High Explosive Bomb at King Edward Street
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
King Edward Street, City of London, EC1A 7BA, City of London
56 20 SE - comment:
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by cambslibs (BBC WW2 People's War)
First I must say a few words about my parents. My father, a classical violinist, had been badly hit by the slump in the British music world of the mid-thirties, and had been forced to look for other work. He started up in business in catering. He was no business man, and my mother, always the practical one, helped to build up "Always Ready" catering service into a quite successful enterprise. Unfortunately the outbreak of war in 1939 caused a sudden collapse in orders, with many contracts being cancelled, and my father decided to close down. He was very keen to get back to his army days of the first world war, but he was too old and unhealthy to be accepted for military service, so he applied for a civilian job at HQ Eastern Command at Hounslow Barracks. He became a clerk in the Army Pay Corps, and later was transferred to an Army depot in Feltham. My mother heard that the depot were having trouble in finding a manager for their canteen for civilian staff, and applied for the job. Her experience with "Always Ready" made her the ideal person, and she was soon very happily employed, coping with all the difficulties of wartime catering.
At the beginning of 1940 I was still at school. I was coming up to my 16th birthday, and preparing to take London Matriculation soon. I went to a small private school which was owned by a retired Indian Army Officer, who couldn't wait to get back into uniform. After a very difficult period of trying to find suitable staff to take over, he suddenly joined up, and said the school would close down at the end of the summer term. I and a few others were left in a predicament; my mother tried to get me into a local secondary school, but because I had not sat for the 11+ (then called the Scholarship) exam., I could not be accepted. There were no other schools of the required standard around, so we decided that I should continue my studies at home with a part-time private tutor, if one could be found. Luckily we found a local teacher who was very ready to augment her low salary by some coaching work after school. She offered to help with English, French, Latin and History, but couldn't help with the Maths. I decided that, with a bit of hard work with the text book, I could manage that subject on my own; Maths had always been my favourite subject and I looked forward to the challenge.
The first few months of 1940 were rather quiet; I don't think I had any true realisation of what must inevitably happen. The first rumblings of Hitler's intentions began - the German war mahine was on the march. We no longer sang about hanging our washing on the Seigfreid Line, and the British and French armies were being pushed back. The Low Countries were invaded. Queen Juliana and the Dutch government came over to London, to continue their fight; the Belgian King decided to make a truce, thus trapping many of our troops who had gone in to help. The full force of the German offensive was directed at France, and our British Expeditionary Force was pushed back further and further towards the coast. Paris fell and I remember feeling a deep sorrow I could not explain, then the final blow came: France decided to capitulate and our Channel Islands were occupied. We held our breath, what had happened to our troops? Several days passed, there was no news for the anxious relatives, but there was a general feeling that something momentous was about to happen. Suddenly fleets of trains began to deliver exhausted soldiers into London, and as quickly as they could be dispersed, more arrived from the south coast ports. The Dunkirk evacuation had occurred and we cheered as though we had won a victory, which in some ways, we had. Many French soldiers had come over from Dunkirk, and General de Gaulle wasted no time in forming the Free French Army. Everywhere in London were groups of soldiers and airmen from our allies, and there was a determination that we would all see it through together. We must have looked a pathetic little lot to the German High Command.
Now we held our breath again. It seemed pretty obvious that we would be the next target for invasion. Even to the mind of a very naive schoolgirl it was impossible for us to survive such an attack. I must have been still a silly child at heart, because I remember being very determined in how I would behave when the enemy arrived. I would never co-operate under any circumstances! I would join an underground movement and fight on! I think my main concern was that, if the church bells rang (the signal that invasion had begun), my parents, working at Feltham, would be outside the road blocks, part of the London defences, and I would be alone inside. As history will tell you, the attack came from the air. The Battle of Britain began. Luckily, I lived in an area well away from the overhead battles, but I saw squadrons flying out and I remember counting the planes back in. They used to fly in formations of six as I remember it, and sometimes when six returned, one of the boys from the back used to break off into the victory roll. I believe that this behaviour was frowned on by their superior officers, but most of them were just enthusiastic boys who needed to let off steam. I still remember the glorious weather of that September, the warm sunshine by day, and the clear moonlight nights which gave the bombers a clear view of London beneath.
Up to this time I hadn't seen or heard an enemy plane, or heard any ack-ack (gunfire), then one night we heard the air raid siren, and we dutifully went down into the Anderson shelter my father had dug into our garden. As we were going in, we looked towards a glow in the Eastern sky. It grew larger and redder, but still no sound of gunfire. We learned next day of the terrible raid on the docklands and when the same thing happened on the next night, people began to ask why we appeared to have no defence. I believe that it had been thought that if London were declared to be an "Open City", that is, with no military targets, it would not be bombed! The next night we heard gunfire. It was only light anti-aircraft fire but it terrified me; however I soon got used to the "Woomp-woomp" which later seemed a very mild sound compared with the heavy stuff that moved into a nearby field. There was also a mobile gun which roamed the streets, and would suddenly open fire with a very loud BANG just outside the house. My father, after two nights in the Anderson, declared that he was going to his bed in the house; he said that Hitler was not going to make him uncomfortable every night, and that if the house came down, he would be on top of the rubble, still in his bed. My mother and I remained in our garden shelter for a few weeks, but as the evenings got longer and the raids did also, we began to have doubts. A heavy rainfall and an earwig crawling into my ear, rather settled the matter - the shelter flooded and we moved out, never to return.
Later in the war we were given a Morrison table shelter, which we used during the doodle-bug attacks, but for the rest of the raids we slept downstairs in nice comfortable beds. I remember that I slept through some of the heaviest raids.
It is hard to describe what life was like during the autumn and winter that year. Every morning we got up, pleased to have survived the night, and just got on with the daily routine. Rationing was beginning to cause shortages in certain commodities, and while we had our essentials, there were always things we felt we needed. Queueing started when any little extra came into a shop, and I remember the rush to the fish shop when a small amount was delivered. It was first come, first served. I don't think the really biting shortages came until much later than 1940. We began to learn the art of make-do and mend. In the meantime my studies progressed, and I felt I should be ready for my exam. next summer. Because I was at home during the day, I didn't try at this time to study in the evenings. I used to try to relax by listening to the radio, but most nights it could be very difficult, owing to the interference when the planes were about. I never knew what caused the interference but wonder now, if it was something to do with radar which I didn't know much about at the time. In the mornings, the garden was often covered in little strips of metal foil, another unexplained thing. My hobby at that time was picking up the dozens of lumps of shrapnel, dropped by the exploding shells from our guns. Occasionally the Germans had dropped a few leaflets which never seemed very interesting to me. I think we must have become immune to noise, as the raids started as soon as it was dark, and went on until daylight; there were very few planes getting through in the daytime, except occasionally on a heavily clouded day.
Life in central London went on very much as usual, apart from the clearing up after the night before, the Heavy Rescue squads busy at their often grisly task, the firemen damping down the fires, and everyone being extraordinarily cheerful. I remember going, with my mother, to the theatre during the morning, so that we could be home before the sirens started. Travelling in on the tube with their netted windows, with the little spy hole in the middle, we could work out where the worst raids had occurred during the previous night. The tiles on the roofs would be standing to attention, curtains stripped by flying glass, doors and windows missing, and sometimes just piles of new rubble. The platforms of the deep stations had been taken over for night sheltering, and the walls were lined with bunk beds. No part of greater London escaped the raids, and my western suburb had its fair share. We had various military targets nearby and we felt the occasional "near miss". Sometimes an unexploded bomb arrived, and surrounding buildings had to be evacuated until the Bomb Disposal soldiers had been. On one tragic occasion the bomb blew up, demolishing two houses, and killing the four soldiers who had gone to remove it. Several people died in my area, but none were particularly close, except for one. She had been a fellow pupil at my school, and during one of the rare daylight raids, had gone into her Anderson to shelter; she was killed by a direct hit on the shelter, while her house remained scarcely damaged.
During all this nightly mayhem, my father decided to tour central
London air raid shelters with a group of fellow musicians, "to cheer people up". With the kind of very highbrow music they played, I rather doubt if it had the desired effect, though I believe people did thank them very profusely. Occasionally during a heavy raid, we would stand under our front porch to watch the "firework" display. It was stupidly dangerous, but I have a vivid memory of one night. There were planes caught in searchlights, shells firing up all over, a parachute caught in a searchlight with something very large hanging from it, gently floating down. There were tracer bullets being fired at the flares which illuminated the scene, and there was another parachute which appeared to be throwing out smaller objects as it descended; was this the one they called a Molotov Cocktail?
