Bombs dropped in the borough of: Bexley
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Bexley:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
No bombs were registered in this area
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Bexley
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by The Stratford upon Avon Society (BBC WW2 People's War)
The Stratford upon Avon Society and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
12a - Transcription of an interview that took place on the 18th February, 2005
Neville Usher Dr.Michael Coigley
Neville Usher: … you can tell, the tape recorder, it works but it’s noisy. And I am just transcribing one now were the problem is that the lady had got a canary with the loudest voice I have ever come across, it’s a job to hear.
Dr. Michael Coigley: Talking about birds, well I can tell you a lovely story about old Mrs. Tromans who was very old when she died in Alveston, and she had this budgerigar, and we went in to see her one evening and shut the door loudly, I didn’t hear what it said, but she said oh she said I am sorry, did you hear that, did you hear that? Oh I said no what? Oh she said the budgerigar, she said I got that she said when my dad died, after the war and it had been with him all the war in London, and if there’s ever a loud bang anywhere, it says “bugger old Hitler”, and if you slammed the door like we did, you could just hear this budgerigar saying “bugger old Hitler”.
Neville Usher: My grandparents had a friend who was the first female police officer in Birmingham, and one of my earliest memories is being taken to see this lady who lived in Yardley by the cemetery there and she had a parrot, and the parrot used to say “I’m Polly Miles, who the devil are you”?
Anyway, it’s Friday the 18th of February 2005, and we are at 6 The Fold, Payton Street, Stratford, it’s 11.15 and it’s very nice to be talking to Michael Coigley.
Could we just start very briefly with where you were born and how you came to Stratford and then move on to the war Mike?
Dr. Michael Coigley: Oh crikey. I was born in central London, the other side of the road from the Middlesex Hospital in a flat in a property which my father and grandfather later bought, and there’s a long story to that. And then we moved very quickly to Sidcup in Kent where my maternal grandfather was Borough Surveyor and Engineer, he had been head-hunted. He was a civil engineer of some repute really, he used to design …, he was very good at designing sewerage disposal systems. Well they got him in to oversee the first big East End slum overspill out of London to around Sidcup. And we had this lovely house which was an old medieval house with a Victorian extension on it, and he said better move because it is coming right behind you, so we moved out to Sevenoaks, I was born in London.
And then I was at Sevenoaks School, which is I think the first school to bring in the international baccalaureate, very progressive school and always very high up. The oldest …, one of the oldest grammar schools in the country, the only school mentioned by Shakespeare in one of his plays. Lord Sackville from Old House owned a lot of property round here of course, owned Halls Croft at one time, the Sackville’s, and in Henry VI part II, (shall I go on with this, because it’s very …?)
Neville Usher: Yes please, yes.
Dr. Michael Coigley: In Henry VI part II, when Jack Cave the Kentish rebel gets to Smithfield in London and is confronted by Lord Saye and Sele who now lives at
Broughton Court …, Broughton Castle near Banbury. Well Sele is a little place next to Sevenoaks in Kent and he took his …, it was a Norman title that he took the title Sele from Sele next to Sevenoaks and he and Sir William Sennard were the two founders of Sevenoaks School in 1432, and it’s the only school he has anything to do with, and Jack Cave before they behead him on stage says you are condemned for corrupting the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school, so that has been researched and well is obviously Sevenoaks School,it was found out,it is the only school.
Anyhow, I was taking a scholarship to Cambridge called The Tankred Scholarship, King Tankred of Sicily was the Norman King of Sicily in 1065/66, and of course they went both ways the Normans didn’t they, they went to Sicily and England, William came here, went both ways. And he’d been worried, this Norman Tankred was English by now in the sixteenth century that scientists were becoming too specialized at a young age, this scholarship had to take in history, classics, something else, in order to read a science, so I never used it because the war came, and I didn’t want to spend the next 18 months studying medicine.
And I remained a medical student during the war because I was actually a “Bevin Boy” (do you know the Bevin Boys?)
Neville Usher: Yes
Dr. Michael Coigley: And the only way I could get out of going down the mines was to remain a medical student which I did so I was at St. Thomas’s during most of the war; we were evacuated of course down to Surrey, and then we came back to very difficult things at St. Thomas’s. And I then met …, I met Sylvia my wife whilst I was there, I then went in the army after I had been qualified for two years and went out east, thinking we were going to have a nice time but spent two years trekking through the jungle after the ruddy bandits.
Neville Usher: Oh dear, in Burma, or …?
