated. Nina Stainthorpe to Ripon, staying with two old ladies, and Mary Beevers to York.
WW2 - Air Raid Shelters
At Wellington Hill there was a large anti aircraft gun . When it was used the houses in Harehills would shake. Ian Henderson recalls that their air raid shelter was under their garage. It was an Anderson shelter. Their were wooden chairs inside and a rug on the floor. Sometimes the floor was very wet. In the street outside their house, in Upland Grove, there was a public brick made air raid shelter. The nearest a bomb came to landing on them was when the shops on Easterly Road, opposite what today is McDonald's, today, were hit and demolished. Food could still be bought from Jack, who sold fruit and vegetables from his horse and cart. Bread was also delivered to the door. Coupons were used to buy rationed clothes. In the Henderson house nobody remembers there being a lack of food. Their mother seemed to be always baking.
WW2 - Yorkshire Post Bomb
Catherine Stainthorpe (nee Henderson) recalls that The ARP warden for their street (Upland Grove) was a neighbor called. Willy Stead. He rang a hand bell to alert people. One evening he came to the shelter to tell the family that the Yorkshire Post building, then in Albion Street had been hit. Blake, their father worked during the night there. The whole family were very worried until they heard that he was safe. The bomb had not killed anyone. During the war news print was rationed and wages were cut because there was less work to be done. Her father, Blake, had to get a second job at a printers in Leeds.
WW2 - Dunkirk Soldiers in Leeds
Following the evacuation of soldiers at Dunkirk many were billeted in Leeds. Some of the soldiers stayed in houses in Harehills. At the back of the clock cinema, currently Empire Stores, there was a large car park where children could watch the soldiers parade.