High Explosive Bomb at Barbers Alley
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
Barbers Alley, Plaistow, London Borough of Newham, E13, London
56 20 SE - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 1
My name is Reg Yates. I lived in London at Canning Town, London E.16 and Plaistow E.13 during WW2, going to Beckton Road Junior and Rosetta Road Schools except for my periods as an evacuee to Bath during September to Christmas 1939,then Cropredy May 1940 - July 1942.
I then worked at A. Bedwells, Barking Road delivering groceries for the rest of the war.
I'm still alive and kicking! Anyone remember me?
A Community Coming Together
War clouds came and we had to dig a big hole in each garden at least three and a half feet deep, at least six feet wide and roughly eight feet long depending on the size of the family using it, an awesome task. All the neighbours pooled resources and after about two months hard work most houses had a hole and had the Anderson Shelter erected to the supplied instructions. We had to make sure the rear exit worked properly. Two-tier bunk beds 2 x 6 feet one side and one other bunk bed and two chairs were there along with a bucket for the toilet and a bucket of water to drink. We never knew how long we would have to stay in there. During The Blitz we had to stay all night.
The shelters proved to be a godsend as they survived everything except a direct hit. They survived near misses and houses falling on top of them. People came out shaken but alive. They were worth their weight in gold.
There was another shelter built to fix over the kitchen table, steel top and legs for people who could get underneath in an emergency. Safe from falling masonry, it was called a Morrison Shelter after Lord Morrison a Labour Lord at the time.
I started smoking about this time. I could buy five woodbines and a box of matches for two pence, boys will be boys. I also remember going on an errand for my Dad, I had to take a letter to a house in Wanlip Road, Plaistow and she had tiles on the walk up from the gate to front door. She went ballistic because I dared to skate up to her front door. She made me take them off whilst she wrote a note to my Dad saying what a cheeky so and so I was for skating up to her door and that if I came again I would have to walk to teach me a lesson.
There were plenty of rumours about kids having to get evacuated very soon and on 1st September 1939 we were transported to Paddington Station and put on a train to the country.
We all had to say goodbye to our parents at school after they tied a label around our necks with name, date of birth, religion and which school we were from. So just after my eleventh birthday I said goodbye to Beckton Road School for the first time and landed up in the old city of Bath in Somerset.
Evacuated For The First Time
It was only two weeks after my eleventh birthday when we arrived at Bath Junction signal box, and someone said “just the thing for you kids from the smoke, a bloody great bath.” I didn’t realise what he meant until years later!
I was sent to a place called Walcott in Bath, and I was sent to a Mr & Mrs Pierce who to my eyes, were quite old looking. However, they were very nice people and looked after me very well.
They had a middle-aged navvy with whom I shared a bedroom, and our own beds I’m glad to say. I remember him getting dressed for work, hobnail boots, corduroy trousers and he tied about nine inches of car tyres around his kneecaps. He had a walrus moustache and looked a fearsome bloke to look at, but was a gentle chap really.
My two sisters were evacuated to a house just around the corner up a steep hill. Doris was eight years old and Joyce was thirteen and a half. They stayed with nice people who had two girls of their own of about eight to ten years of age. We all went to the local school along with about forty other kids from London.
We all had to sing a hymn ‘For those in peril on the sea.’ Just before Christmas we lost an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, with great loss of life and most of the sailors came from the West Country. The local rag had pages and pages of photos of those lost on the carrier.
Sometime in November 1939 I was playing a game called catch and kiss with some of the locals. This time they went along the road at the top of the hill. On one corner was a grocers shop, which had a wall with big white letters, “we sell Hovis bread”. What I didn’t know at that moment was that the police had very recently made the shopkeeper black it out as it could be seen from an aeroplane.
Running at full pelt, I ran straight into it thinking it was the turning. I was in hospital for three weeks. When I started school again, I could not see the teachers’ writing on the board.
At the end of December our Mum came to Bath to see us, and after saying goodbye to my sisters and all the other kids, she took me back to London so I could have treatment for my eyes. I had damaged my optic nerve and have worn glasses ever since.
Joyce came home in February 1940 when she was fourteen, but Doris stayed there until just before the end of the war in 1945.
Christmas and New Year came and went, 1940 began and the war was getting worse. I think rationing was introduced about now and some foods were already becoming scarce. Cigarette cards disappeared from packets to save paper and you couldn’t buy pickles loose in a basket.
