High Explosive Bomb at Harrow Road

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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

Present-day address

Harrow Road, Leytonstone, London Borough of Waltham Forest, E11, London

Further details

56 20 SE - comment:

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Contributed originally by The Stratford upon Avon Society (BBC WW2 People's War)

The Stratford upon Avon Society and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

12a - Transcription of an interview that took place on the 18th February, 2005
Neville Usher Dr.Michael Coigley

Neville Usher: … you can tell, the tape recorder, it works but it’s noisy. And I am just transcribing one now were the problem is that the lady had got a canary with the loudest voice I have ever come across, it’s a job to hear.

Dr. Michael Coigley: Talking about birds, well I can tell you a lovely story about old Mrs. Tromans who was very old when she died in Alveston, and she had this budgerigar, and we went in to see her one evening and shut the door loudly, I didn’t hear what it said, but she said oh she said I am sorry, did you hear that, did you hear that? Oh I said no what? Oh she said the budgerigar, she said I got that she said when my dad died, after the war and it had been with him all the war in London, and if there’s ever a loud bang anywhere, it says “bugger old Hitler”, and if you slammed the door like we did, you could just hear this budgerigar saying “bugger old Hitler”.

Neville Usher: My grandparents had a friend who was the first female police officer in Birmingham, and one of my earliest memories is being taken to see this lady who lived in Yardley by the cemetery there and she had a parrot, and the parrot used to say “I’m Polly Miles, who the devil are you”?

Anyway, it’s Friday the 18th of February 2005, and we are at 6 The Fold, Payton Street, Stratford, it’s 11.15 and it’s very nice to be talking to Michael Coigley.
Could we just start very briefly with where you were born and how you came to Stratford and then move on to the war Mike?

Dr. Michael Coigley: Oh crikey. I was born in central London, the other side of the road from the Middlesex Hospital in a flat in a property which my father and grandfather later bought, and there’s a long story to that. And then we moved very quickly to Sidcup in Kent where my maternal grandfather was Borough Surveyor and Engineer, he had been head-hunted. He was a civil engineer of some repute really, he used to design …, he was very good at designing sewerage disposal systems. Well they got him in to oversee the first big East End slum overspill out of London to around Sidcup. And we had this lovely house which was an old medieval house with a Victorian extension on it, and he said better move because it is coming right behind you, so we moved out to Sevenoaks, I was born in London.

And then I was at Sevenoaks School, which is I think the first school to bring in the international baccalaureate, very progressive school and always very high up. The oldest …, one of the oldest grammar schools in the country, the only school mentioned by Shakespeare in one of his plays. Lord Sackville from Old House owned a lot of property round here of course, owned Halls Croft at one time, the Sackville’s, and in Henry VI part II, (shall I go on with this, because it’s very …?)

Neville Usher: Yes please, yes.

Dr. Michael Coigley: In Henry VI part II, when Jack Cave the Kentish rebel gets to Smithfield in London and is confronted by Lord Saye and Sele who now lives at
Broughton Court …, Broughton Castle near Banbury. Well Sele is a little place next to Sevenoaks in Kent and he took his …, it was a Norman title that he took the title Sele from Sele next to Sevenoaks and he and Sir William Sennard were the two founders of Sevenoaks School in 1432, and it’s the only school he has anything to do with, and Jack Cave before they behead him on stage says you are condemned for corrupting the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school, so that has been researched and well is obviously Sevenoaks School,it was found out,it is the only school.

Anyhow, I was taking a scholarship to Cambridge called The Tankred Scholarship, King Tankred of Sicily was the Norman King of Sicily in 1065/66, and of course they went both ways the Normans didn’t they, they went to Sicily and England, William came here, went both ways. And he’d been worried, this Norman Tankred was English by now in the sixteenth century that scientists were becoming too specialized at a young age, this scholarship had to take in history, classics, something else, in order to read a science, so I never used it because the war came, and I didn’t want to spend the next 18 months studying medicine.
And I remained a medical student during the war because I was actually a “Bevin Boy” (do you know the Bevin Boys?)

Neville Usher: Yes

Dr. Michael Coigley: And the only way I could get out of going down the mines was to remain a medical student which I did so I was at St. Thomas’s during most of the war; we were evacuated of course down to Surrey, and then we came back to very difficult things at St. Thomas’s. And I then met …, I met Sylvia my wife whilst I was there, I then went in the army after I had been qualified for two years and went out east, thinking we were going to have a nice time but spent two years trekking through the jungle after the ruddy bandits.

