The Wartime Memories of Peter Harrison

(Frank) Peter Harrison was born in 1936 in Sheffield and was 3½ years old when War broke out. He remembers the blitz and his Grandfather’s house being bombed as well as other aspects of the War.

Peter was an only child, having been born when his parents were already quite old.

Peter worked in local Government most of his life, having seen National Service in the Royal Air Force.

This transcript records his memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences.

The video is about 53 minutes long.

Recorded in Chapel-en-le-Frith on 30th May 2019

[Pauses indicated by ….]

Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.

Transcript: –

Peter: Right, well, I, I was born in Sheffield in1936, so …. in April …. and I think, Easter actually, and it was according to my mother it was snowing. I was born in hospital and …. which was not necessarily the case in those far-off days. Some, a lot of people were born at home, but I was born in hospital and I was in fact the only child that my parents had. That was because I think there were problems you know, in …. and my mother couldn’t have any more children.

We lived in relative poverty, I suppose, although I never thought of that at the time …. Nor for many years afterwards because we were the same as any other person living in the East End of Sheffield. I lived in Darnall, which was then the East End of Sheffield close to the steelworks and my father was an analytical chemist working in, in the town, in the centre of Sheffield, in fact in Blonk Street which led up to the LNER station.

My mother for a short period worked as a polisher of forks and knives and so on, having …. And then her mother died when she was 16, so in fact, she had to leave that and go home and look after five other sisters.

My father came from a stock, altogether of ten and they lived in a two-up and two-down terraced house, so heaven knows how they slept but my father was farmed out to my grandmother’s brother-in-law who ran a pub in Sheffield, and he lived there for some years. He was called a Peter which is where I get my name from, or one of my names. I got the other one from my father, it was Frank.

I suppose they were working-class people. My Grandfather had been put out of work by an accident, some years previously as he was a Britannia metalsmith and he spilt some hot silver onto his leg and had to have an amputation.

So, that’s really why I say we would have lowly stock.

My mother matriculated at school, my father left when he was 13 and went to work for a firm called Sheffield Testing Works and he worked there until he was 69, so, he wasn’t exactly someone who wanted to move about a bit.

My very early years, I don’t remember before the War, really. I would be 3 when the war …. three and a half when the War started, and four and eight months, I think, when Sheffield was blitzed.

Michael: Hmm ….

Peter: We lived in a street of 32 houses, terraced houses, a yard down the middle of …. in four and we had an outside toilet. No inside toilet at all, no inside bath, wash …. washing basin or anything like that. We had to wash in the …. in the sink in the kitchen. And the house comprised of a kitchen and place where we, my mother used to wash the clothes and so on.

And then, we had a living room with a fireplace, and downstairs, we had a cellar where we kept the coal and where the gas meter was, and the electricity meter because in those days you put a shilling in …. in the meter, and turned the thing clockwise, so that you get electricity or gas.

This is a very strange thing, perhaps, but in modern-day terms to have just a bath, one bath once a week and in fact we were restricted during wartime to having six inches of water and no more in a tin bath in front of the fire, and obviously things like hair washing and so on were done otherwise in the sink in the kitchen.

We didn’t have hot water, as I’ve already mentioned, so we would have to boil a kettle before we could have hot water in this small sink in the kitchen. It was a brown one. A lot of people had deep white porcelain, but we had a shallow, fairly shallow brown one. The …. bathing arrangements therefore were only once a week because you had to remove the coal dust from the bath before you could even start to get in it …. because the bath was stored where it was.

[In the cellar]

We stored our food as well, or some of it on the way down to the cellar. We had a stone slab at the top of the cellar head, and I remember deliveries of coal. Somebody would come and collect money from my mother once a week to pay for the coal, and this lady was the daughter of the coal merchant.

