Interview with Sheena Staves


Interview with Sheena Staves


During the war Sheena lived in Cottingham, a village close to Hull. She lived with her mother and father (who was a fire watcher). He fought in the Far East during the first world war. She had two elder brothers, one in the Navy and one in the Royal Air Force. She also had an older sister. Sheena was thirteen when war broke out and she continued to attend school. Many of her peer group were evacuated to Bridlington, but Sheena stayed at home. She describes what it was like being a teenager during the war and how this affected her daily life plus activities. This included school exams, relationships with family, friends, and boyfriends. Sheena talks about the social impact of the bombing including rationing of food and clothing. Sheena’s husband was a pilot in Bomber Command, she is a widow, has two daughters and trained as a nurse.








01:05:42 audio recording

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PC: Hello, it’s Saturday the 23rd of April 2016. My name is Pam Locker and I am in the home of Mrs Sheena Staves, of ******* Cottingham, Hull. And, can I just start Sheena, by saying on behalf of the International Bomber Command Memorial Trust an enormous thank you for agreeing, to, to talk to us. Ok, so um I know that the main story that you want to talk about today is your experience as a young person of the bombing in Hull. So, would you just like to tell us a little bit about your early life?
SS: From before the war?
PC: Whatever you want to say, you know, where you lived, your siblings and so forth.
SS: We lived in Hoven [?] Road, Hull. My parents, two brothers and a sister. Both my brothers were involved in the war, one in the Navy and one in Bomber Command. My sister wasn’t she um, there you go, and my father was a fire watcher as well. I can remember the day war broke out and that evening, that night, the sirens went for the first time, everybody shot down into air raid shelters or under the table, somewhere like that, and my sister had hysterics. But I didn’t. That was just the first night and then it was peaceful for quite a while, until they started bombing.
PC: Where did you sit in the family? Were you —
SS: I was the youngest,
PC: Right.
SS: The baby.
PC: And how old were you in 1939?
SS: Well, I would be just about twelve. Yes, twelve a month after war broke out. My school was Newland High School, all girls, and it was immediately evacuated to Bridlington, but I didn’t go. I came to Cottingham School and although only being eleven, twelve I was put in the top class. And, if the sirens went I had a bolt hole, somebodies home to run to because there weren’t any shelters as early as that. But then my school came back and we went in the morning to Newland High School and the whole grammar school boys had the school in the afternoon. We didn’t mix at all, but then it gradually got back to normal and we were there full time. But um, whereas before the war you hung your coats in the cloakroom, no, they had to be hung in the school, in the classroom, and you didn’t have to change your shoes either, because, of course, if the sirens went you had to shoot out the air raid shelters, and again um —
PC: So, these were all the children whose parents had decided that they didn’t want to evacuate them?
SS: Well, a lot of them did evacuate to Bridlington, but when the school again, after the Christmas, I think they nearly all came back, they didn’t want to be, I think that probably Bridlington was as dangerous as Hull, being on the coast. But everything just sort of went back to normal, you, you, nobody panicked, we weren’t that sort of family, or people, so err, school was just back again, I think we missed one day, when the water mains were bombed in the street, so we couldn’t go that one day, but that was all we missed. We had an air raid shelter in the garden and we just went there, night after night, and it was, the blitz was on when I was taking my school leaving certificate, but you got no allowance for having been up all night being bombed. Where now they get an allowance if they’ve to a cough and a cold, I think. We got no allowance for that, but fortunately I did pass them all, but in the middle of the mathematics, arithmetic exam the sirens went and we all shot down to the air raid shelter and the teacher said, ‘don’t you talk about it,’ we don’t talk about it,’ [laughs]. We all sat there, no light, darkened air raid shelter, mud floor, [whispers] ‘what did you get for that?’ [laughs], typical. And then we went back to finish the exam in our classrooms. Nowadays that would not come off at all, but, I can very well remember going night after night into the air raid shelters, and after the third time of having gotten out of bed and going to the air raid shelter, my mother made me stay asleep and she stayed in the air raid shelter with me, while my sister was in the house on her own. Not, it was an awful problem for my mother, I think, to know whether to stay with me or my sister, but we came through it but it was unfortunately taking my exams during that time, it was a big strain being in and out of bed all night, then go to school the next day as normal. And, of course, I did lose some friends in the war, the desk next to me was just empty when you got to school and you would realise what had happened, but nobody seemed to panic over it, It was one of those things, and there’s a house at the corner of National Avenue and Bricknall Avenue, who had a huge garden at one side and that’s where my friend lived, and they took a direct hit and they never re-built that house, it’s a garden now, but when I go down there I often think of her, Brenda —
PC: And how old was she?
