Interview with Mollie Allen


Interview with Mollie Allen


Mollie Allen married John during the war. He was a Lancaster pilot and at one time they shared a home with another pilot and his wife. This was a comfort to Mollie to have another woman who understood what it was like to await news of their husband. When John came home on leave she noted how tired he always was. John was shot down on an operation and she received the dreaded telegrams first saying he was missing and then missing presumed killed.




Temporal Coverage




01:20:28 audio recording

Conforms To


IBCC Digital Archive


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MA: I remember the day when war broke out.
IR: Hang on.
BE: Can I just do a little bit of an introductory talk?
MA: Oh sorry.
BE: No. No. It was fine.
MA: Just tell me when.
BE: So just to start this interview I’m going to say it’s being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre as you know. The interviewer is Beth Ellin. That’s me. The interviewee is Mrs Mollie Allen. The interview is taking place at Mrs Allen’s home in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire on the 27th of October 2018. Joining us here is Mrs Allen’s son, Iain Rowe. Ok. So, happy? Ready to go? Brilliant.
MA: Right.
BE: Do you want to just tell me a little bit about your date of birth and your family life and kind of your upbringing first just to start things up?
MA: Ok.
BE: Is that alright?
MA: Yes. My father was a teacher at Harrogate Grammar School and my mother was a teacher before she married him. And she came, she came from Thormanby which is near Easingwood and we lived nearly all our lives at number 15 Victoria Avenue which is across the road here [unclear]
IR: Can I just say grandad was in the First World War. He was badly injured.
MA: Yes.
IR: Invalided out but then went back in again. He was the son of a miner, wasn’t he?
MA: Yes.
IR: He joined up at the end. He managed through the First World War and he was a major at the end of the First World War, wasn’t he? Or captain. I can’t remember. But he came out of the trenches then got better and went back in. He once showed me, I don’t know if you did.
MA: [unclear]
IR: The machine gun bullets.
MA: Yeah.
IR: Machine gun bullets hit him and there were five going right up here. If they’d been six inches to the right he’d have bitten them.
MA: He used to move them about.
IR: You could see them. He only showed me once. You could see them and they’d all, luckily they’d all gone straight through his arm.
MA: Yeah.
IR: But anyway, that’s what he was and then he went back to teaching but he was a major of the local Home Guard here.
MA: Oh yes. Yes. He was in the Home Guard and they were really just as funny as you see them on the television. They were funny but they did a good job because that was what they were there for. They were good. Yeah. Anyway, I was brought up across the road and I was there until I married John. I was married from across the road. We were married at the little chapel down here and it wasn’t a white wedding which I would have liked because of the rationing. We had, our clothes were rationed. You couldn’t get. Some girls were lucky enough they got parachute silk. If the parachute had come down they got some and they had their dresses made of that. But I wasn’t lucky enough to have that. And then this was before war broke out. No. War broke out after John and I’d been engaged about a year, I think.
IR: Yeah.
MA: And the day it broke out the boys, that’s my father and my brother and my fiancé, John they were all out at the local pub.
IR: Sounds about right.
MA: When they came home, back they’d just got to this gate and the air raid warden came running down the street shouting, ‘Take cover. Take cover.’ We thought [laughs] we were highly amused. We thought it was hilarious. And we found out afterwards it was just a dummy run they’d done and, ‘take cover,’ was very serious. You had, you had to take, but at that time we just we didn’t know. We just thought it was funny. At that time John was a teacher at the local school, my brother Donald was still at college and they both volunteered on the same day. And they volunteered. They weren’t conscripted. And John, the Air Force one had this little white flash in his cap to know, say that he was a volunteer. Not conscripted.
IR: Yeah.
MA: And they both, they both went together to London to sign on and they’d only been back a couple of weeks I think and they were then called up and John, my John went to Padgate. It was a training centre for pilots. And my brother, he went to Catterick because he was in the Army [pause] Then —
IR: My dad by the way he went down there to volunteer to go in, he told me recently, he actually wanted to go in the Navy.
MA: Yeah.
IR: But when he got there they told him he had to go in the Air Force.
BE: So why was he wanting to go in the —
MA: We were married when John got his wings. We waited until he’d got his wings. That was he was called back to fly. And, and now by this time the war was getting it was real. We knew we were at war. The, our best man, was in Livingstone and he’ll be on the Memorial.
IR: Yes. He is.
MA: Because he was shot down before John. He was shot down into the sea. So, so he would be, he would be of course by this time I found out I was pregnant with Iain.
IR: Her son.
MA: And John was already flying operational over Germany. It was a very tense time and he only had very infrequent leave. When at home he slept a lot. He was very tired. [pause] Dropped a little bit, haven’t I? Leave was very very scarce but I do remember going to a ball held at Scampton where John was stationed and in those days we wore proper ball gowns and mine was beautiful. It was black with three skirts. Two taffeta and one net and it was a gift from my cousin in exchange for coupons. Nightly the bombing had started after that and security was tight. We had to rely on the news to find out what was going on and it was a very anxious time. Then came the thousand bomber raids. A lot of men were lost. Two nights later the raid over Essen and this was the one John never returned from. I got the dreaded telegram which was, “Missing.” Then came weeks of not knowing and hoping he would turn up in a prisoner of war camp. Communication was difficult but the Red Cross were brilliant. After a couple of months I got notified that John was now missing presumed dead. The war raged on eventually and I was notified that John’s remains were buried near the Reichswald Forest. Iain has since done a lot of research and knows exactly where he is buried. I was fortunate to be still at home with my mother so I had a lot of support. My father and mother were very fond of John.
MA: I have more memories of John. I joined John when he was at Cottesmore. We shared a flat with another pilot and his wife. His name was Rodney Worthing and he will also be on the Monument as he was, he was shot down too. His wife was called Mollie. Our local was the Ram Jam Inn on the Great North Road. I once fell down a flight of stairs while I was pregnant with Iain. I was wearing high heels. Caught it in the carpet. Didn’t stop me wearing high heels though.
IR: No. It didn’t. That’s right. You fell down the stairs.
