High Explosive Bomb at Rosebery Avenue
High Explosive Bomb :
Source: Aggregate Night Time Bomb Census 7th October 1940 to 6 June 1941
Fell between Oct. 7, 1940 and June 6, 1941
Rosebery Avenue, Finsbury, London Borough of Islington, EC1R 3AL, London
56 20 SE - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by saucyrita (BBC WW2 People's War)
Rita Savage (nee Atkinson)
A child’s view of the war.
In 1939 I was nine years old and living in Peckham, London S.E.15. It was 3rd September 1939 and I remember sitting on the back steps that led into the garden listening to my mum and dad discuss the advent of the Second World War. My parents had of course lived through the First World War. My dad served in the Army along with his brother and father; they were all in the same regiment I am told. My uncle Ernie was killed in France but my dad and my grandfather both survived.
This particular day as I sat on our back step, dad had switched on the wireless and we heard our then Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain broadcast that we were at war with Germany. A few minutes later we heard the distinctive wail of the air raid siren and I remember thinking that we were all going to die on this the first day of the war. All the tales I had been told about the First World War came back to me and I was terrified. My sister Doris would be about sixteen years of age then and she seemed to take it in her stride. My brother Brian was only about four years of age and too young to understand.
We didn’t have an air raid that day of course, the all clear sounded straightaway. We were simply being prepared for what was to come.
The first few weeks of the war went by and nothing significant happened that I was aware of except all the schools were closed in London where I lived anyway. I suppose all the teachers eligible were called up or they enlisted in our armed forces.
I got over my initial terror and enjoyed the freedom from school which I didn’t like very much anyway.
The next thing that happened was for me a very traumatic one — gas masks! I remember all the family going along to this large building, probably the Town Hall, I can’t remember now and waiting in a queue to be fitted for these horrible looking contraptions. My mother was very worried about my little brother Brian thinking that he would act up and cause a fuss. She didn’t worry about me; I was older and never made a fuss about anything.
Wrong! When it was my turn I did more than make a fuss, when they tried to put the mask over my face I remember becoming hysterical. I couldn’t bear to have my face covered; I have been like this all my life. Claustrophobia is the word of course but I didn’t know that at the time. My brother on the other hand wouldn’t take his off he wanted to keep it on. We were supposed to practice wearing these masks on a regular basis and I would always disappear and go into hiding.
My parents decided to move house at that time, only into the next road. Later on in the war the house we had moved from was flattened taking with it the house next door where some of our friends lived. There were five children in that family and they along with their parents were all killed. The house we had moved into was never bombed and had we known it then of course we could have stayed there throughout the war and gone to our beds to sleep every night and not to the Anderson shelter in the back garden.
The war had been going for about a year by this time with no air raids and the schools were beginning to open their doors once more when the blitz on London started in earnest.
That first air raid was a daytime one, I remember I was playing on the front with my friend and when I heard the siren I immediately ran to my mother who at the time was talking to someone at our front door. She hadn’t heard the siren at first and she was very cross with me for interrupting her, children were indeed seen and not heard in those days. I was forgiven however once my mother realised what was happening. We only just made it to the Anderson in time before we heard the enemy planes overhead and the bombs dropping all around us. My mother was in a state because my sister and my dad were at work. My dad and sister were all right thank goodness but they were both very shaken when they eventually arrived home.
That night the raids started in earnest. We spent every night after that in the Anderson shelter or as I will tell you later in other shelters. We would lie awake at night listening to the noise of the falling bombs and the noise of our ack ack guns and wonder if our house would still be standing in the morning.
My brother and I would lay either side of our mother and cover her ears with our hands. My mother was a complete nervous wreck after a few weeks of this bombardment of our city.
In retrospect I realise she was so afraid for us her children. In later years when I had my own children I would think back to these terrible times and only guess at her agony of mind and her fear for us her three children.
One day the lady next door said they were going away for a little while and as their shelter was a bit more comfortable than ours we could use it if we wanted to. So that evening off we all went with all the paraphernalia that was needed to take down the shelter with us, i.e. flasks of hot drinks, candles, matches, a torch etc, not forgetting the gas masks of course, making our way into next door’s garden and their shelter. When the door was closed we were completely sealed in and it was padded out so the noise wasn’t so horrendous. When we were settled later on and it was time to try to get some sleep dad blew out the candles. Fortunately for us my brother started to cry and complained of tummy ache so dad tried to re-light the candles but they just wouldn’t light. It was a few seconds before my dad realized they wouldn’t light because there was no air coming into the shelter. We got out of there pretty quickly and made our way back to our own shelter. But for Brian, my little brother, we could have all suffocated.
We next tried the cinema at the end of our road — I remember it was called “The Tower” — they had cellars underneath that were opened to the public at night to use as a shelter. We had quite a job to get somewhere to sit. They had these wooden benches covering the floor space and mum tried to make up beds for us children underneath these benches on the floor. We didn’t hear the noise so much but to my mother’s disgust a few of the older men sitting nearby every so often would spit on the floor quite close to where we lay. We were only there one night my mum wouldn’t go back again.
The next night mum dragged us all to the underground railway, the Oval at Kennington, the trains were not running at night and people made up their beds on the platforms. We thought we were early but when we got down there we had to step over bodies trying to find somewhere for ourselves. We had to give up as there was no room and we went back to our own shelter again. We heard later on that just after we had left the Oval a bomb was dropped at the entrance. Our guardian angel must have been watching over us that night.
My parents decided that we children should be evacuated as so many of the children were. Mum sewed our names in all our clothes and off we went to the railway station, I can’t remember which one it was, probably Euston, where daily trains would come in and children were packed in, gas masks around their necks, saying their goodbyes to parents left standing on the platforms. At the last minute mum couldn’t let us go — what a decision for a parent to have to make, not knowing where your child was going and if they would be treated well and looked after properly. This was probably just as well since my mum wanted my older sister to go too in order to keep an eye on us. This would not have worked of course for one she was seventeen and for another when the children got to their destination families were more often than not split up. My mum didn’t know this at the time though. So once again we all went back home.
I remember one morning in particular, we hadn’t been up from the shelter for long from the night before and the wail of the siren started up again. My mum and dad sent us children straight back to the shelter. Incidentally we had a dog called Trixie and as soon as she heard the siren she would make straight for the shelter, she was always in first. Anyway, the raid started almost before the siren had ended and bombs were dropping about us and our sister and parents were trapped in the house, they dived under the kitchen table for some protection. We children and our dog clung together praying that the rest of our family would be safe in the house but we both thought that they would surely die.
