Oral History

Albert Lucas

Mr & Mrs Albert Lucas talk about life during the War, for those on the Home Front

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr Albert Lucas (H) & Mrs Lucas (W)

Date of Interview: 23rd August 1984

DW. What sort of effect did the war have on you?

W. Well it really, really made us strive that did. I made me strive; it is surprising in times of stress how people strive. They strive and the best come out of them. I think it did in the Great War, in this last war I mean, I was born in the middle of the Great War. Albert had to join up how many years did you spend in the army Albert, what year did you join? Because you had a little time at home didn't yea.

H. I've got to think now, how long did it last.

W. Six years.

DW. I thought a lot of the shoe trade was exempt, because they were making shoes for soldiers.

H. Have I got to speak this now? Well it was Mr. Jobson let me go. It did not matter as it happened because I got thorough but I needn't a done need I. You see it altered the whole course of your life you see, I was very fortunate I were.

W. He let him get all the factory round him right, you see, and that, and then he let him go, but really he would rather it had been that way really. It's as if, as soon as, you know, that something had got to be done you rose to it, and we all, everybody, neighbours and all the lot, we all helped each other. We were under terrific stress, waiting for the postman to come and you didn't know where they were. We'd got quite a few relatives who you see were in, and you sat up to midnight writing letters to these people, and make sure the letters were written. Double summer time was introduced, so it kept light in the lovely summer times until um, let's see, about eleven o'clock at night. Me and my neighbour would be talking over the fence and I should be hanging washing out late at night. I had, in 1943, I had a little boy, for the last two years we were, I was here till 1945 with three children. You couldn't get out anywhere, you had to stay here, but there was so many like you, you see, you didn't worry about it.

DW. What sort of effect did the war have on the family?

W. It really brought us all together didn't it.

H. Oh definitely, yes, oh are.

W) Some people went astray, as you might know, who hadn't got a family to keep them together. You see you'd got these young women going off with the solders. It coursed a lot of worry and that for their parents. We were at an age when it really made me, um, come into me own I think. I hat to dig the garden, set the peas, and um, take the children for a walk, do the washing. The neighbour would bring an old coat in and say "Can you make a coat out of this for Elizabeth" and I used to say "Oh thanks ever so much" and it would be grand to see that coat hanging up on the picture rail you know when I'd finished it. Then I had to be sitting and knitting and making sure I'd got, um, unpicking wool. Its surprising, when you’ve done this sort of thing you never get out of it you know, you can't waste a thing. After all these years I can't waste a bit of wool or anything, its all got to be used. Or I either unpicked and winded and knitted and given away to somebody to knit, or made into rugs or something, and some used to make peg rugs didn't we?.

H. Yes oh are, yes.

W. Albert was in London and the guns.

H. I were going to tell you about that.

W. He used to come home and bring all his sweet ration, all in his battle blouse, and hand it to the children. When he got home he used to start and mend the shoes, because he'd got a shoe mending kit in the shed. He'd mend the shoes and put segs in so they lasted until he was able to come again. The neighbours used to bring shoes, because you couldn't buy a pair of Wellingtons or anything, we'd stick a patch on holes, and you were on from the time you came to when you went back. His ration of fags and other stuff, beer or whatever it was, he used to exchange that with the men for sweets and he brought them home.

H. Course I did not smoke or drink.

W. No, It was amazing really, I'll always remember me father was at the Co-op, and I used to send me grocery order in and err it would be 2 lbs of sugar, ¼ lb of tea, um say about a lb of butter, if you could get it. Nearly all you stuff was crossed off. You daren't put a tin of salmon or a tin of fruit down because it was just out. Me dad would say "I've had some cornflour in today would you like me to send you some on your order" you see and I'd say "Yes, yes thank you ever so much." Well there was not packets of cornflour it had to be weighted and you had it in a plain white paper bag, and even them were scarce. Well, I always remember this cornflour, as I thought, came and I made, a bit of rhubarb that was precious ever so precious, I remember Albert's sister to make their rations spin out, she went to work didn't she at Ward's, she was foremisses, and she hadn't got time to sort it out how much each one of hers were having. They had a jam jar at the side of their place setting with their sugar for the week in. That was the way they got through. Anyway this particular time I remember, life was a rush for me, you can imagine with three children to clothe and keep clean, dig the garden and take um for walks. This packet came in the groceries and I though oh cornflour what a blessing. So I stewed some rhubarb and I put the sugar in that a bit of sugar in that. Then I made this blessed corn flower up with me milk that was rationed as well, milk was rationed. You could only have so much of that. I put a pint of milk into that, and we had dried milk, and we had dried eggs. They were blessing dried eggs. Well, made this blancmange up, I remember Robert starting on his sweet first.

