Hinckley Historian Magazine

Hinckley Historian Magazine No.32 - The wartime experiences of Horace Warren 1939-1945

Klynton Davis building
Klynton Davis building

The early life of Horace Warren was featured in No.30 of the Historian and concluded with his memories of the late 1930s. During the course of this summer of 1993 in further conversations Horace gave details of the life he remembered in Hinckley during the Second World War. During this time Horace lived in number 9 Spencer Street where he still lives today, now aged 85.

Horace began his account by recalling the days of 'Munich’ in the summer of 1938 when as a relatively young man he was not 'greatly impressed by Chamberlain despite his promise to bring 'Peace in our time'. With the outbreak of war, Horace, like many younger men in Hinckley, was required to register for military service. He attended a medical in Hinckley where, 'after much red tape’, he was found unfit for active service. Anxious to 'do his bit’; Horace decided to leave his job as a hosiery knitter and enter a government engineering training scheme. This took place at the Hinckley Technical College building, in those days the new college. The course in the autumn and winter of 1939 lasted three months after which Horace took up a post in the old Klynton Davis building at the end of New Buildings and now occupied by B&Q. Here a room used for printing had been equipped with various pieces of machinery which were used for processing government contract components. Horace worked on a centre lathe, working on items sent from firms such as Stewarts and Lloyds, and Perkins. Many of the plans and blueprints from which work had to be completed were ironically in German. Measurements had to be altered from metric measurements to yards, feet and inches, and more particularly thousandths of an inch, measured by micrometer.

Horace worked a twelve hour shift each day and during the night, Horace remembered, young ladies worked a twelve hour shift, usually involving work on small arms, mainly rifle bolts. Proprieties were strictly observed and as Horace mournfully mused, it was a case of 'never the twain should meet’ except on Fridays when he and the young ladies were paid. In the spring of 1941 lend-lease brought four new U.S. manufactured machines and improved the speed of work considerably with new drills and a new centre lathe. 'Pay was good at about £5 per week for a minimum of sixty-five hours.

In 1940, shortly after beginning this new work, Horace was asked if he would like to join the Local Defence Volunteers, soon to be renamed the Home Guard. He agreed but they were short of equipment and Horace found that training sessions clashed with his job. Instead he opted for A.R.P. work which could be undertaken in connection with the work at Klynton Davis, where training was also given. Horace received training in fire watching and firefighting, especially dealing with incendiary bombs. Groups of three would work a nightly shift once each week at the factory. Equipment consisted of a stirrup pump and a warning rocket to be used if the building caught fire. The old factory, in use for many years, had floors soaked in oil and Horace remembers the firewatchers agreeing that if the building had been set alight, we should have had out, since the stirrup pump would in no way have contained the flames. During fire watching the three men took two hour shifts, patrolling the labyrinth of passages in the old factory building. Patrolling police would often call in during the night and stop off for a chat which might last for half an hour. In those days crime was a minor feature of life in the town.

Special training was also given at the factory concerning gas attacks and Horace remembered having to crawl through a room when a simulated gas attack took place, and the masks were tested. One employee at Klynton Davis made a particular impression on Horace and his colleagues. 'She was Belgian girl, a refugee, a nice dish. Her presence was quite a thing’.

Horace had sad memories, like many Hinckley people, of the raid in May 1941 when Merevale Avenue was hit, featured in the last Historian. On that night Albert Steele, a particular friend to Horace, was killed in the bombing. In Spencer Street, Horace had no particular memories of a shelter and during raids took cover under the stairs. A neighbour with two children who lived nearby had a Morrison Shelter but Horace did not make use of it. Shortages during the war years which Horace particularly remembered were of items such as electric batteries. As a keen cyclist Horace continued to use an acetylene light during the war, carefully shielded according to blackout regulations with black painted cardboard. There was little opportunity to take the long cycling holidays of the 1930s. Horace remembered one ride with fellow Cycling Touring Club members in the spring of 1940. The roads were clear of traffic as the group cycled up to the Peak District. On reaching Thorpe Cloud they were told that Hitler had invaded Holland and they decided to return to Hinckley forthwith. This, according to Horace, was his last holiday of the war away from Hinckley.

Most evenings, when not involved in fire watching, Horace said he was glad to get home, eat a meal (rations permitting) and go to bed. Special parades, Spitfire Weeks etc. provided some special interest but entertainment was largely provided by the wireless. Horace remembered one visit of a young Vera Lynn to Hinckley in the late 1930s but her presence aroused little interest for she was yet to become ‘the Forces Sweetheart’. Generally, despite shortage, food in the war years was adequate, and when special unrationed stocks such as plums appeared in a shop, the ‘bush telegraph’ quickly spread the message through the town.

In the war, Horace recalls the people of Hinckley 'pulled together’ in the common good. On V.E.day Horace remembered playing tennis as a celebration at the Simpkin Sons and Emery sports field off Coventry Road. By the end of the summer, the war was over and Horace and his fellow Hinckleyans turned to winning the peace.

The Editor

Author: Hugh Beavin

Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine