Recollections
Norman Lally

Norman Lally

Norman came to Kirby with his family in 1938. He was 3 years old and within a few years had joined Kirby Muxloe Primary School. He remembers the war years, including the bombing of Kirby in 1940. These are his memories, recalled over a period of time in a series of letters that he very kindly wrote for us.

1

Arrival in Kirby

Shops and Businesses

School Dinners

My family arrived in Kirby in 1938 and we settled in a rented house in Church Road. In 1940 Kirby was bombed and most of our house was demolished and we moved to live at the golf club. Main Street was our favourite street as most of the few shops of Kirby were there. Mr Hudson the butcher's shop was on Main Street near junction with Station Road. I often visited to collect our joint on Saturday (rationed). Mr Hudson was our landlord and he also had an apple orchard on Church Road which I frequented quite often! His first words to me when I entered his shop were "Have you been in my orchard Norman?" I denied this every time. He was a kindly man and I think he got fed up asking.

Further along Main Street in the direction of the Royal Oak inn was the chemist Mr Tew. His shop was the old cricket pavilion as the original shop was destroyed in the bombing.

Moving on past the pub was a blacksmith (Mr Chesterton) who would let us go into his smithy to see horses being shod. Further on a shoe repair (Mr Barkby). Mother used to tell me to make sure he put 13 studs in each boot or she would make me go back.

[Editor's note: For sequence of businesses, see our map here.]

On the same side (Mr Silk) coalman and opposite side Dr Jones surgery and Mr Burdett (groceries and provisions). If we had a few coppers we bought sweets there.

Next along was Kirby Castle where we spent many happy hours and then at the very end of Main Street a little provisions shop owned by the Addey sisters who were religious spinsters. As we grow older and went to Ratby cinema we often called there to buy a cigarette (they could be brought singly). If they thought we were too young they would say "if the Lord meant you to smoke he would have put a chimney pot on your head".

There came a day probably 1945 which came to be known as the day "Kirby School had no dinner". School dinners were prepared and cooked in a building in Main Street almost opposite Castle Hotel. Boys of 10 and 11 years would fetch these dinners on a wooden cart with large wheels. On this particular wintry icy day, John Griffiths and I loaded up the stainless steel canisters. All went well until we reached Castle Road which is steep, when the wheels started to slip on ice and we could not hold on and let go! The cart careered down the hill and then shed its load of meat, spuds, gravy, custard the whole works!

Oh what a mess! We were never allocated that job again. Happy days.

My memories of Kirby are many. It has real history has Kirby. How many other villages have seen during World War II, starting with evacuees, following on with the bombing, then the Americans preparing for D-Day, and finishing with Italian prisoners of war.

2

Prisoners of War

Americans in WW2

The Bombing


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My memories of Italian POWs are fleeting but they were indeed in the village. The actual year escapes me, but it was after the Americans left. They (the Italians) worked in the surrounding fields off the recreation ground, clearing the brook to make sure water flowed, because cattle used it for drinking. This brook goes right down to the castle and is still there, I believe. They also worked on a farm at the end of Gullet Lane, spud picking etc. They were distinguishable by very large numbers on their backs, rather like footballers today. I don't think they were billeted in the village itself, probably being dropped off by army trucks on the morning of each day. They seem quite content with their lot. Glad to be out of the war no doubt!

Now a few words about the Americans, as I have a personal involvement. As you know, officers and NCOs were billeted at “The Towers”. My cousin, who lived with us in Church Road, came to know a sergeant and after the war ended, they married and moved to America and actually celebrated over 50 years of marriage. Ray and Ruth made numerous trips to UK over the years, but have now sadly passed on. Ray would visit us (during the war) and bring “cookies” and various items of food which were gladly received, especially because of rationing, etc. I remember him fondly and was relieved that he survived D-Day and returned to marry Ruth.

After war was declared in 1939, there came a quiet period when people wondered what all the fuss was about. In October 1940, things changed and we were often woken during the night by air raid sirens. German bombers could be seen, lit up by searchlights from Braunstone aerodrome. These bombers were on their way to Coventry. Sometimes their bomb doors could be seen to be opening, ready to drop their bombs on Coventry, which would be, at a guess, 15 minutes after passing over our heads.

On the night of Kirby bombing, the air raid sirens started in the early evening. Mum and dad got us out of bed to sit downstairs. We were supposed to leave the house and go to the air raid shelters, which were in the school grounds. Most of the village people did not like the shelters and refused to use them. They were underground and often had water all over the floors. You also had to go down a steel ladder, rather like a submarine.

