The Little Yellow Cottage – Update 11 – The War Years

In 1940 the cauldron is brought back into general use as fresh food becomes scarce and the need for cheap food well-cooked becomes imperative.

For many decades I had an open fire and a huge cauldron would hang from an iron hook that would swivel and allow the pot to be moved in and out of the flames. In the early days the fire was fuelled using logs that would spit glowing embers out on to the stone floor where they’d glow and smoke as the energy burnt away leaving tiny black-sooty marks on the stones and they would remain until the lady of the house washed the flags with a bucket of soapy water and mop. There’d be soapsuds everywhere then they would magically disappear as the mop and the stored heat in the paving would combine to absorb and evaporate the residue leaving the floor clean again and ready for the process to repeat especially if the logs had been acquired from the local farmer and contained horse chestnut or larch both of which could be relied upon to create their own indoor firework display the moment they began to burn.

Lovely shot of Boulby Bank pre 1940

Over the last few decades, coal became the norm. As winter and spring give way to summer, the need for the fire to cook the meals means the living room becomes intolerably hot and the doors and windows are left open allowing the stink from the fish docks and the noise from the shipbuilders and blacksmiths to occupy my rooms. It’s as if I’ve been invaded by a dozen, over boisterous teenage boys each with a set of kettle drums and all with personal hygiene problems; however, come the evening, the doors and windows are closed and the family gathers around the table for the evening meal to discuss the day. 

View from the top window pre-renovation complete with bird poo

Later in the century, I get an oven and the necessity for lighting the fire to cook will wane. It still gets lit in the winter; however, and the old cauldron is brought out of it’s hiding place under the stairs to create the amazing casseroles that will simmer for several days and be sampled by both family and visitor alike with a huge chunk of bread freshly baked with thick crust and a soft interior usually accompanied with butter so thick that you’d leave your tooth marks through it as you bite. 

In the 1940s there isn’t the luxury of the butter spread that thick as rationing has reduced the amount that is allowed to 2ozs (56 grams) per week for each adult. This particular night sees the family gathering as usual, around the table. The casserole, consisting of carrots, onions, barley, potatoes, turnip, cabbage and parsnip with some sinewy brisket, now tender from two full days in the pot. Quite often, the casserole will be all vegetables cooked slowly then the fish will be added a few minutes before serving. Either way, it will remain hanging from the hook and moved in and out of the flames as requirements demand.

My open fire has been revealed and whilst not exotic or huge it is my original and is being restored and strengthened although unlikely to be used again with the cauldron. It has a substantial stone lintel over the area where the grate sits and the stone uprights that support it have deteriorated towards the bottom where the heat has exaggerated the process. It’s not an issue to Lee; however, and he’s already repaired one side with reclaimed bricks that were saved from a chimney stack that had collapsed. The other side is currently supported by wood but that will be replaced by reclaimed bricks as they become available and are cleaned.

A Battle in the Air Over Whitby

One winter evening in 1940 there is considerable excitement as my occupants discuss the air battle that had been sustained over Whitby through the day. It had resulted in a Heinkel bomber being shot down near Bannial Farm. It had sustained quite a lot of damage and the three RAF pilots who had taken turns to pepper it with bullets had managed to kill two of the German crew and wound another two with bullets to stomach and legs, the latter having to be amputated. The weather is appalling and it ploughs through a snow-covered field, a hedge and a tree then comes to rest near the farm cottages.

Apparently, quite a crowd has gathered and the normally generous and humanitarian people of Whitby had become angry and the mood ugly so the dead were removed to some outbuildings and the survivors ushered into one of the cottages until officials arrived to deal with them. There had been many attacks from these aircraft on the shipping in the area and in the Channel so there was no surprise in the attitude of the locals but nothing unpleasant happened to the crew.

One of the pilots responsible for the downing of the bomber was Flt Lt Peter Townsend who went up through the ranks to become Squadron Leader then Commanding Officer and later Group Captain; however, he is probably most famous for none of these things, he had a bit of a fling with the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret but royal protocol at the time meant she couldn’t marry him as he was divorced and whilst they had a wild old time in the early 1950s (Margaret was a keen fan of horizontal jogging and liked to party!) the relationship was doomed and she eventually married Antony Armstrong-Jones later to become Lord Snowdon in the early 1960s. Princess Margaret would visit Whitby many years later in 1979 to open the New Hospital and in her speech, she emphasises the fact that the hospital has a dual role of looking after the people of the Whitby area but also ensuring that the thousands of visitors are well cared for too!