SS: She’d be about thirteen I think, thirteen, fourteen when the blitz was on. But you just sit in the shelter and listen to the bombs dropping and think well, that one’s missed me, and hope that the next ones do and wondering how my father was doing fire watching, because that was quite a dangerous job too. But, we got through it, you just had to. You know you see the craters and wonder how things had worked out for people and I remember, as I’ve told the girls many times, my grandma, Nana, as I called her, appeared on our doorstep one day, holding, I don’t know what you call them, but you put bottles of spirits in, it had a special name, and that was all she had left of her home, and her living, because she had a little corner shop at the corner of Mayfield Street and, I forget the other one, and she just said ‘I’ve been bombed,’ and that’s all, everything was gone. Her living, she had her handbag fortunately, but there was nothing else there. She stayed with us for quite a while, and then she went back to the West Riding where she had come from and she lived there. Because I used to go and stay with her and one of her sisters, in the Easter holidays and the summer holidays, to get away from the bombing. My parents took me and I used to stay there and I fortunately had a cousin about my age who would help things along rather than just being on my own and not knowing anybody. So, I used to go there a lot [laughs], we used to err, it was a little village called Royston in the West Riding, Wakefield, Sheffield area, and they had two cinemas, one changed three times a week and one changed twice a week [laughs]. Betty and I used to go to the cinema every night [laughs], err because it was safe and it was safe out in the West Riding as well. My mother used to send food parcels sometimes, and one time she sent kippers, well, you can imagine the smell. They wouldn’t deliver them. We had to go to the post office for them and sort of say ‘we don’t know what these are,’ [laughs], they were kippers. You know, it was just the sort of thing you did. You could get hold of anything that was scarce, she would send them to us. I quite enjoyed those holidays. We used to go cycling around the West Riding, with no thought of safety. We used to, if we were getting thirsty, we would go into the pit canteens, all these burly miners there and we would get a drink of something [laughs]. They invariably gave it to us, they didn’t charge us for it. I just think of the difference today when they haven’t got that freedom any more. That we could go cycling around the West Riding, without any worries and without having to think, were we all right and the people looking after us didn’t have to worry either, and I think the youngsters miss that freedom that we had, but [pause], I don’t know, anyway [laughs]. I don’t know what else you want to know, that I can tell you.
PC: When, can you remember the dates of the blitz in Hull?
SS: No, I can’t. I know it was a springtime and it would be about forty, forty-four wouldn’t it be? Forty-three, forty-four time. I connect it with my age, but it would be either forty-three or forty-four it would be, and it was springtime, the worst of the blitz was, but we had bombing all the time, all year round, bombing sometime or other but err.
PC: What every night?
SS: During the blitz it was every night. Night after night after night yes. That’s why my mother let me stay in the air raid shelter, to get some sleep. At other times, it more or less started straight away did the bombing. You’d hear a lot of bombs, don’t know what you call them. There would be five bombs, one dropped after the other, and you’d say. ‘that’s the last one.’ They would drop them in a row, you know, if it was nearby, we’d think thank goodness, it’s missed us, but it didn’t miss many people I’m afraid. A lot of them got it. I think Eastholme got the worse because of the docks, and the manufacturing areas there. We didn’t get such a lot. But I remember my sister cycling to work in the Stoke Ferry area and a bomb going off and she bumped her knee. She fell off her bike and she bumped her knee and I’m afraid she was in plaster for a year after that, something happened to her knee, and they blamed that on the bomb going off and she fell off.
PC: So, it was day time and night time?
SS: Oh, they did come in the day time, yes, yes, day time bombing, but not so much, but err, I’m afraid that sometimes we used to sit and watch the bombs going over, going somewhere else and missing us. But, when they came back from, sort of the Midland areas where there was manufacturing, they would drop their bombs here to get rid of them. They didn’t wait until they got over the North Sea, where it wouldn’t of hurt anybody they dropped them over somebody or other and um, so that was the blitz. It wasn’t a very good time, but, as I say I had a bolt hole on the way home, just where, well it was the women’s hospital on Cottingham Road, half way between Hall Road and the school, and there was a bungalow there that I had to go to if the bombing started during the day when I was coming home or going to school and funnily enough it got bombed, so it wouldn’t have been much good would it? But, I remember going there and, there was a house on Priory Road that in term time when I was at Cottingham School, cos’ they hadn’t gotten any shelters, and if the sirens went, you, you ran home and so I had a house on Priory Road, people my mother knew where to. And they would have to go sometimes, cos’ the sirens would go and you wanted to shelter, and it was a good walk from Cottingham School, to, to Hovan [?] Road, which I did four times a day. But, um, anyway, I got through it. I came through err, it must of formed our natures, our characters I think, a lot, going through all that sort of thing. It wasn’t easy, but you were British and you, and as Malcolm used to say, ‘press on regardless.’ When he was so ill at the end it was just a case of ‘press on regardless.’ It’s there and that’s the sort of thing that the war brings out in you, you’re stoical. And, um, I don’t think there’s much else I’ve got to say.
PC: Did you, as a young person did you, can you remember how you felt, what you thought about the future? It must have seemed relentless.
SS: Um, no, you did wonder what was going to happen after the war, but I think you more or less took things day by day, because during the war you didn’t know whether you would be here the next day, so you just made the most of the day you’d got and didn’t think too far, I mean, I know what I wanted to do and err, and fortunately I managed to do it, but um, you didn’t think too far ahead, because it was not, there was nothing to be sure of. Even as a teenager, you, you felt that even though, you know [pause] I enjoyed my teens, but nothing was permanent. You know, boyfriends were temporary, you met them and then they would be gone into the forces, or they were in the forces and would move on. Nothing was, err you didn’t sort of think this is going to go on for years because nothing did, [laughs], it was temporary. But we got through it.
PC: Mm, mm. And what about the practical things of life, you know, food and —
SS: Well it was —
PC: How did all that work?
