Bombs dropped in the borough of: Barnet

Explore statistics for the local area


Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Barnet:

High Explosive Bomb
Parachute Mine

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Memories in Barnet

Read people's stories relating to this area:

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

Recollections of 1940-1;
I remember the late summer of 1939 as warm and sunny.
My parents and I had spent two weeks in August, as usual in the Isle of Wight. On the ferry returning to Portsmouth there were a large number of servicemen on board, singing and all very jolly. My Father, an ex-Royal Marine was disturbed by their numbers and seemed very grave afterwards.
The school holidays were not over but upon return to Dollis Hill in North West London we found that visits to school were planned; at eight years old I was in the Junior school and would be “evacuated” with my school but without a parent. A couple of times we all assembled in classes in the playground and once we marched, with much note taking and watch consultation, to Cricklewood station a mile away.
Then it was the 1st of September. We took our tiny cases and gas masks in their cardboard boxes to school. Then amid much crying of children and parents, who were made to stay when the crocodile moved off, we walked again to the station. This time we encountered an astonishing sight for there we joined masses of other children from all over the district. Some had come by bus but many, like us, had walked. It was the day of the great evacuation.
My love affair with railways was well developed and this just redeemed the departure as I often watched trains pass our house but only travelled on an express annually.
We arrived at our first destination, Bedford and soon were lead to the market where seemingly vast numbers of children from 5 to 15 were already present. Many more arrived in the hours following. The cattle market was chosen for it at least had the possibility of keeping us in classes and schools. The plan was to transfer several classes or even a whole school to a village or town. There officials had arranged for us to be billeted with local residents. This was firstly voluntary but if sufficient offers were not forthcoming compulsion was available.
Transport was scarce. All available busses were hard at work all dealing with the flood of “immigrants". For what reason I do not know we were held a long time before being moved. It was a hot day and very wearying. A tough time for the organisers no doubt — toilets in constant use, children sick and trying not to cry; nowhere to sit except when we were ushered to benches where lunch was doled out; WVS? Not bad I do recall.
It seemed that many of the recipients of children had realised that a huge diversity of candidates was on offer. Thus a farmer who desired a strong lad or a well to do lady wanting a no-trouble little girl
made their way to the city and the person in charge of the group was only too glad to see a local face who could lighten their load. Having been allocated a number of evacuees but not specific children the villager would then choose one from the flock and drive off with their prize! By the late afternoon our numbers were diminished and we boarded the bus for the village of Oakley . There, in the village school, a similar scene was enacted. Ladies would enter with the paper giving the number of pupils that authority determined that they would have to look after and soon, after a short chat with the supervisor, they left with one or more children. Certainly our teachers, who were of course still with us, had some say especially as far as keeping siblings together. Those left sat in the corner of the room worrying. I was lightly built and quite shy, nearby was a small and sickly looking lad and two tiny 7-8 year old girls quietly held hands. It seemed likely that those left as darkness gathered might end up in the less desirable and un-welcoming homes. But fortune was with us. The supervisor walked us a few hundred yards to the local pub. The landlady made us welcome saying that she was too busy to come and pick us up. The next weeks were the happiest days. There was not a lot of accommodation available so we were put in a very large room with a huge double bed. Top and tail was the plan and all seemed on an even keel. We played it the beer garden where there was a newt pond and swing. We had room in the suite to read or play and the food was good.
School was in the afternoon, the locals having classes in the morning. The landlady made sure that we washed and were indoors by her timetable but mostly left us alone. The small lad had been a neighbour of the girls and I recall that we played well together. One girl cried at night with homesickness — I think we all did- but mainly we happy. We visited the river, watched the harvest, explored the village and met other friends at school.
Postcards were issued on the second day for us to send home. They checked our addresses and I wrote that I missed home and family but the teachers were looking after us and that the billet was great, better that I and parents had expected in fact. I think that we wrote as a class exercise each week but I wrote that all was satisfactory too soon.
The blow fell after about two weeks later. An inspector from some organisation [county billeting officer?] called at the pub. The landlady said she was so pleased that her little charges were happy that with hind-sight she would have planned to show the officer a slightly different picture. As it was unexpected she showed it as it was. Big mistake. The inspector was a very large lady, self important and looking for trouble. Unimpressed with the idea of a pub from the outset she looked for problems and found them. Pond, river nearby, unsupervised play. The bedroom was the clincher. Horror. Our cosy world fell apart. She took the crying girls off to the far side of the village immediately threatening to return in an hour. It was dark when she did and despite the landlady’s protestations we set off struggling with all our belongings, gas mask and some food packed up by our hostess. The harridan had a bicycle which she rode ahead in the gloom; we straggled behind for about a mile. There, at other end of the village we arrived at a row of tiny cottages. She quickly introduced me to a large family and left with the sickly lad looking more wan that ever. The well meaning but overworked mother tried to make me welcome but as I was such a contrast from the family resentment was obvious. Taken to an attic room which I was to share with their 15 y.o. middle son who worked in the fields nearby I was appalled. The mattress was straw filled and crackled. Later I realised that it was also alive with bugs. I saw little of Billy, probably a good thing for after the novelty of teasing a small white faced stranger in their midst the family mostly ignored me; The children with thinly disguised contempt.
I never saw my erstwhile bedmate again and was told by the teacher that he was moved to the next village……?
School was still in the afternoons but instead of walking with a group of friends from the pub and the nearby houses I had to make my own way through a different part of the village. Much poorer and with many children it had few evacuees. It became an frightening walk, probably more in my perception that in reality, passing groups of the local children who had completed their morning lessons. My later letters were never posted but one brief note saying all was well was sent by a teacher.

My interest had always been trains. My Father fostered this and sometimes took me to the London mainline stations to watch the arrival and, more exciting, the departure of the countrywide expresses. The cottage had a long garden which ended at the top of a deep cutting. The four main line tracks of the old Midland Railway, then LMS, ran below. Frequent long coal trains taking London’s main supplies ran the Nottinghamshire pits and were balanced by equally frequent empties. The fast main line was used by expresses to the midlands and points North. Local trains were seen too as they were the main form of transport except a few local buses. Troop trains were beginning to appear.
Every evening it became my habit to leave after the frugal, and to me very unpalatable, supper to sit on the fence and watch this steam hauled procession. It was often very late before someone noticed as they were going to bed that I was still there. I do not know if I made notes or collected numbers in the classic manner but as it was soon dusk and then quite dark I doubt it. I did however soon get to know the frequency of different types of train.
I conceived a plan. The local station was a couple of hundred yards away. A reconnaissance showed that it would be simple to be on the platform but out of sight when the southbound local stopped soon after the evening meal. As it was only ten miles and one stop to Bedford; I could be in the station there in minutes. A semi- fast London bound train was due soon after that which made a suburban stop at Cricklewood on the way. If I was accosted en route to Cricklewood and having no money surely they would contact my parents if I gave that address. I knew the way home from the station.
The first part went well but on Bedford station I was spotted as I sat in a dark corner of the platform and soon I confessed to a local address. The official [railway policeman?] handed me over to the local bobby at Oakley station and I was back at the cottage before I was missed!

One day, on my way to afternoon lessons a group of local lads taunted then chased me. I later claimed that I was pushed but it could have been that I tripped in panic. I ended up in a ditch unharmed except for grazes and thousands of nettle stings. No doubt I ran to school crying. A well meaning teacher fetched the gentian violet and dabbed this heavily all over me. This contrasted nicely with the iodine on the cuts and my scratching the bug bites.
My parents were distressed that the letters had dried up. We had no phone of course, neither I presume was there one at the village school. My Father tried to get information whilst at work but the few officials left in London were awash with paperwork. A message came from my teacher that I was OK. This did not satisfy my mother. Against Fathers advice and all the rules after about ten weeks she came to visit. Multi coloured and having lost a great deal of weight I must have been a sight. I do not remember the scene but was probably kept out of it; the upshot was a return to London by train and a visit to the doctor. This was to witness the weight loss, head lice etcetera and to counter the expected visit from the police as keeping a child in the city was an offence.
A few weeks later I was taken to stay with an Aunt & Uncle in Eastcote, a neutral [no evacuation or reception!] area. There I remained until the summer of 1940 when a few classes were reopened in Cricklewood [why- in time for the battle of Britain?] . Regrettably I destroyed my Mother’s record of the year when she died in 1956. It listed the time of every siren “alert” and “all clear” in a ledger with notes such as: n/a no activity; fighters high; large plane low; bomb in park at 2am; bomb nearby front window broken; and Number 23 in our road flattened by bomb, all dead. Some days there were several entries.
My Grandmother lived with us and in her seventies travelled miles by trolleybus at 6 am to start work.
My Father had a heart condition and was stopped digging our Anderson shelter. The hole full of water and corrugated iron remained all the time we were in the house looking like a small bomb crater.
When the blitz was upon us a small bed made up for me on the floor in the low area under the foot of the stairs. When, frequently, bombers or the whistle of bombs were heard all three came and crouched in the higher area where my Father had put additional prop timbers as additional support for the staircase. It was a small house and this felt very crowded, after seeing the destruction of nearby homes we were all frightened.

In 1941 the admiralty moved more of it’s staff to Bath my Father among them. We soon were in a Somerset village and a different life. Although the bombers seemed to follow us with raids on Bristol and Bath the village was left alone. After the latter raid I helped Father walk round the city checking on the state of his staff; few had phones. By then I was very lucky to be attending the City of Bath School — a delightful location with fond memories and gratitude for an excellent job done by my teachers. The bonus was a daily ride by train to the city this time with a ticket.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by Herts Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)

This is Mr D Barkshire's story; it has been added by Herts Libraries, with permission from the author, who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website.

Part One — In Prison as a Conscientious Objector

Having been a member of the Peace Pledge Union since its inception, when the war started in 1939 I registered as a conscientious objector. I was 27 years of age at the time and into my confident, rationalist period. In due course I received an appointment to attend before a tribunal to have my conscientious objection tested. These tribunals were always of a standard type with a legally qualified Chairman, either a barrister or a retired judge; a member of the working classes, generally a trade unionist; and a member of the employers’ organisation, the CBI. My tribunal application was refused.

Then, after I had refused to attend medical examinations, a very pleasant police constable appeared on my parents’ doorstep with a summons for me. “You are a very silly chap,” he said. “You might very well fail the medical examination.” I said to him, “That really isn’t the point”.

In Wealdstone Magistrates Court the clerk read out the charge — ‘that you were ordered to attend for a medical examination for army purposes… How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?’ Full of my own confidence I said “I admit the facts mentioned in the charge sheet but I feel no sense of guilt”. “Take him down for twelve months” said the magistrate, so I was taken to the cells beneath the court and in due course a police vehicle, popularly known as a Black Maria. Eventually we arrived at Wormwood Scrubs prison — actually quite a nice location because if you stood on a chair in your prison cell, as I did, you could look over the open meadowland of Wormwood Scrubs.

Now the first thing that happens as a prisoner is you are taken to see either the Governor or Deputy Governor who reads you the rules which you must obey and these include the fact that you will be prohibited from holding arms for five years after the end of your sentence. I didn’t feel this a terrible loss, I must say. After that I saw the Chaplain — always, of course, the Church of England Chaplain — in this case a very pleasant chap called Tudor Rees. He said to me ”you know many men have spent useful times in prison. John Bunyan wrote wonderfully well in Bedford Prison”. I suggested that Voltaire was the better for having the freedom of Europe in which to write. Well, we shook hands and I was taken then to the showers.

You may have had a good bath that very morning but you are still pushed into the shower. You are thrown some grey flannel underwear and clothes. A pair of grey flannel trousers and a grey flannel coat. You are not measured for it to any extent so when taken to your cell you may be quite a comic sight actually, with trousers halfway up your leg or like concertinas around the ankles. But you do have a chance during your stay in prison to improve this garb because in the wash house during the week prisoners quite frequently change their clothing with the chap in the adjoining shower to find a better fit. Some look comparatively smart, with clothes that fit their frame.

For the first six months I was in Solitary confinement. The only time I was out of the cell was when I was released in the morning to clear the po and to wash. The cell was small with a hard bed and a flock sort of mattress and a couple of blankets, a table and a chair. There was a bell in the cell to ring if you were in dire trouble. In theory a warder should call and unlock you and deal with the problem. In practice, I heard from other prisoners, this did not always work out.

On the first day some porridge was passed in to me and I could only eat perhaps a quarter of it and the rest was taken away. But by the end of the week I was eating everything that was given to me. I remember that, perhaps about 6 O’clock in the evening you were given a small cob loaf and there would be no more food for the day. Even though hungry, I always put that cob up on the shelf by the window for a little time before I started eating it, so that I wasn’t absolutely starving in the morning.

Anyway, a special workshop was set up for conscientious objectors. Their sole enterprise was the production of mailbags. Newcomers were given a big ball of black wax and a whole skein of thread. They had to run the thread through the wax to coat it. This was done for a week or two, perhaps a month, then you moved on to the sewing, stitching pieces of hessian to make the mailbags. The next pressing job was collecting up the finished bags. Finally, if you were lucky, you were given the job of handing round the cut pieces of hessian and the wax to men who did not come to the workshop but stayed working in their cells.

