Norman Parker: An 11 year old’s account during World War II

Updated: Mar 29

My Granny-Grandad, Norman Parker was born in Barrow-in-Furness, England, on the 25th April, 1930. Due to his father’s employment as an engineer at Vickers-Armstrongs (military vehicles, aircraft and ship builders), he recalls moving from place to place, home to new home, “I grew up in Barrow, I grew up in Torver, I grew up in Whitley Bay. It was all forced moving around, so we’ll say.”

Most people today can only struggle to recall the details of the simplest things, like what they had for lunch last Wednesday, but due to the tensions and the time period that Norman grew up in, some moments will be forever on his mind.

Prior to World War II breaking out, Norman can recall a moment as a pre-schooler, in vivid detail, as if it were a moment recalled from last Wednesday.

“I do have some very early memories, which people said, including my parents, said that you could not possibly remember that. You were too young. I very strongly remember being lifted up and put in the luggage rack in the carriage in the train. And yes, they admit it happened, they did, but I was too young to remember. But I have a very vivid memory of that. I also remember some of the holidays we went on. We went to Peely Wheely, it wasn’t Peely Wheely, that was my pronunciation of it at that age. Which was Pwllheli, in Wales. And I can remember being weighed with the luggage to be put on a plane at Croydon, because they were flying to the Isle of White for a holiday. Again, certainly preschool. I mean, I didn’t rate a seat, but I was weighed, because in those days they weighed everything that went on and arranged it, distributed it. I was weighed on as a bit of luggage.”

As news of World War II broke, 9-year old Norman and his family, made up of mother, father and brother, were residing in Barrow. Most will be aware of the London Blitz that occurred when bombs were dropped throughout London, but due to the manufacturing of boats, aircraft and other vehicles, Barrow was the target of a ‘Blitz’ as well.

“Barrow, we were a potential target because the air-craft carriers were built in Barrow. I think, several aircraft carriers. The big secret when the aircraft carriers were going to be launched, put ‘secret’ in inverted commas, because, you know, we were on the inside. My father knew when the launch was going to be, top secret, so we know to go down to the channel where they launched. They launched in the channel between the shipyard and Walney Island – which is a little channel. And, so, we go down there to see the launch…along with 50,000 other people! Everybody knew, I mean, people working in the shipyard know when it’s going to be launched. And ‘you keep it a secret’.”

Early May, 1941, Hawcoat Lane was directly hit by bombs.

There were at least 2 weapons used by the German Luftwaffe, 1. Parachute Mines 2. Armour-piercing bombs.

Parachute mines do not hit directly on intended targets, and it would not bury into the ground like armour-piercing bombs. Instead, parachute mines would create damage to a larger surface area, above the ground (up to a 100m radius and windows would be destroyed up to a mile away).

The mine stood at a towering 220cm, and totalled a weight of 987kg, which consisted of 696kg of explosive (Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1965). This is what Norman recalls from the day the mine hit Hill Road.

Note: The image of the unexploded parachute mine from World War II is not the specific one from this story.

“Well, sometimes I slept in the air raid shelter. There was a mattress in the air raid shelter, I slept in there. And this particular night, I have no idea why I decided to sleep in the air raid shelter, but yes, that was the night that Barrow had its most serious raid.
And our house was damaged as a result. There were two bombs went off quite close to our house. One was the parachute bomb, which was dropped from a – and drifted along on the parachute, and that’s the one that my mother was in the vestibule." "Essentially it’s an air lock at the front door, in as much as that you have the front door and then you have a small area and then you have another door, so that you don’t have direct access from the outside to the inside of the house for the wind to come through, unless you deliberately leave the two doors open."
"And this night, I don’t know where my father was, I presume he was outside as an Air Raid Precautions man. And you could hear the gunfire, and you could hear the planes overhead, the sirens gone of course with its whaling noise, which is frightening enough in its sense. You can hear the anti-aircraft guns. And you can hear the aeroplanes. And then, I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother was able to and told us the story. She saw this parachute thing drifting across the top of the house across the street, going further up the street, and it actually hit and exploded the bomb it was carrying, on some houses just past the allotments. I don’t know what injuries there were, from the people in the houses there. There must have been some."
"And my mother says that, she was lucky that she wasn’t hit by the shrapnel, which came – did come through our vestibule, through the windows, because she had sheltered behind a bag of potatoes – of all things. Which presumably came from the allotment across the road, which my father grew a lot of vegetables during the war. But unbeknown to me, as of that time, and me in particular in the air raid shelter, I was aware that a huge bang, and rattling of the house. The house really did look rattled, you hear the slates rattling, and I was absolutely convinced from the noise and rumbles, that the house had been blown right down. And even afterwards when I looked up, you could see that it wasn’t blocked in the room I was in, I was sure that the top half of the house must have fallen in."
"Whether my brother was away at university or not, I don’t know where he was at the time. But when I did get up, the house was still recognisable as a house. But my bedroom door had been blown off and was flat across the middle of my bed. And it was a solid wooden door, not of this flimsy frame covered on each side by plywood. The sort of door you couldn’t lift up on your own. So, I was extremely lucky that I had decided to sleep in the shelter.”

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

- Maya Angelou