Childhood memories of WWII by Margaret Burns
Being born only six months before war was declared in September 1939 I have few memories of my life during that time. Some of them have maybe become embellished by later stories told by my parents.
My father didn’t go to war, being classed as a key worker at the Coalite at Askern, but I do remember him going off on his bicycle when the sirens sounded, first donning the uniform of the Voluntary Fire Service. This was when my mum would put a blanket under our sturdy table and make me lie there. Towards the end of the war she would sometimes douse the lights and open the blackout curtains and we would watch the searchlights in the distance and listen for the sound of planes; she must have felt fairly safe being several miles away from Doncaster. However we weren’t completely safe at Burghwallis. One day my Dad took me to the road leading to Sutton to see a German aeroplane that had made an emergency landing in a field there; apparently the pilot had called at a farmhouse on that side of the village and asked the way to the North Road. There were no signposts in those days, apparently so that any enemies landing wouldn’t know where they were.
My fathers several brothers all served in the War. Mum told me later that initially I was frightened when they came to visit wearing their Khaki and Airforce blue uniforms, but soon recognised the familiar faces.
My main memory is of a Barrage Balloon that had broken loose from Doncaster Airfield and was being carried northwards by the wind. Mum was on her way home from Skellow, walking up Grange Lane towards the village with me in the pram. As pushchairs were scarce during the war the low-bellied black pram served as pushchair and shopping trolley until I was near enough school age. The hollow bottom was hidden by three covered boards that could be removed to carry things underneath, so making conversion to accommodate a sitting child and shopping easy. I must have been four or thereabouts at the time. I remember looking past mum’s head and seeing this enormous balloon with a cable hanging underneath coming straight up the road behind us, with the cable swinging very low. Mum later told of her terror and how she ran up the road as fast as possible, rushed into the house and pushed me under the table, and tensed waiting for the cable to hit the houses, being the first semis in the row. Luckily the cable caught in a large sycamore tree that stood in the front garden, and there the balloon swayed over the houses throughout the night. Mum and Dad fixed blankets inside the front windows in case the cable broke loose and hit the front of the house and we spent the night downstairs in the back room. Next day a lorry came to disentangle the cable and balloon from the tree and tow it away. I wasn’t allowed to see any of this as I was firmly put under the table out of harms way. Funnily enough I spent many happy hours under that table with my few dolls and colouring books, even after the war ended.
In recent years I have searched through newspapers for any record of the incident; I found only one of a suitable date. A Barrage Balloon had broken free and was floating over Doncaster. Planes were sent up to try and puncture it to fetch it down, causing excitement amongst Doncaster shoppers, and apparently one woman was hit by flying bullets and had to be taken to hospital. The news report makes no mention of whether the planes were successful or whether this was the balloon that ended up in our front garden at Burghwallis.
After the end of the war, when all my uncles were home, Bonfire Night was once again celebrated, my first. Was I six or seven? We were all at my grandparents’ house at Norton, and a goodly selection of fireworks had been collected. I remember being terrified of the bangs; obviously memories of watching the flashing lights and hearing bangs over Doncaster were still fresh in my mind.
Margaret L Pidcock Burns
A look at WWII through the eyes of a country Rector, the Revd. John Willis-Kidd, of St. Helen’s Church, Burghwallis, writing in a Parish Magazine shortly after VE day in 1945. Church prayers regularly included a list of all those serving in the war. In those days virtually all the villagers attended church regularly and most village activities were instigated through the church.
“All through the war years and in accordance with and obedient to Government instructions I have been unable to mention names and places in connection with each other. It has been a joy, comfort and encouragement to see our boys on leave, and to have them with us in church. I have kept up a large correspondence with most of them and to receive their letters has been one of my few pleasures in wartime, and given me much heartache. I have seen them grow up and like the rest of you, I am immensely proud of them all. Both the villages [*Burghwallis and Skelbrooke] have worked hard to raise a fund by way of a small recognition of our gratitude to them ……. We have had letters and visits and conversations with Vyvian Dimon home on leave from Germany and after a recent visit to a horror camp he asks our prayers for those camps and their unfortunate inmates. Edwin Lockwood home from a prison camp in the Baltic, Evelyn Barker from nursing in Rome and Naples…Bill Davies in the Middle East and Harry Halkyard have met and married their wives overseas. [*Here he includes a list of names, including Joseph Robson in Egypt and Harry Leek home from India.] Many of them re-visit the church or write about it …
Edward Little, and Robert Anne and Jono Hall used to write such cheerful letters, now alas, but a pleasant memory for their bodies rest in peace, one of them in Italy. I think some re-arrangement of the list of names is now necessary, those serving in the battle area in the Far East should come first, then those in the various armies of occupation, then those on Home Service. … God bless all our boys wherever they are; may He protect them, and give them courage in time of danger, and patience in adversity.”