Interview with Ron Harrison


Interview with Ron Harrison


As a child, Ron Harrison witnessed the bombing of Hull. He describes what it was like to be a child exploring the bombed out areas of the city with his young friends. His father was a fireman and while he was attending fires in the dock area their family home was hit. Fortunately Ron had been staying with his grandmother that night. Ron recalls his father salvaging a toy lorry which had been badly damaged and was found in the wreckage. He repaired it for Ron and it remained as a much loved family heirloom. He describes how the firemen would make toys for the children who had lost everything in the air raids. Ron recalls a gathering of local lads who were off to join their Navy ship and the party to wish them well. All were lost when the ship was later attacked. He recalls the rationing and the spirit of the local people around him towards the bombing. Ron also recalls the night when residents thought the war was over and all assembled in the town centre to celebrate. The lights came on but a lone Luftwaffe plane descended and attacked the crowd killing twelve. Ron also describes the day the war ended when the children were being driven around the town centre in the American jeeps.




Temporal Coverage





00:56:18 audio recording

Conforms To


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AHarrisonRL181101, PHarrisonRL1801


MS: So, I’m sitting with Ronald Harrison.
RH: Yeah.
MS: And you don’t mind me calling you Ron, do you?
RH: Yeah. Yeah. No.
MS: It’s alright to call you Ron?
RH: No. No. It’s fine.
MS: Good. And your date of birth is the 22nd of the 4th 1936.
RH: Yeah.
MS: And at the moment we’re at [deleted] Lincoln.
RH: Yeah.
MS: And the, the date is the 1st of November 2018.
RH: Yeah.
MS: The interviewer is me, Michael Sheehan. And the purpose of the interview as it’s for the International Bomber Command Centre. The Digital Archive. And the reason that I’m raising my voice so much is because you’ve asked me to.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Because your hearing aid is useless.
RH: Yeah. I’m deaf as a door nail.
MS: Deaf as a door nail, aren’t you?
RH: Yeah. Deaf as a door nail.
MS: That’ll do. And also present in the room is Mary Drabble, your friend from down the road who you feed every day [laughs]
MD: Yes [laughs]
MS: And who looks, who looks after you.
MD: Yes.
MS: Right. Ok then, Ron it’s at the moment it’s twenty seven minutes past ten and I’m about to start the interview. If at any stage during the interview you feel uncomfortable, you want a loo break or anything like that just say so and we’ll stop the interview. We’ll pause it. And also, Mary, one of your reasons for being here is to make sure that we don’t tire Ron or not look after him. Are you alright with that?
MD: Yes.
MS: Ok. Right. Ron you’ve given me a map here of Hull and on it you’ve annotated where the bombs dropped etcetera. Where did you live? What was the name of the Road?
RH: St Paul’s Street. In a little terrace.
MS: Where are we?
RH: Just a moment. Where are we?
MS: There’s St Paul’s Street.
RH: It’s that. Fountain Road. There’s that, that one look. That one there.
MS: Right. And there’s a mark on it.
RH: Line of bombs there look.
MS: That’s it. Now, you lived near a railway line, didn’t you?
RH: Yes. You’ve, yes, that’s the — yeah.
MS: And on here you’ve marked where the bombs fell and one of those bombs appears to have fallen right on the house.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Where you lived.
RH: Yeah.
MS: So, do you want to tell us about that? First of all, how old were you?
RH: It was a terrace which, with maybe seven houses on each side and in the middle was a shelter for the residents.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Right.
MS: Good. Yeah. An air raid shelter.
RH: Yes. Yes, it was. Yeah.
MS: Right.
RH: Because all the streets had them down them in them days, as well.
MS: Right. Describe the shelter to me then.
RH: Yeah.
MS: What was the shelter like?
RH: Pardon?
MS: What was the shelter like? What was it made of?
RH: [laughter] It’s no good showing you on there is it?
MS: No.
RH: But that’s it there. It depends on the size of the shelter but they’d bunk beds, look.
MS: Yeah.
RH: So, they’d get three in there look, you see. They was awful. The smell. Awful.
MS: Go on. Tell us.
RH: The smell was awful. The air was foul. You couldn’t open the door because the air raid wardens used to keep saying, ‘Keep them doors shut.’ You know, you couldn’t go out and see what was happening but oh it just, the smell and that and the damp, sweat. The longer you was in, I mean, you was maybe in all night. So that was it. Toilets. Everything was a big problem.
MS: Ok. Were there toilets in there?
RH: Pardon?
MS: Were there toilets in there?
RH: No.
MS: No.
RH: No. if I remember rightly, as I was saying to Mary they put a drum in the corner but you was asked only use it in emergencies.
MS: Right.
RH: But it depends how long you was in there, you see.
MS: You’ve got men and women in there at the same time.
RH: Yes. And children. Yeah.
MS: What, what arrangements did they make for privacy?
RH: What?
MS: Did they put blankets up to give privacy or anything like that?
RH: I’m not catching you.
MS: Ok. If somebody wanted to use the loo.
RH: Oh yeah.
MS: How did they give you some, some privacy?
RH: Well you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t ‘cause there wasn’t such a thing was there?
MS: Right.
RH: It was, it was, it was just survival when you was in there because the shelter would rock. You’d know and you’d think is that my house gone? Is it next door’s? Is it down the next street?
MS: Yeah.
RH: You just didn’t know. It was the size of the bomb. All them are different bombs look. The big ones, they’re real big. The big boys look.
MS: Yeah.
RH: So it, it was a worrying time. They’d sing their heads off, and knit and God knows what. You know.
MS: A bit like a party. Right. Now, how old were you when the war started? About three?
RH: I would be, yes.
MS: Right.
RH: Yeah. I would be. Yes. Yeah.
MS: Ok, so tell me about the night your house got bombed.
RH: Sorry. What?
MS: Tell me about the night when your house got bombed.