Milk was delivered to the house at the time by horse and cart, and by the local Co-op. Tea was brought to the house such as the tea we could have, because we were only entitled to two ounces of tea per person per week, was brought by Lipton’s and with a little horse and trap. If there was any problem and there were sometimes problems, the horses would be walking carefully down the street to deliver everything and, and so, we had a cobbled street …. a little pattern.

I’ve been back to try and have a look where it was, and the whole street has gone now, so it’s difficult, but this was Allerton road in Darnall in Sheffield, and I remember best playing marbles at the bottom of the yard entrance. We used to have a little grate there, part of the sewerage system and we’d roll our marbles, I and the little boy two doors away, would roll the marbles into this thing in, at the bottom of the yard.

I played with cricket with my father, funnily enough, in the yard as well. I remember that, and I’ve got, in fact, some photographs of that, when I was a little boy playing in short trousers in in the garden at the back. I say a ‘garden’, it was really not much lot longer than about 15 feet long by about nine-foot-wide and that was our garden and it was privet hedge and, in the garden, we had to place the Anderson shelter which was provided to each house at the time, so that we could go there when the, when sirens or when we were alarmed.

Peter playing cricket at home in their backyard.

And I remember going in and out of this shelter quite a lot, even though I was only about four at the time, because we had a works nearby which made tools and there were …. and the railway line nearby there was possibilities of, you know those being damaged by enemy fire and …. and enemy bombs and so, we were every other night at one time, we were in and out of the shelter. We ate in the living room because that was living and dining and really, very modest circumstances and yet my parents until they retired, still lived there in this rented house.

Michael: Hmm ….

00:08:47

Peter: During the Blitz of Sheffield in December of 1940 the …. about a fortnight before Christmas, I would be four and eight months, something like that, and I do remember that very well. We all had to obviously go in the shelter when the Blitz started and my Uncle used to come, one of my father’s brothers used to come regularly on the …. once a week to have a meal with us and my mother would always cook bacon egg and tomatoes which I liked very much and so, I remember that well.

We were entitled to, I think, four ounces of bacon a week and bacon or ham and two ounces of meat which was the equivalent to about …. sorry, we, no meat was a pound, and something allowance a week and we, that meant about two chops for each person. So, that’s why we had bacon, egg, I suppose and the one egg we were allowed a week and …. and the tomatoes.

I say that because we also, my mother always baked an apple pie as well afterwards, and to cut a long story short, the one thing I remember best as a child was going into the air-raid shelter in in complete darkness …. sitting there waiting and hearing these rushes of gunfire from anti-aircraft guns nearby, and the bomb eventually which dropped on the road next door, falling through the air and creating a tremendous, tremendous wind as it dropped into the ground. When we came to look for the pudding which my mother had taken into the shelter, we couldn’t find it until eventually my Uncle Albert stood up and there it was. He’d been sitting on it, and that’s why I remember it well.

But that’s one of those occasions, you know, which nobody, young child or anybody else, could possibly forget. That same night and my grandfather had to be evacuated from his home and we heard about that of course after the raid was over.

My father, in fact, had a …. a stirrup pump in the outside toilet, which was for the whole street, and this was just a tiny thing. What on earth, we were supposed to do with it, I don’t know. You put one end in the in …. in a pail of water and trod on it, the bottom with your foot, and pumped up and down as if, you know, you were going to get a whole stream of stuff coming out and all people seemed to remember about that is that it was very useful after the War, in fact, because you could then use it to spray the plants in the back garden.

Those are my early memories up to about five and …. and the difficulties we had, of course, were lack of food, we had queues everywhere. You queued for bread every day. You went down to the local Co-op for the ration. We had a book, each person had a book including me, and you went there and got your provisions. Sugar was wrapped up …. into a blue bag …. 

Michael:  Yes ….

Peter: …. which was sealed, and you had your allocation of butter, which I think was 2 ounces a week from memory, in wrapped up in …. in foil, and …. and then you paid your cash over and this went into a …. a wonderful system where it went flying overhead into the cashier, and any change you needed, came flying back.

