Join Time & Again Theatre Company this Friday 8th May as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day!
In this special livestream, the cast of Time & Again will discuss real life accounts of VE Day, show you how to achieve perfect 40s hair for a celebration street party with a victory rolls tutorial, perform some new scenes from our audio drama of Greyhounds, and maybe even have a sing-song – vintage style, of course!
To help you get into the spirit of the anniversary we have provided some FREE printables below: a VE Day poster, Union Jack bunting, and Victory bunting. They’re very easy to print out, assemble, and will help you decorate your home for VE Day 75!
Time & Again have been commissioned as part of The Library Presents… In Your Houseprogramme to adapt the second act of Greyhounds – set entirely on VE Day – as part of our ongoing audio drama and to also create a brand new accompanying podcast, looking at the real life history of the home front during World War Two.
It’s a busy weekend for Time & Again! The audio drama episode will go live at 8pm, straight after the livestream, and then our podcast, Then Again – Behind Big Moments in History, will go live at 7pm on Saturday. The first episode is a deeper dive into the real history of VE Day, from street parties to firework injuries, the origin of the victory salute, and why the role of Bomber Command was airbrushed from history.
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.
Katherine Winters witnesses a Handley Page Hampden with a damaged left engine attempting to limp back to base after a bombing raid over Germany. Arthur Nelson, who had seen it too, informs her that in all probability it was heading for RAF Scampton. Katherine seems unfamiliar with this location, but Arthur is happy to enlighten her, “We used to fly training flights from there back in the day, Camels mainly or Pups, but they’ve given it over to Bomber Command now”. And so they had and events during the next few years would elevate Scampton to the most famous of all the Bomber Command airfields.
An airfield was first opened on the site, which is just North of Lincoln, in November 1916, at which time it was known as Brattleby. The first unit to be based there was No.33 Squadron who operated RAF FE.2bs against the Zeppelin threat. This was a task for which the aircraft was wholly unsuited as it had a ceiling of 12,000 feet, the German airships tending to operate at 18,000 feet. The airfield was then given over to training and amongst the many types to be employed on these duties were the; Avro 504J, Avro 504K, RAF BE,2, RAF RE.8, Martinsyde Elephant and a trio of Sopwiths; the Camel, the Pup and the Dolphin. By July 1918, the various resident training squadrons had been combined to form No.34 Training Depot Station. At its height, the airfield boasted six hangars, but it had only ever been intended as a temporary site and most units moved out soon after the Armistice. By 1920 all buildings had been demolished and no trace of the airfield remained.
With tensions growing with Germany, the site at Brattleby once again attracted attention and under the RAF Expansion Scheme was earmarked as an airfield for the rapidly expanding bomber force. Occupying a slightly larger area than the original WWI airfield, the station was reopened in August 1936 as RAF Scampton. This time construction was on a somewhat more permanent basis and included four C type hangars and brick built technical and domestic accommodation. The airfield was still in a somewhat incomplete state when the first units arrived in October 1936; No.9 Squadron equipped with the Handley Page Heyford and No.214 Squadron with the Vickers Virginia and from January 1937, the Handley Page Harrow. No.148 Squadron was briefly in residence from June 1937 initially flying the Hawker Audax, a two-seat variant of the Hawker Hart biplane that had been developed for army cooperation. These were soon replaced by the Vickers Wellesley, a type that was essentially obsolete by the outbreak of WWII and did not see service in the European theatre. March 1938 saw the arrival of Nos 49 and 83 Squadrons both flying another biplane bomber, the Hawker Hind, but by the year’s end both had re-equipped with the Handley Page Hampden. By the outbreak of war construction of theairfield was fully complete and the two Scampton Squadrons each boasted 16 combat ready aircraft.
These Squadrons were in action on the very first day of hostilities when a six strong Hampden force led by the then Flying Officer Guy Gibson, conducted a raid on Wilhelmshaven. March 1940 would see the commencement of Bomber Command’s mine-laying operations, code-named “Gardening”. Both Scampton squadrons were involved from the outset and would play a major role in these dangerous low-level operations. On 12th August 1940 Flight Lieutenant R.A.B. Learoyd of No.49 Squadron took part in a daring low-level raid on the Dortmund-Elms Canal for which his conspicuous bravery led to the award of Bomber Command’s first Victoria Cross. In December 1941 both resident Squadrons begun to reequip with the Avro Manchester, a medium bomber that was to prove something of a failure due to the unreliability of its Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. Nonetheless, when Roy Chadwick refined this design and the underdeveloped Vulture engines were replaced by four Rolls-Royce Merlins, it would re-emerge as the Avro Lancaster, the finest bomber of WWII. By that summer both Squadrons had converted to the heavy bomber.