Dr. Michael Coigley: No, Malaya, Malaya, it was after the war you see, it was ’48, the Malaya emergency started in June ’48. And then I came back and did a few jobs and wondered what to do, and then Scot Trick who was a partner - do you remember Scot Trick, old Trick? Well Scot Trick who was a partner in the Bridge House practice, the senior partners being Harold Girling, Dudley Marks and Scot Trick, Offley Evans and etc. And he had a very bad coronary on New Year’s day 1954 and for some reason, I can never know why and he wasn’t quite sure, the secretary of the medical school from St. Thomas’s rang me and said (because Dudley Marks was a St. Thomas’s man), and he was a local surgeon, he was a senior surgeon, South Warwickshire, one of the old GP surgeons you know, and he had rung the medical school saying do you know anybody who wants a job quick? So he rang me and said there’s a job going up there if you’re interested, and I said well I don’t know really, I wanted to be a cardiologist at the time, and I was working in the hospital you see, senior registrar in the hospital in Chichester, and Sylvia’s mother was dying of alchziemers just outside Leominster where they lived, Herefordshire, and we were going backwards and forwards and so I rang ‘em up, going up the next weekend, and came for the interview on Saturday morning with Harold Girling and Dudley Marks, and Offley was there, and out of interest and that was that, and the following Sunday Harold Girling rang me up and said when can you start? Well I had sort of dismissed it from my mind really and we had to think very deeply about this because I had this job, I had to get a release etc. from it, but with my mother in law being so ill, deep in the country, and Sylvia going backwards and forward all the while, so we decided if I could get released I would take it, although I could go back to the hospital you know after a couple of years, anyhow I never went back to the hospital because I liked it so much here, and it’s been great, so that’s how I got to Stratford.
Neville Usher: And what about the Second World War, what did you …?
Dr. Michael Coigley: Well I was in dad’s army of course, and my father who was auctioneer, chartered surveyor, estate agent etc. in Kensington in London (his business of course went), so he took a job doing war damage survey work covering over all the East End bombs and everything, and he’d been in the trenches in the ‘14/18 war of course my dad, and “The Lion” kept getting bombed, and so they moved, everybody was being evacuated, they moved further into London, they moved into Chislehurst, and at that moment I had got a place in medical school, and I well remember the interview I had for medical school because I went up with my father and I saw a very famous chap Thompson, Big Bill Thompson who was then at medical school a famous chap, and we went to see Chu Chinn Chow at the Palace Theatre that night, and there was a hell of an air raid, we weren’t allowed out of the theatre (we got out about three o’clock/four o’clock in the morning at the end), and being entertained by the cast marvellously all night you know, and got home to find there was a telegram to say that I had got a place in the medical school.
And neighbours at Chislehurst, and the Home Guard headquarters was next door to us actually at Chislehurst, and I was in that, but then the medical school were evacuated to Surrey, and it was a military hospital that had been built at Guildford, outside Guildford, and they took that over ‘cos Thomas’s was bombed quite badly, and about the only hospital really …, but they were after the Houses of Parliament of course which is the other side of the river, right opposite, and so there I was and I qualified at the end of ’46, and took my degree in March ’47.
But during that time you know, Chislehurst was right on the …, whenever I was at home I had to get up every night to firewatch on the roof and that sort of thing ‘cos you had got incendiaries all round you, you know, and funnily enough yesterday I went to see the Orpen, William Orpen exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, it is a brilliant exhibition and I was just walking out and there was a chap and his teenage son, and he can’t have been more than, I should think he was forty, something like that, they were looking at the V1 and the V2, doodlebug, and the V2 and I heard him say …, I just stopped to have a look and he said to his son, of course that was the V1 and that was the V2 big rocket, and he turned to me and he said “am I right”? He had diagnosed me brilliantly! Am I right? And I said yes you are absolutely right, and I can tell you about the very first V2 which dropped on this country, it dropped at Petts Wood and my mum was just doing the washing up in their top flat in Chislehurst and she got the cutlery, the crockery, she got the crockery together on the sink, on the drainer, and she took some of it to put in the cupboard along the wall and as she did that there was a hell of a bang and the window over the sink came straight past her and pretty well hit the wall, and that was the first; and nobody knew what it was of course. We had had the V1s of course, the put, put puts!
Neville Usher: But they couldn’t pick it up with radar or shoot it down, it was so fast?
