Interview by Michael Thompson, Jill Royle, her daughter, present
ntroduction by interviewer, Michael Thompson
Vera Royle was born in Monton, Salford, on 7th July 1926.
She was 13 years old when war broke out in 1939.
This interview records her memories as a child before the war and in marriage and working during and after the war.
The transcript and the video are in one part just under 40 minutes long.
Recorded in Winton on 8th March 2017, with Jill Royle, her daughter, present.
[Pauses indicated by ….]
Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.
Wartime memories of Vera Royle
Vera: My names is Vera …. I was Vera Norcross …. when …. in 19…. I was born in 1926 …. and …. we lived in Monton …. and …. I had a …. and then I had a sister …. and she was …. three and a half years younger than I was …. my sister Doreen ….
I went to Monton Green School …. and …. until later on when we had to go to the bigger school …. which was Winton Senior. And we were the first in Winton Senior, it was newly built …. and …. all the children from all the different small schools came there.
It was brand new and nobody knew where anything was and it was such good fun finding all the places. And I was at that school until I was 13. And when I was 13, I had diphtheria and I was in hospital for 7 weeks …. Ladywell Hospital. And I had my 14th birthday in the hospital.
At the time, the men were sticking …. sticky paper on the windows in case we were bombed, which was a bit scary because I had never been away from home.
We didn’t have any visitors; the ward was full of children. It was an epidemic and it was frightening, but after that, I got sent home and had to convalesce for a while because I was so weak, and eventually I went to work.
And I went to work at Redmans in Eccles, and while I was there, we had the bombing then, and I can remember walking …. walking down to work, and getting to Monton and there was a car upside down in a hole. It must have been a bomb, and it was there, and then I got to Eccles, right to the top of Church Street, and there wasn’t a window in any of those big shops …. it was just walking on glass …. and when we got to the bottom, Redmans was completely …. the window had completely gone …. and it was a really big place.
And the men who had been fighting the fire at one of the places behind the Broadway Cinema, and they were …. they had been all night fighting the fire. It had been terrible, and at lunch time, we went out, and we walked down to see what had happened, and further down, there was this road, and it went right down to the canal, and there wasn’t …. there wasn’t a building there except one building, one part of a building …. and it was just a very high, like the …. , you know the side of the staircase, very very high and there was a cross on it.
And that was the only thing that was standing, and it was so strange …. and it seemed really strange, that did.
Michael: So, was that at the beginning of the blitz, really?
Vera: Yes, it was …. yes …. We didn’t have anything for about a year. In fact, when …. when we went, you know, when we first found out, we, when we heard the announcement, we went in the garden, we were looking up thinking the aeroplanes were going to go over but there was nothing until the next year, that was when it was.
Michael: So, what were you thinking during that …. what they called the phoney war …. didn’t they, that first year? What were your thoughts about that?
Vera: Well, we didn’t know what to think, you know. We heard …. we could hear that other people were being bombed and everything …. over the radio …. we didn’t have television in those days …. and …. So we just went on …. and then Mum came into Redmans while I was working there, and she said she’d got …. she’d got me an interview at Kendal Milne’s in town and I said “I don’t want to go, I like it here ….” It was a lovely place to work for.
So, anyway, I went off there and that’s where I was, and of course, I used to go on the train …. and …. you know ….
Nothing had happened for a long time …. it was a long time before it happened …. for …. to us …. but …. I can remember …. my Dad would not go in the shelter …. he didn’t like going in …. oh, by the way, when we were at Redmans, we had air raids …. we were having air raids then, and of course, there was no buses …. so, we used to have to walk …. and …. up to Monton with my friend Kathleen …. and …. the …. the sirens went. So, we went into a doorway …. it’s still in Monton, the shop …. double sided glass and everything.
The warden came over and said “You stupid girls, get in the shelter!” and he took us over into the shelter on Monton Green and I was in the shelter with her …. then we walked …. when the “All Clear” came. We walked home, and …. when I got home, my Dad said “Where’s your Mum?” I went “I don’t know, Dad.” He said “Well, she is out looking for you!”