A couple of weeks went by and the time came to go back to school. Nothing much changed as most children who got evacuated the previous September were still away, but a few more seemed to come back every weekend.
The Beckton Road School was taken over by The National Fire Service, a first aid post and umpteen other things so they found the kids another school called Rosetta Road (off Freemasons Road) that was built of wood and all on one level after the First World War when all the servicemen came home.
Council workmen had dug some slit trenches just in case of an air raid but they looked useless to me, because if it rained it would be like running into a mud bath.
There was some talk about kids having to leave London again and come May it proved to be true and about seventy of us from this school were sent to Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Later in 1942 Mum and Dad moved to Wigston Road that was the next turning. Most people had moved because of the bombing.
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 3
Having returned from being an evacuee, on my 14th birthday I started work for a firm called A. Bedwell & Sons who supplied grocery and provisions, delivering to grocery shops around London, Essex and some parts of Kent.
The firm no longer exists as the end of the war saw delivering to shops become outdated with big warehouses springing up who sold to shopkeepers willing to pay for goods as they wanted them in bulk.
I started as a van boy and when I was seventeen, I was officially allowed to drive a one ton van all by myself, and took another van boy on our delivery through Blackwall Tunnel, up the big hill to Blackheath and via Kidbrooke to Crystal Palace, then back via Lydenham and through Blackwall Tunnel again. Quite a nice day’s work, safe and sound. I really enjoyed myself and have never looked back.
We also had to pick up a load from various wharfs, another warehouse and some firms, at the same time looking out for any chance of getting things that were on ration. The war never ended until I was seventeen years old and rationing didn’t cease completely until about 1952, although as time passed things got easier and easier.
One of the vans I drove was an old model T type Ford with large back wheels and the body on top of the chassis, which made it heavy. It was hard to control in wet weather, the engine was so ‘clapped out’ it couldn’t climb a hill to save its life and it used half a gallon of oil every day which used to come out of the radiator cap with hot water, making an awful mess.
Going to one shop in Potters Bar we would fill the van right up to the maximum weight and at a big, long, steep hill we would try to get at least half way where there was a gate that allowed us to turn around and reverse the rest of the way up until just before the top where we turned around in a field and continued to the top facing the right way but smoking and steaming.
We kept complaining about the van and after about three months it would not start, so the garage mechanic said he would take it off the road and strip it down. The next day he called me in the garage to see the state of the engine. The van was eighteen years old so I expected the worst but was still amazed. The inside of the piston bore was red rust and oval instead of round and the valves were burnt so much that the round bit at the top of the valve was half the width they should be. He reckoned the engine had been running on fresh air for years.
He told the boss it would cost more to repair than to buy a new one, which was reluctantly agreed to and so he bought a smaller van which is similar to today’s transit.
The new van climbed the hill in Potters Bar first time, but on the way back I skidded it in the rain and finished side ways in a ditch which I managed to get towed out for a couple of quid. Luckily there was no damage apart from some paint scratches, which the mechanic sorted out for me for a drink. Nobody was any the wiser - I hope!
Another day I was driving a long wheelbase Bedford lorry in Leytonstone and the steering snapped, I hit the kerb and finished in someone’s front garden, lucky again! All this in my first year as a driver, mishap after mishap.
There was another time while I was driving to Romford in monsoon conditions at about ten in the morning, I got as far as The Dukes Head pub in Barking when I saw a trolley bus at a stop on the opposite side of the road and an army three ton lorry coming along behind it to overtake. The army lorry stopped beside the bus leaving me nowhere to go except between the army lorry and a lamp post which I did, but the top of the body and sides of my truck jammed between the lamp post and army lorry with the rest including me continuing down the road for twenty yards. To make matters worse all the goods were now exposed to the elements. It was like a scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie!
Fortunately for me a police car behind the army lorry stopped and the officer told the army driver to stay put, then guided me back under the van’s body. We borrowed some rope from a nearby garage and tied down the body to the floor. After ticking off the army driver for being so stupid he escorted me back to my firm near the Abbey Arms in Plaistow. Another one I got away with!
While I was a van boy and still only sixteen, (you couldn’t legally drive until seventeen) my driver decided to teach me how to drive the van. He put a blindfold on me and made me feel the gears, levers, clutch and gas. Then he revved the engine so I could hear the sound of the engine and feel the clutch ‘bite’, and drove so I would know by the sound of the engine when to change gear. Soon he taught me to drive the van for real on the quiet back roads and eventually let me on the open road.