Those are my vivid memories, of the early memories of Wartime but the queues were the thing you remembered because I used to go with my mother to queue for bread and to queue for the little bit of meat, we were entitled to from the  butcher.

Michael: We were a nation of queuers, weren’t we, really?

Peter: Oh yes, we had a very meagre diet really ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and I mean I’m, my staple diet was bread and dripping ….

Michael: Mmm.

Peter: …. pork dripping and I actually loved bread and pork dripping …. On a Sunday then, in those days, we would walk, and I walked three miles every Sunday with my father to go and see my grandfather and grandmother …. grandmother would use a Yorkshire range to cook a Yorkshire pudding in a large tin which would then be cut up into bits ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and served separately from the rest of the meal. I think when we’d eaten the Yorkshire pudding, you didn’t want then as much meat and potato ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. As I say my grandparents lived about three miles away, and on that night of 12th December 1940, they had to leave their home, which was just a two up and two down in another part of Sheffield called Burngreave and they had to leave it because …. a time bomb had dropped in the road next to it.

My father and I went afterwards to remove from the kitchen, a slop kitchen, it was called, next to the house …. Their things, important things, like their insurance book and so on, and the day before, the rest of the family had moved my grandparents out of the house and taken some of their furniture as best they could on a scout drag cart, and then he went to live, they went to live for a short time with one of the daughters until Sheffield City Council reallocated another property in Sheffield in the same, pretty much in the same area and actually it was a much better house. It was a much bigger house and with a quite a big garden in Malton Street in, in that part of Sheffield.

I think I’ve mentioned that my fa…. grandfather in fact had an accident at work. There was no compensation in those days. He was a very active footballer and so on before then …. and obviously active with ten children in other directions as well. My father was not living at home from the age of about three and was, I say, farmed out. This, but this was the way of the world at the time. The thing I do remember is my father, grandfather rather, with his wooden leg. This was the 19…. late, late 1930s, early ‘40s. He had no employment at all and so, he used to go round as a peddler from door to door with his wooden leg strapped over the opposite shoulder and his walking stick. He sold little match boxes and shoe, shoelaces ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. from door to door but he was very proud, and he was a sort of man who insisted you never crossed knives. It was because that was an indication of war, and he taught me to play cribbage which was a …. a game of cards. In fact, my father, when he came to live in a granny flat next us some many, many, many years later, taught my youngest daughter to play cribbage. I’ve had to do the same with her children. But it’s a sort of …. he was very keen, and he was not necessarily very well educated, but he was very keen player and he was actually very good at it ….

Michael: Mmm-hmm

Peter: …. surprisingly so.

Michael: Yes, yeah.

Peter: They were lovely days really …. relaxed days despite all the bombing that was going on.

00:18:06

Michael: Did you see much, I mean, during the War itself, did you see much of the …. any, any direct action? I mean, you’ve heard the guns going off and so on but …. 

Peter: Well, I, we did of course see these bombers flying over ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and later in the War, we had V bomb…., V bombs which were V2s, V1s  which actually were self-propelled. We had …. There were things like barrage balloons stationed nearby. These were like huge elephants in the air ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. which were fastened to the ground. The intention was that that would stop low-flying. I don’t know how effective they really were because we were still bombed ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and some of the funny incidents, I can remember, were in the next road when, when the bomb had created a crater in the road itself and incidentally destroyed the water supply, the local warden placed the Sheffield Star [Newspaper] and put bricks on top of it, so that in fact in the moonlight, you could still see where, where the crater might be, and I found that as a little boy amusing and when the water …. had …. the water was delivered by the City Council at the time in, in tankers, and we all had to go out with kettles and pails and so on to stand by and get some water delivered to the house ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and in fact, for a short time, we had to evacuate our home because it didn’t have electricity either, and, we went to live with a family in another part of the city. The bomb that actually fell outside my grandfather’s, went off and as I say, totally destroyed his house and that, that’s my best memory …. in …. 1940 ….