I do not remember feeling particularly unhappy throughout this difficult period, though I did often wonder whether I would survive.
Somehow we took each day as it came, happy in our togetherness with everyone around us, laughing at the funny things that sometimes happened: the day our next door neighbour turned on her gas cooker, and water squirted from the rings; the night a frantic air raid warden dashed up and down the road, begging people to turn their lights off, when a bomb explosion smashed all the windows and turned the room lights on. There was no TV of course, but we had the radio, and we thoroughly enjoyed ITMA, "Life with the Lyons"(Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels), Workers' Playtime, and dozens more. Another amusement for some of us was to tune in to Lord Haw-Haw. Much to our government's surprise, he was a huge joke to most young people; they thought he would be bad for our morale. I think the government often underestimated the young at that time!
Christmas came, and "goodwill to all men" must have prevailed, because the raids suddenly stopped, and we had peace over the period.
I believe that this four months of Autumn 1940 was London's finest hour, and I am very proud to have played a tiny part in it.
Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)
Home again in Bermondsey after the few months sojourn in Worthing, I saw my new baby sister Sheila for the first time. She'd been born on December 5, and Mum was by then just about allowed to get up.
In those days, Mothers were confined to bed for a couple of weeks after having a baby, and the Midwife would come in every day. In our case, the Midwife was an old friend of my mother.
Her name was Nurse Barnes. She lived locally, and was a familiar figure on her rounds, riding a bicycle with a case on the carrier. She wore a brown uniform with a little round hat, and had attended Mum at all of our births, so Mum must have been one of her best customers.
That Christmas passed happily for us. There were no shortages of anything and no rationing yet.
When we found that our school was re-opening after the holidays, Mum and Dad let us stay at home for good after a bit of persuasion.
I was a bit sad at not seeing Auntie Mabel again, but there's no place like home, and it was getting to be quite an exciting time in London, what with ARP Posts and one-man shelters for the Policemen appearing in the streets. These were cone shaped metal cylinders with a door and had a ring on the top so they could easily be put in position with a crane. They were later replaced with the familiar blue Police-Boxes that are still seen in some places today.
The ends of Railway Arches were bricked over so they could be used as Air-raid Shelters, and large brick Air-raid Shelters with concrete roofs were erected in side streets.
When the bombing started, people with no shelter of their own at home would sleep in these Public Air-raid Shelters every night. Bunks were fitted, and each family claimed their own space.
There was a complete blackout, with no street lamps at night Men painted white lines everywhere, round trees, lamp-posts, kerbstones, and everything that the unwary pedestrian was likely to bump into in the dark.
It got dark early in that first winter of the war, and I always took my torch and hurried if sent on an errand, it was a bit scary in the blackout. I don't know how drivers found their way about, every vehicle had masked headlamps that only showed a small amount of light through, even horses and carts had their oil-lamps masked.
ARP Wardens went about in their Tin-hats and dark blue battledress uniforms, checking for chinks in the Blackout Curtains. They had a lovely time trying out their whistles and wooden gas warning rattles when they held an exercise, which was really deadly serious of course.
The wartime spirit of the Londoner was starting to manifest itself, and people became more friendly and helpful.It was quite an exciting time for us children, we seemed to have more things to do.
With the advent of radio and Stars like Gracie Fields, and Flanagan and Allen singing them, popular songs became all the rage.
Our Headmaster Mr White, assembled the whole school in the Hall on Friday afternoons for a singsong.
He had a screen erected on the stage, and the words were displayed on it from slides.
Miss Gow, my Class-Mistress, played the piano, while we sang such songs as "Run Rabbit Run!" "Underneath the spreading Chestnut Tree," "We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line," and many others.
Of course, we had our own words to some of the songs, and that added to the fun. "The spreading Chestnut Tree" was a song with many verses, and one did actions to the words.
Most of the boys hid their faces as "All her kisses were so sweet" was sung. I used to keep my options open, depending on which girl was sitting near me. Some of the girls in my class were very kiss-able indeed.
One of the improvised verses of this song went as follows:
"Underneath the spreading Chestnut Tree,
Mr Chamberlain said to me
If you want to get your Tin-Hat free,
Join the blinking A.R.P!"
We moved to our new home, a Shop with living accomodation up near the main local shopping area in January 1940.
Up to then, my Dad ran his Egg and Dairy Produce Rounds quite successfully from home, but now, with food rationing in the offing, he needed Shop Premises as the customers would have to come to him.
His rounds had covered the district, from New Cross in one direction to the Bricklayers Arms in the Old Kent Road at Southwark in the other, and it was quite surprising that some of his old Customers from far and wide registered with him, and remained loyal throughout the war, coming all the way to the Shop every week for their Rations.
Dad's Shop was in Galleywall Road, which joined Southwark Park Road at the part which was the main shopping area, lined with Shops and Stalls in the road, and known as the "Blue," after a Pub called the "Blue Anchor" on the corner of Blue Anchor Lane.
It was closer to the River Thames and Surrey Docks than Catlin Street.
The School was only a few yards from the Shop, and behind it was a huge brick building without windows.
In big white-tiled letters on the wall was the name of the firm and the words: "Bermondsey Cold Store," but this was soon covered over with black paint.
This place was a Food-Store. Luckily it was never hit by german bombs all through the war, and only ever suffered minor damage from shrapnel and a dud AA shell.
Soon after we moved in to the Shop, an Anderson Shelter was installed in the back-garden, and this was to become very important to us.
As 1940 progressed, we heard about Dunkirk and all the little Ships that had gone across the Channel to help with the evacuation, among them many of the Pleasure Boats from the Thames, led by Paddle-Steamers such as the Golden Eagle and Royal Eagle, which I believe was sunk.
These Ships used to take hundreds of day-trippers from Tower Pier to Southend and the Kent seaside resorts daily in Peace-time. I had often seen them go by on Saturday mornings when we were at Cherry-Garden Pier, just downstream from Tower Bridge. My friends and I would sometimes play down there on the little sandy beach left on the foreshore when the tide went out.
With the good news of our troops successful return from Dunkirk came the bad news that more and more of our Merchant Ships were being sunk by U-Boats, and essential goods were getting in short supply. So we were issued with Ration-Books, and food rationing started.
This didn't affect our family so much, as there were then nine of us, and big families managed quite well. It must have been hard for people living on their own though. I felt especially sorry for some of the little old ladies who lived near us, two ounces of tea and four ounces of sugar don't go very far when you're on your own.
I'm not sure when it was, but everyone was given a National Identity Number and issued with an Identity Card which had to be produced on demand to a Policeman.
When the National Health Service started after the war, my I.D. Number became my National Health Number, it was on my medical card until a few years ago when everything was computerised, and I still remember it, as I expect most people of my generation can.
Somewhere about the middle of the year, I was sent to Southwark Park School to sit for the Junior County Scholarship.
I wasn't to get the result for quite a long while however, and I was getting used to life in London in Wartime, also getting used to living in the Shop, helping Dad, and learning how to serve Customers.
We could usually tell when there was going to be an Air-Raid warning, as there were Barrage Balloons sited all over London, and they would go up well before the sirens sounded, I suppose they got word when the enemy was approaching.
Silvery-grey in colour, the Balloons were a majestic sight in the sky with their trailing cables, and engendered a feeling of reassurance in us for the protection they gave from Dive-Bombers.
The nearest one to us was sited in the enclosed front gardens of some Almshouses in Asylum Road, just off Old Kent Road.
This Balloon-Site was operated by WAAF girls. They had a covered lorry with a winch on the back, and the Balloon was moored to it.
I went round there a couple of times to have a look through the railings, and was once lucky enough to see the Girls release the moorings, and the Balloon go up very quickly with a roar from the lorry engine, as the winch was unwound.
In Southwark Park, which lay between our Home and Surrey-Docks, there was a big circular field known as the Oval after it's famous name-sake, as cricket was played there in the summer.
It was now filled with Anti-Aircraft Guns which made a deafening sound when they were all firing, and the exploding shells rained shrapnel all around, making a tinkling sound as it hit the rooftops.
The stage was being set for the Battle of Britain and the Blitz on London, although us poor innocents didn't have much of a clue as to what we were in for.
To be continued.
Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)
I arrived home at Bermondsey from Torquay in 1941 to find that things had changed dramatically.
The Shop-windows were still plate-glass, but all the window-frames of our House were covered in opaque plastic, which only let a little light in.
I was the last one to come home.
My eldest brother John, had left School and was now a GPO Telegram Boy, with blue uniform complete with red piping, Pillbox Hat and red Bicycle.
Percy took his place at the Borough Polytechnic, a Technical School in Southwark, so he was settled.
Iris and Beryl had also come home from Exeter, as they were unhappy there, and were back at the local Junior School, which was open again.
However, the biggest change was in the Shop, and to explain things properly, I must digress a bit.
At the top of Galleywall Road where it joined on to Southwark Park Road was the "John Bull Arch", named after the Pub alongside it.
It was (and still is), a wide brick-built Railway Arch with steel girder framework over the roadway on each side, carrying many of the lines into London-Bridge Station from Kent and the Suburbs.
There were paved foot-tunnels either side of the Roadway.These had been bricked-up at each end, and were used as Air-Raid Shelters.
They were fitted out with bunks, and many of the local people who didn't have a Shelter at home slept there every night.
The Arch suffered a direct hit on Sunday 8 December 1940, and over a hundred people were killed, including most members of a family who lived across the road from our shop.
One of them was a boy about my age, Charlie Harris, who went to my School before the war.
Recently, while doing some research on my Uncle, who was missing in WW1, I found that the War Graves Commission has a Civilian War-Dead Register, and there, sure enough, I found Charlie's Record of Commemoration. To read it made me feel very sad, but it's good to know that Civilian Casualties aren't forgotten altogether.
That Arch was a very unlucky place, apart from more near misses with casualties in the bombing, there were two direct hits on it by V2 Rockets in November 1944. The first one was on a Friday Morning. It demolished most of the Arch and devastated the area. Two Sundays later, when the wreckage had been cleared and a Temporary Bridge put up, another Rocket landed in exactly the same place, so the Workmen were back to square one, and we lost many more Friends and Neighbours in both incidents.
But back to 1941.
Along by the "John Bull" Pub, there was a large Greengrocer's Shop, which also sold a bit of Grocery. It was damaged in the bombing of the Arch, and the Couple who ran it had had enough by then, so they decided to close down and move out of London.
One had to be licensed by the Ministry of Food to sell Foodstuff during the War, and the local Food-Office asked Dad if he was interested in taking over the License, as his was the nearest Food Shop.
Dad was only too pleased to take it, as he was having a thin time of it with the Rationing.
He bought all the Scales and Equipment, so he was now also a Greengrocer, selling fresh Fruit and Vegetables, as well as some Grocery, Eggs and Butter.
This meant an early morning visit to Market for fresh produce every day.
Dad had a friend with a Greengrocery Business a little way away who had a Horse and Cart.
He would pick Dad up very early in the mornings, on his way to the Borough Market, near London Bridge, and drop our stuff off on the way back.
His name was Bill Wood, and he rented a Stable a few streets away from us, with a little Yard for the Cart.
I was home for the Summer Holidays, and of course I wanted to go to Market with them, and help in the Shop to earn some pocket-money.
I enjoyed my trips to the Market, and didn't mind getting up in the small hours. London was so quiet, with hardly any traffic before the Buses started running.
Bill's Horse was a Welsh Cob, Strawberry Roan in colour, named "Girl" or "Gell" as pronounced by Bill, who was a real Cockney of the old order, always immaculate in his tweed suit with Poacher's pockets in the jacket, cap, silk scarf or "choker", and brown boots.
Gell was a very intelligent animal with a mind of her own. Most mornings she was in a hurry to get to Market so that she could get her Nose-bag on, and would get a bit impatient at road-junctions if we had to wait. She knew all the horse-troughs on our route, and would snort and toss her head when we came to a corner near one if she was thirsty. Bill knew the signs and always let her have a drink.
Bill showed me how to hold the reins between my fingers and guide the Horse with one hand, and soon I was able to drive the Cart, under supervision of course.
I would meet Bill at the stable every morning and learned to groom the Horse, harness her up, and hitch her to the Cart, actually with a lot of help from "Gell", who knew exactly what to do, and would hold her head down while I slipped the collar upside-down over her head, then turned it the right way-up on her neck.
She would even back on to the shafts without being told while I held them up, pushed the ends through the slings and fixed the Traces. Soon, I was doing it on my own while Bill "mucked" the stable out and spread fresh wood-chips for the next night's bed.
Bill had trained Gell very well, he had a way with Horses as he was an old Cavalryman.
He never used the whip on her, but would let her know he had it by flicking it gently along her flank if she got the sulks.
I learned a lot about horses from him. He showed me how to look out for ailments and said "Always look after your horse and she'll look after you". When he showed me how to do something and he caught me trying a shortcut, he would say "There's only one way to do a thing Ken, and that's the right way!" I've always remembered that, and it's stood me in good stead.
I suppose it's not generally known, but Horse-food was actually on the ration during the war, at least oats and grains were. Hay-chaff was plentiful, but not much good for a working horse. We used to go to the Corn-chandlers every so often for Gell's
allowance of clover-chaff and oats, which was ample anyway. Every month, Bill was also allowed a bale of Clover, which had a lovely smell and was a treat for Gell. I don't know why, but horse-food was always referred to by the old cockneys as "bait".
Our way to the Borough Market took us across Tower Bridge Road, along Druid Street past the burnt-out roofless shell of St John's Church on the corner, it's slender white Spire with Weather-Vane still intact after being fire-bombed.
The first time I saw the gutted Church, surrounded by wreaths of mist at daybreak, I thought it was still smouldering. It was a very sad sight. The smell of damp, burnt timber that hit the nostrils as we passed was unforgettable.
Our route then led us into Crucifix Lane and St Thomas Street past the bricked-up Arches of the roads underneath London-Bridge Station that lead to Tooley Street.
These Arches were used as Air-Raid Shelters by the Residents of the many Tenement Buildings nearby. They thought they were safe, and used to sleep in them, but around 300 people died when the Stainer Street Arch received a direct hit through the Station at the height of the Blitz.
Later in the War, many more people sheltering in the Joiner Street Arch opposite Guy's Hospital suffered the same fate
It was a bit creepy, and I felt a bit uneasy going past these places in the small hours at first, but gradually got hardened to it and became fatalistic like Dad and Bill.
The "stand" for our Cart was right at the top of St Thomas Street between Guy's Hospital and the Borough High Street junction.
The trader's vehicles were tended by a Cart-Minder, who would direct the Market-Porters to the right vehicle when they brought the goods out on their barrows.
Our Cart-Minder was called "Sailor". He was a quiet old chap. You couldn't see much of him as he wore a stiff-peaked Cap over his forehead, and his face was covered in whiskers and a walrus moustache. He always wore a black oilskin coat down to his ankles, and rubber Wellington boots, perhaps that's why he was called "Sailor".
The Borough Market was a fascinating place to be at in the early morning before dawn. Because of the Blackout, the open-fronted Shops only had a small lamp at the back above the Salesman's desk.
My faourite place was the open Square behind the "Globe" Public-House, backing on to Southwark Cathedral. Here the Growers from the Farms in Kent and Essex had their Pitches, and did business by the light of Oil-Lamps.
There was always a lovely aroma of Apples, Plums and other Fruit round there.
I can still imagine the delicious scent of fresh-picked Worcester-Pearmains and Cox's Pippins even now.
The Growers didn't mind us sampling the wares, and I had many a good feed of fruit before Breakfast.
There was a Cafe in the other open Square known as the "Jubilee" behind the covered Market. Dad and Bill took me there for a snack when they'd done their business. The tea was always good, and the Sausage Sandwiches with Brown Sauce were out of this World.
Then I'd go back and wait on the Cart for the Porters to bring the goods out, and help load it up.
London Bridge and St Thomas Street was a very busy place first thing in the morning.
Swarms of People made their way down Borough High Street from the Railway Station, and many passed us in St Thomas Street on their way to Guy's Hospital.
I'd see a lot of the same faces every morning.
Guy's had already suffered a bit of bomb damage, but was still up and running, as it remained throughout the War.
In 1943, I had occasion to visit a friend who was injured in a road accident and taken in there.
The Wards were shored up with massive timber scaffolding to protect the Patients from roof collapse if there was a hit by a bomb.
