Memories recorded by Tony Lester in 2001

I was seven years old when war broke and I think the first we children heard of it was from Mr Day our headmaster. Not a great lot happened at first, then the bells stopped ringing (but only in the event of an invasion) and some of the men started to be called up for duty. Everyone had to black out their windows at night, some had thick curtains, some had wooden frames covered in dark material that they put in the window frame at night, then drew their curtains. Torches had to be dimmed and vehicles had hoods with slits fitted over the lights. A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) wardens were introduced and went round checking the black outs etc.

Eventually, Ration Books and Gas Masks were distributed. I had the normal kind of gas mask, my brother Michael had a smaller coloured one, which when he breathed out made a squeaking noise. My sister Joyce had a baby one, a box shape, which she lay in and the air had to be pumped in. Everyone was supposed to carry them at all times and we had to practise putting them on at school.

Things started disappearing from the shops, some fruit and sweets. Every family had to register their ration books with their own grocer and butcher and could only get supplies from them.They had pages of coupons printed with the date of the week in which they were to be used. Younger children had a 'green' Ration Book and got extra foods like milk, orange juice and cod liver oil (UGH)!!! These could be collected from the Parish Room.

The local defence volunteers, later the Home Guard, came into being.We used to go and watch them drilling on theTors Road and in the bottom school playground. I think they used to have exercises. One Sunday morning they were in the dip in the left hand field on Jeffreys Lane and they let some tear gas bombs off.They had gas masks on at first but had to remove them to get the effect. Of course we were close by and got a good dose as well, sore running eyes for a while.

The A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service) started and my dad joined.They had a big grey van to hold the equipment and a mobile pump.They kept the van across from the Parish Room on the 'bottom side' in a shed, the pump lived under the Parish Room.They made mock fires in the Dutchman Croft and put them out with stirrup pumps. They went down to the canal and tested the pump and hoses. I had a ride down with them several times. The firemen had to take blankets and sleep at the Parish Rooms several nights a week. They all had a tunic, leggings, tin hat, a belt with an axe and rope, Wellingtons and a respirator.

When the war got going in earnest, German planes could be heard going over, we could always tell them by the deep thump, thump of the engines. We could look out of the back door towards Derby and see the searchlights and hear the anti-aircraft guns firing.

I think the nearest we came to action was incendiaries near the Hat Factory and I think a bomb fell in Sayles's fields at Parkhead, we went to look at the crater and I think you could get pieces of shrapnel for a copper or two which went in the war effort box. The firemen went to look at a crater at Idridgehay where a land mine had dropped. Dad brought me some parachute cord back.
Things were getting scarce in the shops and the only torch batteries available were No. 8 size and they were like gold dust.As you had to have two layers of toilet paper over the beam, you couldn't see much anyway.

Dad had to go to Derby wholesale market twice a week in his lorry and sometimes I went with him. I think we went around six o'clock and as we got near Derby we could see the silver/grey barrage balloons over the town.

Potatoes came from Lincoln, the 'Melbourne Man' brought cabbages and cauliflowers. Another man just sold cress and water cress. Another dealer supplied fruit when available. Pre war the long banana shed was full of fruit in various stages of ripening. When we got back home there was quite often a queue formed outside the shop. We also bought turnips and potatoes locally. I used to fetch pears from Mr Joe Smith's orchard and apples from Mr Pyes down The Dimple.We also used to get big pears from South View down Bullbridge Hill. In season I used to fetch tomatoes from Godfrey's atWhatstandwell in a truck that my Grandad made. In addition we had two allotments down the Dimple fields where houses now stand. People were allowed to keep pigs but the Ministry of Food had to have half. Dad kept two and when his one was killed, we had ham and bacon hanging up. I didn't eat meat and my 'reward' was slices of fried bread to go to school on. We also had to give up our bacon, meat and fat ration until our own supply had gone.There used to be a swill bin for scraps in the middle of the Market which the Ministry emptied.

We had all sorts of money raising efforts; Wings for Victory, Army Week and Warship Weeks. I think people in the Belper area clubbed together to help buy a ship (H M S Brocklesby).The Fire Service had social evenings in the Parish Room, where Norman Maycock sang, Harry Land played a valve Trombone and others entertained.There were Whist Drives and dances most weeks in the two schools, with Les Beardsmore and his band playing for the dancing.

