High Explosive Bomb at Croydon 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
Croydon Road, Penge, London Borough of Bromley, SE20, London
56 18 SE - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by ritsonvaljos (BBC WW2 People's War)
Letter writing during the Second World War
During the early days of the Second World War many men and women from the age of 18 onwards either volunteered or were conscripted into the Armed Forces. For most, it was the first time they had ever been separated from family for any length of time.
It was felt that one thing that could be done to counteract possible feelings of separation or loneliness among serving members of the Armed Forces or those left at home was to encourage letter writing. Many local newspapers played a part in this strategy by encouraging people to write in and find a 'Pen Pal' and exchange letters. One of the local newspapers who did this was the 'Norwood News', whose main circulation area covered an area of south London including Norwood, Thornton Heath and Croydon.
One of those who wrote took up this invitation and wrote asking for a 'Pen Pal' was a Leading Aircraftswoman in the WRAF Marie Cranfield, originally from South Norwood, London. In 1942 Marie was 19 years old. By co-incidence, her letter went to soldiers in the Royal Army Medical Corps one of whom was Marie's first cousin Clifford English.
Ronald Ritson, who was one of Clifford English's best friends in the Medical Corps, read Marie's letter. Ronald was originally from Scilly Banks, near Whitehaven in what was then the county of Cumberland. Scilly Banks was a small village of about twenty dwellings and a Brethren Chapel. It is now in the county of Cumbria.
Ronald and Marie started to write to each other and exchanged photographs. Things stayed like this for a while. Then Cliff English left the Unit and was posted elsewhere. This is how Ronald explained it to me on one occasion:
‘‘Well then, there was this young fellow that I had met up with in Aldershot. They called him Private Clifford English. Now, he left us after a while. I don’t know where he went to start with. I think he finished up in North Africa and Italy. We were training up at Inverness then.’’
‘‘But while I was in Inverness, I got another letter from my future wife. She told me that she had met her cousin, who was Private Cliff English then. He made corporal later on. Anyway, they must have got talking, and he had likely given her my pedigree, I suppose! So she sent me another letter and I sent a letter back, and so on. We kept in touch.’’
The two Pen Pals, Marie and Ronald, kept writing to each other for some time. After a while, Ronald’s Unit was moved from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands to near Portsmouth on the South coast of England. This is how Ronald explained to me what happened next:
‘‘So when we went down near Portsmouth, they used to let us have some weekend leave. But, living so far away in Cumberland, I just couldn't take any extended leave. However, I could take a twenty-four hours leave. So I went to Marie’s Mam and Dad's place in South Norwood and stayed there for twenty-four hours in London.
This was when we first met, really. Otherwise, we had just been pen-friends up until then. My future wife's family were called Cranfield, so she was called Marie Cranfield. I must have spent about three weekends with them I suppose.’’
Marie’s home address was 47 Huntley Road, South Norwood, London SE25. Ronald’s letters were sent either to that address or sometimes to a different address depending where Marie happened to be billeted by the WRAF, such as Eastcote, Ruislip. Eventually, in 1944 Marie and Ronald became engaged, as Ronald explained:
‘‘Now, when we used to meet up, we used to talk about getting engaged. Well, I wasn't too keen really to begin with. Mainly because I said to her that I didn't think I would come back! Marie asked me why I thought that.’’
‘‘So I said "Well there's going to be this going overseas. I have two brothers at home so I'm the only one that's come into the army." Being among the first to go across into the war zone that turned out to be Normandy, I didn't think I'd have much chance coming back alive. However, we did get engaged before D-Day. It was before D-Day.’’
Letters from the Frontline
Ronald took part in the Normandy Landings and landed at Sword Beach on 8 June 1944. He subsequently travelled through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Writing letters home became even more special when Ronald was with the colours on active service in mainland Europe. When I asked Ronald about letter writing from the Front line, this is what he said:
‘‘I used to write home to my father and mother and my two brothers that were at home at that time, Tom and Joe. Then I used to write to my Pen Friend Marie in London, who was by then my fiancée.
Of course, as you know, Marie later became my wife. I think we did pretty well really getting letters through. They might have been held up sometimes but this was probably for some good reason. But generally with letters, they did get through.’’