By this time my mother was so distraught she begged my father to give up his job so we could all move away from London together as a family. We had endured months of these terrible raids. My father was a milkman with the United Dairies and he would come home from work in a terrible state, collapsing into a chair and burying his face in his hands and really cry, at the same time trying to tell us how he had gone to deliver milk to his customers in the East end of London only to find whole streets wiped out and people he had known for years, laughed with, had cups of tea with, were all killed or made homeless their houses just smouldering rubble.
One night Brian had a very high temperature, he was prone to fits when he was a young child, my mum wouldn’t leave the house for the shelter in case it did him some harm so we all huddled under the stairs for some protection.
Later on that night the air raid warden knocked on all the doors in our road informing us that we had to get out of our homes because it was believed a land mine had been dropped at the end of our road. Mum would not leave, she said that if our number was up, so be it. She was not going to take Brian outside. Fortunately for us it turned out not to be a land mine after all just an unexploded bomb which was eventually defused by the bomb squad.
After this my dad did not need any persuading to leave London, he was ready to go. But where to! My sister Doris had a boyfriend called Ron who had been deferred from the armed forces because he was an electrician and had been sent by his firm to Stoke-on-Trent where he was engaged in electrical work at a munitions factory. He got us rooms in a house in Boughey Road, Shelton where he was also lodging.
The day we actually left our home in London is one I shall never forget because of the trauma and upheaval this move caused us. My mother had a boarder called John living with us and I remember him very clearly. He was always very kind to us children. He was a pharmacist and we thought of him as an adoptive uncle. He promised to take care of our dog and all our belongings until we could send for them. We also had a cat called Tibby and we all loved her very much but she was old and no one else wanted her so we had to say goodbye and sadly dad took her to be put to sleep. We also had a rabbit, pure white she was and so sweet. What a wrench to have to part with her as well, particularly for Brian who was only six at the time and he thought the world of her. We gave the rabbit away to friends who promised faithfully to look after her.
We packed everything we could carry of course and we were finally ready to go. All our neighbours came out to say goodbye and wish us luck with promises to keep an eye on our house and especially the dog. When I think back now, what wonderful neighbours they were, later on in my story they all rallied round and helped John with the removal of our furniture and belongings including Trixie, our dog. Anyway we eventually left and caught a bus taking us to Euston Station to catch the train for Stoke-on-Trent. As the bus moved slowly along Peckham High Street we heard the wail of the siren and the drone overhead of enemy aircraft. All of a sudden we heard an explosion and everything seemed to shake; we later heard that a bomb had been dropped not far behind us, if this had happened a few minutes earlier we would probably have been killed.
We arrived at Euston Station shaken but all in one piece and stood on the platform with our suitcases around our feet waiting for the train to take us out of the misery of living in wartime London which was once our home. The train was late and when it did arrive it was packed mostly with service men. We had to sit on our cases in the corridor of the train and we moved very slowly forward out of London and towards the Midlands. It was a terrible journey, the train kept stopping for no reason that we could see. It seemed to us children that we were on that train for hours. We finally arrived very tired and despondent and set foot for the first time on Stoke Station. We were met by Ron, Doris’s boyfriend. It’s such a long time ago now over sixty years, I cannot remember how we got from the station to Boughey Road, perhaps we walked. Anyway we arrived eventually and found that our landlady was very nice and very welcoming. We had the front bedroom upstairs, it contained a double bed which Brian and I shared with mum and dad and a camp bed at the foot of the double bed for Doris. We were okay with this arrangement since we had all been cramped together in the shelter in London. It was wonderful to be able to go to bed and go to sleep, what bliss! We did of course hear the siren some nights but we ignored it and stayed in bed, after what we had experienced the raids here were mild. There had been bombs dropped here locally before we arrived. The Royal Infirmary was hit and also a house in Richmond Street, Hartshill, I think it was Richmond Street anyway.
My mother, after a lot of tramping about in the Potteries, finally found a house in Princes Road, Hartshill which had not been lived in for ten years. In those days houses were all rented, no one bought a house, unless you were well off anyway. My poor mother had to scrub that house several times before we could move into it because of all the grime that had accumulated over the years. We had no choice really, we had to have this house, no other landlord would rent to us because we were from London and it was believed that Londoners did not stay long in the Potteries it was too quiet for them! Everything was so hard to get in wartime, when we moved in we had no electric or gas, we had to use candles for light and in the kitchen was a black leaded fireplace with an oven at the side which mum had to use until we could get a cooker. We did get an electric cooker eventually but if it had not been for Ron, who also came to live with us, we would not have been able to use it because the electricity board had no one they could send to install it. Ron fixed all our electricity problems, we were very lucky. Getting coal to heat such a large house was a very big problem, we burnt anything we could on that fire and in the evenings we all sat huddled together round it. We couldn’t get curtain material so we had to have black paper up at all the window because of the blackout.
The day when the removal van with all our furniture and best of all our dog eventually arrived was wonderful. The removal man wanted to buy Trixie from us he couldn’t get over how good she had been on the journey, never attempting to run away. She knew he was bringing her to us because she was with all our furniture and belongings in the van. We never went back to London after the war but made our home permanently in Stoke-on-Trent.
I would like to say to all those people in London and other towns who were so cruelly bombed how much I admire them for sticking it out. They were a lot braver than we were.
Written by Rita on 4 December 2003
Contributed originally by Stockport Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Linda Paton of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Henry 'Rob' Farley and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
It was tough on parents to hear the staccato, impersonal declaration of War with Germany back in 1939. To an eight-year-old, vaguely listening in on the radio, it did not immediately register as much more than a prospective Cowboys v Indians shoot-out skirmish. I probably then was concerned with swapping my much-thumbed Beanos and Dandies for more seriously adult literature such as Hotspur, Adventure and Champion. No notion occurred of the impending absence, probably forever, of pear drops, Mars bars, oranges or most forms of red meat other than ox hearts, liver or horse, or the recognition of ration books, ARP wardens with their brass bells and tin hats, blackouts, artillery batteries at street junctions, and the threat of blood spilt. With the early sight of hurricanes and spitfires in spiralling formation across the skies and the wail of sirens, the tempo of life changed even for childish minds. New words became part of the day to day vocabulary - incendiaries, camouflage, barrage balloons, searchlights, shrapnel.
