Bernard McKnight [British Civilian]

Introduction by interviewer, Michael Thompson

Bernard McKnight was born at 66 Vine Street, Hulme, Manchester on 2nd March 1930. He was 9 years old when war broke out in 1939.

This interview records his memories as a child during the war and to some extent how things were for him afterwards.

Recorded in Denholme Gate on 18th January, 2017.

[Pauses indicated by ….]

Wartime Memories of Mr Bernard McKnight


Michael: Where were you born?

Bernard: I was born in Hulme, 66 Vine Street, Hulme, Manchester

Michael: 66 Vine Street, so ….

Bernard: My birth certificate is in here somewhere …. Have a copy of that? ….

Michael: No, that’s all right, I don’t need it.

Bernard: No, that’s ok ….

Michael: That’s fine …. and tell me a little bit about your parents.

Bernard: My parents …. my father was …. he was Jewish …. His mother was Jewish …. his father, not sure …. I think he was from Northern Ireland …. that’s where the McKnight came from but his mother was Jewish …. she was an Iveson, and …. but then …. my grandfather on my father’s side was a green grocer …. and so, my Dad ended up as a green grocer until the war virtually and then he went to working elsewhere, which we will come to later, if you want …. but then my mother was …. her parents were from Burton on Trent.

My grandfather was …. worked in the brewing industry and then he came to Salford …. bought a corner shop …. mixed corner shop with beer and everything …. in Salford …. and that’s where mother was born …. then how they met ….

My grandmother on my mother’s side died …. she was very poorly …. she had lots of problems with quincies [acute form of tonsillitis] …. and the sort …. so, there was my mother …. and she didn’t have any …. I think my grandmother had x number of …. miscarriages but she was an ill woman and consequently there was only my mother survived …. and they came from Salford into Hulme …. and they bought a shop in Hulme and my grandfather died …. and my mother married my father …. which obviously knew one another and they got married by a Special Licence once my grandfather died, so my father could live with my mother …. You know it wasn’t like today where b****r it, we’ll just go and live together. They had to get married and they were married by Special Licence, so they could …. So, that’s basically the background ….

We never had a lot of money …. my mother …. invariably we had a shop …. a green grocers …. and my father had a horse and cart and did a round, you know, sort of the new estates and that …. so there weren’t any shops and …. and so he used to go round selling fruit and vegetables and what have you …. But we also had with the shop … we had the fish side of it as well, you know …. was included ….

So basically, I was brought up on like fish, you know, you get out of the shop. So, my staple diet was rabbit and fish …. and …. That was …. the …. you know I say we never went hungry …. put it that way but we weren’t rich, you know …. my mother always had to work …. she was a good sewing machinist and she used to do work from …. they used to put work out so much for sewing frocks up and things like that …. and she’d do a bit of private work if anybody wanted a …. something making, she could make it, you know. So, she was very versatile in that direction …. so, we …. although we never had a lot of money, we never went short of food and …. and we were always reasonably …. but we never had like a car or anything, you know …. except my Dad had one for five minutes, if you like!

Michael: Just to sort of cast your mind back to the time when war broke out. What were your memories at that time?

Bernard: I always remember we were living in Lower Moss Lane in …. we had a shop there and …. it’s odd this because …. I had been up to the local shop for a newspaper for my Dad …. and …. I can always remember …. you know you saw the newspapers …. kids didn’t read newspapers …. and I have got this in my hand, and across the top of it is “Peace in our Time”. You know, Chamberlain came back and …. and that always stuck in my mind …. I can see myself walking along looking at this piece …. and it didn’t mean anything to me “Peace in our Time” …. it was something or nothing …. but you got mainly your information, obviously, from the radio ….

You know everybody listened to the radio, and like the news, it was always “shhhhhhhhhh” …. The news might not …. we all sat there petrified …. and that was how we knew war broke out …. through the radio.

It …. didn’t have the impact, I was nine, and on a nine-year-old kid, it doesn’t have the impact …. but it did when I was sat in that bloody shelter …. with the Germans dropping bombs on us when I was ten …. and that had the impact, believe me, you know ….

Michael: We’ll come on to that in a moment, but that’s ….

Bernard: I mean I’m talking broadly and this is …. you know here ….

Michael: So …. how did your parents react to war breaking out?

Bernard: Difficult to say really …. I …. As a family …. you know families in those days …. really didn’t sit down together …. in the evening …. as they went out to the pub …. which to the pub on every corner of the street, you know, in Hulme particularly ….

