High Explosive Bomb at Dukes Avenue
High Explosive Bomb :
Source: Aggregate Night Time Bomb Census 7th October 1940 to 6 June 1941
Fell between Oct. 7, 1940 and June 6, 1941
Dukes Avenue, Stanmore, London Borough of Harrow, HA8 8AB, London
56 20 NW - comment:
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Contributed originally by Holywood Arches Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by A Scott of the Belfast Education & Library Board / Holywood Arches Library On behalf of Edward Cadden [ the author ] and has been added to the site with his permission.
The author fully understands the sites terms and conditions.
Preparation for War
My father was born in June 1902 and named Edward after the newly crowned King.
He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles in 1921 and the Battalion was posted overseas. They sat in the troopship in Golden Horn Straits for 2 weeks waiting for politicians to decide whether to invade Turkey following Kemal Pasha’s expulsion of Greek occupation troops.
Then to Egypt for 2 years in support of the civil power with a successful spell of ceremonial duties at the coronation of King Faud.
To Poona in India where in 1927 the regiment became the Royal Ulster Rifles and with full military honours a coffin containing R.I.R. rubber stamps, headed paper and shoulder badges was laid to rest in Wellington Barracks with a headstone inscribed R.I.R. R.I.P. R.U.R.
A short leave to Belfast in 1928 were he married my mother Jane and my sister Jean was born in Poona in December 1929.
After an unpleasant stint in steamy Madras the Battalion sailed for home in 1932 but the men were disembarked in the Sudan to prevent Mussolini extending his ambitions after conquest of Abyssinia. The enforced tour lasted to 1934. Just over 2 years in the UK at Catterick and the Isle of Wight then off to Palestine in 1937 for active service against the ancestors of the 21st Century Palestine Freedom Fighters.
In the 16th Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier Bernard Law Montgomery the Battalion developed novel tactics in Galilee of highly mobile ground forces with close air support by RAF units commanded by Group Captain Arthur Harris all this was relevant to World War 2 for without the long tempering of experience for officers, N.C.O.S. and senior riflemen the unit could not have stood up to the campaigning of that war. On return to the UK in 1939 it was clear that war with Germany was coming and a massive refit was landed on the unit with my Dad as R.Q.M.S. (Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant) and experienced weapons instructor in the midst of it. The personal uniform and equipment which had remained virtually unchanged since 1908, with the addition of a steel helmet and gas respirator in WW1, was all changed. In came the short blouse battledress and a new pattern of webbing equipment.
Many new vehicles were added to the unit’s equipment including tracked Bren-gun carriers. New wireless equipment required new specialists and new operational methods. The light machine gun — the Lewis was replaced with a Czech weapon for which Enfield had got a production licence just before Hitler added the rest of Czechoslovakia to the Sudetenland.
The BRNO-Enfield — the Bren arrived in quantity but without instruction manuals. It was entirely different to the Lewis so Dad and other instructors had to teach themselves how it worked by rule of thumb and experience. A rather useless anti-tank weapon appeared also - the Boyes rifle. Supported by a bipod this had a magazine of 5 half-inch calibre steel bullets which in theory would penetrate a tank’s armour and ricochet around inside causing havoc to the crew.
Experienced men were posted off to help form new units and replacements had to be trained from scratch. Dad at one stage had to teach the laying of barbed wire entanglements with balls of twine bought in Woolworth.
The Phoney War
The newly promoted Major General Montgomery managed to get most of the units from his 16 infantry brigade incorporated in his new command — 3rd Division. The main defensive problem was spotted as soon as the division arrived in France. The gap from the end of the Maginot Line to the coast along the Belgian border the Rifles were based in Tourcoing and like the rest of the Division busied themselves with training and with construction of prepared positions of trenches, sangars, barbed wire and mines to oppose any advance from Belgium.
My Dad’s hard work was lightened (I hope) by my birth on 7 January 1940 in Belfast. Their commander’s puritanical, even Cromwellian style of command led to 3rd Division’s proudly borne nickname of “Monties Ironsides” my dad received leave to inspect his new son in late spring and headed back to France just in time for the German offensive.
Just before the crucial moment Montgomery was moved off to command a new division and hand-over take-over added to the confusion.
The rapid collapse of Dutch and Belgian armed forces caused the Division to be moved out of the prepared positions and rushed forward to hold the Eastern border of Belgium. The German tactics were on a much grander scale those practiced by 16 Infantry Brigade in Palestine. Before fresh troops could replace 3rd Division the German armour punched through Tourcoing and did not stop before reaching Bayonne and a French surrender. The rifles and their Scots and other comrades found themselves not part of a coordinated defence but a lonely rearguard to slow the Germans and permit evacuation of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk and adjacent areas.
R.U.R. were defending Louvain, or more properly since it is a Flemish area Leuven.