I marvelled at this, one never stopped to think of the fact that bed-ridden Patients couldn't go to the Air-Raid Shelter, and there were hundreds of Patients in Guy's Hospital.
By the time the School Holidays came to an end, I was an old hand at looking after the Horse and helping in the Shop.
Luckily for me, Colfe's Grammar School at Lewisham had opened as the South-East London Emergency Grammar School for Boys who were not evacuated, and I was able to prevail upon my Parents to let me stay at home and go there.
I never saw Aunt Flo and her family at Torquay again, but George came round to see me a few times when he was home for the holidays, so I got all the news.
I enjoyed my couple of years at Colfe's, although it was a long Bus journey to Lewisham every morning, and I was usually late, because the Bus service was unreliable with hold-ups for one reason or another.
Because of the fuel shortage, some Buses towed a little trailer behind them carrying a gas-tank, and one of the strangest sights to be seen on the road was the Doctor's Car with a rectangular fabric gas-bag on the roof-rack billowing in the wind.
Things were a bit more free and easy at Colfe's than they'd been at St Olave's, and as we all came from different Schools, Uniforms didn't matter so much.
Some of us who came from a long way off, and needed School-Dinners, used to make our own way to the Convent at the top of Belmont Hill near Blackheath Village where our meal was waiting for us.
On the way up the hill, on the right-hand side of the road, there was a shoulder-height brick wall enclosing some open ground, and you could see over it across the rooftops below to Deptford and Bermondsey beyond.
One bright sunny day in 1942, while walking up Belmont Hill on our way to the Convent, my friends and I heard the sound of Aircraft engines and loud explosions. There hadn't been any Air-Raid Warning, but as we peered over the wall, we actually looked down on two German Planes swooping low and dropping bombs.
It was all so clear in the bright sunlight, like something out of a colour movie.
I could plainly see the khaki, green and yellow camouflage, the black crosses, swastikas, and numbers on the Planes.
I even saw the heads of the two crew-men in the nearest one as it turned after it's dive, with the sunlight flashing on the cockpit glass. Then the bombs exploded and smoke rose from below.
Just then, a shadow fell across us, and we heard loud engine noise as another Plane dived from behind us towards the lower ground, it's Machine-Guns chattering.
We crouched down close to the wall, hearing splinters flying, and as soon as he'd passed over, ran hell for leather up to the Convent.
This must have been the Plane that callously bombed and machine-gunned the School at Catford, close by Lewisham, where children were playing in the Playground at Lunch-time, and many were killed and injured.
I heard afterwards that Jerry had made a hit-and-run attack with Fighter-Bombers. Flying low under our Radar-screen, they caught our defences napping.
This was why there'd been no Air-Raid Warning, and the Barrage-Balloons hadn't gone up.
One of the bombs we saw being dropped landed quite near home. On a road-junction near Surrey Docks, known as the "Red Lion", after the name of a Pub on the corner.
It demolished the Midland Bank, killing the Manager as well as injuring Staff and Customers.
Also killed was the Policeman on Point-Duty at the Junction. He must have been blown to pieces, as only scraps of Uniform were found.
He was a Special Constable, a friendly man, and a familiar figure in the district.
He had a large Hook-Nose, which often had a dew-drop on the end in the Winter. Some people referred to him as "Hooky," and others as "Dew-Drop."
It was very sad that he went like that. If the Warning had sounded, he'd have taken cover.
To be Continued.
Contributed originally by thewilliam (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was nearly six years old when war was declared. At this time my family was living in a gloomy, three floored terraced house in North London.
My family consisted of my father and mother, two sisters and a brother. My siblings were considerable older than I, my youngest sister being eight years older. My parents were in their late forties, in those days rapidly approachng late middle age. My father worked as a Coal Agent. Hs job wsa to travel the district on his bicycle collecting payments for coal supplied by his company.
On this day in September 1939, my parents are standing listening to one of or few luxuries, a wireless set. This is a large device, perhaps two feet high, covered in a honey-coloured veneer. When the tuning knob is turned it makes, to me, all kinds of exciting howls and sqeales as remote stations struggle to make themselves heard. I am aware of a sense of expectation. A sonorous voice makes an announcement, none of which makes sense to me. My mother sinks into a chair and my father puts his hand on her shoulder in a rare moment of empathy. We are at war with Germany. I have no idea what this means. I amnot at all sure if I know what Germany is. I know thst, in his younger days, my father had been a soldier, I had seen pictures of him in uniform. To me my father was unimaginably old, far too old to become a soldier again. What seemed to be upsetting my mother was the fact that my brother, some twelve years older than I am, was certain to be called up.
Life goes on as normal. I attend the local Infants' School. The walk to school is short and apart from the occasional bus, a very few cars and lorries and one or two horse drawn carts, the walk is traffic free.
The war does not seem to materialise, in spite of the shelters that are being built and the appearance of Air Raid Wardens, one of which is my eldest sister. I move to the junior school. This is another ten minutes walk away. Part of the school adjoining the playground has been partitioned off. We can still see through the windows and much speculation develops about the sides of meat that we can see hanging there. Later, I was to learn that this was an emergency supply in case of invasion.
Life goes on much as usual. It is noticeable that there are fewer men around and even less traffic. One of our sceret excitements on the way to school is to peer through a hole in a fence to see a car without wheels, propped up on bricks for the duration of the war. Blackout cutains are installed and the glass is criss-crossed with strips of brown paper tape in order to prevent the glass from splintering under the effects of bomb blast. It is a peaceful time, with little noise as there is almost no traffic around, even in a suburb of London.
At last come the air raids. We live near to a railway marshalling yard, a tempting target for the bombers. For a small child there is no sense of danger, no fear of being killed. The prospect is just not understood at that age. What is terrifying is the noise. The wail of the air raid sirens, followed by the drone of aircraft and, worst of all, the crash of the anti-aircraft guns. The explosion of bombs is a much less worrying noise. Soon, we have a new craze. This is collecting shrapnel. As the anti-aircraft shells explode in the sky they spray out pieces of the shell casing, known as shrapnel. These lethal pieces rain down on streets and houses. There must have been more danger from shrapnel than from German bombs. Most shrapnel is just jagged pieces of metal, but sometimes is found a section, perhaps from a fuse setter, that has numbers and a scale engraved upon it. These are much sought after and are the focus of much envy among collectors. There are even unexploded incendiary bombs found in such collections. One such device stood on our mantelpiece until my father was persuaded of its dangers and took it to the police station. They, of course, refused to accept it and it was left in the station yard in a bucket of sand.
Eventually I was evacuated to my grandparents' cottage in Cambridgeshire. I have vivid memories of my time there. The cottage was primitive; thatched roof, whitewashed walls,an outside chemical toilet, a well for water and cookin upon a paraffin stove. The only lighting was from oil lamps. For a young child, in effect on his own, this was bad enough. The cottage,at night, is full of dark corners and strange shadows cast by the flickering lamps. To add to this there is the proximity of several airfields on the flat Cambridgeshire countryside. To a child already fearful of the noise of raiding aircraft the constant roar of aircraft landing or taking off is sheer torture.
I go to the village school. This has two classrooms, one for the older children and one for the younger. The village children are far from friendly to an incomer and take every opportunity to make our lives a misery. Eventually my mother decides that I shall return home, bombing or not.
The Battle of Britain
I return home to a different world. Workmen arrived and dug a pit in our garden to erect an Anderson Shelter. This is a hole in the ground, walled and floored with concrete, with a roof of corrugated iron. The soil excavated from the hole is used to cover the iron and give it some extra protection. The shelter is used a few times, but it is damp, in fact it fills with water in the wet weather and so its use was very limited. In the daylight raids I am sent to the shelter, while my mother continues with her housework. I sit in the entrance to the shelter and watch the condensation trails of the British and German aircraft as they battle overhead.
By now my father has joined the Home Guard or Local Defence Volunteers, as they were then known. He eventually brings home a Lee Enfield rifle and a clip of five bullets. I am allowed to clean the rifle by tugging on the pull-through with its piece of oily rag on the end. The only time when the rifle is near to being used is when a German aircraft flies low up and down our street. It eventually drops a bomb on the local railway station and machine guns the area. My father wants to go to an upstairs window and shoot back, but my mother vetoes the idea.