So, anyway, it seems that she was in a shelter …. they’d put her in a shelter on Parrin Lane and I must have gone passed her and not even known she was in there …. yes …. yes …. you know …. really …. you just got on with it … you just had to get on with it …. yea …. carry on working and …. not worry about it …. that was the only thing you could do ….
Michael: Because, by that time, that would be about 1941 or 1942, so you would be 15 …. 16 years old?
Vera: Yes …. yes …. yes …. yes …. So, anyway, of course then …. you had to either go in the Forces or the Land Army, and I wanted to go in the Land Army …. But, really, I wouldn’t have been strong enough for the Land Army, because I got a book off someone who had been in the Land Army …. I’ve still got it …. and no way would I have been able to do what they did …. and I wasn’t strong enough.
But so, I went to work at Turners Asbestos and they must have had something to do with the war …. I don’t know why but I was in an office there.
So, that was what …. what happened then …. yes ….
Michael: And where were Turners Asbestos? Where were they?
Vera: In Trafford Park …. Trafford Park was full of different works …. That’s where the Traff …. the whatsit centre is now …. isn’t it? [Speaking to her daughter Jill] What’s it called the centre that is there? Where we go shopping? The Trafford Centre.
Yes, it was all, you know …. lots and lots of works …. Metro Vicks and all sorts of places, you know.
Michael: Tell me a little bit, I mean, you mentioned air raid shelter ….
Vera: Yes ….
Michael: Did your Dad construct that?
Vera: Well, at the top of our road where we lived, there was an air raid shelter, but they were just buildings, they weren’t underneath …. and he wouldn’t go in one of those and so, we didn’t go in a shelter. We used to just go under the table …. that table actually …. [pointing to the table behind her] was my Mum and Dad’s and we used to sit under the table, and one night, there was an air raid …. and it was really overhead, and there was a …. it was …. it had hit a few places round here, one in Westwood Crescent, I think it was, which was over there and one up Worsley where there was a direct hit.
And it was a doctor’s house and they had maids and children and animals, and all gone …. just gone …. it was a direct hit. And I was sat in a chair by the fireside. Mum and Dad and my sisters were under the table, and he said “Come under here!”. And I didn’t and all of a sudden, he came out grabbed me and put me underneath, and this absolute explosion. And what it was, it was up there.
But we were ok, yes ….
But my Dad was on the railway on the engines, and they had to work under tarpaulin which wasn’t very good just to keep the …. you know, so they couldn’t see ….
Michael: This was at night, presumably, I mean, during the blackout ….
Vera: Yes …. oh, the blackout was terrible because there was no light …. you know, no street lights, and if it was foggy as well, it was just terrib…. and we did used to have a lot of fog …. yes we did, but ….
Yes, it wasn’t …. but you just got on with it …. you just …. what could you do?
Michael: Just going back to your Dad, I mean, had he fought in the First World War?
Vera: No, my Dad was born in 1900. So, he was only young when the First World War …. and he used to be able to knit, my Dad …. he used to be a really good knitter, he was, but it was because, in the War, they knitted the socks for the soldiers.
Yes …. no, he wasn’t in the war, not the First World War …. so ….
Michael: So, by the time he came to the Second World War, he was already in a job that was essential ….
Vera: That’s right, it was an essential job, yes. So, he didn’t have to …. how old would he be? I can’t remember how old he would be …. well, he was born in 1900 …. his 40s, he would be in his 40s, yes …. Unfortunately, he died when he was 54 with pneumonia …. yes.
Michael: Oh dear.
Vera: And he was such …. oh, he was such fun, such fun he was. And when, of course, the rationing …. when the rationing started …. it was terrible because …. it was terrible before it started, the rationing, because people were hoarding stuff, people with money could …. you know …. just get …. well, the thing we remember was the sugar ….
My Mum used to cook everything, you know. She was a good cook and so she’d make things, and she needed sugar. So, she sent Doreen, my sister, and I out to get some sugar …. we couldn’t get any anywhere …. That was before the rationing …. but when it was rationed, you got your share.
It wasn’t a lot but you got your share. And so, we were sat at the table one day, and he said “I am sorry girls, but you can’t have two spoonfuls of sugar …. two spoonfuls of sugar in your tea ….” “Oh, Dad ….” we said. He said “And this is my sugar ….” and he had this big ladle.