Fortunately German armour was engaged elsewhere but the infantry fighting was fierce. At one stage opposite platforms of the railway terminal were occupied by Germans and by the Rifles. An enterprising Bren-gunner to make the Germans believe defence was heavier would fire a magazine then run along the pedestrian subway and fire a second magazine.
Ammunition ran low and at nightfall Dad set off with transport to fetch supplies from the rear depot. Arriving there he found R.Q.M.S.’s from other units in frustration because the depot had decamped. Dad asked an impolite major where supplies could be found and was told the coast. A conference with the other unit reps. and Dad decided to lead a dash to the coast. The major butted in to remark that it was thought the Germans had cut the road to the coast. “How can we get there?” asked Dad “fight your way through” snapped the major Dad thought this comic as his detachment had one Bren and an anti-tank rifle with only 2 rounds of armour piercing. However Dad and the Rifles in the lead they reached the coast overloaded with ammo and headed back. The ammunition was delivered safely to Leuven and some years later Dad found one of the W.O.s who had followed his lead from another unit had got a M.B.E. for the effort. The Rifles regarded such action as Dad’s as par for the course in their outfit.
It became clear that the holding action might result in the destruction of the Battalion so Dad was given a party of specialists and long-service N.C.O.s essential to the creation of new unit and told to get them to G.B..
They reached the beaches at Bray dunes near Dunkirk where some troops had abandoned their personal weapons and 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns sat unmanned. Dad got every rifleman to collect a second rifle and the Bren-gunner to pick up a second Bren. He acquired a service Smith and Wesson revolver which he had for the rest of the war.
They were lifted off safely by the Ramsgate Lifeboat with their feet dry and taken to a “Sword” class destroyer off-shore which took them to England.
The 2nd R.U.R. was not destroyed but with other units of 3 Division fought back to the coast and were evacuated depleted but unbroken.
Becoming a Gentleman by Royal Commission
Montgomery instead of taking a break came back and assisted with the resurrection his “Ironsides” and then headed off to a new command.
Apart from replacement of equipment lost in Belgium some new items arrived including some Thompson sub machine guns from the U.S.A.. Efforts had to be made to create command structures and defensive positions to deal with the anticipated invasion. Dad got some leave to visit us in Belfast but was kept busy through late summer and early autumn.
Then he was commissioned as a Lieutenant. A W.O.I. when commissioned skipped 2nd lieutenant otherwise he would be paid less than his existing grade when promoted.
A course at O.T.U. to teach Dad techniques of command, traditions and military law and manners of which he knew more than his instructors.
His first posting was as Lieutenant Quartermaster to a training depot for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the predecessor of the Womens Royal Army Corps. These young women did not go into the front-line like their 21st century descendants but did mechanical, signalling and admin tasks to free up men for front-line service.
We joined him in the depot’s base town Dorchester in an underoccupied home requisitioned in part as married quarters in 1942 we experienced our first bombing as a united family.
When we arrived in late 1942 at our requisitioned quarters in Edgware shared with the Jewish owners, the Roes, the great blitz was in a lull. The Luftwaffe needed all the bombers it could get in Russia and the North African campaigns called for even more. The pattern was isolated “nuisance raids” by high altitude bombers or low-level sorties on the south-east by single or handfuls of fighter-bombers. The RAF as well as night-raids by heavy bombers was attacking targets in France and the Low Countries by day with fighters and light bombers. The USAAC was also testing the water with increasing strength there were municipal air raid shelters, the tube doubled as an air raid shelter and schools had mass shelters for pupils homeowners could get two types of prefab shelter. The Morrison for use in a well braced indoor area or the Anderson to be inserted in a hole in the garden. Surplus Andersons became coal-houses for post war prefab houses Dad was promoted captain and posted as Q.M. of the London Irish Rifles. This was a T.A. Battalion affiliated to the R.U.R. and drawing recruits from expatriates living in London. It like other T.A. units was supposed to provide an immediate war reserve for regular units. Over 3 years of war and the London Irish had not been got into action. My Dad and a batch of “old sweat” N.C.O.s and officers were posted in to give a kick start.
The main trouble was the shared experiences of members of the regular units with hard oversea postings and awkward operational contexts did not apply to the re-cycled civilians of the T.A.. There was no espirit de corps. One sample may illustrate the symptoms of a general malaise. On a kit inspection Dad found that a “rifleman” had sold off all negotiable items of his personal kit. Worn-out uniform items were commonly used as cleaning materials or waste containers. The miscreant presented a plausible assembly of spare clothing made from washed and ironed cleaning rags and cardboard. He had sold all the brass fittings for scrap and substituted dummies made of tin foil.
The Battalion got sorted out and was lined up for service in North Africa. Near departure a company commander developed an illness diagnosed as Plumbum Ostillendum. My Dad was about to be made Acting Company Commander and posted out when the authorising office pointed out that he was past the age-limit for active front-line service. Despite the false starts the unit stood the horrid pace well in North Africa and Italy.
