High Explosive Bomb at Este Road
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
Este Road, Battersea, London Borough of Wandsworth, SW11 3BU, London
56 18 NW - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by winsteadstreet (BBC WW2 People's War)
A group of housewives were chatting together in the shade, sheltering from the fierce sun beneath the railway bridge crossing Battersea High Street that very hot day in May 1940.
We three twelve year old boys were approaching the bridge having come out of school an hour or so before. We had been enjoying the hustle of the shops and stalls of the High Street and were now making our ways home.
We heard the noise of an approaching train.
This was the West London Extension line linking the south of England with the midlands and north, here crossing the Thames from Battersea to Chelsea.
Normally there was little traffic and Battersea Station was closed for the duration, but for the last couple of days trains had been coming through regularly, but always from the south.
People along the route stopped, watched them go by and waved if a soldier happened to lean from a carriage window.
Yesterday a soldier threw some coins as we children waved. We scrambled for them in the gutter and I picked up the first foreign coin I had ever seen, a brass and shining 1 Franc piece. My pal found a coin with a hole drilled through it. He thought it had been shot, but at school our master said it was a way the French changed the value of coins.
There must have been a signal since the driver applied the brakes and in a flurry of dust and steam the train squealed to a halt. The engine now well over the bridge began panting and puffing as it paused in the sunshine reflecting the exertion of pulling a large number of carriages.
The housewives came out from under the bridge and with us lads and a few more passers by together we looked up at the stationary train.
The carriage windows were down obviously the passengers needed the cooler air, and to our surprise a soldier appeared. A head of unkempt hair, a grimey face and a scruffy army tunic. Eyes blinking from the sunshine he looked down on our silent group.
The youngest of the housewives called up to him, "Are you all right?"
The soldier looked at us, at the houses and shops as if in a dream. He struggled to reply, then said, "I'm gasping for a fag."
"Cigarette? Yes I've got one." The young lady opened her handbag and extracted a packet.
She lifted her arm as if to throw the packet up to the soldier but realised that it would be futile, the bridge perhaps 30-feet up, a lightweight packet could'nt be thrown that far. Thinking quickly she called, "I'll bring these up to you," and she walked over to the side of the bridge and tried to climb the steep embankment. A daunting task.
She looked at us boys. "You lads, come over here and help me up." It was a command.We moved quickly but then I paused since nailed to the wall of the embankment was a notice.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
"Don't just stand there. Come on." She was very determined and I obeyed.
But others had also moved over to the ypung lady. They were offering packets of cigarettes.
"Take these." A packet of Players thrust into her bag.
"And these." Woodbines, Craven A, Park Drive, a dozen packets for the soldiers.
So we heaved, pulled and tugged and to the cheers and encouragement of many soldiers now leaning from windows we got up onto the track.
That lady didn't stop, she moved onto the bridge with us lads in close pursuit, to where our first soldier was leaning from the carriage window. Taking a packet from her bag she reached up, he opened the carriage door and greatfully took the cigarettes.
The remaining packets were distributed in a flash.
A sergeant had jumped down onto the trackside and told us in no uncertain terms to go back down. He emphasised that it was dangerous and we began to edge away.
However the lady stood her ground and we heard her ask if there were any Air Force men on the train. "My husband was over there, I've not heard from him...."
"RAF," the sergeant snarled, "they flew home days ago."
Suddenly she looked helpless, miserable.
I felt somebody tugging my sleeve. My pal was pointing down the line of carriages.
Through the dust I could see he was pointing to a blue clad figure leaning from a carriage window.
"Look missus, RAF!"
Together we ran. Through the murk of the dust and steam, up off the track, on to the wooden platform of Battersea Station, past several carriages, and then....
this was blue but not RAF blue, it was the blue of the French Army uniform.
The lady moved over on to a platform seat and I think she began to weep.
I decided it was time to go home.
A chain of people now climbed the embankment from street level, passing the contents of shopping bags, cigarettes, drinks, food, for the benefit of the waiting troops. A policeman seemed to be supervising the distribution and as I passed he winked and said, "Well done, lad."
Mum asked me where I had been when I got home.
I told her.
She put on her hat. Checked her bag for cigarettes.
"Where are you going mum?" I asked.
"Down the High Street."
Contributed originally by joanstyan (BBC WW2 People's War)
We were utterly exhausted most of the time as we were continually confined to a communal air raid shelter at night, especially during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941. Strangely enough my brother Ken, sister Margaret and I experienced a mixture of fear from the bombs, together with the excitement of being able to stay up each night in the shelter with other families. With our mother we used to take our cheese sandwiches (which always seemed scrumptious) and Smiths crisps containing little blue bags of salt, together with a bottle of Tizer in the shelter and have midnight feasts with the other children which was exciting and alleviated some of the fear. We got very little sleep on our hard bunk beds, but no one did as we were usually woken up by the screaming, wailing air raid siren. We only had candles in the shelter so it was dimly lit and also damp and musty. The boy on the bunk below me, Sidney, complained that I was always dropping lumps of cheese from my sandwiches on to his bunk which he strongly objected to as he loathed cheese. Later in the war, sometimes at night when the air raid siren sounded, neighbours came along and bedded down in our hall. There was one man who always wore his tin helmet and Ken and I could never stop giggling about it. All the poor man was trying to do was to be prepared and to protect himself in an emergency but it was a huge joke to us. One night there was a bomb which exploded very near to us, the blast of which shattered a number of our windows. The heavy fanlight over the hall door became dislodged and was hanging on its side only a few feet from where Ken was sleeping. He had a lucky escape and may well have been glad to wear the man's tin helmet after all!
