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Ivor's Story

Ivor was one of the contributors to the book Grandad's War, and after I featured that publication on my Books page, he e-mailed me his memories.  In Grandad's War, the memories of several different contributors are collected by subject, so this opportunity to read Ivor's complete set of memories unfragmented is a real bonus. The story below is in Ivor's own words, except where I have added my own commentary in blue text.
Ivor entitled his e-mail "PUT THAT LIGHT OUT".

The First Years of War

My father was an army reservist and was mobilized just before the outbreak of war. They kitted him out and sent him back home in uniform complete with a rifle to wait for the call. My first recollection in life is of him showing a neighbour how to aim the rifle at an imaginary target down the garden. The neighbour thought it was complicated and said he could never cope but soon he was called up for the infantry!

Stuart Place is on Map 2c. Another contributor, Maureen, also lived in that street. The station was Oldfield Park Station.

At the outbreak of war my father returned to his Royal Artillery unit at Shoeburyness near Southend. My mother and I lived in a rented house at 4 Stuart Place next door to my grandparents. At the top of the street there was the Great Western Railway (GWR) and a small station. The view down the street was of Lansdown in the distance but prominent was the gas works about half a mile away.

WaltersOn the other side of the street there was Walters light engineering company (pictured here in 1990) and an old jail built in good Bath stone with its small exercise yard directly opposite our house (See comment at the bottom of this page). The old jail wasn't as gloomy as it sounds; there was no barbed wire or walls with spikes. I believe it was taken over by the 'Flight' works which was probably making wooden components for aircraft under control of Bath Cabinet Makers.

applesThe house was a basic terrace in Bath stone. It had two bedrooms, no bathroom and an outside toilet. We had electricity and gas. Heating was by a coal fire in the main room and a small portable electric fire. The water pipes were made of lead and they frequently burst in the winter. There was no front garden but quite a good back garden with a Worcester Pearmain apple tree. (Ivor has used the American spelling. In Britain it is called "Worcester Pearman.  Rarely seen nowadays, it was a sweet early autumn apple popular in Victorian times).

Everyone pulled together in the war effort. There was a great fear of air raids and we had to ensure that no light escaped from windows or doors. Blackout curtains were fitted to doors and windows. The door curtains had to be closed when an outside door was opened and even then a pencil beam of light would sure enough attract the attention of an Air Raid Patrol (ARP) Warden!

Number 8 batteries were about half as big again as the modern AA size, were 3 volts, and were used in most small torches. They didn't last long.

Painting lamppostThere were no illuminated street lights so lamp posts (and roadside trees) were painted with a band of white to reduce the risk to pedestrians. Kerbs were painted white. Rear mudguards on bikes had a section painted white to minimize the risk of being shunted. Car headlights were fitted with beam deflectors to cast the beam downwards close to the vehicle. A torch became an essential piece of kit but we always seemed to be out of the Number 8 batteries. To boost flat batteries we put them in a warm oven but I often over did it and ended up with stinking tar on the drip tray! (Batteries used to be sealed with tar to prevent leaks)

The brick built shelters were surprisingly strong. In the picture on the left you can see that they survived even when the houses round them (in this case in Victoria Road) were wrecked. There is more information about air raid shelters in the Planning For War section.

Brick sheltersTwo concrete block air raid shelters were built in the street and a neighbour had a brick shelter built at the bottom of the garden. I don't know how they qualified for their own shelter. Perhaps they paid for it. Some families made their own dug-out shelters with corrugated tin roofs. Large public shelters were built near likely places of large gatherings. The one opposite the Scala cinema had a direct hit in the blitz and 17 were killed. The site is marked by a memorial garden.

Everything was in short supply. Men 'from the government' came around with oxyacetylene torches to commandeer non essential iron railings from gardens, parks and cemeteries. Later there was a drive for aluminium and I recall a Spitfire (probably an over stressed one that was of no use) being parked opposite the Theatre Royal to encourage us to give up unwanted saucepans. We duly complied and added a pan or two to the pile.

The autumns were foggy and I remember my poor old grandad saying "It was so foggy you couldn't see your hand across the other side of the street." The winters were particularly cold. Getting the fire lit was often a rigmarole with a sheet of newspaper held against the fire place to draw the embers into life. My mother favoured Derbyshire coal because she believed it gave more heat - perhaps it did. It wasn't easy to get coal deliveries just when you wanted so we sometimes had to collect it in a pram from Toogoods the coal merchant near the bottom of Brougham Hayes (in Victoria Buildings on the Lower Bristol Road).

