High Explosive Bomb at Birkbeck Mews
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
Birkbeck Mews, Dalston, London Borough of Hackney, N16 8JN, London
56 20 SE - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK (BBC WW2 People's War)
"I'm a cockney born in Kingsbury Road near the Ball's Pond Road in the East End in 1937, so I was like 4, 5 and 6 when all this happened. I went to a Catholic School and during the Blitz when the air-raid sirens went, we'd get under the table and our teacher would say 'now you've got to pray' so we all prayed until the all-clear went.
One morning at 3, my mum's sister cam in and said 'there's a big bomb dropped near the old lady's house - that's what we called my gran - but she said she's all right. We rushed down the road and saw that a bomb had dropped on a school. I'll never forget, there wasn't a window left in none of the houses around. We went into a schoolhouse, the door was wide open, and there was blind man upstairs which they got our early; the whole ceiling had come down on him. We went into the kitchen and there was only about three bits of plaster left. The plaster round the rose on the ceiling was about the only bit left. I asked the blind man if he was okay and he said 'yeah' so I made him a cup of tea. We was lucky because if that bomb had dropped at three o'clock in the afternoon it would have killed all the kids.
I'll never forget this, the front door swung open and a fireman stood there. He said 'Everyone all right?' and one of the women said, well, I can't say what she said, but to the effect of 'that xxxxx Hitler can't kill me!'
We lived off the Ridley Road at the time and during one of the air raids one night, everyone went down the shelters and my dad said to me "Want to watch the airplanes?' My mum said 'That's not a good idea', anyway, he put me on his shoulders and we stood in the doorway and watched the dog-fights overhead. And I tell you, when them German planes got caught in the headlights, they had a hell of a job to get out. Anyway, the morning after these raids, all us kids'd go out collecting shrapnel from the shells, I had a great big box of the stuff.
Was I scared? Only when I was in bed at night and the air-raid warning went. When you're asleep and you suddenly woke, you didn’t' know what was happening so it was pretty frightening. At that age, you didn't know what air raids were all about. Some of the time I slept in the cupboard under the stairs and it felt a bit safer there.
One day, I went round to the corner to my aunt's house and she was sitting by the window when there was an air-raid warning. Inside the window where she was sitting was a table with a statue on it. They told her to come in away from the window. I'll never forget this, there was a bomb blast, the window come in and the statue toppled off the table and onto the floor. If she hadn't have moved, she'd have been covered with flying glass.
My dad didn't go in the army, because he was wanted on the railways. He took me down the dog racing one day at Hackney Wick. This flying bomb - a doodle-bug it was - suddenly appeared over us. You could see every detail of it. We all ran. It went right across the track and dropped in a field somewhere.
One day a landmine dropped near us in Kingsbury Road and didn't go off. A fellow came down from the Bomb Disposal unit, to try to disconnect it and he got killed. Opposite us there was a block of flats and they named it after him - Ketteridge Court.
I was evacuated for a little time, to Kettering, but I don't remember much about it, only that I didn't like it. I'd have to ask my mum about it. She's 100 but still remembers everything.
