High Explosive Bomb at Ravenscourt Avenue
High Explosive Bomb :
Source: Aggregate Night Time Bomb Census 7th October 1940 to 6 June 1941
Fell between Oct. 7, 1940 and June 6, 1941
Ravenscourt Avenue, Shepherd's Bush, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, W12, London
56 18 NW - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by vcfairfield (BBC WW2 People's War)
Over the Seas Two-Five-Four!
We’re marching right off,
We’re marching right off to War!
No-body knows where or when
But we’re marching right off
We’re marching right off - again!
It may be BER-LIN
To fight Hitler’s KIN
Two-fifty-four will win through
We may be gone for days and days — and then!
We’ll be marching right off for home
Marching right off for ho-me
Marching right off for home — again!
Merry-merry-merry are we
For we are the boys of the AR-TIL-LER-Y!
Sing high — sing low where ever we go
TWO-FIVE-FOUR Battery never say NO
The 64th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, Territorial Army has roots going back to the 1860’s. It first saw action in France during the Great War 1914 to 1918 when it took part in the well known battles of Loos, Vimy Ridge, River Somme, Ypres, Passchendale, Cambrai and Lille.
Its casualties numbered 158 killed.
Again in the Second World War it was called upon to play its part and fought with the 8th Army in Tunisia and then with the 5th and 8th armies in Italy. It was part of the first sea borne invasion fleet to land on the actual continent of Europe thus beginning its liberation from Nazi German domination. Battle honours include Salerno, Volturno, Garigliano, Mt Camino, Anzio, Gemmano, Monefiore, Coriano Ridge, Forli, Faenza, R. Senio Argenta.
Its peacetime recruits came mainly from the Putney, Shepherds Bush and Paddington areas of London up to the beginning of World War II. However on the commencement of hostilities and for the next two years many men left the regiment as reinforcements and for other reasons. As a result roughly one third of the original Territorials went abroad with the regiment, the remainder being time expired regular soldiers and conscripted men.
Casualties amounted to 84 killed and 160 wounded.
In 1937 I was nineteen years old and there was every indication that the dictators ruling Germany in particular and to a lesser degree Italy, were rearming and war seemed a not too distant prospect. Britain, in my opinion had gone too far along the path of disarmament since World War I and with a vast empire to defend was becoming alarmingly weak by comparison, particularly in the air and on land. It was in this atmosphere that my employers gathered together all the young men in their London office, and presumably, elsewhere, and indicated that they believed we really ought to join a branch of the armed forces in view of the war clouds gathering over Europe and the hostile actions of Messrs Hitler and Mussolini. There was a fair amount of enthusiasm in the air at the time and it must not be forgotten that we British in those days were intensely proud of our country. The Empire encompassed the world and it was only nineteen years since we had defeated Imperial Germany.
The fact that we may not do so well in a future war against Germany and Italy did not enter the heads of us teenagers. And we certainly had no idea that the army had not advanced very far since 1918 in some areas of military strategy.
In the circumstances I looked round for a branch of the forces that was local to where I lived and decided to join an artillery battery at Shepherds Bush in West London. The uniform, if you could call the rather misshapen khaki outfit by such a name, with its’ spurs was just that bit less unattractive than the various infantry or engineer units that were available. So in February 1937 I was sworn-in, with my friend Ernie and received the Kings shilling as was the custom. It so happened that soon afterwards conscription was introduced and I would have been called up with the first or second batch of “Belisha Boys”.
I had enlisted with 254 Battery Royal Artillery and I discovered, it was quite good so far as Territorial Army units were concerned, for that summer it came fourth in Gt Britain in the “Kings Prize” competition for artillery at Larkhill, Salisbury. In fact I happened to be on holiday in the Isle of Wight at the time and made special arrangements to travel to Larkhill and join my unit for the final and if my memory serves me correctly the winner was a medium battery from Liverpool.
My job as a “specialist” was very interesting indeed because even though a humble gunner — the equivalent of a private in the infantry — I had to learn all about the theory of gunnery. However after a year or so, indeed after the first years camp I realised that I was not really cut out to be a military type. In fact I am in no doubt that the British in general are not military minded and are somewhat reluctant to dress up in uniform. However I found that many of those who were military minded and lovers of “spit and polish” were marked out for promotion but were not necessarily the best choices for other reasons. There was also I suppose a quite natural tendency to select tall or well built men for initial promotion but my later experience tended to show that courage and leadership find strange homes and sometimes it was a quiet or an inoffensive man who turned out to be the hero.
Well the pressure from Hitler’s Germany intensified. There was a partial mobilisation in 1938 and in the summer of that year we went to camp inland from Seaford, Sussex. There were no firing ranges there so the gunners could only go through the motions of being in action but the rest of us, signallers, drivers, specialists etc. put in plenty of practice and the weather was warm and sunny.
During 1939 our camp was held at Trawsfynydd and the weather was dreadful. It rained on and off over the whole fortnight. Our tents and marquees were blown away and we had to abandon our canvas homes and be reduced to living in doorless open stables. Despite the conditions we did a great deal of training which included an all night exercise. The odd thing that I never understood is that both in Territorial days and when training in England from the beginning of the war until we went abroad there was always a leaning towards rushing into action and taking up three or four positions in a morning’s outing yet when it came to the real thing we had all the time in the world and occupying a gun site was a slow and deliberate job undertaken with as much care as possible. I believe it was the same in the first World War and also at Waterloo so I can only assume that the authorities were intent on keeping us on the go rather than simulating actual wartime conditions. Apart from going out daily on to the firing ranges we had our moments of recreation and I took part in at least one football match against another battery but I cannot remember the result. I always played left back although I really was not heavy enough for that position but I was able to get by as a result of being able to run faster than most of the attacking forwards that I came up against.
The really odd coincidence was that our summer camp in Wales was an exact repetition of what happened in 1914. Another incident that is still quite clear in my memory was that at our Regimental Dinner held, I believe in late July or early August of 1939, Major General Liardet, our guest of honour, stated that we were likely to be at war with Germany within the following month. He was not far out in his timing!
Well the situation steadily worsened and the armed forces were again alerted. This time on the 25th August 1939 to be precise. I was “called up” or “embodied” along with about half a dozen others. I was at work that day at the office when I received a telephone call from my mother with the news that a telegram had been sent to me with orders to report to the Drill Hall at Shepherds Bush at once. This I had expected for some days as already more than half the young men in the office had already departed because they were in various anti-aircraft or searchlight units that had been put on a full war footing. So that morning I cleared my desk, said farewell to the older and more senior members who remained, went home, changed into uniform, picked up my kitbag that was already packed, caught the necessary bus and duly reported as ordered.
I was one of several “key personnel” detailed to man the reception tables in the drill hall, fill in the necessary documents for each individual soldier when the bulk of the battery arrived and be the general clerical dogsbodies, for which we received no thanks whatsoever. The remainder of the battery personnel trickled in during the following seven days up to September 2nd and after being vetted was sent on to billets at Hampstead whilst we remained at the “Bush”.
The other three batteries in the regiment, namely 253, 255 and 256 were mustered in exactly the same manner. For instance 256 Battery went from their drill hall to Edgware in motor coaches and were billeted in private houses. The duty signallers post was in the Police Station and when off duty they slept in the cells! Slit trenches were dug in the local playing fields and four hour passes were issued occasionally. There were two ATS attached to 256 Battery at that time a corporal cook, and her daughter who was the Battery Office typist.
I well remember the day Great Britain formally declared war on Germany, a Sunday, because one of the newspapers bore headlines something like “There will be no war”. Thereafter I always took with a pinch of salt anything I read in other newssheets.