We were living on one of many mid-1930’s housing estates, every developable inch occupied by terraced and semi-detached houses with neat gardens. All the streets and avenues were named after exotic West Country locations holding images of white- horsed waves rolling in and constant sunshine. Positioned in the general vicinity of Northolt aerodrome, the area was bound to become an inevitable target for random, aerial bombardment. For the adults, this prospect must have struck terror in the heart. For a child, like me, it took more than a while for the perils implicit in the sound of the siren to dawn. We lived in a compact, terraced house near the beginning of the road. The Browns were halfway down it in a semi-detached. Unusually for the neighbourhood, one realised with the benefit of hindsight, Mr. Brown had his own private business in the construction world. Adelaide was the daughter, roughly my age, but never one of our gang. Female, to start with, and far to pert and porcelain-like for our re-enactors of the fastest gun in the West. And at football, one could scarcely contemplate a girl in goal.
As we all edged older month by month, the pattern of our lives changed, apart from anything else, in terms of the nature of hostilities. Still, there were the odd fighter planes, adorned with swastikas, machine guns spewing, and bombs of increasing venom reeking havoc in one community or another. Then arrived the era of the silent destroyer, the V2 and, of course, the doodlebug. In its case, you were safe enough whilst you could hear the riveting bass drone of its engine. There was an immense consciousness of the slow stutter before it finally petered out.
Most houses in our street had resort either to an indoor Morrison shelter or a self-erected Anderson in the garden. The only locally, well- publicised exception was at the Brown menage. Thanks to the dexterity and inclination of Brown the elder, they had a serious underground bunker backing on to the alley at the rear, a great haunt, anyway, for shrapnel seekers. Dutifully, at that stage of the war, every evening as a family we retreated with some Irish friends to our cosy, familiar Anderson. We were armed with Thermos flasks, knitting needles, wool of many hues, a galaxy of Irish stories and protective sprinklings of holy water.
On this particular, pre-dawn morning, tucked up in overcrowded comfort, we were shocked awake by an explosion that rocked the foundations. In the land of nod we had no presentiment that the doodlebug’s engine had cut out seconds before. Almost as if Hitler himself had specifically schemed it, the bomb landed directly on the Brown’s architectural bunker. The conscripted air raid wardens were quick to scour the debris strewn over our beloved street for much of its length. Our own house, on cursory inspection, had most of the ceilings down, doors blown off, bizarrely both inward and outward, and, I clearly recall, shards of taped glass like mottled darts piercing my parents’ otherwise intact wardrobe. A headcount revealed that, with one exception, everybody was groggily on parade. The one exception was Adelaide. Probably because it was at least as comfortable as the house, as a matter of rote, the Browns always spent their nights in the bunker - now a shattered heap of reinforced concrete, Middlesex clay and Ruhr metal. On this night, the hand of fate had intervened and for some reason the Browns had elected to sleep in their own beds. In the cool of the morning, the shrapnel still too warm to covet for posterity, rummaging around in the Browns’ downstairs dining-room rescuers found Adelaide still in her bed. Thanks to the angels, she proved as right as rain save for the odd, trophy scratch acquired in her descent through the collapsed ceiling. Indeed, I am certain she bedded, like a sainted heroine, the following evening along with all the other bombed-out families at the temporary Church Hall refuge.
It must have been shortly after that too close to call incident that I first recognised inside myself, an ominous awareness of my own mortality. Perhaps it was no more than a symptom of approaching adolescence, but I began to shake with fear whenever the syncopating rhythm of the air raid siren sounded. The all clear gave unmitigated relief. But from then on, I abandoned the Anderson at the end of the garden and knitting scarves, preferring to shake alone indoors under the stairs alongside the brooms. The fear of fear made me crave my own company.
It was doubly good fortune that the war from our point of view was veering toward its close. The skies were now full of waves of Wellingtons and the like, setting off on missions that flattened Dresden, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. The newspapers dwelt less on our accustomed, domestic ills, but vividly portrayed the daily advances by the Allies ultimately on Berlin. Likewise, on the radio, although these commentaries were interspersed by such respites as Workers’ Playtime, the Andrews Sisters and Tommy Handley.
Almost as imperceptibly as we had moved on to a war footing, the need to celebrate peace with vigour began to ascend the priorities. VE day followed with eager anticipation by VJ Day. Impromptu street parties gave outward recognition to immense relief from accumulated tension. It is hard to be precise, but I suspect that it was in that mood of rampant euphoria that Adelaide gave a party in her house and I was asked to it. Why I was asked was never entirely apparent. I was not a member of her contemporary clan and no other members of my gang were invited. The only logical reasons to ascribe were that I lived in the same street, was near the same age and wore trousers. Peering back now through the decades, that party probably set me on the path, in modern parlance, of an instinctive, natural net-worker. That word would not have been coined in the late 40’s, when apart from having a vague, historic link to our hostess, Adelaide, I started off by knowing no one else. And no one else knew me. Unfamiliar skills needed to be rapidly mustered to combat a frustrating sense of isolation. Putting on my interpretation of an Alan Ladd swagger, I started off with mannerly greetings to two of the girls, who had arrived more or less at the same time in a cloud of mother’s eau de cologne. They were more immediately accessible, and distinctly more attractive a prospect, than the other boys Brylcreemed up and puffing away on Woodbines. Very early on, I discovered that the art of networking largely revolves around asking questions and having a fertile memory.
Clearly, I did not witness her rescuers disentangle a tousled haired Adelaide from the doodlebug debris on that fateful night. But one could imagine her pristine, pink skin and her dusty, rosebud mouth. Here, some years later, that child had metamorphosed into a Grable-like dream. Lithe with excited, blushed cheeks, full, mobile lips and an air of confidence heralding imminent adulthood. She was the shape of things yet seriously to come. Needless to say, in no time at all, Adelaide had a team of admirers queuing up. All much bigger than me, including Adelaide.
The only recollection I have of music, as such, was the soft, sugary lap of Hawaiian serenades. Without contradiction, there was no form of alcohol in the midst and we had to rely on copious draughts of Tizer to fire us up. All the girls wore the seamed nylons of the day, almost certain to be laddered before the evening was out. Someone was periodically switching the lights on and off, probably Adelaide herself. Several times, Mr, Brown, perhaps perturbed by moments of spasmodic stillness put an anxious head around the door. There is no doubt, but that the assembled hormones that evening, maybe for the first time in any of our lives built up in to radical overdrive.
