Wartime Memories of Sylvia and Ron Seddon
Sylvia Seddon (née Cook) was born in Stretford in 1936 and remembers vividly the bombing of MetroVicks. Ron was born in nearby Trafford in 1935.
This transcript records their memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences.
The transcript and the video are about 52 minutes long.
Recorded in Chorlton-cum-Hardy on 26 October 2018.
[Pauses indicated by ….]
Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.
Sylvia: I’m Sylvia Seddon, born Sylvia Cook. I’m here with my husband Ron; we’re coming up to our 60th wedding anniversary next year. We were married in ‘59. I was born in the year of the Three Kings, 1936. I was therefore 3, 3 ½ when the War started and my father, under my mother’s duress, had agreed to go into a reserved occupation. He very much wanted to join the Navy, but she insisted if he went into a reserved occupation at Trafford Park, he would stay with the family.
And he accepted that and hated it through most of the War. But it did mean we kept him and he was there. And he cycled off to Trafford Park where they were building Spitfires and so on. He worked for MetroVick [Metropolitan-Vickers] most of the time there but at other places in the Park too.
My mother started work about halfway through the War when I went to school. Hmm, and I remember, fairly vividly, going into school on my tricycle and finding that they were building air-raid shelters in the school playground and we were very quickly forbidden to go anywhere near them because people were playing naughty games in there.
Sylvia: So, we only were allowed to go into there on trial days when we were all marched in sequences in and out of the air-raid shelters and seated and stood and drilled and walked out again.
Not once did we actually go in during an air-raid as far as I can remember. Oh, the air-raid sirens did occasionally go off in the day, but I don’t remember ever going into a genuine air-raid going on whilst I was at school.
The air-raid that I wanted to talk about today, the most important one in my life, hmm, was close to the Christmas of ’41 when there was a concerted attack from Germany on the Park and the Spitfires and the aeroplanes that were going on in the Park. And our house didn’t have, what my friends had, an air-raid shelter, an Anderson shelter in the back yard. It didn’t have a cellar as my grandmother’s had, it didn’t have anything. So, when the air-raid sirens went off that night I was scrambled out of bed, brought downstairs and the three of us my mother, father and I hid under the four-legged kitchen table because the sounds of this air-raid came up very quickly after the Warning. You heard the Warning and then very quickly you heard the drone of airplanes that were heading a mile and a half away to Trafford Park.
And I remember watching, suddenly, light shining through the windows. And the windows were criss-crossed with that brown sticky paper that I so much enjoyed putting on with my mum. It was a real fun activity putting brown sticky paper on the windows to keep the glass. And there were the lights shining and then suddenly the noises started and the noises were very frightening, really very loud and I clutched onto mother and looked up through the French chenille table-cloth that had been pushed up over the top of the table and watched the lights and the bang and then the bangs came nearer and nearer and there was an absolutely massive bang, a prolonged bang, which I discovered the following day had been four houses completely destroyed a hundred yards up the street.
And it was the following day that I was allowed to go out into the street and pick up the shrapnel. And that is the shrapnel from that air-raid and it was an air-raid that produced twenty-six deaths who were buried in a mass-grave in Stretford cemetery. Err, they couldn’t dis-entangle them, I think. It was certainly a mass-funeral service.
Hmm, and we used to go back and look at that …. quite often during the War because my mother went to put flowers on the graves of her relatives there and we’d look at that mass-grave.
And, soon after the War, they built a brand-new library and first-aid clinic on the site of where those houses had been. But it’s, err, one of the few real frightening nights that stick in my mind. Most of the rest, hmm, I took for granted.
Michael: Shall we …. I tell you what we’ll do, we’ll halt at that point and we’ll come to Ron and Ron, perhaps you could say something about your early life through the War.
Ron: I was born in February in ’35 and the first thing I can remember of …. before the War was receiving on my fourth birthday in 1939 a dinky toy, not a dinky toy a Hornby train set which included a milk waggon.
Sylvia: We still have it in the garage.
Ron: Cow & Gate, yes, hmm, but the other thing I can remember is that during the War my mother, who was a keen walker, and my father was called up, hmm, and went to Catt… did his basic training at Catterick and became a member of the Royal Corps of Signals and he became a lorry driver and he went , he served in India and Burma, hmm, for four years. Hmm, and during that war, hmm, my uncle, my mother’s brother was in the merchant navy and he went out of Liverpool across to Canada and across the Atlantic several times and he once dur…. hmm, they were torpedoed and he …. the rudder was damaged of the ship and they had to rig a jury-rudder and he steered the ship back into Liverpool using the jury-rudder. And he …. during his service time, hmm, when he was in the merchant navy, he used to lodge with a family in …. on the outskirts of the East Lancs Road at Rainford in St. Helens and my mother and I used to go and catch the workmen’s train at five to eight from Trafford Park station…
Sylvia & Michael: [Laughs]
Ron: …. during the War and go and stay there the weekend and we used to walk from St. Helens station which was a dead-end and you walked down [LAUGH] you got off the train and the engine was stood on the end of the precipice overlooking the main street. You walked down the road, down the stairs and then we walked, oh, three or four miles straight down to the East Lancs Road because her house was, err, a detached house, just short of the, hmm, what is now the motorway but is, at that time was the East Lancs Road. And, hmm, I can remember walking, Oh, it was incredible the amount of…. and we often walked, I lived in Streford behind the railway line in Kings Road and in those days Kings Road stopped after about, oh, 200 yards and then there was a field and it was very muddy and the way I went to Kings Road primary school about a mile and a half away across The Quadrant and one of my memories, particularly in the War, was in 1941 about just before Christmas, when they bombed the centre of Manchester and some of the bombs fell short and they hit The Quadrant and they blew up all the gas mains and it just …. it was a tremendous sight.