Subsequently, I …. the War seemed to move to other parts of the country, and what surprises me is that, we’ve recently been away, and someone asked me whether cities like Sheffield and Manchester had, had any, suffered any difficulties during the last War, and of course we all did ….

Michael: Absolutely …. industrial areas ….

Peter: There was an awful lot of …. my father used to have to be a fire watcher ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. in the centre of City. He went to work in the daytime as an analytical chemist analysing steel and so on, and then immediately had to go and sit as a fire watcher for the night and then go back to work again the next day, so he did that twice a week and …. there was reason for that, I mean clearly, we …. although we might have suffered a Blitz for about two days. It continued afterwards in, there were always …. because there were steel works, were in Sheffield and we lived close to them. They were always trying to hit that and also to hit the railway line which wasn’t very far away.

Michael: No.  Tell me a bit about your schooling.

Peter: Well I, I went to the local school at five ….

Michael: Hmm ….

Peter: …. and it was …. mainly, of course, lady teachers in those days because the headmistress for instance was …. there was a headmistress, no headmaster, because the men had gone to war, and my memories are that we used to have desks, little desks with little ink pots.

If it was your duty that day to be, they distributed the ink …. you had to go and fill all of those before school started and we used ordinary little pens with nibs throughout.

When I was seven, I …. my main memory is that I was asked to read to the 11-year olds who were there ….

Michael: Hmm ….

Peter: …. because my father was a …. although he’d left school 13, he was a…. an avid reader and was never out of the library at Burngreave and he used to go and collect books from there and, and he would be walking to work sometimes, and I remember being on a tram once, when we passed him as he walked to work and everybody was amused by the fact he took all these long strides and was reading at the same time. And so, because, I suppose because he was such an avid reader, I was encouraged to read and even as a little boy of seven, I …. I was quite a good reader.

Michael: Mmm ….

Peter: At the age of nine, I was given the opportunity along with nine other boys in Sheffield to go to a what had previously been a fee paying …. a school, day school and that was at the other side of the city and so at the age of nine, I was travelling across Sheffield on my own, firstly on a tram and then walking a little distance and then getting on a bus to go to school every day.

And what I do remember best is actually in 1947, which of course was after the War had finished, a very icy cold winter and trams in those days, if they, they could go in several directions according to where the points that changed, and they couldn’t change the points. And I was therefore stuck for about two hours in the centre of the city, not being able to go home, and I had don’t know whether …. certainly, if it had been today, someone would have been on a mobile phone, of course, there were no mobile phones and we didn’t have a telephone even, at home and we didn’t have any television either.  

But I was stuck at the age of, I suppose, 11 on my own in the centre of the city and got home very late, and my parents were obviously quite worried as to where I was.

I went to this school which was the only school in Sheffield which had a swimming pool at the time so I learned to swim at a very young age and we actually had French lessons when I was 9. So from the age of 9 up to GCSEs, they …. SCs [School Certificates], GCEs, they were called then. We had the Oxford and Cambridge system and I learnt French for that period of time and I, I still remember quite a lot of French, in fact, because of that.

In the senior school, I didn’t …. had to learn Latin and Greek and this sort of stuff and I remember being, having the Latin Way [School book], it was called, thrown on my, to my head who hit me actually and because I was so, so inattentive in, during Latin classes.

I went to this school, King Edward the Seventh school, which was actually the best school for boys only in Sheffield from the age of eleven, that was the seniors’ school.

My parents couldn’t afford the uniform, so we went to the office and bought second-hand jackets ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: ….and trousers and so on, and school tie. The distinctive thing I remember is that my mother made me an overcoat, and she made it out of a blanket and I, dyed it a brown color and as I walked into the school yard with this on, had nothing but abuse really from boys who came from a very different kind of environment to me and it stuck up with me all these years. It’s the only thing, I’d really do remember about being in a different class to lots of other people who were in the same school.