At this time our regiment was armed with elderly 18 pounders and possibly even older (1916 I believe) 4.5 howitzers. My battery had howitzers. They were quite serviceable but totally out of date particularly when compared with the latest German guns. They had a low muzzle velocity and a maximum range of only 5600 yards. Our small arms were Short Lee Enfield rifles, also out of date and we had no automatics. There were not enough greatcoats to go round and the new recruits were issued with navy blue civilian coats. Our transport, when eventually some was provided, was a mixture of civilian and military vehicles.
Those of us who remained at the Drill Hall were under a loose kind of military discipline and I do not think it ever entered our heads that the war would last so long. I can remember considering the vastness of the British and French empires and thinking that Hitler was crazy to arouse the hostility of such mighty forces. Each day we mounted a guard on the empty building we occupied and each day a small squad marched round the back streets, which I am certain did nothing to raise the morale of the civilian population.
There were false air raid alarms and we spent quite a lot of time filling sandbags which were stacked up outside all the windows and doors to provide a protection against blast from exploding bombs. In the streets cars rushed around with their windscreens decorated with such notices as “DOCTOR”, “FIRST AID”, “PRIORITY” etc, and it was all so unnecessary. Sometimes I felt more like a member of a senior Boy Scout troop than a soldier in the British Army.
After a few weeks the rearguard as we were now called left the drill hall and moved to Hampstead, not far from the Underground station and where the remainder of the battery was billeted in civilian apartments. They were very reasonable except that somebody at regiment had the unreasonable idea of sounding reveille at 0530 and we all had to mill about in the dark because the whole country was blacked out and shaving in such conditions with cold water was not easy. Being a Lance Bombardier my job when on guard duty was to post the sentries at two hourly intervals but the problem was that as we had no guardhouse the sentries slept in their own beds and there was a fair number of new recruits. Therefore you can imagine that as there were still civilians present, occasionally the wrong man was called. I remember finding my way into a third or fourth floor room and shaking a man in bed whom I thought was the next sentry to go on duty only to be somewhat startled when he shot up in bed and shouted “go away this is the third time I have been woken up tonight and I have to go to work in a few hours time!”
Whilst we were at Hampstead leave was frequent in the evenings and at weekends. Training such as it was, was of a theoretical rather than a practical form. However we very soon moved to “Bifrons House” in Kent, an empty stately home in very large grounds near Bridge and about four miles south of Canterbury. Here we resided until the middle of 1940.
In this position we had a bugler who blew reveille every morning while the Union Jack was raised, and lights out at night. The food was quite appalling in my opinion. It was prepared in large vats by a large and grimy cook and by the time it was distributed was almost cold due to the unheated condition of the dining area. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs eaten in the cold semi darkness and the yolks had what appeared to be a kind of plastic skin on them that was almost unbreakable. Indeed all meals were of the same poor standard and there was no noticeable improvement during our stay here.
The winter of 1939/40 was very long, very cold and brought a heavy fall of snow which stayed with us for several weeks. Christmas day was unforgettable. I had a touch of ‘flu and the first aid post where another soldier and myself were sent to was an empty room in a lodge house. There was not a stick of furniture, no heating, the floors were bare and we slept on straw palliasses on the floor. I recovered very quickly and was out in two or three days! On one day of our stay at Bifrons, on a Saturday morning there was a Colonels inspection and as a large number of sergeants and bombardiers were absent from among the gun crews I was detailed to take charge of one gun and stand in the frozen snow for the best part of an hour on what was I believe the coldest day of the winter. And so far as I remember our Commanding Officer decided not to include us and eventually we were dismissed and thawed out around the nearest fire.
In general however I think most of us quite enjoyed our stay here. It certainly was not like home but we made ourselves comfortable and parades finished about 1630 hours which gave us a fair span of time until “lights out”. At weekends we spent the Saturday evening in the pub in nearby Bridge and occasionally walked or begged a lift to Canterbury which was four miles away. In our spare time we played chess and various games of cards. From time to time we were entertained by groups of visiting artists or had sing-songs in typical army fashion. Looking back it was in some ways I suppose like an of beat low class boarding school with the battery numbering some two hundred and fifty men billeted in the bedrooms and stables of the house. Nevertheless we did a lot of training. We even went out in the cold snow covered countryside at night in our vehicles as if we were advancing or retreating, for two or three hours at a time. We had to take a certain preselected route which was very difficult to follow because with everything hidden beneath the snow, with no signposts and with trying to read an inch to the mile map at night with a hand torch giving only a very restricted light because of the blackout the odds against making a mistake were fairly high. We would come back cold and hungry to a mug of hot tea or cocoa and a bite to eat. By day we practised other aspects of artillery warfare either as part of the battery as a whole, sometimes with our signallers but more often as not as a group of specialists going through the many things we had to learn, time after time. When the weather improved this was a most enjoyable way of spending the morning or afternoon session for we could take our instruments out to an attractive bit of the countryside within walking distance of our billets and do some survey, map reading or a command post exercise.
Contributed originally by Christine Cuss (BBC WW2 People's War)
Extracts from a notebook written by Christine’s father, Alexander Pierce, which he started at the outbreak of WW2 through to the end of the War.
This notebook was discovered in 1980, a year after my father’s death. My father was not able to receive a good education, but it is to his credit that he realised the importance to record the events of the war years for me. It illustrates the devotion of a father to his only child and to his wife during those terrifying years. Only the spellings and punctuation have been changed by me. I am deeply proud of the record he kept, and extremely thankful to have been his daughter.
Monday, 14th March, 1938. Christine I am writing this page for you, to let you see the state of the World at this present time.
First Mussolini invaded and took Abyssinia. Now Hitler of Germany has invaded Austria. These two dictators are causing all the trouble that is going on. All I hope is that Germany will not interfere with Czechoslovakia because England has made a promise to go to her assistance, that would mean we would have to go to war which I do not want because I should have to leave you and mother. I love you both.
12th September, 1938.
Dear Christine. We are now passing through a most critical time. It looks as if Germany is going to invade Czechoslovakia, that would mean another World War which I spoke of further back in this book. The Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, has sent for the Prime Minister of France to come to England. You have been up to Downing Street to-day which is the 18th of September while the cabinet is sitting. We are waiting to hear what the news is going to be. We all hope it is not War. Love Daddy.
18th September, 1938.
Dear Christine. We have taken you this day to Westminster Abbey for the Church service. There were thousands of people there. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 25th Sept., 1938.
We all went to get fitted with gas masks. Christine, you cried a lot. It upset mother a lot, but it had to be done to save your life in case war was declared which is supposed to be Oct. 1st.
Thursday 29th Sept., 1938.
Mother went to get our gas masks. She got mine and hers, but she was told she would have to go to the Town Hall for Christine’s. It has upset mother because she thinks they will take you from her to send you away for safety.
Thursday, 29th Sept., 1938.
At this time of writing, things are very bad indeed. War is supposed to be declared on October 1st, 1938, but at the last moment, Hitler of Germany sent for Mr. Chamberlain, the Premier of England, to have a last talk to see if they can bring about a peaceful solution. This in my opinion about it, is that Hitler has got the wind up.
Frid. 30th Sept., 1938.
At the time of writing this note, there is great rejoicing all over the World, because the four Great Powers namely Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain have come to an agreement over the Czech problem, so at the last minute, War has been averted.
Wed., 15th March, 1939.
Dear Christine. I have made this entry in this book to let you see how things are going on in the World. Hitler of Germany has broken the agreement with this country and he is marching into Czechoslovakia. This man is causing a lot of trouble but he will get what he is asking for before long. Love Dad.
Friday, April 7th, Good Friday, 1939.
Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, invaded Albania. Things are in a terrible state. We do not know which way things are going to turn out. Love Dad.
Mon. 17th April, 1939.
We had a letter from school asking us if we would consent to Christine being evacuated in the event of war. We said “no”. We are going to keep you with us. Love Dad.
Aug. 24th, 1939.
Dear Christine. At the time of writing this, there is another crisis. This time it is between Poland and Germany. It looks very much as if there will be a war before the week is out; so if war does come, always remember that I will always love you and your mother to my last day of my life, so always stick to your mother and do as she tells you. Love Dad.
Tues. 29th Aug. 1939.
Mother took Christine away to Eastbourne to see if it would be all right for them there in case war came, but mother could not stand it and came home. All school children are being evacuated tomorrow, Friday, 1st Sept. 1939, but we are sending you and mother to Harold and Fay’s at Hounslow. Things look very bad. Love Dad.
Fri. 1st Sept. 1939.
Christine and mother went to Hanworth to Harold and Fay’s for safety.
Fri. 1st Sept., 1939.
Germany invaded Poland.
Sunday, Sept. 3rd, 1939.
Great Britain and France declared War on Germany at 11 o’clock in the morning.
Friday, 8th Sept., 1939.
Christine and mother came back from Hanworth to be home with me. Love Dad.
Sunday, 17th Sept., 1939.
Russia invaded Poland.
Monday, Sept. 25th, 1939.
The war has now been on for four weeks and Poland has been smashed to pieces but they are a gallant little country and are still fighting to the last man which they said they would do. God help them. Love Dad.
Thursday, 30th Nov., 1939.
Christine went to be examined by doctor for her to be evacuated and was passed fit. You are to go on Saturday, 2nd December, 1939. Love Dad.
Thursday, 30th Nov., 1939.
Russia has invaded Finland. They are bombing the women and children. Love Dad.
Friday, 1st Dec., 1939.
We have made up our minds not to send Christine away. We are going to keep her with us as we cannot part with her. The trouble is, we love her too much to let her go to be looked after by other people. With love from your Mother and Dad.
Sunday, 31st Dec., 1939.
We all went to Church this afternoon for Old Year Out and New Year In service. We had to go early this year on account of the blackout. We have had another good year Christine, and we hope it will be as good in 1940. At the time of writing, the country has called up all men to the age 27, so my time is not far off, but we hope it will be all over before then. If I do have to go, stick fast to your mother. She is a good one to you. Love Dad.
Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 1940.
Dear Christine. Many things have happened since I last wrote in this book in regards to the war. But the funniest was when Hitler made a speech in Germany and he said he was going to be King of England on April 20th. Love Dad.
March 13th, 1940.
The war ended with Russia and Finland after many lives had been lost. Finland gave in much to my regret.
Tuesday, 9th April, 1940.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Denmark did not resist but Norway is fighting back and we are going to her aid.
May 10th, 1940.
Germany invaded Holland and Belgium.
Monday, 10th June, 1940.
Italy declared war on England and France.
Wednesday, 9th Oct., 1940.
Dear Christine. A lot has happened since I last wrote in this book. We had a time bomb at the back of our shelter. We had to be evacuated from our home, but we are back home again now. But all us people in London now do is to sleep in our shelters. The sirens have just gone which is 7 o’clock and we will be here until 6 o’clock next morning but you can take it from me, Christine, we are having a rough time. Love Dad.
Thursday, 7th Nov., 1940.
Dear Christine. A lot has happened since I wrote in this book last. You have been away to Doncaster for this last three weeks and I can tell you I have never missed you so much in all my life. I don’t think that I could stand another three weeks like it. It might sound funny coming from me, but you can take it from me you are everything in the world to me so God Bless you and I hope He will take you through this awful war. So good night my dear. Love Daddy.
Wed. 11th Dec. 1940.
Dear Christine. This is one of the saddest days of my life. Your Grandma Pierce died at 7.15 p.m. after four weeks illness. She died of cancer and I can say she was a grand old lady aged 74 years. So good night my dear and I hope that we can pull through this war together. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 31st Dec., 1940
Dear Christine. This is the end of 1940, and I must say it has been a very bad year indeed in regards of the War. We were evacuated from our home on account of a time bomb. That night was the worst night we had. You slept all through it. Next time, we had all the windows of the house blown out and we have been sleeping in a shelter, but these lasts few nights it has been too cold. At this present, we are making the Italians run for their lives. Goodnight Daddy.
Sat. 11th Jan., 1941.
Dear Christine. I went Saturday, 11th Jan. to register for Military Service. I have asked to go in the R.A.F. Love Dad.
Wed. 12th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. I went up for my medical examination and was graded Grade III on account of my right eye, so it looks as if I shall be staying at home. I am very pleased in one way because I can stay with you and mother. At this present moment, we are going through bad raids and you are very good while they are on. Here’s hoping we can pull through to the end. Love Dad.
Thursday, 27th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. You have been unlucky and caught the scabies. It is a nasty complaint. It is picked up off other people. You see, owing to the life we have had to live through air raids, it could have been caught in the public shelter where we have been going to, or else at school. You can take it from me, it is no fault of your mother as she has always kept you so very clean, but mother is very worried about it. We have given you three sulphur baths and another one tomorrow, and we hope it will be all gone. Will close now as you are waiting for me to play with you. Goodnight my love. Dad.
Saturday, 29th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. I have just had my papers sent to me to fill in to go in the munition factory. Hope I can get out of it, so I can look after you and mother. Love Dad.
Wednesday, 16th April, 1941.
Dear Christine. Last night was the worst that we have had to go through in regards to air raids. It started at 9 a.m. and went on until 5 a.m. next morning and air planes were over all the time and they have done a lot of damage. Our house suffered quite a lot. It was done by a land mine. The whole of King Street Hammersmith shops were a proper wreck next morning. I hope that we do not have to go through another night like it. Our airmen went to Berlin last night and gave them a taste of their own medicine. With lots of love from Dad and Mother.
Tuesday, 14th Oct., 1941.
Dear Christine. The war at the very moment is raging in Russia where they are fighting for their very lives and the bloodshed there is unspeakable. The Jerrys are getting a bit more than they asked for. The fighting is raging around Moscow which is the capital and we are all praying that the Russians can keep them outside, so they will get the full blast of the winter. While this war has been on, old Jerry has left us alone in London, and we are all hoping that they don’t start again. Love Dad.
Wednesday, 31st Dec., 1941.
Uncle Alf came home on a 48 hours leave and had the Old Year Out and New Year in with us. Love Dad.
Dear Christine. This is the end of the year l941, and I must say that we have been through quite a lot together, and we must thank the Lord Almighty for our safety. We have had some near misses with bombs from Jerry, but the tide is turning and Jerry is getting a nasty hiding from the Russians and our men in Libya. I must say that all through these raids you have been a very brave girl. All my best love from Dad.
Thursday, March 19th, 1942.
Dear Christine. Uncle Harold went into the Army to-day in the R.A.C.S. He has got to go to Wiltshire. At this very moment, the Russians are fighting the Jerrys very hard and are driving them back. We have got a lot to thank them for. Love Dad.
Friday, 26th June, 1942.
Dear Christine. Things are not going very well with the war. We have lost a big battle in Libya and 23,000 of our men have been taken prisoners and now the battle of Egypt has just started. We are all hoping we can make a stand there and hold them. Will write more later. Love Daddy.
Friday, 17th July, 1942.
Dear Christine. To-day is your birthday and I must say you had a very good time indeed. Mother worked very hard and made cakes and mince pies and everything you could eat. You would not think there was a war on. As a matter of fact, Hitler sent his bombers over and the sirens went just as you were having your party that was 4.30 p.m. and it was the first time we’d had them in months. But since then, we have had them six times this week, but no bombs near us. We close now. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 15th November, 1942.
