Growing up in Hellifield: wartime and beyond

Brian Shorrock
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

During the war a Home Guard was formed at Hellifield from local men, my father included. If the Germans had invaded, the Home Guard would have only been able to resist for a short time. An example of Home Guard prowess was given to what they thought was an admiring audience in a field near the church. An old car was towed into a hollow where this fictitious German tank would be bombed/blown up with a spectacular explosion, but in spite of sticky bombs, grenades and a weapon called a black bombard peppering the vehicle, no explosion or even flames appeared, so some genius in charge told a subordinate to creep round the back of the car and pour petrol on it. Unfortunately some of the spectators spotted him and great hoots of laughter and derision poured into the ears of the embarassed military. Even after all this, the car refused to ignite or explode.

On another occasion while standing at the Hellifield Cenotaph for a Remembrance Day ceremony with a small number of other people, we were amazed to see a German plane pass quite low over the church and fly on, with neither a shot fired or a bomb dropped. No-one moved - we all just stood there with our mouths open. Not long afterwards a Halifax/Lancaster bomber made a forced landing, belly flopping across a field near the gateway to Arnford Farm and came to a stop just short of a stone wall. Our school class walked over to view the scene, led by the redoubtable Miss Sally Evans, most of the pupils hoping to get their hands on some bullet-proof aeroplane glass. Sadly we were not allowed near the plane, so no chance of any trophies. Whether the plane’s occupants survived I do not know; the plane looked fairly intact so they probably did. Another time we visited Long Preston to see bomb craters in a narrow lane. We crossed the Leeds/Lancaster/Carlisle railway not far from the station. Otherwise the war left us virtually unscathed.

Father was a willing if incapable odd-job man, aided and abetted by yours truly, with mother either in or near tears or delirious with laughter at some of our exploits. We pulled down the greenhouse as it had got somewhat dilapidated, hoping to save the glass for use as cloches in the garden. Alas, not one pane survived our skilled hands. We decided one day to panel the bathroom door. We took all handles off and put a large piece of hardboard over the door and hammered hundreds of nails in to secure it. Of course we had also covered the hole where the door handle went through. Furthermore, we had shut the door, so it all had to be taken off and a fresh piece of hardboard put on, this time with the door open.

Father decided to build a nest box for blue tits. I had nothing to do with this thankfully and I was somewhat taken aback when I saw it. It was a huge structure, more fitting for a tawny owl than a blue tit, about 4 feet square with 3 inches thick timber and a hole you could get your hand in. We reduced the size of the hole down to blue tit size and placed the box in a tree in the garden. Astonishingly it was used by a pair of blue tits but they spent so much time trying to fill the bottom of this huge box with nesting material they had no time to breed.

We had a grand piano at one time; mother could play a little, but it took up a lot of room in a family of four. We got rid of it by taking it into the garden after a struggle. It was very heavy to move but we smashed it up with a sledgehammer and I can honestly say we excelled at this since we were in our element when we were causing damage. So sadly the piano ended up mainly as fuel for the fire.

We had no fancy soft-tissue paper in those days for the toilet, just the railway timetable torn in half and placed on a piece of string. In winter, bedrooms became very cold; no double glazing, central heating or other modern-day luxuries. Hot water bottles were used - large earthenware cylindrical heavy objects which did not retain heat that long. Occasionally a brick would be heated up in the oven then placed in the bed where it would inflict foot injuries galore - either burns or stubbed and lacerated toes, but we survived.

Two small patches of wooded land known as the shrubs at the entrance to Thornview Road were great play sites for both girls and boys. The woodland consisted of rhododendrons, cedars and other dense evergreens. Amazingly 50 years later the same bushes still exist, admittedly rather battered. It is doubtful if children nowadays play here - watching TV or playing computer games no doubt is the main preoccupation. I used to go with my girlfriend to my aunt Ethel’s at Bacon Terrace down Gisburn Road to watch my first television, needless to say in black and white, with a large magnifying glass filled with some kind of liquid fixed in front of the TV to enhance the size and clarity of the screen. We watched such delights as Z-cars, Dixon of Dock Green, What’s my line, Coronation Street and other programmes, very amateurish in those days with poor reception, frequent loss of vision or sound, and in tense scenes, microphones suddenly appearing and people in no way connected to the drama visible in the background. All good clean fun though. Aunt Ethel never married. Her fiancÚ was killed in the first World War and she never to my knowledge associated with another man. Instead she spent many years nursing her brother Teddy and William Wightman, her mother’s brother who had had a leg amputated. All this in a very small but cosy cottage. When she was in her 80s Dr Brewster paid frequent visits to her which was unusual. I found out later she always gave him and herself a large glass of whisky - all medicinal of course.