Morton history: 1939 to 1945 Part 1

Notes from Barrington Darby (Local historian):

Part I 1939 – 1945

After the Prime Minister’s announcement on September 3rd 1939, we were now at war with Germany. The period of uncertainty which had hung over the country for so long had at last been
lifted. Uncertainty had become reality of frightening proportions – what does the future hold now?

People in the village hurriedly constructed black-out devices for their windows to conform with the official Government instruction which came into force on September 1st.

Initially a vast number of evacuees were expected, but many decided to stay at home and consequently the number which actually arrived was greatly reduced.

The Rector of Morton, Mr Latham set the tone and gravity of the situation writing in the Parish Church Magazine in September 1939. He clearly envisaged the country becoming a vast battlefield which could well have been the case. Mr Latham had been informed of plans to build an Air Raid Shelter to accommodate over 1,000 people and work was expected to begin at any time. In the meantime, the Rector considered the railway cutting to be the safest place in time of emergency. Presumably Mr Latham was referring to the disused Mickley Branch. This of course, only applied to those who had no cellars or dug outs.

In May 1940 Air Raid Shelters were constructed partially below ground, in what is now the School Field, for the use of Morton School. At the time the field was owned by Mr Bob Stevens of New Street who gave his permission.

Morton’s first fatality of the War was 22 years old Private Ronald Ordish Bradley (Sherwood Foresters) of New Street, who died on 7 August 1940 in France, from injuries sustained in the B.E.F.s’ retreat to Dunkirk.

A small brick building was erected on Morton Collieries’ east tip for use as an observation post. This gave a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and became known as Jim Crow’s Hut.

As German bombing and the threat of invasion increased, more evacuees arrived. Apparently mothers and children arrived by train at Doe Hill Station, to then disperse to Morton and Stonebroom seeking accommodation. Most of these were Londoners with accents which appeared very strange to local people.

Air Raid shelters were built in Station Road, Main Road and Sitwell Avenue. They were very basic buildings with no pretence at being luxurious but took an enormous amount of effort to demolish them after hostilities ended.

Fire fighting teams practised their drill in Bob Stevens (School) field. Adjacent were three Colliery reservoirs which provided a convenient source of water. Some equipment was stored in a shed on the School Hill (known as the Red Shed).

The Home Guard met at The Hut, a large wooden building close to where the pit wheels are now situated on Main Road. There was a primitive shooting range in a colliery owned field near the railway.

The Government considered a gas attack was a distinct possibility, consequently schoolchildren carried a gas mask as part of their school equipment. In fact when I started school in 1942, I religiously kept mine in a small brown box under my desk.

On the evening of 8 April 1941 the German Luftwaffe dropped incendiary bombs on houses in Pit Lane and Station Road and also on Morton Colliery. Afterwards, as a three year old I remember being carried outside into our back garden by my father to view the spectacle. My recollections are of a cluster of 8 or 9 burning spheres, red with white hot burning tails rising vertically, giving the overall shape of an onion. They were quickly extinguished by alert firefighters. By coincidence on the same day 17 evacuees had arrived from London.

About the same time, in the early hours of one morning a training plane thought to have been an Air Speed Oxford attached to a Polish Squadron based at Hucknall made an emergency landing in fields off Stretton Road. Some months later, in the same area, a bomb fell leaving a large crater on the footpath between Stretton Road and Mickley Farm.

In 1942, Clay Cross Company closed Colliery No. 6, known at Morton Colliery as the Hard Coal, which had opened in 1874.

Also in 1942, Timothy Sharpe of Stretton Road was awarded the MBE. Working in India for the British Government, he responded to an SOS from General Joseph W. Stilwell (American Commander of the Chinese troops in Burma) after he had become lost in the Burmese jungle. Tim was awarded the MBE for escorting the General and his troops out of the jungle, hotly pursued by the Japanese, to safety in India.

During the Spring of 1943 Morton appeared to have been on the flight path between RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and the Derwent Dams when Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron were practising low level flying. This was in preparation for the historic Dambusters’ Raids.

On 28 July 1943, Harry Mogford aged 11 years, was drowned in the river at Ogston.

As the Bombing Campaign against Germany gained momentum large formations of Bomber Squadrons were a regular sight on clear summer evenings, massing overhead as they prepared for their nightly missions.

About this time opencast mining was introduced as a temporary measure we were told, and has been a blight on our countryside ever since. One of the first sites in our area was on Stretton Road just beyond Morton Isolation Hospital. About the same time there was an epidemic of scarlet fever and some cases of diphtheria.

After Italy surrendered in 1943 there appeared to be a big influx of POWs! They joined other POWs, German and Italian, to work on the land, the collieries and the railway. They were often seen being transported through the village in army lorries.

Members of the Women’s Land Army, also known as Land Girls, worked on certain farms in the village, such as Glebe Farm.

© Barrington Darby