A Wartime Childhood in Blackburn: An Interview with Barbara Riding (nee Brett)

4th August, 2020

Barbara Riding grew up in Blackburn during the Second World War and here she shares her memories and stories of being a child during World War Two. Barbara talks about what life was like in the family home, at school and playing in the local area. We hope you enjoy listening to Barbara’s memories and stories as much as we have done. Barbara has also provided us with some photographs that capture memories of her wartime childhood.

A selection of Barbara’s photographs and memories:

George VI letter –  A copy of the letter sent by King George VI to children after the war.

Barbara – This a photo of Barbara Riding (nee Brett)   at 88  and  Barbara Brett
in her Brownie uniform as it was in those  days aged 9.

Air raid sheltersTop left:   Underground shelter preserved in Stockport Museum.
Underground shelter dug for children of St Silas’s School in 1939. 
Arched roof like a tunnel with benches to sit on and latrines in the
corner.  Thank goodness we never had to use them.

Top right:  A cartoon concerning a Morrison shelter.  We had a budgie
which we taught to say ” Hitler’s a bad man!” We were lucky not to have
any air raids, but when the siren went off we sat under the stairs and put
the budgie under the shelter.

Bottom two:  Photos of two Morrison shelters I took off the TV. My
father got one as he was unable to go to a brick shelter in the school
yard if there was an air raid.  We used it as a dining room table for
several years.

Charity poster – We collected money for charities during the war such as  Aid for
Warships,  Aid for Russia, Aid for rubber dinghies for shot down
airmen.  This is a poster I designed  and won a prize for in a
competition for school children in Blackburn in 1942  during Aid for
China week.

Ministry of Food Cook Book –  Lord Woolton was the Minister of Food during the war.  This was the Ministry of Food cook book which my mother used to use. We used to
listen to a five minute broadcast every morning called “The Kitchen Front” which gave hints and ideas on how to cope with your rations.

Music – These are some of the songs I used to play and we used to sing on
different occasions.

Identity Card – We all had to have an Identity Card with name and details inside.    I also had a silver Identity disc  with my name and address on it which I wore on a
chain on my wrist.

Evacuee Letter – Families were all issued with a letter about taking in evacuees.  We
were not asked to have any.   I only remember one girl evacuee coming to
my school from somewhere.

Parks and Churches – Parks and churches and all private houses had to have their gates and railings removed  so that the metal could be used for war purposes. It
was over 50 years before the Corporation Park replaced its railings and
gates.  My church, Leamington Road Baptist Church built a small wall instead.

Children’s University Writing Competition: A ‘Wartime Childhood’ Christmas

In November 2019, children from Blackburn Children’s University took part in an event called ‘ A Wartime Childhood’ run by staff and students from the School of Art and Society. As Christmas 2019 approached, the children were asked to write stories imagining how it might feel to be a child during war time.

Here are the entries from the winners and runners-up.

Source: Imperial War Museum

A Wartime Childhood, by Aamina (year one)

I will be worried because they will shoot the gun at me. I will not see my daddy because he will be in the world war. I am upset because I am missing daddy. I want Santa to bring daddy home wrapped as a present so me and my sister can open it. This will make me happy.

I am scared daddy will never return. He might get shot in the world war.

A Wartime Christmas story, by Shayaan (year two)

Hello! I am Adam, and I lived at the time when the Second World War was taking place. My father had been sent off to join the troops and my mother quietly ushered me and my little sister, Lily, along with the rest of the children, to a peaceful countryside to keep us all safe from the German soldiers. I made plenty of friends, all from different cities and towns in Britain. When December has arrived, my friends and I were so excited. We made our very own advent calendar (because we couldn’t go to the shops) and started to count down the days to Christmas Eve and Christmas day itself.

            Soon enough, Christmas Eve had approached. All the children living with me were very excited for Santa to come and shower our Christmas tree with presents. Very carefully, we started taking out paints and bits of newspapers and started making paper chains to decorate the room. Of course it was hard work making the chains. You had to cut the newspaper into strips, paint them in different colours, wait for them to dry and then put glue on them to stick (or link) together!