Me and my family are Pearly Kings and Queens and we do a lot of charity work, entertaining with music and the old cockney songs and that (Phone 020 8556 5971). We are now the biggest 'Pearly' family, made up mostly of the Hitchins (my mum's family name) in Hoxton, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Clapton, Shoredich, Hommerton, Dalston, City of London, Westminster, Victoria, Islington and Stoke Newington. "
Contributed originally by Herts Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
Hello. My name is Alan French, and today is the 14th October 2004. The anniversary of the battle of Hastings. Well firstly I can’t remember a lot about World War Two, because I was wearing napkins at the time. My war time experiences were spent in Abbot’s Langley and Holloway.(Not the famous part, but the region in London.)I have got a feint memory of my father being close to my face going, 'Shhh! Shhh!' and hearing some bangs in the background, which I think could have been bombs. I can also remember some blue curtains behind him. I’ve been told there was a situation where I was having a tin bath, because in those days we didn’t have bathrooms, unless you were terribly posh or very lucky. There was an explosion somewhere, and my father grabbed me out of the bath. When he looked, there were all bits of glass that had shattered in the water. So I was very lucky. Very lucky indeed. My mother had a sister, Mary. She also had a brother, George Beales. Her sister married into a family called Bishop, elsewhere in North London. The Bishops moved to Abbots Langley in the late 1930s. During the war, for a few months, my mother and I, stayed with them, in Breakspear Road. So that is why I hovered between Holloway, where I lived, and Abbots Langley during this conflict. Tom and Mary Bishop, with my cousins, had two dogs. Bob and Toby. Bob, I have been told would guard my pram. He would not let people near me. (Although, of course it could be that he was comfortable and did not wish to be interupted.)It was during my stay in Abbots Langley, that one of my older cousins, whilst in the army at the time, was married. Although some of my earliest recollections, probably took place in the war they are not all war related. One thing I can remember very distinctly, and it’s something that I’ve seen even in adult life, is that you didn’t have to go far without seeing a bomb site. I mean, quite close to me, there was a whole school that had been blown up. Things like that were common place. It was also quite common in the street, for some years, to see people who were unfortunate to have limbs, or an eye, missing. I understand that I was born during an air raid. When, a few months later, I was taken to Abbots Langley, I gather there were nasty things coming down from the sky and exploding upon landing. I was just rushed into the van, car, lorry or whatever vehicle, and whisked off. So I consider myself to be very lucky to be alive. There are many who are not. And of course there are stories you hear from your parents, and there are some you don’t hear. When I sit back and think, I don’t really know much about the nitty-gritty details of what my father did and whether he saw things that he didn’t want to talk about. He wanted to join the Royal Air Force. He went up to enlist, and I gather they said, “You’re missing”.
Apparently someone with the same name was missing from duty. He worked for a leather firm in Somers Town, which is in another part of London which comes under St Pancras. If you think about it, leather was a very valuable commodity. Soldiers used/needed it for boots, straps for rifles etc. So he was required to do some work in this field. At least one lady gave my mother bitter comments due to my father not being at the front. My mother worked for a firm called Cossor's who manufactured wireless sets, as they were called then, radio today, also radar equipment. She did say that there was this bomb or rocket or something,that severely damaged the factory leaving this huge awsome crater. The firm was based at Highbury Corner. We lived in a road called Madras Place, which is a turning sandwiched in between, Liverpool Road and Holloway Road. Appropriately one entrance is opposite the Islington Library, so perhaps I should be recording this interview there.My parents became fire watchers. I cannot find it at the moment but I know I’ve got a Fire Watchers Handbook and other hand books, Battle of Britain, What to do if Hitler Invades, and if I come across them I will come down here some day and say, 'Look what I’ve got!' I have some memorabilia here, including a letter from the desert which I will read out later, because its very difficult to transpose. (See Part two.) I’ve got a photograph of me at some celebration. I don’t know whether its 1945 or 1946. Because there were a lot of Victory parties in 1946 as well.
Q. Do you know which one you are?
A. That’s me and the lady on the end is my mother, only just in sight. The only other person I know there, is a little girl, in the front row, called Wendy, who used to live next door. There’s another little girl I played with called Denise, who also lived nearby. But I do not think she is in the photo. I don’t know where it was taken. I think it was organized by some Canadians. I was forbidden to go to one victory party. Apparently I was too young. Babies not allowed. My mother wasn’t very happy. I didn’t know this until I was well into my adulthood. In compensation, the organiser gave my mother a toy for me. She explained that I never had it. She said, ‘Well it was one of these things you sometimes get in Christmas crackers made of metal, you press it and it clicks. I thought it was very dangerous for a baby, and what's more it was made in Japan!'