SS: Well, it was rationed, of course, you, you didn’t have a lot, and I look back now as a housewife and I wonder how my mother managed but she did manage. My father was a butcher and people used to say ‘oh, well, you won’t be short of meat,’ but believe you me [laughs] Saturday night came and my mother didn’t know what she was getting, she’d just get what was left. So, it wasn’t a case of ‘you’re a butcher, you’ll have steak and chops time you want them’, because we just didn’t, we got what was left of the rationing and food was scarce of course and sweets were unknown more or less, so it was very little. And, of course, clothes were rationed, so if shoes, well yes, so if shoes came in a shop the word went around and you all shot off and got your shoes [laughs], or whatever was coming in because it was all scarce. There wasn’t the temptation of sweets that they have now. You just couldn’t get it and that’s all there was to it. You just accepted it. It was there, there was no use binding [?] about it, we just blamed Hitler and said it was all Hitler’s fault, so we didn’t err —
PC: So, when shops were bombed, I mean, how, was there, because the food, was there some organisation that meant that food could come in from elsewhere, or, how, how did it work?
SS: I don’t know about food, because I was too young to think about that I suppose, and I don’t think the shops my mother used were bombed, except for me nanas. She was, it was just a little corner shop that she had, but um —
PC: Was that your mother’s mum?
SS: It was my mother’s stepmother actually, and as I said she went back to the West Riding, but she had lost her livelihood which was hard because there wasn’t a lot of pensions in those days no.
PC: So, what did you do when you had time off? What sort of things did you do while you were in Hull?
SS: Went to the cinema, and as I got older of course, we went to dances, you went dancing a lot, yes, the Beverley Road Baths, and um, in Cottingham, there was the hall in Cottingham, what do you call it? It isn’t there anymore. Do you remember Christina? [talking to someone else in the room} No? Err, and we, I think we used to walk, I think we used to walk home, with no worry, and err, you would drop a friend off and you would probably end up on your own walking the last bit of the way home, because there weren’t any buses, so you walked. And food was rationed so we were all nice and slim and healthy. I think we were healthy during the war because the rations were a healthy ration. There was enough to get all your nutrition, and err, father of course, grew quite a few vegetables in the garden as well, to feed us. No, any more prompts?
PC: Did you, did you go into the city at all, did you see —
SS: Yes, yes, we —
PC: Do you have memories of what it was like in the city?
SS: Yes, yes. There was one street, I can’t remember what they call it but it was where my mother used to go for cakes as a treat, to Fowlers’ the shop, and it was completely flattened and lost. There was no more of that street anymore and they never re-built it. And, of course, a lot of the shops were bombed as well, big holes in the city. And, where the car park is, down, where the library is in Hull, it was a museum and of course it was bombed as well, so we lost that museum. It was an interesting museum, I remember it. But it was gone.
PC: Did it stay open in the war? Did they move things?
SS: I think they moved anything that was particularly um, valuable or unusual, but otherwise, no, it just got flattened, and that was the end of that one. And they never re-built it as there’s a car park there now and, across the road from that car park, just in front of the new theatre, there was just a façade of some building because it was bombed behind it and there’s still what was a cinema down Beverley Road, isn’t there? That again is just a façade, the rest was bombed. Yes, we did go into Hull, err, but not very much, because I think we were a bit too young to go into town on our own. In those days, they thought you were anyway at thirteen, fourteen but we went to the outlying cinemas the ones that were nearer home, and I think they’ve gone now. I should think they have.
PC: Do you have any memory of what the city looked like before —
SS: Vaguely —
PC: Are there any memories that you would like to share about that [indistinct] —
SS: I can’t remember that much, because at that age, in childhood and that age, you don’t particularly take it in. I was, I can err, remember places being there, the Regal Cinema which is now gone that was opposite the station, the Regal was there and there was a theatre down across the road from there. But they would have probably gone anyway. They were bombed. And of course, if they were bombed during the day there was loss of life I suppose. It wasn’t, it was a good time in some ways because people got together more, they worked together more, they had a mutual enemy and so instead of going at each other they went at Hitler and Lord Haw Haw [laughs]. We used to listen to Lord Haw Haw and my mother used to get so angry.
PC: So, everyone had a radio?
SS: Oh yes, we had a radio, everyone had a radio, I think in those days and listened to the news. I can’t remember listening to anything else, never listened to the children’s programmes, I was too busy reading, avid reader. So, we did go to the cinema, when I was in the West Riding more than anything else, because I certainly wouldn’t have gone into Hull to the cinema at that age, but I did go to the outlying ones. So, you, you made your own amusement I think, a bit more. Played with friends, yes, they would run home if the sirens went, [laughs] wasn’t much fun in that way, but we did have a good time. You know, it was err, I suppose I was lucky having parents that were quite stoical as well and, as I say my sister used to have hysterics at times, but it didn’t last long because my mother used to tell her ‘control yourself’ [laughs]. Well she was older than me so perhaps she realised the dangers more than I did.
PC: So, playing with your friends, where did you play?
SS: In the street. Because there wasn’t any traffic. Err, even before the war we played in the street but during the war petrol was rationed so cars were off the road and we used to play in the street, skipping, quite a few of us yes. I’m afraid I was naughty and used to climb the lamp posts and swing from one of the [indistinct] laughs. And we used to open the little doors at the front, where the men used to read the machines and we used to read them as well. No, it was hopscotch. Skipping, ball and top, ball and —
PC: Did you all play together, boys and girls?
SS: Yes, yes, yes, we did yes. The boys would be nuisance sometimes and we were a nuisance to them sometimes but, yes, you were all neighbours and err, and parents knew where you were and I had one friend whose mother used to blow a whistle when she wanted her to come home. The whistle would go and ‘Lynne you have to go home now’ [laugh}s. Otherwise, we didn’t have watches, somehow, we knew the time to be going home.