Dr. Michael Coigley: No, a rocket. But I tell you a story about the V1s, because they had this ram jet engine, they went “put, put, put” they came on, when it cut out you knew it had gone somewhere, and they used to sort of hear the wind whistle when they came down, and I came off Home Guard duty early one morning, and I thought oh I just popped in home, took my uniform off though it’s not worth doing anything, I’ll go to bed, and went down to the station, caught an early train, went into the students’ club at St. Thomas’s, saw a chap called Dempster there, arrived at the same time (a very good fly half he was by the way, died about two years ago), and we said let’s have a game of snooker. So we went into the billiard room and we were having a …, and we heard put, put, put, we heard this V1 approaching, we looked out of the window and it was coming actually straight for us in the club. We looked at each other, we got under the billiard table and shook hands and nothing happened, nothing happened, we hard it whistle past, an air current took it up and it went along York Road and it dropped on a siding of Waterloo Station and that caused some trouble because it hit a tanker which had some phosphorous substance in it, took the top off a bus, killed a lot of people, and we all rushed over to casualty, and police came in and somebody had discovered this phosphorous liquid stuff in this tanker, and it’s a devil if you don’t get it off the skin, and it’s undetected you can see it, so we got the books down, and it’s very simple, you make a solution of copper sulphate like you used for bathing, wash it over it goes black, and you can see it, otherwise it goes on boring if you don’t.
But there were so many experiences during the war. I was on duty the Sunday morning in casualty that the doodlebug fell on the Guards Chapel, that was carnage that was terrible, and we had all the casualties in from that and I can see a Guards Sergeant Major, and funnily enough I served with The Guards out in Malaya later, and being lead up the ramp to casualty with a guardsman in his arms, all of them just covered in blood and god knows what and his face shattered, he couldn’t see and yet he had another guardsman in his arms, he was 6’2” or so the Sergeant Major, and another guardsman you know, I thought you know these chaps are marvellous.
Contributed originally by Johnosborne (BBC WW2 People's War)
My personal recollections, 64 years on, of my involvement
As a civilian, in the evacuation from Dunkirk
At the end of May, 1940
My name is John Osborne I live in Cheadle Hulme, just south of Manchester and as this is written I am 86 years old.
One of my grandsons asked me, as part of a school project, to record my recollections, 64 years on, of my involvement, as a civilian, in the evacuation from Dunkirk at the end of May, 1940. After such a long passage of time since the actual event, my recollections are now, inevitably, embellished by what I have read over the years and also, probably, by a few imaginative inventions of my own. These, nevertheless, are my recollections as of today.
I was born in 1918 at North Cray, Kent, near to Sidcup where I lived until 1957, when my work took me to the Manchester area.
On leaving school in 1934 I went to work with John Knight Ltd the then famous soap manufacturers with such brands as Family health and Knights Castille toilet soaps, Royal Primrose and Hustler washing soaps and Shavallo shaving products. This company has long since been absorbed into the Unilever Empire. John Knight’s works and offices, the Royal Primrose Soap Works were in East London at Silvertown, E16 which is on the North bank of the Thames, roughly opposite to Blackheath, between Woolwich, the site of the Royal Military Academy, and Greenwich with the Royal Naval College.
To get to work at Silvertown from Sidcup I had to cross the Thames, either under or over. In those days there was a pedestrian tunnel under the river at Woolwich and a road route thro8ugh the Blackwall tunnel. However I often used the Woolwich Free Ferry, which transported pedestrians and vehicles over to North Woolwich in a few minutes. Whenever I made this short journey across the river I was always interested to watch all sorts of craft plying to and fro. I particularly remember the sun class of tugs, which were always busy on that stretch of the tideway.
In the years before the war I, with my cousins and some of our friends, usually spent our summer holidays sailing and boating so we all gained a basic experience of simple seamanship and boat handling.
I well remember Sunday 3rd September 1939, the day war was officially declared. We were all in church listening, on my portable radio, to the Prime Minister, Neville chamberlain making his statement to the nation. There was a large congregation and, as soon as the Prime Minister finished speaking, our minister closed the service and we set off to walk home. On the way the air-raid sirens sounded off for the first time and everyone expected bombs to start raining down!
It was of course a false alarm but a good foretaste of what was to follow in the times ahead. But that again is another story.
The next day, Monday 4th September, a friend and I drove to Chatham on his motorbike, a 350cc Rudge, to offer our services as volunteers in the Royal Navy. We were surprised, and a little disappointed, to find that the only volunteers who were being accepted immediately would be enlisted as cooks. That was not our idea of fighting a war although we were both to discover, in very different active service circumstances, to what extent cooks and stewards could improve or mar life afloat. So we returned home to await our ‘call-up’ papers which we did not think would be long delayed.
