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What War?

by Jacqui Kilcoyne

None of us kids in Partridge Street, Bolton in the 1940s ever realised there was a war going on. So, what if you didn't have a dad around, nobody else had one around either. We all lived with our grandmas and grandads, and if you didn't have one of those you lived with someone else’s. We only ever saw our mums properly at weekends because usually they worked long hours and we were in bed by the time they got home.

We were all given a box to carry about with us but I don't ever remember having to wear the gruesome looking mask that was inside it. A tale was told that when James Street was bombed in 1941 a paving slab fell through our roof and landed in the cot from which I had just been removed.

I remember grandad coming home with a tin helmet on and carrying a big torch but didn't realise that he was an A R P Warden. I can remember him taking me to the top of a hill one night and him saying that "them poor buggers in Manchester are getting it tonight". But to me the fires over Manchester were just a lovely red glow in the sky.

As young "War Babies" we flourished with rosy health, growing strong on Cod Liver Oil, Orange Juice and Rose Hip Syrup. Grandad used to dip my dummy in Benedictine just before I went to bed to make me sleep and in the end I wouldn't go to bed until I'd had my dummy dipped. I was the youngest alcoholic in Bolton.

Once a week grandma would take me in town to get Orange Juice and Cod liver Oil from the Baby Clinic under the arches at Howell Croft. I had a tendency to run off so I was always kept on reigns or in a push chair. This particular day it was cold and rainy and gran had me in the pushchair. She decided to buy me my first ever ice lolly from a shop called, I think, "Betty Box". It was next to Wards flower shop and facing the Police Station. Anyway, back to the ice lolly, it was cold, sticky and green and by the time I had finished it I was cold, sticky and green as well. Ever since then I have never eaten another green ice lolly. I can remember getting my first "Siren Suit". These were all in one suits with a full length zip and elasticated cuffs. They were lovely and warm but if you wanted a pee you had to take the lot off. Sometimes you were not quite quick enough so ended up with chapped legs.

We lived just across the road from Bolton Market. I thought it was wonderful. Everybody always seemed to be cheerful, each stallholder trying to out shout each other, and the bright colours of the materials hanging up and fluttering in the wind. The sound of the pots as "Pot Bailey" rattled them to tempt the buyers. The people of Bolton had a warmth and humour that would stun the youth of today. That is why many of us look back on the war years and smile.

Inside the market there never seemed to be a shortage of fruit and veg and cooked meats. The smell was wonderful, as soon as you walked in your mouth started watering. Gran had friends who owned a cooked meat stall and in the school holidays gran would mind their daughter, Nancy Jackson, at our house and she would be rewarded in whatever was left on the stall at the end of the day.

Gran was a great cook. Grandad used to say she could make a meal out of "a pair o owd sweaty clogs". I can remember her making a stew out of just potatoes and whatever meat she could get hold of and picking the bits of meat out of it for me because I didn't like meat. She even had to boil the onion in it whole because I didn't like onions either. I didn't mind the taste but couldn't stand actually eating it.

I don't remember seeing much of mum except at weekends. Some Sundays we would get on the tram outside the Britannia Chippy at the bottom of Deane Road and get off at Wingates to go and see Aunt Jane and family who lived on Chorley Road, Westhoughton. Other times we would go on the trolley bus to see Aunt Peg who lived in another part of Westhoughton. During the week gran and grandad would take me to see aunt Agnes and uncle Jimmy who lived on Deane Church Lane, Bolton. Every time we went to their house there always seemed to be someone on their hands and knees scrubbing the flag floors. The evenings would be spent with the grown ups sitting round the table playing cards or dominoes. Sometimes the games would go on so long that we would miss the last bus and would have to walk home.

At the top of our street was a pub called the Dog and Partridge and across from that on Moor Lane was the Three Tuns. Next to the Three Tuns was Kilcoynes grocery shop and next to that was the Catholic Repository on the corner of Flash Street. Further along was Jones Garage and next to that Syds Butchers ( in later years I used to fancy Alan Dunn, the butchers apprentice).