Sylvia: We are probably talking there almost the same set of air raids ….
Ron: Yes, we were ….
Michael: What’s clear from hearing you both speak is that you didn’t really live too far apart.
Ron: Oh no.
Sylvia: The Kings Road school ….
Ron: I lived ….
Sylvia: and Victoria Park school where I went to were very, very close together but we didn’t meet at all. I mean you didn’t in those days ….
Ron: We met, we met in ’52 at ….
Sylvia: 16 and 18 we were ….
Ron: at a Valentine’s dance and the one thing I remember, oh for days after that was the beautiful voice that Sylvia had, and I couldn’t get over it I was absolutely smitten ….
Sylvia: Well, isn’t that lovely. But it was curious I don’t think you went into Victoria Park which is close to Mitford Street, where the bombing was for us, much at all did you? You stayed in the parks around The Quadrant.
Ron: Oh, yes, I played in Longford Park ….
Sylvia: But Victoria Park, and I went to Longford Park too, but we never met there, but in Victoria Park particularly there were barrage balloons ….
Ron: Yes, yes, I remember those …
Sylvia: and it was a really exciting day when you went with other children from school and you were taken to see the barrage balloons being inflated and moved around in the fields.
Sylvia: And they were supposed to stop the German planes coming to bomb Trafford Park, they didn’t stop anybody doing anything as far as I know. But they were wonderful to see when you were close-to. The strange billowing grey material and the shapes they had on the skyline that was very pleasurable.
Michael: Did they, I mean, some of the film you see of the barrage balloons, the, the fabric seemed to be, sort of, not tight, particularly ….
Sylvia: No, they hardly ever seemed to be inflated really tight.
Michael: Yes, yes.
Sylvia: Yes, it’s very curious that. It’s curious, I was thinking about inflation too when we were looking at fireworks for November 5th this month, I remembered what was called the War fireworks.
Ron: Oh, yes.
Sylvia: and you were allowed to buy these war fireworks which you could only take, set off in the house.
Ron: You couldn’t use in the house ….
Sylvia: because they couldn’t have lights outside and all they went to was little curled brown black swishes of things over the hearth ….
Sylvia: and you set them off over the fire and there were no sparkly bits it was just this funny burning things.
Michael: Those are what I remember as indoor fireworks.
Sylvia: Indoor fireworks they were called.
Michael: Yes, yes.
Sylvia: Ridiculous things
Michael: Yes, yes.
Sylvia: That’s funny.
Michael: So, just going back a little bit to the very beginning of the War, do you remember anything about the declaration of war?
Sylvia: I don’t I’m afraid, no, and I am sure you don’t either ….
Ron: No, not really.
Michael: You were really too young for that, I suppose you were four years old, five years old ….
Ron: We obviously since then we have heard everything ….
Sylvia: We have read about it since, but I don’t remember that.
Michael: So, you wouldn’t remember the ….
Sylvia: The thing I remember very vividly from being three was having my tonsils and adenoids out. They did this with all children at that time, need it or not, I think. And it was a horrifically painful experience at Hope, what was called Hope Hospital then, is now Salford Royal and it’s fixed in my mind as a glaringly horrible event, but it had nothing to do with the War.
Ron: I think I had my tonsils out about 1944 and I remember I was taken to .…
Sylvia: Hmm, it was late.
Ron: …. Provident Hospital in, err, St. Helens where the, all the nurses were nuns and I ….
Sylvia: But there was no National Health, it wasn’t National Health in those days.
Ron: No, it wasn’t National Heath.
Sylvia: You joined the Hospital Saturday Fund, and you paid sixpence [6d] in ….
Ron: I think it was something my uncle arranged, but I can’t remember. But I do remember being in Provident Hospital and hating every minute of it.
Sylvia: I had a very glamourous uncle too, you had your uncle in the Navy and I had an uncle who had managed to join the R.A.F.
Ron: Yes, I remember.
Sylvia: And he had this wonderfully glamourous uniform and the flying wings on his chest. And he seemed, he was much younger than my father and he seemed so very special to me when we went to visit him. And he had stories, he was in Lancasters, and he was at the back of the plane, and all said that took the worst of the flack and again her was lucky to come out of it I think
Michael: Was he a rear gunner?
Sylvia: They got shot at more than anybody, I think.
Michael: Well, yes, yes, I imagine so.
Sylvia: For obvious reasons.
Ron: That was Ken wasn’t it?