On the evening of 30/31 May 1942 Bomber Command mounted “Operation Millennium”, the first of three 1,000 bomber raids. 1,046 bombers took part in this attack including Manchester and Lancaster aircraft from both Scampton squadrons. Bomber Harris had originally selected Hamburg as his preferred target but poor weather conditions on the night dictated a switch to Cologne. It was hoped that by mounting such an attack German morale would be so shattered that the country would sue for peace. 1,455 tons of bombs were dropped, but although the city suffered substantial damage, particularly to residential areas, it was far from destroyed and within six months industrial life had largely recovered. Further 1,000 bomber raids were conducted against Essen and Bremen, but the operations were major undertakings that stretched Bomber Command’s resources to the limit and could not be sustained.
The event that was to enshrine the name of RAF Scampton in history was “Operation Chastise” which was mounted on the evening of 16th May 1943 by 19 aircraft of the specially formed 617 Squadron. Better known as the “Dam Busters” raid, Wing Commander Guy Gibson led his hand-picked crews on daring low level raids of the Ruhr dams using Barnes Wallis’ specially developed “bouncing bomb”. Of the three dams attacked, the Möhne and the Eder were both breached causing a significant impact on Germany’s industrial might. But these results were achieved at a high price, nine aircraft were lost along with the lives of 53 brave crew.
In August 1943 RAF Scampton was closed so that paved runways could be laid, the base not reopening until July 1944. Moving in at this time was No.1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight which operated Spitfire, Hurricane and Martinet aircraft. Two Lancaster Squadrons, No.153 & No.625 also moved in and were to take part in the base’s last raid of the war, the bombing of Obersalzberg on 25th April 1945.
The first notable event post-war was the blockade in Berlin which saw the arrival in July 1948 of 30 USAF Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft, the Americans remaining until February 1949. The airfield was then given over to 230 OCU for the training of Avro Lincoln crews. In 1953 the airfield once more resounded to the sound of Lancaster aircraft during the making of the film “The Dambusters”. In the early 1950s four Canberra Squadrons were in residence but these moved out in 1955 so that work could commence to upgrade the station for V-Bombers. Amongst this vast undertaking was the laying of a new 9,000-foot runway which necessitated the rerouting of the A15. Reinforced hard standings were installed as were secure areas for the storage of nuclear bombs. Not surprisingly the security of the whole site was considerably ramped up. Henceforth Avro Vulcans would be the station’s major residents until the type’s withdrawal in the early 1980s.
In 2000 the RAF Aerobatic Display Team, the Red Arrows relocated here from Cranwell and remain in residence to this day. Their iconic scarlet Hawk aircraft are known and loved by audiences worldwide, the team renowned for their peerless flying displays that few can match. With Covid-19 emptying the skies over the North West the team has been able to take advantage of a near deserted Manchester Airport to practice some approaches, Team Leader Red1 Martin Pert “Perty” himself doing a visual approach to Runway 05L on 17th April.
Sadly, RAF Scampton now faces an uncertain future with defence cuts meaning that the base is currently earmarked for closure in 2022.
As a Postscript, should you wish to learn more about Katherine Winter’s Father, who we know as Philip Brook, then catch up with Time & Again Theatre Company’s production of “Clouds” once normal times return.
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode and other aspects of life on the home front.
Whenever discussing life in Britain during WWII with my late Father-in-Law, conversations would invariably centre around three facts; it was dark, it was cold, and everyone was hungry. In the pre-war years the population’s dietary requirements were largely satisfied by drawing on the rich resources of its (then) vast Empire and by taking advantage of reasonably priced goods from other countries. Indeed, two thirds of the Nation’s appetite was satisfied by imports from abroad.
The German Reich was not slow to appreciate this point and from the outbreak of hostilities set about disrupting the flow of goods into Britain with the aim of starving the country into submission. Having clandestinely amassed a large and well-trained U-Boat fleet, the Nazis immediately deployed this lethal force against the vital transatlantic merchant conveys. With the allies limited to rudimentary air cover in the early stages of the war, the submarines were to prove particularly effective. During what became known as “The Battle of the Atlantic”, some 2,600 merchant ships would fall victim to U-boat torpedoes, claiming the lives of over 30,000 merchant seamen. Deprived of its once bountiful supply of goods, Britain had no choice but to introduce a strict system of rationing.
