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Liverpool at War
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War Memories – Mary Harrison (nee Kinsella)

I was four when the war started, so shortages seemed the norm, I suppose. I do remember we often ran out of things like sugar and butter. One memory does stick. As we were a large family our 2oz. butter ration added up to a respectable looking lump and must have looked enormous to a person living alone. I remember my mother feeling very cross with an acquaintance who offered to swap her margarine for some of our butter. How dared she try to deprive these “precious children”? I have a feeling Mum ate very little during those years.

We had a brick shelter in the back garden, fitted with tiers of bunks, in which we slept during raids. During the May Blitz of 1941 my maternal grandmother was very ill. She lived in Kirkdale and we lived in Fazakerley. Mum and Dad used to cycle down to see her on their tandem, wearing tin helmets, and, no doubt, carrying gas masks. One night the sirens sounded as they rode home. They knew that our friend, Agnes, would have us safely in the shelter. As they opened our front door a Landmine exploded in the next Avenue and the blast carried Mum the whole length of the hall, through to the kitchen. Most of the neighbourhood windows were shattered, but Mum was unhurt. My Grandmother died that month. I have only a vague recollection of a tiny lady. That same month my great aunt was ill, in Mill Road hospital, when it received a direct hit. Her remains and many others were never identified.

My eldest brother was eleven years older than me. He must have started work soon after the war started. He had to come home on the train. The northern railway line into Exchange Station passed fairly close to our house. The enemy bombers used to pick it up and follow it into the town centre, and the docks, and the Pier Head. The ‘blackout’ was very strict and a severe test for travellers. One evening when John’s train pulled up, he naturally assumed they had reached the station. He opened the door, and stepped out into the darkness, onto the track just before the platform. He arrived home cut and bruised.

In 1943 John was eighteen, and was immediately “called up”. As we learned later, he was dispatched to North Africa to join the Eighth Army. In 1944, aged nineteen, he was with the forces landing in Sicily. We were informed that he was “Missing believed killed”. For six months the Army and The Red Cross could find no trace of him. Then one morning the postman delivered one of those P.O.W. postcards on which a prisoner was allowed to tick a box. “I am well”. That was the first time I saw my mother cry.

John told us some of the story later. During the battle he had been shot through the head. He said, at the time he felt no pain, and thought the blood dripping on his arm was from the boy next to him. Luckily there was a German field hospital in the area, where the surgeons operated to remove the bone splinters. He was held a prisoner by the Italians for the next fortnight. By that stage of the war the Italians were in a bad way, and had little food for themselves or their prisoners, and John could have died from starvation. But the Germans rescued the wounded prisoners and took them to the hospital attached to a P.O.W. camp. I have a faint memory of it being in Bavaria. John would never say a word against the German Medical Staff. Just before the end of the war we were notified that John was to be repatriated. I think Mum expected him to be brought home in an ambulance. We knew the wound must be serious. She and some of the neighbours were busy hanging out flags in welcome when John walked up the Avenue with Dad. The ship had docked in Liverpool and he had been given leave to disembark, and he had walked in on Dad at The Daily Post, and they had caught the tram home. The ship in which they sailed home was probably one of the Bibby Line Ships fitted out as a hospital ship, painted white, and lit up from end to end, I remember John talking about it. Apparently, there was a general agreement not to attack these ships. I never saw John’s wound, but Mum told me later that it was so big she could have put her fist in it. John had to spend some time in the hospital at Rainhill which had been taken over for head wounds. He was the only boy in there who wasn’t paralysed in some way. He had a steel plate inserted in his skull, and later, maybe because of pressure, he developed epilepsy and was never fully fit again but, he worked and enjoyed life until a brain tumour developed near the scars, and he died aged 57. So his life was definitely changed by W.W.II.

Dad was in the Home Guard and often had to be on duty fire watching. I can remember waiting for him to come back to us in the shelter after air raids. But they did manage to have a lot of fun as well .They used to run regular dances, often interrupted by alarms, of course. My cousin, Kathleen, the same age as John, used to bring her friends to enjoy them. They would walk home, through the dark streets linking arms and laughing. I can just hear her saying “Sway! Uncle John”. She was a nurse, and towards the end of the war, an injured paratrooper “landed” in her ward. They married in 1944 and I was a bridesmaid. I have one photo to prove it, but a lot of happy memories. I still keep in touch with them. I can remember how difficult it was to get clothing coupons for the wedding outfits. Their story is told in another chapter of this collection.

My brothers and I were not evacuated and we did not know any one who was. I don’t know if my parents were asked about it. Our school, Holy Name, remained open all through the bad times. My husband grew up at the other end of Liverpool, in Garston. His school, St. Francis, was closed and the children had classes in the houses of various pupils.

One other memory is of the excitement when word spread that there were bananas in the greengrocer’s. Because we had green Ration Books, for children, Mum was entitled to queue at the shop in the hope of there being some left when her turn came. So we weren’t entirely deprived. I believe some children never tasted a banana all through the war. Dad, like many men, had several allotment gardens where he grew most of our vegetables and fruit. He and Mum also kept hens and rabbits. Mum used to buy day old chicks and they grew into fat hens for Christmas Dinner for us and our relations.

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