We lived in sort of the Hulme and Moss Side, and …. which …. good working class areas, you know, in those days …. God knows what they are like today …. but …. as I say, we …. we sort of …. we probably went to bed, you know, fairly early …. and the parents were working all day, and we were at school all day …. you know …. and …. well we used to come home for lunch because there were no school dinners ….

So, the radio was the only thing anybody listened to, and as I got older …. A lot of time, even during the war, I was left on my own in the house …. What should I say, ten, eleven-year-old …. my mother worked in …. she was a barmaid …. this time, and she worked in obviously bar hours and my Dad was here, there and everywhere …. and I had a brother, as I say, who was three and half years older than I was …. and he used to, when I am that age, he was chasing the girls a bit like so …. I used to sit in the house and listen to the radio …. but I can remember like …. the sirens going, and …. when I was in on my own, I mean the sirens went every night virtually, at one period you know …. in fact, we used to go into the shelter rather than go to bed …. you know, we would sleep in the shelter rather than sleep in the bed and get up and have to go in the shelter …. so …. I …. so consequently …. I listened to the radio a lot ….as I got older which was the only method of entertainment like, you know.

Michael: Can you remember any specific nights, when you were in the shelter, or perhaps weren’t in the shelter ….

Bernard: Oh yeah ….

Michael: When there was bombing going on around you?

Bernard: Oh yeah, I can …. I remember one night …. if the sirens went, we used to take the blankets off the beds …. we didn’t have separate blankets …. in the shelter ….

It was a brick air raid shelter …. I don’t know if you have ever seen one …. but they had …. no door on it …. it was just completely brick with a reinforced concrete roof and a window with knock out blocks in so that if you got trapped in it, somebody could possibly get you out through this sort of window ….

So, my Dad put …. he raised a wooden floor off …. you know about a foot off the floor …. so, that it made a bed in wood, so we weren’t lying down on the cold concrete …. and we had a big flock mattress …. not like a mattress, it was like a big bag …. it used to be feather and flock …. depending on how much money you had. You just filled this in and it stayed permanently in there …. and we just went in there …. we probably had …. but the bedding, we used to bring off the beds because we hadn’t got another load of bedding …. So, if I was in on my own …. if the sirens went, we used to grab the bedding and take it in the shelter …. as I say, during the Manchester blitz, we just used to go into the shelter …. because you were bombed every night, you know ….

And …. so, but this particular night, when I was in on my own, they used to send whistling bombs down, screamers, you know …. and this bloody thing came down, frightened the bloody life out of me because you never knew where they were going to hit, of course.

This was …. the idea was to let you know that it’s coming down, and it might be you, right, you know …. I mean … it’s appalling when you think …. that …. the thinking behind this situation …. you know, these are people like you …. just the same …. you know we are all the same …. and yet they’re frightening the bloody life out of women and children basically because the fellahs are in the army …. and …. they’re bombing …. they are supposed to be bombing Trafford Park and Manchester docks …. and they are all falling on Old Trafford, and I am in the middle of it, you know …. As you said, the baths went, you know, Old Trafford baths, and I always have this sort of little joke about it …. And the reason ….. like through abroad and they say, “Are you going in the broad?”, “I can’t swim!” …. because the Germans bombed Old Trafford baths, and I couldn’t swim! [laughs] …. So, I always have a go at the Germans …. but …. I’ve done this, believe me, time and time again. But the …. but the night that happened, this is …. I got quite emotional about it …. on thinking about it … I was telling my daughter … my daughter-in-law recently …. about what happened, due to this conversation, due to you contacting me …. and …. and I said …. I was told it was a land mine, you know, which should have very heavy bombing on the baths …. and this little wooden door we had on the air raid shelter, blew wide, blew open …. and my father was out helping the wardens, and my mother threw herself across my brother and I in the shelter.

Michael: And was she all right?

Bernard: Yeah …. you know the idea being to protect us, you know, yes …. And, you know, we …. obviously the immediate thing …. you know, this massive noise and the door going, thinking it is going to come in …. and she threw herself over us and ….

Michael: An automatic reaction from your mother.

Bernard: Yeah ….

Michael: And were there other nights like that?

Bernard: Oh, well, you know …. erm …. as I say, my Dad used to go out …. he wasn’t …. he was quite a man …. well …. he was only small and …. but he was too old to go in the army …. but …. he wasn’t the sort of fellow that would join the air raid ARMP or whatever it was ….