Mum, my sister and I were posted back to Belfast when the London Irish Rifles departed because Dad was posted as a Q.M. of a secret base at Westward Ho near Bideford in Devon — the combined operations experimental establishment. The beaches there were similar to those in Normandy and tidal conditions, sea-levels and cliff features were also similar. A mixture of technical experts from all 3 services was gathered there with representation of the U.S.A. and other allies.
Much of the supply of specialised landing craft was tied up in the U.S. Pacific campaigns. The intended stockpile for Normandy was to be further depleted for landings in Italy.
Devices experimented with at Westward Ho were amphibious versions of Sherman and Churchill tanks, rocket firing landing craft, a DUKW amphibious lorry fitted with a fire brigade extending ladder to scale shoreline cliffs. A total disaster (fortunately without causalities) a huge rocket propelled wheel to explode minefields. The rockets fired out of sequence, the brute tipped over and proceeded to whirl towards the rapidly scattering spectators.
More mundane but successful machines were amphibious cable layers, Bailey Bridge carriers and bulldozers. A scale trial was made along the coast of the Mulberry Harbour. One of Dad’s missions involved a flight in an R.A.F. Proctor liaison aircraft from Chivenor to Pembrey to check the functioning of a trial laying of P.L.U.T.O. the pipeline under the ocean. This in full scale service would pump fuel from England to Normandy. The Q.M. of such a unit had to find often at short notice a myriad of components — some of them in no military inventory.
One of the engineering experts was Lieutenant Commander Neville Shute Norway. He had created the Airspeed Aircraft Company which had supplied the King’s flight with its first aircraft. The company’s Oxford twin engined trainer was one of the mainstays of R.A.F. wartime training systems, his company had been taken over by De Havilland. He was an author of Novels already by 1944 using his first two names Neville Shute. In a famous post-war novel “No Highway” he foreshadowed the Comet Airliner disasters with a fictional airliner plagued by metal fatigue. The inventiveness of the elite personnel was shown in more mundane ways. Childrens toys were almost unobtainable in 1944 and my Dad’s sergeant produced toys from scrap packaging and other materials.
I received a model of the French Battleship “Richelieu” usable on a wheeled frame or to float in the bath. There was a model also of a seep, and amphibious jeep and a long-lived Sherman tank model. Scrap packaging celluloid, .303 rifle chargers, washers and tail ends of brass and iron rods were incorporated and painting came from the dregs of paint left from finishing touches to the amphibious equipment.
A major pre D-Day disaster happened near the combined operations experimental establishment at Westward Ho when US troops practising amphibious landings were intercepted by E-Boats and suffered heavy causalities. The unit did not close with the success of D-Day for many rivers needed to be crossed before V.E. Day and Seaborne and Riverborne operations were necessary in the Far East.
With war’s end Dad decided that our family had been separated too often and a peacetime career even as a major would not help the development of a teenage daughter and a six year old son with postings to foreign parts. He decided to retire, take his pension and supplement it with a civilian job.
In 1946 a special job centre was established in Belfast for demobilising servicemen. Dad was delighted to find his neighbour in the queue was an N.C.O. who had served under his command. They chatted of times gone by and recent developments until they reached the parting of the ways. One lane was signed “Officers’ Posts” and the other “Other Ranks’ Posts”. They both emerged from their respective lanes as temporary Clerical Assistants Grade II in the N.I. Civil Service.
Regardless of any rank he may achieve subsequently a Rifleman is always a Rifleman. He is part of an elite unit who taught the rest of the army how to make war. His full dress uniform is dark green and his badges and buttons are black. He marches at 120 paces a minute and does not change gear going up hill. Regardless of drill practices by mere infantry with whatever firearm is current a rifleman shoulders arms never slopes arms and he marches past with the weapon at the trail.
No matter what other units call it a Rifleman’s bayonet is a sword and he fixes swords and never fixes bayonets. He must never be mistaken for a Light Infantry man who is merely a copy of the French Tirailleurs. Each Rifleman is an individual fighting unit which will operate on its own whether support is near or not. Before commandos, parachute regiments or S.A.S. the Rifleman had broken away from the lumpen proletariat of infantry of the line.
Indeed in the Royal Ulster Rifles one Battalion went into action on D-Day as airborne troops and the other on foot in traditional style.
In ceremonial Rifles have no colours their battle honours are on the drums of the band. When the band displaying old sweats may be singing sotto voce
“You may talk about your Queen’s Guards
Scots greys and all
You may talk about your kilties and the
forty second TWA
But of all the world’s great heroes
under the Queen’s command
the Royal Ulster Rifles are the
terror of the Land!”
“Quis Seperabit” the motto of the Knights of St Patrick is completed in original by “From the Love of God”. For a rifleman the unwritten follow on is “From love of my regiment.”