On the evening of Tuesday 11 July 1944,Ronald wrote a letter while in his camp at Plumetot, Calvados. Just a few hours before Ronald had driven his CO Major Hargreaves into newly-liberated Caen and witnessed scenes he later told me were ‘indescribable’. In the letter he mentions none of this. In a wartime frontline letter, specific references to places and names are avoided. This is a transcript of that letter addressed to ‘2033627 ACW1 M.F. Cranfield, London’:
‘‘Private R. Ritson,
26 Field Hygiene Sect.,
Tues 11 July
My Darling Marie,
Today I have received another of your most welcome letters. I‘m pleased you are keeping fine, as I am in the best of health. We all feel much better and happier since the day we landed.
Today we had bread for the first time since we left England and it was nice and fresh. I think it had been baked here by the Army. But it was lovely. Of course all our other food is in tins. It’s very good, but nothing like the food cooked at home.
Well darling I hope you have heard from your Mum and Dad. But I have a feeling they will be much safer where they are for the time being.
The letter which I have received is dated Friday 7 July. So it hasn’t taken very long has it dear? Now they are coming in by air, it’s very good.
I hope you are getting some of my letters dear, also a few bars of chocolate which I sent off over a week ago. And I have sent lots of letters off, so I do hope you are getting some darling.
We have still got our wireless, and get some good music on. It’s grand to know it’s coming from home. We have just heard General Montgomery on the wireless and should say a recording from over here, but I think it‘s very heartening. What do you think Marie?
I keep hearing from home, and Mother writes to be remembered to you, and hopes you are keeping well and sends her best regards to your people and hopes your Dad is getting much better. I had a letter from my pal and he asked had I brought you out there, and says I must take you up there even if it is on my next leave (if we get any). Even my relations always ask about you. So you are going to be very welcome no doubt.
There are one or two of my old pals over here, some were from my own village. It’s rather funny with only being a few houses there are three of my pals, four including myself and I have a feeling there is another one which must make five. So, it’s quite a lot considering there are only twenty houses there. But I haven’t met any of them yet. I may do, one never knows.
Well darling, I think that is about all I have for the moment. So in the meantime, please take good care of yourself and keep your chin up. I’m always thinking about you, darling. So Cheerio for now and the best of luck.
All my love,
On Thursday 8 February 1945, Ronald and Marie married at St Chad’s Church, South Norwood, London. Mainly because they were originally ‘Pen Pals’, the story of their wedding was the lead story in the local Norwood newspaper, ‘Norwood News’ published on Friday 16 February 1945. Both of them continued to serve in the Forces until in November of that year Ronald was released to return to his former job as a coalminer at Walkmilll Colliery, Moresby Parks in what is now Cumbria. Originally, because of housing shortages, they had to live in the same cottage as Ronald’s parents and younger brother at a place called Scilly Banks. Although there was no Mains electricity, they were able to obtain fresh food and there was candlelight, oil lamps, running water and a battery-powered ‘wireless’.
Marie and Ronald saved virtually all of their wartime letters in a box. From time to time they would look through the letters, read them again and think of past experiences, both good and bad. During the war, many of the letters were shown to close friends in their unit when they were received. However, after the war probably only Marie and Ronald ever read these personal wartime letters.
Some years later Marie and Ronald decided to place their wartime letters into a sealed box and place it in the ground. Although the exact location where they buried the box is unknown, it is thought this may be in the Scilly Banks / Moresby Parks area in Cumbria, near their first home. .
As with many others with experiences of World War Two Marie and Ronald talked very little about their wartime experiences to others, and especially the post-war generations. The main reason was that no-one asked them! They retained several items to remind them about wartime, such as photographs, the newspaper article about their wedding and a couple of letters they had written.
It was some time after Marie passed away in 1990 that Ronald told me about his wartime experiences to help with my research for a university project. It was only then I learnt, and perhaps began to understand for the first time, the extent that World War Two was indeed a «People’s War». Everyone who lived through those times must have had experiences that should be recorded and remembered. In Marie and Ronald’s case, Normandy and Norwood were two places that would always remain in their memories.
Contributed originally by ritsonvaljos (BBC WW2 People's War)
Some years ago I was researching the Battle of Normandy and World War Two for a university project. I asked one of my uncles for assistance as he had served with the RAMC during the war, taken part in the Normandy Landings, Battle of Normandy and other battles before V.E. Day on 8 May 1945. During the World War Two he was 7517826 Private Ronald Ritson, RAMC. He signed a form to say I could write about the events of his life, that they could be donated to an archive that could be read by others.