RH: I was staying, luckily with my grandmother which was my mother’s mother.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Again, in an area what got bombed ever so badly. I stayed with her that night because my dad was in the National Fire Service which meant he had to be on duty that night. So, he asked, asked granny if I could stop with her the night and fortunately for us it was the one night when the bomb hit the place. So, so it was luckily I was staying with my grandmother that night otherwise it would have been — well I wouldn’t have been here now interviewing, would I?
MS: No. No. When you stayed with your gran were you in a shelter or in her house?
RH: In the house but my grandmother was one that would never use the shelter. The older people were stubborn. My grandmother would always say, I’d said to Mary, in them days you could go to the corner shop and buy beer out of a barrel and she used to get a jug of ale. Even send me. She’d say, ‘Go across and get me a jug of ale.’ They knew who it was for. She’d put it aside of her and say, ‘Let Jerry come over tonight. I’m alright.’ She’d, and when she’d cleared the daughters and everybody, me, into their shelters but she would not. She’d say, ‘Open the doors. Open the windows. Let the blast through if it comes,’ and they’d sit there and that was it. That’s how they was. They just didn’t care and the people on her terrace would maybe be the same. They’d only, if they had children, they’d maybe take them in the shelters but a lot of them just wouldn’t move. They’d just say, ‘Jerry aint going to move me.’ So —
MS: Right. Now, when we had a little chat earlier you told me that somebody then told you the next day your house had been hit. Is that right?
RH: Somebody got?
MS: Did somebody tell your dad your house had been hit?
RH: Yes. One of his firemen mates when they got back to the station. He was on the docks.
MS: Yeah.
RH: So, he, you know and I could tell you about my dad on the docks but —
MS: Go on then.
RH: I don’t know whether it wants recording.
MS: Go on. It’s alright. You’d be surprised.
RH: No [laughs] When we, we moved from here we got another house up Beverley Road. Up, up this area. Stepney Lane, they called it.
MS: Yeah.
RH: And when he used to come home, he used to bring stuff home what they’d salvaged. So, if you remember them days there was tatty little old fire engines.
MS: Yeah.
RH: But he’d come back and he’d bring a box of chocolate. Drinking chocolate. Which, we didn’t know what it was.
MS: Yeah.
RH: And he would say to me, ‘Right Ronnie. Go around the Street. Tell them all to come down with a jug,’ and he’d sit at the front door and fill everybody’s thing.
MS: Oh nice.
RH: Or if it was a roll of curtain everybody in the terrace had the same curtains [laughs] you know. Anything like that. But this bit, I don’t know whether it should be recorded. He used to say well we’ve got, ‘When we go on the docks if the docks are getting hit we’d go on and if there’s a Yankee ship,’ he says, they used to amaze us because they’ve all got guns on which a lot of ours didn’t carry but the Yanks would have the guns on. So, he says, ‘We used to go in and help ourselves.’ And they said, ‘Well, where were the Yanks?’ We’d say and he said, ‘We knew where they was ‘cause as we passed the shelter, we could hear their teeth rattling.’ [laughs] And I said [laughs] I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘They all run to the shelter. So,’ he said, ‘We used to go on the ship and have a look around,’ and this is where these boxes of chocolate —
MS: Is this where you salvaged stuff?
RH: Yeah. Chewing gum. Yeah. No, they used to go in and roam around the ship and find the storeroom and they’d say, ‘Oh we’ll have that.’ And of course then my dad used to share it all out, you know. But, but I don’t know whether [laughs] —
MS: He’s not around, still is he?
RH: He used to say, no, he always knew where they was.
MS: Yeah.
MS: Now then, tell me what you saw when you got to your house.
RH: What? When I got up.
MS: When you got to the house it was bombed, yeah?
RH: Well, yeah. I mean, it was frightening. It was. It was frightening to see it, and I say I’m not sure, again me and Mary was talking about it. I’m not sure whether the shelter top had fell in. They used these chaps who I go to, one of them says to me, ‘That got it real bad.’ He said, ‘A friend of mine went to rescue on that day. They got it,’ he said and they couldn’t do a thing because the concrete. The wall for some reason had given. The concrete had come down on them but that’s only what I was told. And of course, that’s maybe where these young kiddies — there was, I think, it’s on there somewhere they was four and seven or something like that. Two girls and their parents was killed. So, so it could have been that what’s done it you see.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Crushed them. I don’t, but —
MS: And what did you find in the debris? Was there anything that you salvaged?
RH: Well [laughter] well, I got a red lorry. All bent up. Yeah. But we did get a butter dish [laughs]
MS: You did get a butter dish.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Right. Tell us about the lorry and what your dad did.
RH: Oh, I had it for years and years afterwards. It was, it was a family treasure and then as you get older you recall these things, don’t you? But can I just —
MS: Yeah. Sure.
RH: Tell you another one. Mary said you ought to be told.
MS: Before you move on to that, if you don’t mind, you told me earlier that you found the lorry and it was badly damaged.
RH: Yes.
MS: And what did your dad do?
RH: Well, just took it back to my grandmother’s and then got an hammer and he tried to bring it back as good as he could. I mean, I thought it was brilliant because we didn’t have toys. The station where he was, we used to walk down to it and they always had the doors open ready for a quick — but all the men used to be making rocking horses and, you know, them clowns on wires.
MS: Oh yeah.
RH: And all these things and they used to be doing that for the children that had lost everything. So, I was alright. I got little bits that way you see but, but yeah, no Mary this morning says tell them what, being a lad, to us as I say it was fantastic. We went in town as kids and the bus station had been hit.
MS: Yeah.
RH: So, all the buses was in this big room. Well, we thought it was fantastic. We’d all them buses to ourselves. We went to another building and I know this sounds silly doesn’t it but the lift, there’s a cable down the middle. We put cloths around our hands and jumped to catch the wire. So, I must have been about eightish then. Seven or eight. And we slid down and as we slipped down [bang] on the back of the head. And we went, ‘What’s that?’ And it was a policeman and he gave us all a good hiding. I mean he really belted into us. So, he said, ‘Now go home and tell your dad and your mother that the policeman’s done it. My number is,’ so and so, ‘And report me if your dare.’ And we thought, ‘What’s he on about?’ And then we found out later in life it’s where Hull records was kept and there was a policeman at the door on duty. It got a direct hit and it just, they never found him.