Contributed originally by hemlibrary (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the Peoples War web site by Hertfordshire Libraries working in partnership with the Dacorum Heritage Trust on behalf of the author, John Greener. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was born (1st June 1937) and grew up in Edgware, Middlesex (Queensbury, to be precise). Our address was 7 Millais Gardens, Mollison Way, Edgware. Edgware was right on the edge of London then - a sizeable sprawl of the mid-thirties house building explosion. Miles of, mostly terraced (Bauerhaus influenced) , wide windowed houses occupied by respectable upper working class families with aspirations. I think that most were quite happy in their brand new easy-to-run houses in the leafy suburbs - and then came the War.
My childhood memories consist mostly of always going to sleep with searchlights continously passing across the wall and the distant sound of bombs dropping and gun fire. During the day barrage balloons all across the sky and how nice and cosy and almost homely they looked. Air raid sirens and the feeling of dread they produced in your stomach. Of course, the legendary air raid wardens yelling “Put that light out” which infuriated my mother and she used to have angry rows with him. Funny green tape criss-crossed on the windows of underground trains (it was still there in the mid-50s). Air raid practise at school - this consisted of crouching under wash-hand basins until it all went away.My mother found out we were sheltering under these basins at the teacher’s direction and every time the air raid warning went off, she used to run round to the school and take me home.
I grew up in an extended family of extrovert and batty people - I was the only child in a family of eight of us - my sister was twelve when I was born so was almost grown-up. We had two adjoining mid-terrace houses - my Mum and Dad, my sister and I in one house and my mother’s two sisters and their husbands in the house next door. The women had bitter arguments and there was always one sister who was not speaking to another sister but they all had very strong loyalty to each other, bonded together by the horrors of growing up in the Camden Town slums at the beginning of the twentieth century. They all idolised me and whenever one of them found a treat in the shops - either over or under the counter - it would come my way.
When the air raid siren sounded we went en masse to the shelter in the street which was very damp and always flooded but Mum and her sisters decided that it wasn’t very healthy in there and the neighbours were doing unmentionable things to each other which they didn’t want me to see. Therefore we had three Morrison shelters - one for each family. I suppose by then it must have been about 1942.
My sister was eighteen in 1943 and was “called up”. She had the choice of going into the ATS, training to become a nurse or becoming a bus conductress or working in a factory. She chose to join the ATS. She hated the idea of being a nurse or going into a factory and Dad said he wouldn’t allow her to be a bus conductress because they were all tarts (he drove a no. 13 bus!) So then there were just Mum and Dad and I and the cat to sleep in the Morrison shelter.
One night (I think perhaps in the Autumn of 1944) the air-raid siren sounded and we moved into the Morrison to sleep. We were fast asleep in the middle of the night when there was a terrible red flash and flames racing up the wall and I screamed “Mum, we’re on fire”. Immediately after the flash came the noise of the doodle-bug crashing into a house round the corner. It has always seemed as if the reflected flash of the fire came first and then the sound of the bomb. I think Dad must have called out “Is everybody allright” . My mother was screaming hysterically. I was crying because the cat wouldn’t come in that night and I was convinced he must have been killed in all the devastation that seemed to be going on outside. We were right under the window and all the glass from these wonderful wall-to-wall curved Bauerhaus windows blew in. A big lump was chipped out of the piano.
My Dad said “If I have to put up that bloody front door any more I will go mad”. Uncle Ern next door rushed out to see if everyone was allright and cut his bare feet to ribbons on all the glass on the floor. Then there was the sound of fire engines and water hoses and the fire seemed to be all round us. A man kept running up and down the street screaming “My wife is dead. My wife is dead”. I don’t remember any more about that night but I found our cat Sandy hiding in the garden the next morning quite unharmed. That day or maybe several days afterwards I can remember standing in the pouring rain holding the hand of one of my uncles and looking up at our two roofs with all the tiles missing. Some Irishmen were scrambling about trying to fix tarpaulins on the roof and I can remember asking “Will it be allright” and the uncle said “Oh yes I’m sure it will be quite soon now”.
My Dad drove a no.13 bus from Hendon, through Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus and across (I think) Waterloo Bridge. He used to come home covered in soot from all the fires he had driven through and once stopped just before a huge bomb crater somewhere.
One night I couldn’t sleep. It must have been deep in the winter because I can remember feeling desperately cold. My dad was in the bathroom having a bath and when I heard the door open I called out “Dad, I can’t sleep. I’m so cold”. Dad’s hair was sticking up in spikes (like a punk) from being washed. He said that when he was in the trenches he used to wrap the blanket right round the back of his neck and tuck it in tight. I still do that now with a duvet and it does work.