MA: I fell. Yeah. And then of course most of it now is more about my brother because John had gone and it was still early in the war and my brother —
IR: ’42, it was, wasn’t it? June ’42.
MA: Yeah.
IR: It’s all —
MA: Yeah.
IR: I was eight months old so I don’t remember him at all.
MA: Yeah. Because it’s quite a history is my brother’s. It’s —
IR: Yes. It was Don.
MA: Yeah.
IR: He ended up as a colonel.
MA: Here we are.
IR: I mean, do you need that?
MA: John had done twenty two operational flights.
IR: Yeah.
MA: By this time America had joined the war. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour and we were at war with the Japs. They attacked Singapore where my brother Don was stationed and there was a complete lack of communication and we feared the worst. For some months we waited and miracle of miracles we heard Don had survived and was in India. He was were later to learn that he had joined the Chindits.
IR: The Chindits. Yeah.
MA: And fought in the jungle and he survived the war.
IR: He passed away about four years ago Don did. What he actually did he came, he escaped the Japanese. He told me they put them on a boat to send them back to work as slaves in Japan. It was torpedoed by one of our submarines. We didn’t know that. And he escaped. He swam to shore and he and three other blokes walked all the way through Burma to the top of Burma and they were found by some Americans going the top of Burma and took them into India.
MA: I didn’t know anything about that.
IR: Don told me. Don told me all about it.
MA: Oh, did he? He never used to talk about the war to me.
IR: That’s where he got the —
MA: Yeah.
IR: All his diseases. He picked up all those diseased because they walked all the way through.
MA: Yeah. Yeah.
IR: The walked about nine hundred miles or something like that.
MA: Yeah.
IR: But they were helped by all the local natives.
MA: Yeah.
IR: And then there was only Don and one other and he said they found some brewery where there was still some fresh beer there and he said it was while we were sampling this beer that these Americans said, ‘What are you doing here?’
MA: Yeah.
IR: And they took him back to India and then he was repatriated. Then he went back to Burma again because he knew [unclear]
MA: Yes. And then and then he stayed in the war. He survived the war and stayed in the Army. Have I anything else here?
IR: His eldest son, my cousin also became a colonel and he’s now retired and he lives in Windsor Castle. He’s a knight of the, what was it? A Knight of Windsor.
MA: Military Knight of Windsor.
IR: Military Knight of Windsor. He looks after the queen. After the boss as he calls her. He says she’s lovely. She’s lovely to work for.
MA: I remember Dunkirk. Do you want me to? Yeah. We didn’t live on the coast. We didn’t see all the valiant little boats on their way to rescue but we did realise there was something in the air. We knew something was going on. And then of course we got it on the news. The only way really that we could get any information was on the news because the Red Cross did the, you know, they collaborated with the Germans and of course the prisoners of war in Germany were under the Geneva Convention which had certain rules but of course the Japanese didn’t belong to the Geneva Convention. Well, so they were, they were dreadful. They did dreadful things. There was the railroad that they put all our prisoners to work on. This railroad. And it didn’t matter whether they were ill or what they still had to do it and of course a lot of them died. The Japs were, yes [pause] I can remember.
BE: So how did you come to be associated with the Bomber Command?
MA: Sorry?
BE: How did you come to be associated with Bomber Command? Was it through your husband or —
MA: Because, because Iain had done a lot of, you started, didn’t you?
IR: I did some years ago. Well, in fact I emailed you. That was from the German. I did a lot. At that time I was I was a technical officer in the, senior officer in the Post Office telephones. BT as it is now and a lot of my work involved liaising with all the local service things around here and a couple of them were RAF services and the officers there gave me addresses of people to write to in Germany. That’s how I managed to get through. So I just wrote to everybody I could think of and I did get some information didn’t I?
MA: Oh yes. You did.
IR: Some of the super information I got —
MA: Yeah.
IR: Was a report from the local constable in, where the plane came down was his report in the village and they got all the bodies except one. They didn’t, they couldn’t, one of they couldn’t but all the other bodies including my dad’s they got them out and they, they gave them a military burial. A proper military burial in the local churchyard. And he, it was a long detailed typical German efficiency this thing and then of course at the end of the war they reinterred all the people who were buried around about into the Reichswald Forest area.
MA: Yeah.
IR: But I found a lot out that way and I got at one time I was quite in touch with the German Air Attache down in London and they were really, really willing to help. They were really really helpful.
MA: Yeah.
IR: You know, and he said, ‘Oh yeah. We’d like to —’ But they weren’t so sure whether they were shot down or whether it was ack ack that got him but it was one or the other. He was either shot down by a night fighter but they think, they think it was more like ack ack because there weren’t any night fighter, as far as they knew there weren’t any night fighters operating in that area on that night. So it was probably ack ack.
MA: Yeah.
IR: That got them. But he came down in quite low he said. Quite low. It skimmed some trees and then it just hit the ground and exploded. So they wouldn’t have known much about it.
MA: No.
IR: [unclear] I’ve got all the [data] at home but that’s how I found that. You can find out a lot on that. And I’ve been in touch with one of his crew’s son got in touch with me because his mother and, his mother, he said his mother who died about four years ago never believed that his dad had been killed and she spent the rest of her life for him. And he said, ‘I even took her to the Reichswald Forest and showed her his grave but she still didn’t believe it.’
MA: No.
IR: And that was a funny sort of thing.
MA: Yeah. Yeah.
IR: Anyway —
BE: So, you spent some time in Scampton. Is that right?
MA: Yes.
BE: Do you want to tell me a little about that?
MA: Well, I wasn’t actually living there when he was at Scampton which was the main one that he was at most of the time but this time when he was stationed at Cottesmore for a short time which is a field near, its near Scampton and then I went down and lived we shared a flat with another pilot and his wife mollie. And he was shot down too. And so I was only there for a short while because he was stationed in England so it meant that on his leaves he could come home which he did and he was always very tired. Very very tired. And I never went and stayed when he was in Scampton. That was the main airfield. But Cottesmore is a smaller one but all the same squadrons. All the same.
IR: He was [unclear] because Guy Gibson was his squadron commander at one time. He got told off by Guy Gibson once, was he? Was it for riding his bike over the lawn or something? Something like that.
