Mrs Topping’s Memories
I was thirteen at the end of the war, so a large part of my childhood was spent in the war years. I lived with my family in a large village in Lancashire called Bamber Bridge.
changed things for us all in the village was that an American army camp
was set up at the top end of Bamber Bridge, near the railway line. Perhaps
it didn’t change things for the grown-ups, but it certainly did for us
children. I used to go to the camp with my brother and his mate. The
‘Yanks’, as we called them, were very kind to us. They used to give us
boxes of candy in small brown boxes, and they taught us to play
‘baseball’. A lot of them must have been about eighteen or nineteen,
so not really a great deal older than us. Some of them would die in the
war; they must have been stationed there ready for the invasion of Europe.
They were fun to be with, laughing and dancing, and they livened the
But we used to groan when they joined the queue for fish and chips at the local fish shop as they used to order a lot of fish and chips for their friends, then take the whole lot back to camp in a taxi. It meant we had to wait a lot longer for our evening meal, as we had to wait while fresh fish and chips were cooked. We practically lived on pies and fish and chips as food was rationed. At the other fish shop you could take a large basin and order ‘a fourpenny one’, which was a basin full of chips and mushy peas mixed together costing four pennies.
Young women used to come from miles around - they used to sit on the railway fence which ran alongside the camp, with their short skirts on, and the Yanks used to flock round them. My brother was very excited one day, as he told us he had seen a lot of money - the soldiers had paid a girl to strip off and stand in the field, surrounded by them. My brother had wriggled on his belly, under their legs, and he'd seen this big pile of cash on the ground. As a kid, he was more excited about seeing all that money than a naked girl. I suppose there were a lot of 'goings on'. The pubs and shops must have done a roaring trade in those days, as money was no object to the Americans.
One of the highlights of our lives was queuing for sweets once a month, and waiting for the shop to open so that you could hand your ration book over and your money and get a month’s supply of sweets or chocolate. I think we were allowed 2 oz. of sweets a week – if I remember rightly – so for a month that would be a half a pound of sweets. We all ate them right away, but my brother Gerard used to hoard his in a cardboard box. We used to drool over his box, but he wouldn’t let us have any. Then he got a girlfriend and he gave her a bar of chocolate.
We had an air raid shelter at the bottom of our street. It wasn’t used much, except for us to play in, but sometimes there was an air raid warning and we had to go in it. There was a munitions factory not far from us – perhaps a few miles away – called Exton, near Chorley. The German bombers would come over looking to bomb it, but I don’t think they ever found it as I believe it was underground, with grass on top of the buildings, so that it couldn’t be seen from the air.
A young girl of about 20 lived in our street. She worked at the munitions factory. She used to come home from work covered in yellow powder, as her job would be to fill the shells with cordite. There were no showers in those days, so she probably had to bath and wash her hair every day. It must have been bad for their health, inhaling the powder.
mother gave us the money to go to the pictures three times a week. They
put a different picture on three times a week. There was always a newsreel
on all about the war before the main picture. When we knew the main
picture was coming on, we used to get quite unruly and stamp our feet as
we were sitting. A man would come along with a stick and shine his torch.
If he caught anyone misbehaving, he would order them outside.
It must have been an exciting time for boys during the war as they
used to pretend they were Germans or Japanese fighting the English. My
brother collected army badges and belts, and swapped them with their
mates. They revelled in it all, more than us girls.
My uncle, who was a prisoner of war in Germany for five years came
home at the end of the war. He told us that when he was captured at
Dunkirk all the prisoners were marched from France to prison camps in
Poland. This must have been in winter as he showed us his feet, which were
black and blue with frostbite.
As children, there was a lot we didn’t know about the war. The grown-ups didn’t chose to tell us, but it did leave us free to enjoy our childhood without grown-up matters being forced onto us, free to roam through the fields and woods, swinging on fences and through the trees.
P.S. My mother worked as a clerk in the local council offices, dishing out ration books. She was very upset when my brother walked in there one day and drew swastikas all over the corridor walls. He wasn’t allowed out for a month. There was graffiti, even in those days, mainly ‘Heil Hitler’ and swastikas.