Remember, the Japanese part of the conflict, ended, for the first time ever, in nuclear warfare. Nazi Germany was also on the verge of an atom bomb. See the film, 'The Heroes of Telemark.' So World War 2 was in some ways a nuclear war.
Q. It must have been very difficult for your mum and dad to have had such a small baby.
A. Yes.From what I gather, they used to live in Westbourne Road, which is in the Barnsbury part of Islington. I think they were a little worried because they were living upstairs somewhere, and with bombs coming down, if anything happened... So they moved to Madras Place, in Islington's Holloway region. We lived downstairs. We had at least one bedroom, a kitchen, a living room and a front room. There were other people who lived above us. There was Mr & Mrs Horton. Above them, at the top, there was a man I called 'Uncle' Jack. There was a lady who lived with him for a while. I am not sure in what way she was related to him. Before he moved in, there was a Mrs Bennett who died. I can remember quite clearly other neighbours. I have already referred to Wendy, who together with her brother Trevor,lived next door with their parents, Ted and Doris. On the other side of my house,there was a family called Biggs, Mr. & Mrs. Wheeler and another lady called Alice, all living above or below one and other. Mr and Mrs Biggs, had a son who was in the Navy. Thanks to him, I had my first banana. He got it from Gibraltar. There might have been a daughter called Babs. I can remember elsewhere in the street, a family called Rowbottom. The block of flats at the junction of Liverpool Road and Madras Place, I can remember being built. I can't remember what was before them. Denise, to whom I have referred earlier, lived at the end of Ringcroft Street. One of two roads that entered Madras Place from its side. I can't remember her father's name, but her mother's name was Grace. There are stories I have heard. I don’t know whether or not I should tell them on the air, because they may not be for the squeamish, so If I do tell , there will have to be some toning down. There are some nasty stories and some very comical ones. Do you want to hear the serious ones first?
Yes, tell the serious ones.
OK, I’ll try and tone down the first one because it’s not very pleasant. I gather a bomb or rocket came down and exploded. A pub's bar room floor collapsed with people on it, into the cellar. Unfortunately, there were spirits in the cellar. They ignited. There was a huge mass panic to get people out. I’ve toned that story down considerably. Another tragic one, is where a rocket came down on a house and a woman, who incredibly, had thirteen children, happened to be out at the time. All thirteen children were killed. Just like that. I have been informed by someone, who claims that he went into the building afterwards. There was nothing that could be done. It was a terrible sight. The children were just all huddled there. All that could be done,was just get their bodies out. There was nothing else you could do. I have also heard of a woman's husband being absoloutely riddled with bullets. So there were some tragedies. But I’ve also heard that sometimes, there were were things that could make you laugh. There’s the situation of a Costermonger, (Costers as they were also called as well as barrow boys) named Billy Hutchings, who when I knew him had a stall on the Holloway Road Pavement Market, as did one of my grandmothers, Lucy Offer. (Offer, by her second marriage.) Unfortunately, whilst he was taking his bath, (A tin one) a rocket came over Islington and split in half. One half just went into a roof without exploding. I don’t know if it was his house or a house nearby. Inevitably, something came down the chimney - soot, dust etc all over him. There is a story I can tell of a similar experience someone had when I moved to Hemel Hempstead but it has nothing to do with the war.
End of Part One.
The second half includes the reading of a letter from Tunisia as well as a continuation of this interview.
By the same contributor:-
'The Three English Brothers French.'
'The White Figure.' (A true wartime ghost story.)