Sylvia: Ken, Hmm
Michael: And what about your uncle in the Navy? I mean .…
Ron: I didn’t know very much about him. Hmm, there was a problem later on, hmm, he fell out with my …. his sister my mother and she could be very, when she got upset about something. I always remember that, hmm, we used to visit my, one of my father’s sisters who lived at, hmm, in Barcicroft Road in Burnage ….
Ron: and we used to go and see them and have, during the War have a Sunday tea with them. It was very good.
Sylvia: It was a time of great stress for families I think.
Ron: Hmm, but I do remember that their eldest daughter was in the WRNS and soon after the War had ended she came home and announced that, hmm, she was going to get married to a chap, hmm, I think he was a naval officer and I think he was probably .… fifteen, twenty years older than she was and my mother was absolutely furious. And she wouldn’t talk to them and that was it. We just didn’t go and see that family anymore.
Sylvia: It was a time of great stress for families.
Michael: She was, she was very dogmatic when she was upset.
Sylvia: Both your mother and …. and father and my mother and father divorced when we were about eighteen and my second, my mother’s second husband, was also in the Regular Army and had been in Israel when they were setting up Israel after the War ….
Sylvia: and he left after the War and became a crane-driver, I have his army record there and his crane-driver’s certificate. But it was very common, divorce exploded really after the War didn’t it. People….
Ron: But I was quite surprised, I didn’t realise that Sylvia’s stepfather actually enlisted in 1925.
Sylvia: Hmm, he was a Regular Army man. No we’re going to photograph them afterwards. He was a Regular Army man and ….
Ron: But he was a lovely chap.
Michael: So, War’s well underway and you probably, I’m sure, remember in fact I know you remember things like rationing.
Sylvia: Oh, yes. I still have my grandparents rationing books from 1952. But they didn’t give me any earlier ones because they used them all up. It was vital that you used all your ration books up, we were always chasing around for points that you could trade or borrow. And I remember, vividly, going into shops and asking for things that my mother had sent me for and they were grim, have you got points for this and it was really very difficult. Queuing at fish shops and we had a tripe shop, queuing at the tripe shop. Do you remember the trip shop? And tripe was off the ration, so you queued to get tripe. Fish was off the ration, so you queued to get fish ….
Ron: Ah, yes.
Michael: The queues
Sylvia: Yes, the queues were huge. But there weren’t motor cars everywhere as there are now. I think I only went in a motor car once in my entire war experience.
Sylvia: I had a, a relative, cousin by marriage, who ran a small taxi service and as a great treat we were allowed to ride in that for a hundred yards or so [Laugh]. For the rest I could cycle around the streets around us, as you could, on my bicycle, a tricycle it was, a beautiful blue tricycle. And you had no fear of anything on the road, very little on the road. We even had coal delivered by coal carts with Shire horses.
Ron: And my mother said that if the coalman comes ….
Ron: and Sylvia: …. count the sacks
Sylvia: They often leave you one too few ….
Sylvia: I don’t think they did ….
Michael: So, it wasn’t a case of a baker’s dozen then?
Ron: No, no.
Sylvia: it wasn’t.
Sylvia: And at the bottom of my street in Mitford street, the one that was bombed, we had what were called the pig bins and if there was anything left at all you took them, to eat, you took them down to the pig bins, and they were taken off supposedly for pig food all over the country. There was very little ever left. I remember being, do you remember being chronically hungry. Most of the War I remember being hungry all the time.
Michael: Did you find that as well, Ron, or was it hmm, different families had different experiences, I think?
Ron: I remember bitterly if I had a cold or anything like that, I was given ….
Sylvia: Fennings Fever Cure
Ron: Fennings Fever Cure and it was oh, it made your teeth go absolutely, .… oh, you could grind your teeth and the taste was horrible. But it worked ….
Sylvia: My grandmother had the perfect cure for anything. She would get black treacle and, err, olive oil and butter and mix them together into a warm mix and it tasted so utterly foul, but it cured everything you had. You said instantly I’m better, I don’t need any more I’m better ….
Sylvia: But, interestingly enough, my mother’s brother, hmm, had tuberculosis and went to the Baguley Sanatorium towards the end of the War ….
Ron: Oh, yes.
Sylvia: And interestingly there were antibiotics. They’d been discovered and they were in use, but they were kept entirely for the use of servicemen at that stage and he didn’t get any, hmm, during that time. And there were suspicions that those who had money got some and the rest of us didn’t. But there was also scarlet fever. You remember I got scarlet fever when I was about seven, in the War, and I was sent to Longford Park open-air school.
Ron: Oh yes, I remember the open-air school.
Sylvia: And the open-air school was a bit like the sanatorium, they put you onto iron beds out on a veranda in the cold under one sheet.
Ron: And they opened the windows.
Sylvia: No antibiotics, that wasn’t for the scarlet fever, that was because I was poorly after the scarlet fever. But interestingly, the scarlet fever medically was fascinating in the sense that my mother had to hang a sheet dipped in bleach over the door of the room in which I was ill in so that no one would pick up my germs when they went in and out of the door. It’s unbelievable, though, that was only so short a time ago really isn’t it. How things have changed.
Michael: Things have changed a lot since then, yes indeed. So, we come on, hmm, and …. I suppose to the end of the War. What do you remember about the, hmm, about VE Day, for instance?