Food was rationed of course, and grocers used to keep the best under the counter for the favourite customers. Eggs were in short supply but as time went on we started to get powdered egg in tins with stars and stripes labels. We were lucky to have relations in Vancouver so occasionally we got food parcels and the highlight was the tin of salmon.

Present day dieticians say we had a well balanced diet, but hungry little boys didn't stick to regular things. My favourite snack was beef dripping on bread with lashings and lashings of salt! Another was bread, butter (margarine) and sugar sandwich! On Sundays the lunchtime roast was sometimes beef but more often we had roasted rabbit because it was cheap and not rationed. It's a topsy-turvy world and in those days chicken was a Christmas treat! Good sausages were difficult to get.

I started school at East Twerton Infants' in Dorset Street in September 1941. (This school still exists, but is now called Oldfield Park Infants). I can't remember those first few months and my memory jumps from the outbreak of war to the Bath Blitz in April 1942.

The Blitz

When the sirens sounded we went next door to my grandparents and huddled under the stairs. (It would have seemed more sensible to go to the street's shelter but I recall that the 'word' was that taking shelter under the stairs was safer). I remember hearing the German bombers. They had a distinctive sound: woom woom, woom, woom. I now know that their propellers were not synchronized. I am sure that the crews didn't fly for hours in transit with that noise because it would have been very fatiguing so this was probably a temporary situation over the target area. I think there were 2 possible reasons for this. It's likely that before opening the bomb doors the pilots selected the propellers to fine pitch (that's akin to dropping down a gear from top gear in a car when you want the engine to be more responsive to throttle movements.) then the pilots were heavily engaged in bomb aiming and disregarded the noise from the unsynchronized propellers. Alternatively they desynchronized the propellers deliberately over the target area to un-nerve us.

There is a summary of the bombs that fell in the Bomb Types section.

The bombs were probably 250 or 500 kgs. As they fell there was a shrill sound and the pitch got higher as they got closer, a flash, a loud explosion and the sound of shattering glass and followed by flying dust. Shortly after the first attack we were told by the ARP Warden that the area had to be evacuated because there was an unexploded bomb nearby. We quickly put some things together and got out; there was no point in locking the door!

Weather information was supplied by the Meteorological Office Archives, Exeter. The readings for Bath were taken in Henrietta Park.

I have a very clear picture of those first few steps up the street. The temperature was 3°C with a cold easterly wind. There was a bright moon and the shattered glass glistened and crunched under foot like fresh snow. Our destination was my aunt and uncle's house in Sladebrook Avenue.

As we walked up West Avenue and Coronation Avenue we looked back and saw that Bath was an inferno with a very intensive fire, probably a burning gas main, in an area near the bottom of Brook Road. (Both the gas main at the bottom of Brook Road, and one of the gasometers in the Gas Works were on fire) The target area was still illuminated a few hours later when the next wave of bombers was overhead. Again we took shelter under the stairs. This time there were 4 adults and 2 children and it was so tight that we couldn't close the door! The nearest bomb landed about 100 yards away in Englishcombe Lane. Looking at the records I see that one man was killed there. (Frederick Brewer was killed in Englishcombe Lane during the third raid, which was the night after this part of Ivor's story).

In the morning there was no gas or mains water. My uncle was in the Auxiliary Fire Service and he returned home absolutely shattered and gasping for a cup of tea. A fire was lit in the grate so that a brew could be made. The bombers returned the following night and the raid was terrifying. As we sheltered under the stairs I think we all felt that our luck was running out.

Padleigh Woods in on Map 4b. It is the unnamed bounded area just north-east of the words "Padleigh Bottom".

Next day all Bath inhabitants were advised to leave the city. Just before we left Sladebrook Avenue my mother pinned a note to the door "Gone to Padleigh woods". No transport was available so we joined the throngs of refugees carrying blankets and headed towards the country. My grandmother's maiden name was 'White' (her father built the Jubilee pub) and the family owned land including Padleigh woods just to the south of Bath so it was natural for us to gravitate in that direction. The woods were too crowded (and as an insignificant aside, the bluebells were trampled) so we went farther on towards Englishcombe village and sheltered in a field under a high hedge to shield us from the easterly wind. The night was clear with a bright moon and cold. It was difficult to sleep with lots of chatter between families.

There was no bombing raid so in the morning we set off back home. Besides all of the rubble in the streets I have one very clear memory of bomb damage. At the top of Brougham Hayes the rail track was bent up over the bridge and there was a damaged rail carriage. At home, all of the windows were blown out but we still had a front door. Workmen were mustered by the local Council to repair the windows. Glass was not available so we had to make do with roofing felt in the upper sash and white cloth in the lower.