Contributed originally by RoyalFusilier (BBC WW2 People's War)
People were friendly in those days and if the siren warned us of an air raid when we were out of doors, they would open their door and call us in. I have taken shelter in stranger’s homes on many occasions and given shelter in return. Our flat was open house for anyone passing or for residents of the top flats who didn’t feel safe during a raid. We had as many as twelve people sleeping as best they could on the floor of our little flat. The comradeship in those days was wonderful! One of the most horrifying sounds was that of the whistling or screaming bombs. These were meant to put fear into us and lower our morale. They really terrified me and lots of other people as well. As they came down, they made such an awful piercing, screaming whistle that I could not stand up. I had to sit on a chair before my legs gave way as they completely turned to jelly. My heart seemed to stop beating and I couldn’t get my breath until the explosion came. It certainly was one of Hitler’s most effective terror weapons. It broke my moral every time and left me with a terrible fear so that, even now, I am nervous when a low aeroplane flies overhead. Often I cried when one came down, only to hear more falling from the sky. This was the time that I looked forward to hearing Winston Churchill give one of his morale boosting speeches, as we all felt better after one of those. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think that we would have won the war. He was staunch, strong, stirring and comforting. Good old Winnie!
The V1, buzz bomb or doodlebug was another horror. When the first one came over the newspapers said that our artillery had shot down a new type of aeroplane, but when they went to examine the wreckage, there was no pilot and no parachute to be seen. On closer examination, they found that there was an engine at the back and flames came out of it. More came over and we realised that when the engine cut out, the unmanned ‘plane would dip and fall to the ground. They fell anywhere and everywhere and Hitler could not claim that he was trying to avoid killing innocent civilians. When you were at home and heard these things coming, your heart would be in your mouth, especially when the engine cut out. It would fall and explode killing and maiming some poor devils and we breathed a sigh of relief until the next one came our way. Peter was a baby when these things were on the go and many is the time I’ve thrown myself across his pram, as I couldn’t get him out quick enough. If you were outside, you could see them coming and if they were pretty near, the best thing was to run towards them so they passed over you. Dad was often delivering letters when they came over and he would go towards them and then crouch behind a garden wall to escape the blast when they fell and exploded. Next came the V2 rockets that you couldn’t hear at all. There was no warning, just the explosion so there was nothing that you could do to protect yourself. You couldn’t stay in the shelters all the time just in case a V2 came over, so we just carried on with things and hoped for the best.
During the war years, it was not all horror and fear. We had some happy times and laughed at all sorts of things. I remember one old girl called Mrs Thompson used to come out and put up her umbrella during an air raid as she was afraid of the shrapnel. She thought that the umbrella would save her — poor old girl! We used to go out and watch the dogfights and shout “Hooray” when a German plane came down and boo and hiss when a German was the victor. At the beginning of the war, I went out with a boy called Ron Calnon. Sometimes during the bombing, you’d lose your water supply. One evening, Ron and I were carrying a galvanised tin bath full of water back home from his parent’s house near Manor House, which was a long way. Then the air raid siren howled its warning! We emptied the water, put the bath over our heads and ran like anything through the dark streets! The shrapnel whizzed all around and one piece struck the bath with a great clang that sounded right through our heads. Then we had to go back and get another bath full.
Doris Robson wrote this as part of her memoirs in "Gaslight on the Cobbles" She married Leonard Herring in 1943 and died on New Years Day, 2001
Contributed originally by lee1934 (BBC WW2 People's War)
My earliest memories of my life were at Highbury Hill. I don’t remember leaving there to go to Ireland in 1935 and living in Inchicore, or returning, just being there.
My father was always without work in the thirties and so it was that his brother offered him employment and accommodation running a shop in a suburb of Dublin. The type of shop was commonly known as a huckster shop, it sold everything and “open all hours”. However we were unceremoniously evicted when my uncle took stock and found the empties my father had stored in various cupboards in the premises. People helped each other in those days and a relation by marriage, took us in and my younger sister was born in her house within a matter of weeks. That was December 1936. However my mother decided leave her with this saintly woman for 18 months, and return to London, where she would find work again and get a home together. A second reason was that I was sick with glandular TB and mother wanted to return to her mother and sisters, where she knew she would have a roof, and help with treatment for me.
