Spectrum 788. A boy's own war
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Alan Rittey was six years old when war broke out in 1939, but he soon developed a sharp eye for wartime activity in the town of Gossport in Portsmouth harbour. In conversation with Jack Perkins, he relates the detail and the drama of wartime life in a British coastal town.
Alan describes various air raid shelters; Anderson shelters for back gardens, Morrison shelters for those without gardens (a metal box that doubled as a table) and public brick shelters on the street. Gas masks were issued for everyone and were carried everywhere though the anticipated gas attacks never occurred in the end. Schools had evacuation programmes where children would gather in different people’s homes.
Sirens at night would prompt his mother to evacuate them into their Anderson shelter and though he was too young to realise the death and destruction of it all, he was old enough to feel excited by
the bombers moon, search lights, guns firing, sound of German aircraft, bombs descending, shells exploding and shrapnel clattering on the roof.
Alan’s father was on the home guard, during raids he reported to the anti-aircraft battery and too old to be drafted, built landing craft. Alan describes how impressed he was by their neighbour’s well-equipped shelter. Public collections were held for the war effort including gramophone records for overseas troops and aluminium pots and pans for making spit fires. However, following the war it was revealed there were many warehouses full of them because the process of sorting had been too difficult. Iron railings and gates were burnt off and taken away.
Barrage balloons floated above the town to prevent planes coming in too low. Trucks would winch the balloons up and down and when German planes managed to cut their cables, the balloons would finally explode at high altitude and drift to the ground in bits and pieces. The silver water proof fabric was picked up by locals and recycled into all sorts of things. Any parachute silk found lying around was also made into clothing.
Shrapnel became a form of currency at school with canon cases, 303 cases and incendiary bomb fins most lucrative in swops. Air raid wardens visited schools to show children anti-personnel devices the German’s had been known to drop, like fountain pens and torches, that exploded when unscrewed. Alan explains at school children would play dog-fights, imitating aircraft, in the playground.
When a siren was heard at night smoke was used to blanket the town, hiding lights and water ways from German aircraft. Various methods were used to create the smoke; a clay brick on a living room fire, a chemical triggered by electricity sparked off from the wardens’ air raid post and from smoker crews blowing out burning oil from the back of army trucks.
Alan describes how people tried to prevent windows from being shattered inside houses following explosions; paper tape could be criss-crossed over the outside of windows, net curtains soaked in a glue substance stuck onto the inside of windows or a type of varnish painted onto the inside of windows which when dried created a layer of skin.
Gossport was a loading point with concrete ramps built on the beaches and piers made of scaffolding poles set into the sea allowing troops to embark onto landing boats. Prior to D-Day Alan says many men and vehicles were hidden in the surrounding woods and landing craft moored in creeks and inlets.
Reference number 15041
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Interviewer
RITTEY, Alan, Interviewee
Radio New Zealand (estab. 1989), Broadcaster
Date 25 Apr 1994