Dear Christine. To-day is a great day for rejoicing. The Church bells were rung all over the country to announce the Victory of our 8th Army in Egypt. Our boys are smashing the Germans back and they are on the run which is great news for us. More news later. Love Daddy.
Saturday, 16th Jan., 1943.
Dear Christine. Last night our boys went and bombed Berlin and started some big fires.
Sunday, 17th Jan., 1943.
So Jerry came over here to-night. Started at 8.20 until 10 o’clock. The gunfire was heavy. You have just gone to bed. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 20th January, 1943.
Dear Christine. Some German raiders came over this morning and dropped bombs on a school. There were 45 children found dead up till now and 12 more still missing. The school was at Lewisham. Love Daddy.
Monday, 29th March, 1943.
Dear Christine. General Montgomery who is in charge of our 8th Army has smashed his way through the Mareth Line which the Germans held. This is a big victory for us. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 6th April, l943.
Dear Christine. Your Uncle Alf came home on leave for 11 days before going overseas. We had a good time together. Uncle went back on Monday, 5th April. We all went up to the Station with him. The train left at 9.20 p.m. and it was very upsetting to see them go, so let us pray to God he will come back to us all safely. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 12th May, 1943.
Dear Christine. At 8.15 last night, the fighting in North Africa has ended. The Germans and Italians have been bashed to bits. Up to now there are 150,000 prisoners, 250 tanks, 1000 guns and a lot more stuff to come in. Alexander was the General in charge of the men in the field with Montgomery and Anderson. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 5th June, 1943.
Christine. A German aeroplane came over last night and dropped bombs and one was very close to us. We thought it was our last. It came so near, Mother and I dropped on the bedroom floor beside your bed thinking it was going to hit us, but we were lucky. So here’s hoping we remain lucky until it is all over. Love Daddy.
Friday, July 9th, 1943.
Dear Christine. The British troops and Canadian with American troops have invaded Sicily. It started at 10.15 on Friday with Air-bourne troops, but the real invasion started at 3 o’clock on the Saturday morning. Up till now, things are going well. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy. 2000 boats took part.
Dear Christine. The invasion of Sicily which I wrote about a little way back is all over. We have beaten the Germans again and it was another Dunkirk for them. There is another big move coming off. Will let you know as soon as it happens. Love Daddy.
Friday, 3rd September, 1943.
Dear Christine. British and 8th Army and Canadian troops invaded Italy this morning at 3.45 a.m. Everything is going well. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 8th September, 1943.
Dear Christine. I have great news for you. The Italian Government has given in and accepted our terms of unconditional surrender, so Italy is now out of the War. Now for the Germans. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 13th September, 1943.
Dear Christine. Italy has declared War on Germany. It seems strange as Italy and the Germans were dear old pals. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Saturday, 1st January, 1944.
Dear Christine. The old year has gone and I must say that we had a very good year considering that the war is still on. But 1943 has left us with great victories and I might say the turning point of the war. Only last night, the R.A.F. dropped 1,000 tons of bombs on Berlin and our boys are waiting to invade and they are saying that this year will be the last of this war. I hope so. Our Christmas dinner was chicken, three lumps of pork, Christmas pudding, mince pies – not bad after nearly five years of war. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 20th February, 1944.
Dear Christine. We had a very bad air raid last night. It is one of the worst we have had round this District, high explosives and time bombs, but I prayed to God to take us safely through and He did. We wish this war would end as it is just as bad for the German people as it is for us. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, February, 23rd, 1944.
Dear Christine. Last night the Germans came over and raided London and we had a bad night. Bombs dropped all round us and I am sorry to say that your Great Aunt Ada was killed this night and her daughter was trapped for 22 hours and she was got out alive, but her husband was killed also. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 5th April, 1944.
Dear Christine. Your Uncle Geoff went into the Army to-day. He was 41 years sent to Bradford in Yorkshire. I do not know what regiment he is going into yet. Love Daddy.
Monday, 5th June, 1944.
Dear Christine. Our troops of the 8th Army and American 5th Army have entered Rome, the capital of Italy. It is a great victory for us. We have taken over 20,000 prisoners and we are still driving the Germans back. The General in charge is Alexander. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 6th June, 1944.
Dear Christine. To-day is the biggest day in our history. Our Armies have landed in France. There were over 4,000 ships took part and over 11,000 aircraft. The landing took place at 6 o’clock this morning. The air-bourne troops landed first and I think you Uncle Alf is in it. Will let you know more as news comes in. Love Daddy.
Friday, 23rd June, 1944.
Dear Christine. Last night was the worst night we have been through. Jerry sent one of the pilotless planes over and bombed our home flat to the ground. We were very lucky that your mother and myself were not killed, but we must thank God he was watching over us and took us safely through. So we will have to make a new home after the war. I must say you were very brave right through. Good night love. God bless you. Love Daddy.
(My parents left the safety of the air-raid shelter whilst the air-raid was on so that my father could go to the toilet and my mother to make a hot drink. They returned to the shelter just as the doodlebug exploded).
Monday, 17th July, 1944.
Dear Christine. To-day is your 10th birthday and what a day you have had. We held your party on the old bomb site of our home and the Daily Mirror reporter came down and took photos of it. We are waiting for the paper to come out. Everybody had a wonderful time. You had 17 cards and lots of money presents. Also you were a very good girl and very helpful. The flybombs are still coming over. Good Bye. Love Daddy.
August 1st, 1944.
Dear Christine. This month has been the best we have had in this war. We have driven the Germans out of Normandy and France and are into Holland and Belgium and we are just about to start the Battle of Germany. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Sat. 2nd September, 1944.
Uncle Harold went to France. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 7th Sept., 1944.
Dear Christine. Uncle Alf came back from France safe and sound. Love Daddy.
Friday, 8th September, 1944.
Dear Christine. The Germans are sending rockets over at us now as well as fly bombs. The first one dropped in Chiswick and the second one at Kew and we have had a lot more since. They are worse than the fly bombs because you can’t hear them coming. We still go to the shelter at night. Love Daddy.
8th January, 1945.
Dear Christine. At the time of writing this letter, there is a big battle going on. The Germans have broken through the American lines and the British have been rushed up to stop them. Well your Uncle Alf is in that battle. They are called Monty’s Red Devils. This cutting from the paper will tell you all. Love Daddy.
Monty’s Red Devils Are There
Played a Big Part
The British Sixth Airbourne Divisiion, the “Red Devils” are fighting in the Ardennes as part of the British force thrown in to plug the German breakthrough. They played a big part in the capture of Bure.
The men of the Sixth Division were about to eat their Christmas dinner when their orders came.
An officer told me, ‘We were simply told ‘You’ll be in the Ardennes tomorrow. Within three days of the first word we were at grips with the Germans”.
Wednesday, 14th February, 1945.
Dear Christine. To-day is a very sad day again for us. The Germans who are firing rockets at us dropped one very near us. It shook the life out of the place. You were in bed, mother sitting by the fire and the rocket came. It was at 10 o’clock at night. Well my love, it came and fell on your Uncle Fred’s home and killed him and your Auntie Mary, cousins Peter, Jean and the baby. It wiped the whole family out. We hope that we pull safely through as we have gone through enough already. Love Daddy.
Sat. 24th Feb. 1945.
Dear Christine. Your cousin Joan got married to-day to an American officer in the 8th Air Force. You were to have been her bridesmaid, but owing to your Uncle Fred’s family waiting to be buried, you could not be it, but we went to the party and had a nice time in a quiet way. Joan was only 18 years old. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 25th Feb. 1945.