MS: Oh.
RH: The policeman. They found his helmet somewhere and that was all they ever found. So that’s why we got punished that day for it.
MS: Got you.
RH: And that was in, in the town itself. Right in the town centre it was.
MS: Right.
RH: But, and then another time, Mary said you must know what, it’s an awkward one isn’t it? We, we went out one day and a chemist near us, again near my Grandma Brown had been, the area had had a bomb and the fish and chip shop had gone and all that but the chemist. So, we goes in as kids and you know them big bottles they have in the window there?
MS: Oh the carboys.
RH: Beautiful.
MS: Yeah.
RH: They’re still there. Oh, get a brick, you know, so we smashed them so I always feel guilty every time I see them nowadays and of course the lads would break into all these little drawers with wires and of course the lads — chocolate. All this chocolate. You know what’s coming.
MS: [laughs] I do.
RH: Honestly there’s about four of us. Well we sat down. Wow. Chocolate. Oh, this is what chocolate tastes like. Brilliant. About an hour later we’re passing, we’re going back to my Grandma Brown’s area and there’s a river, a little river, with a bank. We all go down there. We drop off our pants. We’re all sat on the grass and all the women was on the bridge shouting, ‘You mucky little devils.’ ‘You want your — ’ you know.
MS: Yeah.
RH: And all that, and we can’t understand this. We can’t understand it. The lads were saying, ‘But this isn’t natural is it?’ And as I say we was all lined up and they were all stood on the bridge. Everybody was giving us it and we didn’t, we couldn’t say, ‘Well we’ve had laxative.’ Could we? [laughs]
MS: You’d had Ex-Lax.
RH: So. you know, so [laughs] so I’ve never seen, touched laxative to this day.
MS: In a sense you’ve never needed to.
RH: But honestly it was so simple and so desperate.
MS: How did you treat the area? You told me earlier it was you and your mates.
RH: It was. It was a bad. It was bad. It was bad, bad. That’s only the little area of Hull that but it —
MS: No. I mean from your attitude how did you see the area? Was it an adventure?
RH: Well, brilliant for kids. For our age group it was brilliant. I mean this school. This St Paul’s Street School. Do you know I can even remember the teacher saying, ‘What’s them up there?’ And we said, oh, you know, whatever they are, ‘Oh the Lancasters going over.’ And you know you think that wasn’t right was it? Watching things like that. And then they’d you’d go in the shelter. But Grandma Brown and all this area was very British. Really British.
MS: Yeah.
RH: All the walls was covered in, “Doing a good job lads.” “Soon be home lads.” You know. “God save the king,” and all this. Every wall you went, terraces, all over. Shelters. They was all covered in it.
MS: Any flags?
RH: Eh?
MS: Any flags?
RH: Well, as much as they could. I mean in them days.
MS: Yeah.
RH: That wasn’t the thing was it? But it’s, they was brilliant, people really. They was.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Brilliant.
MS: Tell us what you were telling me earlier when you’d go down the road with your mates and you’d see a bombed building and you’d see cupboards hanging out and stuff like that.
RH: Yeah.
MS: What were you, what did you do then?
RH: Well to us it was just another house gone, you know. And to be honest looking back as a, as a child I can’t even remember thinking, ‘Oh I hope little George’s mam and dad’s alright because that’s where he lives.’ You know, you never thought of that. You just thought see if that’s like that tonight [laughter] you know, we’ll have a — it was, yeah, it was, I think, I think these people helped you to be like that because they never showed worry. And I say my Granny Brown used to come. She’d shout, ‘Hey Mavis.’ And Mavis would come out and they’d stand and Lancs would be going over and they’d be counting them, ‘I make it twenty just gone over. What do you make it, Mavis?’ ‘Yes, oh, I made it nineteen.’ And then so many hours later the lads would come back wouldn’t they and then they’d go, ‘Tch we’ve lost three.’ You know. ‘We’ve lost four.’ That’s the only time you’d see them say, ‘Oh dear, dear, dear,’ you know, ‘We’ve lost a couple,’ or whatever. But the Jerries used to just come over the Humber. I mean you used to think they was letting them in. I mean they’d come over like mad. It was, it was, oh it was a regular thing. You may as well have waved to them, the Jerries. It sounds daft, doesn’t it?
MS: No. It doesn’t.
RH: They was coming down the Humber but you’d get I was reading some of them that up to thirty or forty Jerry planes coming down but they weren’t all after Hull. They used to go out, bomb Sheffield or wherever. On the way back if they’ve ought left, they just let it all just drop on here, you see.
MS: Yeah.
RH: But —
MS: Did you lose any friends?
RH: No. Not, not what I’m aware of but there again you don’t know ‘cause a lot got sent away. When I come out the army and I went back to my job I worked at a tannery somewhere up here around ‘cause the River Hull ain’t on here even you see.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Yeah. There’s a tannery. A fairly big place but I worked there and I went back and you know the lads used to say to me, ‘Do you know, if you’ve been in Lincoln —' I was with the Royal Lincs you see.
MS: There’s the tannery.
RH: Yeah. Well, I went back there and I’d done my National Service and the lads would say, ‘Oh well I went to, I was posted. I was sent out as a child. Do you know a place called Bardney at Lincoln?’ I used to say, ‘Yes.’ And they used to say, ‘Oh there were hundreds of us sent to Bardney.’
MS: Just down the Road.
RH: And places it like that. And Washingborough.
MS: Yeah.
RH: They was all you know, they knew and I’d say, ‘No, I’ve been posted. I’m in Lincoln. I’ve been posted with the Royal Lincolns.’ They’d say, ‘Oh we never got into Lincoln but we went, we was on the farms.’ So, I lost a lot that way, you see. Their parents shoved them off where, you know. I suppose with my situation my dad wanted me there with him.