One day, Ronald said to me “You do know I was two days late for my own wedding?” When I said I didn’t know of this, Ronald told me about the events in February 1945 when he married his fiancée. During the war she was known as 2033627 ACW1 Marie Florence Cranfield. Unfortunately, by the time Ronald told this to me Marie had passed away. Hence I was unable to record Marie’s version of events that, looking at retrospectively, seem unusual even for World War Two.
However, Ronald did have a contemporaneous copy of ‘Norwood News’ dated 16 February 1945 that had featured Marie and Ronald’s wedding as the front page lead story that day. I have used these and other sources to write the account of Marie and Ronald’s wedding. I believe it is an accurate account of what happened based on the evidence.
One of the things that the official authorities encouraged during World War Two was writing letters. For many people it was the first time many young people had been away from home for any length of time. Many local newspapers played a part in this strategy by encouraging people to write in and find a ‘Pen Pal’ and exchange letters and even photographs. One of the local newspapers that helped with this was ‘Norwood News’. Its main circulation area covered an area of south London covering Norwood, Thornton Heath and Croydon.
In 1942 Leading Aircraftswoman Marie F. Cranfield was 19 years old and was one of those who started writing to a ‘Pen Pal’. By chance this was a Private Ronald Ritson a soldier in the Royal Army Medical Corps who came from the small village of Scilly Banks near Moresby Parks in what was then Cumberland, and today is in Cumbria. By further coincidence, one of Ronald’s best friends in the RAMC was one of Marie’s cousins, Private Clifford English, also from South Norwood, London.
It was through Cliff English that Marie and Ronald met in person for the first time. Eventually, early in 1944 they became engaged. Marie continued to serve with the WRAF in the London area including, it is believed, a posting at RAF Uxbridge. For his part, Ronald landed at Sword Beach, Calvados (Normandy) on 8 June 1944, eventually moving into Belgium and the Netherlands.
Throughout the period while Ronald was in Normandy and Marie in Norwood, they continued writing to each other on an almost daily basis. Marie and Ronald began to make plans for their wedding and began putting aside a little money to pay for it. Ronald’s four shillings a week (20 New Pence!) was no use to him while in Normandy.
On 17 June 1944 Ronald received a little help to arrange things from his Commanding Officer, Major Hargreaves. The CO wrote to Mrs Hargreaves, also back home in Britain, asking her to assist Marie and Ronald to set up a Post Office Savings Account and arrange Ronald’s magnificent sum of four shillings a week to be paid into it. This was a small act of kindness by Dr and Mrs Hargreaves that was never forgotten. It is recorded here so that it is acknowledged and also that others will know how important such apparently insignificant acts were during World War Two.
Eventually, in the New Year of 1945, Marie and Ronald were able to set a date for their wedding day. By this time Major Hargreaves had left Ronald’s Unit to take up a Staff job in Paris. By this time Ronald’s Unit, 26 FHS, was in the Netherlands, close to the German border and the Siegfried Line. So it was that Major B. Mann, the new CO, kindly arranged that he could have leave, travel to London and marry Marie.
Naturally, with Ronald at the frontline in Europe, it was Marie and her parents and sister who made virtually all the arrangements. The wedding was arranged for Tuesday 6 February 1945 and would take place at St Chad’s Church, South Norwood. The reception was booked for the Hol-Mesdale Road Baptist Church. Marie had a wedding dress made and also one for her sister Joyce who would be bridesmaid. By coincidence, Marie’s cousin and Ronald’s friend Cliff English had won a five week’s ballot leave from the Sanitation Section of the RAMC he was then serving with in Italy, so he too would be at the wedding.
With it being wartime, only a few of Ronald’s close family were able to travel to London for the wedding. They lived over 300 miles away near the West Cumbrian town of Whitehaven. In wartime sometimes even the closest of relations were unable to attend family events such as weddings, christenings or funerals if they were needed elsewhere for the war effort. Ronald himself had been unable to obtain leave for his brother Tom’s wedding earlier in the war. Nevertheless, Ronald’s mother and two brothers were able to travel to London for the wedding.
The Wedding Day
Ronald should have arrived at Norwood on Monday 5 February the day before the wedding. His relatives arrived that day by train and were accommodated with Marie’s relatives nearby. Ronald however, did not appear. The wedding day came and went and there was still no bridegroom. Nor was there any word from him. In circumstances like this, no news is not good news.