My dad and Uncle Ern and Uncle Fred used to go fire watching in the flats across the road. They used to sit there all night playing cards and smoking and drinking brown ales. One night they must have all fallen asleep and one of them must have left a cigarette still burning - it set the flat alight and they had to run round to the ‘phone box and call for a fire engine!
My sister who was a good looking girl, came home on leave from time to time with various boyfriends who were in the Services. She also had several American boyfriends but they always seemed to be killed in Europe. She was also engaged to a boy called Frank Ritchie who was serving in the Navy - she used to work with him in a butcher’s shop in Burnt Oak before the war - I think he was the owner’s son. He was killed the day after the war finished. He was in a jeep with a gang of American soldiers - I guess they were celebrating the end of the war. The jeep crashed and he was killed. My sister was devastated and I don’t think she ever really got over it.
Uncle Ern’s sister Gwen was going up to Glasgow to join her sister. My mother was having a sort of nervous breakdown - it’s her nerves they used to say. They all decided I should go up to Glasgow to be away from the bombs and to give Mum a break. We had a nightmarish train journey up there. The train was tightly packed and I think we had to sit on our suitcases for the whole twelve hours it took to get there. The lights kept going out and the train kept stopping while the bombs were dropping. One of the soldiers on the train kept bringing us cups of tea.
I can remember when we got to Gwen’s sister’s house (the sisters had six children between them) she pointed to the Morrison shelter which was full of kids and said “You’ll have to sleep on the top. You can see there’s no more room in there!” I decided I wasn’t going to like it there. Then they made me take cod liver oil before I went to bed and also to drink Ovaltine made with water - Mum always made it with milk at home. So I thought I don’t like it here. I’m going to make such a pest of myself that they’ll send me home. So I kept crying and saying I was homesick and wanted to go home. I used to listen to them talking when I was supposed to be in bed and very soon they were saying “We’ll have to send her home. She’s a horrible child”.
I was there for a month so I did quite well really. I had a great time playing with the children though. I think I did the journey home on my own and the whole family was there (apart from Dad, who was driving his bus, I expect). I had in a month acquired a very strong Glaswegian accent and my mother burst into tears and said she couldn’t understand a word I said.
We used to have wonderful Christmasses. Somehow, between them all they used to produce some wonderful food and lots of drink, despite wartime privations. We always used to have a chicken - a real once a year luxury then. The men always used to do a “turn” for Christmas night - once they each had a sand covered tray which they danced on, doing what they imagined were Egyptian type gestures, copying a comic music hall team whose name I have forgotten. They also loved dressing in drag and larking about. It was their proud boast that we were always the last people to still be celebrating in the whole street and we used to take great delight in doing the conger down the street and all singing very loudly just to wake the neighbours.
When I was a bit older my sister and I rehearsed some duets ( the only song I can remember now is “Sentimental Journey” - I did the descant, I think) to sing at the family Christmas party. During all of this Aunty Vi would sit in the corner, occasionally sipping a small sherry, looking very disapproving, and knitting furiously!
We were always quite hungry - there just wasn’t enough food in the shops most of the time. I think it was during the war that my mother brought home some whale meat. She didn’t know what to do with it so I think she just fried it. It was quite disgusting. Like eating very dense, very fishy liver.
Early in the war Mum and Dad decided to keep chickens. I regarded them as my best friends and used to sit in the hen house talking to them for hours. My favourite one was always pecking me. The smell of potato peelings stewing for hours was quite horrible but we did get fresh eggs - worth their weight in gold then, although they always seemed to be going broody and we had to leave a china egg in the broody one’s nest, which was supposed to encourage it to lay. When one of them got too old to bother any more, Mum used to keep nagging my Dad to ring its neck which he hated because they kept running round the garden even though they were dead.
One day, amazingly, a duck flew into the garden. I fell in love with it immediately and christened it Donald, of course. On my birthday we had a special meal with this rather strange meat . I remember thinking that it was Donald but that I’d eat it anyway and then look for him in the hen house and if he wasn’t there, I’d make a big fuss and cry a lot to show how upset I was.
I can remember going to the Victory celebrations and being carried high above everybody else on Uncle Fred’s (he was quite tall) shoulders.
That’s about it. My Dad and my uncles died many years ago. My mother died aged 95 living in an almshouse in the Hertfordshire village where I now live. My two aunts are still alive and living in care homes in Clacton-on-Sea - they are now 99 and 97.
Contributed originally by Michael McEnhill (BBC WW2 People's War)
When I got up on to my props to answer a question from the bleak, fat-faced schoolteacher, in the blackboard-fronted,inkwell desk and wooden pen-knibbed classroom era of London Colney Primary School, there was much hilarity.
Someone had shouted out 'Colney Hatch' and that was enough for the class to break into great shrieks of laughter, and for my face to shrivel to the size of a dried up cherry.