MA: I don’t remember.
IR: We can’t be, well, no these are things you’ve told me.
MA: Yeah.
IR: Well, Gibbo was known for being a bit of a —
MA: Yeah.
IR: He was very much a [pause] So my dad was on the, they must have been in the officer’s mess, you know.
MA: They all liked their little drink, didn’t they? All of them.
IR: Took the war away from them for a little while.
MA: Yeah.
IR: If you’d had a drink or two.
MA: Yeah.
MA: My brain has gone dead all of a sudden.
IR: [unclear] I’m trying to remember what, I don’t know. I don’t know if he actually flew, he was in the same squadron all the time. 83 Squadron, and he flew what was it? I can’t even think. Hampdens. He flew Hampdens.
MA: First. Yeah.
IR: First and then Manchesters. One of the few to.
MA: Yeah. Yeah.
IR: Which were, which were a total waste of time but all they did was they got the Manchester and put two more engines on it and it became the Lancaster.
MA: Yes.
IR: That was, and he was on I think he was about the fifth, it was the first squadron to get Lancasters and I think he was about the fifth one that actually flew in Lancasters during the war. That was before they became the bomber.
MA: Yeah. I’ve got a photograph of it haven’t I?
IR: Well, I’ve sent some.
MA: Oh.
IR: I’ve sent Beth some emails. You got them ok?
MA: Yeah.
IR: That’s all I’ve got. I haven’t got anything else about him at all. In fact, luckily I’ve only got those together. They’ve come from —
MA: Yeah. And then of course at the end of the war, the very end of the war I got married again but I married a fighter pilot. But he wasn’t, it was right at the end of the war and he didn’t have, very little action at all. So —
BE: What was his name? What was his name?
MA: His name was John [laughs] I’ve been married three times and they’re all called John.
IR: There’s one up there you see.
MA: Oh, that’s the third one.
IR: With the DFC.
MA: That’s the third.
IR: That’s the third. My stepfather that. He’s John as well. But he was in Halifaxes at —
MA: Pocklington.
IR: Pocklington. Yeah.
MA: Yes. And —
IR: So yeah, they’ve all been John.
MA: My stepson did that for me because I didn’t marry him ‘til —
IR: Oh, it was long after the war. Yeah.
MA: It was in the 70s, wasn’t it?
IR: Yeah.
MA: When I married.
IR: So, they’ve all been John. And my name, the way it’s spelt is Scots for John and my son was called John. So, it got very confusing.
MA: Yeah. All these Johns. My daughter was married to a John as well. He died of cancer poor lad.
IR: Yeah.
MA: When he was only in his forties.
IR: The boyfriend she had before that John was a John.
MA: Yes.
IR: Yeah, but yeah he was nice was Celia’s John. He was a lovely fella.
MA: Yeah. He was a nice lad. Yeah. Yeah.
BE: So, you mentioned that while you were at Cottesmore you lived with another pilot and his wife.
MA: Yes.
BE: What was that like?
MA: Well, of course it was wartime and we were rationed and, but it was nice to have another female with me who was going through the same sort of thing and she had a little boy. This, this was before Iain was born. When I was Cottesmore. When I was at Cottesmore I was carrying Iain. And they were a nice couple but of course I can’t remember whether he was shot down before John was or not.
IR: You give the name, I’ll chase it up. I didn’t know his name before you see. So, what did you say his name was?
BE: Rodney.
MA: Rodney Worthy.
IR: Rodney Worthy.
MA: Yeah.
IR: Yeah. Well, I’ve made a note of him and I’m sure Beth will as well and I’ll chase it up and Beth will chase it up. But I’ll do it anyway. Just out of interest.
MA: We used to have a lot of parties of course. We used to go to the Ram Jam a lot. And then he was moved back to Scampton and I came back then to have Iain and by then Iain was only two months old so that was, that was it. Then I was at home with my mother and father which was great really. To have been on own would have been dreadful but they, they were good support. And of course mother had the part of John being missing and the presumed dead and then my brother was missing for oh it must have been nearly six months before we heard anything. So, it was a tough war for her.
IR: That’s where he told me. He told me where he were. When we were in the pub one time he told me all about that what had happened and he got away from as they were leaving Singapore and he got emotional. He didn’t go into details about how he got ashore but they got ashore. He and three others. They literally decided to walk through Burma which is now called Myanmar. They call it Myanmar I think. [unclear] They walked all the way. Right up. Right up to the border with India.
MA: Yeah. See if there’s anything else here.
MA: Oh, Dunkirk. Yeah. There was this atmosphere of something happening but it wasn’t until the late news on the BBC that I realised what a terrific operation had taken place. There was later a film called Mrs Miniver which portrays the feelings of wives and daughter when their menfolk were in so much danger. Malta also suffered. It was badly bombed because it was in English possession like that. Well, it still is, isn’t it? Yeah.
IR: You wouldn’t think so if you speak to the Spanish.
MA: I mean my father was in the Home Guard which was just about as funny then as it was.
IR: I think that’s why Dad’s Army was because it was so close to the truth. That’s what people were like. What did you say he was? Rodney Worthy? There’s no record of Rodney Worthy. That’s odd, isn’t it?
BE: What did you do after the war had finished?
MA: Well, by this time I was married to the second John and I had two daughters. Then my husband was in business with his, his brother, well his father’s business and the two brothers were in the business and they fell out so one of them had to leave. They couldn’t stay. And my husband decided that he’d like to run a pub. So, and in those days you did as your husband told you, you know didn’t like nowadays. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go and run a pub. I had three small children. The last thing I wanted was to run a pub but no we were going to run a pub and in the end run a pub is what we did. Oh, my father was beside himself. He said, he knew my husband very well. He said, ‘You’ll get all the work to do,’ he said, ‘And you’ve got the little children. You can’t.’ But it didn’t make any difference, we still but funnily enough I found I liked it. It was very hard work and of course the children were growing up all the time and eventually my husband just did what he wanted to do. He decided when we’d been a pub landlord he didn’t like it. He didn’t like being tied down seven days a week so he got a job with the Hennessy brandy as a rep and he gave his notice to the brewery and left us without a home. No. No home. And one of my customers said to me because we had to leave it, he’d given notice whereas my customers said to me, ‘There’s a little pub,’ he said, ‘Just outside Knaresborough, Mollie. They want a, they want a landlord and it’s, you can run it single handedly as long as you had a partner.’ He said, ‘What do you think?’ And I thought, ‘Well, it’s a home isn’t it?’ So I went for the audition [laughs] interview. Interview. And I got the job. A little pub just outside Knaresborough. It’s just down the road there isn’t it? Farnham. And I was there, we were there I don’t know how many years.