Every Tuesday while he was courting, he would pick up his girlfriend from work and take her home where he went in for a bit of nookie. I had to wait in the van before we carried on with our deliveries. Her mother always used to make me apple pie and custard, which I ate in the van while waiting. Once he had taught me to drive, he let me take the van on my own (age sixteen) to continue deliveries while he had his nookie.
During Christmas 1945, my mate who was my driver got married to his girlfriend. She lived in Gidea Park, Romford and worked at Romford Steam Laundry (where Romford Police Station is now). The wedding was a big feast and drink up, which lasted right up to the New Year. His dad bought a forty gallon barrel of beer from the Slaters Arms and we pushed it home to his house, where we took his back fence down so we could get it in the garden and lift it on to a stand he had made so we could get the beer easier.
His dad said “nobody goes home until all the grub and beer has all gone”, so we stuffed ourselves silly with all the drivers eating 30lb of cheese, 4 x 7lb of spam, 10lb of butter, a big bag of spuds, many loaves of bread, 10lb of bacon, three dozen eggs, 4lb of tea, a case of evaporated milk and a big bar of Ships chocolate used for making drinks.
I got home on New Year’s Day at teatime stinking like a polecat with a week’s growth of hair on my face. I really enjoyed myself.
Starting back at work I found two new Morris Commercial three-ton lorries and I got one after we all tossed up coins to see who would get them. Lucky me, it was a lovely lorry to drive, pretty fast as well.
Coming back from Chatham the police would chase us every week for speeding, but could not catch us because we were having a cuppa in a wayside café when they caught up with us. Mind you the police in those days had 200cc motorbikes. It was not until later that they had much faster bikes like 500cc Nortons and Triumphs.
It was not long after this incident that I had to go to a South London wharf in Tooley Street to pick up five tons of sultanas. Coming up to Tower Bridge, the bridge was up, so I crept up on the outside of the queue of traffic. In those days there were still a lot of horse and carts around so it was a crawl over the bridge.
Just as I got over the bridge on the east side I saw an old motor coach come out of Royal Mint Street onto Tower Bridge. There was an obelisk there dividing the road for southbound traffic but you could go either side. I stopped dead so the coach could get by and a horse and cart came up on my near side. The coach kept coming and I could see that it was going to hit us if it didn’t pull over a bit, so I told my van boy to quickly get under the dashboard and curl up.
Unfortunately the coach did hit us, right in the radiator and the bonnet flew off into the River Thames. Our engine came back into the cab, the gearbox came up through the floor and five tons of sultanas went all over the cab. Both doors caved in trapping me in the cab right against the steering wheel and the offside front lamp of the coach came through the nearside windscreen, frightening my van boy because he could not move.
Somebody called the police, fire brigade and ambulance. Fortunately they managed to get my van boy out in minutes, but I was stuck for about forty minutes until they cut the steering wheel in half and forced the door out.
Imagine my surprise when I was pulled out, I never even had a scratch. My saviour was a leather belt I wore to keep my trousers up and an old army belt I used to wear around my boiler suit. The steering wheel went flat where it hit my belt and saved me from any injury.
When I got to hospital they could not believe that I didn’t even have a bruise. I was so lucky.
The coach driver had more room than me to get by and needless to say, he was charged for driving without due care and attention.
These are just a few of my memories of WW2. I hope you enjoy them. I am certainly enjoying reading all the stories from other people.
I now live in Devon.
Contributed originally by Terry Buchanan (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was a child during the second world war and we lived at Plaistow in East London, the house we occupied in Marcus Street was bombed during an air raid and after a brief period in Berkshire we evacuated to Canvey Island in Essex. The reasons for this were that we already had family there and because my father was in a reserved occupation as a ship repairer it was more convenient for the train journey to either the London Docks or Tilbury. He had his own stories of aerial machine gun strafing and the differences in what was available to the crews of the ships he worked on. My own first memories of him at that time were how important he must have been keeping a rifle in his wardrobe especially as my secretive attempts to lift it failed every time. Its weight was far beyond the capabilities of my war ration nourished muscles. His importance in my mind became even more enhanced the night a homeguard colleague almost kicked our door down in his frantic effort to raise my father because it was thought that an invasion fleet had been seen in the Thames Estuary. It turned out to be a false alarm but like the heroes in the comic books he brought me from the American ships he worked on, he was off to save us all.
