Wartime Memories of Dorothy Firth
Dorothy Firth (née Potts) was born in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1926 and was 13 years old when War broke out. Her parents were Clifford Potts and his wife, Alice, (née Heap).
She was evacuated for 1½ years to Stacksteads, Rossendale in Lancashire but was back in time for the Manchester Blitz.
This transcript records her memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences during her life time.
The transcript and the video are about 40 minutes long.
Recorded in Hale Barns, Cheshire on 2 November 2018.
[Pauses indicated by ….]
Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.
Dorothy: Well, I was born in Glossop, Derbyshire but my parents actually lived in North Manchester, so that I didn’t stay in Derbyshire very long, except that every school holiday, I went there for my …. with my …. to stay with my grandmother, really to get me out of Manchester.
We lived very close to the Centre of Manchester and it was, you know, quite a busy area. I had a sister, three years older than myself called Muriel.
I went to school, to Junior School, at a church school, straight across the road and stayed there till I was eleven and then while still in Manchester, I went to Harpurhey High School, and that was only for a year, year and a half I think, before we moved to Whalley Range. We moved to Whalley Range in 1938, Christmas 1938. So that was …. and I went to Whalley Range High School as I said, and it was during that time that the war broke out. And I just had a birthday, August, and of course, it was the third of September and we were called immediately to be evacuated, the whole school to be evacuated together …. and together, we all went to Stackstead which is between Bacup and Rawtenstall, and, we were billeted.
I was with a friend called Barbara Jones and we were billeted in, with a lady who had four sons but two of them at home in a two-bedroomed house. So, you can imagine it was quite tight. We had to …. we had to …. my friend and I had to sleep together in a three-quarter bed with a curtain between us and the lady of the house, because the sons were in the other bedroom. It was very good in that she was a very nice lady and her sons were very, they were a lot older than us. They were 18 or 20. Well, one of them was. They were working, and …. but they’d not been called up for the Army at all, so that they played cards with us and things like that, but the lady was an excellent cook. We always looked forward to Thursdays because on Thursday, she did her baking. We had hot pot and you know with a big crust on top and apple pie. We always looked forward to that.
But it was a smaller house than I’d been used if you like. Everything happened in the kitchen. There’s the sitting-room was only used on Sundays, but we were allowed to do our homework there. We went to school at Rawtenstall Grammar School and had to travel there every day, part-time …. shared the school with the other …. with their pupils’ …. alternate desks, were locked up with our names on them, their names on, so that you only used your own desk.
It was a …. it was a reasonable time in that my parents were near enough to come and travel. They’d only just bought a car. They hadn’t had a car when we lived in North Manchester and they just bought one before the War, not realizing there was going to be a war, but they were able to come and visit occasionally. So, I think that really, we were lucky people.
Michael: Hmm. Yes.
Dorothy: But what happened was that we came …. we were near enough, and nothing had happened in the War. So, we came home for Christmas. And it was during that time that we had the Manchester Blitz.
Dorothy: Yes Christmas 1940, reached a year and a half at Bacup, up at Stacksteads, and that the day of the Blitz, we were actually travelling, we’d visited some …. my parents had visited some …. a shop. They were looking after my cousin’s shop because they’d set him up in business in Bacup, not Bacup, I beg your pardon that’s wrong. [It was] in, near Northwich, Barnton, just outside Northwich.
And so, they were going to see, but he’d been called up, for the Grenadier Guards and so his wife with two young children was looking after the shop. So, they went to see that everything was all right. So, with my uncle …. so, they dropped off my sister, myself in Altrincham with my cousins whilst they went up to Barnton and it was during that time that they heard that they were bombing Manchester or the area, you know, Trafford Park, you see ….
Dorothy: We were very near Trafford Park. So, they came rushing back, said, “Jump in the car quick, we’re going home ….” and it, we’d actually travelled through the bombers through the raid. They were dropping bombs, incendiary bombs, particularly, all-round us.
We travelled down the Chester Road to Whalley Range, and it was during that time that whilst we were traveling, we got onto Withington Road where we lived, and they stopped us. And they said, “You can’t go through. There are pipes and things across the road ….” And what had happened was that they, there were places all around us being bombed. But particularly the place opposite our shop where we lived, was in flames, and we had to go down into a cellar that they’d made into an air raid shelter and sit there and when they …. every time there was a pause in the bombing, my father used to come out and go to the shop and report what was happening and things like …. Well, we’d no windows and the house, everything’s gone, you know, but it’s still standing, even though the ballroom opposite wasn’t, and things like …. He was a very proud window dresser, my father. He was very artistic, and he had a huge doll in the middle of the window and that was his treasure. Well, one time when he went to see, the doll had gone.