When the dreaded air raid siren sounded suddenly wafting through the air, screeching out its deafening high and low wailing, warning sounds, we were full of fear and trepidation. Wherever we were, we immediately stopped what we were doing, snatched up our few belongings if they were nearby and dashed to the nearest air raid shelter, wondering if we would ever come out alive. It was a nightmare for my mother having 3 young children to worry about all the time. There were 3 types of air raid shelter. Those which were concrete or brick-built and were outside for the public, the corrugated, galvanised iron Anderson shelter which was partially sunk in people's gardens away from the house, and the Morrison which was like a steel box indoors.
We lived through the London Blitz in 1940 and 1941 and many nights we went through hell with fires blazing and bombs raining down. The sky was continually lit by the glare of the fires, some of which were caused by incendiary bombs which had been extinguished by stirrup pumps. Air raid wardens were equipped with these for such an emergency. Also searchlights illuminated the sky. The wail of the air raid sirens and the drone of enemy aircraft, the bang bang of the anti-aircraft batteries and the shrill whistles blown by the Air raid wardens were deafening. Many people were left homeless and exhausted and often experienced long term shock. They used to pick their way through debris after a raid and had nowhere to go. Dazed families were accommodated in rest centres, in school buildings and church halls all of which were staffed by volunteers. However, despite all the adversity, people relentlessly soldiered on. We were all in it together and helped each other whenever we could. We had one thing in common and that was the will to survive which was all that mattered. Although tea, like almost everything else, was rationed, there were endless cups of tea to soothe shattered nerves.
Bombs continued to rain down, criss-crossing searchlights lit up the sky at night and the anti-aircraft fire was fearsome. Firemen and air raid wardens did what they could to protect the city. Large balloons appeared in the sky which were called barrage balloons. They were elongated, grey shapes like inflated elephants attached to thick wire ropes to trap unwary, low flying enemy aircraft. In 1942, all railings in front of houses and surrounding parks were removed for their metal to be used for ships and tanks. There were strict blackout precautions and windows were taped against damage from splintered glass and, on the ground floor of large buildings, windows and doorways were protected by walls of sandbags. Also, there was no street lighting or friendly lights from windows and we were forced to use torches. There were blackout curfews after dark, which caused many accidents, but the blackout was an air raid precaution and saved many lives. During the long, dark ,winter nights it was an absolute nightmare. We lived very near to Clapham Junction station, a major railway system, which was bombed continuously but despite the desolation it was like a cat and had 9 lives and managed to continue limping along.
Nothing was like the onslaught on London when they repeatedly dropped their tonnage of destruction and bombs fell incessantly resulting in relentless nights and days of terror and hell.
We Londoners bravely responded to the onslaught of London with defiant good humour. 'Jerry' (one of our nicknames for the Germans), 'will never get the last laugh over us.' was our taut reply, and they definitely did not. We were not labelled the 'Bulldog Breed' for nothing. We were in a permanent state of alert and were constantly living under a cloud of violent death but despite the ferocity of the relentless raids we survived even though utter exhaustion clung to us day and night.
There were many horrifying experiences but the noise of the VI flying bombs will haunt me forever. This was one of Hitler's secret weapons and was first launched in 1944. It was called a flying bomb, a doodlebug or a buzz bomb. It was essentially a pilotless plane packed with explosives whose rocket engine cut out over the target area so it glided to the ground and exploded. The gliding and cut-out mechanisms used were crude, but a large number still fell on London despite the fact that the RAF bombed some of the launching sites and also shot many down over the English Channel. Their engines made a distinct roaring sound which I shall never forget. One could hear them approaching from a distance and as the droning became louder and louder we were more terrified by the second. It was even more devastating when the noise stopped and there was an uncanny stillness whilst we held our breath. This I can remember so well. We had no option but to sit there helplessly in the shelter and pray whilst waiting for the noise to stop and a deathly silence prevailed. Were we destined to die that night? We were terrified if the engine cut out before it was overhead since that meant the flying bomb would glide and probably hit us. If it stopped directly overhead, we knew we were relatively safe, because it would continue for a couple of miles before crashing to the ground. Finally when it landed with an immense explosion, we all felt a great relief that it wasn't us this time, but a tremendous sadness for the poor victims that were involved.
Eventually the all-clear siren sounded which was a steady tone and the sweetest sound on earth. We were free again and dashed out of the shelter to see who the unfortunate victims were and if we could help them. There was utter chaos verywhere. Houses were completely demolished, others had walls that had collapsed with furniture leaning at bizarre angles from upstairs rooms. Glass was missing from all the windows, and even houses half a mile away from the blast had lost chimneys and tiles. Pavements were littered with tiles, glass and bricks. The slaughter created maximum terror with massive explosions resulting in shrapnel and debris falling all around us. It was pitiful what we repeatedly saw which we will never forget as there were so many sad and sickening sights. We lived near to the mainline railway station of Clapham Junction, a major German target, which was constantly attacked to disrupt the rail transportation system of the country. Ken and his friends spent a lot of time collecting shrapnel from exploded bombs which many boys did including Peter my husband. Ken also gathered wood from bomb-sites to make stilts and carts (to which he added wheels and an orange-box) and chopped some of it up to make little bundles which he sold for firewood.
My brother managed to avoid being hit by a doodle-bug when he couldn't get to a shelter in time after the air raid siren had sounded. He and his friend, who were in the street, saw it coming towards them and suddenly a man grabbed them from behind and flung them down on the pavement behind a wall. There was a tremendous explosion as it landed in the nearby cemetery with debris everywhere, he was terrified. Another time, he was in a swimming pool when the siren sounded and all the swimmers dashed upstairs to safety. There was a terrific explosion and the glass roof shattered and fell directly on to the pool. It was a miracle that they were not still in the pool. The bomb had fallen at the nearby Clapham Junction railway station and one of Ken's friends, who was helping in a local butcher's shop was killed. Ken immediately dashed home as we lived near the station and he was very worried about my mother, but despite the fact that she was in shock, fortunately she wasn't hurt.