Canvey Island was not the best choice for an evacuation location because it was under the flight path of the German bombers attacking London during the air raids. In the back room of our bungalow in The Driveway my mother used to put me into a shelter made from thick sheet steel and close down an iron grill as soon as the air raid warning sounded. Soon after this the heavy drone of the approaching bombers would be heard and then the Pom-Pom sounds as the artillery battery opened up then, distant thuds as the bombers ejected their deadly bombs over London and the docks. My mother would try to re-assure me by saying that it was only polar bears outside looking for food and that I should imagine I was in an igloo and settle down to go to sleep. Not long after it seemed the bombers would return but they had a different sound because they had been seperated from their formation and a new sound appeared, a rat-a-tat-tat, probably the noise of fighter machine gun fire.
Canvey Island during the war was very much a village community. You could roam the fields because they were not surrounded with barbed wire as they are today. The main junction of this island village was at the Haystack public house and on the other side of the road was a large notice board claiming that the Island would one day have its own hospital, if you turned right at this junction it would eventually lead to the 'sea' front and the Monico Hotel, this was an Art Deco style building which later became the honey pot for local American servicemen and young women from further afield. They also brought with them a constant request from local children, "Got any gum chum" and the more tasteful pleasure of the ice cream 'Knickerboker Glory".
The Cinema was also near to the Haystack and it was here that most of the news was exchanged. During the intermission china cups and saucers were brought in and and tinkling sounds filled the cinema as tea was poured once the cinema-goers had looked around and then with a thumping of raised seats moved places to be nearest to a friend or someone who might know what was happening. It was here that I first learned that the war was over from the babble of excited conversations. My mother also used to take me to the cinema in Southend via a stop over at the cockle sheds at Leigh-on-Sea. At sixpence a plate for cockles and with the damp smell of boiled shells coming from the cooking at the back of each shed it was one of those cockney baptisms. The film showing at the cinema was Bambi and at a crucial moment of suspense a notice flashed on to the screen for us to leave and go to the shelter because an air raid was in progress. Even now, when I watch that film with my grandchildren, that moment rushes back into my memory.
I do not remember if it was my fifth birthday or my first day at infants' school. It is a remembering which although I can see in every detail is lost in the rambling chronology of rememberings. I was excited and left the bungalow with my mother holding my hand. The sight that greeted me was wonderful to my childs eyes.
From every rainwater gutter, rooftop and telegraph wire hung thousands of strips of silver foil, they moved with the breeze and glistened brightly in the morning sun. I looked up at my mother excitedly but she just looked straight ahead with a sense of fear showing on her youthful face. I learned much later that these strips of foil had been dropped by the enemy bombers to confuse the Radar during their night time attack. There were other times when my mother's sense of fear came through to me, another time we were walking together when we heard a flapping noise directly above us, like sheets being shaken in the wind. We looked up to see white parachutes opening directly above us we rushed home to seek security whilst other people were putting on the kettles preparing a cup of tea for the crew bailing out of their RAF earoplane. At another time I was in the garden and heard a violent flapping sound and over the top of our bungalow came a huge American bomber seemingly not much above the chimney stack. It was orange and black and large parts of its torn fuselage crashed in the wind against other parts of the bodywork, it was being flown by the American pilot without power to avoid the areas of housing and heading towards the sea. He was too low to bail out but such acts of sacrifice are commonplace in war and mostly go un-recorded.
As a schoolboy, with new found friends, Canvey became a countryside to be explored. An island drained by Dutch engineers and with a protective sea wall like a Mediaeval fortress it was unlike any other English landscape. At the top end of The Driveway was a small wooded copse with a damp soil inhabited by lizards and newts that formed an important part of our sometimes sadistic boyhood games. We could roam the fields and play soldiers or cowboys on the haystacks or wander the marshes where an oil refinery now stands.
The initiation was a 'booter', getting both socks and shoes soaked in the marshland rivulets and then walking home with squeeks and squelches amongst the sounds of mischievous laughter.
On Sundays, a girl, our older 'minder', took a handful of her young charges along the sea wall and down to The Point of the island. We passed by upturned clinker built boat hulls blackened by tar and used as houses until we reached a flat bottomed punt shaped boat. Painted a gleaming white with a large house like structure on its deck it was surrounded by a pretty baluster and bobbed in the tidal flow of the creek, it was the Sunday School. The motley congregation sang our little hearts out, best suits, white dresses and shoes covered in marshland mud. I was,without knowing it, living in the remnants of a Dickensian landscape.