Michael: Oh dear.
Dorothy: But you know, little things like that. So, when the all-clear went, we finally went back to the shop and father opened the shop and people came pouring in, dressed in dressing gowns and whatever and saying, you know, the house has gone. We can’t, we can’t go back, we’ve nowhere to go, and mother was making cups of tea and father was giving them cigarettes and things like that and you know that, till everything calmed down.
Michael: That was the blitz.
Dorothy: That was the Blitz.
Michael: What happened after that?
Dorothy: We all refused to go back to being evacuated and that’s when we got this form that said, we’ve been good evacuees, you know, and they had to …. there were so many of us, wouldn’t go back that they had to abandon the idea altogether, and reopen our school.
Now, this happened all over Manchester, it wasn’t just our school. The people didn’t want to go back. They felt that they were wanted to be with their parents, if anything was going to happen.
And after all, we were grammar school children, we were 13, you know, and older, so that we felt responsible and they actually opened a school in, I think, it was Milton Keynes. They opened a school where all the children from all over Manchester, who hadn’t been …. who had come back, but it was parents didn’t want them to stay at home ….
Dorothy: …. for various reasons, obviously, because they thought it was unsafe but also because they’d …. whilst their children away, they’d become occupied in something to do with the war.
Dorothy: So that they …. So that there was a special school opened there, that we didn’t go to of course, that was you know, we just knew about it. Because I actually met later on after the War …. no, still during the War, a friend who had done that, who had been in North Manchester with her and met her again at work. That was the period when I started work and she’d been to this school down in in Milton Keynes.
Michael: Are you sure it was Milton Keynes down in Buckinghamshire
Michael: In Buckinghamshire.
Michael: Oh, right.
Dorothy: I think I’ve got the right place.
Michael: It may well be …. at that time, it would only have been a village.
Dorothy: Well, that’s it. It was a safe area.
Michael: It became a major housing area in the 70s but that was a something different. There was a small village called Milton Keynes there.
Dorothy: Well, I think it was that, I mean ….
Michael: No, it could well be ….
Dorothy: I’m just going back in memory obviously, and I didn’t go myself. The only way it affected us was that two teachers from each of the schools involved, had to go there for a term to teach and then change and another two would go. It was a way of …. because the school, I presume it wasn’t, you know, an original grammar school. They made it, they made the school there.
Michael: I doubt if there would have been anything more than just a village school ….
Dorothy: Possibly. I don’t know. I, I don’t know that. I only know that we lost teachers every now and again. I remember particularly that two PE teachers went together because they were friends. So, they volunteered together to, I think that was on a voluntary basis.
Dorothy: And so, for a whole term, we didn’t have any PE in the school because our teachers had gone.
Dorothy: Well, I stayed at school until I took School Certificate and then, and then left. And went, took a job in the Ministry of Labour actually.
Michael: What age were you then?
Dorothy: I’d be 16.
Michael: Right so about 1942. Yes ….
Dorothy: And so, for about a year and a half, I worked in an office in Manchester. You know Sunlight House in Manchester? We were there on the sixth floor and …. Well, to be quite honest I hated it. I hated being in a confined office. It wasn’t me at all. And so, I sort of talked it over with my parents and they said, “Well, go back and talk to your teacher …. to your headmistress at the school,” who was Dr. Arscott and I went and talked to her. She said well, you know, we talked over what I would like to do, and she said, “I think you could make a good teacher”.
Dorothy: So, she said, “but you’ll need to come back to school”. So, at the Christmas, I went back to school for one term and took two A level …., you know, what would be A levels now, but the …. higher education.
Dorothy: And I’ve got the certificates to show, that was just took two subjects, English and …. No, I took Maths and History, but I also repeated my English.
Dorothy: She thought it would be good for me …. And …. not as a certificate for that. I don’t understand why not, but anyway, I did that, and I had to go for an interview.
But the college I went to was Edgehill, which is a Liverpool college, but was evacuated to Bingley in Yorkshire. So, I had to go to Yorkshire for my interview. And obviously I was accepted and the people …. the teacher, the tutors there, were all from the Liverpool college and we had shared the accommodation with the Bingley College.