Your Uncle Alf has just this minute come home from Holland from the battle front. He will be coming round here to-night. Love Daddy.
Monday, 26th February, 1945.
Your Uncle Fred’s family were buried to-day at Hammersmith Cemetary.
Tuesday, May 8th, 1945.
Dear Christine. This day is the greatest in our history. The War is over with Germany. We have beaten them to their knees and God has answered our prayers and taken us safely through. We have been to the Hammersmith Broadway singing and dancing. It is something you will not forget and that has gone on for all the week until one and two in the morning. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 13th May, 1945.
Dear Christine. We went to the Strand in London to see the King and Queen. You had a good view of the Princesses, King Peter and the King of Norway, King of Denmark, Queen Mary and Mr. Churchill. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 21st June, 1945.
Dear Christine. This cutting from the paper shows you what the Londoners went through during the bombing of London which you were in all the time.
(See next page).
Live Letters Daily Mirror
Letter from an American Gentleman
From Mr. J. R. Crane, an American now over here:
Your paper will, I know, assist me in paying tribute to the people of London – the world’s mightiest people. I am an American soldier, soon to leave this great city for another theatre of war, but I will take with me everlasting memories and pictures of an unconquerable race.
I shall remember, always, the faces of two little children in Stepney, who shepherded my panic stricken body into a shelter as a flying-bomb shattered houses and human flesh into a pulp not fifty yards away; of a pianist in a public-house, in a side street off your bomb-splattered Lambeth Walk, whose rhythm on the keys offered a challenge to the hate and fury of yet another savage Hitler onslaught to break the backbone of the tough London populace.
I shall remember Mr. And Mrs. X, of Brixton, who made me share the comforts of their modest house on my days of leave; and Edna, my London sweetheart, who, until unseen death in the form of a rocket took her from me was to become my wife.
If I survive the next episode in the quest for peace, and return home, I shall always say to myself – “The debt the world owes to you people of London will never be paid. It cannot be paid. The price is too high. God bless you all.”
To you, Mr. Crane, who, because of a London blitz, must now walk alone, we say only, “Thank you and God bless.”
As I close my father’s notebook, I am full of deep emotion. At the age of 70 years, I have to confess that I have broken down in tears many times whilst typing my father’s messages to me, written between 60 and 65 years ago. I was fortunate to have two loving parents, and I pay tribute to them both.
Christine S. Cuss nee Pierce 26th August, 2004.
Contributed originally by Suffolk Family History Society (BBC WW2 People's War)
Of course, 'way back in the 1930's "teenagers" hadn't been invented. In those now far off days one remained a 'child' -dependent on, and obedient to one's parents for more years than is often the case now, and the age of 'Majority', supposed adulthood, was 21, when you got the 'key of the door'. So, in the early 1930's, having moved to Acton from Kensington, where I was born in the 1st floor flat of 236, Ladbroke Grove, I grew towards my 'teens, enjoying a secure and happy childhood, doing reasonably well at School (Haberdashers' Aske's Girls' School, Creffield Rd) making friends and with freedom to play outside, alone or with my friends, and with no thought of danger from strangers, or heavy traffic.
And so, in 1939, I was 13 years old, when the war began. We had been on holiday in Oban, Argyll, where I now live, and as the news became more and more grave, and teachers were called back to help to evacuate school children from London, and Army and Navy reservists were called up, we travelled by car across to Aberdeen on Saturday 1st Sept. After a night in the George Hotel, and thinking the Germans were already bombing us when a petrol garage caught fire and cans of petrol blew up one after another, we caught the 9am train to London, Euston. The car travelled as freight in a van at the rear of the train (no Motorail then). The train was packed with service personnel, civilians going to join up and other families returning from holiday.
All day we travelled South. On the journey, there were numerous unscheduled stops in the 'middle of nowhere', and a severe thunderstorm in the Midlands added to the tension. Our car, in its van was taken off the train at Crewe to make room for war cargo (as we learned later). In normal times, the journey in those days took 12 hours to London. With the storm, numerous delays, and diversions and shunting into sidings, it was destined to take 18 hours. As darkness fell, blackout blinds already fitted, were pulled down and the carriages were lit by eerie dim blue lights. Soldiers and airmen sprawled across their kitbags in the corridors as well as in the carriages, sleeping fitfully. Nobody talked much.
Midnight passed, 1am. At last around 2am, tired, anxious and dishevelled, we finally arrived at Euston station on the morning of Sunday September 3rd.
My Mother and I sat wearily by our luggage in the vast draughty booking hall while my Father went off to see if, or when the car might eventually arrive. There was no guarantee. There were no Underground trains running until 6am, and, it seemed, no taxis to be had. In the end we sat there in the station forecourt until my Father decided that he could rouse his brother to come and collect us and our luggage. And so we finally reached home, had a brief few hours' sleep and woke in time to hear Mr Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, make his historic 11am speech. Those who remember it all know the icy shock of those words, that - 'consequently we are now at war with Germany'.
The air-raid sirens sounded almost immediately, though it was apparently a false alarm, but my parents decided that we would go and live at our country 'bungalow' at Ashford, Middlesex. Ashford in those days was little more than a village. London airport was a small airfield called Heathrow.
The 'bungalow' was simply one large wooden-built room, set on brick pillars, and roofed with corrugated asbestos, painted green, with a balcony surrounded by a yellow and green railing. Three wooden steps led down into the garden. Two sash windows gave a view of our large 3 acre garden, curtained with floral -patterned chintz curtains. Inside at one end was a sink fed by a rainwater tank, and an electric cooker, a large table, chairs and a large cupboard for crockery. Normally, we had, pre-war, used it for summer evening or weekend visits, returning home at night. It was only a six mile journey along the Great West Road.
Now, though, with war declared hurried preparations were made to leave London, as my parents didn't know what might happen in the way of possible attack on the Capital. Several journeys were made by car with mattresses, bedding, food, extra utensils, clothes and animals (two cats and two tortoises). The cats roamed free, having previously been used to the garden when we went on holiday, when they were housed in the bungalow and fed and cared for by our part-time gardener. They loved the freedom and the tree-climbing and never went astray. The torties, though, had to be tethered by means of a cord through a hole drilled in the back flanged edge of the shell (this is no more painful than cutting one's nails) until a large secure pen could be made, and a shelter rigged up.
My Father's brother joined us, his wife and son having already left for safety, and to be near his son's school, already evacuated to near Crowthorne, Berks.
After sleeping on the mattresses on the floor for a few nights (all 4 or us in the one room, of course), bed frames were brought from home and a rail and a curtain rigged up to make 2 'rooms' for privacy at night. My Father and Uncle slept in a double bed, both being fairly portly (!) and my Mother and I shared a single bed, which was rather a tight squeeze. There was no room for 2 double beds, and I was fairly small. After a few nights my Mother decided that we would have more room if we slept 'top-to-tail' and so we did this.
The lavatory was about 10 yards along a side path, and had to be flushed with a bucket of water. We were lucky in that we also were able to tap a well of underground water, for which my Father had rigged-up a pump. So even if there had not been much rain to fill the house tank, we could always obtain pure water from the well. Later we were connected to the mains. The lavatory emptied into a cesspit which my Father had dug.
This was the period of the 'phoney' war. I was enrolled at Ashford County School, which I only attended for one term, as we returned home to Acton at Christmas.
My own school had been evacuated to Dorchester with about half its pupils. Many parents, like my own, had decided not to send their children away. Later, some of those who had been evacuated became very homesick and returned home. Soon the school in Acton re-opened, with many of the Mistresses who had also returned to London. The Dorchester girls shared a local school, with both sets of girls attending on a half day basis.