The war continued with its everyday experiences, one morning I came out of the front door and as I closed it the ground and house shook violently in the shockwave from a terrifying explosion. I looked out of the porch towards a huge column of jet black smoke rising rapidly into the sky. I shouted and screamed with fear as I banged my tiny fists against the door with frenzy in the attempt to seek the safety of my mothers arms.
It had been a 'Doodlebug'.
I saw others much closer after that, large orange coloured rockets belching a loud gutteral roar from the jet of flame that propelled it. Whilst it made this sound you knew that it was passing, when it suddenly went silent you dropped to the ground and waited. Apparently our fighter pilots at times tried to tip the wings of a doodlebug with their own aircraft wings in an attempt to deflect its course, sometimes with terrible consequences. I overheard, " She was cooking at the time when the doodlebug came down and the saucepan handle went through her neck." The image of this was distorted, nightmare fashion, in my childs' mind.
School had its own excitements, one morning a boy got his leg trapped between the classroom wall and a large heating pipe. At the same moment his shouts were echoed by the wailing of the air raid siren. The children remained silent and bewildered as they watched teachers, in confusion and panic, trying both to release the boy and shepherd the rest of us to the playground air raid shelter.
Restricted rations and the lack of nutritious food left some of us in poor health but almost as a form of compensation there was a list of things that could be done even when there was no medical need.
The removal of appendix or tonsils or ear nose and throat operations were a matter of course. I remember my mum and a Matron standing at the foot of my bed in hospital, the matron asking, "whilst we have him in here would you like us to remove his appendix?"
My own 'ear,nose and throat', was done at a hospital on the mainland, I think it was at Hornchurch. As I came round from the anaesthetic there was an almighty explosion, the french window doors at the side of my ward bed blew open with tremendous force as the curtains rose horizontally like flags and crashing glass spewed its way across the floor. Nurses rushed in to comfort us and we went back to sleep. A boy of my age had been in the bed next to mine and when I awoke in the morning he was gone, his bedsheets had been pulled back and they lay open soaked red with blood.
Some winter mornings I would be taken to Lea Beck school nourished by a large crust of fresh warm bread and a small red carton of Edwards Granulated Soups. I loved crunching my way through those ox-tail granules and it is interesting how wartime tastes and smells can be just as easily rembered as the happenings.
Apart from the jubilation at its ending my final sounds of war were on the day my mother and an aunt took me near to my fathers place of work on the Thames. We walked along a pavement close to the river along which stood a long row of soldiers, some were smoking cigarettes, some were silent, others talked quietly but some were crying. Tears streaming down their faces these soldiers were sobbing loudly. Lowering their heads my mother and aunt walked swiftly past to avoid giving embarassment whilst I, in childhood innocence, just stared in disbelief. I thought about it for days afterwards but my childish reasoning could not understand why a soldier would cry.
Just ten or so years after the war I understood because my own National Service taught me that soldiers are just men in uniform.
My own experiences were at times harrowing. A soldier more experienced than I saved us both by his perceptive observation during a period of terrorism. But, I think that two other soldiers died in our place.
My own torment for a promise that I made to a group of young soldiers only to break it just hours later. The sound of their laughter haunts me but I am glad to be haunted by those spirits because all that their mothers have to remember is the sound of their own tears.
I am saddened that the history of National Service will be extracted by the academics from the dusty official written records of fact, not from the voices of experience.
Its chronicles will be the bawdy frivolous novels that torment fact by their fiction.
Young men, teenaged young men, died during National Service, will fiction be their only epitaph?
ENDS A Child's Sounds of war
Contributed originally by Essex Action Desk (BBC WW2 People's War)
The attached Police Report was obtained from the London Fire Brigade records with their permission. No action was taken of the rescue. It was considered to be the thing to do as a professional fireman.
COPY Police Office,
Royal Albert Dock.
10th March 1941
To — The Chief Police Officer.