IR: Well —
MA: The children all grew up there.
IR: Yeah. It was a while.
MA: Yeah.
IR: It’s ours again now.
MA: I did run it for a while because he was never there and in the end of course we were divorced. It was just —
IR: It just never really worked. I shouldn’t say that. Sorry.
MA: What did he say?
IR: My stepfather, my first stepfather was not, mind you his daughter [unclear] not the two girls though, they’re not. Anyway, he’s passed away now so —
MA: Yeah. So, so then after that it was, I was divorced. I think I’m going to leave the next bit out.
IR: I shouldn’t if I were you.
MA: Yeah. Anyway, in the seventies I was without a job and I needed a job and the only thing I knew was the pub trade. That’s, because I’d never been trained for anything else. So, I went to work in a pub in Wetherby called the Swan and Talbot and that’s where I met my third husband. And then we took a pub on our own. We, we bought a pub and ran it on our own at [pause] I’ve forgotten where I lived.
IR: Tockwith.
MA: Tockwith. Yeah.
IR: Which during the war was a bomber station. The CO was Leonard Cheshire.
MA: Yeah.
IR: It isn’t now. It’s a big housing estate like most of them are.
MA: Yeah. So, of course, he wasn’t in the Air Force but he’d been in the Air Force. So he wasn’t a pilot. He was an engineer, wasn’t he?
IR: Flight engineer.
MA: And my stepson had that plaque done for me because he got the DFC. It’s all very —
IR: He kept very quiet about it. He never mentioned it.
MA: No. No. He didn’t.
IR: I didn’t know until he passed away that he’d got one.
MA: Yeah [unclear] that kind of thing so, so I’ve had three Johns and they were all in the Air Force.
IR: You wouldn’t have coped if you’d had a John from the Army. You wouldn’t have —
MA: I wouldn’t have known what to do [laughs] Then my son died in 1[912]. By this time we’d retired from the pub trade and we had a place in Spain. So we also wanted a place here so we got this little flat and then we had a place in Spain as well. And then he started getting Alzheimer’s. He was, he couldn’t drive anymore and the fact he couldn’t drive anymore meant we had to leave Spain because our apartment was way up in the mountains. You’d got to have a car. He couldn’t drive so there was no point so we came back and we lived here which has been nice. It was. But of course, he got Alzheimer’s. But it wasn’t difficult, was it?
IR: Not really.
MA: The worst thing was I couldn’t leave him. I couldn’t go out anywhere and leave him in case he turned the gas on or something silly like that and I had to help him get dressed and up. He liked his booze. He had his red wine.
IR: Well, he’d been a publican, hadn’t he?
MA: He drank a lot of red wine. He spilled some on the carpet down there.
IR: He was alright was John. He was ok. He died three months before my wife Pam died. She, she’d been poorly for a while.
MA: We [pause] my stepson lives in Norfolk now and we go down quite a bit and of course we used to go down with John.
IR: Yeah.
MA: And they all treated him as if he hadn’t got it which was great, you know. They went along and they did everything we did. We went out and had a meal but you had to watch him all the time. He used to take his false out some times.
IR: My stepbrother, Dermot who lived down in Norfolk he was in the Air Force. He left the Air Force and went flying helicopters didn’t he? For —
MA: Yeah.
IR: [unclear] And things and then he flew Jumbos with Virgin.
MA: Yeah.
IR: He was on the Far East route, wasn’t he?
MA: Yeah.
IR: And then he got the Tinnitus.
MA: Well, he got the other one where he was sick and everything so —
IR: Yeah. he was, he got on quite well. Sir Richard gave him quite a good thing when he left because he had been a good pilot.
MA: Yes.
IR: And he worked with him right from the start. So he set himself up with this. He’s got this [unclear] property in Norfolk, you see.
MA: Yeah. They’ve got, he’s got a lot of cottages that they let and got this one big barn which we stay in when we go down [unclear] down there.
IR: It’s a good business, isn’t it? They do B&Bs and people stay and they’re, because they’re in to horses and dogs so they allow people with dogs to come and so it’s very very popular.
MA: Yeah. He’s got four dogs has my stepson and I used to breed dogs as well. Oh yes, that’s another thing I did. When I was in the licensed trade well, first of all I bred Dachshunds and then I changed to Bassett hounds because I just loved Bassett hounds. So, I had the dogs for a while.
IR: You were a Crufts judge for a while.
MA: Oh yes. I’m passed by the Kennel Club to judge hounds actually.
IR: You were a hound’s judge.
MA: Not just not just Bassett but hounds.
IR: You’ve had an interesting life you have.
MA: I have. Well, it’s been a very long one Iain.
IR: Never.
MA: Sometimes. I’m ninety nine and I sometimes think to myself who is this ninety nine year old woman? Me.
IR: She still threatens to give me a slap if I don’t behave mind you. I say you and who’s army?
MA: I mean I’ve done a lot. Ninety nine is a lot of years. I have done a lot.
IR: You’ve done a lot of things which is —
MA: Yeah.
IR: Yeah. So how did you occupy your time during the war? What did you do during that period?
MA: Well, just in those days you just did housework and helped. I helped my mum and dad.
IR: Ruth, her youngest sister who’s passed away. Ruth. She drove ammunition waggons didn’t she?
MA: Oh, that’s right.
IR: And then she was promoted to drive.
MA: She was in the ATS my sister.
IR: Yeah. And she was promoted to drive all the officers around so —
MA: Yeah. Yeah. She was in all the war of course because we were conscripted. Any single girl of over, over you had to be over eighteen, I think.