The rationing of Petrol or Motor Spirit as the Government preferred to call it, came into force as early as 16th September 1939. Coupons were available from the Post Office on production of a vehicle’s Registration Book, the quantity available being determined by the rating of the vehicle. For a small car this equated to about 5 gallons per month. Coupon books were valid for a period of two months and had to be surrendered before a new book could be issued. One was not allowed to hoard coupons; thus, any unused on the book’s expiry would be lost. Anyone using a vehicle for commercial purposes could apply for an additional allowance, but to prevent misuse, the petrol issued was leaded and contained a tell-tale red dye. Needless to say, there were heavy penalties for anyone caught abusing the system. In 1942 the use of petrol for private means was completely prohibited and cars largely disappeared from Britain’s roads for the remainder of the War.
Due to the large number of miners being called up for military service, coal was rationed from July 1941. Shortage of labour became so acute that ultimately mining was deemed a reserved occupation, but there was no let-up on rationing. As most homes depended on coal for both heating and hot water, this was a particular hardship. The use of water was also restricted with a family being allowed just one 5” bath per week, thus bath water had to be shared.
With materials in short supply and most factories given over to war work, from June 1941 clothing was rationed. As with petrol this was done on a coupons-based system with each person initially receiving 66 coupons a year. Each item of clothing had a coupon value; a coat costing 16 coupons, whilst a pair of shoes was 7 and underwear 8. With many women now doing war work, military style uniforms – “Siren Suits” – had become the dress code of choice as they were the most practical for factory work. Frills and lace disappeared from underwear, as did turn-ups from trousers, whilst skirts tended to be worn short, all in a bid to save material.
Later, as the level of supply got even more acute, the yearly allowance was slashed to just 48 coupons. “Make Do & Mend” became the order of the day with the Ministry of Information issuing a useful pamphlet on how clothing might be darned, repaired and recycled, allowing one to be frugal yet stylish during times of austerity. The stylish bit probably required a broad imagination, but the population was ever resourceful, and nothing went to waste.
Undoubtedly the toughest wartime privation was that of food rationing which was first introduced on 8th January 1940 with restrictions on bacon, butter and sugar. Over the next few years, the net was widened to encompass almost all food items apart from bread, fruit, vegetables and fish although these were invariably in short supply.
To obtain rationed items each person was issued with a coupon book and was then required to register with a chosen shop. Shopkeepers were only supplied with enough goods to meet the needs of their registered customers who in turn had to present their ration books so that the coupon pertaining to the item purchased could be cancelled. The typical weekly ration for an adult was less than generous but its aim was to ensure the fair distribution of available goods throughout the population whilst allowing everyone enough to remain healthy. Those that were able to grow their own vegetables could enjoy a little extra and indeed the entire populace was encouraged to “Dig for Victory”. Very soon allotments, parks and even the grounds of some schools were being used to cultivate valuable extra crops.
Onions were not rationed but were not always available. The thrill of excitement when Mrs Palmer is known to have onions is perhaps typical of that experienced in many little wartime villages when a potential treat was on offer. Ruby’s frustration with Katherine and her determination to go back and queue for them the next day was a scene no doubt played out throughout the country in those dark days.
The favoured white loaf had given way to the “National Loaf”, a wholemeal variety that was both grey and insipid and gave rise to countless complaints of bad digestion. In wartime a piece of fruit usually meant an apple as items such as oranges, lemons and bananas had all but disappeared. It is no coincidence that the popular 1930s music hall song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” once more became popular.
The end of the War did not bring an end to the hardship, and food rationing was not finally lifted until 4th July 1954. The Government had presented the population with a diet that was limited and austere, but it did at least enable them to remain healthy and carry on. Indeed, the nation’s general level of health undoubtedly improved. There were some side effects, however, the greater level of starch in the diet leading to a remarkable in increase in flatulence!
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama,particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.
“Put that light out! Put that light out! an enemy plane could see that fire for miles.”
With these caustically delivered words ARP Warden Hodges angrily berated Captain Mainwaring, whose platoon had inadvertently set fire to the church hall chimney, ironically whilst trying to help the wardens. It was a refrain that was to become all to familiar to fans of Dad’s Army, whilst Warden Hodges zealously went about his duty to ensure that not a chink of light was visible in the environs of Walmington-on-Sea in the hours after dark. And it would have been a not dissimilar scene acted out every night throughout Britain in the dark, dark years of WWII.