My young sister came back to us in 1938 and we were looked after by a lovely lady and her daughters. We called her Aunt Agnes, but she was not blood relative. My mother had got to know her when they were both in service. My mother was twelve when she first met her and remained friends until Agnes and her daughters were killed with incendiary bombs at Highbury Corner in May 1941.
By 1939 we had a couple of rooms in Grandma’s rented house, the gas stove was on the landing. Auntie Bea and her husband and daughters lived above. She would also look after us as mother went from one day job to an evening job. Still my father was out of work and still drinking. The house was owned by Hammonds Butchers in Holloway Road, but Grandma lived there for 52 years, with various members of her family and lodgers that came and went over the years. Next door were the Miss Stones of the Ginger Wine. They were very gracious ladies and must have thought us a motley Irish crew, they were always sweet to us children.
I went to St Joan of Arcs at Highbury Barn by aged three. The church was a prefabricated building. I loved it there. Processions were held and the paths had lovely rose arches. I went back to look at it, I wish I hadn’t.
One day my sister and myself were taken to buy new winter outfits. Had I been older I would have thought it a bit premature in August..... and then directly to a photographer and had a studio photo taken, which I still have. Coat, bonnet for my sister and hat for me and both of us the gaiters with the button-up sides. There was, thinking now, some impending happening, though I cannot recall any conversation about the war. They didn’t talk to children then and we were still small. I was two months short of five and my sister not yet three.
I remember the gas masks being tried on and Grandma saying ‘old man Hitler’ wouldn’t get us, but little else until the coach in Holloway Road. We had our labels tied securely to our new coats and the Salvation Army band played “Wish Me Lucky as You Wave Me Goodbye”. My mother told me to keep hold of my sister’s hand. Off we went, I can’t tell you to which station, but do remember arriving at a hall in Cromer. There were kindly people and there were the others. Some people wanted children that were of a useful age....... not small children, and certainly not two small children. We were very tired and waited in the hall it seemed for ever, until someone grudgingly said they would have us.
Mother had rigged us out for the winter with our new outfits, but what else we were allowed to take I can’t recall, but small cases that would hardly take much and of course the gas masks. We had Mickey Mouse gas masks, which gave little resemblance to Mickey Mouse, they were red in colour with a rather strange long nose dangling in front.
We were not looked after. We would get a hunk of bread and wander most of the time. My sister fretted for mother and she spent most of the time locked in the woman’s cellar. It effected her all her life. I suppose it left its mark on me too, but I was the older sister, the responsible one, at nearly five. I don’t remember any particular ill treatment, except hunger and dirty. My mother came down to see us many weeks later and she had to take us to a cleansing centre as we both had scabies and fleas. There was a woman in a white coat, we had our hair cut off first, then we were put into very hot water and scrubbed with a very hard brush until raw. She then proceeded to paint us with some white substance with a very large brush, which stung like mad. My sister screamed all the while and mother consoled her this time, instead of m. We went home to Highbury Hill. The expected invasion of those weeks back hadn’t happened, or rather it hadn’t got going yet............
I have tried to think which came first, we had more evacuations but not yet.. We spent time with Grandma and Aunt Kitty, my mother was off working somewhere. Grandma never left the house, she spent her time making uniforms on her old treadle machine, when she had done her shift at the Ever Ready factory in Holloway Road. Kitty was on the buses, between them Aunt Agnes and Auntie Bea, we were cared for much as before the war. Auntie Kitty was very nervous and would not stay in the house and she would take the two of us down to the Arsenal Station to sleep. It was on one such night which had been very bad that I remember well. We came out of the station and clearly it had been a bad night, houses on the corner of Aubert Park had gone and dust and commotion everywhere. We got to Grandma’s house, the windows were all inn, but it was still standing, she opened the door with the inch tape still about her, covered in ceiling dust, but as calm as you like. Kitty said “mother I am worried sick about you, why don’t you come down with us”. Grandma’s answer to that was that she wasn’t going to hide in any shelter for a Corporal. Perhaps if Hitler had gone up the ranks a bit, a few pips etc., she might have.