IR: Yeah. It would have been.
MA: Single or even married without children you had to do. You had to do a job and you had a choice of the ATS, the [unclear] they were the —
IR: Army they were.
MA: Anyway, there was an Army one and a Navy one.
IR: And there was the land girls. They were —
MA: And the land girls. And I was going to go into the Land Army. That was what I was going to do because you had to choose one because you had to go. But I got pregnant with Iain so I didn’t. I didn’t have to go. I didn’t go. But my friend was in the Land Army. My friend was in the Land Army. Ruth, my sister in the ATS. My father in the Home Guard so —
IR: Yeah. That’s —
MA: My brother was in the Army.
IR: And I was called, boys who were born in the war were called cannon fodder weren’t we for the next war? Do you remember they used to call us, ‘Oh, your cannon fodder. Yes.’
MA: Yes. That’s right. Cannon fodder. Yeah. Yeah.
IR: And we, we got orange juice and the girls didn’t did they? Oh, there would be trouble now if that happened. But we were expected to fight in the next war because there seemed to be a war every generation.
MA: Oh, we had rosehip syrup. That was lovely. We used to get it all for free when we were, when we were expecting and they really looked after us because we had an anti-natal clinic here in Knaresborough which was a very good one. You were very well looked after and you got all these free vitamins and —
IR: And this was all before the National Health because the National Health —
MA: Yes. Before that time.
IR: Didn’t start ‘til 1949 did it?
MA: Yeah. Yes. And Iain was born at Stockeld Park which is now still, I don’t know what it is now.
IR: It was a Cheshire Home.
MA: Yeah.
IR: I don’t think it is now.
MA: But it was a big private house. A big one. You know, one of these what do you call them. Very posh they were that had it and they moved out and lived in a cottage in the grounds and let the house, the big house to well I don’t know. To the —
IR: Yeah, it was —
MA: Well, it would be the government I suppose.
IR: Yeah, it would.
MA: And they turned it into a maternity home.
IR: Yes. it was a maternity home for wives of officers.
MA: Yeah. And for wives yes and for we had the people from London. Post office was it?
IR: Yeah.
MA: They moved them up here. They were in Harrogate on that —
IR: Well, the government was actually in Harrogate at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
MA: Yes. Well —
IR: The normal government. Yeah.
MA: Yes. Well, they moved all the staff up here and their wives.
IR: Yeah. Well, they were [unclear] officers —
MA: Their wives came to Stockeld as well. So, and I had all three of mine in this great big. It was lovely really. I was lucky wasn’t I. I was lucky enough to get a bed by the fire because there was no central heating. They just had these great big fireplaces you know these old houses had and I think it was, I think it must have been when you were born.
IR: I don’t remember it dear.
MA: I had a bed near the fire which was gorgeous because the ones further down were colder. And then Judith was born in the middle of the summer so we didn’t have [unclear] couldn’t you stayed in bed ten days when you’d had a baby. You couldn’t get up and walk about. If you think how frustrating it used to be.
IR: Judith was born. Wasn’t Judith born two or three days after D-Day wasn’t she?
MA: I can’t remember Iain.
IR: Yeah. I think so.
MA: I can’t remember.
IR: It was either two or three days before. No. It was after. It was after D-Day. Just after D-Day. Judith. But you wouldn’t have been thinking about D-Day at the time I don’t think.
MA: No. Well, I don’t remember. I don’t know.
IR: Well, they didn’t tell anyone about D-Day until after it had happened really, did they?
MA: No.
IR: No.
MA: No
IR: Then Sheila was born. Sheila and I are good mates, aren’t we?
MA: Yeah. Sheila was born in November, wasn’t she? It was cold when she was born but they were all, they were all born at this Stockeld Park. This, this place for officer’s wives.
IR: Yeah. She lives just around, just talking her in, a few years ago talked her in to eventually retiring. She ended up very well. She did very well. She ended up with three shops in Harrogate. Three hair dressing and beauty salons in Harrogate, didn’t she?
MA: Yeah.
IR: She sold them now. Well, she sold the businesses but she’s not sold the properties. Clever monkey.
MA: She was a very [unclear] that girl is [unclear] she, she lost her husband when he was young and she was in hair dressing. She had a hair dressing salon and after John died she wouldn’t go back to hair dressing and she sold her business. And then she took a course in beauty [unclear] and passed all the exams and opened a beauty salon and she just recently. It was only about a year ago isn’t she since she retired.
IR: It’s about time you packed it in, our kid you know and now she has she sees reason because she still has the property.
MA: Yeah. Oh yeah. She goes into property dealing a bit.
IR: Well, John’s family, her husband, her late husband owned a lot of property in Harrogate, didn’t they? So —
[The interview has been edited here as the interviewee spoke about personal, post war matters.]
IR: And yet Sheila and I, Judith is the middle one I don’t think of her as a step sister and she doesn’t think as half brother and sister. We don’t think about it that way.
MA: And my step daughter and step son, my step daughter is lovely.
IR: Yeah. Elaine is.
MA: We go out shopping and have lunch once a week she and I. When she’s at home. She’s away at the moment. And then we go to Norfolk and stay with my stepson so that’s. So I get out a bit but I found the last trip was, I enjoyed being there. I had a birthday there. I had a big birthday but I found the journey home exhausting this time.
IR: It’s a long run isn’t it?
MA: Its about —
IR: From Norfolk.
MA: It takes us about six hours because we have stops but I was really.
IR: I think they’re known as comfort breaks dear nowadays.
MA: Yes.
IR: I know what you mean.
MA: But other than that, and the next day I had a fall. Anyway, I had a fall the next day. I had the trolley here and I was sitting in this chair and I got up to put something up on the trolley and I fell over and I fell the trolley was nearer to that chair so I got up and I’ve got bad knees. I’ve got arthritis. I knelt on my arthritic knees and pulled myself up to that chair. No way was I going to go to hospital. No way.
IR: She was sat there, bless her. It looked like a bomb hit it. I came. ‘I’ve had a fall.’ Luckily she fell against the chair but it could have been.