So the arrangements were postponed until the following day. Wednesday came and there was still no bridegroom, and still no word. So the wedding was put off yet again. I asked my Uncle Tom about this and he said, “I said to them I didn’t think he was going to turn up!” My father Joe Ritson remembered he saw and heard a German ‘doodlebug’ for the first time, and that the Londoners just went about their business in spite of it.
Meanwhile, Ronald the bridegroom was rather ‘lost in France’ not knowing what to do. He had got as far as Calais and was then unable to cross the English Channel because of stormy weather. In those days, especially with there being a war on, there was no means of telephoning or sending a message to let anyone know what was going on. The ‘Norwood News’ headline about the event stated,
“Wedding Twice Postponed: The Bridegroom had to wait across the Channel. The Ship was held up until storm abated”
However, while crossing the Channel, Ronald was able to send a ship-to-shore telegram to Marie to say he was on the way. At last, the wedding could go ahead! According to ‘Norwood News’, “It all ended happily for Norwood Pen Friends”.
So Marie Florence Cranfield was married to Ronald Ritson at St Chad’s Church on Thursday 8 February 1945. The priest was a Father Corrocan and the organist a Miss Brown. Tom Ritson, Ronald’s elder brother, was the Best Man and Joyce Cranfield the bridesmaid as had been originally planned.
Somehow, Marie had managed to obtain a white crepe-de-Chine wedding dress, halo and orange blossom and carried red tulips. Her sister and bridesmaid Joyce wore powder blue taffeta with a matching net and carried pink tulips. There was only one photograph of the wedding, of the bride and groom, the bride’s parents, the Best Man and the Bridesmaid. The wedding photograph didn’t even make it into the ’Norwood News’ article!
There were about thirty guests at the wedding. However, because the Baptist Church hall had another prior booking for the Thursday, the guests were entertained at Marie’s family home. Marie and Ronald then went on honeymoon to Ronald’s home village of Scilly Banks in what is now Cumbria. It must have seemed a rather tranquil place after all the events in Norwood! Because of the delayed wedding, Marie had to obtain a few days’ leave extension from the WRAF. She received the telegram granting this leave while at Scilly Banks.
Cliff English, who by this time was a corporal in the RAMC, also got married during this leave, on Saturday 17 February 1945. No doubt that wedding was a rather more organised event than Marie and Ronald’s wedding had turned out.
The events that happened at many wartime weddings seem extraordinary when looked at years afterwards. At the time, and to those who lived through World War Two it may have been that events did not seem so extraordinary, whether they were bad or good. Perhaps this partly explains why for many years I knew hardly anything about what is really a good and happy memory of the war.
Marie’s wedding day, in spite of everything that happened, must have been one of the happiest of her life. Unfortunately, we cannot now ask for Marie’s view of what happened. It cannot have been every wartime bride who had the bridegroom lost in France.
Marie and Ronald enjoyed many years together, living at various times either in South Norwood, London or in and around Whitehaven, Cumbria and had four children. Marie passed away in October 1990 and Ronald in July 2000. I am pleased to honour their memory by writing this memory of World War Two.
Contributed originally by Canterbury Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Chris Hall for Kent Libraries and Archives and Canterbury City Council Museums on behalf of Shelagh Worsell and added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was just 12 years old when war was declared. It was a depressing time for months prior to the declaration. I felt bewildered and numb and had difficulty understanding why mum and dad were looking so sad. One of my brothers was already in the Merchant Navy and my other brother was signing up in the RAF .My father was politically interested and had the news on all the time. We all had to keep quiet because the sound from our wireless would fade away and then come back again. Within a week or so of the declaration of war the schools arranged evacuation and my parents asked me whether I would like to go (1 think it was to Devon or South Wales). I said I wanted to stay. Dad came up and squeezed my shoulder, I knew he was pleased. Then the Vicar asked if l would join his daughter who was going to a private house in the country somewhere. I wouldn't go.
My school days became one week mornings only and one week afternoons. This way we were able to have as many lessons as could be fitted in due to the shortage of teaching staff ; a lot of them went into the forces. A number of elderly retired teachers were called in to replace them. When the air raid sirens sounded we had to crawl under our single desks. At times we were on the top floor of the building and there was no time to get downstairs. I remember shaking with fear but at the same time giggling. We could see each other under the desks and our navy blue knickers were on display; we couldn't sit under the desks but had to kneel as low as we could. At the end of the school day I felt more secure walking home because mum or dad would usually meet me. Lunchtimes, if the all-clear had sounded, the teachers allowed us home and that was a ten minute run for me. There was fear in the air about you and I ran like the clappers, mum usually meeting me halfway.