The air raids that we have known now pale into insignificance against what we now experience. Night after night the sirens wail. A period of quiet and then we hear the sound of anti-aircraft guns getting nearer and nearer as the bombers approach. As the planes fly nearer there is the distinctive growl of unsynchronised engines; a steady two tone beat that, even for a young boy, sends shivers of apprehension through the body. We do not go to the public shelter. My mother has the idea that these are unclean and full of bugs. Soon, the bombs start to fall. At this time they are only small bombs and the blast effect is fairly local. The house opposite is hit, but we only sustain cracked windows.
One evening the bombing is so intense that we decide to go to the public shelter. As we make our way up the blacked out road we stumble over rubble and realise that the house a few doors away has been hit. There is a single Air Raid Warden digging in the rubble, the only aid available. We reach the shelter in a rain of shrapnel only to be turned away, it is full.
And so to school the next day. I cannot remember any of my classmates being bombed out although this must have occured. The intensity of what is happening tends to make a barrier grow up around you, so that you shut ot the world that is causing you distress. When the siren sounds we are led off to the shelter, where we are given maths books to work through. Whenw e reach the end we start again. It is an efficient means of creating a dislike of a subject.
School and family life go on as normally as possible. Rationing has taken hold and food becomes scarce. We children find a new game. We use the hollowed out stems of large weeds as pea shooters. There are no peas but one boy finds that pearl barley can be bought. This is ideal ammunition and we are soon in full battle in the play ground. Our game is short lived. One of the teachers discovers what we are doing and reports to the Head Teacher. The result- a public condemnation and a lecture on wasting food in war time.
The Home Guard is becoming more visible. My father goes off to parades in full uniform with his rifle. They hold exercises in the street that attract crowds of interested children as onlookers. My father goes off to guard the local gas works agianst Fith Columnists. These are Nazi sympathisers who are waiting to create havoc when the invasion comes.
Christmas comes round again and my father manges to find a chicken from one of his cutomers. Presents are few, but a lull in the bombing makes up for the deficiency. Or so my elders and betters tell me.
By now we have fallen into a routine. Air raids are accepted as a normal part of life. We are told to 'Dig for Victory'. In other words grow vegetables in your garden. My father buys a pair of rabbits to breed for extra meat. I am sent with one of the does to a neighbour in order to mate the doe with his buck. I suspect that this was as far as my parents were prepared to go with sex education! We also bought some day old chicks, but they failed to survive, probably because we could not obtain the correct food.
Tis was a period where nothing seemed to change.As small children we were shielded from the horrors of war as much as possible. On one occasion the Home Guard gave a party for the local children This was held in a church hall. The entertainers were a group dressed as cowboys, singing cowboy songs. During their performance we were dimly aware of explosions outside, but the performers just sung louder. Afterwards, we found that there had been a major air arid on the ditrict, but we children knew nothing of it.
The Home Guard keeps my father busy. They are called out to search for anti-personnel bombs that have been dropped. these are small bombs that, on landing, extend wings. If these are disturbed the bomb explodes. The main concern is that we children might find them.
The Americans arrive. My father instructs me to give up my seat on the bus to an American soldier. He, in return, gives me a packet of chewing gum. I have no idea what it is.
And then come the VIs or doodlebugs. These fly in wih a throaty roar like a badly tuned motor bike. When they tip up to start their final dive the engine cuts out. When this happens we dive for the Morrison shelter in our living room. This shelter is nothing more than a table made from steel. It does give protection if the house collapses in a a raid. All the family, five of us now that my brother is in the army, sleep within its protection. It is not someting that I would recommend.
I go to grammar school in Islington. This means a thre quarters of an hour bus journey. I am not yet eleven and travelling by myself, with the possibilty of a V1 attack at any time. How attitudes have changed! Soon the V2 rockets are falling on London. There is no warning, the explosion is the first and last warning. Waiting for the bus home one day, one falls nearby and the chimney pots come tumbling. Fortunately the intervening buildings shield the blast.
As the invasion of Europe approaches we see waves of Lancaster bombers fly over London, I suspect to raise moral. We have a wall map at home with flags to show the position of allied troops. When the advance over runs the launching sites we have a welcome return to peaceful days.
When 1945 arrives we realise that the war is almost over. There are bomb sites everywhere and people are shabby and tired. Finally the Geramns surrender and VE Day is celebrated. I am taken to central London to see the celebrations but am overwhelmed by the crowds. For us this is the end of the war. VJ day has yet to come , but the Japanese are on the other side of the world. Afterwards we wil suffer austerity in an impoverished country. But that is to come.
Contributed originally by nigelquiney (BBC WW2 People's War)
By Nigel Quiney 2003
Having become attuned to the sound, appearance and behaviour of the doodlebugs in 1944, it came like a thunderbolt from the sky when the Germans then launched their jet-propelled rocket bombs later that year over London. There was no warning. You did not see them, and if you did hear them, you had probably had it!
Enough was enough. We had survived the blitz and regular bombing raids. We could put up with the doodlebugs which ponderously moved across the sky until their engines stopped but these V2 rockets which suddenly appeared from nowhere and exploded before you even knew it was coming, scared the hell out of everyone and the reaction was prompt. Oakfield School in West Dulwich where we lived offered an alternative country location from South London and parents were offered their choice. It was all decided with astonishing speed; the country school would be run by Kathleen Livingston, leaving her husband David, the head-master, to look after the original in Dulwich for those whose parents did not wish their children to go. So in January 1945, my brother Tony and I were evacuated from London.
For me the ensuing experience was my first taste of real horror. The war was a perfectly normal everyday thing as far as I was concerned, as were hardships, shortages and rationing. This was the only life I knew and I was a very happy and contented little boy of six years of age, who was very secure in the love and affection bestowed upon him from every quarter. The absolutely last thing I would have wanted was to be taken away from my parents and home, no matter what the danger. But this is exactly what happened.
What a pathetic sight we must have been, that day on Liverpool Street station. We children were all so pale and thin and in the main wearing overlarge clothes handed down by mothers, from siblings and relatives. Not sure of exactly what was going on, I held firmly onto my mother’s hand and clutched my much worn and over-loved pale-blue teddy close to my chest. Children and grown-ups jostled each other, trying to avoid the porters pulling overloaded trolleys piled high with suitcases and large parcels tied with string as we walked along the platform past the waiting train looking for our carriage. Steam hissed through the clouds of belching sulphurous smoke as though a warning of things to come when I panicked and dropped poor teddy, who fell through the smoke and between the platform and the train and onto the railway tracks. It was as though I had dropped my own baby as my wail of horror rose above the general din on that terrible platform that fateful day.
Subconsciously, I must have known or even smelt my expulsion from the warmth of the family nest. Did I hurl teddy between the wheels of the train and the hard shiny steel of the rails as a cri de coeur, an agonised cry for attention to stop the impending nightmare? Maybe, but it did not change the ensuing course of events.
A kindly and sympathetic porter heard my cry and must have seen what happened and stepped forward to explain to my parents. He then crouched down by the edge of the platform and swung his legs by the side of the train until he was standing on the aggregate between the wooden sleepers. Carefully, he lowered himself until he was almost out of our view, as he scrabbled about under the train and then hesitantly and slowly he re-appeared until he was standing upright again and there in his outstretched hand was teddy. What a hero. A veritable champion.
We soon found our compartment and Tony and I and some other assorted older boys, accompanied by Kathleen Livingston from Oakfield School, were ushered into the train. By now, I was clutching teddy as though glued to my side and then we were off.
Slowly the great steel coal-burning monster hauled carriage- loads of vulnerable evacuees out of Liverpool Street Station and gathered speed for the perceived safety of rural Norfolk.
As the train chugged through the countryside that day, it began to dawn on me that the unthinkable was happening. We were being sent away from our family and home. I do not remember if my parents talked to me about what was going to happen. Probably not. I was only six years old and anyway how could I have understood. I would have screamed up a storm, so my guess is that my ten-year-old brother got the explanation and poor little chap, got the job of trying to explain and look after me, his very much younger brother. When you are ten years old, a younger brother of six is like comparing an eighteen year old to a twelve year old. What a bother, and what an embarrassment and what an annoying and unwanted responsibility. But I have to say looking back now, what else could my parents have done?
I do not remember the details of our journey except that we arrived in Norwich, changed trains and chugged back down the line and finally arrived at Eccles Hall somewhere in Norfolk. A beautiful two- storey sixteenth-century dower house facing east, behind which was Snetterton air force base housing the American 96 bomber group.