My father was serving in the Royal Navy on the guns of HMS Warspite on convoys to Iceland and Russia. He experienced some bitter battles but when he came home on leave to see us in London, he always said that he would sooner be fighting for his country in the Navy than be poor helpless civilians like us just praying that we would be safe and being unable to do little to defend ourselves. All we had was faith and hope.
Unlike the doodle-bugs, the V2 rockets which came afterwards streaked stealthily across the sky without warning. There were no wailing air raid sirens to terrify us and although we were completely unprepared, we were spared the dreaded anticipation of another bombing raid. However, on reflection, it was better to be prepared as we could at least find a nearby air raid shelter for protection. Also when the all-clear siren was sounded we knew that we could probably safely carry on with our lives until the next air raid.
One V2 rocket experience which I can remember vividly was sitting in the local cinema with my friend Rita and like everyone else were completely absorbed in the film. Quite suddenly, a massive V2 rocket fell just behind the cinema and there was a huge blue flash from the screen which collapsed and the entire cinema was shrouded in choking, blinding smoke and debris. As it was a V2 rocket we had no warning and if it had been a few yards nearer, the cinema would have got a direct hit. The noise was deafening and was coupled with the screams from the audience in their shock and panic to escape. We all crowded to the emergency exits which were flung open and we eventually staggered out into the clean, fresh air. We were breathless from the choking smoke and also from blinding fear. Did I hear a voice in the distance calling "Joan", or was I dreaming? Yes, it was my mother's desperate voice screaming "Joan, Joan, where's my Joan." She knew that I had gone to the local cinema, the Granada, and heard the massive explosion. She dashed out of her house immediately and, to her horror, saw the cinema shrouded in smoke. As we lived nearby she didn't have far to run and finally found me amongst the devastation and confusion. The sense of relief was utterly indescribable.
However, we did get used to continual reprisals including the V2 rockets, as a familiar scene which we saw, when we walked to school each morning, was distraught residents in utter turmoil clawing at the wreckage of their homes which were destroyed the previous night and clutching their pathetic belongings but at least they were still alive.
Our neighbour, Mrs Greenaway, a quiet lady who had a husband who was on a night-shift at the Tate and Lyle sugar factory at Wandsworth, had a very sad experience. One night when he was at the factory, it was hit by a V2 rocket and everyone was killed. As this was a V2 rocket there was no air raid warning and his wife knew absolutely nothing about this until the next morning when she heard some women talking about it in the queue at the local butchers. They said that Tate and Lyle had had a direct hit in the night and she immediately dashed over there on the bus, a distance of about 2 miles, only to find that it had been completely demolished. She staggered about desperately on the rubble until a policeman came over to her and asked her what she was doing. She explained that she was looking for her husband and was told that tragically there were no survivors. She was so helpless and, in utter shock, blindly found her way home. She must have been completely overwrought which resulted in her immediately gassing herself without even stopping to think about it. Her 12 year old daughter Joan discovered her body on returning home from school that day. Sadly when she left for school in the morning, she thought that both her parents were alive. Poor distraught Joan had no alternative but to go and live with her devastated grandparents. This was one of the many tragic statistics of the war. Another one was when I was at school and my art teacher, Mr Carpenter, went home for lunch one day which he did regularly, only to find that his house had been bombed and his wife and young son had been killed. Such was the misery of war.
Huge crowds sought safety and invaded the London Underground every night having claimed an early pitch in the afternoon. They slept with their clothes on, clutching family documents including their identity cards and personal treasures. The Underground at night was a massive picnic with rows of men, women and children all huddled together eating and drinking tea and soft drinks. The air was always stale and there was often a stench of smoke and brick dust in the air which was frequented by mosquitoes. Apart from this however, my mother strongly objected to sleeping in the Underground for fear of being trapped. In the Underground station at Balham which was a few miles from Clapham Junction, over 600 people were killed and maimed from a bomb and some were suffocated in their panic and struggle to get out.
Although London was continually bombed day and night and all we ever heard was people saying: "Poor old London copped it again last night. ", other large cities suffered too but not so relentlessly. Nevertheless I was a Londoner and was proud of the spirit that pervaded the city day and night. In those dark days people determinedly got on with life despite the continuous doom and gloom. Life was grim and heartbreaking and the hardship was extremely severe. Despite Hitler's obsession to ultimately invade Great Britain which was only 22 miles across the Channel, it didn't materialise. How different our lives would have been today if the Germans had succeeded in invading our island.
There were horrendous battles on land, sea and in the air and our losses were disastrous, but despite the terrible degradation, we triumphed against all the odds. I can remember us all anxiously crowding around our radios each night when we could, to listen to the news bulletins at 9.pm on the BBC Home Service which constantly kept us in touch although, most of the time, the news was unnervingly daunting. Sir Winston Churchill was our great inspiration and we all anxiously awaited his stirring broadcasts to the nation.
Contributed originally by Peter R. Marchant (BBC WW2 People's War)
Don’t tell Adolf about the wonders of country living for a small city boy. Don’t tell Adolf about the exciting playgrounds of the bomb damaged houses. Don’t tell Adolf about the excitement of the search lights and the guns and don’t tell Adolf how he changed my early childhood into an adventure often frightening, but with vivid memories I recall to this day.