As I say, there were 10 of us who were chosen to go. Not all of them eventually finished up in the senior school because you had to take eleven plus exam, even though you were already there, but most of them did.

00:27:28

I had a very happy childhood to be honest.

Michael: Yes.

Peter: We couldn’t go very far …. “Is your journey really necessarily?” was the order of the day and, the furthest I ever remember going was Matlock which was the end of a little, little railway.  Well it was a bus ride in some …. then in those days and I can remember going with my cousin who was pretty much the same age as myself. He was born before me and so, he had an extra King, in fact, because he had, he was born in the days of Edward V, George V, rather and I was actually born in the time of Edward the Eighth, for the short period that he was on the throne.

So, he was about three months older than me and we used to go and sail our little yachts on the pond in Matlock Bath. I say I had a happy childhood, even though we were in this situation where not a lot of money and my father loved walking, so we went to places like the Peak District, a lot of the Peak District and walked with him in Castleton and so on, and Hope and Edale and ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. we did that sort of thing too for our amusement. Those were the days really and we played little games at home, you know, and as I say, we had no television, so in fact, we amused ourselves really ….

Michael: No.

Peter: Other things …. 

Michael: No, do you remember the war actually coming to an end?

Peter: Yes, I do …. that was 1945, the war in Europe ended and …. well, a little later on in the same year in fact, the war in the Far East ceased as well but, when, when some people came back from the War, we had a huge celebration in the street. There’s bunting everywhere, table, trestle tables had been borrowed from local Sunday schools, I suppose and so, we had a street party, we had a firework display.

Somebody had bought a rocket …. things which were totally unavailable ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. during the War …. somebody had bought a rocket and we were asked to gather at nine o’clock in his back garden to see this rocket go off. He’d put it in a milk bottle and, and lit it and immediately, the milk bottle fell over, so all they did was to go as far as the back wall and that was …. the …  you know, the end of the garden, a total flop. But some people who’d come back and been in the Armed Services at that time, in fact, well, a bit well, were a little bit the worse for drink and one chap next door to us in fact tried to jump over the bonfire, we’d, we’d built in the street and he failed and he ripped his ankle and was off work for many, many months after that ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: He got his old job back and, but at that they were happy times really after the War ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: We had before, during the War, skipping in the street was something else we did, you know, we had skipping ropes and the girls would hold the skipping rope and ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. we’d all skip together in the middle.

Michael: Were there songs associated with that?

Peter: …. with the songs associated with that, yeah.

Michael: Yes.

Peter: I was taken to Sunday School actually, by the coal merchant’s daughter, Mabel, and she was the lady who came to collect the weekly money and we could have our bag of coal when we paid for it, you know, before.

She used to take me on a Sunday, on the local tram to the Wesleyan Methodist Church where she, in fact, herself taught in the Sunday School and so, I was introduced to the Methodist Church and my parents actually followed me there. They, they belonged to a railway mission when they were young, which was a …. there were such things in …. and we were of course an important rail terminus for some people coming up from London and so on ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: So, Kings Cross to, to Sheffield was a regular train and they would go to the mission when they were up here. I, I don’t know whether there was sleeping accommodation there, but certainly that’s where they worshipped and there were these railway missions all over the place, and that’s where my parents used to go to.

They married quite late because my mother had to look after the children still. Sisters and brothers …. sisters rather and so it was when one of them died eventually, was the time when she married him that was when she was 30. My father was 32 at a time, waiting for her.

These were difficult days, you know, and we only had coal fires, we didn’t have any modern …. and my grandfather, Chester, and my mother’s father, he’d had a coal fire with tongs in front of it for to put the coal on and my mother had been severely injured in her eyes by an explosion from the fire, and in fact my father wrote a hymn which has never been published but which had been used …. from time to time since.

He wrote a hymn on the back of a postcard and this was in fact a tribute to her and thanks for her eyesight. And in fact, she wanted to have her eyes to be used by somebody else when she died, and she made a Will to that effect. But she was in hospital for quite some time because of this explosion.