MA: Yes.
IR: If you had knocked your head on anything it could have been —
MA: Yeah. Well, if I’d hit the, I’ve got this, you see. If I’d have hit my head I’d have pressed this. I pressed it twice. I’ve used it twice.
BE: You said you fell while you were pregnant as well.
MA: Yes. I caught my heel in the carpet coming down the stairs in the Ram Jam Inn.
IR: God, that sounds [laughs] the Ram Jam Inn.
MA: I remember I was with the other girl, Mollie and she said, ‘You’ll have to tell John.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to tell him,’ I said, ‘I know what he’ll say. Don’t wear high heels.’
BE: So, appearance was very important.
MA: Oh yes. Yes. Yeah. And we had little to work on then. It was, I was lucky having this cousin. She was quite wealthy and she was always going to places and because she had the same rations as we did, the same coupons so when, when we wanted clothes she would write and say, “Have you any coupons to spare?’ And we’d give her our coupons, my sister and I and then she would send us her clothes. She had all sorts of nice clothes but that evening dress was, was beautiful and do you know I can’t remember what happened to it. I can’t. It was, I think I wore it once after the war at some Masonic do or something or other. I can’t remember what happened to it after that. But it really was a lovely dress. I mean all the other girls were green with envy [laughs]
BE: So —
MA: Yes, because I remember I wore, it had very very full skirts because there were three skirts and I wore long mittens and then a velvet, a brooch on the velvet thing.
IR: Very glam.
MA: Very. I mean you could get dressed up then even though you hadn’t got the coupons. You could get dressed up. You know they don’t have the balls like that now, do they? No.
BE: Do you want to tell me a little bit more about the balls you did go to?
MA: Sorry?
BE: Do you want to tell me about some of the balls you did go to?
MA: Well, that was the only one and when we, when we when we were down with John but here we went to St Patrick’s Ball and did we have another one when we were down there? Yeah.
IR: Yeah. Obviously, I think my generation was the last one. I mean we didn’t go to fancy balls like they went to but we still went dancing. Proper dancing. I got a Silver. A Silver medal in my dancing when I learned to dance. And then all the dance halls went. They sort of all went, didn’t they?
MA: It was all jitterbugging and that. I can remember my sister.
IR: The only dancing you see now is, is professional dancers.
MA: My sister and my second cousin, John. We were at a little, they used to have Saturday night dancing at the little local, you know Women’s Institute talks and when jitterbugging first came in we were at this dance at Dacre. Dacre Hall. That was the nearest one to us and we used to go and my sister and my husband were banned for jitterbugging. They were told to go and not come back again [laughs] And then of course jitterbugging came in in a big way. Everybody did it. That was funny.
IR: Yeah. Strange how that happened. When you think about it it was strange. If you wanted to meet a girl you had to learn to dance and it was as simple as that. If you didn’t do ballroom dancing. And I enjoyed it and I was good at it. The thing was you used to ask a girl to dance. It wasn’t all, you used to go up to them say, ‘You dancing?’ And they used to say, ‘You asking?’ ‘Yeah, I’m asking.’ ‘Yeah. I’m dancing.’ [laughs] That was the usual. ‘You asking?’ ‘Yes. I’m asking.’ ‘Ok, I’m dancing.’
MA: We used to go. We used to go Knaresborough had a Saturday night dance as well but that wasn’t I don’t know it wasn’t quite so it was a bit scruffy I think that was. We weren’t keen on that but I remember another thing we used to do. We, this was before the war though this we used to have, at the Royal Hall they used to have visiting artists and we used to go to those. We used to go to those a lot. They used to have a mini bus sometimes to take you and I remember going and seeing Nat Gonella. You wouldn’t remember Nat Gonella.
IR: Yeah. He was a band leader, wasn’t he?
MA: Yeah. He was famous trumpeter but he had a band as well. and a girl who sang. What was her name? Sonya. We used to go to a lot of those. Big dance bands they were.
IR: Yeah. It was the age of dance bands.
MA: Yeah. We did. Henry Hall never came but Jack [pause] Jack somebody.
IR: Jack. What was the name? Yeah. The big —
MA: All the big bands came and we’d have a mini bus come and pick us up and take us there and pick us up. When we went to the balls in the wartime of course you had to be very careful about the light. You couldn’t let any light out. Out of the if you wanted to go outside for any reason you had to be very very careful not to let any light out and not light torches or anything like that. You had to be, you had to be very careful and of course we had these black out things at home.
IR: And in fact, they did that two, the only bombs that dropped on Harrogate were right next door to the Royal Hall. Do you know Harrogate at all? No. Come to the bottom of what is Ripon Road and Parliament Street and that’s where the Royal Hall is. At the bottom of the crossroads. I think it used to be must have been [unclear] the bombs here.
MA: No. I think —
IR: Right in the middle in between what are now traffic lights.
MA: Now, they did say he was aiming for [pause] I’ve forgotten it. That one of the Jewish wealthy people was staying there.
IR: Well, it could be. Yeah. It could be under the circumstances.
MA: Yeah.
Yeah. It blew because —
MA: They dropped a bomb because they thought these Jewish people were staying there.
IR: Ruth was working at the time at the majestic which was one of the government departments.
MA: Yeah.
IR: Which had a big conservatory a long thing and the blast of the bomb smashed every window in this but didn’t actually hit the building.
MA: A bomb dropped here in the park.
IR: Yeah.
MA: This was during the war, of course.
IR: Yeah.
MA: And we didn’t have an air raid shelter because you know just this private house. We used to go in to the cupboard under the stairs and it was a funny, it was we were never around and my mother said I think that’s a German and so we shot underneath the stairs, into the cupboard under the stairs and the bomb dropped in the park. Well, it’s still a park.
IR: Yeah.
MA: It dropped in the park. Killed a cow. Nobody, nothing else and then just off it went.
IR: Strange. Strange enough it was a Luftwaffe pow camp so if he’d hit anybody.
MA: Yeah. Yes.
IR: It would have been one of their own.
MA: Yes. It would. Yeah.
IR: But there was another one, wasn’t there? At the bus stop. Down in the estate.
MA: No. It was the same one.