My very first ever memories are framed by the war. It must have been sometime in 1940 when I was almost four years old. Our family, my Mum and Dad and my older sister Thelma, were living in a Victorian row house in Clapham, London. This area has now become quite fashionable with house prices equal to my father’s life time income. Then, it was a working class neighborhood, clean and respectable, populated by postmen, mechanics and lorry driver tenants like my father. The only thing I can remember about the interior of the house was the Morrison shelter in the center of the bedroom. There I spent many weeks of isolation with a severe attack of the mumps in uncomprehending discomfort, picking at the grey paint of the cage unable to take anything more solid than my mother’s blancmange and barley water, her remedies for all known human ills. I’m sure my parents were grateful the authorities provided us with a combination bomb shelter, table and sick bed, although I wonder was anyone actually saved by this contraption? This was a time when one’s betters weren’t questioned; my family rarely doubted they must know what was best for us. For those who know only about more serious bomb protection the Morrison shelter consisted of a bed surrounded with stout wire mesh and a steel top on four corner legs about the right height for a table. The idea was to prevent the occupants from being crushed to death under falling masonry, a small sanctuary to wait in, listening for the scrape of shovels and praying to be rescued before the air ran out. In addition to the ugliness and awful paint its major flaw was the assumption that we would all be in bed when the house collapsed, a family so stunted by food rationing that we were able to sleep together comfortably in a double bed. Did Adolf realize the Morrison was part of the propaganda war designed to show the Germans that we English were just as viral as the master race; a people that only needed a tin bed as protection from their bombs?
As I got better I was allowed to play in the garden at the rear of the house. I remember it as long and narrow flanked on one side by the windows of a small factory making parachutes, or bully beef, or some other necessity for killing the enemy. The weather must have been hot as I recall the young women talking to me through open windows. They seemed happy in their factory routine and the pound or two a day they earned which was probably the best money they had ever made. Or were their smiles just for the rather shy little boy they gave the small pieces of chocolate and orange segments then as rare and sought after as black truffles? If there’s a page in the calendar that can marked as the beginning of my generally good relations with the opposite sex it’s probably spring 1940.
There are many more memories that come to me clearly but they are mixed in a jumble of time. It must have been after the serious bombing of London started in summer 1940 that my sister and I were evacuated. We were all caught up in a great sea of events and
if the choice for our parents was having us with them so we could all be reduced to rubble together or safe country life for their children, it was not difficult to decide which train to catch. An adult knows the terrors and uncertainty of the world and has worries beyond tomorrow but a small boy knows only the moment and thinks of an hour as an eternity if an ice cream is promised.
We were sent to live with a Mr. and Mrs. Daniels and their two sons on their small holding at Gidcott Cross, a junction of narrow country roads about six miles from the market town of Holsworthy in the county of Devon. The surrounding country was divided into small irregular fields on a plan lost in antiquity, surrounded by tall hedges topped with thick bushes and occasional trees.
Many evacuees have grim stories to tell and we were very lucky to be in the care of a loving couple who treated us like their own. The Daniels had a few acres near the house and some additional pasture rented nearby. On this they kept a few milk cows, all with pet names, Daisy, Sadie and Jessie, a pig or two and a muddy barnyard full of chickens. A pair of ducks stayed most of the year in a narrow rivulet that ran around the house. A female dog Sally, always ready for a rabbit hunt, followed us around everywhere when she was not ensuring a new supply of terriers. The farm house had, or rather has, as it seems little changed over the years, thick rough walls yearly whitewashed, four or five rooms in two stories under a thick thatched roof. The Daniel’s house was at the foot of gently sloping fields set back from the road with a pig barn on the left and the milking shed and hay storage on the right of the heavy slab stone front path.
Mr. Daniels was a member of the local Home Guard, a group of tough wiry men too old for immediate military service. There were no blunderbusses or pikes, but modern weapons were in short supply. Mr. Daniels had upgraded to a worn double barreled shot gun a deadly weapon in his hands as all the rabbits knew. At lane intersections old farm wagons loaded with rocks were ready to be pushed into a road block. One clever ruse was redirecting the road signs, a confused German being thought better than a lost one. Any one advancing down the road to Holsworthy would find them selves in Stibbs Cross with only one pub, a much less desirable place to take over. The home guard met regularly near our cottage for drill and comradeship. It was so popular that the institution lived on well after the war as a social club. These men knew every blade of grass for miles around and would have caused any German paratroopers much annoyance if Adolf the military genius had ordered landings in this remote corner of England.
When they were not repelling German invaders the Home Guard kept an eye on the Italians in the area. Up the road was the Big Farm, big because it had a barn large enough to house a half dozen trustee Italian prisoners of war working the land. Riding on farm wagons pulled by huge shire horses, as petrol was very scarce, they would stop outside our cottage on their way to the fields. They looked like old men to me though they were just young boys probably not yet 18, endlessly happy to be out of the war, captured by a humane enemy and ending up in this idyllic setting. They carved wooden whirligig toys with their pen knives for me and the nostalgic Italian songs they sang I can hear in my mind to this day.
It was a wonderland for we city kids with farm animals, the open country to explore and no shortages of food. The farm was in most ways self supporting, if you wanted a stew you shot a rabbit or two, or cut the throat of a chicken. I helped with the endless farm chores collecting eggs every day from the nest boxes, when the chickens were good enough to cooperate. Many chickens didn’t appreciate the conveniences we provided and made the job into an adventure searching the hedgerows for errant layers. No tinned or horrible dried food for us, everything was fresh as the vegetables pulled from the ground within sight of the front door. When we eventually returned to London my sister and I were noticeably well fed and quite fat, the battle for my waist line probably goes back that far!
Without modern conveniences it took most of the daylight hours to keep the house running and everybody was expected to pitch in. Another of my ‘helping’ jobs was to help fill the water barrel. With a small boy’s bucket and many trips I walked up the road a hundred feet, to the well hidden in a hedge tangled with wild roses, pushed the wooden cover aside and, after tapping on the surface to send the water spiders skimming out of the way, dipped in my bucket. This taught country ways very quickly and water became a precious commodity to be recycled for many uses until it was finally used to scrub down the flag stone floor. The water was heated in a large black iron kettle hung on a chain over a log fire in the inglenook fireplace the only source of heat in the house. Cooking had changed little over hundreds of years and savory stews and soups were made over the burning logs in large iron cauldrons. There was no electricity or gas in our cottage and finer cooking required Mrs. Daniels skillful fussing with a flimsy paraffin oven in the back room from where emerged a stream of delicious pasties, or covered pies, filled with a range of edibles that would have surprised even a Chinese cook. These pasties were brought out every meal covering the table with a smorgasbord of dishes from ham and egg, potato and wild berries, until finished. The men took them into the fields stuffed in their Home Guard haversacks and with a jug of local cider and after grueling days in the sun bringing in the harvest ate dinner sprawled against the hay stacks. The days ran with the cycle of the sun; the evenings were lit sporadically with a noisy pressured paraffin lantern and bedtimes were shadowy with the light of candles.