After six months you came ‘off stage’ and this meant that not only could you take your meals in communion in the main hall but you were allowed out for some hours in the evening where there were games available, chess and drafts and what-have-you. I was not very fond of board games but I remember how nice it was to lose a game to another prisoner because it made him happy. That suited me very well.

Either every week or month, I can’t remember now, you were allowed either a visitor or a letter but not both. I generally chose a visitor because, although I had not then joined the Quakers — the Society of Friends, I had very strong contacts with Maurice Rowntree. Before going into prison I used to visit his house every Friday. I was visited frequently by Maurice and by John Lord, another Quaker, who was a member of the Golders Green Meeting.

One good thing about prison is that there was time to think, time to read. I had taken in to prison with me, J W Dunn’s ‘Experiment with Time’ and I remember Maurice Rowntree asking me, when I came out of prison at Christmas 1942, whether I had made any progress on it. Well I had, but right then the big thing as far as I was concerned was that I was out of prison. Now it was time to do something more useful.

Part Two — The Volunteer Relief Service Unit

After my stint in prison for being a conscientious objector I went back to the Volunteer Unit in Poplar where I had previously been working at weekends. There I found that quite a few of the members were working as nursing orderlies for terminally injured ex-servicemen of the First World War at a residential nursing home in Ealing. This establishment was run by one of the nursing orders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Sisters of St Vincent. I worked there from the beginning of 1943 until after the end of the war.

There were times when one felt extremely low and extremely sad. I remember going in, the first day I was there, to feed a badly injured man. Feeding him was very difficult. I almost dropped the plate of food. After, I went straight into the kitchen and sat down, right out. But I was soon back doing everything.

Another memory I have of that is the time when I had the job of laying out, after he had died, one of the patients there who had an awfully badly damaged back. I can’t describe it. And for about seven days after it was as if I didn’t see any sunshine at all, it was so awful. But apart from that I enjoyed the work there and the company was definitely good.

As part of the relief service unit at Poplar, I took round buns and tea to the people in underground shelters and also tried to find accommodation for those who were bombed out of their homes. We all of us knew what accommodation was available, where church halls were, where the vacant property was. Our unit was based in Plimfole Street, Poplar, in the first floor and basement of a bombed out Baptist Chapel. I remember that one of the members of our team was a very good pianist and he liked Chopin sonatas particularly. By great luck there was a grand piano on the stage in the basement of that old Baptist church and there he would sit down after he had been on his rounds and be perfectly happy.


The First World War was a war fought on the same lines, really, that had been in use over centuries. And those men who were not willing to fight because they were conscientious objectors were regarded as criminals. Indeed, many of them were sent abroad under armed guard and on one occasion a number of them were lined up, blindfolded and stood ready expecting to be shot, though they were not, in fact, killed. (The record of that I read in a book dealing with conscientious objectors of the First World War.) During the First World War a procedure of “cat and mouse” was regularly employed: a man who did not attend for a medical was given a year’s sentence. Out he came to receive another appointment for a medical examination and in due course he was back in the same cell within a month or so. England wasted a large proportion of her mankind in the First World War.

In the Second World War a better culture prevailed and those who did not take part in military endeavours were still used in hundreds — Bevin’s boys, those who worked on the land, some in my position who voluntarily took up relief work.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by Holywood Arches Library (BBC WW2 People's War)

This story was submitted to the People's War site by A Scott of the Belfast Education & Library Board / Holywood Arches Library On behalf of Edward Cadden [ the author ] and has been added to the site with his permission.
The author fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

Preparation for War

My father was born in June 1902 and named Edward after the newly crowned King.

He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles in 1921 and the Battalion was posted overseas. They sat in the troopship in Golden Horn Straits for 2 weeks waiting for politicians to decide whether to invade Turkey following Kemal Pasha’s expulsion of Greek occupation troops.

Then to Egypt for 2 years in support of the civil power with a successful spell of ceremonial duties at the coronation of King Faud.

To Poona in India where in 1927 the regiment became the Royal Ulster Rifles and with full military honours a coffin containing R.I.R. rubber stamps, headed paper and shoulder badges was laid to rest in Wellington Barracks with a headstone inscribed R.I.R. R.I.P. R.U.R.

A short leave to Belfast in 1928 were he married my mother Jane and my sister Jean was born in Poona in December 1929.

After an unpleasant stint in steamy Madras the Battalion sailed for home in 1932 but the men were disembarked in the Sudan to prevent Mussolini extending his ambitions after conquest of Abyssinia. The enforced tour lasted to 1934. Just over 2 years in the UK at Catterick and the Isle of Wight then off to Palestine in 1937 for active service against the ancestors of the 21st Century Palestine Freedom Fighters.

In the 16th Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier Bernard Law Montgomery the Battalion developed novel tactics in Galilee of highly mobile ground forces with close air support by RAF units commanded by Group Captain Arthur Harris all this was relevant to World War 2 for without the long tempering of experience for officers, N.C.O.S. and senior riflemen the unit could not have stood up to the campaigning of that war. On return to the UK in 1939 it was clear that war with Germany was coming and a massive refit was landed on the unit with my Dad as R.Q.M.S. (Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant) and experienced weapons instructor in the midst of it. The personal uniform and equipment which had remained virtually unchanged since 1908, with the addition of a steel helmet and gas respirator in WW1, was all changed. In came the short blouse battledress and a new pattern of webbing equipment.

Many new vehicles were added to the unit’s equipment including tracked Bren-gun carriers. New wireless equipment required new specialists and new operational methods. The light machine gun — the Lewis was replaced with a Czech weapon for which Enfield had got a production licence just before Hitler added the rest of Czechoslovakia to the Sudetenland.

The BRNO-Enfield — the Bren arrived in quantity but without instruction manuals. It was entirely different to the Lewis so Dad and other instructors had to teach themselves how it worked by rule of thumb and experience. A rather useless anti-tank weapon appeared also - the Boyes rifle. Supported by a bipod this had a magazine of 5 half-inch calibre steel bullets which in theory would penetrate a tank’s armour and ricochet around inside causing havoc to the crew.
Experienced men were posted off to help form new units and replacements had to be trained from scratch. Dad at one stage had to teach the laying of barbed wire entanglements with balls of twine bought in Woolworth.

The Phoney War

The newly promoted Major General Montgomery managed to get most of the units from his 16 infantry brigade incorporated in his new command — 3rd Division. The main defensive problem was spotted as soon as the division arrived in France. The gap from the end of the Maginot Line to the coast along the Belgian border the Rifles were based in Tourcoing and like the rest of the Division busied themselves with training and with construction of prepared positions of trenches, sangars, barbed wire and mines to oppose any advance from Belgium.

My Dad’s hard work was lightened (I hope) by my birth on 7 January 1940 in Belfast. Their commander’s puritanical, even Cromwellian style of command led to 3rd Division’s proudly borne nickname of “Monties Ironsides” my dad received leave to inspect his new son in late spring and headed back to France just in time for the German offensive.

Just before the crucial moment Montgomery was moved off to command a new division and hand-over take-over added to the confusion.

The rapid collapse of Dutch and Belgian armed forces caused the Division to be moved out of the prepared positions and rushed forward to hold the Eastern border of Belgium. The German tactics were on a much grander scale those practiced by 16 Infantry Brigade in Palestine. Before fresh troops could replace 3rd Division the German armour punched through Tourcoing and did not stop before reaching Bayonne and a French surrender. The rifles and their Scots and other comrades found themselves not part of a coordinated defence but a lonely rearguard to slow the Germans and permit evacuation of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk and adjacent areas.

R.U.R. were defending Louvain, or more properly since it is a Flemish area Leuven.

Fortunately German armour was engaged elsewhere but the infantry fighting was fierce. At one stage opposite platforms of the railway terminal were occupied by Germans and by the Rifles. An enterprising Bren-gunner to make the Germans believe defence was heavier would fire a magazine then run along the pedestrian subway and fire a second magazine.

Ammunition ran low and at nightfall Dad set off with transport to fetch supplies from the rear depot. Arriving there he found R.Q.M.S.’s from other units in frustration because the depot had decamped. Dad asked an impolite major where supplies could be found and was told the coast. A conference with the other unit reps. and Dad decided to lead a dash to the coast. The major butted in to remark that it was thought the Germans had cut the road to the coast. “How can we get there?” asked Dad “fight your way through” snapped the major Dad thought this comic as his detachment had one Bren and an anti-tank rifle with only 2 rounds of armour piercing. However Dad and the Rifles in the lead they reached the coast overloaded with ammo and headed back. The ammunition was delivered safely to Leuven and some years later Dad found one of the W.O.s who had followed his lead from another unit had got a M.B.E. for the effort. The Rifles regarded such action as Dad’s as par for the course in their outfit.

It became clear that the holding action might result in the destruction of the Battalion so Dad was given a party of specialists and long-service N.C.O.s essential to the creation of new unit and told to get them to G.B..

They reached the beaches at Bray dunes near Dunkirk where some troops had abandoned their personal weapons and 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns sat unmanned. Dad got every rifleman to collect a second rifle and the Bren-gunner to pick up a second Bren. He acquired a service Smith and Wesson revolver which he had for the rest of the war.

They were lifted off safely by the Ramsgate Lifeboat with their feet dry and taken to a “Sword” class destroyer off-shore which took them to England.

The 2nd R.U.R. was not destroyed but with other units of 3 Division fought back to the coast and were evacuated depleted but unbroken.

Becoming a Gentleman by Royal Commission

Montgomery instead of taking a break came back and assisted with the resurrection his “Ironsides” and then headed off to a new command.

Apart from replacement of equipment lost in Belgium some new items arrived including some Thompson sub machine guns from the U.S.A.. Efforts had to be made to create command structures and defensive positions to deal with the anticipated invasion. Dad got some leave to visit us in Belfast but was kept busy through late summer and early autumn.

Then he was commissioned as a Lieutenant. A W.O.I. when commissioned skipped 2nd lieutenant otherwise he would be paid less than his existing grade when promoted.

A course at O.T.U. to teach Dad techniques of command, traditions and military law and manners of which he knew more than his instructors.

His first posting was as Lieutenant Quartermaster to a training depot for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the predecessor of the Womens Royal Army Corps. These young women did not go into the front-line like their 21st century descendants but did mechanical, signalling and admin tasks to free up men for front-line service.

We joined him in the depot’s base town Dorchester in an underoccupied home requisitioned in part as married quarters in 1942 we experienced our first bombing as a united family.


When we arrived in late 1942 at our requisitioned quarters in Edgware shared with the Jewish owners, the Roes, the great blitz was in a lull. The Luftwaffe needed all the bombers it could get in Russia and the North African campaigns called for even more. The pattern was isolated “nuisance raids” by high altitude bombers or low-level sorties on the south-east by single or handfuls of fighter-bombers. The RAF as well as night-raids by heavy bombers was attacking targets in France and the Low Countries by day with fighters and light bombers. The USAAC was also testing the water with increasing strength there were municipal air raid shelters, the tube doubled as an air raid shelter and schools had mass shelters for pupils homeowners could get two types of prefab shelter. The Morrison for use in a well braced indoor area or the Anderson to be inserted in a hole in the garden. Surplus Andersons became coal-houses for post war prefab houses Dad was promoted captain and posted as Q.M. of the London Irish Rifles. This was a T.A. Battalion affiliated to the R.U.R. and drawing recruits from expatriates living in London. It like other T.A. units was supposed to provide an immediate war reserve for regular units. Over 3 years of war and the London Irish had not been got into action. My Dad and a batch of “old sweat” N.C.O.s and officers were posted in to give a kick start.

The main trouble was the shared experiences of members of the regular units with hard oversea postings and awkward operational contexts did not apply to the re-cycled civilians of the T.A.. There was no espirit de corps. One sample may illustrate the symptoms of a general malaise. On a kit inspection Dad found that a “rifleman” had sold off all negotiable items of his personal kit. Worn-out uniform items were commonly used as cleaning materials or waste containers. The miscreant presented a plausible assembly of spare clothing made from washed and ironed cleaning rags and cardboard. He had sold all the brass fittings for scrap and substituted dummies made of tin foil.

The Battalion got sorted out and was lined up for service in North Africa. Near departure a company commander developed an illness diagnosed as Plumbum Ostillendum. My Dad was about to be made Acting Company Commander and posted out when the authorising office pointed out that he was past the age-limit for active front-line service. Despite the false starts the unit stood the horrid pace well in North Africa and Italy.

Top Secret

Mum, my sister and I were posted back to Belfast when the London Irish Rifles departed because Dad was posted as a Q.M. of a secret base at Westward Ho near Bideford in Devon — the combined operations experimental establishment. The beaches there were similar to those in Normandy and tidal conditions, sea-levels and cliff features were also similar. A mixture of technical experts from all 3 services was gathered there with representation of the U.S.A. and other allies.

Much of the supply of specialised landing craft was tied up in the U.S. Pacific campaigns. The intended stockpile for Normandy was to be further depleted for landings in Italy.

Devices experimented with at Westward Ho were amphibious versions of Sherman and Churchill tanks, rocket firing landing craft, a DUKW amphibious lorry fitted with a fire brigade extending ladder to scale shoreline cliffs. A total disaster (fortunately without causalities) a huge rocket propelled wheel to explode minefields. The rockets fired out of sequence, the brute tipped over and proceeded to whirl towards the rapidly scattering spectators.