He didn’t want to be a warden but he couldn’t sit in the shelter …. and be bombed like, so he had to be out, he would be wandering round, no bloody steel helmet on, nothing …. and …. and he …. we lived in Prestage Street more or less all this time …. which is in Old Trafford …. and erm …. I tried to think of anywhere …. it wasn’t …. wasn’t far from …. well it wasn’t far from Old Trafford …. you know the Chester Road and Stretford Road? You know that area, sort of thing, and so Prestage Street …. yeah, he in …. this night there was incendiaries, and one hit our roof of the house, fortunately it bounced off the slates and …. ignited in the road, and burnt out in the road, but there was a factory just round the corner from us …. that did mosaic work and …. I think they were foreign, Italian, possibly Italian originally or whatever …. and …. my Dad …. there was a fire in this factory, so they immediately go in …. and he said there’s a barrel stuff here, he said, so I just poured it all over and put the incendiary out. And there were mosaic beads …. some bloody force, you know …. He wasn’t aware of that, like …. but I always thought that quite amusing …. that …. expensive helping putting fires out.

Michael: But did your Dad fight in the first World War?

Bernard: He was just at the end of it, you know, just at the tail end, I think he was born …. about …. yeah, he was born about 1900, I think he was born, yeah, I think, I think he was born in 19…. which would put him sort of 18 when the war finished …. he went in at the tail end …. he was in the North Lancashire Fusiliers …. and …. he just told stories about him and his mates and Bury, you know, who were in the Lancashire Fusiliers …. but he was only in …. and never actually did any fighting, so …. he sort of missed …. missed at both ends …. he was too old for one …. you know, in …. where was it, ’39 …. well, he was too old to go in the war then …. well he would be 39 presumably, and then …. when he was 18, he just got in and it finished, so …. there was in that middle bit ….

I was too …. too young obviously, my brother went in at the tail end …. and he was actually …. he should have gone to Arnhem …. he was in the Paras …. but …. You know, talk about bloody ridiculous …. pardon my French …. but …. as an 11 year old boy, he had a mastoid operation which is on the ear, you know, quite a serious operation …. so, he’s always had problems with his ears, so what do they do? He goes in the Paras and, nothing worse, you know, for your ears than dropping through space, like …. so, he spent quite a bit of time in hospital …. with his ear …. you know, he had been jumping, and his ears been ….

I don’t know what happened to him but …. so, they invalided him and he ended up in the …. Army Fire Service in Gibraltar …. spent the …. you know, that was after the war, of course. You know, I am giving you all the background I can

Michael: No, that is absolutely fine. Just tell me a little bit about your typical …. I mean …. day, in the life of a child.

Bernard: As a child, the things I can remember, I …. When I …. first …. we lived in Lower Moss Lane which was …. and I went to Princess Old School …. in Moss Side. This was my first school, and …. so, when you moved …. my Dad moved shops like, you know ….

We had two shops in …. he moved from one shop three doors away to get the corner shop …. you know, which became available …. it was all rented you know of course, so, you know, five bob a week or whatever it was …. or even less than that, but …. so, consequently, you know, we lived in Clopton Street in Hulme …. I can remember …. vividly, as you came out of the shop and looked down Clopton Street, the Hulme Hippodrome was at the bottom and the lights on the Hulme Hippodrome were all flashing, you know, this was before the war …. and …. that was always …. you know something I remembered …. but, I figured …. going to school ….

I had to walk, I mean, you know, there was no child …. today like …. everybody’s cars are on the school route …. You had to walk from Lower Moss Lane, and believe me, if you measured this out, it is a fair old walk for a young kid, like, you know …. and …. so, I had to walk there in the morning, and then had to walk back at lunch …. dinner time …. because there was no food at the school …. had to walk back home and have my dinner …. and then walk back again to school and then walk back again at night …. so, I had done it four times …. you know …. it sort of …. in this day and age …. I can remember it being foggy one day …. and the school teacher gave me …. a penny for the travel going home on the tram, but these things are things that you do remember, you know, and it’s odd isn’t it?

Because why the hell do you remember a thing like that? You know but it’s there, it sticks in your mind.

And, when I was walking on this school trip, daily, there was a lad, bullying …. He was a lad …. he used to frighten the life out of me …. you know, I was only young and he was older than I was …. He used to frighten me, so I used to have to take a detour then to miss this fellow …. oh dear …. But the other thing I remember being at Princess Old School, there were two things …. One …. was as you came home, Harrop’s bakery was on …. think it was on Raby Street [Actually on the corner of Radnor Street and Boston Street] …. and … you …. and the smell of the baking and they used to do Eccles cakes …. they were …. wonderful, and they used to stand round the door with begging eyes …. in the hope that somebody would give me …. yes …. an Eccles cake ….