The Government actually imposed a total blackout throughout the United Kingdom on 1st September 1939, two days before hostilities were declared. As Warden Hodges had touched upon above, the aim was to deprive enemy bombers of anything that might provide an aid to navigation. All households were issued with blackout materials and were required to ensure that all windows and skylights were blanked out after sunset. Typically, thick dark cotton fabric, wooden boards or paint were used to comply with the regulations, with many offices or households fashioning blinds that could be quickly set up and fastened in place.
To stop light flooding out when one entered a shop, storekeepers were often obliged to install double doors, customers having to ensure that they had closed one door before opening the next. It was a similar situation at cinemas where, because it was so dark at the pay kiosk, seasoned film goers would invariably arrive with the exact fee already counted out. When outside, people were forbidden to smoke, strike matches or use a torch or any other form of light. Needless to say, the lighting of fires was also prohibited.
Initially all streetlights were switched off and cars were only allowed to drive using sidelights. Not surprisingly, in the first few months of the war, the number of road deaths doubled, forcing the authorities to relax some of the regulations. Cars were permitted to drive on dipped headlights but had to be fitted with slit masks, indicators and brake lights had to be dimmed and reversing lights were banned. To make the cars easier to be seen, bumpers and running boards were required to be painted with matt white paint. To assist nocturnal drivers in finding their way about, white lines were painted down the centre of roads and curbs were painted white.
The death toll on the roads continued to be high, forcing the government to reduce the night-time speed limit to 20mph. Pedestrians were warned to keep away from the edge of the pavement and where possible to only cross the road at a proper crossing. Men were encouraged to wear light coloured shirts and keep their shirttails outside of their trousers to aid visibility.
Trains were also completely blacked out to such an extent that it was not always possible to detect the arrival of a train at a platform. With stations in complete darkness, passengers frequently disembarked at the wrong location or even got out at no station at all. Like street curbs, the edges of station platforms were painted white, but the blackout resulted in many accidents.
It was officially recognised that the dark conditions made young girls and women particularly vulnerable and they were cautioned to take extra care and where possible, avoid being out on their own. Needless to say, the blackout served the criminal fraternity well, with households being particularly vulnerable due to Air Raid regulations. These required all doors to be left unlocked at night so that if a house was bombed rescuers could gain easy access to deal with casualties.
The task of enforcing the rigorous blackout regulations was entrusted to ARP Wardens, like Shuttlefield’s Mr Martin. The Air Raid Wardens Service was established in 1937 when the call had gone out for 800,000 volunteers. Such was the growth in the threat, however, that by the start of the War some 1,000,500 people were involved in ARP services.
Typically, a warden would be allocated to each street and would conduct continuous rounds to ensure that all statutes were being rigorously observed. They were not afraid to angrily identify any household in violation of the rules, so that neighbours were left in no doubt as to who had put their lives at risk. “No. 7, put that light out!”
Those flouting the regulations could expect to face the full force of the law, a stiff fine being the normal penalty. In addition to these duties Wardens were expected to keep a watch out for incendiary bombs and assist with the aftermath of air raids. Such duties included clearing streets where there were unexploded bombs, assisting with the evacuation of casualties from bomb damaged properties, finding temporary accommodation for displaced persons and coordinating the activities of the rescue services. These were dangerous duties and during the War at least 7,000 Wardens lost their lives.
As to whether the blackout worked, historians now argue that this is unlikely as aircraft were able to navigate by focusing on things like railways, major roads and the reflection off large bodies of water. What it did do, however, was to instil in the civilian population a common purpose and a rule structure that enabled them to cope with privations of that grim time.
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.
‘It was definitely a Heinkel. That girl said so.’ – Nancy in Episode Two ‘The Wooden O‘.
Even those with only a passing knowledge of the Second World War, will have heard something of the allied bombing campaign. They might be familiar with the Thousand Bomber raids, and the devastating attacks on cities like Dresden and Cologne and they will almost certainly of heard of the exploits of Guy Gibson and the legendary Dambusters who wrought havoc on the dams of the Ruhr Valley. Most will also be aware of the instruments used to reap this “Whirlwind”; aircraft like the Wellington, the Halifax and most famous of all, the Lancaster.