My mother, though I didn’t know in the beginning had left my father, who stilled lived upstairs in Grandma’s house. She had “got together” with a gentleman she worked for who had a public house in Newgate Street. But not for long..... on December 29th 1940 it was burned down, when all around St. Paul’s was ablaze. That night we had a bed under the stairs, where we could see Grandma’s feet on the treadle machine. My mother and the gentleman who was to be our stepfather arrived early hours of the morning of the 30th. They had been sheltering in the cellars of Burnes Oats and Washbourne, Catholic Publishers somewhere in that area. Grandma had been singing Irish songs to us and telling about her “grand ancestry” Kearney Castle in Tipperary. She could have been telling us about Cinderella, but her stories were great. There was one about a neighbour of hers in Ireland, who would go in search of her husband after Duffy’s Circus arrived. Mick would go to help, with other men, erect the marquees. They would give the men a few jars for their trouble. She would take off to look for him complete with her straw hat and her apron. All the men had come back except her husband. Grandma said she would find him and place him in her ample chequered apron and carry him home. We laughed so much at her stories......
We were evacuated to Yorkshire, another mucky household, but they were not cruel. Also to Cromer this was definitely 1941. Lovely people, with a daughter who was a school teacher. She and her mother made us rag dolls. We collected sea shells and found crabs. They wanted to adopt us. We came home to learn that Aunt Agnes, Pat and Barbara had been killed.
Another ‘Aunt’ Doodie looked after us in Edmonton. Empire Avenue. They were a lovely family. She was the sister of Uncle Bill, father of Pat and Barbara. She became ill and died of cancer. She had two small boys and was unable to have us anymore, so on we moved again.
My stepfather sent us to a Convent in Tonbridge. I loved it there, but my sister was always fretful and wanted to go home. She was happy in Cromer and also with Aunt Agnes and her sister-in law in Edmonton. By 1941/2 my mother and step father were in the Pilot at Dungeness and it was there we went home on holiday from the Convent. It was a prohibited area for five mile radius and the Engineers built the Pluto line. Lesley Ayes (Aimes?) was the Minister for Food in the Area and arrived with so much ration books for mother, she couldn’t believe it. Little did she know how hard she would work in the Pilot looking after the top brass. She performed miracles on an old Aga and primus stove. The water had to be pumped in and they had a generator in the shed.
I went to so many schools during and after the war, that without that early start at St Joan of Arcs, I don’t know what would have happened. I was able to read at a very early age, which was a saving grace. I used to read to my young sister.
My Grandma was a First World War widow and she had to leave Ireland in 1923 with her children. I was later told in Clonmel that Cannon Walsh had asked from the pulpit if anyone knew where the Scully family were and that it was safe to go back. My mother was twelve.. The eldest girl went out to America into service with the Guggenheim family in New York. My grandfather is buried in Chatham Barracks, in a Royal Engineers grave, though he was never in the Engineers, he enlisted into the Royal Artillery in Clonmel, which was a garrison town. Grandma never said he joined the British Army, it was John Redmond’s Army.. He was one of a quarter of a million Irish who volunteered in response to Lloyd George’s appeal “help us win the war and then Ireland would will free”. He joined in October 1914.
There was sometimes bad feeling because Ireland was neutral in the last war. Sometimes someone would make a remark about it. My grandma would say “hold your head up, your not a nobody you’re a somebody”. I also remember when a bit older she would tell me not to do her shopping at certain shops because they had “No Irish served no Irish Employed” notices. As best my memory serves me, it was Sainsbury and David Greig. One a Jewish company and the other Scottish. Which must have been a bit wounding as a widow left with five children.