Across the back from the Dog and Partridge was Gertie Gormans chip shop were you could get a "penn’orth o’ chips wi’ pea wet an’ scraps". Gertie had a son called John. He must have been in his twenties and had some sort of illness but he was a brilliant artist and later taught me how to draw and paint. Next to Gerties was the Newsagents, I cant remember the name of the people who owned the shop during the war but afterwards it was owned by a nice lady called Mrs Cox.

At the other end of Partridge Street was the Bullfield Sidings, with Stanley Street separating Bk Wellington Street, Commission Street and Lupton Street. There was a little corner shop on Stanley Street that sold groceries and home baked bread. Gran would send me for a loaf and when I got home I had usually eaten all the corners off it. This shop was later owned by a Bolton Wanderers footballer. I think his name was Billy Hughes.

There was a bookies in Bk Wellington Street and as it was illegal they used to have a man collecting bets on the corner of the street, they used to call it Tatnum Corner,. Grandad would send me with a slip of paper and sixpence to give to the man. Someone once gave me sixpence and grandad put threepence each way on a horse for me, I think it was in the Grand National. It won and I got new shoes with my winnings. I was sworn to secrecy not to tell grandma about putting bets on for grandad. She was very straitlaced and didn't believe in gambling and I don't think a drop of alcohol ever passed her lips. So even at a tender age I could wrap grandad round my little finger just by threatening to tell grandma what he got up to.

I don't ever remember going into the Air Raid Shelters. There was a big one under the market but I can remember getting under the table and the stairs when the sirens sounded, and I can remember the cries of "Get that ruddy light out" and "All clear". Also our house suddenly became full of torches, batteries, blackout material and rolls of sticky tape to criss cross the windows.

The days seemed to be endless. Me, Kathleen Doherty, Millie Brooks, Olive Blears and other kids used to hold concerts in the back street and make "gang huts" in the coal sheds. We are in our 60s now but have remained friends and still manage to see each other every so often even though I now live in Fleetwood.

Some Sunday mornings my Grandad would take me to watch the Troops drilling on the Square on Moor Lane. I used to march up and down beside them and the Sergeant would always give me pennies and say that I was better at it than the soldiers. Grandad also used to take me to the Ox and Noble Pub on Crook Street and he would stand me on the bar and I would sing and tap dance. People would give me money and I would give it to grandad to hold. I never saw it again but I used to get a glass of Pop and a packet of crisps with salt in blue paper so I was happy.

I can remember grandad trying to explain some of the history of Bolton to me. About how the Town Hall was opened in 1873 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, and about the Earl of Derby being executed where the Market Cross stood on Churchgate in 1651. He told me about Samuel Crompton whose statue stands in Nelson Square and Lord Leverhulme who was one of Boltons biggest benefactors who bought Hall ith Wood and restored it and generously endowed Bolton School. Grandad wasn't a learned man but he instilled a sense of history and a thirst for knowledge that has stayed with me ever since.

I was always smaller than my friends and grandad told me that if I put horse muck in my shoes it would make me grow. So I did, and got told off from my mum and gran for smelling the house out.

Sundays, when not visiting, I went to Sunday School. I was christened at St Pauls Church on the corner of Moor Lane and Spa Road, and continued to attend there until my teens. It was there that I joined the Campaigners and I was very proud when I received my badge for Art. I also sang my first solo at the age of five in that Church on Sermons Day. It was "Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam" and I felt so proud in my little white dress and white shoes. There was just one thing that niggled me. My friends were Catholic and they got to wear a veil with their white dresses and we only had a white lace mopcap. Oh, how I longed for a veil.