More mundane but successful machines were amphibious cable layers, Bailey Bridge carriers and bulldozers. A scale trial was made along the coast of the Mulberry Harbour. One of Dad’s missions involved a flight in an R.A.F. Proctor liaison aircraft from Chivenor to Pembrey to check the functioning of a trial laying of P.L.U.T.O. the pipeline under the ocean. This in full scale service would pump fuel from England to Normandy. The Q.M. of such a unit had to find often at short notice a myriad of components — some of them in no military inventory.

One of the engineering experts was Lieutenant Commander Neville Shute Norway. He had created the Airspeed Aircraft Company which had supplied the King’s flight with its first aircraft. The company’s Oxford twin engined trainer was one of the mainstays of R.A.F. wartime training systems, his company had been taken over by De Havilland. He was an author of Novels already by 1944 using his first two names Neville Shute. In a famous post-war novel “No Highway” he foreshadowed the Comet Airliner disasters with a fictional airliner plagued by metal fatigue. The inventiveness of the elite personnel was shown in more mundane ways. Childrens toys were almost unobtainable in 1944 and my Dad’s sergeant produced toys from scrap packaging and other materials.

I received a model of the French Battleship “Richelieu” usable on a wheeled frame or to float in the bath. There was a model also of a seep, and amphibious jeep and a long-lived Sherman tank model. Scrap packaging celluloid, .303 rifle chargers, washers and tail ends of brass and iron rods were incorporated and painting came from the dregs of paint left from finishing touches to the amphibious equipment.

A major pre D-Day disaster happened near the combined operations experimental establishment at Westward Ho when US troops practising amphibious landings were intercepted by E-Boats and suffered heavy causalities. The unit did not close with the success of D-Day for many rivers needed to be crossed before V.E. Day and Seaborne and Riverborne operations were necessary in the Far East.

With war’s end Dad decided that our family had been separated too often and a peacetime career even as a major would not help the development of a teenage daughter and a six year old son with postings to foreign parts. He decided to retire, take his pension and supplement it with a civilian job.

In 1946 a special job centre was established in Belfast for demobilising servicemen. Dad was delighted to find his neighbour in the queue was an N.C.O. who had served under his command. They chatted of times gone by and recent developments until they reached the parting of the ways. One lane was signed “Officers’ Posts” and the other “Other Ranks’ Posts”. They both emerged from their respective lanes as temporary Clerical Assistants Grade II in the N.I. Civil Service.


The Rifleman

Regardless of any rank he may achieve subsequently a Rifleman is always a Rifleman. He is part of an elite unit who taught the rest of the army how to make war. His full dress uniform is dark green and his badges and buttons are black. He marches at 120 paces a minute and does not change gear going up hill. Regardless of drill practices by mere infantry with whatever firearm is current a rifleman shoulders arms never slopes arms and he marches past with the weapon at the trail.

No matter what other units call it a Rifleman’s bayonet is a sword and he fixes swords and never fixes bayonets. He must never be mistaken for a Light Infantry man who is merely a copy of the French Tirailleurs. Each Rifleman is an individual fighting unit which will operate on its own whether support is near or not. Before commandos, parachute regiments or S.A.S. the Rifleman had broken away from the lumpen proletariat of infantry of the line.

Indeed in the Royal Ulster Rifles one Battalion went into action on D-Day as airborne troops and the other on foot in traditional style.

In ceremonial Rifles have no colours their battle honours are on the drums of the band. When the band displaying old sweats may be singing sotto voce
“You may talk about your Queen’s Guards
Scots greys and all
You may talk about your kilties and the
forty second TWA
But of all the world’s great heroes
under the Queen’s command
the Royal Ulster Rifles are the
terror of the Land!”

“Quis Seperabit” the motto of the Knights of St Patrick is completed in original by “From the Love of God”. For a rifleman the unwritten follow on is “From love of my regiment.”

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by eric heathfield (BBC WW2 People's War)

As I said previously after May 1941 enemy activity diminished considerably, we had a few raids usually around xmas time or just after.Also a few fighter bomber daylight raids in 1943/4. Then in the early part of 1944 the germans made a series of rather heavy raids. They dropped what were known at the time as oil bombs. These did a great deal of damage, I remember one fell on Priors dept store near the Tally ho North Finchley this was a modern concrete building it was completely destroyed apart from the steel girder frame work!There was very little damage locally although I think it was around this time that a large bomb fell on Cat hill East Barnet demolishing several houses. One point i will make we always knew when a raid was coming because the BBC would stop broacasting when a raid was imminent so that the enemy could not use them as a method of navigation and take bearings from them.When the radio went dead we would move into our morrrison shelter and put up the wire screens. Then later would come the gut wrenching sound of the sirens.These raids in 1944 cost the enemy heavy casualties and as the nights shortened they stopped.Then on the 6th June 1944 I was woken early in the morning by the sound of many aircraft flying over.We were used to seeing American flying fortresses in large formations most days but it was too early for them as they always flew over during assembly at school.I got out of bed and went to the window which had a good view of the sky to the east.I had heard people say the sky was black with planes but this day it really was hundreds of planes towing gliders and squadron upon squadron of Boston and Marauder light bombers all heading east!Also Spitfire squadrons were airbourne to all planes had white stripes round the fuselage to identify them as allied aircraft. This was D day!When we listened to the 8 o'clock news the landings were announced.THe next few days were euphoric we were all excited and the standing joke repeated ad nauseum was " Do you know where the landing is- at the top of the stairs" very corny by the 3rd day! Then in the following week on the thursday night we found that "Jerry" had a nasty joke of his own up his sleeve! Went to bed about 9-30 as usual when it was school tomorrow. Then about 1 am the sirens sounde and I made my sleepy way down to the dining room and the morrison shelter.It was soon evident this was a heavy raid constant gunfire and low flying aircraft and machine gun fire. This continued for about 2 hours then all was quiet,the all clear didnt sound but aftre a while Dad said we might as well go back to bed its over! The following morning I went to school as usual and asked my friends if they had heard the all clear?None of them had -very strange then later in the day we were all made to go down to the cloakrooms which served as a shelter the ceiling being strengthened with beams and the windows covered with sandbags.When we were sent home at noon we heard that this was hitlers secre weapon a pilotless aircraft packed with a ton of explosives.These kept coming over for the next 3 months at odd intervals.The next day which was a Saturday I went with my dad to chesthunt Resouvoir for a days fishing it was very civilised there we had a small hut where we could cook and sahelter from the weather and could even sleep there as we had 2 naval hammocks slung.It was a rather dull overcast day,we heard a few flying bombs in the distance, suddenly I heard a strange sound unlike any other aircraft noise I ha ever heard I was by this time as most of my friends were an expert areoplane spotter. Then suddenly there it wa at about 500 feet flying west a Gloster Meteor thogh of course I didn't know that at the time although the radio had reported about jet aircraft about a week earlier.A wonderful sight ! Well as I said the attacks continued,one night a V1 fell in Grange Ave East Barnet in the next road to my sister Grace.I dont think anyone was killed. Then one lunchtime at school I was in the wash room in the cloakrooms when we heard a V1 coming Mr Zissell our headmaster rushed in from the playground roarinng "Everyone down on the floor" we didn't need telling twicethe bomb slid over the school down church hill rd clipped the flagstaff on St marys Church and exploded in Oakhill park near the bridge near Rushdene ave luckily not killing anyone! Some of my friends from the East barnet grammer school had a narrow squeak as they were in the park at the point of impact but saw it coming and just made into a surface shelter they were badley shaken but unhurt. Then in late august we had our worst tradegy of the war. I did not witness this personally as we had gone away for a couple of weeks fishing in Dorset as was my fathers custom whenever he could snatch a few days away from the Times I think this helped to keep him sane! these were stressful times as they were not only publishing theTimes but also the American paper The Stars and Stripes for the troops.Anyway on or about the 21st August about 7-45 in the morning the Standard telephone factory which was about 200 yds from the end of our street was hit by a flying bomb causing horrendous casualties in fact the highest ever casualties in a single incident.several hundred dead and many many severely injured . One young girl aged about 15 in her firsat week at work lost both legs,luckily she made a full recovery and 11 years later was in victoria maternity hospital having a baby at the same time as my late wife.Ou house had all the windows blown out and the ceilings down.The last flying bommmb to land near us was sometime in the autumn, it was my most scary moment of my 71 years! We were in the morrison because the bombs came at any time it was after midnight because Dad had come home from the office.Something woke me and I heard the bomb coming then suddenly the engine cut! When that happened your heart stood still and you could hear a pin drop.Then to my utter horror I heard a sound it was the sound of the V1 gliding! I could literally hear the air over the flying surfaces Dad swore then came the explosion the solid steel shelter lifted with the blast.The bomb had landed further up the hill in Russell Road causing several deaths including a friend of my mothers and her twin sons aged about 13.This was the last f lying bommb in the district.In September 44 one saturday morning I was lying in bed just having woken up when there was a tremendous explosion followed by what sounded like a roll of thunderwe were to get to know that sound all too well over the next few months hitlers second secret weapon was up and running the V2 rocket hurtling in at supersonic speed devastating wherever it hit. This one was at Bounds Green many of these landed in London and you could hear them for miles the only other one in our area was at New Barnet killing several people and burying others for a couple of days (this was always one of my worst nightmares the thought of being buried alive)One poor chap held a beam up over his Brother but sadly his brother was dead, later he lost his mind and used to wander the streets shouting and talking to hiself the children in later years used to make fun of him not knowing his story unless someone told them.Personally the V2's worried me less than aircraft attacks which always seemed directly aimed at one or flying bombs which were nerve wracking.With the v2 if you heard it go off you were alive and that was that,I am sad to say we were mostly pretty callous by this time well you had to grow a hard shell or you wouldn't have been able to stand it!Well by March 45 the raids and rockets peterd out then suddenly it was all over I was then nearly 13 going on 30.Would like to say a couple of final things clear up a couple of myths.Firstly despite many documentary 's Londoners on the whole did NOT shelter in the underground in fact people who did were rather despised, any way they were not very safe as was the case at Bounds green station when a bomb penetrated to the platform ripped all the tiles from the walls killing a number of Poles who used it to shelter.Most people had there Morrisons and Anderson shelters and prefered to take their chance above ground.Also I get very angry when i hear people talking about soft southeners as we were bombed throughout the war not just a few nights as were plymouth and southhampton the blitz lasted from Sept7 40 to May 10th 41 almost every night so I don't think we were soft If you would like any more information please don't hesitate to ask.How ever I am suffering from Chronic renal failure at the moment so if you want to know anything better ask soon All the best Eric Heathfield

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

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

This story was submitted to the Peoples War web site by Hertfordshire Libraries working in partnership with the Dacorum Heritage Trust on behalf of the author, John Greener. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was born (1st June 1937) and grew up in Edgware, Middlesex (Queensbury, to be precise). Our address was 7 Millais Gardens, Mollison Way, Edgware. Edgware was right on the edge of London then - a sizeable sprawl of the mid-thirties house building explosion. Miles of, mostly terraced (Bauerhaus influenced) , wide windowed houses occupied by respectable upper working class families with aspirations. I think that most were quite happy in their brand new easy-to-run houses in the leafy suburbs - and then came the War.

My childhood memories consist mostly of always going to sleep with searchlights continously passing across the wall and the distant sound of bombs dropping and gun fire. During the day barrage balloons all across the sky and how nice and cosy and almost homely they looked. Air raid sirens and the feeling of dread they produced in your stomach. Of course, the legendary air raid wardens yelling “Put that light out” which infuriated my mother and she used to have angry rows with him. Funny green tape criss-crossed on the windows of underground trains (it was still there in the mid-50s). Air raid practise at school - this consisted of crouching under wash-hand basins until it all went away.My mother found out we were sheltering under these basins at the teacher’s direction and every time the air raid warning went off, she used to run round to the school and take me home.

I grew up in an extended family of extrovert and batty people - I was the only child in a family of eight of us - my sister was twelve when I was born so was almost grown-up. We had two adjoining mid-terrace houses - my Mum and Dad, my sister and I in one house and my mother’s two sisters and their husbands in the house next door. The women had bitter arguments and there was always one sister who was not speaking to another sister but they all had very strong loyalty to each other, bonded together by the horrors of growing up in the Camden Town slums at the beginning of the twentieth century. They all idolised me and whenever one of them found a treat in the shops - either over or under the counter - it would come my way.

When the air raid siren sounded we went en masse to the shelter in the street which was very damp and always flooded but Mum and her sisters decided that it wasn’t very healthy in there and the neighbours were doing unmentionable things to each other which they didn’t want me to see. Therefore we had three Morrison shelters - one for each family. I suppose by then it must have been about 1942.

My sister was eighteen in 1943 and was “called up”. She had the choice of going into the ATS, training to become a nurse or becoming a bus conductress or working in a factory. She chose to join the ATS. She hated the idea of being a nurse or going into a factory and Dad said he wouldn’t allow her to be a bus conductress because they were all tarts (he drove a no. 13 bus!) So then there were just Mum and Dad and I and the cat to sleep in the Morrison shelter.