My grandma’s friends were first world war widows or, ladies trying to scratch a living that had fled Europe. One such woman, I can’t remember her name, though I can see her still, would come to the house with a case full of second-hand clothes. I would be stood on a chair or on the table, whilst the garments were tried on. Then the bargaining would start, what ever amount was suggested, grandma would say “that is a terrible lot of money”, but eventually the deal would be struck when the woman said “it’s all from nobility in Highgate you know”. That was good enough for grandma. The woman would wobble with laughter, as although short she was very portly. I was always curious about all her gold teeth, which grandma said ““they went in for, where she came from”..
I remember we played bagatelle with Father McCarroll after mass on Sundays. Going to Chapel Street Market with Grandma. She would put me on a queue, whilst she stood in line on another, telling me to get oranges, or whatever and I ended up with a tin kettle. “I already have one of those” she said. Having given up all the sound pots and pans, the tin kettle was the thing, constantly having to be repaired, with a disc in and outside, which burned through in no time. The gas mantle was precious too..... the Muffin Man on Sunday afternoons and the lamplighter who made his way down the hill. Despite all the sadness of the war, the cosiness at Grandma’s house, the big holy pictures looking down upon us, our bed under the stairs, what could possibly happen to us
Contributed originally by Researcher 249331 (BBC WW2 People's War)
In September 1940 the bombing raids really started. The warning would start wailing very loudly, the nearest siren being on top of Stoke Newington Police station, which was almost opposite where we lived. The bombers started coming over every night, the first few nights we sat on the stairs with blankets wrapped around us, shivering from cold - or was it fear? All of us were very quiet listening to the pulsating sound of the bombers overhead.
After a few nights of discomfort we started going into the basement of our next door neighbour. We couldn't use our cellar, as it was full of bundles of firewood that were in stock to be sold in the winter - they were sold for tuppence a bundle, in my father's greengrocery shop. The Vogue cinema was at the other end of of the block of buildings where our shop was situated. It was the sort of cinema that when the film was over you waded through monkey nut shells, on your way out to the exit.
The Blitz comes close to home
One night a bomb dropped onto a bus outside the Vogue. It made a large crater, and fractured a water main. After a while, water seeped into the cellar we were in. As we were hearing a lot of noise from the anti-aircraft guns, and from the dropping bombs, it was decided to go over the road to a proper shelter under the Coronation Buildings, where there was a very large air raid shelter.
We came out and saw the sky criss-crossed with searchlights. Whilst we were running across the road, a bomb landed with an enormous bang on the West Hackney Church. The blast blew out the windows of The Star Furnishing Company windows. The huge glass windows just disintegrated, and fell to the ground like a beautiful waterfall, with all the noise and dust. We rushed into the shelter, but amazingly we were all untouched.
During the day I used to watch the occasional dogfight overhead, and like most boys of my age (I was 11) at the time, my hobby was to go around looking for bits of shrapnel. One morning, coming home from the shelter over the road, I found an incendiary bomb on the pavement outside our shop. I stupidly picked it up, and was examining it when a policeman appeared and said 'I'll have that' - and ran across the road to the station with it.
Coronation Avenue buildings consists of a terrace of about 15 shops with five storeys of flats above. The shelter was beneath three of the shops.The back exit was in the yard between Coronation Avenue and another block of buildings, called Imperial Avenue. We went over the road to the shelter whenever there was a raid, and when the 'all clear' sounded in the morning, we would go back over the road, half asleep and very cold, and try to go back to sleep in a very cold bed.
The shelter consisted of three rooms. The front entrance was in the first room, the rear entrance was in the third room, which had bunk beds along one wall.The rooms were jam packed with people, sitting on narrow slatted benches. I would sit on a bench and fall asleep, and wake every now and then, and would find myself snuggled up to my mother and sister. My father had the use of one of the bunk beds, because the men were given priority, as they had to go to work.
On 13 October 1940, the shelter received a direct hit. We had settled down as usual, when there was a dull thud, a sound of falling masonry, and total darkness.