Not all the boys and girls were evacuated to Eccles Hall. My cousin Michael, for example, stayed on in London for some reason. In all though, about seven or eight small boys shared the junior dormitory and about twenty in the senior one. I was separated from my brother due to his four years of seniority.
Staffing was meagre. Kathleen Livingston was head mistress and also taught English. Miss Westall taught mathematics. She had been the original founder and owner of Oakfield School but had sold to David Livingston and had come out of retirement to help. Miss Wimbolt taught art, and something else which I can no longer remember. She was an extraordinary character. She only wore men’s dark, tailored double-breasted suits with all the accessories. Black brogues, shirt, with turn-back cuffs held together with plain gold cufflinks, and a silk tie. Her dark hair was cut short, and was worn with a side parting and to complete the picture she wore a monocle. She terrified me, not only because she looked like no other woman I had ever seen, but also because I thought that she resembled Hitler. Lawks-a-mercy!
Miss Cayley taught us nature studies and mainly looked after we six-year-olds. She was frail looking, fluffy and kind. I think! In truth I find it hard to picture her, so it must have been so. The villains are always easier to remember.
Which brings me to Florrie Johnson our matron and cook. A tall straight-backed woman of monstrous proportions. She had a big head with course mid-brown, lack-lustre hair pulled back into a heavy bun, small eyes and thick lips. She did not wear make-up. From her double chin down, she just grew and grew. Her shoulders were not that wide, but beneath grew mammoth breasts and from then on she appeared straight all the way down to the hem of her white matron’s cotton coat. Her sturdy thick legs were clad in brown woollen stockings and supported by sensible white nurse’s shoes. She had two children. A boy of about my age named Martin and his older sister Christine. Martin was blonde, slim and very pretty with a real peaches-and-cream complexion. Christine was blonde, fat and spotty.
Lastly came Ivy. She was Florrie Johnson’s little helper, and lived very much in the big woman’s shadow doing, I suspect, all the unpleasant jobs that were heaped upon her, for she was a poor mousy soul.
In the weeks preceding our evacuation, mother had lovingly put together a separate tuck box each for Tony and I. How she had gathered this collection of sweets, fruit, biscuits and cake for us I do not know. I am sure it meant that she and my father went without for weeks. She had also managed to provide some paper and coloured pencils which, along with our tuck boxes and suitcases containing our other few possessions stood along-side us as we waited together with the other pupils outside the imposing front of Eccles Hall.
We were segregated into sexes and then the boys were split up according to their age groups with Mrs Johnson taking charge. She explained that there would be no eating-matter of any description allowed in the dormitories and we were to hand over to her our tuck boxes for safekeeping. Then we were taken off in our groups to the relevant dormitory to unpack and settle in.
Of course, we never did see our tuck-boxes again. The explanation given was that all pupils’ tuck would be pooled and handed out in even proportions favouring nobody. Well, that did not happen. Mrs. Johnson, acting as custodian of the goodies, gave, I strongly suspect, two for every one sweet in favour of her family and in particular her children. We also got the least interesting and most ordinary from what was available. No wonder that Christine was so fat and spotty!
Tony and I felt thoroughly cheated, as did the other pupils. The subterfuge was so obvious and we all schemed that should further tuck come our way we would find places to hide it and not hand it over to Mrs Johnson.
Every Sunday we attended Eccles church, which was situated at the end of a lane just a short distance from our school. Close by the grounds at the back of Eccles Hall was Snetterton air force base, which was currently being used by the American 96th Bomber Command. Every so often we would see the occasional GI dressed so snazzily in their air-force gear and looking so handsome and strong it felt that they had come from another world. If they spotted us they would always welcome us with a wave and a smile. They almost became god-like in our eyes.
I remember well one morning after we had said our prayers in Eccles Church, sung hymns and fidgeted through the sermon, that upon leaving, a deeply touching event took place. As our straggly line of children walked down the lane back towards Eccles Hall we were suddenly aware of little piles of chocolate bars, sweets and packets of chewing gum lying in our path. The American GI’s had left them there for us, knowing that they would be enormous treats. Of course as soon as we realised that these goodies were meant for us, we scattered like hungry chickens at feeding time, to grab as much as possible. Those GI’s were so kind, it was as though they realised how homesick we were, but of course they too shared our feelings. It is heart wrenching to realise that some of them were only eighteen years old and thousands of miles from home. But over the whole time I was at Eccles, those GI’s were so kind and generous, but always in an anonymous way. They were never around for the thanks and gratitude. However, Mrs Johnson of course spoilt the event. As soon as calm was restored she ordered that all the goodies were to be handed in for redistribution at a later date. We all knew what that meant!
At the rear of Eccles Hall an additional wing had been built in the nineteenth century. This was to be used for the older boys dormitory, and would be where my brother would sleep, but I do not think I was ever allowed inside. My little gaggle of six and seven year olds was housed in a big bedroom at the rear of the original building and my bed immediately faced the door. Outside this door was a landing, with a passage running straight ahead, to the left of which was a big bathroom and at the very end, the lavatory. So began our stay at Eccles Hall.
I was incredibly homesick.
Our lessons in the junior section were simple but not unpleasant. Mostly, they were nature studies with illustrations and names of birds, animals and flowers. There was much to see within the grounds of Eccles Hall and particularly fascinating to me was the flock of peacocks, which nested there. Every so often their screeching reminded us of their presence. Being January it was extremely cold and there was not a lot of activity to see on our walks. The countryside was fairly flat, with the occasional pretty lane winding gently through it, bordered by hedgerow and with fields beyond. There were some copses of trees partly surrounded by wild unkempt bushes and shrubs, intertwined with rambling blackberry and dog roses and bits of honeysuckle and ‘old man’s beard’, all of which made for quite exciting exploration later on.
Kathleen Livingston helped further with our hand writing, spelling and reading. We also had lessons specifically for writing letters home to our parents. These were particularly interesting because most of us started to write in our different childlike ways, of our being so unhappy and could we please come home. However, these letters were clearly not acceptable to teacher and were promptly binned.
We were then instructed to write our letters by copying the text written on the blackboard by teacher! My mother kept these letters and after her death nearly fifty years later, I found them neatly held together by ribbon in a shoebox. Here is an example of what I wrote:-
Dear Mummy and Daddy,
I hope you are both quite well. We are all feeling
very happy this morning because the sun is shining
so brightly. The daffodils are coming out now and
we can see their lovely yellow trumpets. The bees
are on the golden pussy palm getting the sweet nectar
and brushing the yellow pollen on their backs. The
thrushes are singing now on the topmost boughs.
Their singing is sweet. We know a poem called ‘The
Song of the Thrush’.
My love and kisses,
What must they have thought? The spelling and punctuation were perfect and although I quite liked nature studies, were these the thoughts and writing of a six-year old sent away to boarding school? They must have seen through the message with grave misgivings. All the letters are similarly written. Perhaps the most poignant one though, was the first, sent just after we settled in. It reads:-
Dear Mummy and Daddy
We arrived safely at Eccles Hall.
I am quite happy with the children.
Would you believe it? However, nothing could be done to change events and the rhythm of daily life settled in.
Apart from the terrible homesickness, I had problems with one of the regular meals. Every day the menu changed a bit but after a week, was repeated exactly as the week before. Absolutely fine, except for one thing. The food in the main was perfectly edible and some of it was truly delicious. I particularly remember Thursday’s supper and this became my day of downfall. For starters we had baked beans on toast, which I just loved and my plate was clean as a whistle. I think I was introduced to this classic treat at Eccles Hall. Perhaps the beans only came in big catering tins for I have no memory of them at home or indeed at Oakfield School in Dulwich. My downfall came with what followed as a dessert. This was called Bakewell tart and if made with the correct ingredients, was delicious. Sadly, this was wartime, and the necessary ingredients were not available. No doubt Mrs. Johnson or Ivy thought it would be a great treat. It was not!
Instead of finely ground almonds, egg yolks and sugar topped with lemon icing, nestling in a biscuit pastry, what did we get? Breadcrumbs soaked in water, which was heavily flavoured with artificial almond essence, together with a spoonful of powdered egg, poured into a pastry base and baked in the oven with jam on top. I just hated it, as the resulting pasty sticky desert saturated with almond essence had a strong chemical taste which almost withered my tongue but at Eccles Hall you ate everything, come what may.