IMMERSION — M.Korn
I beg to report that on the 9th March 1941 at about 8.30p.m. at No. 1 Warehouse, Royal Victoria Dock, Morris Korn, age 33, an A.F.S.Fireman No.2888 West Ham Fire Brigade, attached to No.23 Fire Station near Vernons Gate, was about to step on to the barge “FROME” to assist in extinguishing a fire caused by an incendiary bomb, when he missed his footing and fell into the dock water between the barge and the quay. Fireman Frappell who was on the barge heard a splash, and on looking round, found that Korn was missing. He jumped back on to the quay, looked over the edge and saw Korn in the water. He shouted “Man overboard”, and, lying flat on the ground, reached down and held Korn’s hand. Fireman Fisher, who was in charge of the appliance on the quay lay down beside Frappell and held Korn’s other hand. Together, both men tried to pull him from the water but were unsuccessful. A rope was then lowered and Korn held on to this. Once agtain an attempt was made to pull him from the water but without success. By this time Korn was becoming exhausted and told the others that he could hold on no longer. Frappell then asked for a line to be tied round him. This was done by Fisher and he was lowered into the water beside Korn. Another lione was lowered and this was tied round Korn’s shoulders by Frappell. With Frappell pushing from below, and Fireman and P.L.A.Fire Spotters pulling from the quay Korn was hauled from the water.
Both men were taken to No.23 Fire Station, rubbed down and wrapped in blankets. Frappell had fully recovered by the following morning, but although Korn said that he was not too bad he still seems a little shaky. There were six barges moored at this spot, three to the end of the barge “Frome” end to end, and liable to move in the wind. Korn admitted to me that if Frappell had not entered the water and tied the line to him he would have gone under and probably drowned. The rope dropped into the water had slipped through his hands and had almost reached the end when the other line was secured round his shoulder. Frappell is rather a stout man; his age is 45, and the lines used were the life lines that Firemen carry as part of their equipment, not much thicker than cord.
The thinness of the lines made it difficult to pull the men from the water and certainly appeared a little frail to hold a man of Frappell’s bulk. The water was some feet below the quay edge. A N.N.Easterly wind was blowing at the time which might have blown the barges towards the quay and so jammed the men between barge and quay. Both Firemen were fully dressed and were wearing rubber boots; these filled with water and weighted the men down. There is little doubt that Frappell saved Korn’s life.
An intensive air raid was in progress, incendiary bombs had been dropped and there was every likelihood of H.Es following. So, although Frappell had the line round him, if the barges had moved towards the quay, or bombs dropped near causing Fisher to Release his hold on the line, he would have been in a precarious position.
He said he is a fair swimmer but has not been in the water for some years.
I respectfully suggest that the action of Frappell be brought to the notice of the West Ham Fire Brigade for the commendation he so richly deserves.
I give below statements taken by me.
MORRIS KORN AGE 33 A.F.S Fireman No. 2888, West Ham Fire
Brigade, attached to No.23 Station, states;-
“About 8.30pm 9th March 1941 I was taking a hose from the quayside of No.1 Shed, to a barge on which an incendiary bomb was burning, when I missed my footing and fell into the water between the barge and the quay. Then one of my mates leaned over the quay and held my hand, and tried to pull me out. He could not do this and lowered me a rope. I could not pull myself up the rope and became exhausted.
Fireman Frappell was lowered on a rope and assisted me to the quay. If he had not come to my help when he did I should have gone under again. I feel reasonably well this morning.”
CHARLES FRAPPELL age 45, A Fireman No.122, West Ham Fire Brigade attached to No.23 Station states;-
“About 8.30p.m. 9th March 1941 I was standing on a barge (The “Frome” owned by Whitehairs) extinguishing an incendiary bomb when I heard a splash and on looking round found that Korn, who should have been following me on to the barge, had disappeared. I shouted “Help — man overboard”.
I jumped onto the quay and saw him come to the surface of the water between the barge and the quay. I lay on the quayside and put my hand over the edge and he grabbed it. Then Fireman Fisher came up and did the same as me. Each of us holding a hand. We tried to pull him out but were unsuccessful. He then said he could hold on no longer. I asked for a line to be put round me and was lowered into the water beside Korn. Then another line was lowered and I tied this under his arm and helped to push him up while the others pulled him out. I am a fair swimmer but have not been in the water for some years. I feel none the worse for the immersion”.
CHARLES FISHER No.088. Fireman in charge No.23 Station, West Ham Fire Brigade states;-
“About 8.30p.m. 9th March 1941, I was in charge of the appliance attending the fire on the barge “Frome” at No.1. Shed, Royal Victoria Dock. I heard a shout of “man overboard” from Fireman Frappell and went to the quay edge and saw Frappell lying on his stomach holding the hand of Korn, who was in the water, between the barge and the quay. I also lay down and held Korn’s other hand and together we tried to pull him out. This we could not do and a rope was lowered to him. He held this and we made another attempt to pull him out, again we could not. Korn then said he could hold no longer and a line was tied round Frappell and he was lowered into the water beside him. Another line was lowered and this Frappell tied round Korn’s shoulder and with Frappell pushing and myself and other firemen together with some P.D.A. men who had arrived, we got Korn out. Both men were taken to this Station, given a rub down and wrapped in blankets. They were fully dressed in full uniform and rubber boots. In my opinion if Frappell had not gone in korn would have drowned.