Michael: Were there Eccles cakes actually during the War itself?

Bernard: Oh yeah ….

Michael: Not affected by rationing?

Bernard: I am not sure about that, possibly …. because …. like …. I’m talking about before the war …. with Harrops bakery because …. because when I was …. Yeah, I was nine when war broke out, and then we moved from Lower Moss Lane …. we moved to …. Prestage street …. and then ….. we got there …. the majority …. I went to …. Seymour Park School …. and …. so, we got the majority of the hammering in Prestage Street …. but there was nothing in Lower Moss Lane …. towards …. it started but I don’t think there was a lot of bombing around there …. but once we moved to Prestage street, we got really hammered ….

Michael: Tell me a bit about the rationing itself, do you remember much about ….

Bernard: Yeah, I do, yeah, you got very little, my mother was one of these, sort of women that would give the kids everything …. and have nothing herself, you know …. I suppose, thank God for that …. but …. we …. we …. when we lived in Old Trafford, we moved then from Prestage Street to Kings Road …. which was a much nicer, semi-detached house …. very nice house …. and a garden ….

So, the war was on …. so, we had chickens …. My Dad …..

Have you heard of Shude Hill in Manchester? Well every …. in that day and age …. on Saturday …. on Shude Hill …. they had like a sort of street market …. but not …. they would have a fellow, you know, with a dozen hens or …. they’d have a dog, or …. you know they just sort of go there and sell animals or …. you could buy day old chicks there …. and you used to buy these bloody things …. we had a few but most of them died because …. you just hadn’t got the facilities like …. but I became like ….

In …. …. , we had the chickens …. and …. so, we had got quite a decent thing with eggs, but I used to have to look after …. well, I used to look after them, make the food and everything …. and I had …. we had to give your egg ration up if you had chickens, to get meal for the chickens …. and …. the meal place was in Moss Side …. so, I had a job with a local grocer.

I was delivering groceries …. you know …. didn’t have a van then, you had a lad on a bike! And …. with the basket on the front …. and so, when I went over to the Moss Side area delivering …. which they did …. they had one or two customers over there …. I used to pick up the meal on the basket …. I can see it now …. on …. It was in Moss Lane East, something like that …. I can see the corner shop and you go in and get your meal bag …. And I used to bring it home on the bike, but we like, we had …. chickens.

I had a few rabbits …. because …. as you do and we had ducks …. my Dad dug a pond, and we had ducks then …. but we couldn’t understand where the eggs were going …. we never saw any eggs, then all of a sudden, we found them buried in the mud around the pond …. But …. it was very good having my own chickens because you did get something out …. you know you did get eggs …. and …. obviously, an egg was a meal in those days, you know with rationing.

We had powdered egg, obviously …. but nothing substituted for …. and like all that was on the ration, you know, you just couldn’t buy what you wanted …. I mean, eventually, bread and potatoes went on the ration …. and it just got to the stage where there was virtually nothing available, without a ration book, you know.

And then, of course, clothes were on the ration …. you know …. Fortunately as …. when I …. did eventually …. during the war, I qualified and went to Stretford Grammar School …. But …. you know, they had a full uniform normally, but because it was wartime, you didn’t have to have the uniform …. so, my brother was in the Army, and he had a spare …. battledress …. and my mother dyed it blue …. and …. navy blue, and I used to wear that to school, so …. but ….

Austerity was sort of the norm, you know …. but having not had a lot of money early days …. it didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference, you know ….

Michael: A way of life really, in a way.

Bernard: Sorry?

Michael: A way of life

Bernard: Absolutely …. I mean in the 30s, you know, I mean, they were us and them like, you know …. that middle layer which became …. like the …. wasn’t there …. I don’t think …. I didn’t think so as a kid …. the other thing …. I remember, talking about school days, and like at Princess Old School …. there was …. It was quite a big school, and …. but next door was an undertaker’s …. you know …. they were sort of across the ….

The school was here …. and like, there was a small road down beside of the school, and on the next corner …. were Stamper’s undertakers …. the daughter was in my class school …. but the thing about Stamper’s undertakers was they made the coffins there …. and they made them in the cellars, and you could look through the windows from outside, like, in the street …. Look through the windows …. and see them making the coffins, like, and some of them kids’ coffins and all …. You know, it was an odd sort of thing …. but …. just …. I can remember sort of standing there looking at making coffins, you see …. You watch the television now, of course …. !