Of course, these kids with their spud holed socks and dirty snot nosed hankies for pimply war disturbed faces had got it wrong.They identified loose talk of the raving mad lunatic assylum of 'Colney Hatch' with the newly built one at Shenley where my father worked, with equal prejudice and unholy vehemence.
However,in truth, they were not far off the mark for my home backyard was literally in Shenley Hospital, and that housed some pretty seriously deranged patients.
And since the start of the Second World War it had taken on the dual role of serving as a military hospital.
It was to be here that Field Marshall Rundstedht was to be brought as a prisoner- of- war after being captured in the planned German breakout, Battle of the Bulge.
He was one of Hitler's top generals.Having seen action in the first World War he was brought back by the fuehrer to galvanize his forces to fight the immensely fierce, cruel battles along the Eastern Front, during the Second World War.
However, after defying Hitlers authority during this period he was redirected to another theatre of war, only to fall into the hands of the American forces.
By way of Wales, he came as a prisoner- of- war to serve out his time in our local hospital.
Of course, he could not have reckoned on taking on the North Avenue kids,(An English version of the Hollywood Dead End Kids) who lived in the mean hospital staff houses a cinder track away down rook caw croaking Cow Bank Woods.
Being a top commander in Hitler's highest echelon, part of his inner circle, he shared responsibility, in my eyes, for all the deadly incendiary that came out way. Less than twenty miles out of London, we came not alone within the orbit of De Havilland and Handley Page aerodrome, but within the compass of fighter command which was hunched down in a large bunker in Bentley Priory,Stanmore Hill a small bus ride to the west.
It was an invidious position for any wayward bombs directed to the capital and important airfields and military back-up would most likely descend on us. It was a terrifying prospect.
In fact, I remember many fear filled nights when we tumbled out of bed hearing the sharp drag, like barbed wire across glass, shrill scream of the air raid siren as it told of impending bombers in the night sky.
It was the signal for the adrenaline rush of panic as we fumbled for the bedroom door knob to quickly open it and scramble down the stairs.It was difficult to find the way for there were no street lights to cut through the dark and besides the windows were covered with sheets of black paper curtains.
At the very start of the war, I was just a small mite of a child, and was scooped up in my mother's arms and carried to the nearest hidey hole under the stairs, or if we thought there was more time, a dash would be made to the Anderson Shelter, a lawns length away from the back door.
Petrified we would hunch together and say some prayers. It was hard to believe we would survive.
I can remember the night we made a frantic run for the shelter and I was swaddled in my mother's arms. I felt a sliver of hot metal glance my bare arm and instantly my mother break in tears. She was besides herself with worry, maybe thinking I had been mortally hit. She tenderly kissed my arm,and stroked it until content in herself that some miracle had deflected the shrapnell that few millimetres away from causing permanent damage.
And when we were inside the shelter we were hardly less afraid. We felt little real safety there, it was always back to the prayers. The shelter was composed of a few sheets of corrugated iron holding up a bank of clay, sunk a few feet in the ground.
When bombs dropped close,the shelter would appear to take off, rising from the ground with cement and dust powdering the air, smothering the atmosphere and making its way into our nose and lungs leaving us brokenly tearful, gasping and cleaving for deliverance.
After the war the shelter served a more peaceful purpose as a concrete base for a small pond.
A number of incendiary bombs dropped in the hospital during the early part of the war drifting from the cricket pitch end to the front gates so that the whole place was covered in smoke.
Later on a huge landmine was dropped in the vicinity of the two hundred feet tower which having large water tanks at its topmost reaches supplied the wards with their precious supply.
Fortunately some of its parachute cord, its filigree of lace caught up in the branches of a large oak right next to the boiler house and within the shadow of the tower.
With great urgency it was tackled by a naval bomb disposal squad who managed to extricate the fuse safely. Had it exploded it could have sent a large part of the hospital and all the staff houses to smithereens, killing many people.
As it was apart from some structural damage to door jambs and a numbers of windows during the various bombing raids the hospital came through largely unscathed.
However, a large number of trenches were dug in the hospital grounds along with numerous air raid shelters for the protection of the patients.
As a family we of course would come across all sorts of military apparatus including anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, confounding our progress to get to the shanty sort of chapel as it were tacked on as a sort of afterthought to the long low built sanatorium blocks,almost alongside the domestic block, above the rookery wood and below the dense smoking, high chimney stack of the tower.
It would have been here that we would have witnessed the parephernalia of war in all its extremes.
Patients lay out under the glass roof of the sanatorium both day and night.Heavily bandaged war wounded and patients who sufffered from respiratory illnesses were treated in this part.
There would be a large red fire engine ready to roll housed in between the two sanatoriums. What looked like heavily built men with thick black brass buttoned jackets and strong looking headgear would alway be running back and forward priming the vehicle.