H. I know what you are going to say.

W. He says this is a funny taste mam, so I says what's the matter with it, he says it tastes funny, so I said there are have a bit more rhubarb on it [ both laugh ] I'll always remember, slapping this extra bit of rhubarb on it, I thought it was because there was not enough sugar in it you see perhaps, well anyway, I went and had a look at this packet, cause the others started theirs then, and it was powered starch [ laughing ] they all come in the same packet you see. They were all wrapped in these white bags; naturally looking at it I thought it was cornflower you see. I will always remember one of me neighbors, she put, we had some flake um, what is it then, there was flaked rice about, which was like soap flakes. You had soap flakes, and she made a flake trifle with soap flakes cause they were all in the same bag, and it was all boiling over her oven before she realized, and she'd used her precious milk and sugar. That was the tragedy cause you could not replace it. We used to go up street, and the children used to walk by the shops with these pretty little dresses in you know, and I remember our Elizabeth, she was a smart little kid, and she was just talking, she walked by and said "That’s a pretty dress" I said "Yes it is" "On coupons mum" she says I says "Yes" no question of having it, you see you have to count your coupons. I remember she presented a bouquet Lady Martin at one of our, err, Garden Parties at the Church, and err, I had to use ever so lot of precious coupons for the dress for her to be in, it was a little organdie dress so that she lived up to the occasion in this dress you know. It was really hard, and we had these coupon books you see. Well I shouldn't like this to go down on the record, but our poor Chris, the neighbors children called him "Coms", because Mrs. Lord next door found some warm "Coms" up in her umm. She had a shop in Hinckley on the corner of Ruby Road and anything that was warm was welcome, and she bought this "Coms", and she said "Do you think he would wear them" and I said "Yes nobody well know," and I put these "Coms" on him instead of vests, and Tony Fray who lived up here, he was bigger found out. Chris I think he was bragging, he was about three I think when I put him in 'um and he was bragging that he was wearing "Coms", they called him "Coms" after that. It was awful. [Laughter] Then you see me Mother used to come up and bring a pair of me dad's trousers, and said "Do you think these will do to make a pair of trousers" and so I said to him one night, making you a pair of trousers out of grand-dad's breeches, so of course he goes up and tells this Tony Fray I've got my grand-dad's breeches on [Laughter] and they called him grand-dad's breeches after that. He was a right un he was [Laughter] oh dear. But is surprising how closely it brings you together any think like that, I don't know. There were not buses you see, there were not buses, and hardly any cars cause there were not petrol.

DW. Were there any soup kitchens during the war?

W. No, wait a minute, there were during the, yes, there were, weren't there.

H. I was away you see I don't know.

W. No, I don't think there was during the last war, but during the Great War, the Rectory people had a soup kitchen because they have a big copper in that first room, ain't they, were they used to deal the soup out to the poor. That went on for a long time didn't it, not just during the war the Great War I mean. Going back to them years, my own mother died when I was two, weren't quite two and she had a six-week-old baby when she died, that’s me brother. Well this is in the great war, well she got a appendicitis and err, they took her in, she walked down stairs cause there weren't the facilities cause everybody was pushed with solders you see injured solders she walked down the stairs and of course it was peritonitis. When she got into the infirmary was full of solders, they couldn't attend to her straight away, and of cus she died. So you see that change all of our lives you see and, um I mean at the Great War it must have been terrible. We found some letters out of my Uncle Tom’s, and err, it really did show the history of that, you know, Barwell people in the Great War never knowing who was going to go next. I know in Barwell there was one or wife who lost her husband and her son on the same day killed on the same day which was terrible.

DW. What happened when the soldiers came back?