            After we decorate everything, we play board games. I always lose, but that’s how I learn! However, I am really good at Scrabble and making different words and getting double and triple points for each letter! Yay me! 😊

            It was finally getting towards 8 o’clock, and it was time for bed. Silently, I put on my pyjamas and snuggled in my roughly made bed with my 5 year old sister Lily.

            Then Santa had come!

            It was a MIRACLE!

A Christmas in the Countryside, by Afiya (year three)

The sharp sound of guns rang in Lewis’ and Zara’s ears every single day. They were stuck in the middle of a war and their father was fighting on the battle front. It was just Mother and them but it was becoming unbearable. Recently, there had been many bombings near their house and the street in front of them was completely destroyed. The children were unsafe living in the city so Mother made the hard decision to send them away to live in some peace – now they were evacuees. They had to pack away their belongings and catch the next train. The journey was long and boring because they missed their mother.

            When the train stopped. Lewis and Zara stared at the fields and trees in amazement. Then a lady came to them and glared at their tired faces. She silently led them to their new house which seemed to have a horrible smell. Each room was filled with pink, hurting your eyes. As Lewis gazed at her, she introduced herself as Charlotte and ordered them to their room. It was quite small with only one bed and an old chest of drawers. Zara sighed as she started to unpack her clothes and Lewis tried his best to be positive. But what they really wanted was Mother and Father.

            In the windows of the other houses, the children saw Christmas paper chains and they could hear Christmas carols. Charlotte didn’t have much up but the children got creative in their own room, making stars and snowflakes. The days passed slowly but soon it was Christmas Eve! Zara woke up excitedly and scared Lewis with her shouting. Charlotte stomped upstairs telling them breakfast was ready. The day passed like the others and it was quickly time for bed. They both got changed and tried their hardest to sleep but Zara could hear someone crying. Fed up of following rules, she decided to investigate. She peeped inside the kitchen and found Charlotte on the floor crying with a baking bowl in her hand. Zara called Lewis to join her and they both went up to Charlotte, trying to comfort her. Charlotte told them about how she was trying to bake a cake as a Christmas present but there wasn’t enough sugar. Baking also reminded her of her husband, John, who died in the war. Lewis and Zara had an idea.

            They told Charlotte of their plans to ask the street for ingredients and she gave them a hug. They wrapped up and went outside on their mission. Lewis knocked on each door and Zara explained their plan. Everyone loved it and they were happy to help.

            The next day was Christmas and Charlotte was up early, baking the special Christmas cake. The house smelt delightful. She carried it to the local village hall where the entire town was waiting. Everyone sang some carols and then it was time to eat. Charlotte was nervous but everyone loved it! Lewis and Zara were happy that their plan worked and they had an amazing Christmas in their new home.

1944 WWII Wartime Childhood, by Cheng (year four)

I was woken up by bombs and sirens everywhere in London. I had four gas masks for my father, mother, my little brother and also myself. We got outside and hid underground and we also closed the lights in our house and underground. We had lamps with us and also a bucket. We had to stay underground for two weeks. I heard screams, bullets being shot out of guns and it was a disgraceful sight. My mum opened the lamp and underground it had four chairs. Behind the chairs was a wooden door so I opened it and there was a shop. In that shop were my friends. They were Lin, Aliyah and their mum and dad. Me and Sammy were so excited to see Lin and Aliyah and we said ‘Hello’ to each other. However I saw something behind them and they were making paper chains using scraps of painted newspaper and other friends making pictures on paper. We helped them make the longest paper chains. We kept making more and more until there were no sheets.

            After that, it was the last day and it was time to get out of underground. We hugged each other and got out. We waved goodbye and went home.

This is the best day ever!

My Christmas Story, by Mehek (year 6)

BANG! BANG! That was the sound of deathly shooting. Charlie and James were petrified with fear. Their mother, Emily, was also terrified. The place they lived in, London, was filled with smoke and pollution. It was a cold stormy night and their father had gone to fight on the front lines. Outside the rain lashed and pelted down.

            Just then there was a knock on the front door. ‘I wonder who it is,’ pondered Mother. As she opened the front door, there was a man dressed in a black suit and hat. Whilst Charlie and James were doing their homework, they stopped for a moment and heard Mother talking. There was a lot of shouting and arguing. For a split second, they thought it was Father. But it wasn’t.