Those were the sort of days we lived in ….

Michael: Yes.

The suggested melody was Jesulein Suss from Samuel Scheidt’s Tabulaturbuch (1650)

Peter: My grandfather had no better a house. In fact, it was worse than the one I was living in, and that was close to the city centre. So, he felt perhaps …. he had shrapnel in the backyard and so on, when anti-aircraft guns are fired …. We had a lot of shot shrapnel around ….

Michael: Mmm ….

Peter: The thing I remember best during wartime was going to recover these items. My grandfather Harrison’s space, where he had these things under the sink in, in the slop kitchen, was a policeman let us through the cordon that was surrounding the time bomb, so that we could go and do this …. and I believe the bomb went off that day and destroyed the house totally. So, I just wondered a …. whether the same will be done today. I think safety people would be ….

Michael: Oh, I think you ….

Peter: …. enormously upset ….

Michael: I think so, yes, I don’t think it would happen but …. but when you are living in war, the risks are more familiar aren’t they, in a way?

Peter: Yes, yes, I think that is so, and I will never forget, you know, my wartime if you like. It was very different from after the War or …. We went to see Churchill coming round at the election time and with his famous cigar. He didn’t get in if you remember …. he wasn’t ….

Michael: That’s right ….

Peter: The Labour Party got in but …. Churchill came to Sheffield …. [coughing] My parents went to see him and took me with them, of course. The cough, I think, is part of life’s rich tapestry, really. It comes from the days when Sheffield was a very dirty city in a golden frame, the golden frame being the Peak District.

Michael: Yes, of course, yes ….

Peter: One of my first jobs when I started work at the Town Hall in Sheffield when I was 16, I left school. They were very upset that I left but nonetheless, I didn’t think my parents could see me through university, and so I started at Town Hall and one of my first jobs in fact was to make these smoke control orders.

Michael: Because that would have been a time when there was a great deal of pollution and ….

Peter: There was indeed, yes, from chimneys of Industry ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: Sheffield was a place where there was an awful lot of dirt and dust and smog and so on, and we grew up with that. It hasn’t really affected my life very much, but I had pneumonia at seven and pneumonia again at fourteen and so it has left me with some difficulties with …. lung difficulties and these manifest themselves if I talk too much, I suppose …. [laughing]

00:37:31

Michael: So, you, you landed up in, in Sheffield Council for a while.

Peter: Yes, I worked there for two years and then I was forced to go to into either the Army, the Navy or the Air Force with a lot of other people, doing my National Service and I, I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy this although I’d been in the Boys’ Brigade at this Methodist Church and therefore, I, I knew most of the marching things that I would have to do, and I went into the RAF in fact.

I applied for all the jobs that were clerical and administrative or whatever and I got none of these.

Michael: Of course not ….

Peter: I was chosen to, to become an Air Wireless Fitter and so, I went for 8 weeks of square bashing at a place called Hednesford which is on Cannock Chase and then from there, we move down to Yatesbury in Wiltshire, where I had 33 weeks of training to be an Air Wireless Fitter, and came out with what I don’t  think a rank which exists today, but it was called a Junior Technician, one stripe upside down, and went into spend the rest of my time apart from a fortnight in Northern Ireland and another week in Ipswich, near Ipswich. I spent most of my RAF in fact in this country. There were only two of us who remained in this country. The rest went out to Singapore, really ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and to carry on looking after the RAF out there. I enjoyed my time actually in the RAF. Lots of people didn’t. They went in and they were pleased to get out the first day if they could, and, but I, I made the most of it and I became a Corporal, eventually.

I don’t know whether you want the boredom of listening to what happened, but I was an Air Wireless Fitter as I say, and I’d never been inside one of the aircraft which …. they were Venom 2s and that I had repaired the boxes when they were brought to me. There were two boxes of with crystals in, that came back to the workshop there, and we had to put them right.