Neville Usher: Oh dear, in Burma, or …?

Dr. Michael Coigley: No, Malaya, Malaya, it was after the war you see, it was ’48, the Malaya emergency started in June ’48. And then I came back and did a few jobs and wondered what to do, and then Scot Trick who was a partner - do you remember Scot Trick, old Trick? Well Scot Trick who was a partner in the Bridge House practice, the senior partners being Harold Girling, Dudley Marks and Scot Trick, Offley Evans and etc. And he had a very bad coronary on New Year’s day 1954 and for some reason, I can never know why and he wasn’t quite sure, the secretary of the medical school from St. Thomas’s rang me and said (because Dudley Marks was a St. Thomas’s man), and he was a local surgeon, he was a senior surgeon, South Warwickshire, one of the old GP surgeons you know, and he had rung the medical school saying do you know anybody who wants a job quick? So he rang me and said there’s a job going up there if you’re interested, and I said well I don’t know really, I wanted to be a cardiologist at the time, and I was working in the hospital you see, senior registrar in the hospital in Chichester, and Sylvia’s mother was dying of alchziemers just outside Leominster where they lived, Herefordshire, and we were going backwards and forwards and so I rang ‘em up, going up the next weekend, and came for the interview on Saturday morning with Harold Girling and Dudley Marks, and Offley was there, and out of interest and that was that, and the following Sunday Harold Girling rang me up and said when can you start? Well I had sort of dismissed it from my mind really and we had to think very deeply about this because I had this job, I had to get a release etc. from it, but with my mother in law being so ill, deep in the country, and Sylvia going backwards and forward all the while, so we decided if I could get released I would take it, although I could go back to the hospital you know after a couple of years, anyhow I never went back to the hospital because I liked it so much here, and it’s been great, so that’s how I got to Stratford.

Neville Usher: And what about the Second World War, what did you …?

Dr. Michael Coigley: Well I was in dad’s army of course, and my father who was auctioneer, chartered surveyor, estate agent etc. in Kensington in London (his business of course went), so he took a job doing war damage survey work covering over all the East End bombs and everything, and he’d been in the trenches in the ‘14/18 war of course my dad, and “The Lion” kept getting bombed, and so they moved, everybody was being evacuated, they moved further into London, they moved into Chislehurst, and at that moment I had got a place in medical school, and I well remember the interview I had for medical school because I went up with my father and I saw a very famous chap Thompson, Big Bill Thompson who was then at medical school a famous chap, and we went to see Chu Chinn Chow at the Palace Theatre that night, and there was a hell of an air raid, we weren’t allowed out of the theatre (we got out about three o’clock/four o’clock in the morning at the end), and being entertained by the cast marvellously all night you know, and got home to find there was a telegram to say that I had got a place in the medical school.

And neighbours at Chislehurst, and the Home Guard headquarters was next door to us actually at Chislehurst, and I was in that, but then the medical school were evacuated to Surrey, and it was a military hospital that had been built at Guildford, outside Guildford, and they took that over ‘cos Thomas’s was bombed quite badly, and about the only hospital really …, but they were after the Houses of Parliament of course which is the other side of the river, right opposite, and so there I was and I qualified at the end of ’46, and took my degree in March ’47.

But during that time you know, Chislehurst was right on the …, whenever I was at home I had to get up every night to firewatch on the roof and that sort of thing ‘cos you had got incendiaries all round you, you know, and funnily enough yesterday I went to see the Orpen, William Orpen exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, it is a brilliant exhibition and I was just walking out and there was a chap and his teenage son, and he can’t have been more than, I should think he was forty, something like that, they were looking at the V1 and the V2, doodlebug, and the V2 and I heard him say …, I just stopped to have a look and he said to his son, of course that was the V1 and that was the V2 big rocket, and he turned to me and he said “am I right”? He had diagnosed me brilliantly! Am I right? And I said yes you are absolutely right, and I can tell you about the very first V2 which dropped on this country, it dropped at Petts Wood and my mum was just doing the washing up in their top flat in Chislehurst and she got the cutlery, the crockery, she got the crockery together on the sink, on the drainer, and she took some of it to put in the cupboard along the wall and as she did that there was a hell of a bang and the window over the sink came straight past her and pretty well hit the wall, and that was the first; and nobody knew what it was of course. We had had the V1s of course, the put, put puts!