One night (I think perhaps in the Autumn of 1944) the air-raid siren sounded and we moved into the Morrison to sleep. We were fast asleep in the middle of the night when there was a terrible red flash and flames racing up the wall and I screamed “Mum, we’re on fire”. Immediately after the flash came the noise of the doodle-bug crashing into a house round the corner. It has always seemed as if the reflected flash of the fire came first and then the sound of the bomb. I think Dad must have called out “Is everybody allright” . My mother was screaming hysterically. I was crying because the cat wouldn’t come in that night and I was convinced he must have been killed in all the devastation that seemed to be going on outside. We were right under the window and all the glass from these wonderful wall-to-wall curved Bauerhaus windows blew in. A big lump was chipped out of the piano.

My Dad said “If I have to put up that bloody front door any more I will go mad”. Uncle Ern next door rushed out to see if everyone was allright and cut his bare feet to ribbons on all the glass on the floor. Then there was the sound of fire engines and water hoses and the fire seemed to be all round us. A man kept running up and down the street screaming “My wife is dead. My wife is dead”. I don’t remember any more about that night but I found our cat Sandy hiding in the garden the next morning quite unharmed. That day or maybe several days afterwards I can remember standing in the pouring rain holding the hand of one of my uncles and looking up at our two roofs with all the tiles missing. Some Irishmen were scrambling about trying to fix tarpaulins on the roof and I can remember asking “Will it be allright” and the uncle said “Oh yes I’m sure it will be quite soon now”.

My Dad drove a no.13 bus from Hendon, through Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus and across (I think) Waterloo Bridge. He used to come home covered in soot from all the fires he had driven through and once stopped just before a huge bomb crater somewhere.

One night I couldn’t sleep. It must have been deep in the winter because I can remember feeling desperately cold. My dad was in the bathroom having a bath and when I heard the door open I called out “Dad, I can’t sleep. I’m so cold”. Dad’s hair was sticking up in spikes (like a punk) from being washed. He said that when he was in the trenches he used to wrap the blanket right round the back of his neck and tuck it in tight. I still do that now with a duvet and it does work.

My dad and Uncle Ern and Uncle Fred used to go fire watching in the flats across the road. They used to sit there all night playing cards and smoking and drinking brown ales. One night they must have all fallen asleep and one of them must have left a cigarette still burning - it set the flat alight and they had to run round to the ‘phone box and call for a fire engine!

My sister who was a good looking girl, came home on leave from time to time with various boyfriends who were in the Services. She also had several American boyfriends but they always seemed to be killed in Europe. She was also engaged to a boy called Frank Ritchie who was serving in the Navy - she used to work with him in a butcher’s shop in Burnt Oak before the war - I think he was the owner’s son. He was killed the day after the war finished. He was in a jeep with a gang of American soldiers - I guess they were celebrating the end of the war. The jeep crashed and he was killed. My sister was devastated and I don’t think she ever really got over it.

Uncle Ern’s sister Gwen was going up to Glasgow to join her sister. My mother was having a sort of nervous breakdown - it’s her nerves they used to say. They all decided I should go up to Glasgow to be away from the bombs and to give Mum a break. We had a nightmarish train journey up there. The train was tightly packed and I think we had to sit on our suitcases for the whole twelve hours it took to get there. The lights kept going out and the train kept stopping while the bombs were dropping. One of the soldiers on the train kept bringing us cups of tea.

I can remember when we got to Gwen’s sister’s house (the sisters had six children between them) she pointed to the Morrison shelter which was full of kids and said “You’ll have to sleep on the top. You can see there’s no more room in there!” I decided I wasn’t going to like it there. Then they made me take cod liver oil before I went to bed and also to drink Ovaltine made with water - Mum always made it with milk at home. So I thought I don’t like it here. I’m going to make such a pest of myself that they’ll send me home. So I kept crying and saying I was homesick and wanted to go home. I used to listen to them talking when I was supposed to be in bed and very soon they were saying “We’ll have to send her home. She’s a horrible child”.

I was there for a month so I did quite well really. I had a great time playing with the children though. I think I did the journey home on my own and the whole family was there (apart from Dad, who was driving his bus, I expect). I had in a month acquired a very strong Glaswegian accent and my mother burst into tears and said she couldn’t understand a word I said.

We used to have wonderful Christmasses. Somehow, between them all they used to produce some wonderful food and lots of drink, despite wartime privations. We always used to have a chicken - a real once a year luxury then. The men always used to do a “turn” for Christmas night - once they each had a sand covered tray which they danced on, doing what they imagined were Egyptian type gestures, copying a comic music hall team whose name I have forgotten. They also loved dressing in drag and larking about. It was their proud boast that we were always the last people to still be celebrating in the whole street and we used to take great delight in doing the conger down the street and all singing very loudly just to wake the neighbours.

When I was a bit older my sister and I rehearsed some duets ( the only song I can remember now is “Sentimental Journey” - I did the descant, I think) to sing at the family Christmas party. During all of this Aunty Vi would sit in the corner, occasionally sipping a small sherry, looking very disapproving, and knitting furiously!

We were always quite hungry - there just wasn’t enough food in the shops most of the time. I think it was during the war that my mother brought home some whale meat. She didn’t know what to do with it so I think she just fried it. It was quite disgusting. Like eating very dense, very fishy liver.
Early in the war Mum and Dad decided to keep chickens. I regarded them as my best friends and used to sit in the hen house talking to them for hours. My favourite one was always pecking me. The smell of potato peelings stewing for hours was quite horrible but we did get fresh eggs - worth their weight in gold then, although they always seemed to be going broody and we had to leave a china egg in the broody one’s nest, which was supposed to encourage it to lay. When one of them got too old to bother any more, Mum used to keep nagging my Dad to ring its neck which he hated because they kept running round the garden even though they were dead.

One day, amazingly, a duck flew into the garden. I fell in love with it immediately and christened it Donald, of course. On my birthday we had a special meal with this rather strange meat . I remember thinking that it was Donald but that I’d eat it anyway and then look for him in the hen house and if he wasn’t there, I’d make a big fuss and cry a lot to show how upset I was.

I can remember going to the Victory celebrations and being carried high above everybody else on Uncle Fred’s (he was quite tall) shoulders.

That’s about it. My Dad and my uncles died many years ago. My mother died aged 95 living in an almshouse in the Hertfordshire village where I now live. My two aunts are still alive and living in care homes in Clacton-on-Sea - they are now 99 and 97.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by Basil Grose (BBC WW2 People's War)

About a week before the war started the powers that be decided that the enemy would attempt to defeat the blackout by setting up radio beacons to guide their bombers, an unlikely event because the Luftwaffe's bombers were destined for battlefield use to support ground forces and had insufficient range to reach England, at least until France fell.

(In any case they had a system that enabled their aircraft to navigate with accuracy and but for the efforts of Dr RV Jones would have torn the heart out of Britain. When his countermeasures were defeated at Coventry the results were only too plain.)

Therefore the GPO Engineering department, where I worked, was combed for people to listen with radio receivers for spy transmissions.

As I was between appointments I was nobody's baby and so was sent on a course on radio interception without being asked whether I minded. I can't remember what we were taught but it could not have been much, as no one knew what we were meant to listen for or what equipment we should use. All I remember was being instructed how to wear a service gas mask. This came in handy when I enlisted later on.

After training I was stationed at Hendon telephone exchange in northwest London with a variety of radio receivers scraped from the GPO's reserves, sweeping the ether for… 'What?', that was the question. All I heard was the interference produced by the generator charging the batteries of the exchange. Another unfortunate and myself manned this post 24 hours a day, seven days a week, turn and turn about. Why we did not object I do not know; we had some idea that we had to do as we were instructed with a war on. No spies were ever found anywhere in the country as none was needed.

After four months continuous duty I enlisted in the army and escaped; the post was closed soon after. Many years after the war I found that MI5 was involved in this, so for a brief period I was a counteragent, and after reading Spy Catcher by Peter Wright I am not surprised that I was caught up in such a makeshift setup.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by Judy Stevens (BBC WW2 People's War)

From Hendon to Hiroshima


In many ways I was fortunate in the war. Although I did a lot of things which were, with the benefit of hindsight, stupid, I came off lightly and unscathed.

Instead of taking a year as a reserved occupation at London Transport, I
decided all my mates were going in the Forces and I didn¹t really want
to beleft behind. The other stupid thing that I did as well was to volunteer
tothe reconnaissance, which is the most dangerous unit apart from commandos
you could find. But fortunately, although I didn¹t realise it at the time,
they decided to put me in the Royal Army Service Corps and that¹s where I
stayed for four and a half years.

I was fortunate in other ways as well. When I returned from embarkation
leave to Aylesford, I and four others discovered that Unit 902 of the
RoyalArmy Service Corps had left while we were on leave. We were allocated
toEight Unit and went to Banstead before being posted to India and then
Japan.I did hear afterwards, though I don¹t know if it was true, that 902
Unit had gone to France where they became involved in the Battle at Caen and
very few of them survived.

People say that the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
was a war crime, but as far as I was concerned if they hadn¹t dropped that
bomb then I had a good chance of not being here. We were told by our
officers after the Japanese surrender that they had been expecting 75% casualties in
the first two days of our landing and I would¹ve been going in on the third
day, I remember some wag saying ³Would that day have made a lot of difference?² and the officer replied; ³It might have made a difference by about one in every thousand.² In other words it wouldn¹t have made a
lot of difference at all. So from my point of view I¹ve always looked upon the
dropping of the atom bomb as saving my life. Far more Japanese were
killed in the bombing raids of Colonel Curtis Le May, Commander of the
American Airforce, whose idea was to bomb Japan into submission. There was an
area of sixteen and a half square miles in Tokyo, which I went to, where
everything was burnt and destroyed, where there was nothing higher than knee level
and over 360,000 Japanese died in seven days. That¹s far more than died in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

1941 ­ 1943

A little group of us, 14,15.16 year olds used to go around together and
one of the boys had a father who became an officer and said to us ³Right
you lotyou can join the Home Guard that I¹m in charge of.² So we all went
along to the hall in Hendon Technical College three nights a week and weekends,
Sundays cause you used to work Saturdays half day ­you were working a 48-hour week. Occasionally we used to go to Mill Hill Barracks where they had a rifle range. You had youngsters firing standard army issue rifle with the idea of actually killing somebody. A lot of people think of Dads
Army as a joke but at that time it wasn¹t a case of if the Germans were going
to invade, it was when, so at the time it wasn¹t a joke it was dead serious.

We did guard duty at the college because in the basement there was the
control for the fire brigade for the north west sector of London. Although
we were guarding it, we didn¹t really know what we guarding, we were just
young kids and it was all a big game. We had a rota and did a Guard duty
once maybe twice a week depending on how many people were off sick or if
there had been a rush on and people had to work overtime, there were a lot
of armament factories all the way along the Edgware Road. The commander was
a little fat man, I think he was about 4¹6² which was a bit of a joke because on parade you had all these great big blokes, well over 50% of them had seen First World War service and you had this little fella coming along,I don¹t think he¹d ever seen a gun fired in anger, but because he was a
Director of a tobacco company, he was automatically the commanding

The first drink I ever had was when I was 16 and we¹d been up to Boreham
Wood on an exercise. Three units were competing to capture an empty
house and retrieve a lantern from it. I can¹t remember if we won but I do
remember that an old coach that should have been on the scrap heap years before
brought us all back to Hendon and we went into the Chequers. A lot of the
older blokes went home but we went in this pub for a drink. The fella who
owned the pub was called Taylor and he was a real stickler for the law and
had no time for the Home Guard. So when he saw us all in there and the Major
had ordered drinks for about ten or fifteen of us, he said, ³I am not
serving them because they¹re not old enough² so the Major turned round
and said ³If they¹re old enough to wear a uniform they¹re old enough to
have a drink. Now give them a bloody drink or we¹ll break the place up.² With
that he promptly decided to serve us. It was more bravado than anything
else. But he did serve us and that was the first pint of beer I ever had.

Home Guard

Anthony Eden made an appeal on the radio for people to join local defence
units and so many people turned up that they just couldn¹t handle them. You
had this enormous army of men volunteers, it was the biggest force of
the three, the Navy, the RAF and the Army. And then they introduced conscription
into the Home Guard. Troops were out in the desert taking a pasting, France
had collapsed and you had all the soldiers there and they were out in India.
But at home you had all these blokes on reserved occupations and a lot of
them, let¹s face it, had managed to con their way out of the forces one
way or another. It was not unknown for a little bit of bribery to go on and
all they were interested in was how much money they could make. A lot of
them would get coaches or big vans and put seats in them, especially around
the East End of London where the raids and the blitzes took place, they
used to take anybody, mostly women and children who could afford a shilling or
two out into the country for the night. They would only go out to the other
side of Romford or just into Essex and they would pull up alongside the road
out in the country and they¹d all have blankets and flasks of tea and the
coach driver and the people who supplied the coaches who were collecting the
money didn¹t want to know about the army did they? So when they brought this
conscription in the idea was to make the actual soldiers feel a bit better
that these people were having to spend two or three nights a week away from
home in the cold up on Hampstead Heath or wherever, doing guard duties.
Because we were in the original Home Guard in an infantry unit we were
asked to go up to Hampstead on anti aircraft guns. Really the officers conned
us into doing it saying what good fellas we were and we were made up to
corporals. There I was, 17 or 18 ordering these blokes about who were
twice my age, if not more, except they had been conscripted in to the Home
Guard and they didn¹t like it. You know, they were a real handful, they used
to disappear and go down the pub, it was horrendous really.