Mum made her own shelter in the house underneath the stairs where she put a mattress and blankets. As soon as the sirens started, she would bundle us in (four children), never thinking that a village would be bombed! Of course, one night it did happen. The bombs that fell at the top of Church Road lifted the whole of the street’s roofs off. Doors and windows were blown off and mum told me in later years that our gas cooker was found in the orchard two doors away!

We had to make our way to the dreaded shelters. Sometime during that night, our family and others were found shelter at Kirby golf course clubhouse, where we remained for two years until our house was repaired.

I often wonder how my parents managed during this period (with four children) but we, along with many others in the village, came through and here I am, still here to tell the tale.

3

Football and Cricket

Mr Tew, the Chemist

Larking About

Recreation


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Our family of six arrived in Kirby in 1938 from Somerby near Melton. All the children attended the village school in Barwell Road, and life for a boy, or most of them, was an adventure with a few escapades thrown in!

We often played football on the “reccy”, till it was too dark to see the ball. Very few of us had football boots, just hoping to get a pair for Christmas. Cricket was played also, but footy was the main thing. If we had a ball it would be kicked, often in the streets until someone would shout “get off down to the reccy you lot”.

As I grew older I played for both the football and cricket teams which I thoroughly enjoyed.

During the war there was a fine cricket pavilion on the recreation ground which was removed and taken to Main Street to be used as a chemist shop, as the original one had been destroyed during the bombing. Mr Tew the chemist was also a very keen photographer and had albums which people could scan while waiting for their medicine to be prepared in the back room of the shop. Tradesmen were featured in these albums, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, etc! My dad, a painter and decorator was in one, decorating the house in Gullet Lane, which I was quite pleased to see.

I remember very well when I was waiting for some medicine for my mother, when Mrs Tew asked me if I would like honey sandwich (Would I? I was always hungry).

She gave me two squares of sandwiches which I downed in record time. Five minutes later Mr Tew came through with the medicine and remarked "Good gracious Norman, eaten them already?". I don't think I had tasted honey before. Sandwiches at home were mostly dripping and more dripping!

Opposite our house on Church Road was a fish and chip shop, which had reopened after being closed during the war. This would be about 1948 and I was then 13 years old. Customers were asked to bring their own newspapers which were formed into cones and filled up with chips for 3d (bliss!).

We lads used to hang about outside in the evenings, generally larking about. The owners of the shop were Harry and Lizzie Webster. Harry was quite strict and would not stand for any nonsense and sometimes came outside to "clear us off". One winter night someone threw a firework into the shop (it wasn't me honest). Apparently Lizzie almost fell into the fish fryer. Harry immediately gave chase. We scattered in all directions. Alan Newman and I ran down Station Road and hid on the golf course in pitch darkness. I had to try to get back home without Harry seeing me. I failed and he grabbed me and marched me back home to face the wrath of my parents. Consequently I was grounded for some considerable time.

On Church Road also was a very nice apple orchard which belonged to our landlord Mr Hudson (Butcher Main Street). He never seemed to pick the fruit very often so we use to help him out whenever we could! In this orchard were Mr Hudson's flock of geese, fearsome, hissing creatures which would attack you if you got over the fence into the orchard. We devised a cunning plan. One of us would feed the geese with potato peelings, while the others scrambled over the fence in a far corner. We got our revenge on the geese because they ended up on our plates for Christmas dinner.

In my youth I had quite a few jobs in Kirby as did many of my friends. Morning and evening papers and green grocery deliveries for Goodalls on Barwell Road. Wages were usually handed to our parents and then some given back for small treats.

The streets of Kirby and fields surrounding were our playground. Never indoors for long. Always something to do. Climbing trees and falling out of most of them. Swinging on ropes across the brook. Adventures at Kirby Castle (trying to sneak in without paying), sledging down big hill in winter. Conkers in autumn. We did it all. Spud picking and plenty of potatoes to take home (secretly stored in our pockets).

Kirby Fair was an event we waited weeks for. Always September.

Bonfire night on the reccy in which we would throw potatoes to be cooked, and eat them there and then. Kirby Station was another attraction where we would go to hopefully spot a "namer” engine, not many of those but we loved the steam train. Sometimes as a special treat our parents would take us on the train to Leicester. Oh the excitement.

I was a choirboy at St Bart's for five years. I think Mum wanted me to join to keep out of mischief but I rather think it was because we got paid one shilling for weddings.

Village life was great for us and they really were the good old days. Simple pastimes without hurting anyone really. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and shared good times along with hard. Gossiping was a pastime for our elders. If Mum made a pot of tea she would knock on the wall and the next-door neighbour would come in.

We did not have so many material things but oh boy did we enjoy ourselves.