We had quite a few evacuees come from Southend. The W.V.S. (Womens Voluntary Service) used to have exercises in the bottom school which was classed as a rest centre in case of disaster striking.After school we were given labels to fasten on our coats, that stated which injury we had got. Around 6.30pm we went back to school to be sorted out by the
W.V.S. members. We were told to go in old clothes and in a dirty state. Some really went over the top with soot and 'lipstick cuts'.They suffered later when the ladies got scrubbing, the ones with 'breakages' had to be tied up in splints. When it was all over we had tea (for shock) and biscuits.

One night in summer the Market filled up with Home Guards from all around the area. They eventually went down in the old quarry. They had guards posted at the top so we couldn't see what was happening.We watched from the top of the old spoil heap. First we heard rifle fire, then the Bren guns opened up. Next there were some big explosions and rocks rose into the air. They were firing missiles at the cliff face apparently. Next night we went to look around.They had been firing bullets from one end of the quarry to the other at oil drums.We found some 303 calibre cases and the remains of the missiles. Both the oil drums and these lumps of jagged metal were still lying there when they filled the quarry in with refuse, albeit very rusty.
Some of us had out of school jobs. I did a morning and evening paper round for Mr & Mrs Wragg for which I received 5/- (25p). I used to put all the chairs on the desks after school so that my great uncle (Eddie Martin) could sweep the floors, for which I was paid 1/- (5p) per week. I did my great aunts shopping from the Co-op every Saturday for six pence (2½p). I went round in the lorry with bad selling green groceries on Saturday afternoons down Fritchley (6 pence a week for around 5 hours). I used to deliver telegrams for Miss Jolly from the Post Office; threepence round the market area, 1/- down to Fritchley plus a 1/- tip. I took one to Wheatcroft one day in a snow storm and got 1/6 (7½p).

One October a farmer came to school from Moorwood Moor wanting people for potato picking. Most of the older ones went but numbers fell every day. At the end of a fortnight just two of us were left.We got paid six pence (2½p) an hour, the older boys could do fourteen days a year helping on the farms, usually split up in half days.We had a blue card which the farmer signed after the work was done.

We had all sorts of entertainment in the top school. The Co-optimists and other concert parties came.The Brownies and Guides used to perform musical plays and we also had the cinema with a Saturday Matinee.

A lot of Italian prisoners were confined at Nether Heage.They used to work in the area, on farms and such like. They used to walk around the district and went to the cinema often, mostly in the best seats.

The cadet force started up and we used to watch them drilling in the school yard, followed by a free for all football match in the school field (in Army boots).

The Armistice Day parades to church were long ones. Guides, Brownies, Cubs, Scouts, Home Guards, Cadets, Firemen and the British Legion all taking part, the church was full.

My uncle Ewart was abroad in Italy in the R.E.M.E. (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) and we used to write to each other. He told me about the war and Italy. Sometimes the censor got going with his pencil, crossing out place names etc.

The war eventually came to an end on 8th May 1944 and V.E. day was a holiday. I think we had a fancy dress parade around the village and sports on the 'bowling green' on the rec. Prizes were savings stamps. Later on there was a dance in the same place. The music was supplied by Jowetts from Ripley.

Some of the events of that year
• 5th January, 18 degrees of frost at Kew Gardens
• Sea froze at Dover
• Tommy Lawton scored his 400th goal, still only 25 years old
• 25th March last flying bomb fell in Kent
• Cheese ration cut to 2oz a week
• Bacon ration cut to 3oz a week
• Lard ration cut to I oz a week
• Tea ration increased to 2 l/2oz a week
• Peaches on sale at 5/6d each
• Clothing ration reduced by 25%
• In October earlier food cuts were restored
• The blackout ended after 2061 nights
• Footballers threatened to strike for wage increase, from £8 to £9 a week
• Chelsea signed Tommy Lawton for record fee of £14,000
• 100,000 people saw Chelsea draw 3-3 with Moscow Dynamo on tour
• Petrol down to 1/11(10p) per gallon
• Atom bombs dropped on Japan on 6th and 9th of August
• 14th August surrender of Japan

On a final note, Crich Band had been formed again after the war in Europe. I think we played at Crich in the day and Ashbourne at night for V.J. day. They finished with a large bonfire on the cattle market with an effigy of Tojo on the top.