The above Police report on a very praiseworthy act by a member of the West Ham Fire Brigade is forwarded with the suggestion that Frappell’s action be brought to the notice of the Chief Officer of his Brigade.
Contributed originally by London Borough of Newham Public (BBC WW2 People's War)
As told by Donald Wharf
The air-raid siren - as chilling as ever - wailed as the daylight was fading. Having had no serious air-raid for ages, I thought that, perhaps, it was 'nothing' but then came the very familiar 'booms', and so we retired to the shelter. Hitler had, obviously, not given up and, much as I'm sure we all thought it, the excitement had not simply passed us by - the war had come back to East Ham. Next, I detected a coarse, raucous sound that was closing surprisingly fast. 'One of their aircraft in trouble', I thought but, just as it seemed to have passed, the engine cut out - and then it happened: the explosion was not far away. Almost at once I could hear it again, that same unforgettable sound which stopped, like the first time, very abruptly - and so, yet another explosion. This didn't end: it continued to happen amidst some formidable gunfire - something that finally caused me to say, "The bombers, they're shooting them down!" Slowly, my father turned round to one side: he was laying full length on a bunk-bed. "If that's the case then they've got some new gunners", he said - or something like that. When, in the end, after several hours we emerged from our Anderson shelter, all the old smells of the 'blitz' were there - then I realised what this could all mean..... Saturday: would I be able to go? The Odeon: was it still there? Then, as if nothing else mattered at all, I started to question my mother which brought a deservedly curt response - "It'll have to be cancelled", she said.
Cancelled it was, but there wasn't a choice as the bombing looked set to continue. After that memorably noisy night, we learned that we hadn't heard aircraft but, what was referred to as, unmanned missiles, technically known as V1s. These were propelled by a strange type of jet engine, which, when it finally cut out, meant that the missile then dived down to earth with its payload - a ton of explosive. More of them came down the following day which my mother said looked rather ominous.
As it turned out, all her fears were proved right when in no more than four or five days, life was resembling the earlier 'blitz'..... but at that point the guns disappeared! This was because they had moved further south to positions in Sussex and Kent, where hitting and shooting the missiles down wouldn't defeat its own purpose. 'Missiles', in fact, was a rarely used word which, very soon after that Thursday, was replaced by 'flying bombs', 'buzz bombs' or 'doodle-bugs' - words that, to us, had some meaning.
One almost instant change that took place, after the guns had moved on, was our air-raid routine during daylight hours: we no longer stayed in the shelter. Shrapnel was, obviously, not coming down so there wasn't a danger from that, and as for the strange-looking flying bombs - they did, in fact, give us some warning. Firstly, their noise told us when they were coming, then, due to them flying so low, we were able to watch their line of approach - but suddenly all would fall silent: that was the point when we just had to guess where the bombs were most likely to land. Sometimes we did have to dive down the shelter but, mostly, we stayed in the garden.
Naturally, after a period of time, it all became very routine with most people choosing to stay indoors during, what we all called, an 'alert'. Usually, however, a look-out was used who would shout in the case of real danger - this, out of school hours, was me for my house and Roy for his house, next door. Actually, the pair of us worked as a team, up on the roof of our shed which hadn't been used as a look-out post since the days of the Battle of Britain.
During the course of July, and then August, parts of East Ham really suffered. We, on the other hand, saw some near misses that still remain etched in my brain but, generally, our stretch of Central Park Road only sustained minor damage. One such 'near miss' came at lunch-time, one day, while I wandered outside in the garden, waiting for something like dried egg and mash that my mother was quietly preparing. Having just come home from school, very hungry, I wasn't a look-out that day! Also, I'd realised, with total surprise, that my father was home for lunch too, so feeling, perhaps, just a little intrigued, I was thinking of asking him 'why?'. This never happened as thoughts such as that were suddenly blown from my mind.