We were billeted at Flask Walk in big old 4 storey Victorian houses and
we used to sleep there at night on palliasses, sacks filled with straw.
Because of the war you would have a bath once a week but you always had a good
wash but conscripts¹ standards of hygiene were well below ours, it was a bit
disconcerting and when you had breakfast in the morning you¹d think knives
and forks had never been invented, you know, they would literally use a
piece of bread to eat with.

Although there were quite a few air raids while I was there we only
fired the anti-aircraft guns once. They were very easy to fire, you put
rockets on two long rails. You had one man on either side, one responsible for the
elevation and the other for the direction of it. But both men had to do
something to make it fire, the bloke on the right stood on a pedal, the
fella on the left pulled the leaver towards him and then they fired on a
little electric circuit and these two rockets shot off. We were trained
to do it, they were very heavy those blimming things.

On this particular night we fired them, the direction was given so all the
guns were rotated round and they were elevated and all pointing in the
same direction and you waited for ³Fire!² And they shouted, ³Fire!² so you
did and it was absolutely miraculous because everybody¹s fired at the same
time,there was a terrific whoosh, flames, the place was lit up. There were
54 of these rockets each one with two rockets, so 108 rockets fired and they
all exploded in a big square in the sky. The idea was that it covered an
area half the size of a football pitch, exploding, shooting shrapnel all
over the place, if there was an aeroplane anywhere near then it had to be badly
damaged. All of a sudden as it died down, two rockets went off in the
opposite direction and only missed the top of a block of flats by about
ten feet. Nobody could figure out where these two rockets came from but
they had a rough idea, there was a couple of old boys, talk about Godfrey in
Dads Army it was nowhere near it. One of them must have been about seventy
and the other one must have been about the same age but he hadn¹t really
got all his marbles, he shouldn¹t have ever been there in the first place, and
they had got it completely wrong. They thought everybody else has fired, so
we¹d better.

1943 ­ 1945

Lanark, Aylesford & Southend
I decided not to take the opportunity of an automatically reserved
occupation for a year at London Transport where I was a trainee mechanic
and, like my mates, I joined up when I was eighteen in 1943.

I did eight weeks primary training in the barracks at Lanark where I was
interviewed. Being young with delusions of grandeur, I volunteered to
be in the reconnaissance. Fortunately, although I didn¹t realise it at the
time, they decided to put me in the Royal Army Service Corps and that¹s where
I stayed for over four years.

Initially I went to Aylesford where I was a learner artificer for six
months and then I got made up to a third class mechanic, I came out a first
class mechanic. I got posted to a company in Wembley High Street to do a
trade test to get up to a third class mechanic. I had a job on a Humber staff
car, great big thick tyres, a sloping back, an enormous great thing. I had
another couple of blokes with me in the car and we switched the engine
off and let it run down a hill in gear for something like a hundred and
fifty yards and then we switched the ignition on and it made an enormous bang
and people ran in all different directions. We thought it was funny but of
course it wasn¹t very funny, it was a stupid thing to do.

On the days leading up to D Day our Camp was like a great big café for
the convoys going through to the coast, they would stop for fuel,
sandwiches that sort of thing. I was mending lorries at the time. We thought it
was funny; there were no drivers for the lorries, we were just fixing them
and lining them up. After the landings of course we realised that they were
going to be used to move ammunition around for the anti aircraft guns
shooting down the doodlebugs.
One night we had been to party for one of the chap¹s birthdays. Beer
was rationed but, being Kent, there was plenty of strong scrumpy cider and
you could get drunk on it quickly. We¹d had a good time and got back to
camp late. Round about two o¹clock one of the fellas got up and shouted out,
²There¹s an aeroplane over there on fire². This plane sounded like a
very loud motorbike popping but no one took any notice of him. About 20 minutes
later he shouted out ³For God¹s sake come and have a look there¹s another
one on fire.² By this time one or two people got up and, sure enough,
there was this thing flying through the air with flames coming out the back
of it, making this odd sound. Nobody realised at that time it was a flying
bomb.Of course, after the anti aircraft guns were mobilised and a balloon
barrage was mounted, there were thousands of them. A balloon was bigger than a
double decker bus with cables hanging down, the idea was that the doodle
bugs would fly into them causing them to crash. The draw-back was that occasionally the balloons would drift away, I remember one day we had onedrifting over the Camp and a couple of Typhoon Fighter Planes came over to shoot it down, but they were concentrating so hard on shooting the
balloon down they didn¹t take into account the bullets hitting the camp. There
were blokes rushing all over the place trying to get out of the way of these
machine gun bullets!

Before I was posted to India, I got nine days embarkation leave, actually it
was seven days, but you said you were going to the Lizard lighthouse or
somewhere so you got an extra two days travelling time. When I got back
to Southend we were issued with new overseas kit and we got paid and they
stopped everybody nine pence barrack room damages. I don¹t know what
happened to the money but obviously somebody was making a lot. We were
all in this cookhouse with all our gear packed because we were going on the
train that night, so we ate our meal on china plates for once.
Everybody said the same thing, ³Now I¹m going to get my barrack room damages
back², and we all promptly smashed the cup and the plate.

We boarded a train packed with troops, God knows how many carriages.
Mum came and said goodbye. Later, in the pitch dark the train stopped on a
bridge over a road with back-to-back houses, with outside loos. You
could almost lean out the window and shake hands with the bloke in the
bedroom. We was hanging out the window all hollering about 2.30 in the morning. So
the people in the houses leant out their windows in their pyjamas or with
nothing on at all, telling us to shut up. You can imagine the ribald remarks
that were being made ­ well it was hilarious! You know, blokes were
piling into the various carriages to join in the fun so you were being crushed
out the window with everybody shouting at these people. I often wonder how
many times that happened.

1945 ­ 1946

We got to the ship, the Almanzora, it was on its way to the breakers
yard when the war started, brought back into service as a troop ship and
coincidently took Uncle George to Italy a year or so before. In the Bay of
Biscay, one of the engines broke down and it was going very slowly and
everybody was so seasick. It was my turn to go and get the meals, you had a
long table with six blokes either side and the two at the top went down into
the galley to collect the food. I collected the composite salad, diced carrots and swede and haricot beans and all that sort of thing, it was revolting, but it was either that or nothing. I had a bowl of rice in one hand and composite salad in the other and as I came down the iron
stairway, the ship rolled, the front lifted and I let go of these two cans, and
everyone got their meals spread all over the place. I crawled back up onto
the deck and stayed there for about three days. The engines kept breaking
down and the lights kept fading and one of the merchant seamen used to come
and unscrew a little plug in the deck and lower down a piece of string with
a weight on the end and knots tied in it all the way up to see how much
water there was still in the boat.

When we got to India we got into troop trains, the seats were wooden and you
could turn up the back of the seat into bunks with six blokes sleeping in
each carriage. The train went through Bombay, through the Ghats, mountain
passes and then we got to a big holding camp. In peacetime Deolali was
a hostelry where soldiers from the Indian Army or who gone out to India
between the wars and were suffering from any mental disorder went.
Hence the expression ³He¹s doolally.²After a few days I met a fella there who was
an orderly corporal I¹d known when I was at Maidstone. He¹d been in India
for a few months and he told me they wanted a tactical guard corporal doing
twenty four hours on and two days off. He said ³Don¹t forget if you¹re on this
and they make you a corporal you¹ll get grade I artificer¹s pay, about five
shillings extra a week² ­ normally a corporal¹s rank was unpaid but if
you were an artificer, a tradesman, then you got paid for it. Someone
cleaned our kit when we went on this parade, it was right in the middle of the
camp with buglers and the gear had to be spotlessly clean and you were
inspected by the officer. Once he went then it was just standing, walking up and
down in this big guardroom, where there were cells with soldiers who had
committed various offences, deserting, insulting or hitting officers,
all sorts of crimes like that and they were locked up in the cells in the
guardroom awaiting trial or being sent to glasshouses. A glasshouse is
a military prison, the original one at Aldershot had a glass roof and
looked like a giant glasshouse. That¹s how that name came about.
It was quite good, for three days you were walking around the camp, swimming, staying in bed till late with a note tucked in the end of your bed saying Œtactical guard¹ so if you were asleep and the camp guards came
round they left you alone. The cinema was a big old shed run by Indians. We
saw Casablanca every night for seven days, in the end we knew the blimming
words by heart.

I was posted to eight company Royal Army Service Corps which was going
to Japan. The Americans had lost twenty odd thousand men in the battle of
Okinawa, mind you the Japanese had lost nearly a hundred thousand both
civilians and soldiers. It was a very, very bloody battle - the Japanese
literally did fight to the last man. Now the next stop was mainland
Japan. Although we didn¹t know this at the time the military assessment was
that there would be at least a 75% casualty rate on the first couple of days
that we landed on Honshu, the mainland. The American Government knew that
their people wouldn¹t stand for all these casualties, if the allies weren¹t
involved but the American army wanted to make this solely an American
operation to equal the score over Pearl Harbour. But when they
confronted the figures and realised the political implications they decided to
invite the British, Canadians and especially the Australians who had played a
big part in the Pacific. We were issued with special equipment and a Jungle
Mark 1V, which was a rather deluxe version of a sten gun, much more
accurate, and we were issued khaki colour clothes with big tubs to tie dye them in a
darker green. So we spent days doing this and training for all sorts of things, beach landings and all that but, of course, there weren¹t any beaches where we were because we were miles inland.

One night there was a whole lot of us sitting in the Naafi having a
drink and all of a sudden a bloke came running in, jumped up on the table and
shouted, ³Listen everybody, listen everybody², and everybody started
shouting, ³Oh shut up² you know, ³No, No listen, listen the war¹s over!²
And of course having shouted that several times, everybody went quiet
and said, ³What do you mean the war¹s over?² And he said, ³They¹ve dropped
a bloody great bomb on Tokyo, the war¹s over and the Japanese have packed
it in.² And that¹s the first we knew that the war was over. The following
morning we were on parade and one of the officers, a Captain, explained
to us that two cities in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed and
consequently the Emperor of Japan had made a complete unconditional surrender to the Americans.

Then we sat kicking our heels in India, parades, marches, various
exercises, anything to try and keep us busy. Months later we were told that we
were going to Japan with the army of occupation. At the time that we were
packing up to go to Japan, the Indian Navy mutinied because they wanted
independence and there were riots in Bombay so when we went by train from Deolali to
the docks in Bombay we were all issued with our arms, rifles, sten guns and
ammunition as well. The position was very serious and a lot of people
thought that if they attacked the train with a load of troops on it
especially in the Ghats a lot of us would have got hurt. The rioters tried
to break in the gates of the docks but they kept them up and by the morning
it was quiet and so we got on the boat, I think it was called the Empress of
Australia, and left for Japan. Much bigger than the Almanzora, it was
more reliable and luxurious.

1946 ­ 1947

A Japanese pilot took the ship down the narrow channel into Kure
Harbour, at one point it looked as if you were at a dead end but he got this big
ship through, like they had all those battleships and aircraft carriers that
they had built there. We stayed on the ship for about two days until a
temporary billet was found at a Japanese Naval Camp. We had no idea whether the
Japanese were going to be hostile or what so we were walking around
with sten guns or pistols or bayonets. The first night we went out it was
dark and through the high street an enormous great train came along,
bringing in
food for the civilian population. I had never seen anything like this
American type of train with a cow catcher on it and about a hundred
carriages, the rails were like tram rails, they were sunk into the road.

Actually, I must admit I was never very keen on the dark and the four
of us that had gone out for a walk had got split up. So I was on my own
walking down a narrow street with low-lying two storey and one storey wooden
houses either side, totally different to anything I knew and I heard this
shoo..shoo.shoo noise behind me. Quite honestly, I was frightened to
look round, and where there was a little gap between two of these houses I
stepped out of the way and looked round and there was a little old man
in a black kimono with his arms tucked inside big sleeves and he had what we
called hubba hubba shoes, a piece of wood with a piece down at a right angle
and where he was shuffling along it was that that made the shoo..shoo
He had a long wispy beard, he must have been about a hundred years old
and there was me being this soldier, all brave, but frightened because of
this funny little man coming down the road.

The people were perfectly polite; they walked off the pavement into the
gutter and bowed to us as they went by. We asked the American Military
Police, commonly known as Snowdrops because of their white helmets and
gloves, why this was and they explained, ³Well we¹re the victors, we
won the war and they didn¹t, they lost, so they walk in the road, you know.²
Eventually they did stop because the idea was it was making the Japanese
feel down-trodden and that is what the Americans didn¹t want.

