It is not surprising, therefore, that some of my earliest memories relate to that event, namely the Bosley collection of Gas Masks. My elder brother’s was the regular black issue, mine resembled the cartoon character ‘Mickey Mouse’ and was coloured red and blue (presumably in an attempt to entice children to use it), and the ‘cradle’ Respirator belonged to my younger sister, the baby of the family at that time! I well remember the sirens, the scramble to get downstairs, crouching under the big heavy table with its thick green baize or cowering in the ‘glory hole’ beneath the stairs.
I have vivid memories of the dreaded ‘Telegram’ arriving, informing my mother of the death of her younger brother who had been killed in North Africa and how she read and re-read the contents, sobbing inconsolably.
As children do, I remember the excitement when a German plane was shot down just behind the house. My brother was one of the first on the scene and I was so envious when he returned triumphant with a piece of the wreckage. The public air raid shelters constructed on the corner of Tattenhall Road and near to where the library is now situated also became great places in which to play during the day, albeit that it was ‘scary stuff’ being ushered down the difficult steps in the middle of the night!
The uniforms hold a place in my heart. I remember my father in his Home Guard uniform, marching up and down the High Street with the Platoon. I did not know at that time but my father had been in the Army before the war and had served in Bombay, Karachi and Ireland. I have a fine photograph of him in tropical kit. My 3 uncles’ uniforms also proved to be the things of which young boys dream and there is a photograph of me wearing one of their tunic jackets.
And then the Yanks came – truck loads of soldiers, airmen and equipment. In no time at all a camp was constructed which occupied the field behind the Flacca, right down to Burwardsley Road. The Flacca cricket and football pitches were quickly turned into an airfield and in no time at all we were ‘entertained’ in our own back yard by young American pilots, complete with sheepskin flying jackets and leather helmets, taking off and landing in their small fixed-wing aircraft. To every child’s delight, the Americans were well stocked in chewing gum and candy bars – a real thrill.
Great excitement too, when it was decided that three mighty oak trees in front of the present pavilion were interfering with flying. Oh what fun! It was decided that DYNAMITE should be used to resolve the problem – the trees were to be ‘blown up’! I vividly remember watching the demolition squad move in, plant the explosives and then, one by one, the trees were destroyed – quite literally ‘boom, boom, boom!’
The cries of ‘Any gum, chum?’ were soon over. Within a few short months, the Americans were fully trained and ready for the invasion of Europe. I remember sitting in the front seat of my father’s lorry at the Gatesheath junction onto the A41 Chester to Whitchurch Road, watching a non-stop convoy of American lorries driving past. They were on their way to the south coast in preparation for the D-Day Landings – the convoy seemed to go on forever.
A further memory is of the prisoners of war. There were quite a few of them scattered around the village and surrounding farms – mainly German but a few Italians too. We were not encouraged to fraternize with them but, of course, we did. Those that I got to know were really quite nice (but nowhere near as good as the Yanks). I also got into trouble because a group of them worked at Cooke’s dairy and I knew where they lived. I wandered into their huts and found GRAPES – I had never seen a grape so I tried one and then another …..
And then, VE Day. A huge bonfire was built on the Flacca and we started to get an idea that something pretty special had happened. I have no idea where all the food came from but everybody in Tattenhall enjoyed the biggest and the best party we had ever seen, in front of the biggest bonfire in the world (or so it seemed).
Slowly the village returned to normality. Olympus House (previously the Tattenhall Home for Boys) which had served as a convalescent home for wounded servicemen until 1945 now stood empty. The American huts on the Flacca were soon dismantled. The prisoners were repatriated and our servicemen returned home. This chapter in the life of Tattenhall came to an end.