I would not have missed it for the world.

4

The Fair at Kirby


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Kirby Fair was held on the first week of September in Main Street, in a large field alongside the Royal Oak pub.

If I remember rightly, the fair owner was Patrick Holland. There was another owner by the name of Billy Bates, but I think Holland’s fair was the one that came to Kirby.

To most villagers the fair was the highlight of the year, second only to Christmas day.

Excitement would mount in the days before arrival. The massive lorries, caravans drawn by horses, and even some motorised vans which probably belonged to the owners. The whole procession travelled down Station Road before turning into Main Street on its way to the field. After school we would run out to see how much had been erected. Fair week was a family week i.e. mums, dads and even some grandparents. Children often went with parents but soon "lost them" to join up with friends. I will now go on to describe some of the attractions of which I remember.

A large attraction was called the moon rocket. This would carry about 50 to 75 people who were whizzed around at high speed sitting down in a tube like compartment. At some point in the ride the floor would rise some 45°. The screams were horrendous.

Dodgem cars also popular. No bumping. Some hope!

Carousel, with many wooden horses very popular with people who wanted a nice sedate ride, swing boats, rifle ranges for prizes, candy floss and toffee apple stalls.

Roll a penny and try to land on a 4d, 6d or shilling square. Test your strength by hitting a piece of wood with a large mallet to ring a bell and win a prize.

Probably a few other stalls of which I have forgotten.

There was on the site an old Romany caravan, in which a gypsy woman sat telling fortunes. Quite a few people queued to have their palms read.

Entrance to the fair was free and largest charges were for the moon rocket and dodgems, something like 6d for these two and probably 3d for the stalls.

I cannot finish without letting you know about a "happening" concerning the coconut shy.

Coconuts had to be knocked off their perch to claim a prize. The prizes which consisted of tea sets and various pieces of crockery were arrayed at the front of the store. 6 balls for 6d or similar to throw at the coconuts.

One evening some of the older village lads were at the shy, my elder brother among them. Someone among them claimed that a coconut had been dislodged and the stallholder had refused to give him his prize. They all brought more balls and proceeded to smash up as much crockery as possible.

All hell broke loose. A fight started between village lads and fairground workers, resulting in the fair being closed down for the night.

This was the story of legends talked about for years, often with much hilarity!

5

Kirby School

Misdemeanours and Punishments


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Although my memories of Kirby Primary School are not as vivid as my other recollections of village life, I will do my best to provide you with what I remember.

As the family lived nearby (the school being only three minutes walk away) there were obviously no transport problems!

I, being born in 1935, would probably have started in 1940.

At some time during World War II all steel railings and gates were removed to help the war effort.

Just before 9 am one of the teachers would ring a bell and everyone would move from the playground into the hall for assembly and roll call, after which we would go to our classrooms which were situated off the square shaped hall.

The school itself was quite cold in winter, as the boiler often broke down. Scarves were worn. Almost everyone had a scarf, as mothers used to knit them by the mile!!

Half a pint of milk was provided for everyone, every morning.

School dinners were good and tasteful. Always a pudding too.

These meals were perhaps rather stodgy at times but very enjoyable. No one put much weight on as we walked everywhere and played outside a lot of the time.

The school encouraged people to take part in sports, and boys who were good runners or jumpers would compete at Hinckley against other teams from the county.

The girls, as my sister informs me, competed at Desford.

One thing we used to dread was the visit of the school dentist. Any extraction would be carried out in a room that was within earshot. Not a day to enjoy!!

The teachers that I remember were as follows:

Mr Jarvis (headmaster) Quite strict. His favourite saying was "if you do not behave, I will dust the seat of your trousers".

Miss Hubbard was very much a disciplinarian.

Miss Williams was everyone's favourite, very kind person.

Mrs Cooper who was quite aged when I started, and who probably taught my two elder brothers. I think she retired in my first year.

There are two that my sister recalls:

Mrs Perryman, red haired and a temper to match apparently.

Miss Richardson, my sister's favourite.

You will note that apart from Mr Jarvis, all women teachers.

Probably the men, being in the services, were not available.

All in all, pupils had to behave when in school and discipline was quite strict without being over the top.

We had discipline everywhere really, being parents, teachers or the local policeman. But no harm done. We still misbehaved when out of sight and mind!

Personally, I believe that the school provided everyone with a good basic education. Both my sister and I along with many others, passed the scholarship which enabled us to attend Market Bosworth Grammar School, so that has got to be a good recommendation for the school in those days. I believe it is still well thought of at the present time.