[Lunch break]

Michael: Now …. we touched just er …. when we took that break …. we touched on …. on the fact, I think, that you were evacuated?

Bernard: Yeah

Michael: Would you like to tell me about that?

Bernard: Right, so …. immediately war broke out, I was …. are you ok with this?

Michael: Yeap

Bernard: …. Princess Old School …. in Moss Side …. and …. this is the school I was saying had this long walk backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards …. So …. my mother and my father …. my mother, particularly …. he obviously, he didn’t know what to expect, that was the thing …. You know, they were talking …. we all got gas masks and shoes …. and you know that was terrifying when you think about it …. and we never used them but, I mean, the fact they might be dropping bloody poison gas on you, you know …. so, we all going to have the gas masks and then …. she sort of eventually sort of gave in …. we would be evacuated …. we were put on the train …. in Manchester, probably down in the …. the city centre somewhere …. and then ferried out, believe it or not, to Cheadle, which was about 8 miles up the road …. and like, if you were in a grammar school, you got to Blackpool but if you are Princess Old School, you are 8 miles up the road to Cheadle, and I always say …. if the bomber aimer is …. if his bomb aiming gear is about a “thou” out …. they’d probably dropped them on bloody Cheadle …. you know ….

It was so ridiculous, I mean …. I suppose …. you know, they didn’t get the hammering we got in Old Trafford …. but …. it was a bit …. anyway, we only …. we billeted with …. my brother and I, this is …. we billeted with a young couple who had a young son … and …. so, it wasn’t ideal, and so, my mother brought us back, within probably a month, I should think of being out there. But in the meantime, my father had actually …. he bought a carrier bike and put a whole hundred weight of spuds on the front of it …. and cycled up to Cheadle …. from Manchester …. and he gave them these potatoes to keep us going like, you know, to feed us . But, then again, these are things which I remember, you know.

Michael: What sort of accommodation were you put in?

Bernard: Well, just in with a family you know that had a spare two room …. bedroom which Arthur and I shared, and lived in, and that was it.

But they were great …. she was called Bunny …. Bunny …. yeah, I’ll think of why she was called Bunny …. Oh, that’s was right, because her name was Coven …. “Bunny sits with Coven” …. that’s why she was called Bunny.

But the …. every night I used to listen to the news and then …. and when they played the end of …. I don’t know …. nine o’clock or whatever …. we all stood up right through the National Anthem, then …. she was in tears …. and oh God ….

But, you know …. they were just a young couple and …. yeah, I don’t know anything about …. …. just had a young kid who was a pain in the backside like …. only child …. probably about, I don’t know, five or six years old …. But …. so, we did go to Cheadle, and …. we must of …. yeah, we were probably there about a month …. because we went …. Cheadle Hulme …. a school in Cheadle Hulme …. we went down …. they put us in there …. but what they really wanted, I don’t think …. the nobility in Cheadle in that day and age …. they frowned a bit upon us Moss Side lot, you know ….

Michael: Did you see, I mean, Cheadle’s not that far from what would have been Ringway …. RAF Station.

Bernard: Absolutely …. my son lives in Ch…. he lives in …. anyway near the Airport now, so yeah.

Michael: Did you ever see aircraft whilst you were there?

Bernard: Not that I could remember, no, no ….

Michael: Because I think that was the Parachute School, wasn’t it at Ringway?

Bernard: I don’t know, I just don’t know.

Michael: I think I believe so, anyway, yeap …. So you came back to ….

Bernard: And then, from there, we moved to Old Trafford …. you were sincerely putting your neck in the noose because …. you were nearer to Trafford Park and the Docks …. which like at the time, you didn’t know, you didn’t think about these things …. but later in life, you realise why they were knocking hell out of it, they were after the MetroVicks, the biggest bloody …. company in the world, nearly, making, you know, war …. things for the war …. the biggest engineering company in the …. well certainly in England ….

I mean, my father worked there at one time, my brother worked there at one time, my sister-in-law worked there at one time …. you know, I mean, and …. so, obviously the weight of bombing was in that area. We only just lived on the edge, as it were …. and the thing I remember quite vividly about bombing …. was that you’d walk, like next morning, you’d be out, probably an old school or something, and …. and …. you’d be out looking for shrapnel, you know, that was the …. the hobby those days, shrapnel …. and …. you’d notice a whole street would be taken out …. or …. or sort of four houses, straight across …. you know that area would be like the streets this way …. and like, they’d take them out, sort of just drop a stick of bombs and they’d just slice a piece out like that or slice a piece like that.