But on this particular occasion there was an exercise, Rejuvenate, I think, was the exercise, and there were 12 aircraft all lined up on the peri-track and I went to one of them which they had reported its radio out of order, and to check that, you have to climb up, you know, and go inside the aircraft and I hadn’t ever been inside one actually, and it was fairly dark and instead of manoeuvring with the little thing inside on that, on the dashboard to get from one box to another, my knuckle caught the one above and the wingtip tanks of the aircraft fell off, causing, I understand, £380 worth of damage, including the cost of the air fuel, aircraft fuel.

I got out of the cockpit, came down the ladder went, looked in and at the …. which box I had got a take back to the workshop, took it back and said, “Guess what I’ve done” and there were lots of swearing going on from mechanics who got this right. There were lots of people having to shift aircraft very quickly, and it was chaos, total chaos. The exercise was in fact cancelled and I was, had to go before the Officers on the Monday morning to explain myself.

Michael: Oh, dear ….

Peter: In the meantime, I had gone into the hangar and found three other aircraft where this safety catch, which should have been on, was not on, to stop this happening, and so, I, I told that to the Warrant Officer beforehand and he said, “Well, keep your mouth shut and we’ll see what we can do ….” and I got three days confined to camp, and that was all for my misdemeanour.

A fortnight later, I was sent for by the Group Captain and I thought I was going to be sent down as it were, from the Air Force because of this, and he said, “We are short of a Corporal, Harrison, so we’ve decided to promote you to the rank of Corporal.” So, I said, “Thank you, Sir ….”, saluted in …. gave my full RAF number, as we were required to do, was marched out and as I was going through the door, the Group Captain said, “That’s one stripe, by the way, Harrison, for each wing tip tank.” [Laughing]

That was the RAF then. This was in …. in my days in the RAF and in fact, I was put in charge of the Air Force radio station. Now, you know, we have things like Pete’s Puzzle Corner and this sort of thing and in fact, having been a Methodist all my life really, I used to run a thing at 5 to 10 at night, to 5 to 10pm, I think it was, we had to have switched the radio off at 10pm where the Padre, one of the Padres would come in and say prayers a little, you know, ‘Thought for the day’, as it were ….

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Peter: …. Those were the days really when are unheard of now, but in fact, we had a very happy time, or I did. There are 400 WAAFs on station which I suppose helped and a thousand blokes and, so it was a very big station. It’s now closed and has become a prison. Well. I suppose it was a bit of a prison then, if we think about it!

Michael: Easy to adapt it from one to the other.

Peter: But we had …. yes …. that’s what, the H-blocks and so on is very useful, no doubt, but as I say, my claim to fame in the RAF was dropping these two wing tip tanks. In fact, instructions went down immediately to Yatesbury, the training area about the possibility of doing that in the Venom 2.

Michael: Yes, yes.

Peter: I enjoyed them very much Actually ….

Michael: Mmmm …. just …. I think we’re probably starting to come towards the end of this. I always like to know whether people feel that, whether there was a legacy if you like, in their life as a result of the War …. was there something that might have influenced them after the War and perhaps throughout the rest of their lives?

Peter: Yeah, well, I wouldn’t claim that. I had a fairly happy childhood despite the War, despite the things that happened within the family, despite the disruption to our own lives, despite, you know, the rationing and so on. I’ve never felt that inhibited in me in any way, and in fact, this little child from, from Darnall in Sheffield eventually became Director of Housing for High Peak in Derbyshire, and a reasonably well-paid job and for a short time, I was also the Director of Planning for, for the area doing two jobs at the same time, and I don’t think it did influence me in any way.

My wife at the time, before she died in 2001, she, she experienced slightly different problems, and in fact, the street in which she lived in, in another part of Sheffield was totally demolished and she was at right angles to that in her house where she lived in, her …. she survived but the children, she’d been playing with the night before were all killed, and I think that did have an influence on her ….

Michael: It would have done ….