I never took sugar …. he had saccharine …. while his Mum …. he gave her his ration for baking, you know, but that was so …. you had to make the best of it and make fun of it, you know …. that’s all you could do …. We were very lucky, very lucky ….
Michael: You were with Turners, Turners Asbestos from, what, about 1943 or something ….
Vera: Umm, I can’t remember the dates, but I was there, I was there for a long time, the war was still on …. yes …. no, I can’t remember now …. when it was ….
Michael: The …. you have talked about your experience with bombing and so on …. a certain amount of bombing and some near misses. You’ve talked about the rationing. What about entertainment, what did you do to get entertainment?
Vera: Well, my Dad was a pianist, beautiful, he was …. and he had a concertina …. he had something else, I can’t remember what it was called now …. and, yes, he was very musical.
And so, you just made your own, you know …. fun really …. Just play cards and you know, he didn’t drink, my Dad …. neither did my Mum, you know, so we didn’t go into pubs or anything like that ….
Michael: No ….
Vera: So …. yes … of course he had the family, he’d got all the family. He came from a big family, my Dad …. he came from Droylsden in the first place …. my Mum came from Ashton under Lyne …. and …. he used to ride his bike …. what had happened was …. he was an engineer …. he’d been, you know, he was an engineer really ….
But, when he came in 1926 …. before 1926, it was …. he couldn’t get a job …. it was before 1926, he couldn’t and so, they sent him down to Patricroft sheds cleaning engines …. and he was cleaning engines for years before he managed to get on the footplate. That was a bad time for them …. really bad time for them …. Yes, but he was such fun …. yes ….
Michael: Did you ever listen to the radio?
Vera: Oh yes, we listened to the radio and I was an Ovaltiney …. we used to be Ovaltineys!
“We are the Ovaltineys, Little girls and boys ….”
Michael: I was going to …. I was going to ask you to sing that, but you have just done it, so ….!
Vera: It was just the radio, yes …. and Dad of course …. playing the piano and singing and ….
Michael: What about people like, for instance, quite famous singers at that time? Did that ….
Vera: Vera Lynn?
Michael: Oh yes ….
Vera: Vera Lynn, yes …. I think she is a hundred, isn’t she? I think she was a hundred the other day or something ….
Michael: I believe so, yes ….
Vera: So, she was 10 years older than me.
Michael: And I mean, were there …. was that part of your life, or was it just purely incidental, the radio and listening to things like that.
Vera: Oh and …. in the War, when I worked at Traff …. in the place in Trafford Park …. I had a very nice friend, and we used to go hiking …. we used to go to the station in Manchester …. and go hiking in the country, yes …. on the Saturday or Sunday when we weren’t working ….
Michael: What station would that have been?
Vera: Is it Victoria? Victoria Station. It’s not Victoria now, is it? Something else, I think …. [Victoria station is still there]
Michael: …. and you would go up, what into the Pennines, would you a bit, or ….
Vera: It was lovely …. the places we used to go to …. I can’t remember their names, but …. yes, it was really nice ….
Michael: So, that got you away from the city and all the ….
Vera: That’s right …. yea ….
Michael: Now, we are coming towards the end of the war …. and at some stage, someone would have said …. well, it is VE Day and ….
Vera: Oh yes …. VE Day, I remember that well ….
Michael: What did you do?
Vera: Oh, we went to Manchester …. with this friend that I …. what was her name? I still write to her …. and …. what’s she called, Jill?
Jill: Was it Karina?
Vera: Not Karina, no, Karina was one of them …. The other one now, she’s still there …. anyway …. Edna …. yes, Edna …. Edna and I, yes …. yes, well, I used to borrow my sister’s bike because I didn’t have one of my own, and she had a bike and we used to go for rides on the bike …. Warburton Bridge …. Signed the register in the Church there, all those years ago …. things like that …. you just made your own fun. It was just nice to be in the fresh air, and everything ….
Michael: Coming back to the …. to the celebrations at the end of the War, you went into Manchester ….
Vera: So, yes, so, Edna and I went to Manchester, yes …. and the crowds were there and they were all happy …. it was absolutely lovely ….
Michael: You didn’t dance in the fountains or anything like that?
Vera: No, no ….