I took a mouthful, chewed, swallowed and heaved. I swallowed again and managed to keep it down. I began to sweat. I complained to Ivy that I did not like it, but she had had her instructions from Mrs. Johnson. All food had to be eaten and nothing would be wasted. I had to eat it all and that was that. Then bedtime.
Later as I lay in bed with pale-blue teddy protecting my back and a brown monkey glove puppet named ‘Gibber’, a hand-me-down from my brother, clasped to my chest in a cuddle, I threw up. Poor Gibber! I vomited all over him as well as the bedclothes, and guess what was visible for Mrs. Johnson to inspect when she finally arrived on the scene? It was, of course, baked beans!
I was taken to the bathroom and thoroughly washed. Ivy changed the bed linen and I was back in bed and soundly asleep within seconds. The next day Mrs. Johnson advised me that baked beans would now be banned from my diet, as I was obviously allergic to them and the shortfall of food would be made up with an alternative. There was to be no argument and that was to be that.
Poor Gibber. He was boiled in the copper boiler along with the soiled bedclothes. He sort of survived but, my, he did age. His button eyes withdrew into his head and I felt very guilty. It was entirely my fault.
Then came the following Thursday and as decreed I was denied baked beans on toast. I protested strongly but to no avail. Then horror upon horror, I was given a double portion of Bakewell tart. I pleaded with Mrs. Johnson but now it was a battle of wills and she was determined to see that I ate every last crumb. So determined indeed that she stood over me watching in case I tried to secrete a spoonful or two and discard them under the table. Yet again I took a mouthful, chewed, swallowed and heaved. After the third I broke into a sweat. I pleaded with Mrs. Johnson that I felt sick.
“Nonsense,” she said. “You are just playing up because you aren’t fond of pudding and hope to get a double portion of baked beans. Eat it up immediately and I do not want any more of your whining.”
By now I had turned cold as I forced down this chemically flavoured sludge, and then the inevitable happened. I had turned round to beg her to let me stop, when I vomited with a projectile force and threw up on the boy sitting next to me, and all over Mrs. Johnson’s white cotton coat. I stood up terrified at what I had done, with my hands clutching at my mouth, when it happened again. This time sick spewed through my little fingers and onto the dining table. With a deep whimper and gulping sobs, I turned and fled from the room. Every eye was on me.
Luckily, Kathleen Livingston had seen everything and she followed Mrs. Johnson who was following me, so I was saved from matron’s obvious fury and God only knows what retribution which she was going to hand out. The ending to this story is that the following Thursday I was given a double portion of baked beans and I was allowed to go without the Bakewell tart. But Mrs. Johnson did not forgive me and I knew it. She bided her time for her revenge, but it did not come about for many weeks.
The weeks and weeks slipped slowly by towards spring and a new routine took over my life. It was not unpleasant except for my continuing desperate homesickness. However, by now I concluded that Mrs. Johnson was decidedly spooky. Take, for example, bedtime.
We juniors would gather upstairs in the dormitory and undress down to our vest and pants. We would then line up in the corridor outside the bathroom and those with the need would go to the lavatory. However, anyone taking longer than a couple of minutes was in danger of a worrying reaction from Mrs. Johnson. She would demand to know what we were doing and would bang on the door or worse push it open, usually just at the moment when one was leaning forward, bottom off the seat and about to wipe with a small piece of paper torn from a telephone directory. I do not know why this should be so embarrassing but it was. We all do it, but heaven knows what she thought we were doing in there.
At this point I must record a weekly episode, which took place every Sunday and was to do with “inner cleanliness”. I cannot remember the exact timing, but I suppose it must have been just after supper. Being a Sunday there was no homework and we finished our last snack of the day, something like bread and dripping, with a nice hot cup of tea. But it was tea made from Senna pods, which worked extremely efficiently and the end result was a rush upstairs to the toilets and a good and rapid emptying of the bowels. There were times on these Sundays when the supply of torn-up telephone directories ran dry.
Mrs. Johnson knew exactly how to make one feel vulnerable and control was the name of her game. It also did not help the business of emptying one’s bladder and bowels to feel that one was being timed. For the on-looking children, however, it was all very amusing until, of course, it was their own turn.
The bathroom was large and housed a huge tub in which would be a very meagre four to five inches of tepid water. Two boys would then get in the bath together and be soaped down, with Ivy helping Mrs. J. The water soon became rather grey and scummy but in truth we kids did not care and I think the original water was used for all us; eight youngsters per session. We were towelled dry and dressed in our pyjamas and then back to the dormitory where we were allowed about half an hour before lights off. The idea was, I suppose, for us to unwind gently and perhaps read a book.
No way. Kids will be kids and the biggest, strongest or eldest would usually start by hurling his pillow at a lesser and then trying to leap on the victim and in the ensuing struggle, remove his pyjama trousers. Once done, an attempt to hide the trousers added to the fun. What bullies these boys could be. Control freaks in the making.
I remember clearly one episode, after just such an event. My bed was located immediately opposite the dormitory door and because of this it was my job to keep cavey and warn of any possible surprises. Because it was winter and dark the landing was always well lit and the position of the overhead light would produce the shadow of anyone approaching our dormitory. This would be projected against the gap between the door and the floor. From my position in bed it was easy to see.
That evening the unmistakable shadow of Mrs. Johnson approached our door and I gesticulated wildly to advise of her presence, but the wrestling and de-bagging was so intent that my frantic waving was not noticed. I held my breath waiting for a cyclonic Mrs. Johnson to burst into our dormitory. Instead, however, the shadow became larger as though Mrs. J was crouching down to lean against the door.
She must have heard the noise of fighting and squeals of protest as pyjama bottoms were finally removed and the bully of the day leapt off his victim waving his booty. Then, I thought, is she peeping through the keyhole? Again the shadow changed shape and I knew that she now had her ear pressed to the door.
She stayed in that position for several minutes during which calm slowly descended on our dormitory. Pyjama bottoms were found and put back on and finally all the children were back in bed and between the sheets. As the quiet of impending sleep became obvious, the shadow shrank and re-formed into two segments representing her ankles. Mrs. Johnson was back on her feet. I then realised that our Mrs. Johnson not only liked eavesdropping but was a peeping tom as well. I suppose not so terrible really, but ...
A rather more worrying event took place towards the beginning of spring. At the rear of Eccles Hall was a large, well-kept lawn and on both sides were lines of fir trees. These were so large and thick that at the base they had almost joined up. This produced wonderful and exciting spaces for a child to explore and this is precisely what I was doing.
I imagined sheltering there, snug and protected from a violent thunder storm, or creating a hidden nest where I could share tuck with my imaginary friends Mrs. Yonksford’s lad and Mrs. Cronation’s lad who were still my constant companions. It was then that I found an incredibly beautiful feather. I carefully pulled it from the branches where it had been caught and studied it. It was over two feet long, and at the wide end shimmered blues and greens like the butterfly wings that were used in Victorian times under glass for decorative finishes. I held it gently against my side and continued exploring. Then I found another and a little further on, yet another. What a great find I thought, remembering those proud peacocks displaying their splendour. I then backed out of the dense foliage and onto the lawn clutching my three treasured feathers protectively.
“What have you got there?” boomed a voice, which I instantly recognised as belonging to Mrs. Johnson.
“Only some feathers, Mrs. Johnson,” I nervously replied. “I found them in the bushes.”
“That is nonsense, Nigel. I know what you have been up to,” she snapped. “You’re a very naughty boy, pulling feathers from those poor peacocks. Give them to me at once.”
She grabbed my arm and marched me off towards the house. We entered through the back door, climbed up the stairs and continued down a corridor until we reached the front landing.
“Stay here!” she commanded as she opened a door to one of the adjoining private rooms and shortly returned carrying a small wooden chair. This she placed directly in front of the big window centrally positioned over the main door.
“Now take off all your clothes Nigel,” she ordered, “and I mean all of them.”
I did as I had been told and at the same time protesting my innocence but she was having none of it. I folded up my clothes neatly and when I was stark naked she ordered me to stand on the chair in front of the window looking directly over the gravel drive.
“You are to stand upright, with your head held high looking straight ahead until I tell you to stop,” she said in her dictatorial tone.
I stood naked on that chair for about ten minutes, in full view of anyone below who might have looked up, before she relented and let me get down. If anyone had seen me up there, what on earth would they have thought? How would she have explained it all? So it was a punishment for pulling ‘armfuls’ of feathers from the peacocks tail. Big deal. Spooky?
In today’s language, Mrs. Johnson would have been considered a sick ticket!
