Louth in the late 1930s
Playhouse Cinema in Cannon Street
Joan in RAF uniform
What was it like to live in Louth at the start of the World War II? Joan Locking and her family lived in Watts Lane:
“We were a typical English family, and life in the 1930’s was good. A wealthy resident had purchased one of the town’s cinemas and had it rebuilt into a luxurious Art Deco design and showed all the latest films. Some of the new houses being built were Art Deco style with flat roofs and one house was an oval shape. New motor cars were described as streamline shape. Furniture and chinaware etc were Art Deco shape too. Everything seemed to be going contemporary.
“Life at the seaside was fun too; buckets and spades, and beach balls and other brightly coloured toys hung outside the little shops. There were variety shows on the beach, and children could take part and win prizes. Bargain packs of sticks of rock could be bought and rides on the galloping horses were enjoyed, but storm clouds began to gather. Talk of war was in the air. People began to be apprehensive that their contented lifestyle would slip away.
“I was a young teenager, happily working in a shop and draping fabrics for the window displays, and I frequently visited the cinema. When Mr Chamberlain waved a piece of paper in 1938 and declared peace in our time, we breathed a sigh of relief. But in 1939 storm clouds gathered again and war seemed inevitable.
“Sandbags were piled up at the front of some windows in the town. One night when my mother and I returned home from the cinema, a fearsome sight awaited us: four gas masks standing on a table, which my father had taken in from a caller at the door. On the morning of September 3rd 1939, everyone huddled round their radios to hear if it was to be war or peace. It was war. We were supposed to carry our gas masks everywhere in their cardboard boxes, but soon attractive bags for girls could be bought instead, and they became a fashion accessory.
“My shop had been busy selling black sateen fabric for blackout curtains, as no light must show outside now. The seaside shops removed their beach toys; the galloping horses were dismantled and stacked away for the duration.
“My father [plumber Albert Locking] bought a huge iron water tank and he and my brother rolled it on its side through the streets to our house. It was much taller than they were and made a lot of noise, and people came running out of their doors to see what all the noise was about. Then my father sank it into the ground on its side and covered it with earth to make an air-raid shelter. He put planks of wood across the middle to form beds and extended it with steps at one end and fitted a coal burning boiler with chimney to keep us warm in winter.
"At first the cinemas were closed to the public because it was thought that if they were targeted in an air raid, too many people could be in danger at one time. As time went by, they were reopened and were very popular. The town was now teeming with air force and army servicemen. Families befriended them and invited them into their homes where they listened to comedy programmes on the radio, such as ‘ITMA, It’s that man again.’
“During the summer evenings my mother and I would stand by the garden gate and watch our planes flying from nearby airfields on their way to their chosen targets. They came in formations wave after wave, and the sky was full of black shapes and noise from the drone of their engines. In the early hours of the mornings, we would hear them returning home.”
Joan Locking later became a flight mechanic in the RAF. She and her husband Peter Alford wrote a small book, ‘Interlude’, describing their experiences before and during the war. The extracts presented here are taken from their book which is in the museum’s library.