In the seemingly ramshackle put together chapel, Father Foley, a tall ascetic looking priest conducted the service with his back to the mixed congregation of nursing staff and their families, the war wounded and recovering, some soldiers, sailors and airmen, on leave and perhaps visiting patients, against a background of helmets,green camouflage scrim covered and loosely laid down with crutches and army packs, brass glinting.Through this would the waves of thurifer incense would waft into the solemn air while the stinky cloud of war tried to percolate through closed doors.
Fatty Johnson with his three pips as a captain in his territorial army uniform would sweat most profusely swiping his forhead, as he intoned the latin while kneeling on the bottom step of the altar.
It would have been at this point that I saw the chapel doors opened and an old man in striped pyjamas and dressing gown with some remnant of military poise was brought halteringly between two military policeman there contrasting fine blancoed bright dress absurdly contrasting with this down and out looking old gentleman, so obviously an enemy prisoner, allowed out for the small concession of fulfilling his habitual Sunday duty.
My father must have got wind of the arrival of our notorious prisoner by way of the Black Lion Pub which he frequented of a night after his stint of duty and where he got most information rather sooner than he would, from the higher ups in the administration.The Pub was located by the main gate of the hospital,at the top of a ridge, something like four hundred feet above sea level, looking north over St.Albans City, six miles distant. As a Charge Nurse he would have been in his uniform, sombre, dark grey and covered with a black mackintosh which reached below the knees.
I think they kept Von Rundstedht in the quarters by the male nurses home, The Jubilee, as it came to be called.
When you have a hospital designed to take two thousand patients and the many numbers of different grades of staff to manage them along with ancillary staff it would have been a miracle if his presence had remained a secret.
There is no doubting the fact that the eagle, even if wounded in flight, had landed in the very heart of Shenley, it would have excited such curiosity and emotion impossible to contain, that from the very first rumoured whisper of his arrival, the news would have gathered strength and redounded round the long dull corridors of the hospital.
It would have been from this period that the North Avenue kids went on an orgy of vandalism through the hospital grounds.
The rose garden alongside Jubilee was trampled and broken by vengeful hordes. Bamboo bushes served as cushions for desperate kids to jump on from tall brick built bomb shelters screaming and whining like stukas and spitfires diving into the morass. Stones were fast flung with a vengeance to break with a splintering crash the many panes of glass around wards.
We made up mud balls to fit onto long arrows of branches we got from the many bushes and trees within the grounds, made into primitive weapons we would launch the missiles high into the blocks breaking windows like ice.
A large fire was started into an immense oak tree, it was stuffed with dry grass and dry twigs, set afire and burnt out its guts while the fire engine had to be summoned to Cow Bank woods.
Reconnaisance missions were carried out at the tennis lawns by the nursing home, anyone suspicious was reported on.
We commandeered a neglected a mortuary trolley and when the lids were fastened down on one of our number we pushed it around the corridors at high speed rattling past mentally disturbed patients who were amazed to see this metal box like rocket ship bearing down on them.When there was any dangere of being caught we parked our deadly vehicle by the mortuary and climbed up, using any convenient object, to look above the glazed glass to see if there were any stiffs laid out, no doubt expecting to see some German opened up on the mortuary table.
It came to me, that it was like some poison gas was in the air, or sharp hot stink of fox contaminated those lads from the avenue, sending them half crazy in wanton damage in and around the hospital grounds.
Contributed originally by Herts Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
MUNICH CRISIS — EFFECT ON COMMUNITY IN EDWARE
This is the story of a suburban street at about one year before the War; it’s the gathering storm. And this letter, which I found in my attic after my parents had died, gives you some idea of what it was like in those times. I should explain that my Mother was German and my Father was English. My Mother by the time the war had come had become neutralised, so she had given up her German nationality and was legally English, but she had been born in Spanda in Berlin. My Father had visited Germany before the war for Kodak to start up a factory. She was a secretary to the firm that Kodak was taking over. They got to know each other, fell in love and got married in 1929. I was born 1931 and my sister in 1937.
We lived in Edgware at the end of the Northern Line. Suburbia - streets of semi-detached mock Tudor houses. We had 2 ½ bedrooms, I say 2 ½ because the third bedroom was more of a box bedroom. I remember there was a grass verge with cherry trees. There was lovely cherry blossom in the spring. Our neighbours were a mixed bunch. We were very cosmopolitan, a lot of German Jews escaping Nazi Germany, opposite lived the Cohen’s, next door to us on the left was Mrs Zhouke who was Russian, opposite again a bit further down the road was the Kemp’s. Mrs Kemp was a Dutch lady who was widowed. She had three daughters. My Father in fact was their surrogate Father if you like, he gave them away at their weddings, and he walked down the isle with them. Next door from us were Bert and Winnie Richmond. Burt had been in the 1st World War. He had a collapsed lung from being gassed. He always looked slightly miserable to me as a boy at that time. And now of course I understand why. As I have said, my mother was German. She had a family in Berlin. So I had one uncle in the British Navy and one uncle in the German Navy. What I am going to read to you now is a letter which she wrote to my Father in September 28th 1938. She wrote:
My dearest love
I had your letter of the 15th this morning and want to assure you that we are all perfectly alright. I always disliked it intensely, the many political radio messages I had to listen to when you were here, but I can assure you that since then, I have done nothing else but hear politics and speeches. This last week has been a nightmare, still is for that matter, but when Chamberlain announced this afternoon that there will be a new conference in Munich tomorrow morning and that he is going to fly to Germany a third time, we all breathed a little bit more freely. Let us hope and pray to God that war can still be prevented.