Dorothy: So again, this was all part-time different, you know, different things happening and I …. well, we did …. my friend and I would …. new friends I made obviously …. We did a lot of cycling in the area and we did our teaching practices in that area at Bradford and you know in …. Specifically, I can’t remember names of schools obviously, but we did our teaching practices there. And it was whilst I was there of course that the war ended, the war in Europe ended and my friend and I, I don’t know whether this is relevant or not, but my friend and I decided we wanted to go to York to see York Minster. We both felt somehow that that was, would be a highlight at the end of the war. And so, we set off on our bikes. We got as far as Tadcaster and it was pouring with rain, so we decided that we’d arrive at York Minster wet through would be a bit silly. So, we turned back and went back, and we joined what was happening in the college itself, of course because there were celebrations there.
Michael: Yes, Yes.
Dorothy: So, that was the end of the …. Of course, the College went back to Edgehill because they built, before the War. they built a new college in Ormskirk and the Army had occupied it but after the War they vacated it …. it had become a hospital.
Dorothy: And so, they did it up a bit and we went back there. And you know, it was still in a bit of state of disrepair because of the reorganization etcetera …. and so, I finished my education there and got my …. and did …. did actually a teaching practice in Liverpool that year. And then came home and got a teaching job in Manchester. First of all, in Manchester in Hulme, was my teaching post and then I moved from Hulme to Lostock near Stretford.
Dorothy: And of course, all this is after the war.
Michael: I don’t know what Hulme was like in those days.
Dorothy: Well ….
Michael: Lostock is fairly run done I think, isn’t it?
Dorothy: Well, it wasn’t run down then it was quite good but Hulme was a very poor area.
Dorothy: I mean there were odd little things like …. think …. odd things you remember like a child who came to school, and the teacher was worried about her and said, she’d got her hair all tied up. She’d very long hair, told her to take her hair down and she did, and it was crawling.
Michael: Oh dear.
Dorothy: And another child. He hurt himself and he hurt his leg and he had Wellingtons on, and when you couldn’t take his Wellington’s off and we said, the teachers, the head mistress said, “Well, what do you do at night when you go to bed?” “Oh, I don’t take them off.” He slept …. they just had one bed and he slept under the bed. And so that sort of thing did happen. On the other hand, it was a good school, the children were taught well, you know, it was only a small, it was a little Church of England school called St Marys, I think it was.
Michael: Is it still there?
Dorothy: I don’t know. I doubt it.
Dorothy: I doubt it.
Michael: There are quite a number of schools around that area, I know.
Dorothy: I think it will have gone. I mean the only toilets were outside and people had to go through and we had open fires that was the heating, you know, like a proper coal fire.
Dorothy: We had those in every …. in the classrooms because I used to …. There was …. it was behind me and I used to have to stand in front of this fire to teach the children and the children who wanted to go to the toilet from the other classes had to pass through to get out. That was the open door. So …. but this is this is post-war. Of course.
Michael: Yes indeed.
Michael: Let’s just go back to pre-war. Just talking about your parents for a second. I think you told me that your father was in the First World War.
Dorothy: Yes, he was with the horses. I don’t know what regiment …. I’ve no …. I’ve no records because he, after my mother died, he re-married and a lot of his stuff was left there. And so, I, and I think my sister perhaps, took some but he used to talk about …. he had a team of horses …. he’d been brought up in the country, you see, he’d been brought up in Glossop in Derbyshire and he himself had a shop there and used to drive into Manchester in a team of hors …., with a horse and cart to get his goods for the shop that he had in, in Glossop. And so, he was used to horses. So, they put him in …. in fact, the War Horse thing reminded me so much of what my father had said.
Dorothy: He said that if there were …. if they were dry …. pulling a gun with a team of horses and one of them slipped in the mud, you just have to let it, cut it off and let it go because otherwise it would have pulled all the whole lot, the other horses and the guns and everything would have gone you see. But he was on the Somme and you know, I can’t really tell you anymore.
Michael: He came back safely.
Dorothy: He came back safely.
Michael: And not gassed or anything like that?
Dorothy: Not gassed or anything, no. I had uncles who were gassed but he wasn’t …. No ….
Michael: One of the lucky ones in a way. I don’t know if it really was lucky to be subjected to that experience. During the Second World War. What did he do?
Dorothy: What did he do?
Dorothy: He was a newsagent.
Dorothy: We had a newsagent shop sweets and tobacconist. So, he was, of course, my mother was there as well and the only contribution really to the war was, you know, in the Home Guard fire watching and you know, standing on the tops of buildings and things like that, which he used to do after we’d closed the shop. He was called up to go and do that but also my sister was three years older than me. Towards the end of the war, she did that sort of thing too.