Peter: …. and her attitude to it. I didn’t see that sort of thing, of course, but she didn’t let it, you know, inhibit her in any way and she went on to do very well in life as well. I don’t think …. in fact, I think it was my encouragement in a way because we were …. We started off life with very little. It was the encouragement in a way to do better.

Michael: Yes.

Peter: I was mainly encouraged by the attitude of my grandfather in that he never let the fact that he’d only got one full leg, stop anything he did in life. He was …. never thought himself although impoverished, he never thought of himself as anything other than a member of the Conservative Party, and so on, then. He carried on, we believe, very strongly that you’ve got to, you know, do something for yourself ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. and so that attitude passed down and I suppose it’s come to me as well. I’m not necessarily of any party, because when we work in Local Government, you have to be ….

Michael: Neutral.

Peter:  …. nonpartisan and neutral and …. High Peak where I worked, in fact used to change hands frequently ….

Michael: Hmm ….

Peter: …. from Labour to Conservative.

Michael: Okay, I mean if you were to give advice to a youngster growing up today as to how they should lead their lives, what would you tell them?

Peter: Well, I think I would tell them to be, make sure that they could provide for themselves in whatever they did, not rely on the State to provide for them. I would certainly tell them to be as studious as they possibly could and get as much information as they possibly could, because that would help them in later life and not to be too casual about their education. And I, in fact, I’ve got, you know, seven grandchildren of my own and my present wife who I married after the death of my first one, she has five children of her own, five, sorry two children and five grandchildren of our own, so we have quite a large family, and I get used to talking to them, in fact, about life generally, although I don’t want them to be bored in any way.

And I think I would just tell them to do the very best they can with whatever, you know, whatever they possess. I set off in a rented house, if you remember, with, with virtually nothing. I went to a school which is a good school, and which made me, I think really, I did the RAF thing which helped me become a man, if you like ….

Michael: Hmm.

Peter: …. and I’d want them to sort of have similar things happen to them. I’d also want them to be fully employed. I mean, I do worry about, about them although everyone, so far, other than one who was still at school in Manchester, are employed and they have the right attitude in my view ….

Michael: Yes.

Peter: …. to life. Life is to be lived. You live from day to day. You find out when you’ve lost a loved one, in fact, as I did. That in fact is very important to think about living from day to day and enjoying whatever life is available to. Your life is to be lived, as we are only here once.

Michael: Yes, exactly, yes, indeed ….

Peter: So, I want them to follow in that sort of attitude of life.

Michael: I think, at that point, Peter, we’ll probably come to an end but ….

Peter: Yeah ….

Michael: …. unless there is anything else that you, comes to mind that ….

Peter: Not immediately. I, I say I’ve enjoyed my life. I still enjoy my life although I’m 83 now. I do the best I possibly can to enjoy it and I think if anything perhaps ….

We have German friends who are coming, actually to stay here in Chapel en Le Frith in August. They’re coming for a week on a twinning arrangement that we still have with a village near Frankfurt in Germany and they, they’re very nice people, speak fluent English. I don’t speak any, hardly any German but they speak fluent English so, it doesn’t matter, and I still have friends you know within, within Germany, who I’ve known for quite some years now.

Michael: And why not.

Peter: So, I think, and why not, yeah. I think the War has to be forgotten and it was a very unfortunate time. I’m glad in a way, we, we won it or maybe we didn’t. I don’t know but in real life, maybe we did worse than Germany. Germany certainly has progressed ….

Michael: Mmm.

Peter: …. but I, I don’t really mind that, I think it is important for us all to do what we can and I, certainly, have no antagonism towards those who essentially, I suppose, restricted my early youth.

Michael: Hmm, okay. Peter, thank you very much indeed.

Peter: Thank you for listening to me.

Interview recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by Michael Thompson.

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Author: mjthompson2017

Since retiring from Civil Engineering some years ago, I took up film making professionally. Now, I have retired from that but will continue to work with WarGen filming War Memories as long as I can, even though I am in my 70s.

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