Michael: Where would you have gone in Manchester at that time, Piccadilly Gardens?
Vera: It was Piccadilly, I think, where it was …. where all the crowds were, yes …. everybody was so happy because it was all over …. yes …. I had forgotten all about that ….
Michael: So, the war was ended ….
Vera: Yes ….
Michael: And …. well, at least in Europe, not obviously in the Far East …. that was later on …. but …. War has ended …. did you see immediate change?
Vera: No, I don’t think so …. we were just so happy it was all over. And it was still rationing for a long long time …. so …. oh, I must tell you this …. bananas …. you couldn’t get a banana at all …. There was no bananas …. and then, eventually, one ship must have got through and brought some bananas …. and it was in Patricroft, in the …. What do you call it? In Patricroft in the …. it is still there …. what is it called …. Patricroft …. Or was it Eccles? Eccles Market …. yes …. indoor market, that’s right …. it was in the indoor market and ….
There was a big queue for …. everybody had gone to this stall, and all of a sudden, they ran out of them, and one woman, she went mad, absolutely mad …. she wanted one …. there wasn’t one she could have …. it was so stupid, you know …. silly woman, she just wanted a banana, she couldn’t get one.
It made us laugh! …. Wouldn’t think, would you, a banana ….
Michael: But could you get any other fruit at that time?
Vera: Oh yes …. well yes, I think so …. I think we had oranges and apples and …. That was about it, I think …. I can’t remember what else ….
Michael: When war ended in 1945, you would have been about 19 presumably at that time, so ….
Michael: Life is still very much ahead of you.
Vera: Oh, yes ….
Michael: And you were still working at Turners at that time ….
Vera: Turners Asbestos …. yes ….
Michael: Yes, that’s right …. so, what happened after that? …. going on in your life a bit ….
Vera: Well, I got married, didn’t I …. I got married …. and then I had a little boy …. and …. Keith …. and he was a lovely little boy …. absolutely lovely …. but in the end I went home and Mum and Dad looked after me …. and then later …. Mum took me away in a caravan with my sisters …. and, while I was there …. there was another caravan next door and this man knocked on the door and he said “Do you know where Mrs Royle is at the caravan?” I said “Oh, yes, they’ve gone to the show with …. with, you know, my little boy ….” So, he said …. and I stayed at home because I had David small and they’d gone ….
So, anyway …. it seems that when …. it was really funny because he was …. he was …. looked at me so miserable …. So, I told them, I said to my Mum “There’s a miserable man knocked on the door asking for Mrs Royle ….”, so …. Anyway …. afterwards I found out that this miserable man …. had …. had had all his teeth out …. had to have all his teeth out …. and of course, he was in pain and that was the reason why, which was really strange. I know it sounds all funny, but it was strange.
Anyway, when I got home …. oh, I know, I got an old lady Mum used to work …. she used to be, doing all sorts of things for people and she worked for her and another lady …. and they used to make cups of tea and things at the little Church …. and …. there was a lady that needed somewhere to stay, an old lady, and she said “Would you like to have her?” and she could have like a room in the bedroom because there was a fire up there in that front room …. a fireplace ….
So, I had this old lady and it helped me with money and, anyway, we went on this holiday, and this happened with this chap ….
So when …. when I had …. I went out to …. the welfare …. and when I got back, she said …. the old lady said “There’s been a person came today, a Mrs Royle …. and she was …. you know, asking how you were ….” “Oh yes ….” I said, “Oh, I’ll go and see her” …. and I went round to see her, she only lived a few streets away …. I’d never …. you know I’d never seen her until that holiday, because, you know, we’d got to be friends when we were there …. anyway, when I got there, all the family were there, quite a big family …. and this one called Dennis, he was showing …. knelt by me showing me photographs and things like that …. and she said to him, she said to them “Now, this girl has got a massive garden …. and she needs some help with it ….”
So, anyway, I think there were three of them turned up …. of her sons …. and this man, that had been …. had knocked on the door of the caravan was one of them …. Dennis …. and …. so, he kept coming and helping me, and one day, he asked me, would I marry him? And I did …. and he was wonderful.
He was wonderful …. and he’d been in the war …. and …. in Burma …. and he’d gone through it.
