The Prescotian Webzine

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November 1933, my date of birth, was far from the happiest time to enter this world. The Depression was at its peak and this was the year when Hitler took over the absolute power in Germany. I still remember a few episodes in the period running up to war in 1939. The wireless (radio) was a primary source of news, and of a good deal of entertainment. Tommy Farr was beaten on points by the ‘brown bomber’ Joe Louis. Mr Chamberlain waffled unconvincingly about ‘peace in our time,’ the very model of the ineffectual liberal, while most people sensed that war was on the way and knew it was not going to be a romp in the park.

We lived directly across the School fields. My brother had started in Form 1 in January 1939 and I was to follow him when my turn came, so I had an idea what to expect.  I entered the School in January 1942 carrying my new bag, my gas mask, and my identity card. We went nowhere without the latter two items- civil libertarians note. We were subject to almost nightly bombing in that period and everyone believed invasion was a real possibility. Liverpool was taking a terrible pounding and the BI works at Prescot was a target so we also received quite a number of stray bombs and land mines.  We had a Morrison air raid shelter in the house- a steel structure the shape of a large dining table, while another type was the Anderson shelter in the garden, or even a brick with cement roofed structure.

On the PGS  playing fields immediately behind the house three old blokes and a WW1 Lewis gun were all that stood in the way of Hitler’s paratroopers who might land there. That statement is not quite right.  We had the Home Guard made up of the old, those in ‘reserved occupations’  and so on, but I don’t think they actually had rifles at that time. or if they did there was probably very little ammunition. The other uniformed people were the air raid wardens in their navy blue uniforms whose task was to handle the consequences of bomb damage, dig people out of the ruins of their houses or whatever.  Some houses had a large white ‘S’ stencilled on the gatepost meaning there was a stirrup pump there, or an ‘L,’ meaning a ladder was available.  Large brick water tanks were built on waste ground for the use of fire fighters, and EWS  -Emergency Water  Supply –was a another common sight. All the iron railings had been removed from the fronts of houses and public buildings to aid in the war effort.

Windows were rendered more shatter proof by the simple expedient of adding sticky paper strips in a criss-cross diamond shape over the glass surface. All windows had to be ‘blacked out’ at night so that no light was visible from the street or presumably from above.  Trams, buses and motor vehicles all had metal covers placed on their headlights to focus a weak light on the road ahead, while reducing light seen from the side, and particularly from above.  It should of course be remembered that there were very few private cars on the roads, and petrol was in very scarce supply and closely rationed.   Thus Doctors and those in some other occupations were allowed limited petrol, but many private cars remained off the road throughout the war.

An impending air raid was signalled by a loud siren which basically meant ‘get under cover and preferably in a shelter,’  and there was a further siren to signal the ‘all clear.’ In Prescot area most of the raids took place at night, but when German air power was still at its high point raids could occur in day time.  We did not experience too much in the way of V1 and V2 rocket attacks late in the war. For these reasons the PGS shelters were used in a genuine emergency very rarely if at all during the war.

 

For a few days an almost intact Messerschmidt 109 was on display outside the Prescot Town Hall on High Street part of the process of drumming up morale and savings. During the period of the ‘blitz’ I had a shrapnel collection- small pieces of bomb and shell fragments, the left overs from last night or last week’s uninvited guests. Masses of short strips of silver paper were released by plane over the countryside which we collected (together with cigarette cards, train numbers and names and a host of other hobbies and fads). We heard that the silver paper strips (chaff) were dropped by ‘our side’ to test a simple radar jamming device. Occasionally the biggest prize might come your way, a small silk parachute made to carry flares as they fell slowly to the ground.

At PGS a number of the masters had gone off to war and their places were filled by older men or more usually by younger women. To avoid confusion and possibly in a vain attempt to fool the lascivious interests of growing boys, we were instructed to call all staff members ‘Sir’ regardless of gender. There were periodic air raid drills with visits to the air raid shelters which stood at the soccer pitch end of the School close to St Helens Road. Across the short stone wall was an entrance to Knowsley Park where army and airforce personnel were camped.

PGS certainly played it’s part. There are no names in this piece, staff or boys since even a long list would leave someone out who should be there. This was a community effort. I recall very well hearing the regular news announced by the Head at morning Assembly concerning old boys who were missing or killed in action or had received decorations for valour.These came from all three services.Before it was over the names included old boys who had been in the School even during my stay and whose names I knew from direct experience.I wish for a moment that the thoughtless idiot who destroyed the War Memorial could visualise the lives celebrated there, or experience a little of what they had experienced. They were boys just like us from Prescot Grammar School.

Continued


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