Sylvia: Those I do remember. Do you remember going, we probably were in the same crowds around the Public Hall in Stretford celebrating VE and VJ.
Ron: I really can’t remember
Sylvia: Because everybody seemed to crowd into those celebratory days. And they were all waving flags and waving balloons and shouting and singing. Did you not go, did your mother not take you there? I’m surprised because everybody in Stretford seemed to congregate there.
Ron: No, I can’t, I can’t what happened then. I think my father came home at, in December 1945. And I do remember him taking me to the cinema, to the Longford Cinema in Stretford.
Ron: Which was a super place ….
Sylvia: opposite the Public Hall ….
Ron: But, hmm, he insisted on giving me a cheroot.
Ron: I didn’t enjoy it
Sylvia: Films were something I did all through the War. My mother was a huge film addict and she continually took us to the Corona and the Picture Drome and the Sale ones and the Longford and the Essoldo, and at least twice a week we seemed to go to a film all the time.
Ron: Yes, the films changed twice a week.
Sylvia: I remember there being gripped by the newsreels about the War ….
Sylvia: …. which was the most I knew about it, I think, really
Ron: I remember seeing the ….
Sylvia: The most vivid of all were the ones, do you remember when they moved into Holocaust camps .…
Sylvia: and you saw those incredible pictures ….
Ron: Belsen, those were horrible ….
Sylvia: I was only ten
Ron: Absolutely horrible.
Michael: You wouldn’t even have been ten or eleven, were you?
Sylvia: Ten or eleven. It was ’46/7, they actually produced those films, I think.
Michael: Oh, really.
Sylvia: Maybe it was ’46.
Michael: Because there were released ….
Ron: I got, when you went to the cinema in those days, there was the Pathé Newsreel about all the ….
Sylvia: I can still see those vividly.
Ron: There was the Pathé Newsreel a short, a short like, hmm, cartoons ….
Ron: for ten minutes and then the main picture but the Pathé Newsreel was extremely …. or Gaumont British News was fascinating.
Sylvia: But there wasn’t, there wasn’t any kind of street party for VE or VJ Day because there was nothing you could eat really. Hmm, the first street party started with the Queen’s Wedding and Coronation ….
Ron: Yes, 1952. [The Queen acceded to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953]
Sylvia: Not during the War, I don’t remember street parties during the War.
Michael: Yes, I think it depends really, some of the people I’ve interviewed ….
Sylvia: Did have ….
Michael: …. were involved in celebrations, dancing and that sort of thing, hmm ….
Sylvia: We were jigging up and down, I wouldn’t call it dancing.
Michael: And go to public parks or squares or something like that …
Sylvia: Yes, that and the Public Hall ….
Michael: I suppose in Stretford, where would be the nearest?
Sylvia: There was a huge crowd congregated around the Public Hall and the Longford on the Chester Road where the precinct now starts.
Sylvia: And then, of course, the house that I lived in, in Mitford Street, was demolished after the War. It’d now underneath the Arndale car park.
Michael: Really, yes.
Sylvia: That was when they built the clinic at the end the road.
Michael: So, you were living, the pair of you, on opposite sides of Chester Road?
Ron: & Sylvia: Yes
Sylvia: Yes, well, you didn’t cross …. we never met ….
Ron: I was on the opposite side of the railway ….
Ron: So, I walked down Kings Road, up Edge Lane over the railway and in those days the Altrincham – Manchester line was a double line, four lines between Sale and Old Trafford or Trafford Bar.
Sylvia: Ron was a great train spotter, always a train spotter.
Ron: When I used to go to work I, hmm, when I, after I left university and was articled in Manchester
Sylvia: Oh, you are way past The Second World War now.
Michael: That doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
Ron: Hmm, the trains in the rush hour were every three minutes. It was incredible there’d be one, hmm, which would be an express from, hmm, Altrincham, stop at Sale, Stretford and then it would, it would go straight through from Stretford to Trafford Bar and then to Knott Mill and so on ….
Ron: to Oxford Road ….
Michael: Which, of course, is the route used by the, the, hmm, well not to Oxford Road but to, err, to Knott Mill, now Deansgate. Hmm, is the route of the Metro Tram ….
Ron: Oddly enough, a few weeks ago, we said we, we ….
Sylvia: We spent a whole day on the Metro going all over its bits to look at the..
Ron: on the Metro …. because we’d never realised or gone to Ashton ….
Sylvia: Just going to look ….
Ron: or to Rochdale
Sylvia: and horrified at how much that is now industrial estates ..
Ron: We were surprised how much has changed ….
Sylvia: and retail parks and how much the houses and people have changed and gone ….
Ron: And when I was at the university, I was at university from ’53 to ’56, and then I was one of the, I became a Chartered Accountant but I was exempt from the intermediate because whilst I was at university, I followed a degree course of, err, accountancy, law and economics and that exempted me, exempted me from the intermediate exam so ….
Sylvia: I think he was fortunate to ….
Ron: …. I was entitled to only three-year Articles.
Sylvia: But you were fortunate in the end to be exempt from national service too.
Ron: Oh yes, I ….
Sylvia: Just before we were married in ’59.
Ron: I escaped National Service by four days because I failed my main, final exam, hmm, at the first attempt, failed one paper ….
