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Liverpool at War
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Grandma’s War – Brenda Murray (nee McElroy)

As prepared for my grandchildren.

I was fifteen and a half and living in North Liverpool, not far from the docks, when war was declared in 1939. It had been expected for some time and six months earlier there had been the possibility that Seafield Convent’s trip to Switzerland might be cancelled. It wasn’t and I went. However, halfway through our visit, while we were staying in Lugano, I received a letter from my father telling us that Mussolini had invaded Albania.

On Sunday 3rd September, at 11am, I with millions of others heard the announcement on the radio. The previous Friday we had been told that the ‘blackout’ had to start and so we had already bought all blackout materials and curtains and blinds. With no light, thereafter, escaping from any windows it made for a very dark walk home from school in the evening. My father, your great grandfather, also ensured that the family obeyed the government instructions to save water and electricity. We could only have five inches of water in the bath and we switched off all lights when they were not needed. Everyone was saving fuel for the war effort.

Rationing started in January 1940 with bacon, ham, sugar and butter being the first foods. These were followed by meat in March 1940 and tea, margarine and cheese in July of the same year. March 1941 saw jam rationed also, this was followed in July 1942 with the rationing of sweets. We were only allowed 1lb per month. There was a shortage of eggs but my father had a friend who lived in Birkdale and who kept hens. I would go on the bus to collect a dozen on what they called ‘the black market’. Everyone learned to ‘make do and mend’. A family who lived near to us would run out of sugar and butter and sometimes we would ‘lend’ them some. Oranges and bananas were never in the shops.

When the bombing started the sirens would sound and we would rush into what we then called the ‘kitchen’, which was really a living room, the cooking being done in the ‘back kitchen’. There we had had erected a Morrison Shelter, named after the Home Secretary of the time. This was a solid table top with a cage all round and it provided shelter for all five of us. I used to do my homework in there. We also had an Anderson Shelter in the garden but no-one wanted to use it as it was down steps into a hole dug in the ground which was covered with a sheet of corrugated steel as a roof.

My sister, Joan, had a 21st birthday in May 1940 and we had a party for her around the Morrison Shelter table in the kitchen. My own school was not evacuated but many schools were and so there was a shortage of teaching jobs. Eventually, after working in the censorship offices in Aintree for six months, Joan was appointed as a teacher in Star of the Sea school and was evacuated, with them to Radnor, in Wales.

In May 1941 the bombing was severe and our house, in Seaforth, was about half a mile from Gladstone Dock. I remember an ammunition ship in Huskisson Branch Dock no.2, less than a mile away, being blown up. There was a skylight in our roof and in the early morning, after the worst raids, I would go up to see a line of fires burning in the distance.

One night a bomb landed in the garden knocking down one wall of the house, part of the roof and breaking all the windows. We decided to move out.

For the next two months we travelled, by train, to Appley Bridge near Wigan to sleep, returning each morning, I would go to school and your grandfather to his job as manager of a large warehouse at the docks. My two eldest sisters went to work. The country people, with whom we lodged, were very kind and helpful but it was a long distance to travel and eventually my parents rented a house in Esplen Avenue, Crosby, which was about four miles further out of Liverpool than Seaforth.

Funnily, the war did not seem to make people miserable; they were all in it together. My worst and strongest memory of that time is of being dragged out of bed, after I had just gone to sleep, to go downstairs and huddle under the shelter. The bombing raids were terrifying but I still hated losing my sleep, especially as this happened nightly for eight consecutive nights during the blitz of May 1941. Our family was particularly vulnerable as we had a barrage balloon in the field adjoining us manned by a group of Royal Air Force men. Naturally the Germans targeted them as they knew they were there to protect the docks.

In 1942, when I was eighteen I went to work for the Inland Revenue, in Eshe Road, Crosby, just for the two months before I went to University. I also did some pea picking in Thornton. This gave me backache.

In September 1942 I went to Liverpool University. Although at University, all the men were still conscripted and had to leave after the first year and if a woman did not pass her first year exams, she too had to leave and get a war service job. There were a number of Czech refugees at the university.

In the summer of 1944 I went to work in Carlisle for two months. I was sent there by the West Lancashire Mental Welfare Association and while there I did some voluntary work in the NAAFI canteen. A year later, on VE-Day I was in Prescot, having stayed the night with my friend, Linda. Everyone was tightly packed into the square in front of Prescot Town Hall – – – hundreds of people, cheering, singing and waving flags. It was very exciting.

Grandpa came back from Burma in 1946 and he and I were married in 1949.

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