I’m Rob Nichols for WarGen and the date today is 21st April 2018. We are in Stroud and we will be discussing the experience of Sheila Nichols whose maiden name was Darby and lived in Bristol during the War and was also evacuated for a short spell.
A short spell. Two years!
Ok, Sheila when and where were you born?
In Bristol, 14th May 1934.
Tell me about your parents, what did your father do?
He was an engineer in a factory.
And what did your mother do?
She sewed. She was a bespoke tailoress.
Did your father serve in the First World War?
First World War? No.
Did you have brothers and sisters and if so where were you in the pecking order.
I was the eldest and my brother John was 10 years younger than me.
So was he born after the war?
1944 he was born.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Well, apart from the war… yes.
What was it like growing up where you did?
Ok, I had a nice house and nice neighbourhood and yeah…
What were your interests as a child?
Nothing special I used to go to the allotment with my father so I was interested in gardens and things but nothing special, but I was only 6 when the war started.
Can you remember the build up to the war?
Do you remember the outbreak of the war?
Well, I remember we were on holiday when the war broke out but I only learnt that… I vaguely remember the holiday but…
Where were you on holiday too?
With Chris Ashmans parents.
Can you recall the Battle of Britain?
Did any of your family join the armed forces?
No I dont think so because father was in a reserved occupation.
Did any of your family join the Home Guard?
Was the war a shock to your system?
No because I wasn’t really aware.. the implications of it… I didnt understand.
Did you ever worry what might happen to you?
Tell me about camaraderie in your community.
Well I think people, neighbours, were more neighbourly than they are now. I went to Sunday School and things like that.
What were your day to day living conditions like?
Fine, we live in a comfortable house, we always had food on the table and I was looked after well.
Can you describe a typical day in your life on the Home Front?
Not really I wasn’t very old.
What was the food like?
I imagine it must have been all right. I wasnt old enough to discriminate about things. It was what was there.
Did you ever go hungry, did you get enough to drink?
Yes I think so.
Do you remember any particularly funny incidents?
Do you remember any particularly tragic incidents?
Well, does that mean people being killed?
Well we had a man next door and when a bomb fell on the house next door he was killed but apart from that childrens fathers who were at school who wer ein the war they were killed but apart from that no.
So what happened when the bomb dropped on the house next door, what do you remember about that?
Well I remember I was under the stairs, a bed was made up under the stairs and I was in there and I woke up with pieces of things falling on my head and bits of stuff stuck to the stairs… and crying… oh and I had a new doll and things had fallen of the dresser and a cup had fallen onto this dolls head and broke it. So trivial things. We couldnt stay in the house so we went down with my mother to a neighbours house down the road where we spent the night and then we went down and stayed in my Uncle Howards house because they were away evacuated.
I remember you telling me about, because your Dad was working down the town and the bombs were falling between you and where the bombs were, what happened then?
That was before we were bombed out. Father couldnt get home because the raid started too early so Mum and I had gone next door because it was an air raid and thats what we did and we stayed there til the air raid was finished and I remember being lifted up onto the dividing wall and the whole of the sky was red from the fires and mother running up the road ‘Oh Ken, Ken!’, somebody had to go get her because she was after my father. And I think that was several nights before we were bombed out.
You lived in (?), where was the factory where grandfather worked?
Down in town. Down in the centre, Old Market, Midland Road.
How did you cope with the fear, did anyone have fear?
I dont remember.
Where were you when the War ended?
In a house that we had, that we, I think people that were bombed out were rehoused in corporation houses and we had one of those.
Like the prefabs?
No it was a proper house, Seton Park Road. Like the house really that had been bombed.
The questions are going onto the end of the war but what can you remember about being evacuated?
Everything. Nothing nice.
Ok. Do you want to tell me about that?
Well I remember I think a couple of days before we were bombed out mother talking to a neighbour and saying she would never let me be evacuated but when we didnt have a home she and father were anxious that I should be safe so I was evacuated and I went, we went to Ashleydowns School early in the morning, got on the coach and we were not to take a drink but mother somehow had given me an orange but I wasn’t allowed to have the orange because it was deemed to be a drink and then we caught the train at Stapleton Road and I remember catching the train, then I remember being in a coach which must have been from Cheddar to Abbotsford and there was a reservoir on the way with things on it to stop planes landing and we thought we had come to the seaside. And then we were taken out, got to the school in Axbridge and we sat around and gradually children were picked and given to their foster parents and I went with another girl across the road… before that I had apparently said to my mother I didnt mind being evacuated as long as it wasnt with a fat lady. (laughing). Anyway there was a very thing lady and a very fat lady stood on the door and the woman who took me over said to the grandma (turned out to be the grandma) which one do you want and it wasnt me so I was left with the fat lady who was called Aunty Mary and so it was her, her house. Mother and Father used to come down once a month on the bus and I used to think if I could get through the emergency door on the back of the bus I could go home.
There were nice things of course but by and large it wasnt so good.
Was it because you were homesick or did they not treat you very well?
Well I think I was homesick, I wasn’t treated badly its just it was different. There was a girl there as well from London but she went back and she was killed in the Blitz. I think it was just homesick I wasnt badly treated but I was ill quite a lot at that time.
And you had pneumonia?
No I had pneumonia when I got home, I just had bronchitis and things. Also I remember the first cold sore I had, I was painted with that purple stuff and put down in the corner of the classroom. And everyone looked at me as infectious. (laughing).
So how long was that 2 years.
Yes just short of 2 years and I can’t remember why I came home probably because the bombing had stopped.
What can you remember about the end of the war?
Oh because the house we had backed onto Millers orphanage which the service people were in and I woke up to hear everybody shouting, hurraying and being happy and mum coming up saying the war was over and then we had street parties so I remember that although I suppose I do remember that?
What was the general reaction can you describe it really?
Relief and hopefully things would be normal.
Do you have any photographs of yourself in the war?
I got photographs of the street parties but I couldn’t point myself out? No no one really took photographs then. Not much perhaps school photos. But no I don’t remember I would have to go and look.
Do you often think about the war?
Not unless I see it I don’t sit her and think about war but if I saw it on television I would remember and things you say would jog your memory.
Anything else about the war you remember or are we done?
Probably done I suppose. Oh I used to go and collect the shrapnel. I had a little box, a little tin box and I used to go up the road and collect shrapnel and I wasn’t allowed to go up to the park because there was a barrage balloon up their but yeah the shrapnel I had for a long time. And going in the shelters at school. It must have been at school when they bombed the BAC and I heard your father saying about the big gun… well my dads sister Auntie Ethel was married to one of the soldiers up there and she used to stay with us so she could go up and see him. I mean that was incidental really.
Ok I’ll stop it there. Thank You.