MS: Yeah. And you say about your situation.
RH: Yeah. Yeah.
MS: Can you just explain about that?
RH: And opposite. Opposite us where them bombs come down. Yes, that’s, just opposite there was a little pawn shop. I always remember. And as a kid I used to take my dad’s suit over on and you know, the old story take it over, put it in. Get some money for the weekend so he could have a few pounds. You know. Used to take the suit out for the weekend.
MS: Yeah.
RH: And yeah, and put it in Monday’s and you know it’s —
MS: Life went on.
RH: It’s marvellous isn’t it?
MS: Yeah. Life went on. Now you said a minute ago you referred to your situation. You were living with your dad because something rather sad happened didn’t it?
RH: I was, sorry?
MS: You were living with your dad.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Because something rather sad happened to you, didn’t it?
RH: Yeah. He got married again when we’d moved from here.
MS: But you lost your mother, didn’t you?
RH: Yes. Yeah. It was a step-mother obviously and we just, of course she had her own family then so it made it worse and worse for me all the time. It was unbelievable but at any rate —
MS: Ok. Where did you, where did you live when you were bombed out?
RH: We went to, just [pause] down, it’s Rodney Street. Somewhere there.
MS: There’s Rodney Street.
RH: Yeah. That’s where my Grandma Brown lived so you know they, I remember all this happening. We lived in a place called Blake Street and it was somewhere around Rodney Street. Somewhere in this area, I think.
MS: Blake Street.
RH: Blake Street.
MS: Can’t see that. There was a lot of stuff falling around your granny’s house wasn’t there?
RH: Well —
MS: That’s where she lived.
RH: Yeah. They’ve all been pulled down now and rebuilt now. They’re all like motorways and God knows what like. But yeah, it’s —
MS: What’s your, what’s your strongest memory from the wartime?
RH: I think [pause] well little bits. I think that going back to that house and finding my lorry and then thinking back now and then — the Brown family. One of the sons was in the navy and they had a big party one night and all his mates came who was going on the ship. They went to Newcastle. They got on a ship and it went out and it went. It turned over, apparently in the ice. So, they was all lost. I remember that night when everybody was happy and kissing and saying, they’d let you know when they get back and all that so. There’s that. There’s my lorry. There’s the people. The people. The area. It was, yeah. So, it’s —
MS: It wasn’t a sad time was it?
RH: Pardon?
MS: It wasn’t a sad time was it?
RH: No. No. No. Sent us way down. Well it’s here look, the start of it.
MS: Yeah. No, I mean, I mean you didn’t have a bad childhood, did you? is that what you were telling me earlier? You had a, you actually, you just got on with it didn’t you?
RH: I’ve just —?
MS: Didn’t you, I’ve just had to raise my voice a bit. You just got on with life, didn’t you?
RH: Oh yes.
MS: That’s what you were telling me earlier.
RH: Definitely. No. Definitely. Oh no, they got to. As I say yes so we went to school with bits of cardboard in the bottom of your shoes like everybody else. A cornflake box or summat, but you know. We was cold and wet and miserable. Gaslights wasn’t it? But, but yeah it was, it was nice. And the other memory I’ve got of seeing about three trawlers in the Humber and I can remember seeing them with the bits stuck up where Jerry got them, didn’t they? Three I think there was.
MS: Oh right. I didn’t know about that.
RH: Yeah. In the Humber. So, they were stuck there. They were still there in 1950-odd I would think.
MS: Were they?
RH: Yeah. Yeah. They was. They was just stuck. I think they were just trying to get into port and it’s I sometimes do wonder how Grimsby’s still there. Because I think of all that, all the gun work going on and I think Grimsby [laughs] was only across the water.
MS: Yeah.
RH: You know, and you think don’t put the guns too low mate or you’re going to hit Grimsby [laughs] you know. And I often think about that and I think well the planes obviously must have got it weighed up coming in. Then there was the two forts wasn’t there? In the Humber which —
MS: Oh yeah.
RH: Yeah. There’s two forts. Fort Paul and I forgot the other one. They had a net across, I think. Submarine net. And I know just as the war finished the dock in the centre of the town had two or three submarines there. I think they was German what had surrendered.
MS: Yeah.
RH: And the worst thing that happened was the day everybody in Hull thought it was over. They all went down. My grandmother, all of us, even my old granny, we went down to the town. All the Yanks come and they put the lights on. Well we’d never seen them. The fountain lit up you know and all that, you know. It was absolutely fantastic but that happened on one of the roads, Holderness Road and there’s a plaque there now up on Boyes’ shop. They came out the cinema thinking it was all over. They put the lights on and as they come out a Jerry plane decided he didn’t like the idea of peace and he went down and de de de de [machine gun noise] and then he got twelve of them coming out the cinema and they thought it was all over. They’d been told it was finished but what happened here I don’t know but he went down and so there’s, there’s a plaque up. There was twelve. The last twelve, the last people in Britain killed were in the war was them twelve.
MS: That’s terrible. I didn’t, I’ve never heard of that.
RH: Didn’t you?
MS: No.
RH: Yeah. Yeah. The last. The last people killed in the last war was there. Yeah.
MS: Not very nice. Right.
RH: But yes but sad days isn’t it really when you look at it? I go now when me and my brother will wander around. I’ll go around all, some of these areas and yeah, they bring back memories. But —
MS: How did they, I asked you earlier but can you tell me on tape, how did the school deal with losing children? What did they do?
RH: Nothing. No. I can’t remember anything. All we did, we had assembly in the morning and of course it was always, “For Those in Danger on the Sea.” And, you know, it was all, we sang hymns and we used to get things like, you know, ‘Right children, Tommy Brown won’t be here unfortunately. His house got bombed last night and we’ve lost him.’ But that, you know, and we just said, ‘Oh dear.’ You know.
MS: And moved on.
RH: Yeah. You know, you know as I say, you know, you look at that lot and some poor devils there hadn’t had much chance had they, look?