My dad decided to have an Anderson shelter. A lot of the neighbours thought he was crazy, they mostly chose the Morrison shelters which went indoors. Dad dug a great big pit in the back garden, larger than what was required for the shelter, but dad had ideas! He concreted the base and up the sides. Once the shelter was in place, about four feet in the ground, he covered it with some tarpaulin and then some earth and to crown it he replaced his wonderful marrow plant he had removed to make way for the hole! His next job was a stirrup pump. This was situated in part of the extra piece he had dug out. It was plumbed in and we had to do 500 pumps in the morning and 500 pumps in the afternoon to keep the shelter dry inside. This task was, on occasions, used as a punishment when I did anything wrong. We had an old carpet laid down inside the shelter, dad built four narrow bunks, the top bunks letting down to enable us to sit on the lower ones. It was a tight squeeze in there and I think that is where my claustrophobia started.
We had light and a radio! Also our two cats had a home. The remainder of the extra piece dad had dug was made into two bunks for the cats! And they knew it was for them. At times the puss on top would lean over and put his paw down to see if the other one was there. Our dog had to be chained up outside the back door but he was under an extremely strong workman's bench with blanket and basket, water and a few bones. When I had homework to do I would go into the shelter to do it and then have tea, either in the house or in the shelter, depending on whether the sirens had sounded. At night, anytime after eight o'clock, I soon got into the habit of going to sleep directly the sirens sounded. We all slept in the shelter every night regardless of whether a siren went. To keep warm we had hot water bottles. Looking back I realise it was not easy for mum and dad, they were only in their mid forties and had no privacy together. To this day when I have worries -I sleep.
Dad was out most night’s fire spotting or doing whatever was needed. Mum had to arrange meals to fit in with what was happening. I recall one night dad didn't come home at all. The incendiaries had been falling all night and there were thousands and thousands dropped in our area. Then came the bombs. It was such a bad night. PENGE was the most bombed area for its size during the war. It was early morning when dad arrived home. You can imagine how anxious mum and I were. He told us there was no point in trying to get to school -the main road had been bombed and there was no way across to the other side.
He had arrived home filthy, tired and oh! So sad. I remember crying for him. He had seen so much destruction and had lost a number of friends and their families. He often went in a cafe in Clock House, Beckenham, but early this morning the cafe had been full of workmen having breakfast when a bomb wiped them all out.
Surprise, surprise in 1941, I won a scholarship to a school in Bromley. I was so excited; but dad and mum were constantly worried about the journey, however, they accepted the place I had won. Occasionally the number 227 bus to Bromley had to delay its journey due to either unexploded bombs or the sirens sounding. One of the most fearful things which gave me nightmares for many years were the floating landmines. I was more frightened of them than anything else.
The girls and I had a short walk from the bus stop along Wharton Road in Bromley to the school. Just as we were going through the school gate to cross the playground a German plane flew in low and then made another sweep just as we crossed the playground and deliberately strafed the school with bursts of fire. I don't think anyone was hurt but the Germans knew exactly what they were firing on, their height made the school and us so visible to them.
When things got pretty hairy with raids, my dad opened up the fence between our immediate neighbours and ourselves so that they could join us in our shelter if they wished. They had opted for a Morrison. Another person who joined us in our shelter was a cousin. I recall the strange situation of four females sitting 'in the garden' past midnight, looking at jewellery and laughing our heads off at photographs. Dad and the Mr neighbour were busy elsewhere. Whilst we were in the shelter the heavy thump of bombers were continuously passing overhead on their way to the London Docks. Somehow or other we knew where they were heading. Midway through the war the days seemed to be long and sunny. We watched the dog fights against bright blue cloudless skies and would give great cheers when we saw a German plane smoking and descending fast to earth and then shouts would go up as we saw a parachute. I am writing this as though we took it all in our stride. I suppose in a way we did. The early fear seemed to have subsided and it proves the point that familiarity breeds contempt.
In 1943, I had left school and was working in an engineering office, when the girl I was working with was told to go home. She only lived a street away from me and I went with her. Her mum had been at their front gate saying goodbye to the son who was returning from leave to his RAF station. He was up the road when a V2 exploded. Mum was killed but the boy was o.k. I suppose we became rather blasé about the war; being in the wrong place at the wrong time was something we could not do anything about.