But what of the Luftwaffe? Whilst everyone knows about the Blitz and the havoc that was wrought on London from the autumn of 1940, many will be less familiar with the actual extent of the campaign or of the aircraft used to deliver this terror. Films like “The Battle of Britain” present the argument that Hitler switched his strike force from bombing the vulnerable RAF airfields, to attacks on London because he was incensed by an audacious RAF attack on the German capital. Whatever the reason, diverting his bombers to London was to prove costly, the Messerschmitt 109 fighters lacking the endurance to provide escort to the target, so leaving them easy prey to the Spitfires and Hurricanes of Leigh-Mallory’s “Big Wing”. The Luftwaffe would pay the ultimate price and the Battle of Britain would be lost. With his plans for an invasion now stalled until the following spring, Hitler sought to break English morale by bombing them into submission.
Far from being confined to London, the Blitz would extend nationwide with raids on, Southampton, Portsmouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Plymouth, Swansea, Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester, Liverpool, Hull and Belfast. North of the border, what would become known as the “Clydebank Blitz”, would see particularly devastating raids on the West Dunbartonshire town.
On the night of 13th March 1941, a force of 236 Heinkel He.111H and Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers took advantage of a full moon to rain down terror on the unsuspecting populace. The first sirens sounded shortly after 9 pm, but the townsfolk paid little heed suspecting it was another false alarm. It was then that the first Pathfinder wave led by the He.111H aircraft of 100 Kampfgruppe duly arrived unleashing incendiaries and high-explosive bombs. The intended targets were the Admiralty Oil Depot, the Royal Ordnance Factory, John Brown’s Shipyard, the Singer Complex, which had been pressed into service as a munition’s factory, and the surrounding railways and infrastructure.
The RAF had introduced a new defence plan called Operation Fighter Night which called for the Spitfires of 602 Squadron, operating from nearby Prestwick, to assemble at 20,000 feet so that they could pick off the bombers without getting entangled with anti-aircraft fire. The bombers, however, had other ideas and had decided to take their chances with the “ack-ack” and fly low-level. The RAF pilots were refused permission to descend by Fight Control and as a result the defence plan proved worthless, not a single bomber being downed.
At midnight a second wave of German bombers arrived from the direction of Loch Lomond by which time the town’s civil defences were struggling to cope. At 2am just as the anti-aircraft guns were running out of ammunition the final aircraft in the second wave headed for home. An hour later the third wave arrived, and the endless night of hell continued. It would be shortly before 6am that the last of the night’s attackers headed home and the all-clear could sound.
The following night a further 203 bombers returned to unleash further torment on an already shell-shocked population. The final all-clear sounded on the morning of Saturday 15th March at 6:25am. During the two nights over 1,000 bombs had rained down, whilst the Luftwaffe had escaped unscathed. As most of the housing was located adjacent to the targets it had borne the brunt of the damage and out of an estimated 12,000 houses only 8 remained undamaged. At least 1,200 people lost their lives in the raids and another 1,000 were seriously injured. Over 35,000 were left homeless and many were forced to evacuate the town. Many of these would never return and thus the character of this close community was forever changed.
Raids like this and indeed all such operations flown during the Blitz were achieved using a force of medium bombers, most typically the Heinkel He 111 or Junkers Ju88. The Heinkel He 111 could carry a bomb load of 4,400 lbs in the bomb-bay, a payload that could be increased to 7,900 lbs if the bombs were carried externally. This did, however, come with a significant reduction in performance. Compare this to the Avro Lancaster that was able to carry a bomb load of up to 18,000 lbs.
Germany had built its entire pre-war strategy on fighting a Blitzkrieg style campaign. As a result, despite repeated pleas from various experts, it had failed to develop a successful strategic bomber, instead concentrating on medium bombers and small dive bombers such as the Junkers Ju.87 Stuka. It was an error that was to cost the Reich dearly once it launched it’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. With Barbarossa underway, much of the Luftwaffe’s bomber strength was diverted to the Soviet campaign, thus allowing the United Kingdom some respite before the onset of the V-Bombs. During this period the RAF by night and the USAAF Eighth Air Force by day pursued a highly organised and coordinated bombing campaign that would eventually render Germany incapable of mounting offensive operations.
So, when Katherine Winters listened to the bombers flying overhead, she would have indeed heard the sound of Heinkel He.111 aircraft. Rather than being bound for Glasgow, however, their targets were more likely to have been in the Midlands, raids on Scotland generally originating from Northern Europe.