The other thing was, they used to have notices, pinned to the outside walls of shops anywhere …. with the names of the dead on them …. and there were whole families of, you know, the whole family killed ….

I don’t know why they put these up …. again, I were only a kid, and, you know …. it was a bit horrific, like …. I knew one family …. they lived in …. in Moss Lane area, and they were all killed with the exception of one lad …. and, how he survived, I don’t know. I was quite pally with him …. Danny Calvert, he was called …. and …. It’s funny how, you know, I am eighty odd, and still remember the names!

The odd thing about memory is, when we went to look at the houses I’d lived in …. my Grandson was with me …. and I could tell him every street …. that we were on, or what that one was, or what that one was …. and it was only the fact, that you walked everywhere …. you know, you didn’t go by car and miss them all …. you walked up them, and so you knew the name of every street in Manchester, virtually, you know …. and he was absolutely amazed that at 80 odd, I could tell still him, that’s er, yes, that’s Cornbrook Street and that’s …. you know …. And so, it surprised me a bit! Michael: Hulme and Moss Side have changed quite a lot ….

Bernard: Well yeah …. but this area …. this was in Old Trafford and it hadn’t. But, like the Stretford Road area, I mean …. all changed …. I mean I wouldn’t know where I was in Stretford Road today. And like Vine Street, where I was born, was just off Stretford Road, so …. but like …. on this, there was a thing about Pauldens …. have you heard of Pauldens?

That went by …. it just burnt out one [in 1957] …. you know, whether it was insurance …. I think they were Jewish …. it might have been a loss or not, Pauldens had just burnt down …. and that was one of these odd things …. it was a sort of …. Well, I suppose not odd today being like with supermarkets …. but with something like, I mean Lewis’s …. how could Manchester town centre sold things like, you know, which was quite, you know, a distance out, because …. you walked everywhere, or you got the bus, or the tram …. and Pauldens was just at the top of Stretford Road …. and like, my mother used to go there because it was so convenient, you know, but …. It wouldn’t matter today, but it just burnt out …. so, you lost a popular shop ….

Michael: There is a question here, what was the worst thing that happened to you? Did you have any unpleasant experiences? Perhaps not ….

Bernard: No, I …. I can’t think of anything specific ….

Michael: I wouldn’t worry about that, it was just in case there was anything ….

Bernard: Yeah, I know …. I am thinking about it.

I think I would have …. I would have remembered ….

Michael: During the blitz itself …. which was what 1941 or thereabouts, 41 to 42 ….

Bernard: Yeah, well as I say, we were sort of in this little capsule in the bloody air raid shelter.

Michael: Did you ever see the aircraft going over?

Bernard: Well, you heard them, of course. But, you know, my mother was …. you know and rightly so, you shouldn’t be wandering about like, it didn’t make sense, you know …. So, when there was an ….. you were in the air raid shelter, but …. the schools I went to, when …. like …. Seymour Park School was just a small school …. and it was nearly all black and white …. with …. I don’t know whether you know Seymour Park but ….

Michael: I know Seymour Road …. Seymour Grove ….

Bernard: Seymour Grove …. well as you come to Ayres Road? Well if you sort of …. Coming from …. along Seymour Grove, as if you are coming from …. the Seymour Hotel which isn’t there anymore, but from that end …. and you get to Ayres Road, if you turn right there, on the left down there, so there was Seymour Park School. But it was a black and white school, you know, the old sort of black and white ones …. and it was, when I first went …. you couldn’t see the school at all, sand bagged, they sand bagged the whole school and …. and like when I got to grammar school, certain …. corridors, there was seating put in, so you could go there if there was an air raid during the day …. but they didn’t …. air raids during the day were few and far between.

In fairness, it was a long way to go to Manchester from Germany …. You covered a lot of England, whereas at night, you were masked first, during the day you were wide open. So …. we were on bloody magpies ….

Michael: War, war comes to an end …. what do you remember …. ?

Bernard: Well, at the end of the war, we had a lodger …. Mr Parry, and he was Welsh …. and he was a bachelor …. and he worked in Manchester, he was a printer, and he …. my mother was looking for the pennies, or whatever …. and so we ended up with Mr Parry. This was in Kings Road …. my mother was living in Kings Road, and ….