I never saw or heard of Adelaide again or any of her fellow guests. Faces passed like proverbial ships in the peacetime night. The only thing we all had in common was that we had lived through the Second World War and had survived it to tell our tales. We also had pending, the obligation to weave out our future destinies in the wild, wide world. I wonder what happened subsequently to Adelaide and her party guests during the intervening decades. There must be a yarn or two to emerge of setbacks, sadnesses, victories and enduring joys.
Contributed originally by Christine Cuss (BBC WW2 People's War)
Extracts from a notebook written by Christine’s father, Alexander Pierce, which he started at the outbreak of WW2 through to the end of the War.
This notebook was discovered in 1980, a year after my father’s death. My father was not able to receive a good education, but it is to his credit that he realised the importance to record the events of the war years for me. It illustrates the devotion of a father to his only child and to his wife during those terrifying years. Only the spellings and punctuation have been changed by me. I am deeply proud of the record he kept, and extremely thankful to have been his daughter.
Monday, 14th March, 1938. Christine I am writing this page for you, to let you see the state of the World at this present time.
First Mussolini invaded and took Abyssinia. Now Hitler of Germany has invaded Austria. These two dictators are causing all the trouble that is going on. All I hope is that Germany will not interfere with Czechoslovakia because England has made a promise to go to her assistance, that would mean we would have to go to war which I do not want because I should have to leave you and mother. I love you both.
12th September, 1938.
Dear Christine. We are now passing through a most critical time. It looks as if Germany is going to invade Czechoslovakia, that would mean another World War which I spoke of further back in this book. The Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, has sent for the Prime Minister of France to come to England. You have been up to Downing Street to-day which is the 18th of September while the cabinet is sitting. We are waiting to hear what the news is going to be. We all hope it is not War. Love Daddy.
18th September, 1938.
Dear Christine. We have taken you this day to Westminster Abbey for the Church service. There were thousands of people there. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 25th Sept., 1938.
We all went to get fitted with gas masks. Christine, you cried a lot. It upset mother a lot, but it had to be done to save your life in case war was declared which is supposed to be Oct. 1st.
Thursday 29th Sept., 1938.
Mother went to get our gas masks. She got mine and hers, but she was told she would have to go to the Town Hall for Christine’s. It has upset mother because she thinks they will take you from her to send you away for safety.
Thursday, 29th Sept., 1938.
At this time of writing, things are very bad indeed. War is supposed to be declared on October 1st, 1938, but at the last moment, Hitler of Germany sent for Mr. Chamberlain, the Premier of England, to have a last talk to see if they can bring about a peaceful solution. This in my opinion about it, is that Hitler has got the wind up.
Frid. 30th Sept., 1938.
At the time of writing this note, there is great rejoicing all over the World, because the four Great Powers namely Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain have come to an agreement over the Czech problem, so at the last minute, War has been averted.
Wed., 15th March, 1939.
Dear Christine. I have made this entry in this book to let you see how things are going on in the World. Hitler of Germany has broken the agreement with this country and he is marching into Czechoslovakia. This man is causing a lot of trouble but he will get what he is asking for before long. Love Dad.
Friday, April 7th, Good Friday, 1939.
Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, invaded Albania. Things are in a terrible state. We do not know which way things are going to turn out. Love Dad.
Mon. 17th April, 1939.
We had a letter from school asking us if we would consent to Christine being evacuated in the event of war. We said “no”. We are going to keep you with us. Love Dad.
Aug. 24th, 1939.
Dear Christine. At the time of writing this, there is another crisis. This time it is between Poland and Germany. It looks very much as if there will be a war before the week is out; so if war does come, always remember that I will always love you and your mother to my last day of my life, so always stick to your mother and do as she tells you. Love Dad.
Tues. 29th Aug. 1939.
Mother took Christine away to Eastbourne to see if it would be all right for them there in case war came, but mother could not stand it and came home. All school children are being evacuated tomorrow, Friday, 1st Sept. 1939, but we are sending you and mother to Harold and Fay’s at Hounslow. Things look very bad. Love Dad.
Fri. 1st Sept. 1939.
Christine and mother went to Hanworth to Harold and Fay’s for safety.
Fri. 1st Sept., 1939.
Germany invaded Poland.
Sunday, Sept. 3rd, 1939.
Great Britain and France declared War on Germany at 11 o’clock in the morning.
Friday, 8th Sept., 1939.
Christine and mother came back from Hanworth to be home with me. Love Dad.
Sunday, 17th Sept., 1939.
Russia invaded Poland.
Monday, Sept. 25th, 1939.
The war has now been on for four weeks and Poland has been smashed to pieces but they are a gallant little country and are still fighting to the last man which they said they would do. God help them. Love Dad.
Thursday, 30th Nov., 1939.
Christine went to be examined by doctor for her to be evacuated and was passed fit. You are to go on Saturday, 2nd December, 1939. Love Dad.
Thursday, 30th Nov., 1939.
Russia has invaded Finland. They are bombing the women and children. Love Dad.
Friday, 1st Dec., 1939.
We have made up our minds not to send Christine away. We are going to keep her with us as we cannot part with her. The trouble is, we love her too much to let her go to be looked after by other people. With love from your Mother and Dad.
Sunday, 31st Dec., 1939.
We all went to Church this afternoon for Old Year Out and New Year In service. We had to go early this year on account of the blackout. We have had another good year Christine, and we hope it will be as good in 1940. At the time of writing, the country has called up all men to the age 27, so my time is not far off, but we hope it will be all over before then. If I do have to go, stick fast to your mother. She is a good one to you. Love Dad.
Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 1940.
Dear Christine. Many things have happened since I last wrote in this book in regards to the war. But the funniest was when Hitler made a speech in Germany and he said he was going to be King of England on April 20th. Love Dad.
March 13th, 1940.
The war ended with Russia and Finland after many lives had been lost. Finland gave in much to my regret.
Tuesday, 9th April, 1940.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Denmark did not resist but Norway is fighting back and we are going to her aid.
May 10th, 1940.
Germany invaded Holland and Belgium.
Monday, 10th June, 1940.
Italy declared war on England and France.
Wednesday, 9th Oct., 1940.