Dreadful, dreadful days when the Doodlebugs arrived.
It had been quiet for a few weeks and mum allowed me to go to the cinema at the end of the road for a matinee showing "Love Story". As I was walking home, still in daylight, I heard sweet melodic whistling coming from behind. The tune was "Cornish Rhapsody" from the film. Quite unconcerned and enjoying the music, I was suddenly pushed in the back and fell to the ground in the gutter with a body on top of me! It was only a few seconds but seemed to be ages and ages before I could move. Then I was gently lifted to my feet and a voice was apologising. It was a young man, a neighbour of ours. He had heard the engine cut out of a Doodlebug (which in my dreamy state) I had not heard. He apologised if he had hurt me but all I felt was tenderness towards him for we both knew the dreadful weapon had landed just a street away. I'll never forget him. I never ever regretted not being evacuated. I was, in a way, proud to have gone through the war with mum and dad (my sister had joined the WRNS early 1941 ). I know mentally for a while I was scarred; today I can not look up into the night sky at the moon, stars or any phenomena which may be there. My nightmares have often brought those dreadful years back, but I know that I grew up to be a stronger person. I have not been able to cry easily. I stopped myself crying, particularly when my brothers and sister had to return from leave to their bases. I didn't cry because I didn't want to upset mum and dad anymore than they were already.
Reminiscences of SHELAGH (PERCIVAL) WORSELL.
Contributed originally by Elizabeth Gay (BBC WW2 People's War)
World War II through the eyes of a child living in London.
Towards the end of August 1939 my family and I were on holiday near Swanage in Dorset. War seemed imminent; we had to cut short our holiday in order to return home and buy blackout material for all the windows in our house — a government decree. I had just had my ninth birthday. I attended Sydenham High School in South East London with my sister who was fifteen and it was decided that, London being too dangerous a place for children, the whole school should be evacuated to Brighton and join forces with Brighton and Hove High School which was another member of the Girls’ Public Day School Trust.
After war was declared on September 3rd we all assembled in the school grounds not knowing when we were going to leave. We had to say goodbye to our parents every day until finally the day of departure was decided and we were herded on to a train bound for Brighton. Each of us carried a gas mask and a small tin of “iron rations” which contained chocolate and raisins. The train got as far as Haywards Heath and then, because of a supposed bomb on the railway line, we all had to get off. We hung around on the platform for what seemed ages before eventually continuing on our journey and arriving after dark, tired, bewildered and homesick.
My sister and I were billeted with a Mr. & Mrs. Cook at number 25 Wilbury Crescent, Hove. Mr.Cook was a brother of our family doctor but he and his wife were complete strangers to us. An invasion by the enemy was anticipated at any minute, especially after the fall of France, so what the logic was behind the decision to send us to the south coast I shall never know. We used to sit on the beach oblivious to the danger until we saw people gesticulating madly at us and shouting above the wind that the air raid warning siren had gone off and enemy bombers were heading for the English coast.
Eventually the whole school was brought back to Sydenham just before Christmas 1939 and there it stayed for the rest of the war remaining open, even though there were at one point only 25 pupils attending. My sister and I were among them. Many of our lessons were held in the basement deep below the main structure of the school. It is worth noting that despite the constant disruption of our lessons and the disturbed nights during the Blitz, we all passed our exams.
As a family we tried to carry on as normal a life as possible. My mother refused to let the war get in the way. During the school holidays we went on bike rides to the country and had picnics. If there was an air raid warning we just went into the nearest air raid shelter and waited for the “all clear” siren.
On one occasion I went with my mother and father by bus to Shirley Hills near Croydon for a picnic. It was mid-August 1940. No sooner had we arrived but an air raid warning sounded and we had to take shelter. Peering outside we witnessed an incredible air battle going on in the sky in front of us. The sky seemed to be full of aircraft diving from every direction with dog fights raging and the horrific sight of planes on fire spiralling into the ground. The noise was deafening and very frightening. Afterwards, we realised that we had witnessed one of the early conflicts of the Battle of Britain taking place near Biggin Hill which was in the direct line of sight from Shirley Hills.