Neville Usher: But they couldn’t pick it up with radar or shoot it down, it was so fast?

Dr. Michael Coigley: No, a rocket. But I tell you a story about the V1s, because they had this ram jet engine, they went “put, put, put” they came on, when it cut out you knew it had gone somewhere, and they used to sort of hear the wind whistle when they came down, and I came off Home Guard duty early one morning, and I thought oh I just popped in home, took my uniform off though it’s not worth doing anything, I’ll go to bed, and went down to the station, caught an early train, went into the students’ club at St. Thomas’s, saw a chap called Dempster there, arrived at the same time (a very good fly half he was by the way, died about two years ago), and we said let’s have a game of snooker. So we went into the billiard room and we were having a …, and we heard put, put, put, we heard this V1 approaching, we looked out of the window and it was coming actually straight for us in the club. We looked at each other, we got under the billiard table and shook hands and nothing happened, nothing happened, we hard it whistle past, an air current took it up and it went along York Road and it dropped on a siding of Waterloo Station and that caused some trouble because it hit a tanker which had some phosphorous substance in it, took the top off a bus, killed a lot of people, and we all rushed over to casualty, and police came in and somebody had discovered this phosphorous liquid stuff in this tanker, and it’s a devil if you don’t get it off the skin, and it’s undetected you can see it, so we got the books down, and it’s very simple, you make a solution of copper sulphate like you used for bathing, wash it over it goes black, and you can see it, otherwise it goes on boring if you don’t.
But there were so many experiences during the war. I was on duty the Sunday morning in casualty that the doodlebug fell on the Guards Chapel, that was carnage that was terrible, and we had all the casualties in from that and I can see a Guards Sergeant Major, and funnily enough I served with The Guards out in Malaya later, and being lead up the ramp to casualty with a guardsman in his arms, all of them just covered in blood and god knows what and his face shattered, he couldn’t see and yet he had another guardsman in his arms, he was 6’2” or so the Sergeant Major, and another guardsman you know, I thought you know these chaps are marvellous.


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Contributed originally by Mrs_B_Dyer (BBC WW2 People's War)

The Prime Minister’s quiet and responsible voice from the radio which announced that we were at war with Germany had the same immediate lack of impact that is true of hearing of the death of someone we love, one’s whole being refuses to acknowledge its truth. One cannot grasp it or acknowledge what it will mean or how it will change one’s life. The wartime comedy which showed the dad saying “Put the kettle on Mum we’ll have a cup of tea” was an expression of the reactions of the time which made it a classic response to disaster.

In 1939 my husband was a schoolmaster in the Waltham Forest area and he immediately became involved his school to the “safe” area in the Midlands( Kettering). We lived in Woodford Green and the children (three) and I began hastily to pack up our special needs for we knew not how long , to go to the same area. The children took favourite toys and my eldest son was persuaded very reluctantly to leave behind his xylophone. It was put in the loft for safety but was never seen again.

A large limousine ( schoolmasters could not afford limousines ) came and collected us and in a bemused stste we set off across Hackney Marshes on our way to become that downgrading term to describe our flight , “evacuees “.

Our first billet was in a good residential area, and in a large house inhabited by a single lady who had never been married or had children ( the two situations almost invariably together in those days ). In addition she had a gentleman friend who called every morning , but after our arrival he stood and held a conversation at the gate . ah!

Young children are inclined to be rather conservative in their expectation that life will continue on the same pattern and that food will be what it has always been at home. Fortunately an arrangement was made for them to attend school( far away it seemed ) and the nearby Wicksteed Park was a blessing in the freedom and fun it offered . However food was often a problem …”What’s that!” - (a summer pudding) - A child wet from top to toe who had walked into the lake pretending to be our blind piano tuner was not laughingly received by our hostess, unused to family messes, it must have been a more traumatic experience for her than we stopped to consider at the time.

After a time we were invited to move next door to be billeted with a breezy Head Teacher of a Primary school and her Billy Bunter son. The former was in the habit of spending either one or other day of the weekend in bed “ to enable her to cope with the stresses of her professional life”. The introduction of a mother father and three young children was really more than could be endured by any settled group and we too found it very difficult to be constantly trying to fit into another’s pattern. One day something (perhaps the whole thing) seemed too much and I burst into tears which startled everyone, even myself.

Change and new thinking was required and my husband, very capable of both, found us an empty house to rent. It must have been empty for years! It was filthy, but we set to with joy and turned it into a home.