Dear Christine. A lot has happened since I last wrote in this book. We had a time bomb at the back of our shelter. We had to be evacuated from our home, but we are back home again now. But all us people in London now do is to sleep in our shelters. The sirens have just gone which is 7 o’clock and we will be here until 6 o’clock next morning but you can take it from me, Christine, we are having a rough time. Love Dad.
Thursday, 7th Nov., 1940.
Dear Christine. A lot has happened since I wrote in this book last. You have been away to Doncaster for this last three weeks and I can tell you I have never missed you so much in all my life. I don’t think that I could stand another three weeks like it. It might sound funny coming from me, but you can take it from me you are everything in the world to me so God Bless you and I hope He will take you through this awful war. So good night my dear. Love Daddy.
Wed. 11th Dec. 1940.
Dear Christine. This is one of the saddest days of my life. Your Grandma Pierce died at 7.15 p.m. after four weeks illness. She died of cancer and I can say she was a grand old lady aged 74 years. So good night my dear and I hope that we can pull through this war together. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 31st Dec., 1940
Dear Christine. This is the end of 1940, and I must say it has been a very bad year indeed in regards of the War. We were evacuated from our home on account of a time bomb. That night was the worst night we had. You slept all through it. Next time, we had all the windows of the house blown out and we have been sleeping in a shelter, but these lasts few nights it has been too cold. At this present, we are making the Italians run for their lives. Goodnight Daddy.
Sat. 11th Jan., 1941.
Dear Christine. I went Saturday, 11th Jan. to register for Military Service. I have asked to go in the R.A.F. Love Dad.
Wed. 12th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. I went up for my medical examination and was graded Grade III on account of my right eye, so it looks as if I shall be staying at home. I am very pleased in one way because I can stay with you and mother. At this present moment, we are going through bad raids and you are very good while they are on. Here’s hoping we can pull through to the end. Love Dad.
Thursday, 27th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. You have been unlucky and caught the scabies. It is a nasty complaint. It is picked up off other people. You see, owing to the life we have had to live through air raids, it could have been caught in the public shelter where we have been going to, or else at school. You can take it from me, it is no fault of your mother as she has always kept you so very clean, but mother is very worried about it. We have given you three sulphur baths and another one tomorrow, and we hope it will be all gone. Will close now as you are waiting for me to play with you. Goodnight my love. Dad.
Saturday, 29th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. I have just had my papers sent to me to fill in to go in the munition factory. Hope I can get out of it, so I can look after you and mother. Love Dad.
Wednesday, 16th April, 1941.
Dear Christine. Last night was the worst that we have had to go through in regards to air raids. It started at 9 a.m. and went on until 5 a.m. next morning and air planes were over all the time and they have done a lot of damage. Our house suffered quite a lot. It was done by a land mine. The whole of King Street Hammersmith shops were a proper wreck next morning. I hope that we do not have to go through another night like it. Our airmen went to Berlin last night and gave them a taste of their own medicine. With lots of love from Dad and Mother.
Tuesday, 14th Oct., 1941.
Dear Christine. The war at the very moment is raging in Russia where they are fighting for their very lives and the bloodshed there is unspeakable. The Jerrys are getting a bit more than they asked for. The fighting is raging around Moscow which is the capital and we are all praying that the Russians can keep them outside, so they will get the full blast of the winter. While this war has been on, old Jerry has left us alone in London, and we are all hoping that they don’t start again. Love Dad.
Wednesday, 31st Dec., 1941.
Uncle Alf came home on a 48 hours leave and had the Old Year Out and New Year in with us. Love Dad.
Dear Christine. This is the end of the year l941, and I must say that we have been through quite a lot together, and we must thank the Lord Almighty for our safety. We have had some near misses with bombs from Jerry, but the tide is turning and Jerry is getting a nasty hiding from the Russians and our men in Libya. I must say that all through these raids you have been a very brave girl. All my best love from Dad.
Thursday, March 19th, 1942.
Dear Christine. Uncle Harold went into the Army to-day in the R.A.C.S. He has got to go to Wiltshire. At this very moment, the Russians are fighting the Jerrys very hard and are driving them back. We have got a lot to thank them for. Love Dad.
Friday, 26th June, 1942.
Dear Christine. Things are not going very well with the war. We have lost a big battle in Libya and 23,000 of our men have been taken prisoners and now the battle of Egypt has just started. We are all hoping we can make a stand there and hold them. Will write more later. Love Daddy.
Friday, 17th July, 1942.
Dear Christine. To-day is your birthday and I must say you had a very good time indeed. Mother worked very hard and made cakes and mince pies and everything you could eat. You would not think there was a war on. As a matter of fact, Hitler sent his bombers over and the sirens went just as you were having your party that was 4.30 p.m. and it was the first time we’d had them in months. But since then, we have had them six times this week, but no bombs near us. We close now. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 15th November, 1942.
Dear Christine. To-day is a great day for rejoicing. The Church bells were rung all over the country to announce the Victory of our 8th Army in Egypt. Our boys are smashing the Germans back and they are on the run which is great news for us. More news later. Love Daddy.
Saturday, 16th Jan., 1943.
Dear Christine. Last night our boys went and bombed Berlin and started some big fires.
Sunday, 17th Jan., 1943.
So Jerry came over here to-night. Started at 8.20 until 10 o’clock. The gunfire was heavy. You have just gone to bed. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 20th January, 1943.
Dear Christine. Some German raiders came over this morning and dropped bombs on a school. There were 45 children found dead up till now and 12 more still missing. The school was at Lewisham. Love Daddy.
Monday, 29th March, 1943.
Dear Christine. General Montgomery who is in charge of our 8th Army has smashed his way through the Mareth Line which the Germans held. This is a big victory for us. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 6th April, l943.
Dear Christine. Your Uncle Alf came home on leave for 11 days before going overseas. We had a good time together. Uncle went back on Monday, 5th April. We all went up to the Station with him. The train left at 9.20 p.m. and it was very upsetting to see them go, so let us pray to God he will come back to us all safely. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 12th May, 1943.
Dear Christine. At 8.15 last night, the fighting in North Africa has ended. The Germans and Italians have been bashed to bits. Up to now there are 150,000 prisoners, 250 tanks, 1000 guns and a lot more stuff to come in. Alexander was the General in charge of the men in the field with Montgomery and Anderson. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 5th June, 1943.