W. When the soldiers started comeback, after this last war, some of them were nothing but skin and bone, after the Second World War, and Albert's a brother in law, Arthur Dixon. I remember, you can see his cheekbones sticking out. When he'd been in a Jap camp, Japanese camps, and he's a great big chap now and he soon put it on. I remember you couldn't get into the church, people coming to thank the Lord for like, for bringing the loved ones back and that, it was absolutely packed. They’re the times when you remember your Church, and that, you know, in times of trouble. I remember the Rector used to have a service, communion service, and err, all the more reason to turn up to prey for their sons are coming back, you know. I remembers the postwoman, used to come, it was a postman then and our lad, and he used to wait, go down there. It was a routine then, one of them would be at school the other one not quite at school, and he would go down there, waiting patiently for the postman to come and err, if he walked by him the postman hadn't got the heart to say, I haven't got one for you today from your dad. You know, if he walked by him he would just throw yourself on the ground flat on the ground, and kick and scream because there weren't a letter. I have spent hours and hours writing letters, hours. I've got a cousin, who on D-Day, he was in Ireland training for that; I'd got my brother he was in Italy. I remember when he joined up, he went to Lichfield Barracks, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield. I went to see him, cus he was one of the first to go, the because he was younger and err, I went to see him but couldn't bear it the because in the yard of the barracks were all these are straw dummies, or being shoved that with bayonets, and I thought can't bear it. Be course I can just remember a talk about the Great War, you see. Born in 1916, and I knew what a tragedy that was because it was talked about when I was young, can't bear it. I remember coming back and buy a little an enamel saucepan and two packets of Oxo. This was because he said he was hungry didn't get much to eat and err, and I send him this saucepan and two packets of Oxo in a parcel so he could make himself a cup of Oxo that was one of the things I did. Course he wrote to any body that was away didn't you?

H. Well I was away. (laughter) I was away in Calcutta there was only one thing saved, I'll tell you, that was that bomb they dropped in 1947, well 1946. [Aug 1945]

DW. The bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

H. Yes, we were there, the boat were there, all we got to do was walk to get on it. We went to Burma to fight the Japs. It collapsed by this bomb so we were lucky. It was quite a experience mind you, it's a rum place Calcutta.

W. But look-in out here, you could see, over there, when Birmingham was being bombed, the sky was red, and straight over there was Coventry, and the sky was red there. The bombers used to fly in here, and out again and we used to rush, and get under the table. Until we had the air raid shelter then we would getting there. We'd got an aunt and uncle, he was a churchwarden down at Chilvers Coton. They used to have to go into the dug-out in the garden because they were near Coventry, and err, one night they were down in this dug out, as I say, in the shelter and the church was bombed. Terrible thing that was, because it was a lovely church, the tower is still standing. Germans were taken a prisoner and the Germans were so were so sorry because they did not want to fight either. They made and they made bags and baskets out of anything they could for the people who are kind to them and looked after them down at Nuneaton, and err when the Church started to be rebuilt they carved the Lectern down there, and different carvings all round the church. They made a beautiful figure for the churchyard, and um, I don't know whether people remember it now, but err the last time I went down it was all overgrown and that, when we went down for Jeffs funeral to remember.

H. Yes.

W. It was awful you know, our neighbour were bombed out at Coventry and they'd just started to walk incendiaries set their bed, set the bed on fire. They just start to walk and walk they put up with quite a lot. This house was for let next door, err, the chap was in Germany, stations in Germany. She didn't want to stay here by a self. She let the house, and came to live here, because the firm had moved from Coventry, to the end of Oxford Street, and um, She was a bag of nerves, she couldn't hold a limb still. She tried to take her life, the effects of it you know.

W. As soon as you know that something had got to be done you rose to it, and we all, everybody neighbour and all the lot, we all helped each other. We were under terrific stress, waiting for the postman to come and you didn't know where they were. We'd got quite a few relatives who you see were in and you sat up to midnight writing letters to these people and make sure the letters were written. Double summer time was intruded so it kept light in the lovely summer times until um, lets see, about eleven o'clock at night me and my neighbour would be talking over the fence and I should be hanging washing out late at night. I had in 1943 I had a little boy, for the last two years we were I was here till 1945 with three children. You couldn't get out anywhere, you just had to stay here, but there as so many like you, you see, you didn't worry about it.

Part One of this Transcript is: Jobs and married life in Barwell

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.