PC: So, did you all instinctively meet at a certain time in the day? And then —
SS: Yes, you would just meet in the street you’d see out and —
PC: You’d get up and have breakfast —
SS: Yes, yes, somebody would come and knock on the door probably. In those days, we had ten foots [?} the back of the houses, so somebody would come and knock at the back door for us and we would go out, err, it was a good time in that way, and, as I got a bit older, and when I started having boyfriends it was quite a good time as well. Because, as I said, nothing was permanent so you could just enjoy yourselves, err and not worry about things as the young people do now. I think they worry more than we used to do. But, no the bombing wasn’t nice.
PC: So, if the siren went off you would all —
SS: Go to —
PC: Scatter to your own homes?
SS: To your own place yes. To the air raid shelter yes.
PC: And they were in the garden?
SS: Yes, we’ve still got one.
PC: Oh really?
SS: Yes, yes. A six berth it was. We didn’t come here until after the war of course, but it’s six berth with a light over each bunk wasn’t there. My daughters used to play a lot, but we’ve still got it. It’s still out there. It would take a bit of knocking down I think. They used to knock them down after the war and um, the one we had at my home was knocked down and run over, but we just left that at a storage place. Very useful, but um, it’s still there.
PC: So, where you lived, were there bomb sites close to where you lived? Where you went —
SS: Not far away, no not too far away. The street in which I lived wasn’t bombed fortunately, but there were some, I would say four or five hundred yards away there would be something that was bombed. But we fortunately weren’t, but you could hear them going off not too far away and the earth would shake.
PC: And was there a smell or was it —
SS: Yes, there was a smell, and when I went to Eden Camp and sat in the air raid shelter there I said, ‘Oh I can smell the war.’
There would be, I say after the blitz it would hanging in the air, the bombs that had gone off, the explosions, would, yes there was a smell.
PC: Sort of like cordite?
SS: Yes, I couldn’t think of the word, yes there was a smell. But, um, you accepted it I suppose, and um. I’ve been known to go to the top of Skidby Windmill and watch the bombing.
PC: Really?
SS: Yes, because we were friendly with the people at Skidby Windmill. And they used to watch it, they could see the area where the bombs were dropping as well.
PC: So, how hold would have been then?
SS: Well, it would be about thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.
PC: Mm, mm.
SS: And as I say I think it would have been forty-four when the, so —
PC: How did you feel watching the bombing happening in the distance —
SS: Well err —
PC: Or did you feel detached or —
SS: Yes, I think we did, yes. It was accepted after a while. When the war first started and the bombs started dropping you were err, not really afraid, but cautious and wary of, err, you could hear them getting nearer, the bombs, err, but you just, accepted it, it was there, it was part of life that, it was no use going into hysterics over it at all. It would have done any good at all whatsoever, so you just more or less accepted it. But we the dog during the war, and our bath was one of the old-fashioned ones on little legs, and before the air raid sirens went he would be upstairs and under that bath. Yes, he knew. He would hear the, the aeroplanes coming over and we, if, if it was during the evening we would say, well you know, they are coming, sometimes they flew straight over us and went to further afield, Manchester, Liverpool, but it was amazing how that dog knew. But they do, do, dogs they can hear, yes, they know, and he did. Poor old Frisky, he used to warn us that it was —
PC: So, did you drag him out from under the bath and take him with you or —
SS: He came with us [laughs], he came with us yes, yes, he used to —
PC: So, they would come over one way and then they’d come back again?
SS: Yes, you would hear them coming back and, and as I say if they had any bombs left they would drop them over the Holderness area where the docks were. So, it was —
PC: So, it was sort of double trouble really having —
SS: Well, you knew that they had to come back, so that that you know it was, [pause] —
PC: So, were you able to sleep at all during the night raids? And did you —
SS: Oh yes, that’s why my mother left me, because I was fast asleep in the air raid shelter you see.
PC: Oh, I see, right, right.
SS: Yes, I would go to sleep in the air raid shelter, and when the all clear went, she would, I would go back upstairs, but as I say, after the third one she would leave me, because I was taking exams and she felt I needed the sleep rather than dragging me upstairs again. But it must have been hard for her because my sister was in the house on her own and I was in the shelter. Who did she go with? So, um —
PC: So, did you sometimes have more than one raid?
SS: Oh yes. Oh yes. As I say, after the third one, that’s why I stayed —
PC: Oh, my goodness.
SS: The sirens would go and they would pass over and the all clear would go and you would go back into bed and the sirens would come again, and you were sort of in and out of bed half awake. But mother always had a flask of tea, I think it would be, coffee in those days and a pack of sandwiches ready, and take them into the air raid shelter and um, and stay there as long as we needed to [laughs]. It was part of life.
PC: And then up in the morning and back off to school?
SS: Yes. And, as I say, no concessions given during the exams. You just got on with it [pause] so—
PC: And did you all, when you got to school, did you all talk about the bombings?
SS: Not a lot no —
PC: Was it all part of life?