Christine. A German aeroplane came over last night and dropped bombs and one was very close to us. We thought it was our last. It came so near, Mother and I dropped on the bedroom floor beside your bed thinking it was going to hit us, but we were lucky. So here’s hoping we remain lucky until it is all over. Love Daddy.
Friday, July 9th, 1943.
Dear Christine. The British troops and Canadian with American troops have invaded Sicily. It started at 10.15 on Friday with Air-bourne troops, but the real invasion started at 3 o’clock on the Saturday morning. Up till now, things are going well. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy. 2000 boats took part.
Dear Christine. The invasion of Sicily which I wrote about a little way back is all over. We have beaten the Germans again and it was another Dunkirk for them. There is another big move coming off. Will let you know as soon as it happens. Love Daddy.
Friday, 3rd September, 1943.
Dear Christine. British and 8th Army and Canadian troops invaded Italy this morning at 3.45 a.m. Everything is going well. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 8th September, 1943.
Dear Christine. I have great news for you. The Italian Government has given in and accepted our terms of unconditional surrender, so Italy is now out of the War. Now for the Germans. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 13th September, 1943.
Dear Christine. Italy has declared War on Germany. It seems strange as Italy and the Germans were dear old pals. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Saturday, 1st January, 1944.
Dear Christine. The old year has gone and I must say that we had a very good year considering that the war is still on. But 1943 has left us with great victories and I might say the turning point of the war. Only last night, the R.A.F. dropped 1,000 tons of bombs on Berlin and our boys are waiting to invade and they are saying that this year will be the last of this war. I hope so. Our Christmas dinner was chicken, three lumps of pork, Christmas pudding, mince pies – not bad after nearly five years of war. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 20th February, 1944.
Dear Christine. We had a very bad air raid last night. It is one of the worst we have had round this District, high explosives and time bombs, but I prayed to God to take us safely through and He did. We wish this war would end as it is just as bad for the German people as it is for us. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, February, 23rd, 1944.
Dear Christine. Last night the Germans came over and raided London and we had a bad night. Bombs dropped all round us and I am sorry to say that your Great Aunt Ada was killed this night and her daughter was trapped for 22 hours and she was got out alive, but her husband was killed also. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 5th April, 1944.
Dear Christine. Your Uncle Geoff went into the Army to-day. He was 41 years sent to Bradford in Yorkshire. I do not know what regiment he is going into yet. Love Daddy.
Monday, 5th June, 1944.
Dear Christine. Our troops of the 8th Army and American 5th Army have entered Rome, the capital of Italy. It is a great victory for us. We have taken over 20,000 prisoners and we are still driving the Germans back. The General in charge is Alexander. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 6th June, 1944.
Dear Christine. To-day is the biggest day in our history. Our Armies have landed in France. There were over 4,000 ships took part and over 11,000 aircraft. The landing took place at 6 o’clock this morning. The air-bourne troops landed first and I think you Uncle Alf is in it. Will let you know more as news comes in. Love Daddy.
Friday, 23rd June, 1944.
Dear Christine. Last night was the worst night we have been through. Jerry sent one of the pilotless planes over and bombed our home flat to the ground. We were very lucky that your mother and myself were not killed, but we must thank God he was watching over us and took us safely through. So we will have to make a new home after the war. I must say you were very brave right through. Good night love. God bless you. Love Daddy.
(My parents left the safety of the air-raid shelter whilst the air-raid was on so that my father could go to the toilet and my mother to make a hot drink. They returned to the shelter just as the doodlebug exploded).
Monday, 17th July, 1944.
Dear Christine. To-day is your 10th birthday and what a day you have had. We held your party on the old bomb site of our home and the Daily Mirror reporter came down and took photos of it. We are waiting for the paper to come out. Everybody had a wonderful time. You had 17 cards and lots of money presents. Also you were a very good girl and very helpful. The flybombs are still coming over. Good Bye. Love Daddy.
August 1st, 1944.
Dear Christine. This month has been the best we have had in this war. We have driven the Germans out of Normandy and France and are into Holland and Belgium and we are just about to start the Battle of Germany. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Sat. 2nd September, 1944.
Uncle Harold went to France. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 7th Sept., 1944.
Dear Christine. Uncle Alf came back from France safe and sound. Love Daddy.
Friday, 8th September, 1944.
Dear Christine. The Germans are sending rockets over at us now as well as fly bombs. The first one dropped in Chiswick and the second one at Kew and we have had a lot more since. They are worse than the fly bombs because you can’t hear them coming. We still go to the shelter at night. Love Daddy.
8th January, 1945.
Dear Christine. At the time of writing this letter, there is a big battle going on. The Germans have broken through the American lines and the British have been rushed up to stop them. Well your Uncle Alf is in that battle. They are called Monty’s Red Devils. This cutting from the paper will tell you all. Love Daddy.
Monty’s Red Devils Are There
Played a Big Part
The British Sixth Airbourne Divisiion, the “Red Devils” are fighting in the Ardennes as part of the British force thrown in to plug the German breakthrough. They played a big part in the capture of Bure.
The men of the Sixth Division were about to eat their Christmas dinner when their orders came.
An officer told me, ‘We were simply told ‘You’ll be in the Ardennes tomorrow. Within three days of the first word we were at grips with the Germans”.
Wednesday, 14th February, 1945.
Dear Christine. To-day is a very sad day again for us. The Germans who are firing rockets at us dropped one very near us. It shook the life out of the place. You were in bed, mother sitting by the fire and the rocket came. It was at 10 o’clock at night. Well my love, it came and fell on your Uncle Fred’s home and killed him and your Auntie Mary, cousins Peter, Jean and the baby. It wiped the whole family out. We hope that we pull safely through as we have gone through enough already. Love Daddy.
Sat. 24th Feb. 1945.
Dear Christine. Your cousin Joan got married to-day to an American officer in the 8th Air Force. You were to have been her bridesmaid, but owing to your Uncle Fred’s family waiting to be buried, you could not be it, but we went to the party and had a nice time in a quiet way. Joan was only 18 years old. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 25th Feb. 1945.
Your Uncle Alf has just this minute come home from Holland from the battle front. He will be coming round here to-night. Love Daddy.
Monday, 26th February, 1945.
Your Uncle Fred’s family were buried to-day at Hammersmith Cemetary.
Tuesday, May 8th, 1945.
Dear Christine. This day is the greatest in our history. The War is over with Germany. We have beaten them to their knees and God has answered our prayers and taken us safely through. We have been to the Hammersmith Broadway singing and dancing. It is something you will not forget and that has gone on for all the week until one and two in the morning. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 13th May, 1945.
