It was Christmas Eve 1944; my sister and I had been packed off to bed with the warning common to all children that if we were not good Father Christmas would not visit. I remember how dark it was in the house with the blackout curtains.
Our house, in Sheffield, had a special role to play in World War II. We had a telephone.
We had a telephone
Across the road was a hut where the Home Guard met. One day a couple of men arrived and ran a wire from our house to the hut.
The wire was attached to a bell push in the kitchen. In the event of the Germans arriving, someone would telephone us. We were to press the bell-push and a member of the Home Guard would come over from the hut to take orders from the telephone.
How could any enemy succeed against such technological sophistication?
Back to Christmas Eve. We were excited but had been primed not to expect much because of the war shortages. Eventually we fell asleep.
Father woke us in the middle of the night with the news that Father Christmas was not coming on his sleigh this year but was on a doodlebug instead. Listen, he said, and we could hear them. V1 rocket planes were known as doodlebugs. V1 raids were getting less frequent and this was one of the last. Father said we must go down to the shelter.
Father had prepared the house well for the war. There was a coal cellar and from the cellar a tunnel had been driven under the garden and lined with steel. At the end was a ladder leading up to a cover which opened into the garden. If the house collapsed, we could get out that way.
Father Christmas on a doodlebug
Father Christmas on a doodlebug, how exciting, I must see this. Why did they not let me go out? It was a great opportunity. Father had been out and seen them. He had actually been to comfort a neighbour who was screaming with panic.
We assembled in the shelter, all except Grandfather. He was still in the bedroom and shouting to Grandmother. “Hetty, Hetty, where’s me collar stud? I can’t find me collar stud.”
“Never mind that, just get down here.” Shouted Father.
“I’ve got to have me collar and tie. If Hitler’s going to get me, I’ve got to be properly dressed.”
We children slept. I thought of the room full of stored food; tins of fruit, sardines, dried peas which rattled in their container, dried egg and milk, bottles of water. If the house was bombed, we might survive but all that lovely food would be gone. Eventually the ‘all clear’ sounded.
The next morning I remember my little sister’s nappy being changed and seeing a small steaming pile on the bit of towel that served as a nappy. “If that’s all Hitler sends us, we shall be all right.” Said Father.
What did we get for Christmas 70 years ago?
Back upstairs the Christmas tree lights were on and there were parcels. He had been.
I had a parcel with 5 Dinky toys in it: a flatbed truck, 2 cars, a petrol bowser and a Mercedes Benz racing car. They were in a box labelled “Soldier’s 24 hour ration.” I thought I had the toys for 24 hours and then they had to be passed to someone else. I knew they were passed to me as they were chipped and one of the cars had a bent axle.
I cannot remember what my sister got – a stupid doll I suppose. As usual we all went to my Aunt’s house for lunch.
After lunch we had to sit quiet for the King’s Speech at 3.00 pm and the men smoked cigars. All fell back into routine but the thought of Father Christmas astride a doodlebug made it a unique Christmas.
The Christmas 1944 V1 raid
The Christmas 1944 V1 raid was one of the last attacks by V1s on England. These bombs were aimed at Manchester and they all passed over Sheffield. Luckily there had been a miscalculation and they all fell on the moors between the two cities. One reached Oldham and caused casualties.
It had been the custom of the newspapers to say that the bombs landed beyond the town if they fell on the centre. Their range was therefore shortened when the Nazis got to know about it. The next lot of V1s tended to fall short of the target.
Shortly after the 1944 Christmas all the V1 sites were over run and the attacks stopped. Then there was the V2…
Years later I met a man whose job was to fly an aircraft at the same speed (about 400 mph), height and course as V1s followed. This was to allow the anti-aircraft gunners to practise training their guns on V1s. He said he approached the coast with trepidation knowing that all gunner knew he was coming and it would only take one to make a mistake.
He estimated that as many as 30% of V1s were shot down by “ack-ack” guns.