I was then told that those in possession of a Yacht Master’s (Coastal) Certificate would be considered for direct entry into the Royal Navy as R.N.V.R. Officers — Sub-Lieutenants or Midshipmen, according to age. Early in 1940, therefore I commenced studying for this Board of Trade Certificate at Captain O. M. Watts’ Navigation School in Albermarle Street, London W.1.
Most of those studying with me had sailing boat experience and were hoping to enter the Royal Navy soon as R.N.V.R. Officers. We were therefore not surprised to be told, when we arrived for lectures on Thursday 30th May 1940, that the Admiralty wanted to see us all and that we were to report to the Port of London Authority Building near the Tower of London at 18.30 that evening. It did not occur to us that it was rather strange to have to report to the P.L.A. Building and not to the Admiralty, but after all there was a war on.
Our lectures were suspended and, as I was expecting to be interviewed with a view to being granted an R.N.V.R. Commission in the Royal Navy, I went home, smartened myself up, put on my best suit and collected together my latest school reports, examination certificates and references.
When we reported to the P.L.A. Building later in the day, as instructed, there was no evidence of selection interviews being conducted. Instead a large crowd of us was ushered into a hall and told to ‘pay attention!’ An announcement was being made by a Naval Officer that a secret and probably dangerous operation was being mounted which called for the short-term services of anyone, of any age, with some basic knowledge of small boats and their handling. It was not possible at that stage for any more details to be given, we were told, but anyone who did not wish to participate was free to withdraw. I do not recall that anyone did so. We were, however, permitted to contact our families to tell, them that we might be away for a few days ‘on a dangerous mission’.
Of course, as soon as the news of the evacuation from Dunkirk was made public everyone knew that we were to be involved in some capacity or other. We told in general terms that a large fleet of small boats was being assembled to go across the Channel to lift soldiers from the beeches to the east of Dunkirk harbour.
We were then taken by coach to Tilbury, all still civilians in our ‘interview’ suits.
We arrived at Tilbury later that day, were ‘signed on’ as Merchant Service Deck-hands and issued with regulation steel helmets. I still have my ‘tin hat’ as a memento. We still, however, did not know what our role in the operation was to be.
I was in a party who were then taken to the quayside where, alongside, were several ships’ lifeboats of the traditional type carried by all ocean going passenger liners pre-war, each at least 30 feet long. We were detailed to man these lifeboats in crews of about seven hands in each.
(A hand is a seagoing term from the days of sail for a sailor who was reckoned to use one hand for himself and one to do his work.)
The lifeboats with their crews aboard were then formed into trots (lines of small boats secured one behind the other ready for towing) of four or five boats and taken in tow by a tug. Ours was a Sun tug IV, which I used to see from the Woolwich ferry on my way to work. The tug towed tow trots alongside each other so the helmsmen had to steer in order to keep clear of the boats alongside and avoid collision when under way.
By this time it was quite late in the evening and dark when we set off, so we were told, for Southend pier to take on board provisions. We arrived there, without incident, at around 01.30 Friday morning and were issued with basic provisions of bread and tinned meat. We then set off for Ramsgate where we received our final orders and set sail again, this time for a midnight rendezvous off the Dunkirk beaches. During the crossing the tug crew regularly sent buckets, literally, of tea down the line to the boats in tow. We were the end boat in our line so by the time the bucket reached us them little tea that was left was cold and diluted with sea water!
The precise timetable of events over the next 24 hours is, after all these years, no longer totally reliable but the events described all happened.
Our route to Dunkirk was by no means direct as had to keep to swept channels free of mines. In any case there were so many craft of all shapes and sizes making for the same destination that we needed only to follow the fleet. My vivid and lasting impression of this stage of the operation is of a calm, flat, sea covered with an armada of assorted ships and boats. This is well described by Norman Gelb in his book “Dunkirk — The Incredible escape” which was published in 1990 and is based on detailed research of allied and German records.
He writes and I quote:
“An extraordinary explosion of activity was taking place on the beaches as well. A vast flotilla of small ships and boats, far more than had been there before, appeared off the coast. The methodical work of the Admiralty’s Small Vessels Pool and the requisitioning teams Ramsey (Vice admiral R.N.) had sent out was proving its worth. It was an extraordinary sight. All manner of small and medium craft appeared — barges, train ferries, car ferries, passenger ferries, RAF launches, fishing smacks, tugs, motor powered lifeboats, oar propelled lifeboats, wherries, eel-boats, picket boats, seaplane tenders. There were yachts and pleasure vessels of all kinds, some very expensive craft, some modest DIY conversions of ship’s lifeboats. There were Thames River excursion launches with rows of slatted seats and even a Thames river fire float.