IR: Was that the same one?
MA: On it went.
IR: There was supposed to be one down there because there was a huge crater there when I was little. There’s a housing estate on there now.
MA: It was the same one that dropped a bomb here. It just went.
IR: Oh right. Yeah. Didn’t it kill somebody on the, standing on the bus stop.
MA: Oh yes. Somebody getting on the bus.
IR: Yeah.
MA: That’s right. Passed there. There would be a bit of light there you see.
IR: But it was, around here you’d think it was quiet but they were going over to Manchester or Liverpool and they had some bomb stuck on the rack this was a handy place over here to lob the bombs over. This, we got quite a few around here didn’t we.
MA: Yeah.
IR: We. I mean I don’t remember them but —
MA: Oh, we were lucky. We escaped all the bombing. Big cities got a terrible hammer.
IR: I remember I was three or four and we were sitting on here and the lads who used to come back didn’t know then but they used to come back from a sortie over Germany in the bombers because there was Dishforth. A lot of places around here and they used to fly really really low and waggle their wings to let them know because a lot of the wives and families lived in digs around here to let them know they were back home. They were really low Lancasters and Halifaxes and they used to waggle their wings. Frighten you to death they did.
MA: Yeah. What else can I tell you that, as I remember?
IR: Preferably before the war if you can remember. Does it matter?
MA: My third husband we had our own pub. We had it for sixteen years and it was, it was our own. It was a Freehouse. It wasn’t, wasn’t run by a brewery so we had it was quite good and we retired when it got to the stage well we were both in our sixties anyway. You know, we were tired but we retired because all these eating houses were coming in. They were all, and if we’d stayed we would have had to have our kitchen completely pulled down and everything and start to cater. Well, I mean that wasn’t for us. We did a bit of catering. We used to make sandwiches and soup but we didn’t, so that was when we retired and it’s all altered now. It’s all, they’re just like.
IR: No smoking, No driving now. It’s ruined it all.
MA: Every pub has to cater in a big way and their eating houses more than, than pubs because then of course everybody started getting their meals from, from the booze from the supermarkets and everybody started drinking at home. So, I think we came out at the right time.
IR: You did.
MA: We did. We’d had sixteen good years. It was a busy pub.
IR: It was.
MA: Very busy.
BE: What can you tell me about your time living with your mother and father after your first John passed away?
MA: Well, it was, it was nice to be with them because they suffered as well because they were really fond of him and really, you know I just. Oh, I did go back to work didn’t I? For a short while. I used to be a hairdresser but I was just a hairdresser for about two year because the war broke out and I got married. But I did go for a while to a little hairdressing salon but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like hair dressing really. I think, I think my mother decided that that was the best thing I could do and in those days you had to pay to be an apprentice at a hairdresser and she paid the money out to this little hair dresser. And of course I wasn’t, and I wasn’t very good at it. I was, I didn’t like it. So, and then of course war broke out and no this was after, this was during the war, wasn’t it? Of course, Iain was a baby. He stayed at home with mother. She looked after him.
IR: She was my, grandma and grandad, they spoiled me rotten, didn’t they?
MA: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, they loved him. Grandpa was lovely with the children. He used to sit, I can see him now sitting doing it on a potty.
IR: What a thought.
MA: And, and of course there were things going on. I used to read a lot. The houses up here they were a row of shops and one of them was a, it was a haberdashery actually but she ran a little library so I was always getting my books, my books from the library and but we didn’t go about a lot. I mean we didn’t have a car. We didn’t, and in fact my father never did have a car.
IR: He didn’t drive, did he?
MA: He didn’t want to drive. No. Wouldn’t drive.
IR: And Ruth learned how to.
MA: My brother had come home by this time and he’d married. He married a girl from the ATS and she lived down south so he was still in the Army so he had to go where he was sent. He lived in the south most, a lot of the time. We didn’t see much of them. Ruth came out and went to work for a solicitor for a while. Then she and one of the fellas she worked with set up a business on their own so she didn’t, she was still living at home with me, you know. And then she, she started she was working and she started this business with this chap and they did very well. They were. She had a very good job. But she got Alzheimer’s too.
IR: She never really left home. I was just thinking to myself. She lived at home with grandma and grandad and then when granddad had gone she lived in the same house didn’t she?
MA: Yeah. She did. Yeah. They moved. Grandma, my mum and father moved to a little house that looks over the river. It’s a street that moved down to the station in Knaresborough and it’s nearly at the bottom and they lived in that, and Ruth was living in that when she had to go into a home. And Sheila, she did it all [[ a house and getting Sheila and Julie getting ruth in you know it was a very expensive nursing home.
IR: I didn’t get involved in that because Pam, my wife was very poorly then, wasn’t she? So she used to say, ‘No. No. Leave it to me. We’ll deal with it.’ Sheila is very good at that sort of thing.
MA: Yeah.
IR: Pam was very poorly and I was at the hospital most of the time.
BE: So, what did Ruth do in the war?
MA: She, she was in the ATS and she drove heavy lorries. And then she went on to driving officers. She used to drive. She drove the dental surgeon I think it was that she had to drive around. I think she had quite a good war. I think she had a bit of fun [laughs]
IR: Anyway —
IR: Oh, and you were telling me the chap you knew that lived down here.
MA: Oh, yeah.
IR: The one that became a submarine.
MA: Oh, Ronny. Ronny [Lindon]
IR: Yeah.
MA: There was a shop. They’re little flats not but they were shops like Standings. It sold all sorts of, you know all sorts of unusual things and he, and he was in the shop all the time and he always wore a white coat and you could buy a lot of things there that were unusual. Even in those days. And we used to do most of our shopping down there. I mean all we had to do was pop down there and get some whatever you wanted and of course they had a big range but then I don’t remember my mother going out shopping much at all because people all came to the house. The butcher came. The grocer lady used to come. She came in a little cart, took the order and it was delivered. It, no I don’t remember.
IR: I can vaguely remember these little vans coming from uptown. From all the and then of course she moved uptown she still used the same because they were next to marketplace.
MA: There, there were shops all around here actually.