Life at School

Goering had successfully targeted East Twerton Infants school and it was flattened. The remainder of the school, the Juniors', was damaged but repairable. As infants we were given several temporary classrooms in Oldfield Park after the blitz. Mainly we were accommodated in the Baptist and Methodist churches but I can also remember a spell at the Moravian church in Coronation Avenue.

Gas maskSchooling was pretty basic; mainly games at that stage of course. We had some simple musical instruments. I wanted to have a go on the drums but my lack of musical talent was recognized and I always got stuck on the triangle! We always had to carry gas masks and at school the teachers were tasked to carry out simple checks to prove the mask's effectiveness. We had to don the mask and inhale while the teacher put a piece of blotting paper over the inlet. The blotting paper had to hold in place, with no support, to prove that we were drawing air through the filter and not through leaks in the rubber mask. (Posters were distributed to show where leaks might occur - see picture on the right.)  I quite enjoyed wearing the mask and sometimes I used to wear it at home for fun!

At school we also had 'air raid' drills. If the sirens sounded we had to get under the desks. In the event, when the siren sounded, as it often did, some of us went home and I can't remember any bombs falling on Bath during daytime.

In due course we 'graduated' to junior status and moved back to Dorset Street. The school was austere with high windows covered in muslin coarse gauze to minimize fragmentation in bomb blast. The walls were painted dark green and the floor was made up of dusty wooden blocks. There were a few war posters. One reminded us to always carry our gas masks and another showed a picture of a butterfly bomb which was a booby trap device that could look attractive to children. Heating was through radiators and the coke fired boiler house was a semi cellar at the back of the school.

Unfortunately the caretaker's schedule was not sensible and I got the impression that he lit up shortly before we got to school and the classrooms were often freezing in the winter. I suffered from chilblains on my toes so the winters were miserable. In the spring the window sills usually had a few jam jars with sticky buds from horse chestnuts or catkins from hazel shrubs. Later in the year these were replaced with growing experiments such as dried peas on damp blotting paper but once they had grown shoots the experiment ended!

There was no uniform as such but in those days all boys wore caps, grey shirts with a tie, short grey trousers until they were about 13. On warmer days we had organized PE games in the playground and for that we all changed footwear and put on our daps (gym shoes). The girls wore either a gymslip or blouse and skirt. When it came to PE they tucked their gymslips up into the legs of their knickers or whipped off their skirts (many years before Bucks Fizz got the idea). It's funny the thing one remembers but they all wore navy blue knickers that had a handkerchief pocket!

The teachers were mainly female. One was Austrian and she had a very strong German accent so she had a pretty tough time trying to convince us that she was not a Nazi. Another, Miss Thomas, was to say the least, working at her limit and every day used to punish us by rapping our knuckles with the edge of a wooden ruler. Mr Alexander came to school in an invalid chair which was powered by a hand crank like pedals. Although the gearing was very low it must have been hard work. I believe he had lost a leg in the First War but the boys gave him no credit for his injury and, sadly, he was often the butt of jokes. Miss Allen was a kind understanding lady and was held in special high regard. Mr Roberts was good and he was my teacher for my final year there.

Although the day started with us chasing around boisterously in the playground, discipline was very strict. At 9 o'clock the duty teacher blew a single blast on a whistle. Everyone stopped immediately, no talking. With the next blast we got into our 'form' lines and with the next blast we filed into school for 'assembly' taken by the Headmaster Mr Taylor. The slightest class disorder was quelled by making us sit with hands on head or head down on the desk. I wonder if that happens now?

Free school milk was introduced in 1942 as part of the Government's Vitimin Welfare Scheme and the School Milk Act of 1946 made school milk compulsory after the war. Daily milk for school children was in addition to the family's rations, and by distributing it at school it prevented any sharing with the rest of the family. Free milk continued long after the war. Although Margaret Thatcher is usually blamed for stopping free school milk in 1971, in fact she only stopped it for primary schools. Free school milk to secondary schools was stopped in 1968 by the then Labour Government. Nursery Schools continue to supply free milk, even now.

At mid morning we had a milk break. All schoolchildren in the UK were given a small bottle of full cream milk, about a third of a pint, which was delivered to the door of the school. In winter the milk froze so we put it on the lukewarm radiators. In summer, blue tits attacked the milk cardboard tops and took first swigs or our milk!