I remember my evacuation with the Daniels as an idyllic time although now I detect there must have been a feeling of abandonment and bewilderment long buried. One of my parent’s visits I didn’t recognize the lady with my father as my mother had just started wearing glasses. Later on, another visit, I wandered the lanes all day looking for them on a country walk they had taken and was tearfully relieved to find them sitting in a field eating sandwiches having no idea how upset I was at being left. Evacuation must have had a profound effect on many young children like me. My wife thinks that this experience is the cause of many of my strange ways and quirks of personality although I claim genius has its own rules.
My sister and I were returned to London after a couple of years in the country, the precise timing is vague in my memory. The aircraft bombing was much less now although the sirens still wailed for the occasional raid setting the guns booming on our local Clapham Common. I wish I still had my treasured collection of shrapnel from the antiaircraft shell bursts that rained down razor sharp fragments of torn steel and made being outside as dangerous as the bombing. These would be poignant reminders of this time so distant it feels like another life. Memories of my best friend Basil who always managed to find the pieces with serial numbers, the most coveted in our collection.
I recall one night the warning sirens sounded and the sky was lit by searchlight beams probing for the attackers. Within minutes the street was as bright as the sky, plastered with small oil filled fire bombs. They were everywhere causing small fires in the gardens and on the roofs of our street. One slid through the slates and wedged itself under the cooker of our upstairs neighbour, Mrs. Tapsfield. My father spent the night running up and down the stairs carrying buckets of dirt from the garden and spraying the cooked cooker with a stirrup pump. I can, even now 60 years later, see my mother next morning standing on a chair with a hat pin puncturing the hanging bladders of water filled ceiling paper from the flood upstairs. The fire bombs caused a lot of minor damage but they were all damped down and none of our neighbours lost more than a room or two. For many years after the sheet metal bomb fins would turn up when a new flower bed was dug deep. The trusty stirrup pump gathered dust in the coal cellar ready in case it was of need in another war in the new atomic age.
England was a very grey place with some rationing into the 50’s. For us kids Clapham was a wonderland of bomb damaged play houses and vacant rubble strewn lots. There were complete sides of buildings missing leaving the floors with wallpapered rooms precariously suspended. Bath tubs and staircases were stuck teetering to a wall with no apparent support stories up and the cellars were half filled with debris with only dusty tunnels for access. You can imagine the games these inspired for us boys. A special game was attacking and defending the half flooded abandoned concrete gun emplacements on Clapham Common and exploring the communal air raid shelters dug in the square. If only our parents had known!
How do you remember the events of a war time childhood? Memories are like a damaged film, occasional clear scenes separated by long stretches scratched and out of focus.
Through the often repeated stories distorted by their retelling; by today’s chance incidents that start a flow of thoughts to a half forgotten scene. Was it a page in a book or an E mail from a friend, who can tell the truth from imagination? I cannot be sure of the exact timing and the precise details of my experiences in WW2 they have been rounded off by time, and in this diary I have done my best. Although the accuracy may not be perfect and who can be sure in the valley of the shadow of memory, I hope to have conveyed the atmosphere of my experiences in these anecdotes.
Contributed originally by Jean_Jeffries (BBC WW2 People's War)
First thing I remember of September 1939 is being told we must deny any Jewish family connections.
We lived in a fairly large house opposite Clapham Junction, South London. We quickly moved house to one further from the busiest railway junction in London, which was a prime target.
Our first Air Raid Shelter was the London Transport underground tube station. Bunks had been placed along the platforms and each evening, we would arrive with a few possessions and take our place in a two-tier bunk; the only privacy was a blanket suspended from the top bunk. At this time, my father was a fire-fighter so mum was alone in the Tube with two small children. If one wanted the loo, we all had to go, complete with any possessions - teddy bears and dolls! I was very nervous, not of bombs but of some of the weird people who we were living so close to.
If we were out during the day and a siren sounded, some of the shops would open the trap-door in front of their shop (which was used for deliveries) and we'd scuttle down the ladder. My favourite shop was David Greigs, us kids were spoilt there. I always dawdled outside hoping the siren would sound, never giving a thought to bombs! Then the Government installed the Anderson Shelter for each family. It was sunk into the ground for about 3ft and measured roughly 9ft by 9ft. It had two, two-tier bunks and accommodated our 6 family members with a squeeze. This was luxury after the Tube, but, being below ground level with no ventilation, it was damp and began to smell. Everything went mouldy and I still recognise the smell. I hated the toilet arrangements - a bucket outside for use during a lull, brought inside for use during a raid. During this time, my brother, aged 5, developed asthma and my father T.B., although he was not aware he had it. Dad got his calling-up papers and was turned down on medical grounds, but the examining doctor refused to tell him why or warn him of the Tuberculosis they'd found. I heard my parents worriedly discussing it and I was glad he wouldn't be going to war.
The evacuation of London began. I was ready to go with my gas mask, case and with a label tied to my coat. My brother was too ill to go, so, at the last minute, my mother decided to go also and take him away from London. So we set off for some vague address in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Families in safe areas were ordered to take in evacuees and, in this house, we were resented and made to feel very unwanted. Food, already scarce, was even more so for us. Our mean hostess fed her own family well with the rations intended for us. Within a month we had left and it was years before I ate a Bakewell tart or admitted Derbyshire was beautiful!
