Tom Graham's
WW2 Memories
submitted to Windy Nook History Society


Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.  The British Government gave Hitler an ultimatum requiring him  to remove his troops by 11am.  On 3 September, no undertaking to remove his troops by 11.15am was received; consequently Britain was at war with Germany. 

I was at my great aunt's in Darlington when the announcement was made.

I had my sixth birthday two months later.  I didn't really know what to expect.  I soon found out.  German bombers arrived shortly, flying in along the Tyne valley from South Shields to Newcastle, trying to hit the shipyards and factories along that stretch.  By now, of course, we were getting ready to try and stop them.  Many Royal artillery guns were sited on both sides of the river, together with barrage balloons flying on metal cables.  These balloons were sometimes successful.  German bombers sometimes struck the cables and cut off a wing or propeller, which caused them to crash.

My sad memory of this was an occasion when a British plane struck a cable and crashed to the ground at the bottom of Wellington Street, Felling.  The pilot was killed but I like to think he died a hero as I believe he stayed with the plane as long as he could so as to hit the little cobbled area at the bottom of the street and missing the other streets of terraced houses.

I was now old enough to attend school - Windy Nook - which was about one and a half miles from home in Co-operative Crescent in a first floor terrace house in Windy Nook.  When there was an air raid we went into the air raid shelter in the back yard.  This was brick, with about a two  foot thick concrete roof, no doors or bunk beds and the heating was icy cold.  We soon got fed up with that and went down to a cupboard under the stairs - at least in there it was warm but not very safe.  Never mind, if a bomb had come down neither the shelter, nor the cupboard would have saved us.

I remember one night during a bombing raid, my dad was standing at the foot of the covered-in near the staircase, liooking through the fan light at the foot of the stairs.  The bombs used to whistle as they came down.  This one was very close and was making a very loud whistle.  My dad let out a yell - "I think this one is ours."  This remark was followed by a very loud bang - not near enough to do any damage. I think that was the one which landed in the  school field, making a huge hole. 

At school the following day, all the children were marched around to see where it had dropped.  Had the bomb dropped 200 yards east, we would not have had a school to go to.

 School days were happy days, despite it being war time.  If the air raid sirens sounded "all clear" after 12 o'clock midnight, we had the morning off.  If there was an air raid while we were at school, we had to march into the air raid shelter.  This was cold, damp and dark.  Sometimes rain water had seeped in - not surprising considering it was six feet under ground level.

We entertained ourselves singing songs and being entertained by Henry Morris, a fellow pupil, who eventually became well known in local working men's clubs after the war.  He sang a song called "Sally" which became popular for quite a while.  I believe he went to Australia for a singing tour with his manager, Ron Metters - another pupil in my class at Windy Nook school.

Early in the war, an army camp was constructed in the fields opposite the school.  It was surrounded by strong wire mesh about 10-12 feet high with a large gate and a sentry box on either side.  We used to watch the soldiers in mid-winter snow doing physical training in only shorts and trainers (no vests).  No wonder they looked fit and tough.

Early in the war, a rumour went round the school telling us that there were some prisoners of war working in the fields near the school - either Germans or Italians.  On leaving school after lessons, we all lined the fence to see them.  Did they have horns on their heads or something really frightening about them?  We soon found they were exactly like our young soldiers at the camp next door.

The new army camp was equipped with some very large guns which were in large concrete emplacements where the shells were stored.  During an air raid the guns were fired for the first time, blowing out numerous windows nearby with percussion from the tremendous bangs.

Time went by and gradually the air raids got fewer and fewer, as the Royal Air Force fighter planes and the army aircraft guns got to grips with the German aeroplanes.  The invasion of Europe in June 1944 made us all much happier and eventually as we gradually began to move east, our armies and air force, assisted by wonderful support from the British Empire forces from Canada, Australia, India and the USA, and may other countries, the war drew to a close.

That, of course, was not the end of things.  Germany was now defeated, but still had to be occupied by the allied forces.  We still needed our forces and all the men who were called up were demobilised over the next few months.  These service men were replaced by national service men, who were called up at 18 years of age for two years service in the army, the navy or the RAF.

I was called up in 1956-1958.  Most of my friends were also called up in either the army, navy or RAF.  National service ended,  I believe, in 1959 or 1960.   I spent two years in the army and quite enjoyed it.  By then it was peace time and less dangerous than being at school during the war.


Recollections of
Tom Graham