SS: It was just part of life, and, as I say, if you saw an empty desk, you would think “Oh dear”. And wonder, cos’ not everyone had telephones in those days, and there was no, err, communication like there is now. You would just wonder, you know, how, has that been a fatality, or just an injury or what it was. You would find out eventually, that something had happened. But no fuss made at school. They wouldn’t stand up and say ‘well so and so has been, their house was bombed in the night,’ and that sort of thing. No, no. Now, of course it’s, they view it differently don’t they, but we just got on with it. And you did tend to, at least I did, tend to play in a group, so it won’t as if it was me best friend and I’ve nobody to play with, err or talk to. Because you were in a group and so you just accepted it [laughs]. It was one of those things. It seems awful but —
PC: Not at all. Did you, were you aware of conversation amongst the adults —
SS: Yes, yes, my parents used to talk about the war, and of course, avidly listen to the news and what was going on and err, follow it, with both my brothers being involved in it. My elder brother was at sea and we would follow where he was and what was happening. His ship did get bombed off the Aberdeen, off Aberdeen, off the Scottish coast. His ship was bombed, and sunk, and he got on to a raft, and he, the Germans machine gunned them on the raft. Then he sent a telegram saying, ‘I’m coming on such and such a train,’ and my mother went to meet him and he had a pair of men’s leather dancing pumps on. ‘What have you come home in those things?’ he said, ‘I haven’t got anything else. The ships been sunk.’ So, he got told off [laughs] before he’d even got home. She met him at the station poor man.
PC: So, they hadn’t had any word that the ship had been sunk?
SS: No, no, no and they wouldn’t have done either until they had officially released that news, he just wrote ‘I’ll be coming home in such and such,’ well a telegram in those days, ‘coming home on such and such a train.’
PC: And he survived the war?
SS: Pardon?
PC: And he survived the war?
SS: Both my brothers survived the war, we were very fortunate in that, yes, he did. We knew of other people who had lost family and it must have been awful, terrible. But Peter, who was in the RAF, he used to come home because he was only in Lincolnshire between raids, and ended up bringing half his crew with him I think. The pilot was Australian and he used to come every leave. He always came to our house when he was on leave and made it his second home. And I had a boyfriend who was Dutch and he did the same thing. They always brought their washing with them of course [laughs] for my mother to do. But they both made it their home and we continued hearing from them both. Well, the Australian until he died but the Dutch boy wrote until after he got married. He actually invited us to his wedding in Holland, but of course we didn’t go, but you know, there were grateful of a home. A fire to sit by, rather than, the RAF especially got criticised because they went into the pubs. Where else had they to go? And my elder brother, my elder brother went to sea and at one time he was on a Cape Town to South America run, and my other brother was in Southern Rhodesia training. They couldn’t meet because Harry was an officer and Peter was an AC plonk, they couldn’t meet in a public place in South Africa. Which was appalling because of the apartheid. So, fortunately my older brother had made friends in Durban, being across there so often, so they used to go there to meet. But I think it was awful. Brothers were not allowed to meet. That was South Africa at the time, so —
PC: What does AC plonk mean?
SS: Well, he was the lowest rank in the RAF when he was still training, and they just used to call the aircraftsmen whatever it was. Plonk. It was just a joke, you know, the lowest rank possible. And, of course Harry was way up there in the navy [laughs]. Anyway, they did meet so it wasn’t so bad, and they both survived, thank, thank goodness, yes, I don’t know—
PC: You talk about fires, and warm pubs and so forth. How did the weather affect things —
SS: The bombing?
PC: Do you have any memories. Do you have any memories of sort of —
SS: Oh, do you mean relating to the war?
PC: Yes.
SS: Well of course, if was foggy they couldn’t come over. If it was heavy fog at the time, they wouldn’t, they couldn’t come and you’d think oh, well, perhaps they won’t, but it didn’t mean that it wasn’t foggy over there. You didn’t always know. But they didn’t come, they liked a nice moonlit night. Clear skies and moon and daylight of course, you could get it in the evenings. They’d come over, and the guns would be going off as well, ack ack as we called them in those days, the anti-aircraft guns would be firing at them and you would hear them going as well. Everything was scarce but we didn’t bother and I was very, very welcoming of somebody’s cast off clothes. Somebody grew out of them and they were all passed down and they were very welcome yes.
PC: So, could you get warm in the shelters?
SS: Not really. We had all in one suits, warm ones, to put over your pyjamas, like Churchill wore, his siren suit, and there were blankets down there and there would be hot water bottles. There was no other way, was there? You know, it was, just sat it out. Waited for the all clear, hopefully.
PC: So, everything had to be very organised in the kitchen before —
SS: Yes, yes —
PC: All the time —
SS: All the time. My mother was an organised person anyway but err as you say —
PC: Grabbed the kettle, grabbed the flask, grabbed the sandwiches —
SS: The flask would be there yes. We didn’t have any sort, she wouldn’t have lit the kettle in the, in the shelter. Well, you wouldn’t have been able to, there was no electricity. You wouldn’t do it for safety sake, I don’t think. There’s not a lot of room in a shelter. You get a few people in it. She always had something ready, because sometimes you would be in for quite a long time. Fortunately, we had an outside loo, which was just outside the air raid shelter so we didn’t have to worry about that.
PC: And what about lighting?
SS: I don’t remember lighting in our air raid shelter but there was lighting in that one. You can see it if you wish to.
PC: I would love to. [pause]. Super, so, you were you able to read?
SS: Oh, yes, I was an avid reader —
PC: In the shelter, I mean —
SS: We had torches —
PC: Ahh.
SS: Because I would read under the bedclothes with a torch when I wasn’t supposed to be reading you see, so we had torches in the shelter, yes that was it. But during, I would just lie down and go to sleep. I don’t know what my mother did, poor woman but that was me, it was err just —
PC: So, most of the time it would be just you and your mum —
SS: And my sister.
PC: And your sister if she came, if she could be persuaded to come.