Somebody lit a torch - the entrance to the next room was completely full of rubble, as if it had been stacked by hand. Very little rubble had come into our room. Suddenly i felt my feet getting very cold, and I realised that water was covering my shoes. We were at the end of the room farthest from the exit. I noticed my father trying to wake the man in the bunk above him, but without success - a reinforcing steel beam in the ceiling had fallen down and was lying on him.
The water was rising, and I started to make my way to the far end, where the emergency exit was situated. Everybody seemed very calm - with no shouting or screaming. By the time I got to the far end, the water was almost up to my waist, and there was a small crowd clamberinig up a steel ladder in a very orderly manner. Being a little more athletic than some of them, and very scared, I clambered up the back of the ladder to the top, swung over, and came out into the open.
It was very cold and dark, and I was shivering. The air was thick with brick dust, which got into my mouth, the water was quelching in my shoes. I still dream of, and recall, the smell of that night, and the water creeping up my body. My parents and my sister came out, and we couldn't believe the sight of the collapsed building. My brother had been out with a friend - so was not hurt, and we were all OK.
My mother, sister and I went over to number 6, and my father and brother stayed to see if they could help in any way. Some bricks had smashed the shutters in front of the shop, and had to be replaced with panel shutters, which had to be removed morning and evening. The windows were blown out, and were replaced temporarily with a type of plastic coated gauze.
The next morning, we were told that only one person had survived in the other two rooms, and about 170 people had been killed. (In recent years I have been to Abney Park cemetery, where there is a memorial stone, with names of a lot of the victims who must have died in our shelter.)
There was a huge gap in our building, on about the third floor. There was part of a floor sticking out, with a bed on it. Someone said the person in it was OK, but this story might just have been hearsay.
A lot of the women used to bring photographs of their families to show each other during the long periods of waiting in the shelter. That evening my mother had brought a handbag full of photos to show some women, and fortunately she had not gone into the other room to show them. The photos were never recovered. My sister said she was alright, until she went up into our parents room the next morning, and saw soldiers arriving outside, with shovels - then she started crying (she was 15 years old).
A few days later, I saw men wearing gauze masks bringing out bodies, and placing them in furniture vans. Having seen bodies since, this is the only thing that comes back in my dreams - the furniture vans and the water.
Having nowhere to go for shelter, my parents decided that we would go to the Tube station to sleep. We would close the shop early, and with bundles of blankets go to Oxford Circus station, via Liverpool Street, and sleep for the night on the platform. When the trains started to run the next morning, we would get up feeling very dry and grubby having slept fully clothed all night. We had to wait patiently until the platform cleared, and then back we went to Liverpool Street, and the 649 trolley bus home.
One night we heard a lot of noise above, and the next morning I went up to have a look, and saw a lot of Oxford Street burning. On the way home by trolley bus - amazingly they were still running - we went through Shoreditch, and saw fires still burning. But the motto everwhere was business as usual.
Looking for shrapnel when I got home, I saw an Anderson shelter in Glading Terrace that had received a direct hit - it was just a twisted lump of metal. The bombing was very heavy and some areas were roped off because of unexploded bombs. But it was a pleasant surprise when the King and Queen visited Stoke Newington - that was when I first had my photo taken with the Queen.
Photo with Queen Elizabeth
A water main near us had been had been hit, and my sister and I were trying to find a bowser lorry to get some water, when somebody told me that the King and Queen were in Dynevor Road, nearby. So I ran there, and managed to sqeeze through to the front of the crowd. The Queen made some comment about me to the woman behind me. Some time later my sister saw the photograph taken at the time, and contacted the newspaper and got some copies.
Eventually my parents arranged for my sister and me to be evacuated, and my brother (who was 19 years old) was posted to North Africa. He went from Alemein right through to Italy, and came home and went to the continent - finishing his war in Germany.