Across the road from St Pauls was the Regal Cinema. Sometimes I was allowed to go on Saturday afternoon to the threepenny rush and watch things like Flash Gordon and Cartoons. Near the Regal, on White Lion Brow there was a row of about five shops. I can remember one of these was owned by the Abbott family. It was a bit like an Ice Cream Parlour but they also sold Black Peas. Abbotts were famous for their Black Peas. They always had a booth on the fair ground and it was always full. Mr Abbott used to have a cart with a bicycle at the back and he used to go round the streets selling his wares. In summer he sold Ice Cream and if you took a dish and got it filled you got free biscuits. In the winter he came with the same cart filled with hot black peas. He used to ring a big brass bell to let you know he was coming.

The horses and carts that cleared the rubbish and emptied the middens used to come down our street from the depot in Wellington Street, and the older men, grandad included used to lie in wait with armed with bucket and shovel to pick up the horse muck to put on their roses. We didn't have gardens but a lot of people had a built up bit in their backyard where they would grow roses and a bit of veg. I once "ran away" from home and was brought home on one of the muck carts. I cant remember getting many good hidings but I got one that day. I also remember getting one when I cut off one of my friends waist length plaits off during a game of hairdressers in our back yard.

In summer, on warm days, aunty Mary Ellen Rooney who lived next door, would get the tin bath down off the wall and between them gran and her would fill it with warm water and bath me and Jacky Rooney in the backyard. We loved it because we were outside and could splash about and make as much mess as we liked. Jacky was a boy with red hair and freckles and a devilish sense of humour. We used to get a couple of pieces of wood and pretend we were rowing to America. That old tin bath would become a train, a boat or a plane or whatever we wanted it to be. We were kept clean with Wrights Coal Tar Soap and regularly got our heads soaked in "nit" lotion even if we didn't have nits. We were kept "regular" with Angiers Brand Emulsion, Syrup of Figs, Carters Little Liver Pills and Andrews Liver Salts.

For a special treat they would pack Jam butties and a bottle of pop and take us to Queens Park and let us go in the paddling pool and on the swings. Sometimes we would walk down the Middlebrook to Bluebell Wood and fish for Tiddlers in the stream.

Other times we would go to Moss Bank Park and Barrow Bridge. There was a shop at Barrow Bridge that used to sell cane walking sticks and fishing nets as well as ice cream and sweets, they even sold toffee rock. We would climb to the top of Rivington Pike and play soldiers among the ruins.

Once in a while somebody would have a party. It would start off in the afternoon for the kids and then the grown ups would turn up and it would go on into the night. Kathleen Dohertys uncle would be playing his Concertina and somebody would start playing the spoons. Grandad had a wooden Xylophone and he could play it with his feet. They would send up to the pub for jugs of beer and crisps and it would seem as though half the street was in one house and those who couldn't fit in sat outside on the steps singing songs like Lily of Laguna and Keep the Home Fires Burning.

If there was a bit of extra money to spare we would go to the Grand Theatre. We would sit in the "Gods" and stare in awe at the wonderful performers and scenery on the stage. In the interval everyone would rush to the lady with the tray around her neck to get their ice creams and drinks before the second half started. If we went to the Saturday matinee we would come out when it was over and join the queue that would stretch along Churchgate to buy Pasties from the famous "Ye Olde Pastie Shop" to take home for tea. There were other fine theatres in Bolton such as the Theatre Royal and the Hippodrome but, for me, they never had the same wonderful atmosphere as the Grand.

Occasionally we would hear whispers of someone being shot or reported missing but it would go completely over our heads. What we couldn't see, we couldn't feel and we were too young to understand what was going on in the grown up world. Anyway we were more concerned that pretty soon we too were going to lose our freedom. St Peter and Pauls.St Patricks and Pikes Lane Schools were beckoning and we would soon all be plucked from the bosoms of our mums, grans and grandads and herded into waiting classrooms like reluctant sheep.

Strange men would be coming down our streets in strange brown uniforms and picking children up and hugging them. Nobody picked me up and nobody hugged me and for the first time in my happy young life I knew what it was like to feel the odd one out.There was flag waving, bunting and street parties to celebrate the end of World War Two, but I mourned. I wanted the war, if that's what we,d had, to go on forever. To me it meant the end of childhood and the beginning of growing up.