Iris Stirland’s Memories of 1940-1945
In 1986 the Tollerton Village Newsletter featured an article written by Iris Stirland about the family’s experiences between 1940 and 1945. Originally this was published in shorter pieces over several issues. Iris’s husband was Len Stirland and the couple had two sons – John and Leonard.
‘Tollerton as l remember it during the War’
We came from Birmingham in April 1940, with John aged 3, Leonard 3 weeks old and my mother, thinking the War would be over by Christmas! We were fortunate to be able to rent a house on Bentinck Avenue – there were fields everywhere around us. No Burnside Grove then, just a track to Russell Farm occupied by Mr and Mrs W Brooker. There were three shops, no school, no Post Office, no Air Hostess pub, only two public phone boxes (one by the Church and one near Melton Road, on Tollerton Lane). The shop now the Post Office sold wool and a few oddments, for a short time later on they did fish and chips. Where the Charde restaurant was located there were two shops – a butcher and a general store, run by Mr and Mrs F Anderson, parents of Mrs Mavis Greally. They were very friendly and helpful at all times.
We had to walk to Plumtree for the Post Office for our allowances and the pub! The doctor was in West Bridgford; buses were few and far between and a permit was needed for the peak times. The fare in 1940 was 7 old pence for a return between Tollerton and Nottingham.
Imagine how we felt the day we moved – April 1st, it was lovely weather and we had the windows open. John (one of the sons) was playing with his pedal car when we heard a young boy’s voice saying “Let’s give you a shove up there!” It turned out to be the grandson of a neighbour, out from Nottingham. Tollerton was an official evacuation area. As my mother lived with us in a three bedroom house we were exempt but throughout the war years we had a houseful of friends and relatives from London – my Grandpa of 82 from London, RAF friends who came on leave with Len, my husband, whenever possible (and their wives and children). We had camp beds everywhere! Food rationing meant a lot of thought going in to producing wholesome but attractive meals. The neighbours rallied round and would swap butter for tea, meat coupons for soap and clothing coupons too. My mother made siren suits (known as jump suits today) out of adult overcoats with a nice warm hood and was kept busy by all in the neighbourhood.
There was a terrific ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The ladies became really expert at growing potatoes, greens, tomatoes and fruit wherever possible. We did not have fridges – just a cold slab in the pantry – no freezers or automatic washing machines then. If you were lucky you had a gas fired copper. One day the bottom fell out of ours when l was pounding clothes in it. What a mess! A hot water flood to mop up! There were no drip dry or nylon clothes and we had to iron everything. Clothes were soaked overnight in Compo. We had to use soap powder or suds for washing greasy dishes, no Fairy Liquid.
We were grateful for any fresh eggs we might get and used the ‘issued’ dried eggs (cardboard eggs) to scramble or for cooking; they were quite good really.
The biggest bugbear was the blackout, no light to be showing through windows, light out before opening a door outside. Car and cycle lights had to be hooded at the top, no street lights (there were none in Tollerton at that time anyway). When Winston Churchill made his famous speech … “The enemy may land on disused airfields …. We’ll fight them on the beaches and on our streets” we all felt rather scared with our menfolk away at war. I said l would keep some pepper and a rolling pin handy.
A little later l was washing supper pots at the kitchen sink when there were heavy footsteps down the passage. I went very hot and when there was a bang on the kitchen window – l went even hotter. Then there was a man’s voice “There’s a light showing through your dining room window”, It was our local Air Raid Warden, what a relief! But where was my rolling pin and pepper pot?!
Len, my husband, reinforced underneath the stairs, as so many people did, as a shelter. During the blitz on Nottingham (May 1940) our neighbour who was nearly blind and her little boy were brought around to us. We got the children under the stairs and l sat in the doorway reading ‘Rupert Bear’ to them. A land mine was dropped outside the Aerodrome. As it whined its way down l read louder and louder saying a prayer as l read. There was a thud but no explosion; the experts dealt with it the next day. So many incendiary bombs were dropped we could see all the hedges on fire from Tollerton to Edwalton, and it looked as if the whole of Nottingham was on fire. Boots Chemical Works and the Co-op Bakery at the side of the River Trent had been hit with many casualties. There was not much sleep that night, but we drank endless cups of tea as the neighbours all got together.
The children went to school in West Bridgford and wherever they went, even at playtime, they had to carry their gas masks – little boxes over their shoulders. John was one of the first to start from around here. The first year there were no school dinners and he went to a Civic Centre in the Friary Hall where dinner cost 5 old pence a day. They had to cross main roads unsupervised and keep their money safe too. One day John was lost. I went by bus in to Bridgford but could not find him. When l rang a neighbour he had just arrived home having spent his bus fare on a haircut. He walked home over Edwalton fields and was very tired (he was only 6 years old then!).
Christmas time was a challenge, no money for the expensive toys in the shops. We made Red Indian outfits out of sugar sacks and died feathers from our neighbour’s hens. When home on leave the men made forts, farms, aerodromes and garages. Len made a splendid football game which lasted for years. We nearly always had wet paint on Christmas Eve.
The year of the bad flood in West Bridgford (1945) – Leonard had just started school A kind neighbour took the boys in by car, left Len at Musters Road Infants, before taking John and her girls to South County School on Exchange Road, West Bridgford. Their school was dry but Len’s had water in the boiler house so they were sent home unsupervised. Len, very small, went his usual route to the bus and his wellingtons filled with water on Rectory Road; he could not move. A laundry van came by and the driver held Len on the step of the van to Musters Road. It was a Monday washday. When we got home we took Len in to the sitting room to take his boots off and they still had water in them …. Another carpet to mop up! On asking Len who stopped the bus for him, the reply was “The driver of course!”
Another scary time we had was when several planes (British) came over, mistook their targets and dropped parachutes with baskets on. One landed on the roof of a house opposite and rolled down in to the garden. One parachute did not open and a lady seeing this fainted! There was then great excitement as the Army lorries came around collecting the chutes and baskets.
We had to be very economical, there were no dustbins. We had to burn as much as we could in daylight and flatten all tins (after washing them); they were then collected periodically along with any other metal available. After the war we had dustbins which were emptied about once a month!
I am sure you will agree Iris painted a very vivid picture of life in Tollerton during this period of time. Residents were clearly very resourceful and there was a strong community spirit.