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Stillington and District Community Archive

In the Heart of North Yorkshire

Life During the War


Dennis Law

The evacuees came - boys from Hull and girls from Middlesborough - carrying their gas masks and a few belongings. Boys and girls were put into separate homes depending on how many spare bedrooms people had - this governed the size of your new family.
The lads from Hull brought their own schoolmaster. These kids had not experienced village life before and ran riot for a while. They had never seen apples on trees or tomatoes growing in the ground - they thought they grew in boxes! Some of them were under-nourished and covered with eczema but they soon picked up with love and good home cooking. They were treated for the eczema by the Brothers at Stillington Hall and soon settled into their new family and village life. I think the families were allowed twelve shillings a week for their keep. A few of the evacuees never went back home. They married and spent the rest of their lives in the area.

When The Home Guard was formed it was first called the 'Local Defence Volunteers' -also known as "Look, Duck and Vanish'! The rank you were given depended on what status you had in the village.
They paraded on Sunday mornings, went down to the park to do weapons training with .303 rifles. After a while they got a Block a Bombard, a sort of mortar gun and fired it at an oak tree in the park but their pride and joy was when they got a twenty five pounder! I don't remember them firing it but it got a lot of attention. One of their duties was looking out
for the enemy. Every night two men with rifles would climb to the top of the church to keep watch.
There were about twelve WAFFS stationed in the village. They had some wooden huts on the Sugar Hills which they operated 24 hours a day. I think it was something to do with spotting enemy planes.

The Boy Scouts - 1st Stillington Troop - met in the Scout's Hall which is now the Chapel. Scout master, Mr. Baker lived at the Old Vicarage at Marton. Smartly turned out in our uniforms - black shoes, brown stockings, blue corduroy short trousers, brown shirt, green and yellow neckerchief and a Mountie style hat - and carrying a six foot staff -  we paraded for the raising of the flag in Front Street. Our main task during the war was collecting waste paper around the village and baling and storing it in the old Primitive Methodist Chapel that was situated on the corner of York Road. The big adventure was a weekend camping in Yearsley woods.

The Air Raid Wardens wore a blue uniform with a tin hat with the initials A.R.P. painted on it. Mr. Hutchinson was in charge. They carried a whistle and a wooden rattle to sound the alarm in case of an air raid. They parade the street at night making sure people kept to the blackout regulations. All houses had blackout curtains so no light could be seen through them. It was very dark in the street and all you were allowed was a very small torch. Vehicles had to have their headlights partly blocked off so they could not be seen from the air. Most houses kept a bucket of sand, water and a rake in the front porch in case you got an incendiary bomb in the house! The only air raid we had was when York was bombed and we spent the night in Souter's cellar next door. We could see York being bombed as we dashed for cover.
The kerbs around the corner of York Road were painted black and white so the army convoys could see the corner with their dimmed lights.

 The Army was always around on exercises setting up under camouflage in orchards and woods. Army convoys would come through the village. As they slowed at York Rd. corner we would throw them apples. You always knew when a convoy was coming because the dispatch rider would arrive first on his motorbike to direct them. I remember one Sunday tea time a convoy of tanks were coming through and one tank misjudged the corner and hit the kerb. Its track came off, it turned a right angle and ended up in the front room of Corner House! No one was hurt but the chap stood at the front door had to make a quick run for it. When the tank was removed the builders had to come and re-erect the wall.
Ammunition was stored on the roadsides down York and Roseberry Lane in half-round tin sheds with open ends.

Stillington Hall was occupied by the Alexian Brothers, an Italian order who ran it as a convalescent home. They had cows, pigs and poultry which they kept in the stable yard. They had a big walled kitchen garden with glasshouses looked after by Brother Serenas - someone would keep him talking while we nicked a bunch of grapes! The Brothers did not mix in the village but sometimes you would see the odd Father going to York on the bus. One of the Fathers used to poach rabbits and yet another would fly kites in the park.

Rent days were held annually at the Bay Horse pub when all the tenants of Church Commissioner's farms came to pay their rent and Mrs. Betteridge would put on lunch. It was a big event for the farmers.
Gates the butcher came from Wigginton with his horse and butcher's cart and sold his meat to a few customers in the yard of the Bay Horse then spend the night in the pub. You could hear the old horse trotting by at midnight.

On the village green was the maypole where the schoolchildren danced around. The village Feast was held there each year - great to win a cocoanut or a goldfish. There was a family of show people called Shipley. They had a yard up North Back Lane where the spent the winter restoring and painting their equipment. I remember one year a circus coming to the green with the Big Top! There were clowns, tightrope walkers, horses, lions, elephants, camels and bears - what a task it was keeping them watered from the wells at the back of the cottages on the green. I think most of the animals walked by road from one venue to another.
Tramps were always around and some of them did a bit of casual labour on the farms. The farmer's wife would give them a can of tea and food which they would take into the farm buildings where they would sleep - what you would call sleeping rough. Gypsies visited about twice a year with their bow topped caravans and piebald ponies. The old ladies used to come round selling pegs made from hazel sticks. You had to buy some or she would cast a spell on you!

