Before the war I worked in Blackburn for a firm making harnesses for Jacquard looms. On the outbreak of war one of the brothers who owned the company was an officer in the Territorial Army in the East Lancs. We were told that we would be going on short time to see how things would work out and the following week I was the only one working.
As I was under 21 my parents wouldn’t let me think of the idea of joining the forces so I was told that I had better go into the mill and learn to weave. Having learned to weave I ended up with three jacquard looms and a box loom—I hated every day of it. After eighteen months I gave it up and joined the land army as a gardener. I was sent to Sefton Park in Liverpool. This was in March 1941; the first week there, on Thursday afternoon, a German reconnaissance plane flew over the dock area and was shot down by a Spitfire and about three hours later another came over but escaped all the anti-aircraft fire. That night at 8.45 the sirens went and until 4.45 next morning we were in the shelter listening to Liverpool being pounded, the first of ten nights of air raids. Then as the days were lengthening the raids practically ceased until September when they started again.
At the time when there was an air raid on Liverpool or Manchester it could be seen from Mellor and my mother got a bit worried and asked for me to be moved. So after a few weeks at home I was sent to a house a few miles from Shrewsbury. I was there for nine weeks and having no gardening to do as the harvest was in and all the land had been dug, I was home again for a while until my next placing in a private garden in Shropshire. I felt that I was not doing enough for the war effort so I left the land army in early March 1942 and enrolled in the ATS where I trained to be a cook. After basic and cookery training I was posted to Bournemouth, staying at an hotel taken over by the Southern Command Vehicle Maintenance. We ATS were billeted in a house at Sandbanks in a lovely position overlooking Poole Harbour.
On Monday evenings we were confined to barracks to do mending and other chores but there was always a ‘talk’ which was enjoyable. In late February, a Sgt Delaney came to us for a rest. She had been in the ATS since the start of the war and gave us a talk about her time in France in 1940. One day as they were cooking a hot meal for the troops an officer, on a motorbike, told them to take to the road as Germans were coming. This resulted in a ten day walk to Dunkirk. Whilst she was with us the local paper wrote an article about ‘the fighting Delaneys’ there being 13 in the family and all in the forces!
Within a week of D-Day she was back again in France.
After D-Day the hotel was no longer needed so we were all sent home for 10 days leave after which I found myself in Shrewsbury again. After being there for about nine months I volunteered for overseas service and after waiting for a while I got my orders to report to London. From there about forty of us went to Eastbourne long enough for us all to have ten days leave before we found ourselves crossing the Channel for Paris.
Before we left England we had been told that our final destination was Berlin. On arrival in Paris we had to wait about two hours for transport to take us to Versailles as apparently the trucks had gone to the wrong station, and as we weren’t there had returned to Versailles and we had to wait for them coming back. While stationed there I spent most of my spare time walking in the palace grounds which I enjoyed more than going into Paris to see the usual sights. A solitary walk round the vast gardens of the palace meant there was always something new to find. The palace itself was an empty place as like the Louvre in Paris had been stripped of all its treasures by the Germans shortly after D-Day.
We went by plane to Montgomery’s final headquarters although he himself had gone back to London. While we were there waiting for the Potsdam conference to end the only work we cooks were called upon to help with was preparing for a party being given for several hundred officers who were going to stand in the General Election.
After the conference we travelled over 200 miles to Berlin. Germany had been divided into 4 sections under the control of the four main powers, France, Britain, Russia and USA.
On our way we had to cross the Russian Sector and we were held up for 2 hours - as not having seen ATS personnel before they thought that the men were smuggling in women - until they could find the Russian speaking British officer. Once he had come to an agreement we were allowed on our way. We saw nothing but bare countryside until we came to a sign that said “You are now leaving the American Sector and entering the British Sector” which was entered by the Brandenburg Gate. We travelled up the Kurfustendamm about a mile long and a few streets away to where we were to be billeted in a block of flats where we had quite a surprise. We were expecting to be under canvas but the flats had hardly suffered any damage and we cooks were put in the flat that had belonged to the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The residents had been given half an hour an hour to move out so they had to leave behind the grand piano—unfortunately there was no one to play it !
We were somewhat restricted in our movements not being able to get about too far and having to keep more or less to the main streets. Whilst the British, French and Americans had to keep to their own sectors the Russians were allowed to go anywhere they liked and were never to be trusted. At one time we ATS had to keep one of our kit bags packed and be ready to move at a moment’s notice but after a few weeks things calmed down.
All in all, life wasn’t too bad and I wouldn’t have changed anything.