MS: No. Nor here where all these clusters are.
RH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
MS: Yeah, these I’m looking at a, I’m looking at a plan that has been given to me by Ron and on it are all the bombs that dropped.
RH: Yeah.
MS: In that particular area of Hull and he’s pointing out that particular cluster.
RH: Yeah. So that would be one plane wouldn’t it look, that would have been one big line—
MS: That looks like a stick. Yeah.
RH: He’s dropped them and gone back home then has he?
MS: Yeah. So, he has. But the other thing that intrigues me is there’s quite a few railway stations around where you lived.
RH: Yeah. Oh, there is. Yeah. They had the Stepney Lane which I lived near and because that house we had here we moved again to a place [pause] where’s the tannery?
MS: There’s the tannery.
RH: Here. Farringdon Street, somewhere. Stepney Lane.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Yeah. Here look, you see. We moved there look [laughs] then we got all that again. Look.
MS: Yeah.
RH: And now all of the houses on one side of the street we lived, six foot off the window was the shelters with three foot gaps in.
MS: Yeah.
RH: For you to walk through. But all the shelters, the houses opposite was blown to smithereens and it was all open ground. But them houses, all ours just got the windows blown out. The shelters —
MS: Yeah.
RH: Saved a lot of it but so it was just everywhere you moved so you just thought well let’s hope he doesn’t go for this area ‘cause you never knew what the hell they was aiming at look.
MS: No.
RH: What was they after?
MS: No. I know what you mean.
RH: It was a morale wasn’t it? Just it’s —
MS: Well, it was an important port as well wasn’t it?
RH: And then, and of course what upsets all the people in Hull and it still does to this day that nobody knew Hull was getting it because Churchill wouldn’t, it was, it’s only come out in the last ten years hasn’t it? This, the thing. Churchill said it’s only can be called a town in the northeast. You must not mention Hull because Hitler thinks he isn’t getting nowhere. If you mention about all the bombing, he’ll be rubbing his hands and apparently when they found one of his offices, he had a full scale map of Hull. Every building in it. And they said that they must have had somebody working there a long while before the war. He knew exactly where he wanted to be.
MS: You know, I want to ask you a question. I was talking to somebody else who said that just before the war started a balloon, a manned balloon actually, a German one, came up the river and over Hull. Do you remember that?
RH: Oh, the, oh the balloon.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Yeah. Oh, do you mean the aircraft wires?
MS: No. The, somebody told me who I interviewed told me that the Germans, before the war, sometime before 1939 brought a balloon right up the river.
RH: Oh, Hull got bombed by airship.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Yeah. It got bombed and my dad said, he said, ‘The damned thing went right over,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t mind but, in some parts, it took the chimney pots off.’ Yeah. It went over and then I don’t know if it was a British one or what but one come down in the Humber. Right in the middle. It landed on a sandbank I think but I don’t know what happened to them.
MS: No.
RH: But yeah. No. Them balloons. They had them on the Humber.
MS: The barrage balloons.
RH: On the barges yeah, didn’t they?
MS: Yeah.
RH: But again, when I lived on Beverley Road on where, just at Stepney Lane a balloon broke loose from one of the parks. The Pearson’s Park.
MS: That’s it.
RH: Yeah. It broke. The RAF had this balloon thing so as kids we used to go and watch it. And they used to [wham?] didn’t they in them days and one broke loose and of course it went bumped across all these chimneys. And [laughs] and in the end it come down in Nicholson Street or somewhere which is here somewhere. It says there Stepney Lane. Where’s Stepney Lane?
MS: Stepney Lane runs across.
RH: Yeah. Yeah.
MS: There’s Stepney Lane.
RH: Yeah. Oh, that’s it. yes. So, it came down Nicholson Street any road and it finished up everybody had silver shopping bags after that.
MS: Because they were made of a silver material.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Oh right.
RH: Yeah. If you asked anybody in Hull about silver shopping bags getting on, they’ll tell you what, what it was. It come down and as I said I think they just let the women help themselves to it because I don’t know what happened to it. But yeah, that took all the chimneys off as it was going. Rolling over. So, they couldn’t get hold of it because it just kept bump, bump. Over the tops. So yeah, it’s —
MS: Do you remember, do you remember the war ending?
RH: Do I —?
MS: Remember the end of the war? Do you remember the end being declared?
RH: Oh yeah. When we all were, yeah, and all the town lit up and all that. Oh yeah. And the Yanks. They had jeeps, didn’t they? We had bikes didn’t we but they had jeeps. But yeah, the, a lot of the bombed building areas obviously they piled all the wood and lit it so there were bonfires all over. The Yanks was giving kids, me and all of us was climbing on the jeeps and they was riding around with us. And I mean it was a treat. We’d never. We were still using ruddy tram cars in, in Hull at that time.
MS: Do you remember the rationing?
RH: Eh?
MS: Do you remember the rationing?
RH: Oh God yes. Yes. I do. I do. Yeah. I do. Yeah. Certainly, do yeah.
MS: Were you, were you short of food or hungry?
RH: Oh God. Always. Always. Yeah. I mean they used to queue up for [pause] I’ve been where one of the, my grandmother’s daughters, I went with her and I think we was queuing, it was either for whale meat or what was the other one Mary? Whale meat or horse meat was it? Yeah.
MD: Horse meat.
RH: Yeah. And queuing for whale meat. If we could get some get it, you know. Bloody big queue and you’d stand there [shiver noises]
MS: Freezing.
RH: Yeah. And when you came out you came out with a little packet. But they made a meal of it. Tripe, you know. Stuff like that. Some of the houses, if they could get hold of flour and stuff in them days they used to do, we used to call them hot cakes in Yorkshire. And they was about that big and that thick. Homemade. About an inch deep but what they used to do is you used to get up at five in the morning and go to Mrs Jackson down the Street. She’d open a front bedroom window and she’d sell them. Them cakes. When they’ve gone, they’ve gone?
MS: Yeah.