Misdemeanours and Punishments

Talking in class = rap over knuckles with wooden ruler (Miss Hubbard)

Not paying attention = 100 lines (I must pay attention at all times) to be written during detention. About 30 minutes after school. (Mr Jarvis, Miss Hubbard)

Running in school premises. Verbal warning. Second offence run three times around recreation ground (a long run)

Small offences. Filling up ink wells for whole class (messy)

In closing, I would like to go back to the night of the bombing. There have been many theories as to why Kirby was hit. There is a possibility of course that as Leicester was bombed also that night, in which they targeted rail lines, that they, through intelligence knew that there were important targets round about, namely Desford Tubes, Desford and Braunstone Aerodromes from which searchlights were in use. (They must have thought there must be something down there worth protecting).

From 1970 I worked at Rolls-Royce, Mountsorrell. They produced Merlin Spitfire engines throughout the war years. I remember some of the older workers, on learning that I used to live at Kirby and was indeed bombed saying to me "They missed RR that night"!! Just a thought.

Somewhere in Germany there must be records even to this day of that night's events. Perhaps even in France where the bombers must have been stationed. France had fallen in 1940. A quick hop across the Channel.

6

Remembered People


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Here is a brief summary of people I remember in my childhood and youth in Kirby Muxloe.

Shopkeepers:

Mr Oldershaw, manager of Goodall's groceries on the corner of Church Road and Barwell Road. Mum would often send me there to ask if he could possibly let her have something "off next week's ration" (butter or tea etc). He sometimes did this, wrapping them in brown paper so no one else could see what you were buying!!

Mr "Bo" Heighton was the newsagent on Barwell Road, taken over by Vic Thompson later, for whom I delivered newspapers. Quite a large round covering Gullet Lane, Hedgerow Lane and farms along Desford Lane. On the corner of Barwell Road and Castle Road was the Post Office with a public phone box outside. This was well used as there were few villagers who had phones.

On Castle Road was a wonderful small shop owned by Mr and Mrs Hardy. Small provisions and home-made ice cream. Just the one flavour (vanilla) – still my favourite.

Next door to the shops lived the Bosworth family, Syd, Olive and children. Olive was a hairdresser and she would cut our hair for a small sum in her front room. Not the latest style, but cheap!

Also on Castle Road was the Co-op. I think the manager was Mr Gamble.

Main Street had an assortment of shops, which I have mentioned before.

Doctors:

Drs Jones, Alexander and Garfitt. Obviously when we were young we seldom visited their surgeries but we knew of them and the fact that Dr Garfitt was a character, often doing his rounds on horseback!

Councillors

The only councillor I can remember was a Labour Party councillor, Mr Mileham, who lived next door to us in Church Road for some time. Mr Mileham kept prize rabbits in a large hut in his back garden. He once asked me if I would feed them while he was away for a short holiday. I decided to let them out of their cages for a run around, upon which they proceeded to strip his garden of greens (cabbage, lettuces). They certainly liked a salad! He never let me look after them again. Strange that!

Leisure:

We had a scout hut in the village but that was not too popular if I remember. Bowlines and reef knots bored us.

The youth club which was run from the building opposite St Barts on Main Street was where we had the most fun, especially winter evenings. Table tennis, snooker and film shows (which often broke down). Pantos at Christmas. This building was also used for Sunday school and Miss Briggs was heavily involved there. A wonderful lady.

Trades:

I suppose most villages have their assortment of tradespeople. Kirby was no exception.

On Church Road, Horace Webster (hauliers). He was also the church organist for many years.

Harry Webster (brother), who apart from owning the fish and chip shop on Church Road had a small building business which I think he ran from Main Street. Also Armson and Hollis were general builders too.

On the corner of Barwell and Church Road, Mr Heap, painter and decorator.

Church:

Church people I remember:

Sims Reeve

Paige Hudson

Don Pateman (understudy). Don lived on Kirby Lane (near Hinckley Road) – left to work in Bethnal Green, London.

Percy Smith, verger at St. Barts for many years.

Mr and Mrs Cameron, very devout people who lived at "Carmel", Kirby Fields, a house I visited many times as mum was a cook there. Across the road from Carmel was Roundhills, home at that time of Major Reid of Reid and Sigrist Engineers, a very major firm (excuse the pun) !

When we were carol singing, we made a beeline for Roundhills as we were sometimes invited into the kitchen by the cooks to sing inside and treated to mince pies and perhaps a shilling each. Riches indeed!

Police:

Just a few items about our village policeman, Mr Kempin.

Very tall (they all were then) and quite fierce when he wanted to be, especially if we got the wrong side of him, by misbehaving. A well aimed boot towards someone's backside were part and parcel of his day's work.