            It was the man who came to take the children to keep them safe. The children had heard the big girls and boys talk about it. KNOCK! KNOCK! They opened the bedroom door. The man said, ‘Get your things ready, you’re going to go.’ Without thinking, the two boys got their bags ready. It was quite a difficult thing to say goodbye to their beloved mother but they followed orders and made their way towards the train. As they entered inside the train, they looked around and wondered where they were going.

            After a long 2 hour journey they had arrived at their new house. They were now evacuees. They both felt a bit homesick because they missed their mother. When they met their new mother, Anne, they felt at home because it reminded them of their old mother. It was just a few days till it was Christmas. At that time, there were no shops because everyone was out at war. On Christmas Eve, the two boys were making Christmas decorations. They also started making their Christmas dinner. They couldn’t wait for tomorrow. Time had gone so quick.

            The next day it was Christmas day! When Charlie woke up, he screamed with happiness and joy. James was excited too. As soon as they came out of the bathroom, they quickly ran downstairs and found presents under the Christmas tree. They went to the kitchen and found Anne making a cake. In the corner of her eye, she saw the two boys spying on her. ‘What are you doing?,’ they questioned. She said she was making something for later on. So eager to find out what it was, when Anne had left the room, they went to see what it was. Just then Anne came back in the room and found James and Charlie secretly spying on what she had made. They saw Anne and ran back to their seats and finished their breakfast. A few hours later, they were all dressed and had their scrumptious dinner. Then the cake had arrived. It was made from grated carrot and breadcrumbs. After eating, it was present time. All the gifts were homemade. Charlie and James gave Anne a special personalised rug and she had tears filled with happiness. Charlie got a homemade collection of jungle animals and James got a spinning top and a board game. It was their Christmas ever.

When the Lights Came Back On in Blackburn: Richard Croasdale Responds to Questions About His Wartime Childhood

June 11th 2020

After watching the video of Richard Croasdale talking about growing up during the war in Blackburn, children from Blackburn Children’s University plus a few other children from the local area, wanted to ask him a few questions.  We arranged for Stephen Irwin, Education Officer at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, to put their questions to Richard in a phone interview and we have a wonderful recording of their conversation to share with you.

We suggest that you listen to the recording in a quiet room with no distractions to give you the idea of what it was like listening to a wireless broadcast.

Richard was asked the following questions during the interview:

  1. How old were you at the start of the war?
  2. Were you frightened?
  3. Did you think you were going to die?
  4. Where were your parents?
  5. What games did you play?
  6. What did you eat on VE day?
  7. How did you celebrate VE Day?
  8. How did you feel when the lights came back on in Blackburn?
  9. What happened to your gas masks at the end of the war? Did everyone have to hand them in or could you keep them?
  10. Do you feel as though rationing helped prepare you for budgeting in later life?
  11. Did you feel that during the war everyone became closer in the community?
  12. Did adults also have to carry gas masks with them all the time?
  13. What music did you listen to during the war?
  14. What was it like reuniting with family members who had been away during the war?
  15. What would you say to children today who are living in war zones?

“To see all the trams again, all lit up at night, oh what a fantastic sight that was”.

– Richard Croasdale, June 2020

Letters to Eachstep Care Home from Blackburn Children’s University

Children’s University members were asked to write a letter to the residents at Eachstep Care Home.  Here are a couple of letters: one from Humaira in year 1 at St Silas Primary School and another from Jemima and Alisha, two sisters at Wensley Fold Primary School. 

All activities took place remotely and in accordance with government guidelines on COVID 19.  

A wartime childhood in Blackburn: Interview with Richard Croasdale

Richard Croasdale, 16th January, 2020

Richard Croasdale grew up in Blackburn during the Second World War and here he shares his memories and stories of being a child during World War Two. Richard talks about what life was like in the family home, at school and playing outdoors in the local area. He remembers the end of the war, when the lights came back on, as the ‘most fantastic night of my life’.

Wartime Childhood

02nd November 2019, University Centre at Blackburn College

Children from local schools belonging to Blackburn Children’s University participated in an event to learn about childhood experiences during World War II. Staff and students from the School of Art and Society led events including a dig for victory, writing evacuee letters, singing wartime songs, making poppies, learning about rationing, experiencing an air raid shelter, and playing games.