A Child Of the War
Part Two - The hills are out of bounds and the Yanks drive through.
Parkhall Hills was a landmark for many miles around, because of the line of tall trees along the top. The authorities decided that these trees might the enemy to pinpoint their position, and sadly in 1939 they were chopped down. Weston Coyney soon became a part of the invasion preparations. Overnight , it seemed, posts appeared in the fields opposite Parkhall Hills; these were designed to hinder the landing of German troop carrying gliders, but only succeeded in hampering farming operations.When these fields were ploughed for the first time in living memory in 1942, the posts disappeared. All the telegraph poles in Weston and Leek Roads received two roundels of white paint in order that the local population could see them in the blackout. Along Weston Road, between the houses either side what is now the entrance to Brookwood Drive, a very large water tank was constructed for use by the fire services. About six feet in height, and some twenty feet across, it remained full of water until well after the war, no doubt a useful supply, but a great danger to inquisitive children. Then all the road signs were removed, in case invading troops needed to find their way about. But the most dramatic manifestation of hostilities was the fencing-in of Parkhall Hills. To the great dismay of “our gang” and all local dog walkers, the hills were enclosed with wooden paling fencing.
This stretched from the junction of Hulme Road and Parkhall Road, all the way along the Parkhall Road frontage of the hills, and then up the side to Park Avenue. Several notice boards appeared, issued by the Ministry of Defence, pointing out that trespassers would be prosecuted, or , as my father put it, probably shot. So we kept away for a while. In addition , the road to Hulme from the Parkhall side was closed, as it was from the Hulme village end. Rumour followed rumour, but the truth soon emerged when half a dozen or so RAF personnel were billeted in the village. Their Ford truck was parked permanently when not in use on the grass opposite the top of Parkhall Avenue, and surprisingly usually left unlocked. It very often became an adventure to creep into the cab and pretend to drive it. The reason for their presence leaked out, a decoy aerodrome was under construction at the back of Parkhall Hills. The idea was that lights could be displayed at night to lure the enemy bombers into dropping their bombs in the wrong place. In the event bombs did fall on Hulme Banks, but whether this was due to the decoy aerodrome we may never know. The area certainly was on a main flight path for enemy bombers visiting Manchester and Liverpool, and many was the night during 1940 and 41 that we huddled under the stairs listening to the unsynchronised drone of Heinkels and Dorniers.
At the entrance to what is now the Country Park, opposite the Coalville Estate, there was sited an anti-aircraft battery. The searchlights from this area lit up the night sky frequently during the first two years of war, although we never heard the sound of “ack-ack” guns. The battery and the decoy aerodrome fell out of use when the German bombing campaign ceased against the northern cities, but long before then we had breached the fencing of Parkhall Hills and soon the former control room, now abandoned by the RAF, became a new playground. Remnants of it remain in situ today. Over quite a large area of the Hills, short wooden posts had been driven in to the ground leaving about six inches exposed. These were at intervals of some two feet apart, and inter-connected with barbed wire. The grass soon hid the wire, and for some years it was difficult to walk on some parts of Parkhall Hills without tripping over- which was the idea! One morning, the area around the Hills was found to be covered in strips of aluminium foil, which we boys hastily collected. This material had been dropped from aircraft during the night and was part of the process codenamed `windows`. This was a successful method of cluttering radar screens with an overwhelming level of reflected signals.
Generally, most residents in the village never bothered erecting the famous “Anderson” shelter, so well known in city areas, but at the rear of the top of Park Avenue was a small, disused sand quarry, and into it`s face a group of enterprising local men dug two parallel tunnels, joined at the back, which was used as a bomb shelter. Later in the war, it collapsed, fortunately no one was inside at the time. The only other shelter I can recall was made for Mr. Archie Stowe, of the Longton printers. He lived in Parkhall Road, and a large hole was dug in his driveway outside the rear door. This was roofed in, all but for a trapdoor access, and on descending a short ladder, a very comfortable shelter was found, complete with plush upholstered seating.