One amusing incident I remember concerning PC Kempin was when we dammed Kirby brook to form a swimming area. Unbeknown to us, the water had to flow towards the castle, as cows used to drink from it further downstream. One of the farmers reported to Mr Kemp that the cows were not getting water, whereupon he investigated and found the cause. He ran across the field towards the dam and everyone ran for their life! Apparently though not witnessed by all, PC Kempin put one of his size twelve boots on the dam to knock it down and fell in up to his waist (Happy Days).

Friends:

My best friend and soul buddy was Tony Brown of Station Road. Next door to Tony lived Alan Fanton with whom I swapped comics. Also on Station Road, Brian Carver, Arnold Atkins, Ron Worth. We would often gather on Saturday mornings at Arnold's to listen to the omnibus of Dick Barton, Special Agent. Sometimes, Paul Temple and Valentine Dyall, in the Man in Black (terrifying).

Other Friends:

Tony Ball, Stan Garner, John Griffiths, Dave Harbidge, Pete Culpin and Alan Newman. Many others over the years I'm sure, but time dims the memories.

7

Teenage years and Work


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My education on leaving primary school continued at Market Bosworth Grammar. I did not particularly enjoy my time there. Latin was not for me and by the age of 14, I was itching to join the world of work. My mother, who found the cost of uniforms, books, sports equipment, etc. too much for the family budget (my sister was also there at the same time), "bought me out" when I was 14¾ years old.

A subject I was particularly interested in was metalwork and I started an apprenticeship at Marshlain Brothers, Oadby. After three years I was called up for my National Service (Army) and joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and served the rest of my apprenticeship at 2 Command Workshops REME in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

After demob, on returning to Civy Street, I worked at quite a few sheet metal firms in Leicester and Coventry.

My final workplace was Rolls-Royce Mountsorrel, where I enjoyed 23 years at this great firm. I feel privileged to have worked for them on aero engines.

Teenage years entertainment:

My friends and I would frequent Ratby cinema at least once a week, twice if we could afford it!

We nearly always walked there and back, often talking among ourselves about the films we had seen. Always two films, so we certainly had our money's worth.

We did not go into Leicester as often until our late teens, when we would choose the best films we would like to see. Obviously we had bus fares to find, so Ratby was still popular with us.

Sometimes we went to the Palais, Humberstone Gate, for dancing and also to DeMontfort Hall, where I eventually met my wife Kathleen. 56 years now and ongoing!

8

Food in the War Years


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Well, I am still here, so food could not have been too bad, don't you think?

As I have mentioned a few times, my mother was a cook during her working life at various locations. Having a large family she was quite adaptable as regards making a meal from practically anything. I suppose this was the norm in most mothers during rationing.

I have been speaking with my sister and between us we have set a menu as it was, during those days. Breakfast was mainly porridge. Perhaps not enough sugar but filling! This will be followed by perhaps a round of toast and tea (never coffee). The toast would have dripping on it if available. No cereals. (Did anyone have cereals? I'm not sure).

During school days we had what became known as school dinners, even though it was midday. These dinners were nourishing and not to be missed, apart from one particular day, which you know about!! Good meals. Meat and veg plus steamed pudding and custard.

When schools were closed for holidays, mother used to cook things like rabbit stew, rice pudding, steam roly-poly, apple dumplings etc. Fish was on the menu quite often as it was plentiful.

Leicester market always seemed to have a good supply of rabbits and fish and it was quite an adventure to go there and see everything on display.

Also at school - half pint of milk per child before the midday meal. [Editor's note: the School Milk Act of 1946 provided 1/3 pint of free milk per child]. Concentrated orange juice and malt extract for each child was supplied by the government.

Sunday breakfast was a highlight of the week, as my dad kept a few chickens in the back garden, so we had an egg each, possibly boiled but I'm not sure. We grew quite a lot of veg - cabbages, leaks, and potatoes mainly, and we also had a damson tree, which supplied Mum with fruit for jam. I have eaten enough damson jam to last me a lifetime!

As my mother was one of six daughters of my maternal grandmother, there were a lot of exchanges of food during visits. A jar of jam for a jar of pickles etc.

Although many people had allotments, most houses in Kirby had large gardens and they use them to capacity.

My favourite dishes cooked by my Mum were stew and dumplings and home-made rice puddings. I still enjoy these now, and also macaroni cheese.

I asked my sister about recipes. Her reply was "good God no". Scales? "No, all done by hand measurements, and experience”. No one complained about the food. If you did, it was your turn to cook next week!

I do not recall things changing too much after rationing, which in some cases was not until the 1950s. Sweets were obviously very popular when they became more available, which was a good/bad thing.