RH: And then another day somebody would, you’d say, ‘Get down there tomorrow she’s doing scones,’ you know. And this is how it used to be. And as kids we used to love it, think it was great. One house used to do some meat pies. I often wonder what was in them [laughter] but they used to do meat pies but when you went you got a meat pie but obviously they was cut into three and four but at the same time you took your jug with you and you had your meat pie and they give you a jug of gravy to go with it. But this was the people. That’s what I’m saying. They’re the type of people who wants to share everything. You know. Nothing was, nothing was yours. You shared everything which, which meant Mary knows about. The same thing. It was, it was stick together and we’ll beat the buggers, you know.
MS: Right.
RH: You know.
MS: What did you do after the war then? You were still at school.
RH: The what?
MS: You were still at school after the war.
RH: I would say yes. Yes. And as I say we left at fourteen and as I say I went to that tan yard. The only reason I went there was because my step-mother wanted money. And by my going there it was a mucky, filthy, stinking job so you got money. So, when I come out the army, I went back just, which you had to because they kept your job open didn’t they, for you to, you know. So, I went back and then I thought hang on you’ve just been in the Catering Corps. You’ve been up to Catterick. You’ve been to Aldershot. You’ve passed all the courses. Why don’t you go for chefing? Which I did do and it wasn’t long and I made head chef in a big place, didn’t I? At Cottingham. I took Mary to show where I used to be and then I come over to Lincoln. I’d run The Green Dragon for a bit and then The Centurion and then I had my own place up the High Street. I used to do a lot of RAF dos. They was a bloody nuisance at times but —
MS: What place did you run on the High Street?
RH: The Lindum Restaurant was, it was above the mini-market in them days. We used to do dancing.
MS: Oh right.
RH: And all that. But we used to get a lot from Scampton. A lot of parties. There used to be, I used to know all the sergeants in them days and they was good as far as they’d always pinch stuff. Always pinched stuff when they had a drink. They used to get plastered. So, I used to check up and then I’d ring him up and say, ‘Right. I’m missing one soda syphon,’ [laughter] so and so. He’d say, ‘Don’t worry Ron. I’ve got them here.’ You know. And he’d come back and bring them back and he’d say, ‘Anything, we’ll pay for it. Any damage,’ you know. So, I used to have loads of dinners and dances with them, so, you know, but that’s how I got in to Lincoln. I married a Washingborough girl and we lived in Hull for about ten years and then she decided she wanted to come back to mummy.
MS: Right.
RH: And daddy. So, I did. Her father used to say to me, ‘We stood in Washingborough watching Hull burn. And we couldn’t do a thing about it.’ And then anybody I talked to in the RAF would say, ‘When we come out of Norway, we could watch Hull burning from Norway. Could actually see it,’ and you’d think, good God.
MS: That’s a coincidence. I interviewed someone in Washingborough.
RH: Isn’t it?
MS: And they told me exactly what you said.
RH: Is it?
MS: Somebody told me exactly what you’ve just said.
RH: Had they?
MS: They could stand on the side of the river.
RH: Yeah.
MS: In Washingborough or in Heighington.
RH: Yeah.
MS: And just see what fires.
RH: What fires. Yes. Yeah. They did and as I said as far as, well the other side of the North Sea they used to see it. In fact I’ve got a tape somewhere, years old and it’s a chap in a ship and he’s saying, ‘We’ve just come,’ I think it was barge, ‘Come out of Lincoln into the Humber but,’ he said, ‘We’re stuck here, we can’t go across to Hull because we’re stood here watching it get blown to smithereens. And we’ve got families there and we can’t do a thing about it’ And I thought well that’s says it all doesn’t it?
MS: Did you witness the fires when you were a child? Did you see the fires?
RH: Oh God yes. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh aye. My dad made sure I did. He used to — there was a big museum in Hull and, a massive thing, I’ll always remember it. It had aeroplanes along the ceilings and that. A museum. My dad took me one morning. He said, ‘Come and have a look where I was last night.’ We went and it was, it had got a direct hit. Everything was lost in it. All records. Everything, you know and I says, ‘Oh dear,’ and he says, ‘Yeah we was here all night. This is where your dad’s been all night with this fire.’ And as they did one, you see, there was another but I don’t know if you know they had things like runners. Did you, did you know?
MS: No.
RH: All over Hull was children of maybe fourteen or fifteen with a bike and they used to stand on corners so if they stood here and say you’re there and that bomb fell they would jump on their bike and get to the nearest fire brigade or whatever there was.
MS: Yeah.
RH: To inform them what had happened because there was quite a few bombs landed in gardens and didn’t go off. Them little kids jumped on their bikes and off like mad and they used to run around and that, that was genuine that. And that was their job. Just, just running. Just telling them there’s a bomb dropped in so and so street so they’d say in a minute or they’d send someone down you know and things like that and then clear the area but there’s quite a lot. Years after the war they found them butterfly bombs.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Stuck in, in the lofts. Blokes would go in the lofts and say, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got two stuck,’ [laughs] you know. And there was, there was —
MS: Hull got it.
RH: The, the incendiary. The flat bottomed bomb with the thing on the top. My dad literally and I’ve said to Mary I can’t believe it now when I think. People would say, ‘Len, I’ve had a bomb dropped in the back and it hasn’t gone off.’ And he’d say ok and he’d go around and bring it and I think I was sat next to him. and he used to be, ‘Don’t worry it’s only one of them.’ And it would be an incendiary would it maybe?
MS: Yeah.
RH: They was. They was flat.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Flat but like that and then the blades on hasn’t it?
MS: That’s it.
RH: Yeah. And he used to do that and he’d say that’s it. That’s alright and I’d be there [laughter]
MS: And you’re miming your father disarming an incendiary bomb with you sitting next to him.
RH: Yeah. I know but I look back on it and you think it can’t be right. This can’t be.
MS: It probably was.
