Audrey’s wartime York

March 2012

Audrey, now living in the US, was born in York and lived on Blossom Street, opposite the Bar Convent, during the war years.

See also: Audrey’s memories of the air-raids in York in WW2, Stephen’s memories of the ‘Baedeker’ raid, and his memories of York in WW2.

“We had of course no TV only the radio. I remember the day war was declared I was alone when the news came on and Mr Chamberlain spoke. Mum and dad came home quickly having heard the news and they clung together and the radio was on constantly to hear any broadcast that came on.

Many changes took place quickly from the gas masks in their tin boxes with a cloth strap to hang on your shoulder, I remember the feeling of suffocating when I first tried mine on. We had to stay home apart from limited visits to school whilst the brick shelters were put up.

Many young Leeman Road boys signed up when the 1939 war was declared, several underage ones too. My first husband became a young 17 year old merchant seaman.

The De Grey rooms – popular with the young officers – and Assembly Rooms had various events for people to attend, plus the dance halls quickly filled with girls and service men in the city. Also the Co-op Hall in Railway Street.

Houses and streets descended into darkness with very limited overhead lights in the streets and cars with blinkered headlights, quite dangerous for kids on the Queen Street corner especially. You had to listen before you ran across. I remember running through the streets to get home and bumping into people. Not a chink of light had to show, so the houses had blackout curtains or frames up. My dad made ours of tarred paper and wood and they were put up each night at dusk and checked from the outside as it was an offence to show lights. Volunteer wardens patroled to ensure all was dark and knocked if it wasn’t.

Tanks and army vehicles rolled down the road. Troops marched down too at times.

The Minster had its stained glass removed if I remember correctly and it was stored in a safe place.

During the war, pigswill bins were fastened to lampposts and you could take food waste, potato peel etc. and put it in for collection each day.

Immediately opposite 20 Blossom Street (the garage over which I lived) was the Bar Convent and next to it a building that was taken over for checking recruits medically for the army etc. I remember that my mother had to go over and request a blind or curtain was put up as the young men were naked and visible through the window. It was done and an apology given.

York was never a dull place to live, in war time it was vibrant, filled with foreign troops. Once the war progressed many overseas servicemen came as their countries were overrun. Then the prisoners of war came and were put on Knavesmire in the racestands area, all wired in. Italians I think mainly. They were a quiet lot of small men who stood and watched us kids and would try and talk to us. There was no animosity. Eventually they were let out to walk the streets and often said hello to people. I think they were just glad to be out of the war.

We also got the wounded Canadians who were camped near York awaiting shipping home. We befriended three of them – Gerry, Ray and another one whose name I can’t remember. Despite rations mum and dad gave them supper and we all sat and talked, before they went off back to their camp. They talked of their homes and families usually.

We walked the Shambles, Stonegate with its little alleyways. We stood outside Bettys wanting so much be able to go in and eat, with no luck! My uncle and his airforce friends went down into Bettys dive! I believe they have the mementos on the wall to this day.

Throughout it all the people of York went about their daily business. My mum and dad always kissed us when we left home for school or outings. In case we didn’t see each other again.”

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