Next, we reached an old farm cottage in Bampton, Oxfordshire. Our landlady was a Mrs Tanner, a warm-hearted person who made us welcome with a full meal and a blazing fire - what a difference!
Mrs Tanner was the wife of the local Thatcher. They kept livestock for their own food, as country people did then. Despite being Cockneys, we had come from an immaculate home with electricity, hot water, a bathroom and an indoor toilet. We now found ourselves in this warm, well-fed friendly cottage with friendly bed bugs, kids with head lice, a tin bath hanging on the garden wall and a bucket'n'plank loo in the yard. The loo had a lovely picture of "Bubbles", the Pears advert, hanging on its wall - very tasteful.
On Thursdays, all doors and windows were tightly closed whilst we waited the coming of the Dung men; two gentlemen wearing leather aprons emptied everyone's buckets into their cart. What a job!
My brother was very much worse, skinny and weak with breathing difficulties. He spent time in hospital and mum stayed with him. Mrs Tanner treated me like yet another grandchild and I soon settled happily into my new way of life. Mum asked her if she would take me to the town, a bus ride away, to get new shoes and some clothes. Off we went on what was literally a shop-lifting spree. I was both frightened and excited and sworn to secrecy. Mrs T. kept the money and the coupons and mum was thrilled to have got so many bargains. I never told her! But, when I wore my new shoes or my finery, I always dreaded someone asking me questions. I laid awake at night rehearsing my answers. I was never tempted to try it myself. When I see Travellers, kids, I often think "that was me once". After a year of my idea of heaven, mum decided to return to London to see if the hospitals there could help little Eddie. We got back just in time for The Battle of Britain; I'm glad they waited for us. I was so homesick for Bampton that I even contemplated running away to try to go back. Although I settled down, I still think of Bampton as my home and, after 63 years, I still go back for holidays. Just one year made such an impression on me. It was so carefree and I enjoyed some of the jobs with the animals.
During the time we were away, my dad had carried on with his job and Fire-fighting in London. Our home had gone, so we stayed with an Aunt until we got somewhere to live. Empty houses were requisitioned by the Authorities, who then allocated them to those who needed them. My parents applied for a house, explaining that Eddie needed to be near a hospital, but they were told that, as the father was not in the forces, they did not qualify for accommodation. They were heartbroken as a doctor had informed them that, without a decent home, Eddie would not live long. My father insisted on volunteering for any of the forces, but was once again declared unfit. Eventually, after mum worried them every day, we were given two rooms in a small terraced house, sharing a toilet with another family. There was no bathroom and we were made to feel almost like traitors with frequent remarks directed at my dad. Even at school the teachers singled us out with "anyone who's father is not in the forces will not be getting this" - this could be milk or some other treat we regarded as a luxury. One teacher was so obsessed that today she would be considered mentally unbalanced. A project she gave us 10year olds was to devise tortures for Hitler or any German unlucky enough to survive a plane crash. I cheated and copied one from a book.
Our shelter was now a reinforced cellar. It was dry and spacious and, during heavy bombing, some of our neighbours joined us and we had what I considered to be jolly times together. Food was in very short supply; although we had ration books, there was not always enough food in the shops. I was sent to queue up, then mum would take over while I queued again at the next shop with food, where we repeated the pattern. I once reached the counter before mum got there; we were waiting for eggs. I got 4 eggs in a paper bag and, as I left the shop, I dropped them. Carefully carrying them back to the counter I told the assistant she had given me cracked eggs. I was shouted at and called a lying, nasty little girl but managed to obtain 4 replacement eggs. I just could not have told my mum I'd broken them.
A neighbour of ours was a fishmonger, poulterer and game merchant. He sometimes had rabbits for sale; they were always skinned and usually in pieces. After bombing raids, there were often cats straying where their home was destroyed, or dogs wandering about the streets. We think our fishmonger solved this problem. I believe most women realised the meat wasn't quite what they wanted but had to have some meat to put in the stew. Luckily we had a vicious wild cat I had taken in and being so spiteful, she lived a long and happy life, occasionally bringing home a piece of fish. How she managed this I don't know. Could it have been bait for a lesser cat?
School was rather a shambles. We had our classes in a shelter, that is 2 or 3 classes at a time; as there was insufficient room for all the children we had mornings or afternoons only. The other class we shared our shelter with always had such interesting lessons! I feel awful about admitting this but the education system was so easy to play truant from. If you didn't turn up they assumed you'd been bombed or sent away to safety. A couple of friends and I used to ignore the danger of air raids and go to the centre of London where we could be sure of meeting American servicemen. We begged for gum or chocolate from them, then had to eat or hide it before going home. At no time did we ever think of how our families would have no idea where we were if we never came back. It's rather frightening really. Our excursions came to an end when, on a very wet day, mum came to meet me from school with an umbrella. After waiting until all the kids had left, she went in to see our teacher who said I had not attended for some time and thought I had gone back to Bampton. Boy, did I get a beating! She was as vicious as my cat but not as lovable.
One night we were in our shelter when a neighbour called us to come out to see the incredible amount of German planes that our boys were shooting down. We stood outside in the street and cheered, linking arms and dancing. The next day we heard on the radio that they had not been shot down but were a new weapon - the Doodle Bug. From then on I understood fear. I don't know what triggered it but I joined the ranks of the old dears who swore they recognised one of ours or one of theirs. I henceforth scrambled to get my pets into the shelter as soon as we heard the siren. My dog soon learnt this and was first down; her hearing being keener than ours, she could hear the siren in the next town before ours. Soon we had Rockets. There was no warning with them. The first one we saw was on a summer's evening when my friends and self were practising the Tango on the street corner. We were singing "Pedro the Fisherman" as a whine came from above our heads, followed by a cloud of dust and then the impact and sound of the explosion. Four screaming dancers rushed for shelter. We knew many of the people who had been killed or injured and it seemed too close to us. It never had been safe but we hadn't noticed it before, now I did, worrying, "where did that one land?" "Is it near dad's shop or near our relations?" I guess I'd grown up but it was so quick. I was twelve, learning to tango and worrying about our family. I decided I would join the Land Army as soon as they would let me; I'd heard one no longer needed parents' permission. This was not anything to do with the war effort. I simply wanted my life back in beloved Bampton. My feelings were mixed when the war ended, no more terrifying Rockets but trapped in London with no chance of getting away until I married!