As I have previously mentioned, bullying existed at Eccles Hall. This is not surprising. Bullying sadly exists everywhere in life and Eccles Hall was no exception. Luckily for me I was not a wimp, but I was one of the youngest and thankfully did have a knack for avoiding the worst of the bullies and their antics most of the time.
However, I was attacked by a rather rough, and older lad one day. I have no idea what started it all but the end result was a fight and my opponent suddenly produced a weapon in the form of a very sharp pencil. This he stabbed at my face, but mercifully a split second before hitting home, I wriggled and the pencil hit me just to the side of my left eye. The sharp lead end snapped off.
I screamed blue murder. Blood gushed, and I was now the centre of attraction. Kathleen Livingston arrived on the scene and I was rushed off to the bathroom. There, my wound was washed carefully and well cleaned with a good painting of tincture of iodine to ensure an antiseptic cleanliness and I screamed even louder as the iodine started to sting.
The wound healed with no problem but the pencil contained indelible lead and the end result was a blue line a quarter of an inch long, looking very much like a tattoo. I was rather proud of it and I have it to this day.
As I write this I remember that tradesmen used these pencils writing out invoices or receipts and many were in the habit of licking the lead point before writing. This produced a darker and permanent imprint on the paper and an amazing effect on their tongues but this was before ballpoint pens were invented which finally rang the death knell for indelible lead pencils. I wonder if their indelibly streaked tongues from 1945 are still marked to this day?
Sometime in March my brother Tony fell ill and it became clear that this was not just a bout of influenza. He was finally moved out of the senior dormitory and put into a small box room by himself. I was not particularly aware of this problem because the senior children did not really mix with us juniors, except for meal times and even then they sat together and separately from us.
Kathleen Livingston was obviously very concerned and ‘phoned my parents advising that she feared the possibility of my brother contracting infantile paralysis, nowadays known as polio. The medical profession had recently isolated this very serious disease and the dangers for young people were known. These were the days prior to anti-biotics being available and for serious illnesses we were given M&B tablets (these initials stood for the manufacturer, May & Baker). Such a puzzling name for a drug, by today’s way of thinking, when scientific-sounding brands are so common.
On hearing this worrying news, my parents made the journey to Eccles Hall. They arrived with one of my father’s cousins, named Eric, bearing a tuck box each for my brother and I. I was overjoyed to see them, literally throwing myself into my mother’s arms and sobbing with relief, somehow believing that they had come to take us back home. Wrong! Big disappointment, but it was wonderful for me to be with them, even for only a few days. We went on trips and even had a picnic on one of the warmer days. I was a very happy bunny. Tony was also clearly on the mend with the dangerous period of his illness over, so the time had come for them to catch the train back to London. I was allowed to see them off and Kathleen Livingston accompanied us to the little station of Eccles. As we waited for the train to arrive, the terrible ache of homesickness slowly spread through me and as the train pulled into the station I clung even more firmly to my mother’s neck.
Now, panic racked my small body as the train finally stopped and a few people stepped down onto the platform. Eric opened the door to a compartment and got onto the train. My mother was weeping as she tried to untangle my arms from around her neck and then I knew for certain that I was going to be left behind.
“No, please no!” I sobbed, burying my head against my mother’s shoulder, my tears streaming down my face and onto the collar of her jacket.
“Don’t go,” I pleaded, looking wildly around me for some saviour.
By now all three grown-ups were also in tears. The train blew its whistle and Kathleen Livingston gently put her arms around my waist and tried to pull me off my mother, but to no avail. I clung on for dear life with my arms still firmly around mother’s neck. At this point, poor father had to force my hands apart and loosening my grip, Kathleen was able to pull me away and into her arms. In no time Eric and my parents were in the carriage, the door shut behind them and with a great belching of smoke and hissing of steam, the train pulled slowly out of the station.
“Mummy, mummy!” I screamed wildly but they were gone.
What joy, what bliss, such happiness! Our first term at Eccles Hall had ended and we were going home for an Easter holiday at East Dean, a village in the South Downs a couple of miles from Eastbourne on the south coast. Tony had completely recovered from his illness and the news from the European front about the war was looking to be in our favour. We had had a wonderful time and people enjoyed an enormous sense of optimism highlighted by the fact that in August 1944 the beaches had been cleared of mines and were open to the public. Now, instead of just gazing down over the barbed wire towards the beckoning sea, we were able to cross over that forbidden line and explore. It was truly blissful.
I returned to Eccles Hall with a heavy heart but without the same fear and trepidation of the first journey. I think that by now I knew that my stay was not going to be for very long and that a few weeks or months would see the end of it for good. Certainly by summer we would be back again to beloved East Dean, and endless adventures.
I had by now been introduced to birds-nesting by Michael, my great East Dean chum. I have to say that today I am horrified by even the idea of finding a bird’s nest and stealing an egg or possibly two but Michael was very clear with his rules, which I happily accepted. They were that only two eggs maximum could be taken, one for each of us, but come what may we had to leave at least two eggs in the nest. We also had to remove the eggs in such a way that those remaining were not touched or moved at all. The idea being that our interference would somehow pass un-noticed. Having stolen the eggs we would very carefully pierce each end with a pin and holding it between thumb and forefinger, blow out the contents. This is what was known as blowing an egg. Once empty and dry it could be stored and the start of a collection begun. All this greatly appealed to my hoarding instincts and I still have my egg collection fifty-two years later albeit stored in the loft.
Back at Eccles Hall I now put my newfound knowledge of birds nesting to the test and with a few other children, we set off to see what we could find. I seemed to have gained some confidence since the previous term because I think I was the leader of this little expedition.
So, just like at East Dean, we set off and were soon on our hands and knees tunnelling through scratchy thicket hunting for nests. In these circumstances time stands still as happy hours slide by. At East Dean I never had any sense of time and just waited for my mother to call my name. It is amazing how far her call of “Nigel ...!” could carry. She would stand in the front garden and cup her hands to her mouth and after filling her lungs call, “Ni i g e l l l ...!” She would do this four times but each time changing her direction so that her voice would carry north, south, east and west. She knew I would set off for home immediately, even if it took half-an-hour. In those days there was no traffic and her call only had to compete with bird song or the wind.
But, we were not at East Dean. We were at Eccles Hall and I had found new territory to explore. None of us heard the tea bell and time slid by. I only became aware of how late it was when darkness slowly crept upon us and then, of course, I realised that we were in for trouble.
As the afternoon turned into evening, our teachers became increasingly concerned. Heaven knows what they must have been thinking but they were clearly greatly relieved to see us for by the time we trudged wearily into Eccles Hall it was pitch dark. This however was not the end of the story. We were given a very late tea, sent to bed and told, rather ominously, that the headmaster would deal us later when he arrived in a few days time from London for the weekend.
Time rather dragged in those few days before Mr. Livingston’s arrival. Kathleen Livingston had already told us of the severity of our crime which included the nastiness of birds-nesting as well as the extreme lateness of our return to the school, causing everyone great concern and worry. On Saturday we waited and waited for something to happen. I knew that David Livingston had arrived from London. He had not been struck down with illness, as I had been praying for and looked extremely fit.
Late that afternoon we offending children were called together and once again the severity of our misdeeds was outlined to us. I cannot remember what happened to the others but I was called into Kathleen Livingston’s study where David, her husband, sat looking huge in what was her chair. Again he went over the details before finally standing up. I could not help but be reminded of how big a bear of a man he was. I nervously watched him open a cupboard and gulped as he took out a springy riding crop from within. He then pulled forward a wooden upright chair and told me to drop my trousers. Quietly, he told me to bend over the seat and proceeded to give me what was known in those days as six of the best.
It was very painful and tears fell from my eyes as I pulled up my pants and trousers.
“What do you say, Nigel?” he gently asked of me.
“I am sorry, sir,” I stammered through my tears.
“And what else?” he queried.
“Thank you, sir,” I responded and left the room.
Our expectations were finally rewarded with the first peace on VE day, May 8th, 1945 and at the end of July we left Eccles Hall for good. My delight in packing up my meagre belongings and leaving Eccles Hall was boundless. My whole being surged with happiness. Mother and father collected us from Liverpool Street Station in the Morris and it was like being reborn though now somehow older and wiser. The war was over and the thought of being home again with my lovely family filled me with a terrific excitement. A new life now lay ahead of me, free from bombs, air-raids, fear and destruction.