RH: But it, it’s how they was. He was saving some family being blown possibly so he thought well if I do it it’s only my son and me [laughter] you know. But no, it’s, it is strange. It’s strange when I look back on it now. It’s, It’s, yeah, it is unbelievable but —
MS: Did you actually witness any bombing? Did you see any bombing yourself?
RH: Well no because we run for the nearest cover didn’t, we?
MS: Yeah.
RH: But, I mean, you knew who was dropping them. You’d see. See them come over. One’d come over and you’d think oh my God. I stayed with an aunt. Oh, on there, it’s on the map up here. I stayed with an aunt and opposite her, like where your car is, there was big guns.
MS: Oh right.
RH: So, on the night the houses were [imitating buzzing sound] when there was. But in that field where they was a flying bomb landed. That was one of the first the British got. It didn’t go off. It come down. They got it and found out a lot from it, didn’t you say?
MS: Yeah.
RH: Wouldn’t you say. And I remember we had the shelters in the garden. They built the shelters didn’t they and soil over it and that.
MS: Oh. The Andersons.
RH: We come out, yeah, we came out of one of them and then I says, ‘Oh,’ and she says, ‘Oh God, look at that,’ and there was this Jerry bomber stuck in the actual house a few doors up.
MS: A bomber.
RH: Well yeah. The big, well a big plane, yeah.
MS: Right. No, no.
RH: It wasn’t a fighter.
MS: No. I was making sure you weren’t saying a bomb.
RH: Yeah.
MS: It was an actual aeroplane.
RH: Yeah. No, and it was actually stuck in the roof, this thing and they just said, ‘Oh well. They brought that bugger down didn’t they?’ That was it, you know. You’d think that they needed medals didn’t they? You know, you look at it now they could be sirs, weren’t they? Sirs and ladies. Yeah.
MS: Absolutely. I know. I know.
RH: But no, I mean you didn’t actually see. You used to hear them. You could hear [whistling] You knew they was coming down you see, but no its, it’s just everyday life. It was then I’m afraid and you had to put up with it didn’t you? What could you do?
MS: You got on with it.
RH: You, well you couldn’t do anything.
MS: No.
RH: Again, you look at it, you know I think about all these old people and you think, you know, most of them are on the disk there. These people that got clobbered and you think what the hell was it all about?
MS: How many people died in Hull?
RH: Oh dear [pause] I got all this for you, look.
MS: I know. You’re a star.
RH: The big bombing do’s lot.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Just times.
MS: You said earlier —
RH: There you are.
MS: There we go. Right.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Let’s have a look.
RH: You’ve got over, yeah. There’s one thousand two hundred people, look. Lost their lives.
MS: Yeah.
RH: But these, they make it clear these were only the people they found. There’s all them what was never found. There’s three, three thousand look, people were seriously injured. Out of the one thousand, well a hundred and ninety two thousand houses look. There’s only five left look.
MS: Only five thousand escaped damage did they?
RH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Look. So, it’s two hundred and fifty two thousand, look. Houses, churches.
MS: You’ve got there a hundred and fifty two thousand people were homeless at one time or another.
RH: Yeah. Yeah.
MS: Right.
RH: So, you can have that.
MS: Thank you. That’s very kind.
RH: I don’t know if these are any good to you. I mean —
MS: Are you sure you want to hand these over because —
RH: No. Actually, I bought them because I’ve already got them.
MS: Right.
RH: Actually, Fosse School was it? No, it was Robert Patt’s. The teacher gave them, gave them some, you see. I mean that’s the shelter you saw. That’s that thing. That’s what we had to put up with every day. Look.
MS: What’s that there? What is it?
RH: These are all, yeah, bombings. That’s a shelter what —
MS: That’s an Anderson shelter flattened.
RH: Yeah.
MS: You’re showing me a photograph of a house that’s been bombed and next to it is the remains of the Anderson shelter.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Which is totally flattened.
RH: Yeah. So that’s that. That’s your Spitfire thing raising money wasn’t it?
MS: Yeah.
RH: For the Spitfire. That’s another mess look.
MS: Right.
RH: Firemen and that, digging. Look. And air raid wardens.
MS: That’s one of your balloons on a barge.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Yeah.
RH: Yeah. That’s it. And that’s that thing. That’s the cenotaph because there’s only two in Britain. You know that do you?
MS: No. I knew about the cenotaph in London.
RH: No.
MS: But there’s one in Hull.
RH: There’s only, there’s only two. That’s one in London. One in Hull.
MS: Right.
RH: And the funny thing is it’s a Royal Lincolnshire Regiment bloke mentioned on these. Yeah.
MS: Right.
RH: Yeah. So, as I say that’s the, the thing, look. That is my, that’s well that’s that one that you’ve got isn’t it?
MS: Yeah. Is there anything else you think of that you want to talk about on the archive? You know. The Digital Archive.
RH: The what? Sorry.
MS: Is there anything else that you want to record? Your memory.
RH: No.
MS: For the Digital Archive.
RH: Not really. Not really. That’s about your zeppelin look.
MS: Let’s have a look.
RH: I’ll give you them look, because I did them.
MS: Right.
RH: I got them for you because you said that you might be interested, you see. So —
MS: Well it’s been very useful using the map.
RH: So, I thought, well, you can.
MS: Yeah. Let’s have a look.
RH: You can use them. That is — I told you I lost my mother.
MS: Yes.
RH: I tried to find the grave. Nobody would tell me where she was. Even her sisters. Nobody would ever told me where she was. So, about four year back or so I went to Hull and my brother and his wife said, ‘Well, we’ll find out.’ So, they rang up, Henry, and we got an interview. So, we went down and this bloke gets this book out and he says, ‘Yes. I know where she’s buried.’ So, and so. And then he said, ‘Hang on, it says refer to another book.’ So, he opens another book and he says, ‘Oh. Your mother, a brother, two children and your grandad. Your great grandad. They’re all in the same grave’. And I says, ‘Five in a grave?’ He says, ‘Yes, they are.’ So, I says, ‘What do we do?’ This chap took us down. He showed us a blade of grass and he says, ‘There you are, look. In there. They’re in there. But we can’t tell you where because in them days they had a piece of wood and somebody kicked them out the way.’ So, he says, ‘They’re in there somewhere.’ And he stood like this on this stone and he says, ‘Number 287,’ or whatever it was. And then he looked and he says, ‘Hang on a minute. This stone’s 287.’ So, we walked around the other side and it’s a war grave.