Contributed originally by Royston John Skipp (BBC WW2 People's War)
London in War Time
Researching for the BBC archive has brought back many half forgotten memories. I guess I was to young to realise what war meant to the civilian population and the losses in terms of property but more especially friends and family. It is a pity Mum and Dad are no longer alive as I am sure they could have added greatly to this contribution.
Peace in our time?
Before World War Two Dad was a Window Cleaner running his own business in the Tooting and Balham areas of London. He even employed an assistant. Sometimes Dad would go out in the morning and clean enough windows to pay for a cooked breakfast in the local café. Then when he arrived home later short of money, he would tell Mum that people did not want their windows cleaned that day.
Dad. The photo that should have appeared here is dated 29th February 1936
What a handsome fellow no wonder Mum fell for him.
Dad enlisted on the 20th June 1940 at Deryes (That’s what the name looks like in the book.) into the Queens own Royal West Kents, at the age of 27. Luckily I still have his ‘Army Pay Book’, which is full of information. It shows his medical classification as A1 on the 4th June 1941. I also have his war medals one of which shows that he was in the First Army.
Dad enlisted and in uniform. Photo dated 14 December 1941
By the time he was returned to England from Algiers he was classified as C. the book shows him as having been returned to UK by troopship on 1st August 1943. Mum was just glad to have him home again when so many did not return, however he was a changed man. He was suffering from Anxiety Neurosis, Shell Shock to you and me. He suffered sudden ‘Black outs’ for the rest of his life. Not that he got a war pension as a result.
A few years before he died at the age of 85 we managed to get him a small award for hearing loss due to his War Time army service. When he was discharged from the army hospital in 1943 he was told, ‘You are ready to go home, you don’t want to claim a pension do you?’ Well what would you do? He wanted to get home to us and was afraid that a claim would hold him up.
Why did those stupid politicians on both sides declare a war that nobody else wanted?
I do not remember our trip to Scotland to see Dad before he was taken away to the war in Algiers but it must have been very traumatic for Mum.
Photo of Dad and his army unit, second from the right seated. Unlike the others this photo is not dated
I wonder how many of the troop survived the conflict?
I was born at The Woodlands, Colliers Wood on the outskirts of London on 16th February 1940.
It must have been really difficult for a young couple who had been married only a few years to discover, first that I was on the way, then that war was being declared. We were living at 3 Banstead Way at the time. I can only try to imagine the stress my mother experienced bringing up a child in wartime London and Dad being away. Apparently we moved a few times until we arrived at the house that I remember.
Photro of Mum and I. November 1942. Me at age two.
23 Wickersley Road, Battersea.
Mum used to tell us a story that went something like this. She had taken me in my pram for a walk in Battersea Park. She sat on a park bench for a rest before returning home. Mum was startled by a voice. She had not seen the old lady arrive at the side of the pram.
"He is going to be very clever with his hands."
"Pardon," said Mum.
"He will grow up to be an engineer." The old lady leaned further over the pram then stepped back when she realised that Mum was getting nervous about the sudden intrusion.
"I’m a spiritualist you know, and I can see an aura around most people."
"My name's Mabel, and this is Roy." Mum had introduced us with renewed confidence. Well you made friends with people much easier during wartime.
It was difficult to believe there was a war on in the early days.
The old lady asked if she could hold my hand for a moment.
"Well, all right," Mum had agreed doubtfully. She looked with some trepidation at the grimy hand that reached into my pram.
"Yes, he's going to be creative in many ways and you will be very proud of him." The old lady’s popularity rating must have risen somewhat at that statement.
Battersea Park had become chilly all of a sudden. Mum glanced away from the pram for a moment as the wind blew a cloud of dust in her eyes. It blinded her for a few seconds, but when her eyes cleared, the old lady was nowhere to be seen.
What the old lady had said came true when I started work in 1955 as a motor mechanic. Was it a prophecy come true? Or was it the fact that as toys were few and far between Dad would go into the bombed out house next door and remove a door lock and give it and a screwdriver to me to play with. I guess it depends on what you like to believe.
When we got home from our walk Mum found that although she knew he was back in England, Dad had come home unexpectedly. He did not have a front door key so our neighbour had let him in through their back garden. He climbed over the fence and in through the unlocked back door. While he had been away Mum had got a little dog. Binky had let him in the house all right then got him trapped in a corner of the kitchen. Dad in his nervous state could do nothing but wait until Mum and I returned home. Mum never let him forget that incident. Later when Mum had to go into hospital Dad had to have Binky put down. I don’t think she ever believed it was for a genuine reason.
Photo of Binky
Battersea Power Station was of course a prime target for enemy bombers so we had our fair share of ‘Whoosh bang ooh nasties’.
Dad told me this story of when he and I had been in Battersea Park. I had ridden the nice little three-wheeled bicycle he had bought me until my young legs had become too tired. We were making our way slowly down the street towards home when a Flying Bomb exploded with frightening, deafening, force in the next street and showered the area with debris. It created a choking, all enveloping dust storm that temporarily blocked out what had been a bright sunny day.
When the dust cloud blocked my view of home, I left the new tricycle and ran in the direction of home. I burst in through the dilapidated front door and ran into the kitchen.
'Oh mum,' I said apparently with tears running down my cheeks, 'I thought you were dead.' The tears had streaked the dust that had collected on my face.