Ron: But I had to take all the papers again.
Sylvia: and that gave you four days.
Ron: We then got married and I was entitled to have two more attempts, but I didn’t take the attempt in November ’59, I decided I wasn’t good enough, so I spent my time between then and May of …. studying very hard to make sure I got through. And, fortunately, that was the time when they were about to finish, hmm, conscription ….
Ron: …. on the 31st of May and my exam started on the 31st of May and I thought I’m exempt from …. until the end of the exam. I wonder what they’ll do whether they’ll just hold the papers up for a, a week or so and then say we’ll get this bugger ….!
Ron: And they didn’t they, they exempted me until the last day of the exam and I escaped by four days.
Sylvia: There was something else..
Ron: I was very sorry because I’d just qualified as a Class 1 soccer referee ….
Ron: and I felt that if I had gone into, hmm, done National Service, once I’d done the basic training, I would have been refereeing all these professional footballers ….
Ron: who were exempt because they would have been saying, “Well that’s what you are going to do.” You know, forget anything else.
Sylvia: One of the other things we had in common immediately after the War, we were both profiting from the institution of the Education Act changes. So, we both passed the exams for Manchester Grammar School and Manchester High School. And, hmm, again that was a real changing point in our lives, I think.
Ron: It was.
Sylvia: Just as the National Health coming in was a real changing point too. And that removed us from friends that we’d had at primary school in many ways and that was a big change in your life to lose the friends you’d had at primary school and go onto another school where you had to travel by bus to get to it and meet different friends from all over Manchester. And, hmm, it was a different lifestyle, different way of life. And we both then went on to the university and ….
Ron: Yes, my primary school, there were just four of us got into M. G. S. [Manchester Grammar School]. We were all …. four of two hundred. In those days there were about fourteen hundred boys took the entrance exam ….
Sylvia: It’s quite similar now.
Ron: and only two hundred got in.
Sylvia: It still hasn’t changed, they are still very much in demand.
Ron: And then, it didn’t matter which form you were in, there were six first forms, two Latin, hmm, or classical and four ….
Sylvia: Ron still goes to the Old Boys’ dinners and things, so he’s still very into that and things that happened after the War.
Michael: It’s whatever is of interest, really, because sometimes there’s a legacy from the War which affects people afterwards. I mean you ….
Sylvia: In a way that was the legacy of the War because the political change made that change in our lives, didn’t it? And the political change was motivated very much by what happened in the War.
Ron: Yes, I think we couldn’t understand why the public had voted against Churchill after all he’d brought us through ….
Sylvia: Many did understand it.
Ron: No, he brought us through the War and I think a lot of people appreciated what he did because it was without his drive that we wouldn’t have won. I’m sure of that.
Michael: Is it not that times change and to some extent, I suppose, needs change as well?
Sylvia: People do change ….
Michael: People change but it does seem a little ungrateful I grant you, what happened with Churchill.
Sylvia: But the War changed a great deal in people’s minds and people’s lives and different groups of people, different categories of people, different classes of people came together and made judgements about each other in different ways, so I think political views were bound to change and did change.
Michael: Yes, it takes a long while for culture to change.
Sylvia: It does.
Michael: But the War was probably, well, perhaps both wars were triggers ….
Sylvia: Hmm Oh hugely, both of them for sure, yes.
Michael: Because if you go back pre-first war then you had the Edwardian days ….
Michael: and so on ….
Sylvia: And that terrible depression between the two.
Michael: That’s right
Sylvia: And my great grandfather’s …. my, yes, no, hang on, no my grandfather’s. My grandfather was not in the First World War because he was a train driver ….
Sylvia: and, hmm, had always wanted to drive the train and then was told that he had colour blindness and he could only be a fireman after all, so his life was a great disappointment to him. He stayed firing trains, firing steam strains but was deeply disappointed that his colour blindness didn’t allow him to go on to being a driver ….
Michael: Just …. talking about the legacy, one of the legacies of the War for both of your families was that your parents split up ….
Michael: in both cases. How did that affect you as individuals? I mean if you start …. mmHH
Sylvia: I felt it was horrific for my brother. Like many families, I had …. I was born before the War and then after the War, in the celebrations, my brother was born, so he was ten years younger. I was eighteen, he was only eight.
Sylvia: And my feeling of fury and anger against my father was that he’d just abandoned that boy. We never heard from him, not a card, not a postcard, not a phone call. No support, no money, nothing, he simply walked out of our lives and I was angry about that for my brother. It was hugely valuable to me, my mother was working, obviously. And, but it was hugely valuable to me because I didn’t pay any university fees. I was actually given a grant.
Sylvia: For the three years of my being at Manchester University, we lived on my grant. That was a very substantial three pounds a week at that time which with my mother wages allowed for the three of us to live.
Ron: Yes, yes.
Sylvia: But, hmm, it’s interesting that neither my brother nor myself ever spoke to my father ever again or spoke to my father ever again or he to us after that. Slightly different for you. Hmm… Ron’s father went to live with his sister in Worthing in the south and he did come back and visit us twice, I think. Neither of them came to our wedding, we wouldn’t have dreamed of asking them.
Sylvia: Because the mothers were still too ….