They lived in small wooden houses built around a little square garden
in the middle, some of them were only about four foot square it was amazing.
It had a little pond in it with probably a few carp, and bonsai trees and
indoor plants and they were spotlessly clean, oh you¹d never see cleanliness
like it. They used to have barges for carting coal, wheat, rice, anything,
and after every voyage you¹d see them in the little docks in the towns
being scrubbed down. The girls wore sort of balloon type trousers that came
in tight at the ankle and were rather big around the hips like ill-fitting
pyjamas and quilted jackets with a blouse or pullover underneath and
the men wore a sort of assortment of bits of army uniform and more or less sort
of Westernised clothes. A lot of Japanese, more women than men, wore
kimonos so it was quite colourful. The Ashanti News was written in English and it
was the largest selling newspaper in Japan, you could find people that
could read in English but couldn¹t speak it but you were never far from
somebody who could speak English in Japan.

The Americans had taken over this completely dysfunctional country, the
economy had collapsed overnight and the only thing they wanted was to get it
all back on an even keel. So they employed as many Japanese as they could.
We had a camp out at a place called Warashima which was a big aerodrome
that had been used for training the pilots that bombed Pearl Harbour. We
employed so many Japanese, I think there were about one hundred and fifty ­ two
hundred soldiers in the camp, and I think we employed about five hundred
Japanese labourers. We had them doing everything, sweeping up the runway: we
got a load of witch¹s brooms and a line of about one hundred and fifty of
them swept the runway. It was a complete waste of time, but we had to find
something for them to do. They worked in the cookhouse, repairing the
trucks, they knew as much about them as we did because their lorries
had a standard engine which they used in landing craft, motor boats and in
lorries which were an exact copy of a six cylinder Bedford engine, which we
built here, this was also the same as a General Motors Chevrolet in America
so even the spare parts were no problem You know, they¹re still benefiting
by it today and my personal view is that General Macarthur should have a
statue in the middle of Tokyo, because he did more for that country, liberated
that country from their various oppressive laws, like the bonding of women
and boys, ill treatment in the coal mines, all that was stamped out. So
were the land laws where absentee landlords were supplied so many sacks of rice
as rent first and then if there wasn¹t enough the people starved.
Progressive parties in Japan had been trying to do this for thirty years but when
General Macarthur came along and took over the Dalhachi Building, the
biggest building in Tokyo for his Headquarters, he called all these
Japanese ministers in and said that¹s what he wanted to do and that¹s what he

Every village had a big well from four foot across the top to maybe ten to
twelve foot deep with water in and all the household and toilet waste went
in there and it was left to ferment. This was then put into barrels about
four foot high, and about eighteen inches round with a tapered top which
were a stained yellow colour with tight fitting lids. Between ten and
fifteen barrels were put on carts about ten-twelve foot long and a couple of
feet wide with rubber wheels, we called them honey carts. Between the paddy
fields there were narrow dykes and these carts were pulled by hacking horses
to the top of each field.
A foot operated pump system like a small water wheel took the water
from the dyke onto the paddy because the rice always grew on about eight to ten
inches of water so, they would tip these barrels on their side with the
lids partially removed so that it just trickled out into the water and then
they used to pedal pump the water into the dyke and the stuff used to flow
in with the water so it fertilised the whole of the paddy field. This was
essential because if they didn¹t do that they wouldn¹t have enough rice
to feed the population. So although it sounds disgusting it was a necessity.
The stench of these pumps was terrible, it had another effect, but you could
be on guard or sitting at a table just talking and you just closed your
eyes and you nodded off. This disease was known as encephalitis type B which
is sleeping sickness, but it comes out of these blimming wells and the
paddy fields. The Americans didn¹t want the Japanese to know there was any
weaknesses in the forces, so immediately the camp was confined to barracks.
But all these labourers were still coming in and they could see what was
happening. We were all given two injections of broth of mouse brain in
little phials. For a month or so though it was very bad, some people were
very ill and had to be flown home to England. The food was terrible, I
think it came from Hong Kong or Singapore because by the time it got to us it
was rotten. Everything was tinned, tinned bacon, Soya links, they were
supposed to be a sausage - they were about six inches long and were packed
inside tins triangular shaped, long ways and there was a lot of grease. We had
Pacific rations, a packet that was greaseproof on the outside and on
the inside biscuits, cheese, composite which was a squashed bar of dried
fruit and raisins, nuts, hard tack biscuits, four tablets to give you energy,
and five cigarettes.
Now these cigarettes caused a big problem because these rations were
about two years old which we got from the Americans, they were so dry and
they had mould on them The blokes didn¹t know about this and so they were
smoking them and of course they were getting sore throats and they were making
people ill. So what they did was open all these blimming packets, take
all the cigarettes out, Camels, Lucky Strikes, Marlborough, various makes
of American cigarette. The only thing that you had in tins that you could
really eat was corned beef and we had porridge, and fruit we bought
from the Japanese, which we weren¹t supposed to do because they said you might
get dysentery. Little barrows at stations sold hard boiled eggs, boiled
squid, sticks with steak on - probably horsemeat but anyway it was edible and
it was better than the food they were supplying us. When the Americans
found out that we were all suffering from scurvy, there was a big row between
our Officers and the American Medical Officers and after that we got our
food supplied from Australia. That was the first time I ever had pineapple
juice for breakfast, it used to come in tins, I used to get a lot of mince
meat, that was good because they used to buy local onions and we used to make
up boiled up mince meat and vegetables, you even used to get fried eggs but
they were tinned, I think they came from China probably.

When we left, more shops had opened, selling kimonos, cloth, clothes.
The majority of shops were very small, cause in Tokyo they had big shops.
But when I was in India, I went to Bombay several times, and I would say
that the Japanese were better off with the war than the Indians were
without,because of the weight of population and the economy.

Published by

Words: Reg Berthold
Research: Judy Stevens
Design: Gary Curtis
Printed: AbbeyPrint Ltd
Cartoons: Derek Abel
Photographs: Reg Berthold,
Memories of Hendon
National Maritime Museum

First published 2004

DeleteReplyForwardSpam Move...
Previous | Next | Back to Messages Save Message Text
Check Mail - Compose - Search Mail | Compose Text Msg - Mail Alerts - Mail Options Move Options
[New Folder]
Forward Options
As Inline Text
As Attachment
Reply Options
Reply To Sender
Reply To Everyone
Mail Shortcuts
Check Mail Ctrl++C
Compose Ctrl++P
Folders Ctrl++F
Search Ctrl++S
Help Ctrl++H
Address Book Shortcuts
Add Contact
Add Category
Add List
View Contacts
View Lists
Import Contacts
Addresses Options
Addresses Help
Calendar Shortcuts
Add Event
Add Task
Add Birthday
Event List
Calendar Options
Calendar Help
Notepad Shortcuts
Add Note
Add Folder
View Notes
Notepad Options
Notepad Help
Copyright 2004 © Yahoo! UK Ltd. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | Send Feedback | Help

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by Herts Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)


This is the story of a suburban street at about one year before the War; it’s the gathering storm. And this letter, which I found in my attic after my parents had died, gives you some idea of what it was like in those times. I should explain that my Mother was German and my Father was English. My Mother by the time the war had come had become neutralised, so she had given up her German nationality and was legally English, but she had been born in Spanda in Berlin. My Father had visited Germany before the war for Kodak to start up a factory. She was a secretary to the firm that Kodak was taking over. They got to know each other, fell in love and got married in 1929. I was born 1931 and my sister in 1937.

We lived in Edgware at the end of the Northern Line. Suburbia - streets of semi-detached mock Tudor houses. We had 2 ½ bedrooms, I say 2 ½ because the third bedroom was more of a box bedroom. I remember there was a grass verge with cherry trees. There was lovely cherry blossom in the spring. Our neighbours were a mixed bunch. We were very cosmopolitan, a lot of German Jews escaping Nazi Germany, opposite lived the Cohen’s, next door to us on the left was Mrs Zhouke who was Russian, opposite again a bit further down the road was the Kemp’s. Mrs Kemp was a Dutch lady who was widowed. She had three daughters. My Father in fact was their surrogate Father if you like, he gave them away at their weddings, and he walked down the isle with them. Next door from us were Bert and Winnie Richmond. Burt had been in the 1st World War. He had a collapsed lung from being gassed. He always looked slightly miserable to me as a boy at that time. And now of course I understand why. As I have said, my mother was German. She had a family in Berlin. So I had one uncle in the British Navy and one uncle in the German Navy. What I am going to read to you now is a letter which she wrote to my Father in September 28th 1938. She wrote:

My dearest love

I had your letter of the 15th this morning and want to assure you that we are all perfectly alright. I always disliked it intensely, the many political radio messages I had to listen to when you were here, but I can assure you that since then, I have done nothing else but hear politics and speeches. This last week has been a nightmare, still is for that matter, but when Chamberlain announced this afternoon that there will be a new conference in Munich tomorrow morning and that he is going to fly to Germany a third time, we all breathed a little bit more freely. Let us hope and pray to God that war can still be prevented.

Everybody has been most marvellous to me. Captain Taylor and his wife were both here yesterday to assure me that they will help me all they can. Yesterday McMaster (McMaster was my fathers boss at Kodak. He was an American) he rang me up. And this morning I had a long talk with Billi. (Billi was another German lady who lived in Britain and was a friend of my mothers). From Rose I got a very nice letter. (Rose I have to say, was my aunt. My father’s sister-in-law). Mr Tracey phoned early this morning as well to assure me of his health. (He was one of my dads colleagues at Kodak). All the neighbours are very nice. So you see I’m not alone, but I am miserable without you, naturally, but don’t let that worry you, I wont lose my head and I will do everything I can for the children’s sake. I thought that the best thing I could possibly do is to send the children with mother (that was her mother-in-law, my father’s mum) up to see Rose. They will be safe there. (They lived up in Scotland). I have not talked to the parents as yet, (By parents she means my fathers parents). but I am convinced that they will both agree that it will be best for them to clear out of their flat. (Which was in Cricklewood). I would suggest to you to have dad with me here, where we will be as safe as one could possibly be near London. If it should come to the worst I’m quite willing to let the children go if mother can see her way to go with them. I don’t for one moment think that there will be danger of life for them here, but I would like to spare the children the nerve racking experience of air raids. Gordon and I (that’s me, Gordon) have had gas masks fitted yesterday. But up to now there are no safety devises for children under four, (My sister was under that age of course, she was only one and a half) although we were assured by wireless that there were gas-bags for babies ready which will be distributed within the next few days. However that is the second reason why I would like the baby out of the way. Elfreda (I have to explain - we had, you wouldn’t believe it, but in a little suburban house with two bedrooms and a box room, a German maid. Her name was Elfreda. There was another house up the road where they also had a maid. I remember her well ‘Marie’, because I was used to going to the kitchen and used to get to lick the spoon whenever she was making a cake.)
Q. How old was you then?
A. I was seven and a half
Q. Where was your dad?
A. My dad was in America he was on a business trip to Kodak over in America.
Elfreda has her ticket back to Berlin and her bags are packed. She was actually leaving here tomorrow morning with Elise (that was her other German friend). After we heard the announcement about Chamberlain she is staying on and we will see what tomorrow brings. Billi told me this morning that I should let her go as I would take on a great responsibility in keeping her here. Anyway she will go as soon as we know that war is inevitable. Mr Faylor (Mr Faylor was a German industrialist and had a factory over here) got tickets yesterday for his wife and their children to go to Holland tomorrow night, now however they have postponed their departure. He was going to stay on as he has quite a number of German families in his factory dependant on him. Many people here in the road have left for the country. The Mortimer’s are leaving tonight, as he might be called away any moment for special service and then he does not want to leave his wife and children behind. The news was terribly disquieting till this afternoon but now there is hope and smiling faces again.
Many tube stations are closed, trenches are being dug day and night in the big parks and the wireless is booming on and on, recalling Chamberlain’s speech in the House of Commons in English first and then in German.
I’m worried too about father and mother knowing that they are so close to the aerodrome, (they lived in Temple doff In Berlin) but it helps such a lot to know they at least are still in ignorance of the great danger which might overcome all of us. Hitler’s speech, the night before yesterday, mades it quite clear that he keeps his beloved people so much in the dark so they can’t possibly realise the great danger.

If the meeting in Munich should fail tomorrow I will send a telegram to Dudley (that was my uncle, my father’s brother) asking him to have mother and the children. I will feel happier to know that they are out of the danger zone. It would worry me to be alone in the house with them especially at night although the Barrett’s and also Mrs Hill (the wife of the man who made the boots for the Prince of Wales) have offered to take us all in so that I would not be alone. And I will take very good care of myself until you are safely back with me again and I can always go somewhere else at night in order not to be alone. The Richmond’s and Mrs Zhouke (that is the Russian lady I mentioned) also will still be here and I dare say quite a lot of others.

Please, please, don’t worry about us, darling. By the time this letter reaches you, all our worries might be over and a thing of the past. I fervently pray that this may be so.
I am so sorry that this has turned out to be such a miserable letter, but I hope it will only reach you together with my next one which is so very much more cheerful.
I think of you day and night. All my love
Yours Tussi

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by photo34 (BBC WW2 People's War)

My War

I was 5 years old when the war began; we lived in Mill Hill, a suburb of northwest London. I went to St Paul’s infant school. We learned useful things like threading laces and tying bows so teachers did not have that chore of putting our shoes on. Numbers were in patterns like dominos or cards. That is why in those days to discover if a person was mentally deficient he was asked, “How many beans make five?” The answer from the number patterns is ‘Three plus Two’. Knowing that could keep you out of the lunatic asylum.