SS: Yes, yes [laughs]
PC: And, and that would, be it?
SS: That was it.
PC: And the dog?
SS: The dog, and father if he wasn’t on duty —
PC: On watch.
SS: On watch, Yes, he would be there. But even then, he would tend to pace around the garden and down the ten foot to see what was going on, that everything was, was safe. Because I’m afraid you did have people who took the opportunity of getting into your house.
PC: Good gracious.
SS: It happened, that sort of thing. So, he used to be more pacing around. I don’t ever remember either of my brothers coming into the shelter, and they must have been at home sometime during the blitz, but they probably would refuse to come in I don’t remember them coming in.
PC: Mm, mm.
SS: Only when you came out of the shelter, after it all, neighbours coming out of their shelter that you’d say, ‘you all alright, is everything OK’? That sort of thing, yes. The neighbourhood, everybody was very friendly, working together cooperating. My next-door neighbour, our next-door neighbour, her husband had to go in the forces and she had two little children, and my mother sort of mothered her, because she was very young. Father, used to, she once had a burst water pipe, and I remember my father going. It was in the middle of winter and pipes used to burst in those days, and helping her out. All the neighbours did, but so many of the men were away, just the women there. So, no, my father went through the first world war and came out, but my mother lost her first husband in the first world war, and she never knew what had happened to him. He was just missing presumed killed, and then eventually they said he must have died. But my elder brother, it was his father you see, he went to Holland and found his grave, and he died as a prisoner of war and my mother never knew and I felt so sorry for her. She hated Armistice Day, she was really very upset on Armistice Day. So, he did find him but it was after my mother had died unfortunately. He found his father’s grave.
PC: So, was he, was he in the trenches?
SS: Yes, yes, he was in the trenches. But how he came to be in Holland we never found out because Holland wasn’t in the first world war. We never managed to find out. It’s too late now, I’m afraid, to find out but he did go and satisfy himself as to where his father was. It was a hard time.
PC: So, your father, what did he do?
SS: He was in, In the first world war?
PC: Mm.
SS: He was in the army. But err, he went out, he was out in the Middle East and the Far East. Err, in Israel, Afghanistan, Burma and all round that side of the war. So, he, but there was quite a lot of fighting in the first world war, out in the Far East. Yes, because they came over into India and came that way, but err, he wasn’t deeply involved in it. We had quite a lot of photos, but I’ve given them to my nephew. Not having any sons, myself, he was next in line for that sort of thing so he had those, but no.
PC: So, did your parents, did you ever get a sense of how your parents felt about another war in their lifetime.
SS: Oh, my mother was very, very anti Hitler, anti -Germany, with losing her first husband, in the first. Oh yes, she was very bitter about it, and yes, and err, very, very patriotic. You know, if the national anthem came on the radio, we stood up, even like this, we stood up for the national anthem yes. She was very bitter against the Germans, yes. Which is understandable. She was left with no pension. There was no pension then. Because they didn’t know he was dead. She didn’t even get a war pension, so she had nothing. These days it wouldn’t be allowed. No, but like the rest of the British nation, she coped, and then married my father but he wasn’t —
PC: How did they meet?
SS: I don’t know. I have no idea how they met. It’s a shame. You don’t think of these things until the time has passed and there is absolutely nobody left now to know. How they met I don’t know, no idea. But err, he came from a very big family as well. They were all nice people. My Granny —
PC: Was he a Hull lad as well?
SS: Oh yes, yes. I don’t know about my mother’s first husband. She never really talked about it, people didn’t in those days, and father said very little about his part in the war in Afghanistan. But I remember him saying to us that that part of the world will always be in turmoil, there will always be fighting. He was on Khyber Pass, of course. He said there would always be fighting there always will. And it’s true, isn’t it? Their fighting now.
PC: So, what was his, as an air raid warden, did you get a sense of what he—
SS: He wasn’t actually an air raid warden, he was up on the roof of the buildings—
PC: Ahh.
SS: In case—
PC: Fire watching.
SS: Fire watching, yes. And if a fire bomb dropped they would have to put it out. Sand yes.
PC: So how did that work?
SS: Well, he would just be walking around the top of the building watching for things dropping and just had his own area, the town end of Beverley Road, for the shops there. They didn’t get bombed though, I think he had the job of putting the fire bombs out once or twice. Buckets of sand. We all had buckets of sand left in the garden so, if one dropped you could put the fire out.
PC: Dangerous work.
SS: Yes. Yes, but they did it. They just did it. I had a brother-in-law who couldn’t be in the war because of a disablement and he used to go watching, I can’t remember what they were called, along the coast for the Germans coming over so he would spend the night with other people, doing that sort of thing. So, even those who couldn’t physically take part in the war would be doing something, to, to help. But I was, I was too young to be, to have to do anything, err, because the women got called up as well to do the jobs. Err, I can’t think of anything [laughs] it will come to me afterwards.
PC: So, at the end of the war then, how old were you at the end of the war?
SS: I would have been about sixteen, seventeen. I was at technical college by then doing a pre-nursing course, and I remember us all going to the headmaster and saying, ‘can we, can we go out,’ because the sirens were going and the church bells were all ringing, and he said, ‘yes, off you go,’ so off we went into the town to join in all the celebrations [laughs]. But we went back to college next day. It didn’t stop, we [indistinct]. It was a huge relief, even at that age for me. It was a huge relief that we wouldn’t be getting bombed anymore hopefully, everything could gradually get back to normal. It didn’t change an awful lot, other than that. You were still on rations and things were still scarce, but it was just the huge relief that that was it and things would get back to normal eventually. And they did.