One cold, foggy afternoon in February 1942, I was at home from school at half term. Suddenly, the electricity supply was cut, the result, we soon discovered, of an aircraft crash in Caverswall Road. All the boys of the village rushed to the scene, located at the rear of what is now Hayner Grove, to discover that a Spitfire had come down, cutting the electric supply cables in the process. The gate into the field was guarded by the army, but after the bulk of the wreckage had been removed we sneaked into the field to retrieve souvenirs. I well remember my friend Gerald Piper carrying home on his shoulder part of the propeller blade. Sadly, the pilot had died, as had by now a number of the area`s sons. The local shop on the crossroads was owned by Chris Sproston, a cheerful man, much loved by villagers. Great sadness was felt by everyone when his son, Boyce Sproston, was killed when his aircraft was shot down*. Boyce is remembered today on the Memorial Window at Longton High School and also on the memorial inside St Peters Church at Caverswall.
To the west of the village stood the other country house, Park Hall. Set amongst trees, this imposing three storey red brick building looked eastward over a lake, with the dominant hills to the left and with woodland to the right. It was, of course, a no-go area for we children. Empty since the departure of the Parker-Jervis family in 1937, it had been rented at the beginning of the war by Pickfords, the removals company, as a storage unit for furniture, much of which had been hastily removed from large houses in areas considered in danger from bombing. At the rear of the house was a cottage occupied by the Jackson family, who acted as caretakers of the Hall. One of their sons was a classmate of mine at Adderley Green School. From time to time we would creep down the drive, lift a ground floor sash window, and wander about the large silent rooms filled with sheeted furniture, or wander up the marble staircase the daylight shining through a stained glass window. Mr Stanford Jackson would chase us out of the Hall and grounds if he knew we were there. On the great terrace at the front of the house stood a row of several small cannon, the significance of which escaped us at the time. Had I but known of the naval connection of it`s former owners, I would have been much impressed at that time of war, for here, one hundred and fifty years before, had stood Sir John Jervis. He became Earl of St. Vincent, First Sea Lord and Admiral of the Fleet and all those years ago he had sought the hand in marriage of Martha Parker of Park Hall. Admiral John Jervis was to become known as the `Father of the Royal Navy` as a consequence of the reforms that he introduced, many of which remain in place today.
On the site of what is now the Weston Coyney Social Club, in Caverswall Road , stood a long wooden hut which housed what was known as the Weston Coyney Workingmens and Social Club. It contained a pair of billiard tables, and in a small room, a table tennis table. As Weston Coyney did not have a Village Hall then, this building was frequently used during the war by the Ministry of Food for the distribution of Ration Books, children’s orange juice and dried milk, and on one memorable occasion for me, as an immunisation centre. It also served as an important social point where Whist Drives and concerts were held. A similar use was found for the bowling alley at the Red House, Caverswall, now it's Function Room.
Perhaps my most abiding overall memory of the war years in Weston Coyney was the silence and the relative peace. There was no traffic to speak of; milk was delivered largely by horse and float from local farms and smallholdings, and the local coalman , George Jackson, also used a horse-drawn cart from his coal yard behind the old Toll House in Leek Road. There were relatively few people about during the day. The quiet was only accentuated by the dull thud of the pumps at the colliery. However, it was not always the case. The loudest noise I heard was the detonation of a very large bomb dropped some miles away in Dilhorne pool, and another, infamous, explosion rattled the windows and shook the house one morning when the bomb dump at Fauld went up, some fifteen miles away. Then there were the sirens, of course, one of which was located on the top of the electricity sub-station in Weston Coyney Road, and another at Parkhall Colliery. At times you could hear the aircraft which were being flight-tested from the Rootes factory adjacent to the aerodrome at Meir. The worst offender was the Harvard trainer, which at a height of around one thousand feet had a particularly intrusive drone.
Weston Coyney was located on a very useful North-South road, the A520, and in 1944 down through the village came the seemingly endless convoys of American troops, on their way to France. We soon learned the most strategic positions from which to shout for gum and “candy”, and were often successful. In the very early morning of June 6th that year, my father took me outside to witness, in the early dawn, the fantastic sight of a sky literally filled with aircraft, something I have never forgotten.. So the war dragged on to it`s final conclusion, and VE day was celebrated in the Village with a childrens party one sunny May day, in Parkhall Avenue, when the whole road was laid out with tables and chairs. It seemed that everyones mum did her best to make this a memorable occasion. The celebrations were concluded with a bonfire in Parkhall Road which had been organised by the Home Guard.
During the six years of the war and during the first few years that followed, Weston Coyney and Caverswall had remained virtually unaltered. Sadly though that was to inevitably change, the rural community which had cocooned my childhood was about to change forever.
But that’s another story.
The Debt of Honour records that Sgt Pilot Sproston was killed on the 29th
September 1939 age 21.