Chapter IX

The Second World War

Once again Germany and England were at war and once again my parents were cut off from their relations in Germany. Lu was cut off from her family and I, alas, was cut off from Diete, At first we were all able to get news of each other through Hilda in Holland and Elisabeth in Rome, but when these countries were embroiled, we had to rely on the occasional Red Cross letter to get news of Hilda and of the von Hobe family.

My brothers were all doing voluntary war work as well as their ordinary jobs; Fred and Charles were A.R,P. Wardens, Mac was in the Fire Service and Eric in the Observer Corps. I served in a canteen and took a course in the Child Care Reserve.

In March 1941 Fred and Lu and Nigel moved from Springfield, Spath Road, Didsbury to Limefield. One day in the autumn of 1941 I answered the telephone and was told by a complete stranger that Diete had been killed at Kiev on the Russian front on August 19th. I felt as though I wanted the earth to open and swallow me up, whilst she kept repeating the news to me and then to Lu.

Fortunately, I was called up soon afterwards and went to work in a Ministry of Aircraft Production factory at Clifton Junction. Fred asked Cyril, who lived in Swinton, not far from Clifton Junction, if he knew anything about the place. He replied that he knew it well as he patrolled it regularly on his special police rounds, It was a highly inflammable building and the Germans knew its exact location as German technicians had helped to build it. However, in my case it was a godsend, leaving me hardly any time to think, I had a long journey each day, into Manchester and out again by train on the north side. I was in charge of the mailing and stationery department, which was rather like running a small post office and shop, I had several young school-leavers in my charge, who were used as messengers, taking round internal mail between the various plants, which were scattered over several acres. The firm, which was called Magnesium Elektron Ltd., manufactured a metal alloy used in aeroplanes and this produced the inflammable by-product, My part of the works was, however, separate and was concerned in the building of a new factory in Padiham. I had until that time never had a real job and it was rather pleasant to earn some money. I had worked for the B.B.C. temporarily, had a few au pair- type jobs in Germany, and done some voluntary work for the N.S.P.C.C. and the League of Pity, as well as helping at a children’s club in Ancoats, Manchester’s worst slum.

Meanwhile the first wartime Dyckhoff baby had been horn in Enfield, London, in the height of the blitz in 1941. This was Neville, Charles and Margaret’s second son. He was followed the next year by Christopher, Fred and Lu’s second son, and by Eric and Muriel’s daughter, Elisabeth. Pauline and Michael were evacuated to Uttoxeter at the beginning of the war, with their schools, but returned home during the so-called “phoney war winter of 1939-40 when the expected invasion attempt did not take place.

However, the following winter the air raids did begin and though Manchester did not have many, there was a very heavy raid just before Christmas. I was helping at a party for Dutch soldiers in Withington and vividly remember hurrying home along a deserted Palatine Road with a good view of the city four miles ahead burning fiercely I did not know at the time that Eric was on duty at his observer post in the centre of the town, fortunately underground. The next day I wanted to collect some books which I had ordered as Christmas presents from a shop in the town. I set off on a tram only to find it could only go half way. The rest of the route was littered with debris and broken glass. I walked on and as I arrived in the town the air raid warning sounded again. I called in at the office and Fred and I managed to get to the bookshop and then started the long trail home on foot between all the damaged buildings. At other times land mines fell in Withington village, twice blowing all the shop windows out, and one fell on Fred’s Air Raid Wardens’ Post, killing some of his colleagues.

At about this time Mac and Hilda had very kindly been inviting me and Cyril together at every opportunity, with the happy result that we became engaged in 1943 and were married at Christ the King’s Church, Cockfosters, on February 19th 1944. Charles and Margaret very generously organised everything from their house. By this time both Cyril and Eric had been called up into the Royal Air Force and were stationed in London. Fortuitously Cyril’s cousin and best man, Roy Crompton, was also in London in the Army. Mother and Father, Mac and Hilda, and Pauline and Michael all came from Manchester and I am ashamed to think that I let them do this. There was an air raid in London, where some of Cyril’s friends were staying, and it was extremely noisy even in Enfield, where we all spent the night.

Cyril and Eric were both sent overseas soon after this. Strangely Cyril seemed to follow in Eric’s footsteps through Belgium, Holland and Germany. Eric spent considerable time in Eindhoven, making good friends there, who Cyril was able to visit later. They were both able to get to Heerlen to see Hilda and Eddy and from there both went to Osnabruck. Eric even recognised the ruined remains of his grandparents’ houses as he was driven past. We eventually heard that no one had been killed in them. Perhaps, in the case of the Hobergs, they were able to shelter in the deep wine cellars of the business. These houses have been rebuilt beautifully but the house my father’s sisters lived in is gone forever. From Osnabruck Eric finally went north to Satrup, within twenty miles of Gelting. Fred and Charles, meanwhile, remained in their reserved occupations, continuing with their A.R.P. work until the end of the war. Mac, who had been called up into the Fire Service, was in Reading at the time of my honeymoon, and called on us at the Compleat Angler in Marlow. Hilda and Eddy, in Holland, experienced a different sort of war. Eddy remained at his hospital, but they lived in very difficult conditions with their young children under German occupation.

I left Magn esium Elektron a few months before our first baby was born and moved into our house in Henley Drive, Rawdon. I returned to Limefield before Christmas and on December 29th Peter Max made his appearance. It was a night of thick fog and cold. Fortunately, I only needed to walk across the road to the Nursing Home, as no taxi would have turned out.

I returned to Rawdon a few months later and was there when Victory in Europe was declared. Cyril., alas, was still overseas, but Margaret and Charles, with their sons Rodger and Neville, were staying with me and on the strength of half a bottle of gin which Charles had been able to buy in Withington we gave a celebratory party to all our kind friends in Rawdon.

A few months later Cyril came home for a short leave which sadly was the only time he saw his first-born son. He was stationed in Osnabruck when Peter became seriously ill with gastroenteritis. He obtained compassionate leave, only to arrive home too late. Peter died on January 29th 1946. Mercifully Cyril did not have to return to Germany, as he was due to be demobilised soon in any case.

Our daughter, Susan Claire, was born five months later on June 23rd 1946 and at last we could settle down to a happy family life, together and in peace.

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