PC: Tell us a little bit, if you can [laughs] about your celebrations.
SS: Oh well, I was far too young to drink. I was forty-five before I ever went in a public house. My father was dead against it. No, it was just a case of, in the city, Paragon Square, just dancing around, joining everybody and having a good time, and celebrating, like you see them in London outside Buckingham Palace, just dancing around. We hadn’t got the King and Queen, but you were just going around the town and just sort of being joyful and happy and getting over it. It went on into the evening and then you got the bus home. And that was it. We didn’t go on for too long. It wasn’t getting drunk [laughs], no, no. I say, I was forty-five before I went in a pub, and I remember going in it and thinking ‘I don’t know what my father would say if he knew I was in a pub.’ He wouldn’t even have sherry in a trifle. So, no, we survived and had a good time without drinking alcohol. We had a very good time, yes. So, no it was —
PC: I guess Hull would have been, you know, being a port and there would have been lots of activity —
SS: Oh yes —
PC: In terms of lots of sailors and —
SS: Oh yes. Yes, I think my house, well my mother’s house was known as the United Nations. But I took everybody home. My mother said, ‘whoever you meet bring them home.’ So, they would come home and they were all right. I say, the Dutch boy and the Australian boy and there was another one from my brothers [pause] who used to come home, and my mother would feed them and she would say ‘they’re all right as long as they come home and see where you live and see it’s a decent place,’ and they were really all grateful for a fire place to sit around. So, err, no —
PC: That must have been very interesting growing up —
SS: It was —
PC: Exciting —
SS: It was, yes. You met all sorts of people. I remember a Frenchman who lived in Algeria, and that was interesting because my parents would talk to him about his home, and he kept in touch for a long time after the war as well. And err, the Poles and Czechs, and you know, everybody got together, there was no feeling of nastiness or anything, it was all, you know, just friends together. Yes, yes, at the dances you used to meet all sorts of nations. I remember going to the hall in Cottingham for a dance, and it was when the Americans had come and we didn’t realise that they were all coloured men, and do you know, a lot of the girls walked out when they walked in there and saw them. We didn’t, my sister-in-law and I didn’t. I mean, I don’t see why. But err, thinking of the coloureds, after the war, oh, after I was married, for a while I worked as a secretary to the doctor’s in the village and he was doctor to the university and I remember giving an injection to a coloured student, and when I went down to the chemist, which was underneath the surgery, he said ‘you haven’t had to give an injection to that n***** have you?’ I said to him ‘yes [emphasis] I’ve nursed children who are coloured children, it’s only skin. Your eyes are a different colour to mine.’ He was horrified that I’d given an injection and touched, and he was a lovely boy as well, he was ever so nice. Because the prejudice, and that was it, when all the girls walked out of Civic Hall in Cottingham.
PC: And were they Americans?
SS: Yes, they were Americans and they were billeted at the end of Northgate along there opposite the West End Road, is it there now? There’s a police station there now I think, but that was where they were billeted. We did have refugees, but they did on Priory Road, children refugees, who’d been evacuated from their own country, foreigners. So, we had those there as well. And, with being a port, as you say you got a lot of foreign sailors in but mother’s house was United Nations.
PC: [Indistinct}
SS: Well, as I say they were all, they were all nice boys, there was no nastiness about them. There was nobody who wanted to go further than they should do probably, shall we put it that way? Never thought about it myself. But a lot would look for it, for sex. But they were just grateful to get into a family home a lot of them, I think. I don’t know how my mother made the rations go. She almost always gave them bacon sandwiches, something always manged to stretch. Probably do without herself, my mother. People used to think because my father was a butcher, have I said that?
PC: Mm.
SS: That we got more —
PC: That you got more than you —
SS: No, we didn’t so —
PC: Did you, did you feel after the war that Hull got the recognition that —
SS: No, no. It’s just like Bomber Command never got it. Yes, yes, we were a North Sea port and not recognised for, because I think, I think we lost more, like Bomber Command lost more in proportion the number of people who were in, and I think Hull did. I think Hull got more bombing in proportion to London. We certainly got a lot. But err, it was mostly in East Hull, got the worst of it. But um, no, we came through. We got through it all, and I got through this interview [laughs].
PC: It’s been an excellent interview.
SS: Thank you.
PC: There was one other thing I wanted to ask you about and that is of course you were married to someone in Bomber Command.
SS: I didn’t know him when he was in Bomber Command.
PC: Right, right.
SS: I didn’t meet Malcom until after war, well after the war, so I didn’t know him then, but I’ve heard enough about it since. And if you had come four years ago, you’d have found the house full of Lancaster bombers. Everywhere weren’t they Christina? Yes. Every room but that room, but there we had a little clock with a Lancaster bomber on it as well. But everywhere was, up the walls, there were fifty-six frames with photographs in —
PC: Good grief —
SS: And, of course, most of them have gone to [indistinct] so they will be in the archives for you. Cos’ as I say, he saved everything. Even the —
PC: Was there anything that you wanted to include in your interview about his experiences that were perhaps —
SS: Well —
PC: Particularly important to you, from your perspective.
SS: Only for him, from his perspective, again being stoical, he would come back off a raid and see an empty bed and it was stripped so they knew that one had gone and they would wait for others coming back and which, have you seen the Bomber Command war memorial in London.
PC: I have.