Ration books and clothing coupons, food shortages and tightened belts became the norm, as, at school, did gas-mask drills in which we donned our masks and worked in them for a short while to become used to them. They smelt dankly rubbery. However sometimes we had a bit of fun as they could emit snorting noises!
My Mother had lined curtains with yards and yards of blackout material, and our large sash windows were criss-crossed with sticky tape. A stirrup pump, bucket of water and bucket of sand stood handy in case of incendiary bombs. All through the war, wherever we lived, we each kept a small case ready packed with spare clothing, wash things, a torch, and any valuables.
Wherever we went we carried our gas mask in its cardboard case on a strap over our shoulder. We each wore an identity bracelet with name and identity number. Mine was BRBA 2183. Butter and bacon rationing began on Dec. 8th - 4 oz of each per person per week.
Contributed originally by Mike Hazell (BBC WW2 People's War)
By 1956 I was offered the chance to work on the Green Lines and I was in seventh heaven. No more running up and down stairs, the Green Lines were all single deck RF coaches then, and no more rushing to get fares in either. People only used the coaches to do longer journeys because the minimum fare was high in relation to the bus fares and with plenty of buses on the road; no-one caught a coach for short journeys. So the job was easier and the pay slightly higher, no wonder there was a waiting list to work on Green Lines. Your name didn’t even get on the list if you had a bad record so coach crews did tend to consider themselves just a wee bit superior to bus workers although we, at Staines, never soared to the dizzy heights as at Windsor Garage where a whole row of tables alongside the windows and radiators were reserved for coach crews while bus crews were expected to sit over the other side which was cold and draughty in winter and stifling hot in summer!
The regular passengers using Green Line coaches were different too — not better, just different. The rush hours tended to begin later, being comprised mostly of people working in offices and West End shops, business people, managers, stock brokers and the self employed. Many belonged to what we would call “the bowler hat brigade”, hailing the coach with a raised umbrella or dispatch case. We had one driver who loathed being waved to in this manner and his conductor got fed up with the driver moaning about it too. So, one day at a request stop in Knightsbridge, they slowed up to the unsuspecting gentleman holding out his copy of “The Times”, the conductor put out his hand, took the newspaper and the coach sped on its way leaving the city gent fuming on the pavement. Not that it was always easy to guess a man’s occupation by his manner of dress. One of my favourite passengers looked like a stoke broker, always carrying a smart, black dispatch case. He travelled regularly to Town for years till one day he opened his case and showed me the contents; several tobacco tins full of coloured chalks and a large homely packet of sandwiches. He was a pavement artist who had earned an income high enough to enable him to live in the “stock broker belt” and travel up to his pitch every day. His neighbours believed him to be a solicitor — which I suppose he was in a way.
I preferred the 701/702 roads best. There was so much to see going through London every day and more interesting characters among the passengers too. All the regular crews got to know the actor who lived in Bedfont — he always played a “heavy” with a mid-European accent and had a very good line in sly leers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he originated that well worn phrase, “Ve haf ways of makink you talk” because that was just the sort of character he usually portrayed. In actual fact he was a charming man and used to sit on the coach reading his script and I still smile, remembering the time a woman sitting across the aisle asked me whether he was “peculiar” because of the evil expressions that flitted across his face while he was reading! Not wishing to reveal his identity and subject him to the attentions of all the film fans on the coach I told her to sit on the back seat and I would keep an eye on him. He was recognised a couple of times while travelling home and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him being obliged to sign autographs and answer dozens of questions when he so obviously wanted to study in peace. Another actor was starring in a series on the television and played the handsome, debonair hero forever rescuing the damsel in distress and engaging in fist fights while remaining cool as a cucumber. Sad to say, he was irritable, petulant and terrified if the driver tried to speed up a little in an attempt to keep to the timetable — the very last person I would want around in any kind of crisis. He must have been a very good actor, though — it never showed through on the screen.
The responsibility for time keeping on the road is shared between the driver and the conductor and it isn’t an easy job to keep the vehicle on time, especially through London. By the time we had been stuck in traffic jams through Chiswick, Hammersmith, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner and Victoria we were frequently up to an hour late and if the driver didn’t push the coach along through the rest of the journey we would arrive at Gravesend with only a few minutes of our meal relief left. Union rules and police regulations dictate that a driver must have at least thirty minutes away from the driving seat which meant that a late arrival at Gravesend resulted in a late departure on the return journey. You couldn't win a race against time like that and still do the job properly.
In contrast, the very early and late journeys would seem endless — we had to cruise along so slowly that the passengers would sometimes get impatient and complain that we were deliberately running late. We used to hang about at compulsory stops, pull up to the side of the road at public toilets, engage a passenger in conversation as he or she was alighting -—anything to waste a few minutes that would prevent us arriving at a turning point early enough to be booked. We were allowed a leeway of two minutes and on Winter Sundays all the stops approaching Victoria would have a Green Line parked up, out of sight, losing time before arriving at Eccleston Bridge which was our London Terminus. The drivers used to curse the traffic lights at all hours of the day and night — they were always showing red when we were desperately trying to catch up lost time and green when we were anxious to lose it. For the most part the road inspectors were very understanding. They had almost invariably been drivers themselves earlier in their careers and knew how difficult it was to keep strictly to the timetable. Of course, drivers varied in their approach to the job and a few would deliberately run late so that they could claim overtime at the end of every day. The rate for all overtime has always been time and a half and a daily docket for an hour would amount to seven and a half extra hours pay every Friday.
For the most part, I have been very lucky with my regular drivers who did their best to run by the timetable. One such was Roy, a good, steady driver, conscientious, courteous and an excellent mate but the timing of the vehicle obsessed him to such an extent that he not only checked on our own progress every ten minutes along the road but also other Green Lines we met coming the other way. I thought his wife was joking when she told me she gave him a new leather strap for his pocket watch every Christmas but I subsequently discovered it was quite true, he pulled that watch from his top pocket so often in the course of a day’s work that the strap became quite ragged and worn by the following November. Dear Roy — I was sorry to lose him but I returned to work after my holiday one year to find that he had transferred to a vacant place on the coach rota. Another conductor told me later that Roy was worrying so much at my habit of signing on at the last moment that his fear of running late was threatening to give him a peptic ulcer. He retired some years ago and, presumably, he and his watch enjoy a well-earned rest.
Cliff, however, was a real maverick: transferred from Central Buses when he moved into the Staines area, he thought Country Buses were very slow and tame after the more hectic work in London’s traffic and was overjoyed when he was transferred to Green Lines and took Roy’s place on the rota. No two drivers could have been more different — working a journey through Town in the rush hours with Cliff became a cross between a tank assault course and a Cavalry charge. He really was an excellent driver who knew the length and width of those old RF coaches down to the last inch; he would slide through gaps in the traffic which didn’t look wide enough to allow the safe passage of a mini car and I swear there was often barely the width of a postage stamp between us and the rest of the traffic as we sailed through. He took short cuts through side streets, jumped traffic lights and we went two miles off route chasing a lorry whose driver had the temerity to “carve him up” at Hammersmith Broadway. The six months I spent with Cliff put years on me but, oddly enough, most of the regulars enjoyed riding with him. He could be curt, even downright rude, with those passengers who did not realise that he was doing his best to get them to their destinations on time and accused him of reckless driving or giving them an uncomfortable ride. But he had a very soft spot for the elderly and old ladies adored him as he was always at his most charming with them. Our friendship continued beyond working hours and Bill and I frequently went to his house for an evening of playing cards and the two men would talk “shop” while Cliff’s pretty, young wife and I served up refreshments and chatted about bus work too, but in relation to what ill effects it could have on family life.