Michael: Everyone doing their thing making the effort.
Michael: Yes, indeed. So, after the war, you’re now a teacher.
Michael: Was there any sort of legacy for you as a result of the war? Were there things that happened during the war that might have affected your ongoing life. Or were you lucky enough to be able to sail through?
Dorothy: Yes, I don’t think so.
Michael: So, you went on and you married and ….
Dorothy: Yes, I married then whilst I was teaching at Lostock, I met my husband and so I was …. we were married in Stretford, in St Matthews Church at Stretford and he’d come home. He was home, of course, when I met him and he became an accountant, but you know the War had affected his training for the good, strangely enough and yes, because he’d lived in Salford in a very …. his father had a been a crane driver and he’d got sleeping sickness from the docks …. and so, they were quite poor and so he left school at 14 and started work, but he always went to night school …. kept up with his education as far as he could and when he was dismissed from the army, they went to his father died. So, they let him out of the army if you like, a little bit earlier than he would have done and called it ‘dismissed’. That’s the wrong word, isn’t it? What is what’s the word I wanted?
Michael: I can’t say ‘released’ because it’s not really that either. Let out of the army, let’s say.
Dorothy: Anyway, there’s a word …. He went to that school that there’s a …. there was a place in there is a stately home where a lot of …. the army took over and they went there for education after the war. And when he came back, he had a job with …. Sassoon’s, the export people and that was his, he was working there when I met him, with them and he decided to go to university, to the university and see what was available to sort of better himself. And he discovered that he’d already passed some of the accountancy exams with the Army …. the first layer …. and so, he was able to come in at that level and do his accountancy exams and eventually qualified as a chart …. not a chartered accountant, cost and works accountant because he was working …. so ….
Michael: And you say he’d been in the Army. What was he doing in the Army?
Dorothy: Driving tanks?
Michael: Oh right. So, he was with the Tank Regiment.
Michael: Right, what year was your husband born then?
Dorothy: He was four years older than me.
Michael: Born in 1922
Michael: Yes, and so he must have seen quite a bit of what was going on, possibly in North Africa and in Northern France and so on ….
Dorothy: No, he went across the, you know, D …. It was D + 3. He went across then. [D Day plus 3 days]
Michael: Right? So that was after the 6th of June.
Michael: Yes. And then presumably he went on up the French Coast?
Dorothy: That’s right, they were in a tank, they went across with a tank and had to land with it, you know. Yes.
Michael: I mean some of those tanks had essentially were turned into water tanks with a skirt all around them so that they would float.
Dorothy: I’m sorry. I don’t know any details. I just knew that he landed and after the War, after the children were born when they were old enough to understand …. you perhaps remember this …. he once took us all there and they built Mulberry Harbour, remember that?
Dorothy: Well, he drove, his tanks drove along the Mulberry Harbour to get onto the French shore …. they’d put it up in the three days.
Michael: Quite remarkable that …. It was built by a British contractor who is still going to this day.
Michael: Yes. Nuttall ….
Dorothy: Well, they sank ships, didn’t they?
Michael: But they also towed across concrete structures.
Dorothy: Well I don’t think he was I think that would be later.
Dorothy: I think his …. was just you know, the ships come …. they drove them cross and landed on the French shore.
Michael: Yes. Are there other things are in your memory that you would like to talk about …. that you think might be relevant …. experiences you’ve had …. perhaps during that …. I mean we have not talked about things like rationing ….
Dorothy: Well …. when we were, when I was working, we used to go to a British restaurant that had opened, because you could get a meal for a shilling …. the British restaurant ….
Michael: Was that in Manchester?
Dorothy: In Manchester. Yes, in Hulme it was …. no …. it wouldn’t be Hulme. It was on the main road coming out of Manchester, you know …. where I worked, Sunlight House was on Deansgate. Yes, but it was the …. from there in, coming in. So, it should be towards Stretford ….
Michael: There was the Stretford Road ….
Dorothy: Yes, it must have been on there somewhere.
Michael: The Stretford Road today goes across the Princes Highway across a bridge, but I believe that the city end of the Stretford Road, there was a large department store. I can’t remember the name of it.
Joyce Bishop: Pauldens?
Michael: Yes, Pauldens ….
Dorothy: Yes oh, yes.
Michael: So, I just wondered whether it was somewhere near there.
Dorothy: Well, it could have been, yes. Yes. Yes, I just knew we found it very convenient [laughing] as far as rationing was concerned during the War. Really, I suppose my parents dealt with it, you know, it was …. but we were certainly reasonably fed.