Everybody has been most marvellous to me. Captain Taylor and his wife were both here yesterday to assure me that they will help me all they can. Yesterday McMaster (McMaster was my fathers boss at Kodak. He was an American) he rang me up. And this morning I had a long talk with Billi. (Billi was another German lady who lived in Britain and was a friend of my mothers). From Rose I got a very nice letter. (Rose I have to say, was my aunt. My father’s sister-in-law). Mr Tracey phoned early this morning as well to assure me of his health. (He was one of my dads colleagues at Kodak). All the neighbours are very nice. So you see I’m not alone, but I am miserable without you, naturally, but don’t let that worry you, I wont lose my head and I will do everything I can for the children’s sake. I thought that the best thing I could possibly do is to send the children with mother (that was her mother-in-law, my father’s mum) up to see Rose. They will be safe there. (They lived up in Scotland). I have not talked to the parents as yet, (By parents she means my fathers parents). but I am convinced that they will both agree that it will be best for them to clear out of their flat. (Which was in Cricklewood). I would suggest to you to have dad with me here, where we will be as safe as one could possibly be near London. If it should come to the worst I’m quite willing to let the children go if mother can see her way to go with them. I don’t for one moment think that there will be danger of life for them here, but I would like to spare the children the nerve racking experience of air raids. Gordon and I (that’s me, Gordon) have had gas masks fitted yesterday. But up to now there are no safety devises for children under four, (My sister was under that age of course, she was only one and a half) although we were assured by wireless that there were gas-bags for babies ready which will be distributed within the next few days. However that is the second reason why I would like the baby out of the way. Elfreda (I have to explain - we had, you wouldn’t believe it, but in a little suburban house with two bedrooms and a box room, a German maid. Her name was Elfreda. There was another house up the road where they also had a maid. I remember her well ‘Marie’, because I was used to going to the kitchen and used to get to lick the spoon whenever she was making a cake.)
Q. How old was you then?
A. I was seven and a half
Q. Where was your dad?
A. My dad was in America he was on a business trip to Kodak over in America.
Elfreda has her ticket back to Berlin and her bags are packed. She was actually leaving here tomorrow morning with Elise (that was her other German friend). After we heard the announcement about Chamberlain she is staying on and we will see what tomorrow brings. Billi told me this morning that I should let her go as I would take on a great responsibility in keeping her here. Anyway she will go as soon as we know that war is inevitable. Mr Faylor (Mr Faylor was a German industrialist and had a factory over here) got tickets yesterday for his wife and their children to go to Holland tomorrow night, now however they have postponed their departure. He was going to stay on as he has quite a number of German families in his factory dependant on him. Many people here in the road have left for the country. The Mortimer’s are leaving tonight, as he might be called away any moment for special service and then he does not want to leave his wife and children behind. The news was terribly disquieting till this afternoon but now there is hope and smiling faces again.
Many tube stations are closed, trenches are being dug day and night in the big parks and the wireless is booming on and on, recalling Chamberlain’s speech in the House of Commons in English first and then in German.
I’m worried too about father and mother knowing that they are so close to the aerodrome, (they lived in Temple doff In Berlin) but it helps such a lot to know they at least are still in ignorance of the great danger which might overcome all of us. Hitler’s speech, the night before yesterday, mades it quite clear that he keeps his beloved people so much in the dark so they can’t possibly realise the great danger.
If the meeting in Munich should fail tomorrow I will send a telegram to Dudley (that was my uncle, my father’s brother) asking him to have mother and the children. I will feel happier to know that they are out of the danger zone. It would worry me to be alone in the house with them especially at night although the Barrett’s and also Mrs Hill (the wife of the man who made the boots for the Prince of Wales) have offered to take us all in so that I would not be alone. And I will take very good care of myself until you are safely back with me again and I can always go somewhere else at night in order not to be alone. The Richmond’s and Mrs Zhouke (that is the Russian lady I mentioned) also will still be here and I dare say quite a lot of others.
Please, please, don’t worry about us, darling. By the time this letter reaches you, all our worries might be over and a thing of the past. I fervently pray that this may be so.
I am so sorry that this has turned out to be such a miserable letter, but I hope it will only reach you together with my next one which is so very much more cheerful.
I think of you day and night. All my love