All through the Blitz our family stayed in South East London despite the nightly bombing and the windows being blown out on many occasions. We had no air raid shelter at that time, neither an indoor “Morrison Shelter” which was like a reinforced steel table, nor an “Anderson Shelter” dug into the ground outside. My parents were worried about the safety of their children so my brother and I were sent to stay with a cousin who lived in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire to escape the relentless nightly bombing. My brother was 14½ and I was just 10. We had only been in Aylesbury for two or three days when, during the night of Wednesday 25th September 1940, a damaged German bomber, trying to limp home after a raid, decided to jettison the landmine that was still on board. The bomb exploded extremely close to my cousin’s house, The Old Barn, which was very badly damaged. I was in bed sound asleep when the landmine exploded and the first thing I remember was feeling a tremendous weight on my bed. I awoke to find that the plaster from the ceiling had fallen on the bed and I had a struggle to get out from underneath. I groped in the pitch darkness for my shoes but being unable to find them I had to make my way barefoot across broken glass and splinters and then downstairs to join the family. Mercifully no one was hurt although we were all badly shaken. My brother, who was saying his prayers at the time, was saved when the internal wall to his bedroom inexplicitly fell in the opposite direction to the line of blast. He swears to this day that it was divine intervention!
Early on, during the war, we children were warned of the dangers of anti-personnel bombs. These were innocent looking objects lying in the road in the form of cigarette packets or matchboxes which contained enough explosive to mutilate or blow a hand off. We were told never to pick up anything in the street.
The A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) organisation gave instruction to the civilian population on how to deal with incendiary bombs. Every family was supplied with a sand bucket and a stirrup pump to douse any fire with water except in the case of a phosphorous incendiary bomb when the use of water was forbidden because it would have scattered the phosphorous, which continues to burn on water and would have turned one fire into dozens more.
My mother queued every day for anything that was off-ration such as sausages or fish. She met people in the queue who were happy to exchange tea coupons for sugar coupons or visa versa depending on what you were short of. We were allowed 1/2d (6 pence) worth of meat per person per week which did not amount to much and 2 oz of butter each which was later increased to 4 oz. Offal, such as liver, was off-ration but a notice on the butcher’s door nearly always said “No offal”. Sometimes we were able to buy whale meat which was tough and lacked flavour. We had to economise on electricity so only 5 inches of hot water was all that we were allowed when we had a bath, which was often only once a week. We painted a line on the side of the bath and were careful not to exceed it.
I kept a diary in 1944 and on Thursday 15th June I mentioned pilot-less planes for the first time. These would have been the first flying bombs later known as Doodlebugs. They began coming over night after night, in fact the Croydon area where we lived was the worst hit. The Doodlebugs exploded all around us causing much loss of life. On Saturday 17th June I noted that we had five air raid warnings in the morning alone. We brought our beds downstairs as it was too dangerous to go to bed upstairs. On Wednesday 21st June we spent all day in a nearby air raid shelter. Our house windows were blown out time after time. On Wednesday night 28th June a doodlebug exploded nearly opposite our house killing five of our neighbours. Some other neighbours who survived came and stayed the night with us. They arrived on our doorstep coughing, bedraggled, covered in dust and deeply shocked. On July 7th my school broke up early because of the bombing. The bombing continued nearly every night all through the month of July 1944 and into August. However by the 2nd September I wrote in my diary that we spent our first night upstairs in our own beds for the first time for eleven weeks. On September 7th it was officially announced that the Flying Bomb War in London was over and the blackout was partially lifted. Little did we know that there was even worse in store for us in the form of the V2 Rockets which came out of the blue, silently with no noise or advance warning. I first mentioned a V2 Rocket in my diary on Tuesday 19th September 1944. It fell some 4 miles away from us, but then they became more frequent and gradually came nearer. One Thursday in early November, probably the 9th, a V2 Rocket exploded in the air above my school. If the explosion had happened a few minutes later all the children would have been playing outside in the grounds as it was just before break time. Luckily there were no casualties. It was a miracle because the hockey pitch where we normally played was literally covered with hundreds of huge, jagged, brightly shining pieces of metal from the rocket. From the windows of our school we had seen black specks high in the sky which fell rapidly until they clanked heavily on the roof. One or two of us went and collected some of the pieces and hid them in our shoe bags but this was this strictly forbidden and they were all confiscated. As far as I know this was the only V2 Rocket to explode in the air over Britain, if it had not done so I would not be here nearly 60 years later to tell the tale.
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