It’s a wonderful closure-of-the-circle to think that the victims of her ex-lover were looked after in the Old Hospital that, to paraphrase the words of Princess Margaret, “had a duty to look after visitors that had dropped in”

After the war, Group Captain Townsend visited the Pilot Hermann Wilms and they became firm friends. It’s astonishing how deadly enemies, with the accent on deadly, can become such friends but hey, that’s humans for you, I’m just a house!

Requisition of Fishing Boats

It’s May 1940 and my owner and family are seriously upset. In 1939 the government had arranged for some of the fishing boats to be fitted with 12lb guns and that they should go out to fish in small convoys of 4 to 8 ships with one or two of the armed ones as protection. However, the skipper of one of the armed boats has shared the news that the armed boats are to be requisitioned for the war effort, in particular, the evacuation at Dunkirk. There is much consternation and questions about whether it includes the skipper and if not, how are they to fish? It all resolves itself as time passes and the role of fisherman becomes a reserved occupation and the little boats are utilised to save countless lives when ships are attacked in the North Sea and beyond.


A little later that same year there is an unusual amount of excited chatter as the news of the Dunkirk evacuation is discussed. There had been rumours when the armed boats had been called upon to sail south in some urgency but no-one knew exactly what it was all about until the official words were written a few days later. The newspaper news was corroborated when one of the youngsters returned from the cinema having seen a filmed report on a Pathé Newsreel and a great success it has been. Hundreds, if not thousands of little boats have sailed across the channel and rescued the beleaguered troops off the beaches saving hundreds of thousands of lives. The diners around the table don’t see it as a retreat, they see the positive and in four years time and horrendous deaths later they’ll be gathered around this same table discussing the return of allied forces to the beaches of France.


Four years later in 1944, Pathé is working overtime bringing news of the Allied invasion and the success of the operation together with news of the advancement through France and into Germany. After five years of worry and shortages, the family are talking about the future and the return of the requisitioned boats taken from Whitby Harbour for the war effort together with tourism and new life.

I’m being spruced up and bunting is being prepared but it won’t be used for many more months as the allies start to push through Europe. Many more men, women and children will die as they push the Nazis back through Europe but my occupants start to use part of one of Churchill’s speeches from 1942, “…this may be the beginning of the end”

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The wireless had been installed several years ago and it was permanently tuned to the Home Service. It was plugged into the mains and had a long wire that came out of the back of it that ran out through my window and across the yard at the back like a clothesline, without this extended ariel it just would not pick up the varying signal and would not work. It was a bit of a novelty when it first arrived and neighbours would call in to listen to the permanently varying signal as it delivered the news directly from London.

A disembodied posh male voice emanating from the grill that covers the speaker is delivering the news today, “One bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima”, there is a long pause and knives and forks hover in the air above the table, then it continues, “…over 100,000 people dead”. 

The rest of the meal is eaten in silence and three days later the process is repeated but by now, more is known about the ‘A’ Bomb or, at least, its devastating effects. 

Father is saying, “Not just military. It’s completely indiscriminate; men, women, children, dogs, cats, birds. In fact all living things. According to the newspaper, they become vapour”

Mother speaks up, “I just want Whitby to go back to being the caring community that it is with all the menfolk back so that life can carry on…”

It couldn’t have been expressed better and to celebrate VE and VJ days the bunting really does go out this time and there are street parties and parades outside my door.

I’m just a little cottage but I’ve seen and heard a lot and there’s more to come…

Enjoy the snaps.

Love – Little Yellow Cottage…x

Feel free to share and comment – I do enjoy comments.

4 thoughts on “The Little Yellow Cottage – Update 11 – The War Years”

  1. Thank you, George, as always, love your posts. the cottage has been a lovely memory for many years since we used to spend many a Happy Friday and Saturday night with Graham in the Middle Earth, standing in the corner by the bar window. We used to wait til’ the booked act packed up and Jim Weatherill and I played till stupid o’clock in the morning. 3 to 4 o’clock sometimes. Graham was a Lovely man, we have many happy memories of our evenings with him.
    Tony and Angie Maher

    • Thanks Tony, It feels good to know someone that knew them so well. I’m keeping the stuff that has initials carved in it such as the wood that used to be near the fireplace and I’ll find somewhere where it can be seen. I’m also having the wall rendered having some coping stones put on but we’re Stihl sawing John’s name that’s been scraped into some concrete with a stick so that we can build it back in again and it’s not lost.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      Regards, George

  2. I lived there from 1946 (year of my birth) until 1952 when I moved to Larpool Lane. Our wireless was powered by a re-chargeable battery and sat at the back of the small lounge. I remember sticking my fingers round the back and receiving an electric shock!

    • Dear Michael, I could only dream of a response like this. If you want to see in it please let me know. I’d be overjoyed to show you what I’m up to. Regards. George


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