With men and girls working together for eight hours every day and sometimes far into the night, there were bound to be some marital problems among the staff and Staines Garage was neither better nor worse than any other. With the cost of living and living standards themselves constantly rising, more and more wives started to go out to work, and this created a situation where working times of the two jobs clashed to such an extent that married couples spent very little time together; when a driver was on late turn his wife would get up and go off to her own job, often leaving him still in bed and having to cook his own meals before leaving for work himself in the early afternoon. By the time his duty had finished it might be midnight and his wife and children already fast asleep in bed. This state of affairs would result in a man seeing far more of his conductor than he did his own family, and when that conductor was a pretty, young girl the result was almost inevitable. Sometimes the outcome of such entanglements was tragic and at other times highly comical — at least from the viewpoint of those of us who watched the game from the sidelines as it were. Suspicious wives would lurk around the garage or take to riding on their husband’s buses in an attempt to ward off the opposition — and gossip was rife.
After Cliff left, to return to living and working in London again, I was approached by one driver who had been working with a jolly girl in her late teens and asked me if he could come and work with me instead. I was rather puzzled at the time as he and his former mate seemed to get on so well, but I knew he was a good driver and easy to get along with so I agreed. Within days he told me why he had decided to change rotas. Some dear, kind soul had told his wife that he was having an affair with his young conductor and his life at home had been hell ever since. It wasn’t very flattering to think that he had decided that working with me would solve his problems and I didn’t relish the prospect of coming to work to be confronted by an irate wife, but I did feel sorry for him and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately for me, I must be a perfect mother or sister figure for I found myself listening to many tales of various drivers’ private lives over the years — in fact one, who worked with me over a period of five years or more, frequently called me “Auntie Doris” and the name stuck. Perhaps I should feel flattered in a way after all?
In any case, I settled down with Harry quite easily — he was a happy-go-lucky man in his early fifties — already a proud grandfather and we both hoped that his change of conductor would have the desired effect on his home life. I never actually met his wife so presumably she must have received some pretty unflattering reports about my appearance and decided that I constituted no danger to her. For a few weeks all went well, Harry and I would chat about our children — his being a lot older than my own were at that time, about bus work — he had several years more service than I had too and we swapped stories about passengers and other crews and generally got on together quite well. Till the day came he put his name down for rest day working and found he had been given a duty with his former conductor.
I suppose a wiser man would have turned down the duty, but he had volunteered for rest day work because he needed the extra money and decided to do it anyway and say nothing to his wife. A few days later the storm broke and life became hell again. It was almost certainly another member of staff who stirred up the trouble by gossiping again and I can only hope that the result of his actions didn’t trouble his conscience too much. Deciding that life at home had become unbearable Harry finally left his family — there was a divorce and he returned to his former mate again and they eventually married. When she left to have a child I worked with Harry again for a few months. He was quite happy with his young wife but distressed that some of his children saw only his first wife’s side of the problem and cut themselves off from him altogether. Added to this was his fear that the age gap between himself and his second wife might cause her to be left with a young family if anything untoward happened to him. They had three children over the next few years and then his worst fears were realised and a series of heart attacks finally caused his death and his young family had a very lean time of it until the children left school and were able to go out to work. I met his widow only a few weeks ago and we chatted about old times — she misses Harry dreadfully and no one has taken his place yet.
Another romance that caused quite a stir in Staines Garage at the time involved a good looking young bachelor driver and a very attractive girl — a Staines conductor. Perhaps I should explain that bus and coach crews came into contact with several other garage canteens — including the Alder Valley canteen in High Wycombe, the Country Bus canteens at Windsor, Dartford and Northfleet and Central Bus canteens at Victoria and Thornton Heath. The driver fell in love with our young conductor when she used the canteen at his garage and decided to transfer to Staines to get to know her better. He was somewhat disconcerted to discover that she not only had several boy friends at our garage but ardent admirers in every other canteen we used. The atmosphere grew rather tense for some months and rumour had it that not a few fights broke out between the newcomer and the locals till the lass finally solved the problem by transferring to Northfleet and marrying a driver down there. The rivals became the best of friends and peace reigned in Staines once again.
Other romances blossomed and died over the years, few culminating in weddings between crewmembers, but one wife in particular solved her marital problem in a very neat way. She told her driver husband that she had got a new job and duly left home every morning at 7.30 a.m. arriving home again around 6.30 each evening. This went on for a couple of weeks until the day came when she arrived at the garage in uniform and reported for duty. I wasn’t around in the garage that day but I’d love to have seen the expression on his face when she walked into the canteen while he was having a cup of tea with the object of his affections. To cap it all, it has always been the policy of the Transport Board to put married couples on the same duties unless specifically requested otherwise: the husband decided that discretion was the better part of valour and accepted the inevitable. Within a few days they were acting like a couple of turtle doves — he was so proud of her strategy that he was the one who would tell newcomers about it. They stayed at the garage together for several years before leaving the job when they moved out of the district.
Contributed originally by Mike Hazell (BBC WW2 People's War)
I have worked overtime and rest days throughout Royal Ascot Week dozens of times over the years but I think the day I picked up Alf and Daisy is the freshest in my mind. It was a gorgeous day and my driver and I were on our normal service duty, 701 from Gravesend. I guessed the young couple who boarded us up the Old Kent Road were off to the races — best clothes and a paper carrier bag holding a warm cardigan, sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and a lemonade bottle full of cold tea practically shouted “out for the day at Ascot” — and so it was. They sat about halfway up the coach, making a start on the sandwiches almost immediately after paying their fare. Alf had done the trip before and kept telling Daisy how quickly we should travel once we had left the London traffic behind and what a great day they were going to enjoy. Daisy was very quiet until we crossed the river at Lambeth Bridge and approached Victoria. Then, obviously in strange country, began to ply Alf with questions — “Where were we now?”, “How much farther was the race course?”, “What was the great big building over there?”. Although he had made the trip once before, I suspect that Alf had probably been more likely to be studying form in his newspaper than looking out the window at the passing scene but he rose to the occasion nobly and when he didn’t know the answer to a question he promptly made up one of his own. Thus I learnt that St. George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner was “some big toff’s house” and Hyde Park Corner itself became Marble Arch! Every time I passed up and down the coach collecting fares I overheard more of this highly amusing conversation and I must admit I began to see the route in quite a different light from that day on.
But the best was yet to come. Within about one and a half miles of our destination the coach had to slow down considerably as the Royal Carriage swung out of a lane in front of us. It was a beautiful sight — the horses groomed to perfection, the silver in the harness winking in the bright sunlight, the panels of the coach-work gleaming with a mirror-like polish and the groom and postillions at the back — very smart in their Royal Livery. Obviously they were going to pick up the Royal Family and take them to the course. Then, from behind me, came the unmistakable voice of Daisy with yet another question, “Why are we going so slow, Alf?” Not being able to see from his seat, Alf got up and walked to the front and I stood aside so that he could see the Royal Coach in all its glory. He took one look and then turned his head back to call out, “No wonder we’re going so blinking slow — we’re behind a HORSE AND CART!”