Towards the end of the war one of the boys brought a banana to school. Ivan Ham's father was a Merchant Seaman and had returned from a trip with a banana for Ivan. In the milk break we all stood in envy to watch him peel it with great pleasure! He didn't share it but the smell was quite something. I shall always be thankful for the lifelong friends made at East Twerton.

The Home Front

The war effort continued on the home front. Posters encouraged a 'Dig for Victory' campaign and allotments appeared in all sorts of places. Some were just small patches on railway cuttings and embankments. There were bigger projects too. The grass acres in front of Royal Crescent and the slopes opposite Marlborough Buildings near Victoria Park were changed into vegetable plots. Left over food was not wasted. Like many streets we had a 'pig bin'. In our case the bin was at the top of the street near the railway. We collected the scrapings from our plates and took them to the bin. The farmer couldn't collect every day so the stink was awful but we kept some pigs happy in spite of the smell. Next to the pig bin was a salvage bag for newspapers and cardboard.

There was no room for lightweights, everyone wanted to be seen to be doing their bit. Little old ladies knitted socks and mittens for sailors; goodness knows how the delivery system worked! A friend of our family had in her sitting room a huge map of Europe pinned on the wall. She had little flag pins to show the movement of British, German (and later on, American) armies. She got her intelligence from Stuart Hibberd who read the BBC news.

Servicemen on leave were proud to wear their uniform to show that they were involved. Security was always an issue and matelots (sailors) were not allowed to display the name of their ship or boat on their caps. Instead the cap ribbons merely stated 'HMS' or 'HM Submarines'. Injured or sick servicemen who were hospitalized but fit enough to take walks away the hospital were issued with an electric blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Sometimes we saw train loads of them passing through our little station.

The railway was a great attraction for us. Mainly we collected engine numbers but in 1942 a publisher called Ian Allan stole our thunder and produced a book which listed all the numbers so then we just ticked the ones we had seen. In the summer with double summer time two hours ahead of GMT, sunsets were at 2225hrs in late June and we spent many long evenings train spotting.

Queen Mary road transporters were very long and low trucks for large light loads like bits of aircraft.

We lived in the hope of seeing something unusual like the Royal Scot but it was the same old engines. Occasionally we saw troop trains packed to the gunnels (very full) and goods trains carrying tanks and bits of aeroplanes but aircraft bits were more often carried on RAF Queen Mary road transporters.

The London Midland & Scottish (LMS) railway at the bottom of Brougham Hayes had special appeal because we could get right on to the track and one of our 'gang' came up with the idea that we could make money by putting farthings on the line and turn them into halfpennies after a train had passed by. It sounded like a good money making scheme but after investing about two pennyworth of farthings we had a few discs of thin copper that weren't passable so we were disheartened and gave up! Don't bother trying this - decimal currency coins are made of a different metal to the old farthings, so nothing happens.

It was at that sort of time that we used to go into the chip shop to scrounge some scrumps (bits of cooked batter). Fish and chips were not rationed so if we had any money we probably bought 'scallops' (slices of potato, battered and deep fried).

Today's generation might find it difficult to believe that in working class areas nobody had phones or cars. Bad news was delivered by Telegram Boys on bicycles and with most of the men away at war we all dreaded the sight of them. Which house was he looking for?

On the lighter side, one of my friends had a better off relation with a car and on a summer's day he took us for a ride along the Lower Bristol Road to the Turnpike. I think the car was a Morris; one of those with an externally mounted radiator temperature gauge. The windscreen had a brownish tint in parts. The leather seats were plush and smelled of Dubbin saddle soap.

When the Americans arrived I saw my first black guy and coloured servicemen were affectionately called chocolate soldiers. The Americans brought their Jeeps and tanks and the roads got much busier. We used to ask the Americans for chewing gum and they were very generous with it. With sweets being severely rationed we were always on the look out for a way around the system and I remember on one occasion I visited a friend in Upper Weston, he had the word that a shop in the village was selling sweets ration free. It didn't really fit together but I went along with him to the shop - a chemist and came out with Rennies. Still I've never had indigestion!

We were very conscious of the seasons. There were strawberries at Whitsun (seven weeks after Easter); apples and plums in the autumn and sprouts in the winter. There were no home freezers so housewives 'bottled' such fruits as gooseberries and plums. If eggs became available they were stored in glycerine. Another seasonal treat didn't need to be seasonable (but reflects the way of life at that time), hot cross buns were produced only on Good Friday but they could have been made at anytime!

