Bolton Remembers the War Logo
Maurice Kobelt - Schoolboy Evacuee
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Maurice Kobelt
Maurice Kobelt



Maurice Kobelt

7 September 2005

Maurice was born in Woolwich, London in 1931. His father worked at Woolwich Arsenal and then at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Euxton, Chorley. Maurice was an evacuee from the London Blitz, and he has clear memories of that experience in Lee, South London, which was in the direct path of German bombers. The family was evacuated north and they lived in Wigan at first.

At Christmas 1940 they moved to a house in Russell Street, Bolton. On the first night they used copies of the Bolton Evening News for floor covering and as blackout curtains. He went to Gaskell Street School and gradually adjusted to life in Bolton. Among other things he remembers his first encounter with the Hun in Bolton, marching from school to the big shelter on Spa Road, collecting waste paper, and some very rare fireworks on VE Day. Maurice is a hairdresser and has had a business in Bolton since 1956.

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The enemy at the gate...

We lived in Russell Street, which was quite a decent street, mill owner's houses and so forth in years gone by, and all the gardens had railings and gates, and one morning... Our bathroom was at the front of the house and I went to wash my hands at the sink and looked out the bathroom window and I found myself staring at a German, in our garden! Full uniform. And there was a lorry full of German soldiers and I screamed ‘Mum, the Hun's here!' - because we called the Germans Huns - and went running down and Mother opened the front door, and there was an English soldier in full uniform, which was more reassuring and he had a rifle. And he said that the Germans were prisoners of War, and when they turned round, they had patches showing on the backs of their uniform jackets, so while I'd seen him from the front and he looked like a fully dressed German, from the back he looked more like a clown with a big coloured patch on his uniform. And they had sledgehammers with them, and said they were collecting metal for the War effort, and so they knocked down our fence and all the other fences in the street and loaded it up into the lorry. But that was my first meeting with a Hun! Churchill, the Prime minister had ordered all this metal... That was roundabout I think, 1943, because he felt, after two years of War that people were getting a bit slow and not so keen on the War effort and do he decided to take all the railings and all the metal as a salvage effort and wake people up to the realization that we were still at War. We could hardly forget with the rationing and the blackout and everything else!

The parachutist...

My Mother opened the door in response to the eager knocking. Standing on the steps were three of my friends, Peter, Derek and Herbert. I was in the kitchen but I heard Peter ask my Mum ‘Is Maurice coming out to play?' Grabbing my cap and blazer I went charging down the hall, saving my Mother the trouble of answering. Once the door was safely closed behind me I wanted to know the reason for their excitement, as Herbert who was the youngest of us, was jumping up and down, and Peter the oldest of our little gang, had a very serious expression on his face. The story came out in a rush as they all started talking at once ‘A German parachutist has landed at Middlebrook, and there are crowds of lads up there, looking for ‘im' We decided to look for re-enforcements, but soon found that all our friends in the neighbourhood had already left to join in the hunt. As Herbert did not have a bike, he said that it would be unfair for us to take ours, so we set off on foot up the Chorley New Road. It was a very hot summer's day and we were soon limping, as our shoes were very much too small for us. This was very common in the War, as with clothes rationing, most families did not have enough coupons to keep up with growing children. - and to this very day, I still have trouble with my feet! But on arriving at Middlebrook all our aches and pains were soon forgotten. Between two and three hundred boys were milling about the fields, without any apparent direction or leadership. Most were in groups of a dozen or so, quite a number were in Cub or Scout uniforms. Peter was annoyed that he'd not thought of putting his uniform on, but some of the scouts were in the same troop as Peter, and they ran over to ask us if we wanted to join them in the hunt. We were eager to do so and Peter, who despite forgetting his uniform, had appointed himself leader. He said we must have a confab. On meeting with only puzzled looks he went on to explain that meant that we have to decide on a plan of action. My first question was who had seen the German. It soon transpired that no-one in our group had, so we decided on breaking up into pairs and going round asking if any of the lads in the other groups had. When we met up again, we found that no-one had actually claimed to have seen the Hun, but some lads had uncovered the entrance to a land drain. This was a large sewer pipe, and they said that the parachutist was hiding in it. The bigger boys started daring each other to go into the drain, which was just large enough to allow a boy to stand upright and there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on. But by now it was getting towards teatime and groups of boys started to drift away, as pangs of hunger were felt. I did not believe that anyone, no matter how desperate they might be, would chose to hide in that land drain, as the stench was overpowering. As we walked homeward, Herbert said ‘What do you want to be, when you grow up?' and not waiting for a reply he said ‘I want to be a soldier.' Derek butted in with ‘I'm going to be a professional footballer' and Peter, not raising his sights so high said ‘I want to be a Scout Master.' All three then looked at me and when I said that I was going to be a teacher, they fell about laughing. Strangely, all four of us achieved our goals. Peter Curtis became a Scout Master, Derek Lythgoe had a long career in league football and Herbert Braithwaite went into the Army at seventeen. Sadly he was killed in Ireland four months later. As for my becoming a teacher, that too came about. It just took me a little longer. The story of the German Parachutist was typical of the rumours that spread like wildfire during the War. No-one knew who started them, or why, but at least on this occasion it gave us a lot of fun and excitement. Thinking of Herbert Braithwaite after all these years, I remember his funeral, which was attended by an Honour Squad in full dress uniform. After they had fired a salute of six guns over his grave, my Mother turned to me and said ‘Herbert would have liked that.' ‘Aye', I said ‘He would.