And photographs of him were like …. very very slim, very slim …. he had to go in hospital when the war was over, in Liverpool …. because he was so ill …. but, yea …. But he lived to be …. how old was he when he died? He got Parkinson’s Disease in the end ….
This is him in a photograph here …. yes …. but, yes, he was a really good man …. so, I was so lucky ….
Michael: Did he ever talk about his experiences in Burma?
Vera: No, not really …. I did have some photographs of him …. my son’s got them …. I only said to him …. Stephen’s got them …. I said, “Stephen, have you still got my photographs, please?”
You know, they’d get hold of them and then …. he was going to do something special with them, or something …. Or, I could have, you know, shown you, but yes ….
Michael: Did he work on the Burma Railway?
Vera: No, he wasn’t on the Burma Railway …. no …. no …. But …. and his brother …. was in the Merchant Navy …. and he happened to call …. I think, would it be Singapore? I know he called in once when they were near the …. sea or something …. And he said “Dennis, come with me ….” He said “I can’t come, I wouldn’t be able to go back home again now …. I can’t come.”
But, he was in the Merchant Navy, and he went through it. They were torpedoed a few times and he was on a raft on his own for a long time …. but he was …. yea, he was ….
They were a lovely family …. yes, they were …. I was very lucky ….
Michael: So, how many children did you have in the end altogether?
Vera: I have six children, yes, 3 sons and 3 daughters …. But the eldest one, Keith, he had …. cancer, stomach cancer, and he died last year, but he was 70. He would have been 70, wouldn’t he? Yes. Yes …. he lived in Torquay.
Michael: So, just …. going back a little bit, I mean, you’ve obviously had quite a difficult life which turned out well in the end by the sound of things.
Vera: Oh, I have been so lucky. I always count my lucky stars, yes, yes ….
Michael: If you go back to the war, do you have any things that you think you might not have talked about already which, either sort of very happy moments, very funny moments, or even sad moments that might have happened during the war when you were still quite young?
Vera: It’s just gone blank …..
Jill: Mum, Mum, tell him about the dancing in the shelter ….
Vera: Oh yes, oh yes, when I was at Redmans …. and the sirens had gone, we used to go down in the cellar, and there was a nice chap there, only small, and he was the driver …. you know, he used to go delivering things …. and him and a lady were dancing for us at the gramophone …. and they were dancing for us, you know …. it was really lovely that …. yes ….
Michael: Were you quite a dancer, yourself?
Vera: No …. but eventually, we did go dancing, didn’t we, Jill? …. Yes …. Oh, yes, we did …. and Dennis went …. Dennis went with us. How old would we be then, Jill?
Jill: It was in the ‘80s, wasn’t it?
Vera: Yes …. Anyway, we went to Swinton for the dancing and …. Oh, yes, I got my little …. what do you call them?
Jill: Medals ….
Vera: Yes, little medals, yes, and Dennis got some …. yes …. So, I got those ….
Michael: When you were …. let’s go back to the …. time that you were working during the war …. You mentioned three places, Redmans, Kendals and Turners. What were you doing, for instance, at Redmans …. were you ….
Vera: You were just …. serving …. and …. you used to pack things up in bags …. you know, the dry things …. you used to pack them up in bags and …. yea …. it was a lovely shop, Redmans ….
Michael: Did you do any baking there?
Vera: No, no, I didn’t do any baking there …. no …. but …. there was a stall that we were on, and we were high up …. and we used to …. what were we doing? …. We were making something and people used to come round and watch us doing it …. I can’t remember what it was now …. not pancakes but something …. pardon?
Jill: Potato cakes?
Vera: Potato …. I don’t know what they were …. I can remember that we ….. it could have been, it could have been something anyway …. Yes, it was really good that …. so, you were high up, but the only [un]fortunate thing was …. it was very hot in the summer and I couldn’t stand the heat …. so I said “Mr Hingham, can I be moved off here because it is too hot for me ….” He was a really nice man …. was Mr Hingham …. so, oh, and we used to wear little caps …. and he would say “Where’s you cap, Vera?” and it was behind my hair, I had such a lot of hair …. and it was behind my hair …. “I’ve got it on, Mr Hingham” ….