Dorothy: And as I told you, we lived in a shop, sold cigarettes, things like that and I can remember going, driving into Derbyshire, being driven …. my father drove us to visit some relatives who had a farm and coming back with a chicken and eggs and he had taken them some cigarettes.
Michael: Gentle bartering going on there.
Dorothy: I think quite a lot of that went on.
Michael: I bet. So, you didn’t have chickens in your back garden or anything like that.
Dorothy: No. No, we didn’t. I think parents were too busy in the shop.
Michael: Yes. I’m …. a lot of people spoke said to me that actually the rationing did them some good and might well have been responsible. This is a legacy thing.
Dorothy: For our old age now ….
Michael: That’s right ….
Dorothy: Could have been …. Could it be because this …. Yes ….
Michael: …. because I know that certainly with WarGen ….
Michael: …. the number of people I meet of a senior age who are looking pretty good is quite remarkable.
Dorothy: Yes. Yes. All right. You see it also taught us to eat up. You would never leave anything on the plate.
Michael: No, no wastage.
Dorothy: We took what we could eat, and we ate it, you know, but well, I think we lived sparsely. But well, you know, but yes reasonably well.
Michael: A lot of that is down to management isn’t it?
Dorothy: Yes. My mother was a good cook. Yes. She was yes.
Michael: And you would have had rationing …. Things …. such things as fruit. Did you ever see any fruit, things like oranges or bananas?
Dorothy: No, no. No. I can remember the end of the War. I can remember my father taking me …. into Manchester to the green grocery area and seeing bananas for the first time. I can remember that. And so, he …. you know, he bought a banana [laughing] but that. We lived on …. No …. no, you see I’m going back before the war when we lived on Rochdale Road [?] and we could go into Manchester so easily. No, we didn’t but I can remember my father taking us into Manchester but the buses that were good buses in those days. We probably went on the bus.
Michael: Yes, the buses, trams also?
Dorothy: Trams when I was younger on Rochdale Road, they used to pass. In fact, they used to stop at the door.
Dorothy: Yes, very convenient. You could just put your hand up at each stop.
Michael: So, during the war you used buses, or did you walk a bit of both I suppose.
Dorothy: Bicycles. Definitely yes. Yes.
Michael: So, are their other things that you feel you would like to raise to talk about I mean, I mean after you married you …. you had family?
Dorothy: Yes, we had three children. All did well, they all went to universities and, they’re all married and have children themselves. [Laughing] They’ve each got two children themselves. Well, you know, I’m very proud of my family, let’s put it that way. My husband would have been. Yeah, unfortunately, he died in ‘79. It was probably a legacy of the war. He had a fibrillating heart which they’d been A1 in the Army, of course.
Dorothy: …. and then, it was shortly after we married and he said he ought, he ought to have some insurance. It was whilst I was expecting my elder daughter and he thought we …. We ought to have some insurance and so he went to see a doctor for the first time really, and the next thing we knew, he was in hospital.
Dorothy: I got a phone call to say he was in hospital, and they discovered this fibrillating heart. Yes.
Michael: Yes, that’s not something that’s easily cured either.
Dorothy: Well, it never was cured …. He then but you know, he …. he was always active.
Dorothy: He used to climb a hill. We did …. we did a lot of country walking and he’d be climbing the hill with my older daughter. They were very good walkers, and I’d be saying, “Wait for me!”
Michael: Knowing what you know, and what you’ve been through during your life and thinking about the youngsters and, you know today, and in the future, what advice would you give to them to lead a happy successful life?
Dorothy: That’s a difficult question that because I think, I think they are all happy.
Dorothy: And successful.
Dorothy: You know, as I say, I am very proud of my family.
Dorothy: …. and the youngsters are doing well. In fact, Fiona’s daughter’s just gone to Cambridge …. and you know, they, they all …. her two children are at University.
Dorothy: The others have all passed, got their degrees and working. So be happy.
Dorothy: Be happy.
Michael: Yes, be happy. Absolutely and be positive.
Dorothy: Yes. Yes.
Michael: Yes indeed.
Michael: Dorothy, thank you very much indeed for being prepared to be interviewed for WarGen.
Dorothy: Okay. Thank you.
Michael: Thank you.
After the interview, Dorothy remembered the following:
“When the sirens went, we went down to a mattress that my father had put at the bottom of the cellar steps.”
“My sister brought troops home and they were welcomed by my father. Eventually, she married an Airman.”
Interview recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by Shane Greer.