Ron: I occasionally ….
Sylvia: very traumatised I think ….
Ron: … met my father. He went to live with somebody that he’d worked with at Crumpsall Hospital ….
Ron: …. in the Administrative Department but that fizzled out. But I never quite understood why my mother and father separated. I occasionally saw him when I was playing cricket, and coming back home on the bus, I saw him a couple of times and realised he was living somewhere in Crumpsall but I didn’t know where ….
Sylvia: Well …. It’s different now because now, they stay together, they stay as friends on the whole, people who divorce and have children.
Sylvia: they feel there is a duty to make the family atmosphere and it works much better, but it was a new thing then. People were …. I was ashamed of the divorce, I didn’t speak of it because nobody else I knew had been divorced at all and I didn’t want people to know. That was how it was.
Ron: And I was quite surprised that when we learnt that your father had died ….
Sylvia: Yes, we hadn’t even been told of his death ….
Ron: Six months after he’d retired at the age of 65. My father, I think, suffered from asthma as a result of the War and had a small pension but my mother never divorced him.
Sylvia: It’s a pity he never told you more about his war in Burma, it would have been interesting ….
Ron: No, he would never talk about that. I think he saw ….
Sylvia: It was a very common thing.
Ron: some horrible things. I do remember meeting one or two of the people who served with him and said he would never talk about it.
Sylvia: I think one of our, both of us have vivid memories of the sudden change in Manchester. Both the changes in the Manchester sky…. appearance after the bombings and then the changes from the black buildings in Manchester to suddenly having …
Ron: The Clean Air Act
Sylvia: The Clean Air Act came in and suddenly became very yellow and clean and white. That was a big change.
Michael: I mean, we talk about, hmm, still being very polluted in this country but it can be nothing compared ….
Sylvia: It’s a different kind of pollution.
Ron: It is clean ….
Sylvia: This was a visible pollution wasn’t it? The yellow fog and the black stone ….
Michael: Yes, it was.
Ron: When you consider what it was like in the late fifties ….
Sylvia: Those thick pea soup fogs ….
Ron: I can remember …
Sylvia: And now it’s perhaps more dangerous but less visible ….
Ron: …. coming home from school, hmm, I used to get a bus from All Saints .…
Sylvia: We didn’t have plastic pollution then ….
Ron: …. along Stretford Road, past the Town Hall to Firswood, round The Quadrant and get off about, oh, half a mile from home. And I can remember one day coming from school and we were all right getting into town because there were trams all the way along Birchfields Road to Albert Square so there was no problem there. The trams were in the middle of the road, so they could always move even in fog. But when it came to the buses, I can remember the guard standing in .… walking in front of the bus all the way down Stretford Road because it was so thick and it was, it was yellow. This was November. When the bus came in the fog .… we got to the university …. it was suddenly clear. From the university into town, the buses had no problem because everything was clear.
Ron: The Clear Air Act had come into being.
Ron: and there was no smoke and no chimneys.
Michael: That’s the thing wasn’t it. It was the coal that was being used and Sylvia you said earlier that coal was delivered by horse and cart and so on during the War itself.
Sylvia: And treasured. It was very important every one, every briquette, every piece of coal was counted and you judged when you put more on the fire.
Michael: You wouldn’t have had briquettes during the War though, would you?
Sylvia: No, it was later when briquettes came in ….
Ron: I can remember in ’47 ….
Sylvia: No, it was pieces of coal.
Ron: when there was a fuel crisis ….
Ron: and we had to go to the local gasworks ….
Ron: and try and get some coke ….
Ron: and then try and get coke to burn.
Sylvia: Yes, we did get coke towards the end of the War, it wasn’t there at the beginning, hmm ….
Michael: Did either of your families breed, hmm, animals at home? I seem to remember you talked about chickens ….
Sylvia: My aunt kept chickens, my aunt kept chickens and I remember the first time I saw the chickens I saw the chickens coming in and out of the garden into the house and pooing all over the floor, I was horrified. I could have only been about four then. She lived in Widnes and we went to visit her because my father had lived with her as a child, hmm, when his parents couldn’t look after him.
So, we went past a great lake of turquoise-blue water. I thought it was just beautiful, a beautiful turquois- blue lake and it wasn’t, it was a wicked copper sulphate lake polluting everything by Widnes. But yes, there were her chickens and her neighbour had a small piglet in the back garden too, hmm, which she was growing very happily towards Christmas.
Sylvia: And I think that was the first time I realised how you were eating live animals and their eggs. It doesn’t always, I think a lot of children now don’t realise that they are eating live animals when they get a packet from the supermarket.
Michael: No, that’s, err, one of the, err, realities of life isn’t it?
Sylvia: Indeed. And there were rabbits that we fed in Longford Park which were being used for the War. They were being bred and fed and they went into the shops and I bought rabbits from the shops and my mother skin the rabbits without too much worry. Hmm, I didn’t care for plucking because it got everywhere. But the skinning was easy and all right and the fish, chopping up.
Michael: A number of people have said that they felt that the, hmm, scarcity of food during the War was, was something which might well account for their longevity today.
Sylvia: Very possibly, very possibly ….
Ron: I’m sure it did ….
Michael: Have you got any theories about that?