We were issued with gas masks and had to take them to school every day. They built a large shelter under the playground with a gas tight door. I don’t think there was any way of replenishing the air if a hundred kids were locked up down there for more than an hour. If the door got obstructed there was an escape tunnel which led out into the church grave yard. We only had one practice use of it while I was at that school. The teachers complained the tunnel was too small for their bottoms and the gas mask boxes kept jamming up against the walls.

Our house was rented and quite large. I had a younger sister and brother. Dad was a carpenter, working on new houses and flats that were being built to re-house people from the slums of London. He started work just after the First World War and had seen the results of the mess our rulers had made of our country, not because of the war, but their sheer incompetence. At various jobs through the Twenties he developed attitudes that were much different to the ‘Gung Ho, Rule Britannia’ attitude that is displayed in films about the war. He, his brothers and friends believed no matter who ran the country, they would still be sawing wood and banging in nails for some fat b***** to make a profit. In principle at least, they believed in the Russian way of life and all the negative stories were just propaganda put out by the government and Tory press. That was probably half true and may have been the birth of spin.

I can remember one day when we had no money and no food in the house. My brother was still being nursed and my sister had some baby food, but me, my cousin, Aunty and Mum had nothing. Dad went out after dark to an empty house where he had worked and seen some potatoes in the garden. He dug them up and brought home a small boxful. Mum cooked them and made us one of the most satisfying meals I can remember.

Dad also hated Jews through his experiences of working for and with them at the film studios.
The experience clouded his judgement for the rest of his life. He could have had a good job at Elstree or Pinewood after the war, but he never forgot how badly he suffered before the war.
Because we had a large house at the very beginning of the war we had two couples of Jewish refugees billeted on us. They were OK but used our sympathy for their hardship to get favours done. They worked hard making handbags in our front room, they got a business started and left us for a posh flat in Hendon. Funny they never got called up to help with the war effort. Some of our neighbours got sent to work in factories. It did not help when after the war dad was modernising houses and the Jewish customers were trying to persuade him to do the work saying it was bomb damage so they could claim a grant. A Labour government was in power doing good things for the working classes so Dad did not like fiddlers.

Because of these attitudes Dad, his brothers and friends did not rush to the recruitment offices. His brother and brother-in law were called up anyway. Uncle B**** was in the RE’s, but he could play the piano so he spent the war from France to Berlin entertaining the officers and sergeants in their messes. Uncle F**** was in the RAMC making sure he never got promoted because leaders led by example which could be dangerous. Both my uncles each had a wife and two lovely children to come home to; their priority was to survive

In 1940 we moved to Apex corner, the junction of the A41 and A1, close to the main railway line from London to Edinburgh. We had a Morrison shelter delivered. This was a huge steel table with steel mesh sides. Dad was able to assemble it himself although DIY and ‘flat-pack’
had not been officially invented. We three children slept under this table and when the bombs came closer mum would crawl in with us. Dad insisted on staying outside to watch the ‘dog fights’. At that early period we only had one scare, I was in the toilet and a bomb passed between our house and next door over the round-about for the A41, A1 junction to land on a house in Glendor Gardens. You can guess what I did when it went off! Funny I still remember getting dust in my eye as it whizzed by.

At school they built brick shelters with reinforced concrete roofs, they had the gas tight doors and there were vents which could be closed in case of gas and opened to avoid suffocation. When the sirens went we would troop into the shelter for special lessons. There were no blackboards at first so it was more like baby sitting than teaching. Our class had 46 pupils and other classes were of similar size yet the teachers would get about 60% of us through the 11+ into grammar schools. Many children were from single parent families because the father was in the forces. You can’t help wondering why education is so difficult these days. In our part of London the air raids did not affect us very much. In the blitz the raids were mostly at night, towards the end of the war we were sent to the shelters fairly often because doodlebugs were on the way during daylight hours.

We boys wore short trousers all through the war years; in the winter the cold caused painful sores inside our thighs just above the knees. I’ll never forget or forgive Hitler for that. It bloody hurt. Clothing was controlled by coupons; some extra large children were allowed extra coupons. Wellingtons were cheaper than shoes, were probably coupon free and did not wear out so quickly, so in winter Wellingtons were our best shoes. They could give you another sore just below the knee and the probably caused chilblains. Another pain to blame Hitler for. We used to collect shrapnel, but had to keep it secret, partly because some incendiary bombs had a booby trap in the tail and there were butterfly bombs for children to pick up and be killed. The authorities were too thick to realise that even us kids of six or seven knew about bombs and we knew what shrapnel looked like.

A strange thing happened after the Battle of Britain; they re-opened the outdoor swimming pool near our old house. It closed originally to have a supply of water for fighting fires, but there was nothing much to burn near the pool. It was staffed and run from May to September right through the war. I used it as a second home. At Saturday morning pictures we would watch Johnny Weissmuller play Tarzan then at the pool, swim under water re-enact the films. That pool played a major part of my life right up to the 1950’s. It’s a garden centre now which makes me a bit sad.

Dad was sent away to build huts for air force personnel in East Anglia. He dined on the finest food he’d ever had in his life. The farmer’s wife where he was billeted sent him home with a box of eggs and some chicken once a month when he was given leave. That posting did teach dad that the people running this war were just as bad as the ones who ran the first one.
He was always complaining about the waste and inefficiencies. Years later I worked with an electrical engineer who worked on the same project as dad and he had the same complaints.
The people in charge were a bunch of public school boys who hadn’t a clue about building and through ‘connections’ were given a nice safe little job.

We followed the war by reading the papers and listening to the news and hearing the discussions of our parents. It all seemed fairly matched and our parents feared a long stalemate like the WW1, but Alemein seemed slowly to swing the pendulum in our favour then there was more good news than bad. There were a few frights Arnhem and the Battle of the Bulge, but generally we knew we going to win.

We were not particularly hungry; our parents had endured hard times for most of their lives so mum knew a few cheap filling meals. Suet pudding, layered with bacon and herbs. Mostly stodge with occasional bursts of flavour. At school we had pilchards with mashed potato and a helping of grated carrot with shredded cabbage; very healthy. I am sure our stomachs shrank so we were filled up easily. We were certainly much thinner than kids of today. We could easily count or ribs. One Christmas dad made a couple of wooden revolvers, the lady across the road knew a scenic artist from the film studios who painted our revolvers to look real we were thrilled to bits to have such realistic toy guns.

One night there was a knock at our door. It was Nan and Aunt M****, she said.” You’ve got to take us in we’ve been bombed out”. Aunt M**** got married to a lorry driver from Glasgow and Nan stayed with us until 1947. She still worked at the laundry and sometimes walked home a distance of about 8 miles. That generation were tough having been brought up on hardship. She sometimes took me to the variety shows at the Golders Green theatre; I remember trying not to laugh at some of the rude bits to save embarrassment. Other treats were our uncles coming home on leave always loaded with presents and exciting stories. Not bravery but things they had got away with. One man found a bottle of rum, drank it all, fell unconscious into a ditch, was overrun by the Germans then while he was asleep our troops recovered the ground. He boasted that he went to France with 25 bullets and came back with 24. He used one to mend the pivot on a toilet cistern.

At home life was humdrum with occasional high points, low points like deaths of friends fathers were not spoken about, it was bad for moral. We knew D-day was approaching but not exactly when; the first I knew was seeing hundreds of planes with black and white stripes on there wings flying south, some planes towing gliders; the noise was more like a continuous cheer than engines. At school we all felt very happy, we knew it would all soon be over, but did not know what would change. I suppose we expected more toys, more variety in our food, nicer clothes, and more sweets having our parents and uncles’ home and not being threatened. On VE night I saw the first fireworks in my life. I can’t imagine where they came from; they must have been saved from before the war. Another treat that night was eating a potato that had been cooked in the embers of the fire. That’s twice a meal of potatoes had pleased me.

Next day all our attention was on Japan. There was no remorse about the atom bomb; it could have been 4 times as big and we would have cheered. That is how war and propaganda can brainwash a nation into thinking anything is right for our side. I hope we are never forced to go through such an experience again.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

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

Remembering the War

I have recently been told about this site initiated by the that peoples memories of that great conflict can be recorded for posterity.
It is hard for me to know where to start being unused to doing this type of recording fro other people to read, and whether the items that I am writing about will be of interest to this web site.

First a brief introduction.: My name is Raymond and I was born in London England, but after being “Demobbed” couldn’t settle down and moved to Canada a few years later where I have lived ever since. My home is in a town in an area known as “The Greater Toronto Area” or GTA for short which is in the province of Ontario.
So where should I start with my reminiscing? How about this as a beginning?

In August 1939 I went on holiday to Herne Bay in Kent and one day walking along the front I heard the sound of aircraft engines and being interested in aircraft I looked up and saw what I identified as a Lufthansa Junkers tri motor passenger plane coming in over the coast it was quite low all silver in the sunlight and I noticed the red background with the big black swastika on the tail fin, and seeing it I thought (which I suppose at the time a strange thought for a fifteen year old boy though again maybe not with all the talk of war going on) I wonder how soon the pilot of that plane would be over England again but this time dropping bombs.
I watched until it disappeared in land then I forgot about and went to the local cinema and saw maybe appropriately a film called“Fire over England” with Laurence Olivier though the action took place in Elizabethan times

Another memory
September 3rd 1939 : Living in Finchley in north London I was with my friend (also named Raymond) who lived on the same road as me but at the opposite end of it; and for some reason I was at his home instead of my own listening to Mr Chamberlain’s speech declaring “That Britain was now at war with Germany“.
At the end of the speech not be sure what to do as his family were in a sombre mood we left the house and decided to walk down to the end of the road back to my home to see how my family were taking the news, and I suppose also to see if anything was going to happen that we had been warned about, we just reached the end of the road and the sirens started to sound, we both stood stock still for a moment and then did a mad dash back to his house ,I swear we covered that distance in less than 30 seconds and it is a long road, at his house we both suddenly stopped and then strolled very nonchalantly inside only to find all his family sitting in a cupboard under the stairs.
Of course the “All clear” sounded soon afterwards. We again went outside Ray’s house and outside several houses people were standing and looking up and wondering most likely like us what the warning was all about, and I am not sure how long after the All Clear sounded this event happened, that we heard this loud explosion, naturally we wondered what it was and whether bombs had fallen.It was rather a mystery and it
wasn’t until some months later that I heard a rumour that an RAF plane had crashed,
I was told at Hendon aerodrome which was not far from us, but at the time this was never confirmed.

When I was in London on a visit a couple of years ago I went to the RAF museum at Colindale the site of the old aerodrome and was looking through its history records and there I did find an entry which confirmed that rumour of a plane crash Apparantly a student pilot on a training flight was coming into land, miscalculated his approach and crashed into a house in Colindale, unfortunately killing not only himself but several people who were in that house.
ARP Experience:

Naturally as a young boy all that was happening was very novel and exciting for me, although my parents did not think the same, especially my father who served the Middlesex Regt. in the first war.
He became an Air Raid Warden, so I thought I would the same but would only be accepted as a messenger which was fine for me, I was issued with a steel helmet and a respirator, and was told my duties would be relaying messages from the District Wardens office to the various Wardens Posts in the district.
At the beginning my job was rather quiet until the raids on London started and the things started to happen. and I felt a bit apprehensive riding around on a bike with messages especially during a raid with the ack-ack firing away and bits of shell coming down, I could hear the pieces hitting the ground. One time I heard some splinters came down and I think one must have hit my front wheel while I was riding as all of a sudden I had a flat tire which gave me a scare..
One of my most chilling experiences happened one night while I was out delivering messages during a raid. I heard this strange whistling and shushing sound that seemed to be coming down, the sound eventually stopped but I couldn’t see anything and it obviously was not a bomb, no explosion.
I continued cycling up the high road to point where there was a boulevard with some very high trees, and I saw something white hanging from one of them naturally I stopped to look and saw it was a parachute with something very large and black hanging from it I immediately had a good idea what it was A Land Mine ! Luckily it got snagged in the trees as I hate to think what would have happened if it had landed on the ground.
,I didn’t wait to look any closer but took off like the wind back to the local police station that I had passed, when I got there it took me a couple of minutes to calm down and then I managed to tell the police what I had just found. They got in touch with the army bomb disposal squad and in short time the area was evacuated and roped off. The army I was told later defused the mine and took it away.
Apparently this strange noise had also been heard by someone nobody was sure what it was and if it was some sort of bomb that had come down where it had landed, but everyone was very pleased that I saw the mine and reported it. I was quite excited about what had happened and told my parents afterwards, my father said you did a good job, but my mother naturally was horrified

A Home Guard experience
As soon as I was old enough I joined the Home Guard and went through all the training in what we were expected to do should the Germans invade Britain.
One exercise I went on was to do with house to house fighting, which we were doing in a partly finished housing site in Mill Hill, I was detailed to give covering fire with a grenade firing rifle and had to camouflage myself, there was a grass ditch at side of the road so I dived in there and as there was a lot of loose grass I decided to cover myself with just my head showing, a perfect covering I thought.

