As part of our Warwick War Memorial Project to find the stories behind the names of all those commemorated on the Church Street memorial, we appealed for recollections from local people who are old enough to remember what it was like living in Warwick during the war.
We immediately received this vivid account of schooldays in Warwick between 1939 and 1945 from Peter Stocker now living in Priory Road.
Peter was 5 when the war broke out. He came to Warwick after his family was bombed out of Coventry on 14th November 1940, the night of the Coventry Blitz. He ended up living with his grandparents at 7 Cape Road. Peter didn’t see much of his parents who were on war duty in Coventry and admits to being a little undisciplined. This is his fascinating and sometimes amusing account of his experiences as a schoolboy in Warwick during the war.
The Town Preparing for Air Raids
“I was sent to The Kings High School Kindergarten, the headmistress being Miss Smalley. The actual school buildings were part of the old St. Marys Hall and the lower part of the building was being used by the army and they used to parade in the Butts, which was great as us lads used to parade with them, because we all thought we going to be soldiers. The Military Police were housed in the house just up from there. After the war Dr. Tibbetts lived there and had his surgery there.
On the other side of the Butts, where the car park is now, a massive static water tank was built for use by the fire brigade if the town supply was put out of action. This was great, as us kids used to go swimming in it, until the firemen caught us and threatened us not to do it again, which of course we had to, just to prove a point. Just down the Butts is where the Tinker Tank is. That was made into a makeshift air raid shelter and you can still see some of the old brickwork there today.
Also there was a fire station in the driveway that runs parallel with the Tinker Tank and there was another fire station down Castle Street. We did get air raid warnings, while I was at Kings High Kindergarten, and we all had to to go down into the air aid shelter, which was in the playground. We used to have to sing 10 green bottles hanging on the wall, which I thought – and still do – that it was a totally pointless song. Quite a number of the children would be frightened and very tearful. For my part I was quite used to being bombed and it didn’t worry me.
Bombs on the Racecourse
I don’t remember any bombs actually falling on the town, but at least 4 were jettisoned on the race course close to, I believe, Linen Street and a number of men were killed, buried by the debris. I think that they were either going to work or coming from work from the Warwick Aviation, which was based at the old Hill House, the company being owned and run by the Metcalfe family. Apparently the services of a water diviner were used to find the bodies of the men that had been buried. My aunt worked at the Aviation at the time as Catering Manageress and she was most upset as she knew the blokes concerned”. [Two men were killed by the bombs on the racecourse – Harry Marston and James Hiatt. Ed.]
Peter left the King’s High Kindergarten and went to Warwick Prep School, but had to leave ‘for being disruptive and a pain in the butt’.
The Telegraph Boys
“I then went to Westgate school, where I learned more in 12 months than I had learned in the previous 5 years and subsequently won a scholarship back into Warwick School. It was at this time at Westgate school that I joined the railway engine number collecting fraternity, who gathered on the Cape Road railway bridge, in quite large numbers, drawn from Albert Street, the Saltisford and of course the Cape. In those days before E- mails and the like, messages were transmitted by telegraph/ telegram and delivered to homes by telegraph boys on good old GPO sit up and beg bikes. Now if you saw one of these lads in the vicinity, everyone knew that bad news was heading somewhere and all too frequently one or two lads on the bridge would be called home to be told that their father was missing, presumed killed. Terribly, terribly sad.
A Close Encounter with Jerry
One Saturday lunchtime a couple of friends and myself were cycling back from Leamington on the Myton Road and we were nearly at the island by Bridge End, when we saw this aeroplane going round the back of the castle. Strange we thought, what is it? We soon found out, when it reappeared over the top of the spinney by the road. We could see the crosses on the wings and the swastika. We did not hang about and dived into the ditch, which is no longer there. The German plane headed off down the Myton Road on its way to bomb the Lockheed. As he went passed he was so low we could see the rear gunner and he had the cheek to wave at us. To which he got two fingers and a ball-bearing fired by one of the lads from his catapult. Shortly after that we heard the Lockheed gunners opening up. I believe that they hit him and he came down somewhere in Oxfordshire.
Obviously food was in short supply and sometimes my mother and myself would go to The British Restaurant which was somewhere up Jury Street. We were there one day and someone asked if there was any tomato sauce available. It would gave been all the same if he had wanted the Crown Jewels. The answer from the waitress was a tart “NO!”. But some other guy said he had a bottle somewhere and he agreed to fetch it. Upon his return, he duly opened it and the sauce fountained out of the bottle like Mount Etna on a bad day, hit the ceiling, and then made its return. Needless to say everybody got a helping, but not where they wanted it.
The war went rolling on and by the start of 1944, things were getting tight. I never remember being hungry , but I certainly remembered being cold. My grandmother used to send me up to Vic Dillow the coal man, who lived in a big old house at the top of the West Rock just opposite the Globe, to ask if we could have some coal please. Mrs. Dillow always answered the door and I would tell her what we would like. And the next bit was like a pantomime. She would stand there shouting “Vic!” at the top of her voice and eventually she would get an answer, which consisted of “blankety-blank hell do you want?”
We always got some coal, but I also went to Warwick Gasworks to get coke to eke things out a bit. At the time there were a lot of Italian POWs working at the gasworks and one of their jobs was to load coal into small trucks that went from the mainline down to the actual gasworks. The trucks went down this railway propelled by gravity. They were then unloaded and pushed back up empty to start all over again. We often had rides on the trucks until the foreman found out.
The Americans Arrive for D-Day
By this time D-Day was getting close and of course Warwick goods yard, at the bottom of Cape Road by the bridge, was getting extremely busy. One day us kids were totally amazed to see parked all the way down Cape Road a great big line of American 6-wheeler trucks, driven by black men. This was incredible as we had never seen a black person before and we could not take our eyes off them! Our curiosity brought its own rewards though, because these lads gave us copious quantities of chocolate, sweets and chewing gum by the sack full. It worked out both ways because a lot of the housewives along the road made them pots of tea. With the sweets that had been given out, the local kids kept what they wanted and the rest was flogged off at school the next day. The night before D day, I remember standing on the doorstep with the rest of the family watching aircraft going overhead, some towing gliders. The evening sky was filled from one horizon to another. We all knew what was about to happen. Time went rolling on and after a little while the ambulance trains began coming into Warwick. The trains consisted of green Southern railway coaches and the trains were so slowly and gently put into position and the wounded were then very gently taken off and taken to Warwick hospital, to what were specially brick built huts that are still there today, but modified beyond all recognition. I suppose you could say that it was all over bar the shouting.
Next came VE-Day, and as I was the only kid living in that part of Cape Road and would look rather stupid sitting at a table by myself in the middle of Cape Road, I somehow muscled-in on the Albert Street party.
Well that is just about it. I do remember seeing one of the first Gloucester Meteors flying over and nobody would believe me that I had seen an aeroplane without propellers”.
Peter Stocker. May 2020
You can see more about Warwick in WW2 on our special website: www.warwickwarmemorial.org.uk