Settled at last, my mother and sister joined us at first from a ‘defence area’ (Southend) from which everyone had to evacuate as German invasion was expected. All able bodied citizens had to be employed as a gesture towards the war effort; my young sister, an art student, became a telephonist. My mother, brought up and educated to be a lady had never had a professional job, but she became a shop assistant in the curtains department of a large local store and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her Head of Department was a very jolly little Welshman who made toys surreptitiously under the counter. He also knew which grocer would have oranges or bananas in (absolute treats during rationing), which butcher would have a few sausages ‘off ration’ for friends (shades of Dad’s Army), and which customer would bring in a few eggs for the staff if ‘spoken to nicely’. Another blessing when clothes were on ration too was the curtain material (off ration) which my sister and I purchased and made into house-coats.

Kettering was the enter of the boot and shoe industry, well-off, socially comfortable and until the coming of the evacuees, undisturbed by the war. The mass invasion of Londoners, particularly after the bombing started was not welcomed and could be equated with the seeming intrusion of immigrants and refuge-seekers today. Those who came in the early days of the war settled into local schools but when the bombing of London actually happened, children from east London which was then a very poor area flooded in.

My own family became relatively settled and I enlisted as a voluntary billeting officer. The children from London arrived often after nights of bombing, wearing a name and address label, carrying a gas mask and sometimes a packet of food. They surged into local schools where we met them, reassured them, and the professional full-time billeting officers sorted them out for likely homes.

The children varied from one extreme to another in their response to the experience. Some were as jolly as if on a treat, sitting on tables, swinging legs, making friends and waiting for the next happening. Others cried sadly, and some, but only a few inconsolably. Later a handful of children actually walked back to London, and other parents were known to collect their child and take them home, especially when there was a lull in the London bombing.

My role soon became established and in the first instance it was to accompany the billeting officer in his car with two or three children, and to back him up when he arrived at a house and announced to the occupants that they were to have a child, or sometimes a family (brothers and sisters were kept together where possible) billeted on them. Protests were sometimes overcome (‘I have a sick mother – or aged father etc) but the times were urgent and in general a willing attitude was expressed. Later I visited the families to help with problems that arose: e.g. children homesick, incompatible relations, bed-wetting.

The poverty in east London during the 1930s can hardly be imagined today – and it showed itself in the condition of many evacuees. Children came with scabies, ringworm, impetigo and other expressions of the conditions in which they lived. Some had never eaten at a table or slept in a bed; additionally they had already lived in air-raid shelters, the underground stations, bombed sites or any place deemed safer than their own home or street. For the people in the Midlands who had never before met children of such poverty, adapting to their needs cannot have been easy, but the spirit of the times was remarkable in hindsight and our hearts and minds were totally focused on the war effort.

The arrival of the American Air Force in Kettering during the war had an impact on the local people comparable to the arrival of evacuees but with a very different effect. Their appearance and demeanour were so relaxed as to make a sharp contrast with our own troops.

To our eyes the Americans wore soft fitting uniforms, like a gentle summer suit and shoes. They walked in an easy manner, not marching and without the tough resolution which was underlying the British trained members of the forces. Amongst their number was Clark Gable, the leading film star of the day (‘Gone with the Wind’), and when he appeared on the High Street, police were called to control the crowds.

Women in Kettering whose husbands and sons were not in a ‘reserved occupation’ had been bereft of male company for a long time and these very attractive newcomers had a refreshing effect on the local population. Ultimately the Americans had well-stocked canteens, and dances and entertainments were set up by the Red Cross. American generosity, especially to children became renowned.

I have a lingering memory that at 4 am in the morning we heard the strong throb of the American planes as they set off to bomb Germany (daylight bombing) – many did not return and our respect for their courage and support for our war effort added to their glamour. Not unexpectedly liaisons were set up and promises and expectations of marriage ‘after the war’ abounded.

My mother and sisters wee volunteers at the American Red Cross canteen, and my sisters, both artistic painted and decorated the canteen walls with huge attractive murals. An American soldier fell in love with my younger sister but the liaison did not end in marriage. My second sister had a lighter relationship which snapped when her husband startlingly returned from India where he had been taken by ship after the fall of Singapore.

My second (middle) sister and her husband and two small children were in Singapore when the war came. My brother-in-law was a surveyor there and when the Japs invaded my mother spent sleepless after sleepless nights worrying about their fate – no news, no news, no news. Then one unbelievable morning my sister and her children turned up on our doorstep in Kettering wearing extraordinary Red Cross clothes, carrying a few bags and parcels and the children’s Kiddycar.