At least that episode was more amusing than yet another journey on the 701 route. My driver at the time was Tom, a young bachelor of about twenty-five who lived alone in a caravan at Wraysbury. We knew it would be a busy journey, leaving Staines at about 8 a.m. and due at Victoria about an hour later. The traffic was heavy through Houslow and Brentford and even heavier when we pulled up at traffic lights near Kew Bridge, alongside Brentford Market. The lights changed to green and the coach pulled away. Seconds later I became aware that strangled noises were coming from the driving cab alongside me. At first I thought Tom was trying to sing and turned to joke about the quality of his voice. To my horror I saw that he was half up from the driving seat, hands dropped from the wheel, saliva trickling from the corner of his mouth and eyes bolting from his head. Luckily, his foot had also slipped partly off the accelerator pedal but the engine was still running and the coach travelling at about ten miles per hour towards the oncoming traffic. Without consciously realising what I was doing, I leaned over, thrusting my right arm across Tom to reach the handbrake and struggling to pull the wheel towards the kerb with my left. To my relief, the coach responded, actually mounting the kerb and running some yards along it. Fate was kind that day as it was 4th October and my wedding anniversary and there were no cyclists riding on the nearside at that moment and no pedestrians standing on the kerbside.
Someone opened the door and the driver of a passing trolley bus who had witnessed the incident dashed in and turned off the engine while an inspector materialised to phone for an ambulance. The odd thing about the whole affair was that I remained as cool as a cucumber until after the ambulance had taken poor Tom off to hospital — even writing out an auxiliary waybill and getting the passengers on the next coach to continue their journey — but as soon as that was accomplished I almost collapsed and had to be half carried into a nearby teashop till I felt fit enough to travel again. I felt a real fool — shaking like a leaf and crying like a baby for almost twenty minutes. A team of mechanics arrived from Chiswick Works to examine the coach and, finding everything in order, take it back to Chiswick for a more detailed check-up. Until we knew what was wrong with Tom it was always possible that he had been affected by fumes or even suffered an electric shock of some kind.
The inspector put me on a bus back to Staines where I had to make a detailed report, both written and verbal, to the Chief Inspector and arrived to find that the news had gone before me and I was treated like some kind of heroine. True — I had averted what might have been a very serious accident, but since I had acted without even thinking about it and since I had been moved by nothing more heroic than a strong sense of self preservation I felt rather a fraud. Probably sensing this Ron Coles — a depot inspector at that time but now the Chief — told me the police would almost undoubtedly be along to arrest me soon on a charge of driving without a licence!
We later learned that Tom had suffered an epileptic fit and would no longer be allowed to drive for us. Apparently, when questioned by the doctors, he could remember waking up on the floor of his caravan on several occasions in the past and had believed that he had nothing more than a restless night. The attack on the coach was the first time that the affliction had manifested itself in waking hours. Thus make it possible to diagnose and treat him.
The following day, with a relief driver, I did the same duty and one of the passengers brought me a big box of chocolates. It was a very nice gesture on her part but there was another sequel to the story that still makes me laugh when I remember it. On completing the day’s work I was told that I was to go to London to meet one of the Board Managers who wished to thank me for my actions the day before. Instead of reporting for work I was to present myself at Western House, Oxford Circus at 10 a.m. and even provided with a special Green Line Pass for the occasion. When the news got around in the garage my mates began to speculate as to what form the gratitude would take — a life-saving medal, perhaps? It was almost certainly a sum of money — estimations going even as high as twenty pounds.
Although still feeling something of a fraud and very embarrassed over the whole affair I duly arrived at Western House and entered the office where I was greeted by a very distinguished gentleman whose name I never caught and do not know to this day. After congratulating me on my presence of mind and coolness of action he mentioned that his fellow members on the board agreed that I deserved some sort of reward for my bravery and enquired as to whether I had been a special Green Line Pass to travel from Staines. On being assured that this was the case he went on to say that I was being paid and would not have to work that day so the rest of the day was my own and I was free to use the Pass and go wherever I liked on the Green Lines for the rest of the day! Somehow I managed to keep a straight face while thanking him and leaving the office only to collapse into a fit of giggles on emerging into Oxford Circus. Passers-by must have thought I was crazy but the thought of rewarding a Green Line conductor with a free pass to travel round for a day was really rather comical. After spending eight hours every working day doing just that the last thing I wanted on my day off was a Green Line ride! Instead I returned, mostly by Underground, to Hounslow and then bus to Staines — it was quicker that way! Within an hour of leaving London I was handing in the special pass and telling my mates about the interview. I am certain that at least half of them believed I was making it all up but an official report came back to the Chief Inspector the following week to verify what I had said. I’m still laughing!
For some reason the incidents I remember on the 725 road are almost all linked to bad weather conditions; heavy fogs between Bromley and Crayford, deep snow between Dartford and Gravesend and a torrential downpour that flooded Crayford for a depth of four feet and held us up for several hours. As the coaches were heated we rarely wore overcoats and a sudden fog would mean the conductor leaning out of the open door to keep an eye on the kerb and guide the driver along the road. Not as bad as walking in front of the tram with a flare perhaps but a cold and miserable duty when you were twenty miles from home and shivering in a summer uniform, so I was somewhat less than delighted when I was approached by a lady passenger warmly clad in a fur coat and gloves who complained of the draught caused by the open door and couldn’t we go a bit faster as she didn’t want to be late at the Bridge Club! This thoughtless remark left me speechless — but not so my driver, however — he brought the coach to a halt, closed the door and climbed out of the driving seat, “Here you are, ducks,” he said, holding the door to the cab open, “There’s a nice heater in there to keep your feet warm — see if you can get us there any quicker!” Without another word the irate passenger meekly returned to her seat and we proceeded on our way.
We dreaded deep snow, especially between Dartford and Gravesend. There were several gravel pits some ten feet or so from the road with only a frail wire fence between the coach and a sheer drop of sixty feet or more. No matter how slowly and carefully the coach was driven there was always the danger of a heavy lorry skidding into us and sending us over the top. I suppose the sand and gravel lorry drivers were on piecework — they always seemed to be driving like maniacs on that road no matter what the weather was like. One of our coaches did bring the wire down once but, mercifully, came to a halt a bare eighteen inches from the edge.
In a heavy downpour one day, on a narrow winding country lane between Chislehurst and Sidcup, we were overtaken by a car. Spotting another car coming round the bend in the opposite direction, the lady driver cut in front of us very sharply and my driver had to brake very quickly in a vain attempt to avoid hitting her car, the front of the coach catching the tail light of the car as it swerved in front of us. Our relief, that the accident was nothing more than a broken taillight, was very short lived. Those old RF coaches were notorious for vicious back-wheel skids and this one was no exception — the back came round right in the path of the oncoming car, crushing the bonnet and offside wheel and smashing the windscreen. By some miracle, the driver was unhurt but absolutely furious — the car was only three days old and looked a total wreck. Climbing across the passenger seat, he charged down the road towards the lady driver, by now out of her car, waving her hands in the air and in tears on surveying the damage she had caused. She looked so pathetic and apologetic that the poor man stopped shouting and swearing and ended up putting an arm round her and supplying a large white handkerchief to dry her tears!
Of course, all accidents have to be fully reported on the appropriate form at the conclusion of the day’s work, in the crew’s own time, and all accidents are entered on the driver’s record should London Transport decide that their driver was in the wrong. Despite a letter of abject apology from the lady driver and another from the driver of the wrecked car stating that, in his opinion, the accident involving his own car was totally unavoidable; my driver was held to blame on two counts: 1) He was too close to the car in front and 2) He had been trained on the skid patch at Chiswick on how to control a skid and was, therefore, to blame for damaging the other car! In vain, he protested that all skid patch training was with a double deck bus on an enormous square half the size of a football pitch — whereas the accident involved an RF coach on a narrow country lane. His appeal was dismissed, he lost a day’s pay and the accident was entered on his record sheet.
I suppose the reason behind such harsh judgements is to keep the drivers alert to possible accident situations in future, though it frequently results in a driver giving notice and leaving the job. There is no doubt that London Transport employs some of the finest drivers in the world as a result of such high standards.