He was …. he liked the theatre and …. and that …. so …. he used to take me with him …. like, he was on his own, so …. there was nothing, you know, untoward about this arrangement, he just …. I was there and like, he used to take me to the Hulme Hippodrome which was …. what’s the name …. just plays basically, you know, every week …. and they had different plays on …. the Frank H. Fortescue Plays, they were called …. and they …. so, we used to go, and on the day war finished …. I was 15 years old when it finished …. and we went to Albert Square …. he took me to Albert Square, we walked from home …. and …. and you couldn’t …. highlight, it was, absolutely jam packed full …. and they were all over the statues and everything else …. a remarkable sight, really …. for a 15 year old kid, like, you know …. but …. yes, it certainly went home that, you know the fact that the war had finished and here we were …. in the middle of Albert Square with the other half of Manchester, sort of thing.

Remarkable, but …. yes ….

Michael: So, war comes to an end, and …. how quickly do you think the world went back to being normal again, if that is the right term?

Bernard: Well, obviously, food wise, it just remained the same …. because nothing altered, we were on rationing for probably the next x number of years …. you know, and …. you just stuck with it …. …. it became the norm and that is how you lived.

But …. obviously, I was older …. and …. at 16, I left school and went to work …. So, I was at a change from a period there where at 15 …. I took my School Certificate at 15 …. and then I left school at 16 …. So, my life was changing quite considerably then …. the fact that, you know, I was no longer a school kid, and working.

And …. working was, you know …. you didn’t get mollycoddled as you do today to the same degree if you like. I used to cycle to work …. we hadn’t got any money again, you know, I started work at ICI at a …. hundred and twelve pound a year …. a year. Not a lot!

Michael: No, it wasn’t.

Bernard: But it gave me the best grounding in my life! I worked with PhDs …. there were 4 PhDs in a lab who …. I was in a research department …. I was very fortunate …. I must have been a reasonably intelligent kid [brushing microphone] …. sorry about that …. you know …. and not realised it because I got a good job at ICI in the research department …. with the best brains in the world …. and it rubs off on you, I am convinced of this, all through my life I have said this ….

It’s the people you associate with and you work with and that’s what makes you what you are. You know.

Michael: Were you in a laboratory at ICI?

Bernard: I was in a laboratory, yeah, and there were …. in …. there was a whole research block at Blackley which they closed down …. we were doing …. Dyestuffs division …. Pharmaceuticals were there at first but then Pharmaceutical moved to Alderley Edge and Dyestuffs stayed at Blackley, and I …. so, I worked there from 16 till I was 18 …. went into the army at 18, I did two years in the army and I came back when I was 20 back to ICI …. and I worked there for a number of years afterwards but …. this one of things that I at ICI that …. Can’t get the bloody thing out …. [Patent Specification Document]

That I was working on …. it actually dyes the fibre which the fellow I worked for when I left school …. was …. was one of …. he was the …. you appreciate the …. well you probably don’t …. when you make a dyestuff, the important thing is it doesn’t fade …. so, it always stays the same colour and it doesn’t wash out.

Now, this guy, a bloke called W E Stephen …. and when I went to ICI as a 16-year-old, I was his assistant …. and he invented this range of dyestuff …. and I am always fascinated that he was my boss …. my immediate boss …. my only boss like …. and he invented a whole range of dyestuffs …. remarkable, that actually reacted with the fibre … so they never washed off because they reacted and that’s what this was …. this was later when I came back out of the army. But again, as a sort of 20-year-old …. fellow …. getting a patent published …. was quite an achievement, and again, I didn’t think at the time, and I think this something probably when you are younger …. you don’t think about your achievements until you get older. You know, it doesn’t sink in really.

So …. but …. yeah, that sort of gets me to work and so on.

My family …. do you want you know?

Michael: Yes, just a little bit …. whether we include that ….

Bernard: I know it’s outside, yeah ….

I got married when I was 27 and had five kids …. and then we broke up eventually and came away with Pauline, but I have five, I’ve got three boys and two girls …. and they are all doing reasonably well and so, there you are.

But the other one is that …. going back to my father’s side …. the Jewish side of his family …. My mother used to sort of fall out with him …. and …. you know as they do like …. going back to like in the shop when we were skint or something like that, and …. and she would say “Why don’t you go to your Jewish aunts in Cheetham Hill?”

And like this never rung a bell with me to be honest, and then when I was in the army …. I used to hitch hike, I was six months in …. I was on an ammunition course in the Reading area, Basingstoke, that area …. and I used to hitch hike every weekend through to London and go and see the shows and what have you …. and …. I got this address off my mother and my father of one of my father’s aunts who lived in London ….