By this time we had moved into a more salubrious home, a small house at the top of the town. Already we were five people plus my mother and sister. Now we nudged up more closely and took in one more sister and two little children. All the newcomers from Singapore were traumatized. Their family goods, silver, cars, wedding presents and any other valuables had to be thrown into the river in Singapore. Father and servants had been left behind. The ship on which they travelled back to England with many other refugees had been threatened by enemy submarines, the refrigeration system had broken down, and children and especially babies on board had suffered from the consequences; lack of fresh milk and noticeable effects.

During her years in Singapore my sister had been waited on hand and foot, experience of wartime conditions here were perhaps cruelly hard for her to adjust to. An outstanding memory was of a tray of tea cups and saucers being thrown into the sink at a time when utility cups, as thick as shaving mugs, could only be purchased in the market by near seduction of the vendor. Her children screamed all night and soon developed (with her) scarlet fever, and passed it on to our children – some were sent to the isolation hospital, already well stocked with London evacuees. Parents were kept beyond the glass verandas and when visiting I was much amused to hear a parent shout to her child: ‘Don’t do nuffink wot they tell yer!!’

There came a time when we returned to London (the sequence of events is confused in my memory) and to a large family house we bought in Wanstead. It may have been following the D-day invasion or after the Germans invaded Russia, probably their most serious military mistake – Hitler had certainly never read history and Napoleon’s fate. It seems in retrospect that at this time Germany developed a huge new bomb which came without warning and created wide destruction, the doodle-bug.

John my husband, now Deputy Director of Education in the London Borough of East Ham once again arranged to take us all to a ‘safe’ area, his mother’s home in Hakin, Pembrokeshire. Yet again we strove to adapt to her way of life – not easy.

A strong and courageous woman whose husband, skipper of a fishing boat, had been lost in the first World War when serving in the Royal Navy. His ship was said to be carrying gold bullion between England and Ireland and had been sunk. The crew were known to have escaped in a ‘long boat’ and for years my mother-in-law truly believed he would turn up, perhaps having been picked up by another vessel but also because she knew him to be a strong swimmer ‘with webbed toes’.

She lived long before there was state support for widows and children, and her determination that her children should have a good education led her to work very hard to give them that chance. She worked equally hard for us whilst we were with her, cooking and shopping, preparing picnics for us for the beach. She was strict and her home lacked any of the facilities we take for granted today, but we managed to live and endure much time in Wales thanks to her generosity. The children went to school here – another cultural change.

Still later when the bombing in the south-east stopped and we returned to London the future appeared assured. In the euphoria of the time I became pregnant, but grievously we were perhaps too hungry for peace and once again the bombing began.

At this stage our first two children were settled in schools. Our eldest son at the City of London School was evacuated to Marlborough College Wiltshire which he loathed. A telegram which said ‘Please come and fetch me, everyone here hates me’, could not be acceded to. Perhaps the fact that he was billeted with the Vicar and his wife and that when I very rarely visited (due to petrol rationing) I was required to sit in the garden shed with my son. It speaks more of the reception in Marlborough than a more detailed account could offer.

My daughter was now a pupil at St. Angela’s Forest Gate where her Grandmother had been educated, a very satisfactory situation. Nevertheless the bombing once more urged us out of London and this time (my mother and sister having returned to the south-east, no longer a ‘defence area’) we went to stay with them near the coast. The elder children continued at their respective schools, the City of London School finally returning to London. During all this change and readjustment the children remained undisturbed and reflecting on the times today remember it simply as the way of family life.

Television was unknown and entertainment was home-made. A sheet of string across the room for theatre and plays were created on the spot. Often the productions were hilarious and reflected the war as heard on the radio but devoid of the trauma of reality. Ships were demonstrably sunk, planes were seemingly bombed, people were apparently rescued, no-one was apparently mortally injured or died, a child view of the war.

Three other memories return to mind. The first is that dentists seem to have disappeared in our area, probably recruited into the services. The second was the pressure on the local G.P., probably doctors too were called up. Medicine bottles were in very short supply and every patient to the G.P. was invited to bring a urine sample in a medicine bottle, a most effective way of restoring the current inadequacy.

The third memory is of the role of the W.R.V.S. in helping us to vary the use of limited rations during the war to make food more interesting and attractive. A shop was set up in the High Street with cooked food on display, recipes printed and available, and demonstrations of cooking where cakes made with the rinsed out milk-bottle as fluid mixer were seemingly palatable.