 The Village Hall used to be the Church of England school. It was well used - weekly-whist and domino drives, Women's Institute dances etc. Boxing night was always the football club's annual fancy dress ball - what a laugh! The men's club met twice a week. There were two billiard tables and a table tennis table. The lads were not allowed to play on the big table and had to go out when the men arrived at 8pm.

Red Cross auction sales were held, including livestock etc. I remember being at one sale when the only thing they could not sell was a billy goat. A lad said he would take it but when he got it home he got a good telling off for bringing a stinking goat home!

Back yards were the source of most supplies to the house. Most people had a vegetable garden (no room for flowers), a hen run with bantams or maybe ducks and geese. Perhaps a pig was kept in a sty. Eggs were hatched under the broody hen , the pig reared and killed.
The stick hill was an important part of the yard - a large pile of wood for the fires to be topped up most days by husband or wife with timber from the woods and hedge backs.
The wash house was in the yard. The set pot boiler was heated by wood fire (from the stick hill). Glass, broken pottery, tins etc. were buried in the back yard . The well or pump was situated near the back door and water butts were used to collect rain water from the roof for washing. Clothes lines were strung across the yard. At the bottom of the yard was the earth closet - an ash pit cleaned out into a horse and cart and spread on to the land.
Lads would have rabbits or pigeons - rabbits fed on vegetables and dandelions, hay and oats. Some people kept ferrets for bolting rabbits out of their burrows. They were fed on bread and milk or occasionally a dead hen or another small animal thrown in.
Smelly things-caged ferrets!
A lot of the yards were cobbled and swept with a yard broom. One of the many jobs was weeding between the cobbles with an old kitchen knife.

 Lancaster, Wellington and Halifax bombers flew from the Royal Canadian aerodrome, Eastmor, Sutton-on-Forest (1942-46). When they took off over Stillington, heavily loaded with bombs, they were so close to the ground you could clearly see the aircrew. Several planes crashed in the area. One crashed in Folly wood and we got caned for being late back to school from the crash site. We used to go and collect souvenirs - bullets etc.
A lot of the airmen used to visit the village by bike -mainly to the pubs. They got so drunk many could not ride them back to the station. Sometimes they would
visit the farms for a few black market eggs and butter etc. or exchange chocolate or chewing gum for them.

Food was on ration. Everyone had a ration book which they took to the shop for their weekly ration. We did not go hungry - there were plenty of rabbits about and old hens that had stopped laying. There was also pork and bacon from the pigs, milk pudding and plenty of vegetables from the allotments which we dug out of a rough grass paddock next to Jenny Wren Lane. Sure it was dig for victory. I still have the tools today which I bought for that allotment.

 Italian prisoners of war were in a camp at Thirkleby and were allowed out to work on some farms, pulling root crops etc. In winter, they did not show a lot of enthusiasm for the job.Winters were hard with lots of snow. Roads were blocked and men had to go and dig out Brandsby bank. Cars had to have skid chains fixed to their wheels to get more grip.
 Talking about prisoners of war, we had one man, Cecil Wood, who (mentioned in dispatches) spent two or three years as a prisoner of war in Germany. I remember it was Stalag 4.B. The day he came home we were allowed to see him get off the bus and walk down the street from the schoolyard. We did not know whether to laugh or cry, there he was with his kit bag over his shoulder and home to his family on the green - no brass band or TV coverage in them days!

Christmas was spent at home with the family with usually a duck or chicken for the meal - no turkeys in those days. A tree or the top of a holly bush was decorated and real candles were lit. If you had a best room you would go in and listen to the wind-up gramophone as a special treat. Christmas singing round the houses was exciting because you always got a penny or two and on New Years morning you went (lucky birding) first footing and took a piece of coal for good luck. People were so pleased to see you!
Here are a few rhymes we used to sing :-
'A hole in my stocking, a hole in my shoe
Please will you give me a copper or two
If you haven't got a penny a halfpenny will do
And if you haven't got a halfpenny then God Bless You
I wish you may & wish you may
I wish your cocks and hens would lay
Four and twenty eggs a day
Please will you give me a Christmas box.
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year   A pocket full of money and a belly full of beer
A good fat pig and a new calven cow
Master an' Mrs. How do you do?
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Glad tidings I bring to you and your Kin
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.'
I think this is a good way to end my wartime memories. The skies are now clear of bombers and now full of birds. We have survived but spare a thought for the families whose sons did not come home.
I remember them all.

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