Where to find water?
‘We all had a cup of tea, then Dad said, ‘We’ll have to see where we can get some water. It’ll take them ages to get the mains mended.’ He and Bill took the only two buckets we possessed and I carried the kettle. Warily we stumbled down Clarence Street. Most of the houses were minus windows, but strangely Beresford’s and Sweetmeat Joe’s were intact. We had no idea where to go for water.’
‘One or two people with buckets were wandering aimlessly about, until a man carrying two saucepans full of water came through the Arcade and shouted, ‘If y’ want sum watter, thi’s a tap in Beeley Street.’ A long queue of people snaked down the entry and onto the pavement, waiting patiently to get water from a solitary little brass tap, which miraculously still worked and which, until the bowsers came round the streets, was our only source of supply.’
‘Dad said he wanted to go back down Cemetery Road to see if the Royal Oak had survived. It had, but Barclay’s Bank lower down was minus its top floor. The Moor, our favourite promenade and street of pleasure in winter or summer, was ablaze from end to end. It was a vast cavern of flames, which swirled and eddied away, only to meet again overhead.’
‘A few firemen stood beside their engine, powerless without water. All they could do was, like us, watch helplessly. A great eruption of fire and sparks shot high into the air, as buildings collapsed. We could feel the scorching heat, even though we were well back. Dad took off his glasses to see better, and squinting against the glare exclaimed, ‘Poor old Kenny, it looks as though his pub’s had it. I hope he’s OK.’
Going to Work
‘Back at home with the water, I had some bread and dripping for breakfast and completed my toilet with a wipe on the face with a damp cloth. Then at half past seven, I set off to walk to work. To avoid The Moor I went down Porter Street. A shelter had suffered a direct hit and men were digging for survivors. A row of still forms, each wrapped in a blanket, lay on the ground, strangely peaceful, as if asleep. Union Street was a tangle of bricks and broken glass. The Empire had been bombed; across the road the Three Horseshoes pub was a gutted, smoking shell, and on the other corner Brook Shaw’s car showroom was badly damaged.’
‘The old Tivoli, scene of many cowboy cowboy epics, seemed to have escaped unscathed. Cooper Brothers had been hit, but not badly, and our little workshop was still intact. The workforce spent the day clearing up. Fortunately, the firm’s safe had survived, and we all got paid our wages. Mr Little, still immaculate, told us that we could have Saturday morning off – an act of generosity never known before in the firm’s long history.’
P.69, Chapter 14, More George! (courtesy of The Hallamshire Press Limited).
‘On Sunday morning, after fetching water and eating a cold breakfast, I set off with Dad for a walk up The Moor. A way had been cleared through the masses of rubble and the burnt-out shell of a tramcar moved to the side of the road. What had been fine shops, banks and pubs only two days before were now smoking, gutted ruins, some with girder work bent and distorted as if in agony, others with glassless windows revealing their shattered interiors.’
‘The Anvil, Kenny MacLeod’s pub and one of Dad’s favourite hostelries, was a smoke-blackened roofless skeleton of stone, its fine beautifully-etched windows blasted into fragments. My father blew his nose loudly, his face tinged with sadness as his hand went up to his trilby, which he doffed in a silent tribute to the happy times that had gone forever.’
‘Up The Moor came the slight figure of Mr Lem, the deaf engraver and a fellow son of suction of Dad’s, daintily picking his way over the rubble like a cat on broken eggshells. ‘Good morning, Sid’ and a friendly nod to me was his greeting. To my father’s reply of ‘A terrible business this is, Tom,’ he answered, ‘Yes, it is a bit nippy this morning, Sid. I’ve just been down to look at my shop – it’s alright!’ Dad took hold of Mr Lem’s arm and cupping his hand, bellowed into his ear, ‘How did you get on, Thursday night?’ I knew that the engraver’s custom every night upon finishing work in Bowden Street was to stroll down to Kenny’s, then at quarter-past seven prompt come out and catch a tram to his home in Carrington Road.’
Mr Lem’s Thursday Night
‘Mr Lem, nodding his understanding of the enquiry, answered, ‘Well, Sid, I came out of the pub and saw my tram waiting across the road. I thought, it’s a bit early, but still, I went upstairs, lit my pipe and started to read the Telegraph. I must have been there about five minutes and began to think it’s funny we haven’t started and there’s only me on the top deck.’
‘All of a sudden, from behind, somebody shook my shoulder. It was a bobby in a tin hat, and he shouted, “Come on out of it, you silly owd sod – bloody tram’s on fire!” When we got down on the ground, he pointed under the tram and by God, it was well alight!’ He chuckled at this reminiscence, sucking contentedly at his pipe, and I wondered if deafness was such an affliction. At least he’d never heard the terrifying scream of a falling bomb, or the nerve-shattering crump of high explosive. Bidding farewell to Mr Lem, we continued our sad shamble up The Moor.’
The Moor destroyed
‘Atkinson’s fine store and Marks and Spencer’s, which were built only a year or so ago, were totally wrecked. The new building of Williams Deacons Bank at the corner of Rockingham Street gaped wide open to the public gaze, having had its front completely blown off. On that bitterly cold grey December morning, young though I was, memories of happy times on The Moor came flooding back to me, and I said to Dad, ‘I don’t want to go any further.’ He nodded. For the first time in my life I saw tears in his eyes as, unlike him, he put an arm around my shoulders and we walked slowly home.’
PP. 69-71, Chapter 14, More George! (courtesy of The Hallamshire Press Limited).