With Churchill’s speeches to the nation we pressed on with never a doubt that we would win.

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Contributed originally by msbellvue (BBC WW2 People's War)

I was 4 years old when the big day came, September 3rd. 1939.
It took a while before the war started to affect us. It must have been sometime in 1940 that I first remember being woken by my old mum bless her, I remember it was so dark and very cold and she would never, never wake us till the buggers where right overhead.
This was West Ham, deep in the East End of London, with a railway yard, 2 chemical factories and a pumping station at the back of us and right in the middle was No.6 Pond Road.
Before the balloon went up some men came and dug a big hole in our tiny back yard and I saw what is now known as an Anderson shelter, it had 2 long benches inside and this was where we were going to spend many a long night.
My dad had died when I was a baby so my mum, sister and myself found things pretty hard. My mum worked shift Work in one of the chemical factories called Berks.
My sister had been evacuated to Newbury in Berkshire, so when mum was doing her shifts I would be farmed out to different neighbors.
We lived next door to a bakery which was owned by 2 brothers and these 2 men used to be in our shelter and had made themselves at home before we were able to get there, my mother did not like the situation one bit.
My mates and I would scour the streets in the morning after a raid looking for spent cases and pieces of shrapnel, sometimes this was still warm and the shell cases were great for swapping with your mates.
As the war went on us kids became used to dog fights in the sky, planes leaving vapor trails and weaving in and out with there guns blazing it was very exciting to us.
Many, many bombs fell in and around West Ham, one of my sister’s friends was killed during a bombing raid and many of our local shops were also flattened. A school, which was used as a fire station received a direct hit and many firemen were killed.
One of the most amazing night I remember was of being hauled out of bed, taken to the shelter, we were in there all night, the noise was incredible, all we had at the entrance to the shelter was a piece of wood about a yard square and so while all this was going on I peeped out and the picture I saw has stayed with me as though it was yesterday. The sky was alight with color, searchlights were lighting the sky, fighter planes weaving about with there machine guns blazing, the planes were very low and all the time you could hear the loud bangs from the bombs, that picture will stay with me forever.
Next morning not a window was left in our house, our street was completely wrecked, there was slates missing from the roofs and none of the house had windows. There were police everywhere, I remember the street being roped off, my mum was inside collecting things together, then I don’t remember how we got there but we ended up in Mill Hill. We stayed with a lovely family and I remember being given a box of lead soldiers and this was one of the best gifts I was given as a child. I can’t remember how long we stayed with these people but when we got home our house was clean, windows, doors and roofs were as new.
As the days went by and the bombing got worse we had to go to these big underground shelters where there were rows of bunk beds, these were in rows and you were sleeping next to people you had never seen before. There were crowds of us every night walking to the shelters with our blankets, some even took mattresses with them.
You got hardly any sleep and you didn’t know if your house would be there when you got back in the morning. Mums and Dads still had to go to work the next day How they did it I will never know. Could the young people of today do it? I don’t think so, do you?
One day the YANKS came to Pond Road, now the only Americans we knew were in the films so obviously to us kids back home in America they had all been either cowboys or some sort of gangsters like James Cagney.
Where the houses had once stood they started to put up prefabs, they gave us chocolate and gum and we looked at these tanned men in with our mouths open we found them unbelievable. They gave us their time and would stand and talk to us in a way that we were not used to and to us we felt they were all like the film stars we saw at the cinema, they were all so nice and nothing seemed to much trouble for them.
Not far away from where I lived was Carpenters Road, which had lot of factories which had been bombed out and the rubbish had been cleared and a prisoner of war camp had been built there, in it the prisoners were all Italians, they all wore dark battledress and on the back was either a large yellow diamond or circle. We would often see them walking about, we never spoke to them, but we would stare at them till they were out of site.
Sometimes we would see these prisoners with English girls, now this did not mean a lot to us children, but they would be told off by some of the mum’s and the older men as they were the enemy.
One time my girl friend came to our house crying and said her sister’s boyfriend had been killed in the war. I remember everyone just being so quiet. After that whenever we saw her sister, whose name was Vera, she was always alone.
Where my sister was evacuated was quite a nice place, we went to see her once. The house she lived in was opposite a huge park, once a German plane shot at her and her friends as they played in the park luckily he missed and nobody was hurt. Another time a German plane crashed in the park and my sister said they took the pilot away.
As the months wore on more and more parts of West Ham disappeared, whole rows of houses would be there one day and gone the next. In a part of West Ham there was a part you could walk from Stratford to Becton dumps, this long walk was called the “Sewers Bank” it is quite hard to describe what it looked like because I have never seen anything like it since. If you can imagine a really high grass covered bank at leasts30ft. or more high and under this ran a huge sewer pipe about 6ft. in diameter, it carried sewage and went over bridges which were over roads and rivers and went on for miles and miles. One day there was a mighty explosion and a V2 rocket had hit the side of the bank, lots of houses went in the blast and the smell was unbelievable.
You often hear Londoners say, “the Germans bombed our chip shop” well in our case it was true. I was in a neighbors having some dinner, I will never forget, it was stew, when BANG, the ceiling came down in my dinner, dust and plaster everywhere. A crowd had started to gather at the top of Stevens Road where there was a very large pub called “The Lord Gough” this had disappeared along with the small cinema and sweet shop which were next door. Opposite was “Eileens” the fish and chip shop, the front had been blown in and Eileen was badly injured and her face was permanently scarred which was very sad as she was only young and quite pretty,
The Doodlebugs came next and they were scary because you heard them and saw them but when the engine cut out they glided in silence so where they landed was in Gods hands.
The East end spirit saw many people through and we had many street parties, how the mums put food on these party tables must have been quite a feat as it was hard enough in the best of times, but they did it. Out would be brought a piano from someone’s house and a good time was had by all.
When the bombing eased up and things got easier my sister came home, it was very strange, I think my mum stopped doing shift work then and we didn’t use the shelter so much.
The Americans finished building the prefabs and moved away, those prefabs were in use for many years after the war.
I suppose if I am honest we kids quite enjoyed a lot of the war as it was like an adventure, and we didn’t see it the way adults did, to see planes fighting in the sky was so exciting and collecting bits of shrapnel and shell casings was like toys to us as we didn’t have a lot in those days..
I have tried to remember the parts that someone may find interesting of a small boys war.