'Don't worry, I'm all right,' Mum replied.
'I couldn't keep up with him.' Dad had appeared at the kitchen door out of breath, sweating, and carrying the discarded tricycle.
'He's all right, but you had better sit down, you know what the Doctor said. I'll make us a cup of tea.' Mum’s cure for all ills was a cup of tea, and it generally worked.
In later years we worked out that my earliest memory was probably at about the age of three. 1943 it was and the War was well under way before I was born, so nobody can blame me. We were at Granny’s flat in Begansa Street in London. Granddad, who had served in the First World War in India, now looked after the horses for a local dairy. He was also an air raid warden. You know the ones that used to shout ‘Put that light out,’ at any house that showed the least chink of light after dark. The flat had its windows blacked out, as was the law. You cannot imagine the total darkness that occurred when the money ran out in the electricity meter. I can clearly remember the vision of Dad’s red glowing cigarette end coming towards Mum and I in the total blackness. I think I must have screamed in fear.
“Stand still Vic,” Mum shouted to Dad above my fearful cry.
Then someone put a shilling in the meter and the room was once again illuminated. In later years when, every winter, I ‘enjoyed’ a week off school for my turn in bed with the dreaded influenza, I would become a bit light headed and would see that vision all over again.
Another memory I have of our time at the flat is of the little hut just inside the large double gates. It had a hand operated petrol pump alongside. I had wandered inside the hut just as one of the men took his top denture out. Mum said I spent the rest of the day trying to take my teeth out. She tried to explain to me why mine would not come out. Well hey Mum, they will now.
Mum told me that one morning I had gone missing. She knew that I had to be in the yard somewhere as the gates to the road were closed. She eventually found me in one of the stables sitting playing in the straw underneath the biggest carthorse you can imagine. Much to Mum’s relief I came out of the stable when quietly called. The horse I had been sitting under had a reputation for being bad tempered. Ah well! I have never had trouble with animals, only the human kind, usually of the female persuasion. Hmm!
If you could get granddad to tell his 1st world war stories we kids always found them fascinating. I still treasure his medals that were passed on to me by Mum and Dad. He was a sergeant.
Mind you although she was quite severe in her general demeanour, Gran had her moments. One day an important gentleman called at their house. Well he wore a smart suit, white shirt and tie, so he must have been important. It was just after dinner and the plates were lined up along one wall of the dining room. The family’s pet dog was working its way along the line leaving the plates licked clean. The gentleman watched the dog’s progress, and then looked up at Gran.
“Ah! That’s alright,” said Gran in her usual straight faced style of humour, “That’s how we do the washing up in this house.”
I do not consciously remember much about the bombing proper, only things associated with it. Such as dad hanging a large picture on the wall of our house at Wickersley Road to cover up the crack that had appeared due to the flying bomb that dropped in the next street.
I should have had a brother but sadly he was still born. I still cannot remember whether he would have been older or younger than me. My sister remembers Mum telling her that the shout went up one night, ’Put that light out.’ Mum climbed up on a stool to adjust the blackout curtains and fell, my brother was subsequently stillborn.
The kids, bless them, regularly got into the bombed out house next-door and lit fires. Nothing changes does it? The smoke would come into our house through a hole in the stairs. One night I was grabbed from my bed and with dressing gowns wrapped loosely around us we went out into the street while the fire brigade investigated.
Because of Dad’s shell shock, we were allowed one of the Morrison shelters. This was the one you assembled indoors and used as a table. It had two sides that were plain steel and two that were wire mesh. You assembled it with one of the plain sides facing the window to keep out shattering glass.
One night when the siren started howling it’s warning, according to Mum, our cat carried her kittens one by one down three flights of stairs, and placed them carefully in the shelter with us. But she would not stay in the shelter herself. She must have instinctively known where her kittens would be safe.
We won, I think.
Eventually peace came to a troubled world and the celebrations started. I remember being seated on the brick built air raid shelter in the middle of Wickersley Road. Surrounded by all the other survivors from our street, we had our photograph taken.
Group photo. That’s me forth from the right seated on the roof of the shelter.
How about that hat? I wonder what’s happened to the others in the photo?
That last Christmas before the end of the war we had a visit from Father Christmas. A knock came at the door and for some reason I was told to find out who was there. When I opened it I saw this tall figure dressed in a red suit, sporting a long white beard and carrying a huge sack slung over his shoulder. I think I must have simply shut the door again and returned to the room where Mum was waiting.
“It’s Father Christmas,” I whispered.
“Well let him in then,” I was told.
I do not remember how many children were there at the time but I know I was very lucky. I was given two train sets. I distinctly remember one of the engines had a figure of Father Christmas. As it ran around the track he banged a little drum. “Offer Father Christmas a sweet”. Mum told me.
In later years when the story was related and I had found out that it had been my Dad all along, I also found out that the sweet was to disguise his voice.
My aunt Min used to arrive every so often with a pile of food.
“I don’t feel like eating on my own,” she would lie. She knew very well that money and consequently food was in short supply. Mum would be persuaded to play the piano for a good old sing-along and for a few short hours the war would seem very far away.
When this picture was taken I think we were on holiday, probably at Southend, our first after the war ended.
I was five years old when the war ended. I think it was out of some sort of perverse bravado that we stayed in London until the end of the war, then moved out into the country to Burrow Street, Stathe in Somerset.
Due to the effects of the war on Dad’s health, and the fact that money was always short when he was cleaning windows, Dad changed his trade. He became a gardener for a series of big houses in different villages until we arrived at the village that was to become our home for the next twenty or so years. We soon realised that the local Fire Brigade was using one of the old Air Raid Sirens to call the men in to the fire station. The look on mum’s face when that awful racket started proved that her wartime experiences had not been forgotten.
I pray to God that it never happens again
RJS. 2609 Words