Sylvia: Nobody was, I had never seen an obese person, I think, in my youth ….
Ron: I can’t believe that children these days are so obese ….
Sylvia: There’s so much sugar about isn’t there?
Sylvia: It, it .…
Ron: Well I like sugar but I’m not obese.
Sylvia: it is interesting too that we’ve got so used to fridges and freezers. Hmm, I, getting food was going out every day, every day to the shops to pick up potatoes and a few carrots, endless, endless carrots and potatoes, always peeling and scraping, hmm, and very little else. There was very little choice of vegetables. There were carrots and potatoes and the odd beetroots, some cabbages and sometimes a cauliflower, that was a great treasure.
Michael: You didn’t grow anything in your garden?
Sylvia: We had a small ….
Ron: Oh, we had a greenhouse ….
Sylvia: … a patch about as small as this.
Ron: My father used to grow tomatoes ….
Sylvia: But he wasn’t there for most of the War.
Sylvia: Hmm, we had a garden but, again, all it managed to produce was the odd potato and carrot ….
Ron: I can remember going …. to the corner of Edge Lane where there are now flats, but on the corner of …. no more than five hundred yards away, was a small market garden and a grocery shop and we used to have a little stamp to be able to buy tomatoes during the War.
Ron: And, you know, you used to have the book stamped to show that you’d had tomatoes, half a pound or a pound.
Sylvia: I remember the delight of the first orange and the first banana I’d ever tasted towards the end of the War.
Michael: Had you not seen oranges during the War?
Silva Pictures [laugh] pictures of oranges ….
Ron: I can’t remember.
Michael: Because children had green cards, didn’t they for rationing?
Sylvia: Yes, we did, but it tended to be used for vegetables for everybody.
Sylvia: And …. Oh…
Ron: I seem to remember .…
Sylvia …. that was really special ….
Ron: my, my uncle on one of his trips brought us a, a two-pound bag of sugar .… or five pound bag of sugar …. which for years my mother wouldn’t open.
Sylvia: and Michael: [Laugh]
Ron: But that was, hmm ….
Sylvia: Yes, that ties in with my feeing hungry most of the time, I think, and you didn’t waste anything, you didn’t leave anything it was always used up. Mmm
Michael: So, I think we are probably ….
Sylvia: Do you remember liquorish, liquorish sticks. Liquorish sticks, hmm, they weren’t liquorish as in Liquorice All Sorts.
Ron: Oh ….
Sylvia: They were actual bits of twig ….
Sylvia: of liquorish ….
Ron: I remember that ….
Sylvia: and you went to the shop and bought a halfpenny liquorish stick ….
Ron: From the health food shop or whatever it was called ….
Sylvia: and they tasted horrible and turned your mouth and teeth all black, but it was a different taste, gosh ….
Ron: You used to chew them ….
Michael: I, I suspect we are coming towards the end. Just in case there’s anything else that you can think of that happened during the War that you think might be of interest. Hmm, if not ….
Ron: Oh, one of the things I can do.
Michael: Oh, yes.
Ron: I seem to remember my aunt, the one we used to go and have Sunday tea with before we’d fallen out with her, so to speak, her …. two things, her husband had …. they lived in a council house and in the back, back garden, he had a chicken run and he used to, he used to take the eggs, but he used to sell the eggs to his wife.
Sylvia & Michael: [Laugh]
Ron: He was very, very mean about them but she and her husband took my wife …. my mother and my wife and myself to Llandudno. And we were on Llandudno, on The Great Orme, on the 6th of June ’44 and we were stood there watching all these planes, beautiful sunny day like this, all these planes going over and over, and we couldn’t understand what was happening. We didn’t realise that it was D-Day ….
Ron: and it was incredible, the noise, it just lasted not for one hour but for six hours. And we just stood there watching them. They were going over and over and over and over, it was incredible.
Sylvia: Looking back we had very little information about what was going. Thinking of newspapers now we know everything about everything that’s happening the day before. Hmm, they gave us very circumscribed information about what was going on.
Michael: It was well censored I think wasn’t it, in those days?
Sylvia: Very tightly censored.
Michael: D notices and so on ….
Sylvia: I remember being very cross when I was issued with my ….
Sylvia & Ron: gasmask ….
Sylvia: that I didn’t get one of the lovely ones that were issued to children of two and a half which had ears and you know [Laugh] ….
Michael: Show me if you like, just pick that up and ….
Sylvia: It’s beginning, it’s very fragile [picking up gasmask] ….
Michael: I’m not going to ask you to put it on, honestly.
Sylvia: It’s beginning to fall apart.
Michael: they are, sad, sad when that happens isn’t it, yes ….
Sylvia: Yes, but it says size medium, so I had a large head as a child, I think, but I was so cross because if I had been a year younger, I would have got this special Mickey Mouse one which was really lovely.
Michael: Yes [Laugh]
Sylvia: Instead I go that one ….
Michael: Where did you get the shrapnel from?
Sylvia: Literally out of the street as I went out of my house after that terrible bombing night, that incident that I remember so vividly. Hmm, I was allowed to go out and see …. it was still warm when I picked it up, it was still slightly warm to my fingers.