SS: I thought it was very moving, and it was the one at the end, that happened to be the wireless operator that is standing, like this, waiting for some of the others to come back. And, you know, they say, they looked and they’d say, ‘oh so and so’s pranged it.’ And again, Malcolm was very stoical about it. You knew it was going to happen. So, you didn’t go over the top but err. I know one thing that they’d always say, when they were flying back to Lincolnshire they looked for Lincoln Cathedral but they would also look for a Windmill, which was Uncle Harry’s windmill, Malcolm’s uncle. And, it’s still standing is that windmill but —
PC: The one in Lincoln?
SS: Yes, just outside Lincoln, somewhere near Sleaford way. It would be in the archives because there’s a photo and it says, ‘Uncle Harry’s wind.’ And wren {indistinct] the pilot says the same thing ‘when we saw the windmill we were nearly home then.’ But they always say it was Lincoln Cathedral they looked for but 207 Squadron looked for Uncle Harry’s mill [laughs]. I don’t know other than that. He never talked a lot about it. He didn’t say very much. It did produce a strong comradeship amongst them. As the pilot says, ‘everyone was reliant on each other in that aircraft.’ In fact, he said, ‘even though I was the captain, I was the one that they could do without more than any of the others.’ And err, so they had a very strong bond with them and this one that’s left, rang me up the other day to see how I was doing, and you know, kept in contact with two of the wives who are widows now. They did have two reunions. Just two of them were missing, the Australian and the South African, but twice we’ve had a reunion of the crew which was lovely for them, and for me to see them as well, yes it was a very, very strong bond they made. So, it but, it was always a relief when they turned for home he said, on their way, and hope they weren’t shot at on their way home. As Malcolm said, ‘you’re in a tin can full of bombs. You’ve nothing to dull the sound there’s no heating, and if somebody hit the plane the bombs would go off and you’d had it.’ It wasn’t much fun and he couldn’t wear gloves because he was the wireless operator. So, he had silk gloves which I’ve given to my grandson, and he’d worn the fingers out, because he couldn’t wear the leather gloves that the others had on because he had to be able to use his finger. You’ll have to go see all his things in [indistinct]. When they get done again. I don’t know what stage there at, because you took it to bits, didn’t you? And then Christina’s husband who was doing most of this was very ill, and is still very ill, so this will get sorted out again. But it was interesting.
PC: So, you married in Hull?
SS: Yes, we married in Hull, at St John’s Newland, yes in Hull.
PC: And you settled in Hull?
SS: We settled off Bricknall Avenue which strictly was in Cottingham, yes and then we move here, and we’ve been here since 1955.
PC: And you had two daughters?
SS: Yes, two daughters. The other one’s away at the moment on holiday so no, um, I’ve a very good family, all along the line. I don’t know what I would do without you {talking to someone else in the room}. I really don’t. I don’t know how people manage on their own when they are widowed. It must be very hard work. Because when anybody, when my mother and father died I had two brothers to see to it all and when my mother-in-law died Malcolm saw to it all so I’ve really no experience of coping with it all but we managed, we managed. He’d kept everything, every bit of paper. He had two, what do you call them? What do you call those—
Somebody else in the room: Filing cabinets.
Filing cabinets, one with four drawers and one with three drawers they were full. His bedroom was full of boxes full of papers, the spare room was full of boxes and boxes of papers. I had to go through every one. I sat on that chair with a rubbish bag at the side and a saving at the other and every time I threw something away I would say, ‘I’m sorry Malcolm but it really has to go’ [laughs}. And he had always been really meticulous about taking addresses off every letter, if he threw one away, and so although I knew it wasn’t necessary I was tearing the addresses off every one.
PC: What did you do in civi street?
SS: Err, well I was nursing at first and then I went as secretary to two doctors in the village here.
PC: And what did your husband do?
SS: He was an accountant. He ended up, do you remember King and Co in the Market Place —
PC: No, sorry?
SS: You don’t?
PC: No.
SS: Well, he ended up as managing director there and then they got taken over and he went to the Blind Institute as manager there, but he was an accountant by training, so everything had to be done to a penny. But he left everything all right in the end, didn’t he, Malcolm. So, we coped, as usual. Poor man, nobody should have suffered like he did in the last year of his life. It was terrible wasn’t it Christina? He has cancer of the face. I couldn’t even recognise him, which Dove House [?] said, it was a bereavement in itself. I would sit there, he was here and I would say ‘it’s not Malcolm, even his hands didn’t look the same.’ I don’t whether I’ve got some photographs of him. [rustling]. No, I did have some photographs. You took some photographs of him, didn’t you? They were awful. There one on the other side, of him.
PC: You can see he was a handsome man.
SS: He was in his time yes. But um, he really went through it at the end, but err, there’s when we went to Buckingham Palace.
PC: That’s lovely, let’s have a little look at those.
SS: I think they’re all family, I don’t think there any of Malcolm here these are all family.
PC: Shall we stop the recording?
SS: Yes please.
PC: is there anything else, before we look at these wonderful photos, is there anything else, that you can think of that you would like to add? Anything at all.
SS: I can’t really, no. As I say not from during the war, oh that’s Bomber Command. Not really.
PC: In that case, I would just like to say a huge thank you to you that fascinating story and thank you very much for sharing it with us.
SS: There’s a photo here, it’s not Malcolm isn’t on it. This would have been during the war, Christmas. And that’s Malcolm’s pilot, no, my brother’s pilot from Australia.
PC: I’m going to end the recording now.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Sheena Staves,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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