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Contributed originally by Podgie (BBC WW2 People's War)

I was born in Grimsby in 1926 and moved to London when I was about 4. We lived at Leytonstone in the East End of London. We often went to bed to the wail of sirens and it is now history how the Blitz gradually took shape.

Most able bodied men were called up into the services so it left a work force, in the building trade of men that were unfit or not old enough to go into the services. I was from the later category being about 15.

I worked for a builder called Ackworth who had teams of young lads and older men engaged in bomb damage repairs. This was what was known as 1st aid repairs. When a bomb dropped in an area we were sent to put black outs up with black bitumen felt over the windows that had been blown out. We were usually working on the fringe of the incident and often found ourselves on roofs, throwing tiles to the ground. If a roof was too bad it was sheeted over to make it weatherproof.

One particular time, in Edmonton, we were called to, we had repaired most of the slipped and damaged tiles on the roofs and as it was 12.30pm Saturday, it was time to "knock off". I still had a couple of tiles in my hand so not thinking, I placed them on top of a chimney pot and made my way home. The usual raids took place all over the week end. On Monday I went back to the same site to complete the rest of the work detailed to our work force only to find that another bomb had fallen close to where we had been working. All the tiles on the roofs had been lifted and shuffled down to the gutters which meant we would have to sheet the roof, however, the couple of tiles that I had placed on top of the chimney were still there untouched!. Strange things happened in bomb blasts.

I feel I was a lucky man during the war, there were families that were not so lucky, some families hardly suffered a scratch, we were lucky we were one of them.

One of the first bombs dropped in our area was a small one, approx. 250lbs. Shelters had been supplied and installed in the gardens of our house in Woodhouse Road. Most of the adjoining neighbours had them at the bottom of the garden, except one elderly couple who had put theirs close to the house because they weren't very agile. A bomb, which was probably meant for Stratford goods yards went a mie or more astray and unfortunately dropped right on the elderly couples shelter and killed them outright. If they had had theirs in the same place as everyone else they would have survived. The war seemed to take a personal dislike to this family, their son was killed by one of our own damaged planes returning from a raid. He was on duty as an ARP warden at a school that the plane crashed on. Later on their daughter was killed in an untimely accident, so the whole family was wiped out as if they had never existed.