Dear Christine. We went to the Strand in London to see the King and Queen. You had a good view of the Princesses, King Peter and the King of Norway, King of Denmark, Queen Mary and Mr. Churchill. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 21st June, 1945.
Dear Christine. This cutting from the paper shows you what the Londoners went through during the bombing of London which you were in all the time.
(See next page).
Live Letters Daily Mirror
Letter from an American Gentleman
From Mr. J. R. Crane, an American now over here:
Your paper will, I know, assist me in paying tribute to the people of London – the world’s mightiest people. I am an American soldier, soon to leave this great city for another theatre of war, but I will take with me everlasting memories and pictures of an unconquerable race.
I shall remember, always, the faces of two little children in Stepney, who shepherded my panic stricken body into a shelter as a flying-bomb shattered houses and human flesh into a pulp not fifty yards away; of a pianist in a public-house, in a side street off your bomb-splattered Lambeth Walk, whose rhythm on the keys offered a challenge to the hate and fury of yet another savage Hitler onslaught to break the backbone of the tough London populace.
I shall remember Mr. And Mrs. X, of Brixton, who made me share the comforts of their modest house on my days of leave; and Edna, my London sweetheart, who, until unseen death in the form of a rocket took her from me was to become my wife.
If I survive the next episode in the quest for peace, and return home, I shall always say to myself – “The debt the world owes to you people of London will never be paid. It cannot be paid. The price is too high. God bless you all.”
To you, Mr. Crane, who, because of a London blitz, must now walk alone, we say only, “Thank you and God bless.”
As I close my father’s notebook, I am full of deep emotion. At the age of 70 years, I have to confess that I have broken down in tears many times whilst typing my father’s messages to me, written between 60 and 65 years ago. I was fortunate to have two loving parents, and I pay tribute to them both.
Christine S. Cuss nee Pierce 26th August, 2004.
Contributed originally by Bob Staten (BBC WW2 People's War)
When my son asked me if I should like to take part in this exercise, I said flippantly that my war could be summed up in two words, drink and promiscuity! However, it seemed to be a worthwhile project as so much of war does happen off-stage. I shall do my best to stick to the facts. Unfortunately, I have no records except a few old photographs.
During the 20’s and 30’s my friends and I mostly played at ‘War’ and it was always against the Germans. This is understandable because the First World War was fresh in people’s minds. Every house had its photographs, mementoes and stories of lost husbands, sons and relatives. The impressive one-minute’s silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is still with me. Walking with my father at Marble Arch and seeing the traffic halt and everyone standing by their vehicles with heads bowed was awe-inspiring to a young boy, and the silence so complete, on Remembrance Day.
I lived at 10, Capland House, Frampton Street, St. Marylebone, and my two friends ‘Pussy’ Hanlon and ‘Bimbo’ Jenner lived at flats 9 and 6. We often sat on the staircase and discussed which of the services we would join when war came. We assumed, quite naturally, that it would be against the Germans. In 1937, I joined the Royal Fusilier Cadets at Pond Street Drill Hall, Hampstead and learned how to drill and to use a rifle. We had .303 Lea Enfields and our own rifle range. There were trips to Shorncliffe Barracks, parades at the Fusilier memorial in Holborn and once, we took part in the inter-cadet shooting competition at Bisley. Because I liked the look of the red bandsmen’s uniform, I transferred to the band and became a bugle boy. In the summer of ’37, we went to Belgium as guests of the army. Every evening we ‘beat the retreat’ on the promenade in Ostend, which was appreciated by the holidaymakers. In the barracks, we also discovered that ‘Verboten Ingang’ means ‘Forbidden Entry’! When we visited the Menin gate, I played the ‘last Post’. This was a moving experience, especially after visiting the battlefields and extensive war-grave cemeteries with their endless crosses. The older men related their experiences to us, which made it all very real. We little thought that Belgium was soon to be overrun by the Germans once again.
I was sixteen when the war broke out, working as a motorcycle messenger boy, hoping to become a GPO telephone engineer. When it was formed, I left the cadets and joined the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), which eventually became the Home Guard. We wore our own civilian clothes with LDV armbands. One of our tasks was to guard the Telephone Exchange in Maida Vale. We had a variety of weapons and two or three rifles with little ammunition. I remember being on duty from midnight to 0200 hours when I was supposed to wake up the next man. He looked so old and frail that I was too shy to wake him up. The sergeant was not pleased to find me standing there in the early hours of the morning. We fully expected German parachutists to descend upon us in a variety of cunning disguises. They would not fool us because we would be able to see their jackboots! I think we were quite disappointed when nothing happened!
At home, we were busy filing sandbags to protect the fronts of our flats, sticking tape on the windows and making blackout curtains. We were issued with gas masks, which we practised putting on very quickly and sometimes walked around in them to get used to it. My two older brothers, Arthur and Bill joined the LDV and RAF respectively, Arthur to become a sergeant in the Home Guard and Bill a wireless operator/ air gunner. As I had to wait until I was 17 ½ before I could volunteer for the RAF Volunteer Reserve, I transferred to the Air Training Corps.Our Commanding Officer was an old Royal Artillery gunner who gave us lectures on spotting artillery positions from a tethered balloon that he remembered from the First World War. We had instruction in air-navigation, signalling and meteorology and spent a great deal of time over smartness and drill. One day we were visited by Claude Graham-White, the famous air pioneer, who lived locally. I was asked to welcome him by playing the ‘General salute’ on my bugle. He gave a most interesting talk about his air bombing experiments at Hendon before the First World War. He told us that he had marked out the shape of a full sized battleship in chalk on the ground, flown over it and dropped bags of flour. This was to show how aeroplanes would change the shape of war in the future. He was rather bitter because he said that the ‘brass-hats’ did not fully understand the significance of what he was so graphically demonstrating to them. Whilst in the ATC, I visited RAF Manston during the ‘phoney war’, when everyone seemed to be waiting for something to happen. They had a squadron of Hurricanes, a squadron of Blenheim Mk 1s, being used as fighters with four Browning machine guns fixed under the fuselage, and a squadron of Wellingtons, which were being used as magnetic-mine detectors. These looked extremely odd with large circular white electro-magnets completely encircling the underside of the aircraft. My ATC squadron was also engaged in helping a balloon barrage unit whose headquarters were in Winfield House, Regent’s Park. This was a grand palatial mansion which had belonged to Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress. The two sections with which I was involved were at Primrose Hill and Lord’s Cricket Ground. We mostly did guard duty but in rough weather and high winds, we sometimes manned the mooring ropes.