MS: Oh.
RH: Big Royal Lincoln’s badge on it. And he says, ‘Do you know where Lincoln is?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he says, ‘Well, do you know ought about the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment?’ I said, ‘Yes. I was with them.’ So, he says, ‘Well isn’t that something.’ He says, ‘This is your grandad’s war grave.’ And I says, ‘But why is there all these other people in it? Children and that. He says, ‘I don’t know.’
MS: It was the war.
RH: And it’s a, and it’s a new one It’s not that little one, it’s a nice one. And it’s a big one where the war graves are narrow aren’t they, you know? Yeah. And beautiful stone. So that was just the area look. Where he is.
MS: And what a coincidence that your mother’s buried in that site of the regiment you later joined.
RH: I know, it’s, I can’t understand the children. And so, I’ve looked it all up, Henry, and [laughter] why it’s been kept quiet is because one of my aunts was two little children, her husband was in the First World War wasn’t he? And it’s his grave.
MS: Right.
RH: So, he died of gas I reckon because he died, its reading six months after the war finished.
MS: Right.
RH: So, I bet he’s come home and he’s, he’s, he must have had gas.
MS: It might have been flu.
RH: Or whatever.
MS: Do you remember the flu that killed millions?
RH: Oh well.
MS: It could have been that. It got my grandad.
RH: Could be then. Yeah. And so that’s why. Nobody can understand it. The bloke who did it says, ‘I’ve never known it.’ He said, ‘I look after all these graves but I’ve never heard of one with a war grave with children,’ and, and you know and sons and daughters in it. He said, ‘It’s unbelievable.’ So, so as I say I do go over and I bought a thing for it you know for my mother to get over, you know. But it’s right next to Hull Fair actually so [laughs] so she gets livened up every year, you know. But, yeah, that’s about all I can say, tell you.
MS: Well first of all can I thank you.
RH: That’s alright.
MS: On behalf of the IBCC.
RH: That’s alright.
MS: Can I also thank you on behalf of myself because I found it really an interesting chat.
RH: Yeah. Yeah.
MD: Good.
MS: I’ve got a couple of forms.
RH: You don’t have to pay for the coffee before that.
MS: The coffee was awful [laughs] It was. I was forced to drink it [laughs] Right.
RH: [laughs] Is it what you wanted?
MS: It is.
RH: Is it?
MS: Absolutely. And what [coughs] Sorry I’ve got a frog in my throat.
RH: Yeah.
MS: What I need to do, I need to take you through some paperwork now. I’m going to ask you to sign something in a second.
RH: Yeah.
MS: And what it confirms is that you’re quite happy that you took part in the interview.
RH: Yes.
MS: No problem with that? And you’re giving the copyright to the university.
RH: Yes.
MS: For use in any media. Yeah. They will look after your personal details.
RH: Yeah.
MS: They will not disclose those.
RH: Yeah. Well there’s nothing.
MS: No. But you need to know for your protection.
RH: Yeah. Yeah.
MS: Yeah. Are you happy, do you agree that your name can be associated with the interview? So, if they played the interview to somebody or let them see it.
RH: Yeah.
MS: They’ll know it’s Ron Harrison but they’ll keep back all your other details. Ok?
RH: Yeah.
MS: So, tick that.
RH: That’s fine. Yeah.
MS: Ok. Do you allow me to take a photograph of you?
RH: No. No. You can take one.
MS: No problem. Yeah.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Ok. And do you agree to the interview being available online? So that someone could come along with a computer and go, ‘I’ll listen to that guy there.’ Are you happy with that?
RH: Well it wouldn’t hurt would it. Would it?
MS: No.
RH: Would it? It wouldn’t hurt would it?
MS: Well, the other thing is have you got grandchildren?
RH: Yes. I’ve, yes, I’ve got six.
MS: Have you? Well they’ll be able to go online and go to the International Bomber Command Centre and actually listen to you talking.
RH: Oh.
MS: And when, in the years to come when you’re not here that interview will still be there.
RH: Oh good.
MS: Ok. And what it says down here is —
RH: Do you take the daft bits out? Or do you leave —
MS: No. They’re the best bits, Ron.
RH: Oh dear [laughter]
MS: They are.
RH: They’ll be saying, ‘Why does that bloke keep saying eh?’ Eh?
MS: It’s because you’re from Hull. Right. I used to live next door to a bloke from Hull.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Right. I’m going to shorten this. It’s the responsibilities of the archive. Basically, they aim to be a really comprehensive repository. A holding place, for this information, and it’s to do with research and education.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Yeah. It’s housed and managed by the University of Lincoln and the University undertakes to finance, preserve and protect everything to do with it including donations. Yeah.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Now, over here they will need to confidentially and securely store your details in case they need to contact you about this agreement. Right. For any more information on how they store and use such stuff, such stuff, if you go to online, you’ll be able to find that.
RH: Right.
MS: But do you use a computer at all?
RH: No. Not now. I did do but no I don’t.
MS: You don’t.
RH: No. To be honest we’ve got to that age where technology is getting left behind.
MS: I know what you mean.
RH: Isn’t it?
MS: It goes on to say that the details that you’ve provided like your address and all the rest of it.
RH: Yeah.
MS: Will not be made publicly available. And then it goes on to say the agreement is covered by English law.
RH: Yeah.
MS: And I’ve signed down here because I’m the person who interviewed you. if you’re happy with all that would you put your signature in there for me please.
RH: Yeah.
MS: So if I give you that to lean on. Sorry, if you sign there for me. And I’ll stop this now.



Michael Sheehan, “Interview with Ron Harrison,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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