You’re never too old to go back to class… as Ron Andrews proved when he returned to the school he left 66 years ago – all thanks to The Star’s Retro pages.
Ron, aged 82, visited Hunter’s Bar Juniors with his wife, Mal, to tell today’s pupils what life was like at the school during the Second World War.
Ron was invited to share his story by Maddie Bebbington, a Year 7 pupil at the school. As part of her World War II project on rationing and the blitz, Maddie put an appeal for personal stories in Retro. Ron was one of those who replied, and Maddie invited the former pupil to visit his old school.
Ron spent all the war years at Hunter’s Bar, arriving in 1939 to be taught in the very classroom in which he spoke to Maddie’s class about sweet rationing, horrible school dinners, and a near-death experience.
He left the school in 1945, aged 14, going on to work in retail, as a waiter at the Grand hotel, and at Firth Browns.
The children were really excited to hear that Ron, who now lives in Woodhouse, knew Arthur Needham, the boy who rushed to the American bomber, Mi Amigo, that crashed in nearby Endcliffe Park in February 1944. The class have written about the crash as part of their project.
“I recall the plane crash as I was stood at Hunter’s Bar when I heard it crash into the park. I heard it come over, I heard it crash – and then there was a great plume of smoke. One of my classmates, Arthur Needham, was there first into the park.”
Ron then told how he nearly didn’t live to see the crash, as earlier he had escaped a bomb in Sheffield’s blitz.
“On the night of the blitz – December 12, 1941 – myself, my mam and grandma, had gone to the Star cinema on Ecclesall Road. My auntie worked there.
“About 7.30 the siren went and there were bangs. It came on screen that there was an air raid on. My mam and gran didn’t want to leave my aunt so we stayed at the cinema and they sent us down to the boiler room in the basement.
“Some said we wouldn’t stand a chance down there if the building was hit, so we went back upstairs and stood in the foyer of the cinema.
“I was just falling asleep leaning against the wall when there was an almighty crash. There was a soldier near us who grabbed me and my mum and ran out of the cinema. Fortunately, the bomb fell at the back of the cinema or else I wouldn’t be here today.”
Ron said the explosion was only the width of two classrooms away.
And the drama wasn’t over. Ron and his family had to get back to their home on Sharrowvale Road. “We were all right.” he said. “We all walked home after that. I think it was about 4.30 in the morning. On Ecclesall Road there was a burned-out tram. The sky was just a red glow from all the fires. We never expected to see our house when we got back, but it was still standing.”
Ron added that he remembered going into the city centre the next day, and saw the devastation of The Moor, where ‘they were shovelling up buckets of money – from the tills of the shops that had been hit’.
Another of Ron’s lasting memories was seeing the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the balcony of the Town Hall with Wing Commander Guy Gibson, leader of 617 Squadron CHK, whose Lancaster bombers practised for their famous Dambusters raid by flying over Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs.
Ron, who has four grandchildren, told Maddie and her class that he really enjoyed revisiting his old school, adding: “Sixty six years ago this week I left this school – I couldn’t get down the stairs fast enough. But I’d run back again tomorrow because these are the best days of your life.”