During the ‘phoney war’, air-raid shelters were being completed and were in place before the first air raids. These, once they started, became part of our lives and were so regular we knew when to expect them. We made our own fun, took out thermos flasks, sandwiches and blankets ready for a long stay down in the shelter. We had an old wind-up gramophone and a few records. The most popular were ‘In the Mood’ and ‘Begin the Beguine’. Quite often, we had a singsong with ‘Roll Out The barrel’, ‘Run Rabbit Run’, and many of the First World War favourites like ‘Pack up Your Troubles’. The older men seemed to relive the comradeship that they had known when they were in the trenches. My dad was always ready for the sirens with his shopping bag of food and drink and a pocketful of half-pennies to play his favourite game of ‘Ha’penny Brag’. In fact, he got quite impatient for the air raid to begin so that he could get settled in the shelter with his mates. ‘They’re late tonight son!’ was his regular critical comment of the enemy’s laxity.
We had two bombs on Frampton Street, one on a communal shelter next to the ‘Duke of Clarence’ and another on a block of flats next to ‘The Phoenix’. Many neighbours were killed. I particularly remember the ‘Clarence’ bomb. We heard it coming like an express train louder and louder seemingly meant for us, then a great flash and explosion, shaking and reverberations, then silence as if everyone was catching their breath. Then loud cries and screams. We were very shaken and shocked but blinded by choking smoke and dust and could taste dirt in our mouths. We had two stirrup pumps and put out some subsidiary fires in the street nearby. There were so many people helping or staggering about that the older men told us to keep out of the way. Another bomb fell, in daylight, at the junction of Luton Street and Penfold Street leaving a large crater. A local woman was injured and had to have her leg amputated below the knee. On another night, Mr Overhead, a friend of the family, was killed in his house in Orchardson Street near the fish and chip shop. During a very bad raid, we heard that Mann Egerton’s garage was ablaze so some of us went and pushed or drove out as many cars as we could and parked them in and around Church Street.
I volunteered for the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve just before my 18th birthday (January 1941) at a recruiting centre off Euston Rd. Later, I had to go for various physical and aptitude tests. These took place at Euston House. Eventually, I received a letter confirming my acceptance for aircrew training enclosing a small silver RAF badge, which I wore proudly in my lapel. I continued with my ATC training and was made up to sergeant. It seemed ages but one day a letter arrived telling me to report to No 1 Air Crew Receiving Centre (ACRC) at Lord’s Cricket Ground on 3rd September 1941. This was just around the corner from my home and was nicked named ‘Arsey-Tarsey’! My dad’s advice as I left the house was ‘take care of your boots!’ This was because on his first day in the Royal West Kent regiment (The Buffs), someone had stolen his boots and he had never forgotten it.
When I arrived at the ground, I sat in the Mound Stand, which was marked alphabetically, and listened, with the other recruits to my first roll call. From Lord’s we marched to large blocks of luxury flats in Prince Albert Rd overlooking Regent’s park Canal. One of our first tasks was to take our oaths of loyalty to the King and to be given our official numbers, which we were told to memorise. On the second day, we marched to a large garage in Park Rd where we were kitted out. When we got back to our billets, we had great fun trying on our uniforms especially the long woollen underwear in which we sparred with each other like old time boxers. We were very proud when we walked out for the first time in our ‘best blue’ wearing the white flashes on our caps, which denoted that we were aircrew trainees. Whilst at Regent’s Park we used the Zoo restaurant for meals. As we queued up the monkeys greeted us with loud screeches and whoops, which we of course imitated to get them even more excited. Our time was mostly spent in drilling and learning about RAF regulations and expectations. We did some signalling with an Aldis Lamp and were introduced to Morse Code, which I fortunately had learned in the ATC. Aircraft recognition was given in Rudolph Steiner House in Park St. Some of us who needed it were given a crash course in mathematics, with particular attention to trigonometry. After 4 - 5 weeks, we were posted to Initial Training Wing (ITW) Torquay.When we arrived, my particular group were billeted in ‘Rosetor’ Hotel. Thus began a very vigorous and demanding programme of activities. Up very early jogging along the front, lots of physical training, marching, rifle drill until we were extremely fit and smart. We were given lessons in air navigation at Tor Abbey, signalling by buzzer and lamp, airmanship, aircraft recognition, gas drill, King’s regulations, administration and more mathematics. One day, we had to march in full kit with rifles about 10 miles inland to a small hamlet. We were told that this would be our line of defence if there were an invasion. When we had finished the course we ceased to be ACII’s (AC Plonks) and became Leading Aircraftsmen (LAC’s ) which entitled us to wear the propeller insignia on our sleeves.
From Torquay, we were posted to RAF Booker, near High Wycombe to be assessed as to our suitability for pilot training. The aircraft were Tiger Moths with open cockpits. We were taken up for air experience initially, but it wasn’t long before we were being thrown about the sky in a whole series of aerobatics to see if we could cope. After two or three weeks, we were posted to Heaton Park, Manchester prior to going overseas.
At Heaton Park we were billeted in private houses and had to report to the park for roll call every morning. We had one or two ‘pep-talks’ in the local cinema. One of these, I remember was by Godfrey Winn, the writer and broadcaster. After a couple of weeks, we were divided into groups destined to be trained in the USA, Canada or South Africa, which were all part of the Empire Training Scheme. We were not told of our destinations except for having to mark a code word on our kit bags. After embarkation leave, my group entrained for Greenock, Scotland where we boarded an American ship — ‘The George F. Elliott’. We were shown to our sleeping quarters, which were well below the water line, where we were packed suffocatingly into an area filled with five-tier bunks. I had a top bunk and could quite easily touch the men on either side and at my head and feet. I also had a hot pipe just above me on which I frequently burnt myself. Soon after embarking, we left the River Clyde and joined a straggle of ships. The Royal Navy gently shepherded us into some semblance of order and although they seemed to fuss and hoot around, gave us a great deal of confidence. This was greatly needed because the night before we had a religious service when we sung the hymn ‘For Those in Peril on the Sea' and we knew that this referred to us and our journey.
End of Part One
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.)