While I was lying there the local milkman came by with his horse and cart and stopped in front of me to deliver his milk (he could not have noticed me lying there for which I was pleased about) while he was gone the horse decided it was hungry and started to eat the grass that was covering me, not only that he also relieved himself at the same time which splashed all over me, I gave a yell and jumped up scaring the horse which took off at a great speed down the road with the cart , all the bottles rattling, some falling off, and. with the milkman who had just returned after his delivery, running after it calling the horse all sorts of names to stop which he eventually managed to make it do, then coming back to me to say some rather nasty things at what I had caused..
My platoon sergeant who came by to see what the ruckus was about and saw me rather wet and smelling not too good into the bargain, couldn‘t stop laughing neither could the rest of the platoon when they found out what happened and saw me all wet with bits of grass stuck to my uniform.
My mother told me to keep out of the house when I returned home until I changed in fresh clothing. The odour would not go away and I had to get a new uniform from the QM stores where again to my embarrassment I had to explain what happened to me. It took a long time for me to live this episode down! .

1942 I was still studying to be a mechanical engineer at and was possibly in theory exempt from military service, but on turning eighteen I decided to volunteer for the RAF. I was accepted and soon after orders came for me to report to Euston House to collect my travel documents for Penarth in South Wales for Primary Training , When I reported in with the rest of the intake we were told we were being put on Deferred Service as the RAF now had too many volunteers to cope with
So after all that excitement I was back in “Civvy Street” waiting for a recall which I hoped would not be too long in coming.
What I did get a few months later much to my annoyance was my call up for the army ,I immediately went to the RAF recruiting station at Euston House to complain and found some others like me there. We were told too bad that although we were on deferred service technically we not in the RAF so into the army you go!

Reluctantly I went to Canterbury and did my 6 weeks basic training again ,then posted to the East Surrey regiment for my Corps Training after which I posted to my battalion in the 3‘mortor platoon of “S“ company.
Until I went overseas it was the usual round of training, route marches, schemes etc
When we received our overseas postings we were issued with tropical kit including Solar Topees, so we all thought it’s the far east

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

Contributed originally by BBC Southern Counties Radio (BBC WW2 People's War)

Alice Macdonald
(fathers name)


I suppose the very first incident of seeing a German plane was being told by my Dad to come and watch a dog fight between one of our boys and a German Plane one Saturday afternoon at the front gate of our house in Edmonton, North London. We watched this for a while and my Dad was chuffed to bits when our boy won.

Another incident I remember was at Christmas 1940. We had had our roof blown in during a German raid. Mum had made some Christmas Puddings and they were still boiling on the stove and not damaged but the kitchen was full of plaster and debris. Mum was in a right state and the whole war was beginning to make her ill. Dad made her pack in work to try to help her cope. It didn’t help that we had to sit in the air raid shelter night after night. The couple downstairs had bunk beds but we had to make do with chairs so we hardly got any sleep.

Our cat used to jump into the cupboard under the sink just before the raid happened. She knew when they were coming before anybody else did. Then we could hear them. It was a very faint and distant noise. A sort of jerking noise that got louder and louder. Then the searchlights would come on and the guns would start firing. They were just at the back of our house so you could imagine how noisy they were. One night the Germans dropped something like hot tar bombs which set everyone’s hedges alight in the street.

That was enough and my Dad decided that he would take us away from London. He wrote to his Father who was living just outside Rochdale and he managed to get us an empty house to live in. So the last night in London was spent with family in Finchley. I didn’t want to leave my friends but I had to obey. On the way to our new home in a small village called Milnrow, I had to sit up front with the driver of the removal van. When we got there he said that it would drive me mad to be in such a desolate place. For a young girl coming from London, he wasn’t wrong.

Eventually I was to do some war work for GEC Electrics. I had to clean and measure the Tungsten wire for use in valves for our bombers. I also had to take my turn doing fire watching in the evenings. This meant that I had to climb onto the roof via the fire escape.

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Keith HArtwell on behalf of Alice Macdonald [the author] and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

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

My parents Patricia and William Baughan, were married in 1942 shortly before my dad was sent to Egypt, where he was a sergeant in the Royal Artillery.

As a young bride living in a ground floor flat in Cricklewood, north west London, my mother was scared both for my dad and for herself, but had the comfort of living with her aunt Dorothy (known as "Doll")who was to remain with us until her death in 1969.

One evening, towards the end of the war, my mother's brother, Arthur, had come home on leave. He was a tail-end Charlie in a Lancaster bomber and had seen action several times. He came to visit my mother, and to see Doll, who was in bed unwell.

As they spoke together in the kitchen, they heard the unmistakeable drone of a V1 "doodlebug", and held their breath hoping it would pass them by. Suddenly the engine cut out and they knew that this would be close, as afterwards, they recalled the whistling sound getting louder and louder as the rocket fell.

My uncles first thought was to protect his sister, and he pinned her against the kitchen wall with his arms and legs splayed out like a starfish. When the rocket hit the ground, there was a tremendous explosion and the kitchen window blew in showering them both with glass, small shards of which embedded themselves into his neck. Miraculously, my mother escaped any injury due to his foresight.

Coming to after the initial shock, they saw that the kitchen had been wrecked. Only the cooker survived - an old blue/grey enamel stove - although the 4 cast legs had been twisted in the explosion (we used the cooker until well into the 1950s). In the dust and confusion my mother's thoughts turned to Doll who was in bed along the hall, and going through the door heard moaning coming from the bedroom. "Doll, Doll" she called out in fear, "Are you alright?"

Doll then appeared from the bedroom looking very pale faced, saying "I think they got me" and then started to hobble slowly down the hall towards my mother. She and my uncle rushed up to her and were immediately relieved to find no blood, "I can't walk properly " said Doll and sat down heavily.

My mother soon discovered that in her absolute panic to get up, Doll had put both legs down one side of her knickers and could barely put one foot in front of another. The laughter which followed, when they could all see the funny side of the situation was turned to tears, when they found out that two of their neighbours four doors away, had been killed by the rocket.

By a real coincidence however, my father had had a trauma of his own that same day in Egypt. Driving a jeep down into a dry wadi, he misjudged the slope on the other side and went into it, rather than up it. The collision resulted in the loss of a front tooth - a terrible thing to happen, as that afternoon he was having an official photograph taken to send back to my mother. A visit to the dentist confirmed his worst fears, that a replacement tooth could not be made in time.

Not to be outdone, he fashioned a tooth out of an old white toothbrush handle and had his photograph taken with the replacement jammed in place.

These stories were handed down to me when I was old enough to understand after I was born in 1946. I have passed them on to my daughters as a record not just of the horrors that people had to endure during the War, but also the courage, fortitude and humour that finally won the day.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^

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


I was born on the 16th September 1918 and christened Eileen Alice Charlotte Jagelman. My parents were William George Jagelman and Cordelia Elsie Jagelman (née Penny).

My father was born in South London to John Jagelman and Alice (née Crockett). He was one of six boys. He excelled at school and on leaving was accepted for the Civil Service. He started as a boy clerk in the Home Office, rising to Assistant Secretary. At the time of his retirement he was Prison Commissioner in the Home Office. During his service he received the C.B.E.

My mother was born in Gravesend, Kent. Her parents were Thomas Penny, who worked in Chatham Dockyard, and Charlotte (née McLeod). My mother came to London to work and in 1917 married my father.

At the time of my birth we lived at 19 Malwood Road, Balham. I had a sister Elsie Florence born on the 25th October 1919 and a brother Kenneth William born on the 25th August 1922.

At approximately the age of four and a half years we moved to Leytonstone in East London. I attended the local council school named Kirdale and was fairly bright. At 12 years I went to Coborn School for Girls in Bow. Having started a year late for various reasons, one being time lost through ill health, I found keeping up was difficult in some subjects and began to lose interest in schooling. My one desire was to leave and work in a store. My father said if that is what you wish you are going to work in the best store in London!

I was apprenticed for three years at Debenham and Freebody in Wigmore Street, W.1. I enjoyed my time there very much as it was interesting meeting all sorts of famous and well known people.

Then in 1939 it all came to an end. War had been threatening for two or three years. In 1938 Neville Chamberlain met Hitler and came back promising peace. No one really believed it, but at least it gave us a year to make some preparation, for in 1938 we were totally unprepared.

Having been born at the end of the first World War and hearing the many stories, seeing films and knowing that it had lasted four years, we were quite frightened when on 3rd September 1939 we found we were at war with Germany. Almost immediately the sirens went. However this turned out to be a false alarm.

This was on a Sunday morning. We had just returned from a holiday in the Isle of Man and were all gathered together. Arthur's parents also being with us. Monday morning we went to work but were told to return home unless we lived near enough to walk or just a short bus ride.

However, after a week of idling, most people decided that life had to go on, despite war and so far we had not been attacked. Consequently I reported for work and life for a bit carried on as usual.

We were losing a lot of shipping and things were going badly on the continent. Finally Germany overran France, Belgium and Holland. The troops fell back to the French coast and we had to get them back to England. Every available ship was commandeered and the biggest rescue operation of all time took place. It filled us all with a great pride of country, but also we knew that we were now alone fighting the might of Germany. Quite frightening. We do not know why Hitler did not attack us at once, but thank God he didn't. Instead he declared war on Russia.

However, the daytime air-raids began and they were very frightening. We continued working and as soon as the sirens sounded we went to shelters, where we spent many hours. I remember one day we spent all day there. Damage was very heavy in some areas, certainly the docks were targeted, but the Germans were not too fussy if the bombs dropped on hospitals, churches, etc. Fortunately our RAF pilots were wonderful and gradually the daytime raids lessened.

Arthur during this time had gone into the RAF and was being trained to be a Wireless Operator. He was moved all over the country and when he came down to Wiltshire in a camp at Compton Bassett he was able to get leave. He arrived home on a Saturday in September and we were going to get engaged, the sirens went which meant all the shops closed, so we could not get out to buy the ring. Fortunately, late afternoon, the all clear sounded and we flew out of the house, caught the bus into Wembley High Road, selected the ring and got home just as the sirens went again. We were determined to celebrate and in the evening went to a dance hall just near to us and despite gunfire and plane noise, managed to enjoy ourselves.

It is now some months later that I open this book and carry on the story. I am afraid after so many years trying to think back becomes difficult and many things may be out of sequence.

Life carried on with day and night raids. We were losing ships, Rommel was winning all the battles in N. Africa - not much joy anywhere.

It was felt that Hitler might invade us, but this did not happen, then he made the fatal step of going to war with Russia which took the threat of invasion away.

My sister and I were called upon to fire watch. Elsie had returned from being evacuated with the firm she was working with. She went into the Air Ministry.

March 1941, Arthur was given leave prior to going overseas. We decided to get married before he went. It was a great rush around but it was all accomplished. Two days later Arthur left, finally ending in Iraq. He returned home three and a half years later in September 1944.

Women were being called up at this time for the forces and war work. As I was married I did not have to go in the forces. My friend Peggy Davies and myself were interviewed for a job in the Air Ministry, a section called A.I.D. (Aeronautical Inspection Department). We trained for three months at the Aeronautical College in Wimbledon. A very "condensed" engineering course! I ended up with Bush Radio at Chiswick and Peggy went to Handley Page at Cricklewood.

We lived through flying bombs, V2's and everything that Germany could throw at us. We lost friends but fortunately escaped in the family with no loss of life.

After the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour the Americans came into the war. We had stood quite alone for the period after Dunkirk which was a terrible period. However, the bravery of all the people at that period should never be forgotten. No one thought that Europe would fall so quickly to the German advance.

Gradually the tide turned and we pushed Rommel back into North Africa and then pushed on into Italy. Mussolini was defeated and we began to look forward to the prospect of peace, though still a long way to go.

Japan was busy on the Eastern front, taking Singapore and many other places. Our troops were then being sent there. My brother by this time was old enough to be called up and went into the Tank Corp; very soon he was in Burma. This was a terrible area of fighting and the cruelty of the Japanese was appalling. Prisoners suffered badly and those men on the Burma road, those that came home, were never the same again.

In Germany people were rounded up, especially Jewish people, and were herded into gas chambers. Millions died this way. How can humans treat each other this way?

Finally on 6th June 1944 we opened the second front and soldiers landed in France. It was a hard long struggle but advances were gradually made until May 1945 when Germany capitulated. Such joy for us all. We had parties in the streets, to be free at last was shattering but wonderful.

However for some the war was still going on in the East and the men were having a very hard time. They thought of themselves as the "forgotten army". Finally the Atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a terrible thing, but it ended the war in August 1945.

All that terrible time was to bring peace to a world which really never wants peace. Though we in Europe have been free since for 60 years, there have been other wars going on all over the world. Peace is a dream we all want but seem unable to find.

Eileen Atkins


Reading this through, so much is left out. One should keep a diary of events as they happen.
However I hope it gives a true picture of what it was like.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

Back to Top ^


Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Barnet:

High Explosive Bomb
Parachute Mine

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Images in Barnet

See historic images relating to this area:

Start Image Slideshow