Michael: People burnt themselves sometimes with shrapnel ….
Ron: Yes, as I said, hmm, when we spoke on the phone ….
Sylvia: the hushed crowds in the street ….
Ron: one of the school teachers walking me to school and…. err…. oh, a hundred yards from our house, somebody had built a tennis court, hmm, tennis club and iron netting as we walked past, we saw two or three pieces of shrapnel caught in the iron netting. And she lifted me up and I took it out and it was, it was still quite warm and that was the day, that was the night, on which they’d blown up the gas mains at The Quadrant ….
Ron: about a hundred, hmm, a mile away.
Sylvia: Manchester was quite a target for all sorts of reasons.
Sylvia: It was a useful target, so much of Manchester was destroyed. We haven’t spoken of evacuation at all, Hmm ….
Sylvia: The curious thing is that my mother was an only child dead against evacuation even though we were in such a dangerous zone. So, she said she could take her child to …. stay with her …. mother-in-law out in Lymm which was one of the places you could be evacuated to, it’s out in the country it’s beautiful. Hmm, unfortunately, she didn’t get on with her mother-in-law, did she? So, I was evacuated to Lymm, I remember the house and the place, I’ve been back to see it, and, hmm, over the wall at the back of the little house that we were in was a field full of sheep. I’d never come close to a sheep before, it was wonderful to watch the sheep.
Sylvia: But it only lasted three weeks [giggle] by which point they had a massive row, gave up and came back. So, you could refuse evacuation ….
Sylvia: people didn’t on the whole. I think London evacuated itself much more than Manchester.
Ron: I don’t think I was ever …. Evacuated ….
Sylvia: I don’t think you were ever pushed into it at all. But there were children ….
Ron: Oh, yes ….
Sylvia: who went into serious evacuation. We lost some from the classes that I was in at the time and we were told that they had been evacuated but didn’t quite understand what that meant …. at the time.
Michael: And you obviously, you didn’t take evacuees because that would have been going in the wrong direction.
Sylvia: No, no it was the wrong way around, indeed
Michael: I usually ask a killer question I call it, which is, knowing what you know about the past and, and err, and both of you have had long and hopefully fairly happy lives, how would you, what advice would you give to youngsters today?
Sylvia: Advice, advice ….
Michael: To, to … it’s a tricky one, it is a bit of a killer ….
Sylvia: It is difficult. I think when I was a student, I knew exactly how to put the world right. It was that, that and that and it would do it. Now I think there’s nothing will put the world right. I think in many ways we’re a hugely fortunate generation.
Ron: Yes, I think we were very fortunate.
Sylvia: We didn’t operate as fighters in either of the Wars and we profited by the health and the education changes after the Wars .…
Ron: Yes, very much so on education changes.
Sylvia: …. and we have been too early for theses dreadful pollutions and over-population which is one of our major problems now.
Sylvia: So we were a very lucky generation ….
Sylvia: …. and I am constantly saying that to my grandchildren.
Sylvia: Hmm, we were not swamped by technology in the way that my poor grandchildren are now. Hmm, advice. I think they are very happy not to fight, so they don’t want war ….
Sylvia: but they’re unaware of how close they are to it. I don’t think they are aware of how easy it would be to fall into nuclear war.
Michael: That’s the frightening thing.
Sylvia: …. and how terrified we were in the 60s when we were watching Cuba and ….
Michael: Living with it.
Ron: Yes. Oh, particularly Cuba.
Sylvia: I really think they don’t think that’s a problem.
Ron: I think that really, yes.
Sylvia: We felt Cuba very seriously because we were thinking of all that had happened in the War that was still fresh in our minds. But I think, I don’t know, they think that war is a foreign thing now, don’t they? There has never been a year since we’ve been alive that there hasn’t been a war going on somewhere ….
Ron: Well when you think ….
Sylvia: … and we’ve usually been involved in it. From the first boyfriend I had which was in …. fighting the Mau Mau in Kenya. And from then there has been a war ever since with somebody involved in it.
Sylvia: But they think of it as a foreign thing rather than something that threatens them here and now ….
Ron: No, I think we were very fortunate with the education system, the ability ….
Sylvia: Hmm, we were lucky.
Ron: …. to improve ourselves if we had the ability with… yes ….
Syliva: Oh, and we were lucky in sheer numbers, Ron, I mean when I came out of university I never applied for a job, I was headhunted because there were only four thousand of us in Manchester University.
Ron: Yes, that’s true.
Sylvia: And now ….
Ron: There’s eighty thousand ….
Sylvia: fifty percent of the population, and there aren’t enough jobs for them coming out of university, it doesn’t make an entire sense. So, we were lucky in very many ways. .… Advice you can’t, because our experience is that life changes. Life changes in every decade. It will change for them in every decade.
Michael: Yes, it will. OK, well, I think probably we’ve, we’re coming to an end, so I would like to thank you both very much ….
Sylvia: It’s been a pleasure.
Ron: No, we’ve enjoyed it.
Sylvia: It’s been a pleasure.
Michael: …. for sitting down and talking about it for WarGen ….
Ron: Thank you very much.
Sylvia: And maybe our children, our grandchildren will look at these later ….
Interview recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by Tom Humphrey.