One day a bomb blasted carrots and onions from an old gentlmans garden into our drive. Not wishing to waste such useful commodities my mother went and collected them and we had them for dinner. That sounds heartless doesn't it but with 7 hungry mouths to feed she was not going to see vegetables go to waste.

At 14 I was quite a well built lad for my age, and growing, so clothes were something of a problem. I remember forever ironing my one good pair of trousers in an effort to charm the young females of the area, this combined with a sports jacket, probably handed down to me from one of my elder brothers. I met an old school friend of mine down an air raid shelter at Smiths Paint Factory in Maryland Road. He was sporting a natty line in battle dress wear, complete with great coat and boots. I knew he wasn't in the army as he was too young, so I got chatting to him and he told me he had falsified his age and joined the Home Guard (their uniforms were identical to the regular army). I decided it was a brilliant idea, I don't know if they really believed my "supposed" age but they were desperate for members so I was soon kitted out with a new suit. Admittedly I didn't have a choice as regards style or colour but I thought I looked the cats whiskers.

It was in an air raid shelter, I was about 14 or 15, when I met my fate. She wore an edge to edge black coat with napped in waist, a pair of chisel toed suede shoes on neat feet, a small hood that framed her angelic face.I was smitten.

As the blitz really took hold youngsters would often have to wander from shelter to shelter as there often wasn't often enough room for whole families to sleep. Sometimes you wandered to different shelters, like migrants, looking for people of your own age. At first you would be resented by local lads as they though you were eyeing up their girls. In my case it came to blows with a lad called Ron. He was about 18 and by the look of his nose he had done a bit of boxing. Two locals told me that Ron wanted to see me "up top" so I had no alternative but to show my face. He was there to sort me out, but my father had taught me from an early age to defend myself, so that was it, we squared up and got stuck in. There wasn't really a winnder. I finished up with a lump like an egg on my cheek bone, he finished up with a black eye. We were eventually pulled apart by someone who told us we were a disgrace to the uniforms we were wearing (he was on his first leave from the army). We were made to shake hands and that was that. We became good mates afterwards. After that I was accepted down the shelter, no one bothered me again and I was allowed to pursue the lady of my dreams in peace. 60 years later I am still pursuing her, not perhaps with the same amount of vigour but with the same amount of sincerity!.

About this time I was making my way home from Smiths Paint Works shelter. It was quite late and I was on my own walking towards the Thatched House. I usually turned right into Cann Hall Road and along into Woodhouse Road. There was an air raid in progress and as the searchlights caught one of the enemy planes in their beams the ack ack guns opened up. They didn't seem to be targetting our area that night but when the planes were overhead you had to be careful of the shrapnel from our own guns. Shrapnel was really nasty ragged lumps of metal that could take your head off if they hit you so it was wise to be a bit wary as you made your way along unlit roads. I turned into Cann Hall Road and a young lady stood in the doorway, seeing I was dressed in uniform she felt she could approach me with reasonable safety. She asked if I was walking towards Wanstead Flats. I said that I was and she asked if she might walk with me as she was a bit frightened. She fell in beside me and off we went. I couldn't tell you what she looked like because it was a dark night. We started off towards Wanstead Flats, things were reasonable quiet for a while but that didn't last. We heard the drone of incoming planes and saw the searchlights probing the sky. The gunfire was getting closer and closer, so we made a dash for the nearest protective doorway and sheltered there for a while until things calmed down. Where I lived was some way before Wanstead Flats but I could sense that the girl was frightened and said I would walk her close to her home. Finally we reached the Flats and turned into Danes Road, dodging in and out as the shrapnel flew. I accompanied her as far as a pub, she said she would be alright from there on. She thanked me and we said good night. I turned on my heels and retraced my steps back the way I had come. I don't remember hearing any noise or commotion but there was a huge explosion. I was picked up by a huge blast and blown flat on my face. I was conscious of flying glass as windows were blown out. I expected to find myself covered in blood. I gathered my thoughts, felt myself all over and to my amazement found I didn't have a scratch, was just deaf. My first thought was of the young lady I had just left, so once more I turned on my heels and walked to see if I could find her, but there was no trace. There were so many ways she could have gone that I didn't know where to start looking so I gave up and walked home, jumped into bed and went to sleep. The next day I heard that a landmine had come down in that area and I had been caught in the blast. I often wondered what happened to that young lady, had she survived or had she walked into it.It's something I'll never know.

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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

Present-day address

Harrow Road, Leytonstone, London Borough of Waltham Forest, E11, London

Further details

56 20 SE - comment:

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