Anyway …. so, he moved me onto another stall, it was ice cream …. little cabin, it was. Well, that ran out …. it was only so long before they ran out of it …. the stuff …. for the duration of the war, so that was over ….
Oh, that was all before Mum came for me, in fact she had got this job …. well this …. not the job but …. the …. going to see them at Kendal Milne, you know …. yes ….
Michael: So, what did you do at Kendals?
Vera: I was in …. a cashier …. at Kendals …. Yes, it was …. I liked it there …. it was really nice, yes ….
Michael: Was that on Deansgate?
Vera: Yes, on Deansgate and it was on both sides of the road in those days …. and …. I ended up in …. the top where the …. food, you know the food was …. what do you call it? …. cafe …. where the cafe was at the top …. yea …. very busy …. yes ….
Got …. a lot of Jewesses used to come in and they’d sit there all day. They’d have their breakfast, they’d have their lunch and they’d have their tea …. Very posh there ….
Michael: So why did you move then to Turners Asbestos?
Vera: Well …. what happened was, really …. I think it was just because you had to do something towards the war, but I did have a confrontation, actually, while I was there, because I was in this desk where there used to …. there should have been two people, because it was busy, but I …. and you had to have relief people that would come and relieve you so that you could go to the toilet or whatever ….
And I was on my own …. and I asked this little chap in the office upstairs if I could have a relief, you know …. because it was getting too much for me …. “Oh, no”, he said “no” …. So, I went down and I saw the lady that was over in …. She said “Well ….”, you know, she’d see what she could do ….
Anyway, I got myself so worked up that the next day, I didn’t feel …. I couldn’t go to work, I felt ill, because, you know I was really a bit frightened …. well, anyway, because of that, I got a letter, I’ve still got it …. to say that …. off the lady that was in charge …. that she couldn’t do what I wanted it to do and she was very sorry and all the rest of it …. I had been such a good worker but …. I was out, and that was it ….
I didn’t go back again, and that was when I went to Turners Asbestos after that.
Michael: And when you were there, at Turners Asbestos, this was at Trafford Park …. so probably closer to home for you ….
Vera: Oh, it was …. it was closer to home …. very, very busy though …. round there …. very, very busy …. lots and lots of works …. I can’t remember them all, there were so many ….
Yes, it was nice and we were in a little office …. there was a big office and we were in a little office off it, and we were all girls in there …. yes ….
Michael: And this was wartime, well actually ….
Vera: Wartime …. that’s right …. yes …. My sister worked there afterwards …. well, while I was there …. and she was in the typing pool …. they used to teach them to type …. you didn’t have to go anywhere.
It was a massive place …. all these …. I went down to see them one day …. all the clattering on the …. you know …. It was really noisy …. But she …. she said they used to walk through to go to the canteen …. they had to walk through the works, and it was one mass of this stuff and they used to throw it about and play footballs with it ….
Terrible thing to have happened, you know, to get that on your chest and everything …. terrible ….
Oh, we didn’t go down because …. I don’t know why it was, but we didn’t …. we just stayed and had lunch …. upstairs ….
Michael: What would you say to someone growing up today about life? Is there anything that you would say to someone, you know …. do you have any sort of philosophy of your own that you would pass on to someone else?
Vera: I’m not very good at this, at all …. no, I don’t know …. I don’t know …. I just think …. I just …. you know …. think how lucky I have been to …. have had lovely children …. and I’ve got so many grandchildren …. and great grandchildren …. these are great grandchildren in these photographs there …. yes ….
It’s lovely …. and the family, they look after me, you know …. yea …. they are all good …. and they’ve done well …. all of them, I mean …. all the girls are nurses …. and, I’ve got a granddaughter who is a nurse as well …. haven’t I …. she lives in Ireland ….
Yes, I am so lucky, I always say that ….
Michael: Vera, thank you very much indeed, that’s been lovely.
Recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, assisted by Nigel Anderson, Hardy Productions UK.
Following the interview, Vera mentioned that she had been affected by the train crash at Eccles in 1941 – see Wikipedia
She had been intending to travel into Manchester by train from Eccles as normally that day and arriving at the station, found the emergency in progress, forcing her to travel into Manchester by bus instead.