Entertainment at home centred on the radio. My grandparents' radio was a bit old fashioned and the power source was an accumulator which had to be taken to the radio engineers for top up. Ours was powered by the mains but the aerial was a line aerial slung between two high poles in the garden. Tuning was sometimes difficult with lots of crackling and fading. Listening to the news was always high priority for the grownups. ITMA (It's That Man Again) was their top fun programme but for the kids it was 'Just William'.

Going to the pictures was something. There were always two films, the main feature and the B film. Queues were often long and you had to take pot luck on your time of entry. You could be allocated a seat just before the end of the main feature! Smoking was allowed and the auditorium was always smoke filled. Throughout the programme there was constant movement with people coming and going. Children's films that I remember were: Lassie, Bambi, Dumbo, George Formby, Old Mother Riley, Roy Rogers, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

The sirens sounded from time to time and the bombing of Bath was not only at the time of the Blitz. We often found shrapnel. Things fell from allied aircraft too. One day I remember seeing loads of tinfoil strips falling and I managed to gather a few pieces. That was probably a test of radar jamming devices. My greatest find was in my grandparents' garden. They had a shed at the bottom of the garden; it was set just a few inches away from the garden wall. One day I found a small unexploded bomb wedged between the wall and the shed. The bomb's fins had jammed in the gap so the detonator hadn't made contact with the ground. I pulled the bomb out, it was probably a practise bomb and I imagine it weighed only about 10 pounds. I reported it to the Police but I can't remember if I took it to the Police station.

When the war came to an end there were lots of street parties which went on into the night. There was dancing to the 'Hokey Cokey' and 'Knees Up Mother Brown'. The Americans joined in with their jitterbugging.

After the War

Most of the men came home. My father had a good war - if there is such a thing. Although he never got promoted above the rank of Driver, he stayed on the experimental ranges at Shoeburyness for the duration. It was miserable work on the mud flats. He saw the Battle of Britain over the Thames estuary. However he experienced many air raids and several of his colleagues were lost. Our neighbour who at the start of the war thought that the rifle was complicated, survived jungle warfare in Burma.

Before the end of the war I joined the Scout movement and as a treat to celebrate victory a charabanc outing to Weston Super Mare was organized. We went to Brown's restaurant and had fish, chips and peas followed by a chocolate éclair. That was a special day!

My parents decided to get a mortgage to buy our house. They were very proud and one of the first things my Dad did was to paint the front door in a 'Harrods' green. By this time the old jail opposite had been taken over by the Technical College and boys of about 13 played cricket in the exercise yard. It was at lunchtime when my father was putting the finishing touches to the gloss. He had the paint brush in one hand, the tin of paint in the other - and he was probably enjoying a cigarette. Suddenly the boys sounded excited as one of them hit the ball for six and scored a direct hit on the tin of paint! My Dad wasn't very pleased to see his paint on the lino floor of the passageway! The boys' master came over to apologise and to help clear up but I think he had trouble containing his laughter. His name was Mr Jones - seemed like a nice man!

We gradually got back to normal life. But it was sometime before we felt at ease with no blackout, and no longer expected to hear the ARP warden shout "Put that light out!"


Twerton GaolTwerton Gaol (the original spelling), was designed by architect George Manners (who was Bath City Architect from 1823 - 1862) and opened in 1843. It was erected on this site in Caledonian Road, where it would have been in easily seen from the Royal Crescent, which had been built a century earlier. It was therefore designed to look more like a stately home than a prison from the outside, though I understand that apart from the Governor's residence (which faced the Royal Crescent) the inside contained no luxuries (I found reference to a treadmill-operated grinding machine for converting rocks into fragments for the construction and road building industries). The prison was built to replace the original one in Grove Street which was overcrowded and prone to flooding, and it housed what today would be called "low grade" offenders such as debtors and fraudsters. It closed in 1878, and was then put to other uses. Some time before the war the building behind the Governor's quarters, which was originally part of the prison, was occupied by Walters Engineering Ltd, and Ivor lived almost opposite it. In this modern picture, the outside of the Governor's House is still very like it originally looked, but now it is owned by the Guinness Housing Association and since 1991 (which is also the date when the building occupied by Walter's Engineering was demolished and replaced by more Guinness Housing Association appartments) it has been occupied by their tenants.

Side viewThis is the modern day view of the Gaol, taken from the front door of 4 Stuart Place  (I have not found any wartime photos).  The sides and back were also built to look elegant, even though these views would not be visible from any prestige addresses. The garage is a recent addition and would not have been there when Ivor looked out.  Part of the exercise yard is now gardens for the residents, and part is occupied by recent new buildings and their parking spaces.


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