IR: Well, at the top of the road here there was, there was, what did they call them? They sold fresh vegetables, didn’t they? They actually grew the vegetables in the field there. They’re all houses now.
MA: Yeah. And there was a confectioners. One of the houses here was a confectioners. They sold sweets.
IR: There was a post office at the top and, oh yeah —
MA: Yeah. There was a Post Office here.
BE: Was this before the war?
MA: Yeah. Well, the Post Office was still here when we bought the flat. I think that was one of the reasons, because we’d both stopped driving and we got the little Post Office and grocery thing just up the road and then of course they closed it.
IR: When, when you were expecting and [unclear] the only the only telephone was in the Post Office.
MA: Oh, that’s right.
IR: So, to make a call you had to, or didn’t he spend hours in the Post Office waiting for the call.
MA: Yeah. And then when the call eventually came through he was fast asleep and they had to wake him up. Yes. That was the only telephone. That’s right. Yeah.
IR: So why did I become a telephone engineer?
MA: But it was great for us when we first came here because we’d both stopped driving so we’d got the little Post Office to just pop to and then they closed it.
IR: They’ve all closed. They’re all houses now.
MA: And then of course John got Alzheimer’s which was very tiring because I couldn’t leave him. I couldn’t.
BE: Your third husband.
MA: Of course, the family all helped but I couldn’t go anywhere and leave him. He had to go where ever I went. He had to go with me. But he wasn’t a difficult man with Alzheimer’s. He was very, he did as he was told, you know. I just had to tell him to do things and he would do it. Except drinking all my brandy one night. He used to sit in that chair and I used to sit well like this to watch the television a bit so I couldn’t see what he was doing and this little table between us and I’d been a bit off colour so I made myself a brandy and port. I didn’t drink it all but I had it if my tummy felt funny. He had his red wine. And I had this brandy bottle on here with my port and my back’s to him and I’m ready for another drink and I turn around and he’s emptied my brandy bottle. It had all gone. All gone. Oh, and it scratched a place on his leg and I was trying to dress it and he wouldn’t help me and I got so fed up I wrapped a towel around him and got him off to bed. The next day he was all right. He’d no hangover. My brandy had all gone. But he died when we were down in Norfolk actually.
IR: Yeah.
MA: And he didn’t, he died of a heart attack. That was in 1912.
IR: [unclear] yes.
MA: Yeah.
IR: And Pam was sick. I was three months later. I wasn’t there. I was in hospital for nearly three years.
MA: We were down in Norfolk and we were going, we were, we got him dressed. He was dressed and we were going to go out somewhere. We were going, Elaine, that’s my stepdaughter and we were trying to decide which would be the best place for him to sleep nearest to the loo without him getting confused and he was sitting in a chair and all of a sudden his eyes started. I didn’t spot it at first. It was Elaine that spotted it. We got him sat in the chair and she held his hand, ‘Talk to me dad. Can you hear me dad?’ And in the end she said, ‘I think we’d better have an ambulance.’ And they came and the lad straight away said he’d had a heart attack. Put him in the ambulance and took him to Norwich, which was the nearest one. And he never spoke again. He just, he died in the small hours so, so he was buried he was cremated up here. But Dermot, my stepson he dealt with everything. I didn’t have to worry about anything. He did everything for me.
IR: It’s very very difficult actually. Everything you’ve got to follow up and you’re so upset. There was only us and I said, ‘I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself.’ And Pam and I had a very special relationship so it was hard. It was hard. You had to wait for the green thing. You had to report the death and then they give you the green thing which you have to give to the people who are dealing with it because they can’t move the body until they’ve got this green ticket.
MA: Yeah. Well, I was very lucky he dealt with it.
IR: Yeah.
MA: It’s, well [unclear] with us and dealt with all this paperwork.
IR: There is a lot of paper involved. I said no to family. Pam and I were very very close and she’d want me to do it. I’ll do it which was very good. Luckily my niece’s, eldest niece’s husband is a pastor, a church pastor and he specialises in funerals and he helped with a lot of that.
BE: What can you tell me about your first wedding because presumable that was during the war was it?
MA: Yes. That was during the war. It wasn’t a white wedding which I would have loved to have had but I did have a very smart suit. It was a smoky blue and for wartime it was, it was smart and I had a little hat. Iain can you fetch the photo of the wedding? It’s on the —
IR: I was just going to get it on here but I can fetch that if you want. Yeah.
BE: So where was the ceremony?
MA: It was at the little chapel. There was a Methodist chapel two streets away, down, down from here. So, we didn’t, I honestly don’t remember. We didn’t have a car because in those days there weren’t cars. You could walk down there. I think I walked.
IR: Here we are. I think I sent this to you but I’m not sure. I think I must have done.
MA: Yes. That’s, that’s me in what I was wearing. The fox fur that my cousin had leant me. That’s the best man. The one, Iain Livingstone. He was killed as well and that’s John.
BE: So, was he on leave. Was he on leave for your wedding?
MA: Oh yeah. Yeah.
IR: Iain Livingstone was the nephew of David Livingstone, wasn’t he?
MA: He was related yes.
IR: Yeah. Related. You know David Livingstone in Africa. As in, ‘David Livingstone I presume.’ That David Livingstone.
MA: My hat right on the side of my head.
IR: I noticed that in all your photos. Good for him.
MA: Then I’ve got my high heels on. I wore high heels all the time.
BE: Brilliant. Shall we take a little break or finish now? Are you ok? Have you got anything else you want to share with us or any other stories you want to —
MA: Not that I can remember.
BE: Ok. We’ll wrap it up then.
IR: Would you like a cup of tea?
BE: Yes.
MA: There must be lots of things but I’m just my memory is good but it’s not that good now.
IR: Well, if things, if things come up I can put them down and send them to Beth. If there are things you think.
MA: Yeah.
IR: Oh, I haven’t said that.
MA: What haven’t I talked about?
IR: We’ll pause and have a tea break and if we —
MA: Yeah.
IR: We can start again.
MA: A tea please Iain.
IR: If you can think of anything else.
MA: Very well madam.



Bethany Ellin, “Interview with Mollie Allen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 26, 2022,

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