Coming in fast was a flying bomb that I'd, obviously, not been aware of, and flying low, I remember thinking, due to the tone of its engine. Almost at once it careered into view, as I searched for it over the rooftops, blasting its way in a straight line towards me - that was the point when I shouted.....partly, perhaps, to release the tension but also to forewarn my parents. Then, when its engine cut out, right above me, I physically cringed, but I stayed there, knowing that, usually, they dived at an angle but rarely at ninety degrees. This one was different: it flipped itself over then dropped in a vertical dive! Stricken with fear, I just froze like a statue but, after a nasty few moments, two pairs of hands were pushing and pulling me - then, I was down in the shelter, crouching beneath both my mother and father waiting, I thought, for oblivion. Seconds ticked by: perhaps four, perhaps five - "Where is it?", I yelled, "What's happening?" Next came the dull, rather horrible thud..... it was close but at least we'd survived.
As luck would have it - that is for us - the bomb had pulled out of its dive and landed just north of the Barking Road, a three minute walk from our house. This wasn't lucky for West Ham United: the bomb had come down on their ground!
One other quite harrowing image of war from the 'doodle-bug' days of that summer, came on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning while lots of us just sat around. Not having eaten my breakfast by then, I have to admit, I was one. First came a few very distant explosions but then, when we thought they were finished, someone outside shouted, "One's coming over!"..... it missed us but not by a lot. Naturally, everyone rushed to their windows or stood in their tiny front gardens to see where the bomb had eventually come down, but it wasn't that obvious at first. Next, I remember, I noticed that smoke was starting to rise in the sky from somewhere - again - near the Barking Road, though I couldn't be sure from our doorstep. Nobody else actually made a suggestion but some said they thought it was nearer. Half an hour later, the sky was still quiet so, with partial parental approval, I ran to where everything seemed to be happening which was where I'd thought it would be.
More than a few of the local people were standing in groups in the road, helpless of course, and looking dazed but most of them would have been neighbours. Then there were firemen and rescue workers, scrambling about in the rubble, heaving great lumps of it out of their way in a desperate search for survivors. What had been, once, just a quiet little street was a scene of appalling destruction. One house - the house at the end of the terrace - had simply been razed to the ground with only some pieces of outside wall still, temporarily, standing upright. As for the next house, the one next door that was still technically standing, though most of its roof had been blown away and two or three walls had come down. Thankfully, further along down the terrace, the damage grew steadily less.
Suddenly, there was a buzz of excitement as someone was found in the debris then carried, precariously, down to the road and into the back of an ambulance. That seemed, at least, like a glimmer of hope but almost at once there was more - a rescue worker appeared through the dust, stumbling, but carrying a child. As I looked harder it looked like a boy but wrapped in an A.R.P. blanket. Naturally, then, we all tried to close in but the A.R.P. wouldn't let us as more of the victims were being brought out in a street getting ever more crowded. Possibly, I'd been reminded of Ginger as, right at the height of this drama, I found myself feeling unpleasantly hot - then I wanted to leave, very quickly.
On the way home, I decided to stop and to sit on the kerb by the roadside. All that I wanted to do, in fact, was to settle myself and cool down, which seemed to me better than getting home flustered and having my mother ask questions. This, it turned out, was doomed from the start when a voice near me called, "You alright?" then I found myself trying to explain that I was to a deaf and persistent old man, who told me that he would accompany me home - so I just had to get up and run. When, minutes later, I walked through our door, I had as it happened, recovered.
After the huge, airy rooms of 'The Manse' (Port Sunlight, where Donald had been evacuated in August 1944) my house seemed even more tiny. As for the garden - I'd almost forgotten the amount take up by the shelter, covered, that Autumn, in long stalky grass and the seed pods of dozens of marigolds. Little had changed though - at least, near to us - except for the wail of the siren. That had, apparently, been very quiet since the 'doodle-bug' era had ended. What had replaced them, the V2 rockets, were able to fly undetected, making the usual defences useless as well as the old wailing siren.
My first experience of this latest weapon came, not on the day I returned, but during the course of the following morning while I was at home with my mother - playing outside in the garden, in fact, as all of my friends were at school. Suddenly, there was a terrible 'bang' which caused me to jump and turn round, just as my mother appeared in the kitchen; "Sounds like a rocket", she called. Then, looking roughly southwest from our house, I saw what was obviously smoke, billowing up and forming a cloud in the area beyond Boundary Road. Nothing but silence reigned, just for a while, but that was soon broken by bells: fire-engine bells and then ambulance bells - the 'blitz' and V1s yet again!..... What was so different, of course, to all that, was the absence of some sort of warning.