So I contacted her and she said I could stay for the weekend, which I did, not that I think I stayed many weekends because …. it was out of London and it was more convenient just to stay at …. the Clapham South tube station which was only a shilling a night, you know …. and …. so, but I said to her “Have you any children?” and she said they are all on the London stage, and they were Jewish of course.

Michael: Is this during the war that you visited, or after the war?

Bernard: This was just after the war, yeah, ’48, it would be …. and …. the thing about that is like the London stage …. I’d been with this lodger, Mr Parry, and seen a lot of shows in Manchester …. you know, various types of shows and plays, and so I got interested in the theatre …. so eventually, I didn’t do anything till we came to live in Keighley, and I was probably in my early fif…. oh no in my forties, probably, and I joined the local amateur group …. you know there were some people we were talking to, and they said they were …. they took me along and I was 10 years in Keighley Amateurs.

And my eldest son, David, who worked in engineering …. as an apprentice …. and he came and did a couple of shows with me, and he got the bug and went to drama school …. and got his Equity …. but then he did a couple of shows, and did some in Aldershot …. with Arthur English, I don’t know if you remember Arthur English …. he was an Aldershot lad …. and did a pantomime with Arthur …. and …. the funny thing about that was David was one of the ugly sisters …. they went on skates on stage and they had to fall in the skip, he had to fall in the skip and the other fellow fell on top of him …. the other ugly sister, and the skate, his skate cut David’s eye, so he ended up going to the Aldershot Military Hospital all in his gear …. to have his eye seen to …. anyway, that was …. But then he got married and …. couldn’t afford to be on the stage, you know, so he’s got his own business now, but …. but he does …. he produces now …. amateur theatre. I wonder, you know, with your genes where there is a fifth bit somewhere along the line ….

Michael: Every possibility of it

Bernard: It’s odd, isn’t it, you know, how these things happen, you know, but, it might be sheer coincidence, who knows.

Michael: Is there any thought of any sort of final words, I mean, based on the life that you have had …. particularly the life during the war.

Bernard: I didn’t realise I had that …. that’s my brother and I ….

Michael: Wow …. handle with care, 1932 ….

Bernard: I am a Manchester City supporter …. I don’t whether that is relevant …. I went to see Manchester Boys play at …. at City, before the war, so you know, I sort of …. I go back a lot of …. well ….

Michael: Well, of course you would have been going to Manchester City when it was at Main Road.

Bernard: Well, this is it, yeah, but we used to walk there from Chorlton …. it was sort of well ….

Michael: Is that something you did …. were there matches during the war?

Bernard: Well, there were no matches during the war …. no football during the war …. but as soon as war finished …. if you remember, United’s ground had been bombed …. and so they played all the matches in week about at Main Road. And so I used to go every week and cheer City and boo United and that …. as you do ….

But, the classic is I went to Stretford Grammar School, and I …. there’s two things here …. first of all, I …. from Stretford Grammar School, you could spit on United’s ground, and most of us did! But the other thing was that I was in …. in our class, we had McShane …. “Lovejoy” …. Ian McShane, he was in my class at school because his father was signed by United …. because he played …. was a good footballer, Scottish footballer, and he took the pub on …. what’s that pub on the corner? Not the Manchester Arms, something like that …. anyway, he took a pub and …. in those days, you only got twenty quid a week, so he took a pub as well, like but …. twenty quid a week was twenty quid a week in those days …. a lot of money ….

But Ian McShane was in my class but think he must have got mixed up because …. I saw his age in the paper, and he must have been about 3 when he was in my class ….

Michael: Yes, I would have said he was probably a bit younger …. more my age …. but …. Anyway, fascinating story nevertheless …. there may be another brother ….

Bernard: No, he was my age, but he just lied about his age ….

Michael: Oh, is that right, ah ….

Bernard: That was the point, yeah ….

Michael: Oh yes, oh well ….

Bernard: You know, I mean, he is a celebrity, so what the hell …. I don’t think there is anything …. specific.

Michael: Bernard, I think we are just about running out of time anyway ….

Bernard: Yeah, that’s ok ….

Michael: But thank you very much for your time.

Bernard: Pleasure, you know, I have enjoyed it as much as you have ….

[Footnote: Records show that Ian McShane’s father was born in 1920 and he died in 2012. He was signed up by Manchester United in 1950. Ian McShane was born in 1942 when his father would have been 22]

Recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester.


Author: shane

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