They cane from Portsmouth, Newhaven, Sheerness, Tilbury, Gravesend, Ramsgate, from all along England’s Southern and South-Eastern coasts, from ports big and small, from shipping towns and yachting harbours.
Some, from up river, had never been in the open sea before. They were manned by volunteers; men who, without being given the details, had been told that they and their vessels were urgently needed to bring soldiers home from France. Most were experienced sailors — professional or otherwise — but many were fledglings who knew nothing about maritime hazards. Had the weather been bad, some would not have risked going; neither their experience nor their craft would have been up to it. Some mariners would fore ever be convinced that the extraordinary, uncharacteristic, calm which ruled the sea during most of the ten days of Dunkirk permitting the evacuation to proceed — ‘the water was like a mill pond’ — was literally sent because ‘God had work for the British nation to do’.”
At some time after dark we arrived off the beaches at East of Dunkirk. Only small vessels, with relatively shallow draught could approach nearer than 12 miles from the shore. Our tug was able to get quite close before we were cast off and left to our own devices to row to the beach and pick up some soldiers who were patiently waiting in their thousands, continually under bomb and shell fire. Six of the crew rowed, an oar each, and one steered.
The troops were very well disciplined, just waiting in long columns, hoping to be taken off. They were all dead beat, having had a terrible time fighting their way to the beaches. We were able to get right to the sandy beach and took on board about 30 British soldiers. They were travelling ‘light’ having discarded most of their equipment. We rowed away from the shore and took our ‘passengers’ to the nearest craft lying off shore that we could find, a tug, a drifter, a trawler, anything that could risk coming in so close.
We returned to the beach; probably a different section because as soon as we approached a crowd of French soldiers, with all their equipment, rushed out into the water and climbed on board before we had a chance to turn the boat around headed out to sea. As the tide was falling we became stuck on the sand. With great difficulty we persuaded the Frenchman to get out of the boat and we were then able to turn it round and prevent it broaching (getting broadside onto the sea). At one time I was almost up to my neck in the water holding the bow of the boat pointed pout to seawards — still in my ‘interview’ suit! We transferred that load eventually to one of the waiting craft and made one or two more trips before deciding dawn was approaching and it was our turn to make the return journey and get on the way before daylight.
Through all this time we were so occupied with what we were doping that we were hardly aware of all the other activity going on all around us. It is always like this ‘in action’. There were aircraft overhead, friend and foe, all the time; continual bombardment of the town, harbour and of the beaches by the Germans. Ships were being sunk and survivors rescued. All around the town and harbour of Dunkirk fires were blazing, a heavy pall of smoke hanging over it all. From much further off shore the British ships were bombarding the German positions.
We eventually left the beaches just before dawn on Saturday, 1st June. I spent most of the return journey in the engine room of our craft trying to get warm and dry. When we reached England again we had to lie off shore before being taken to Ramsgate by tenders. Everything was very well organised and, seemingly, under control. Administrative formalities were completed and we were ‘signed off’.
I received £5 as compensation for the damage to my suit. I managed, somehow, to get a lift back to Tower Bridge pier in a launch and, having unsuccessfully tried to sell my story to the Daily Express, I eventually arrived back home in Sidcup ay around 05.30 on Sunday morning with the help of a lift on a newspaper van.
A further quote from Norman Gelb:
‘At 14.23 that afternoon (Wednesday, 5th June) the Admiralty in London officially announced ‘Operation Dynamo now completed’. The official War office communiqué said that The outstanding success of this operation, which must rank as one of the most difficult operations of war ever undertaken, ahs been due to the magnificent fighting qualities of the Allied troop; their calmness and discipline in the worst conditions; to the devotion of the Allied navies; and to the gallantry of the RAF. Although our losses have been considerable, they are small in comparison with those which a few days ago seemed inevitable’. On the last day of Dynamo 26,175 troops, almost all French, had been ferried to England from Dunkirk. The final total evacuated, including those lifted off in the days just before Operation Dynamo was launched, was 364,628, including 224,868 British. Within days many of the French troops would return to France to try, in vain, to help stem the total conquest of their nation by Hitler’s armies. But to the immense relief of Churchill, the high command in London, and the people of Britain the British army, so nearly lost, was home.’
It was reported that 887 craft took part in the evacuation which certainly was something of a miracle.
As a postscript may I add that, by the time I had successfully gained my Yachtmasters’ (Coastal) certificate, the regulations had been changed and I was required, after all, to serve as an Ordinary seaman RN before being considered for a commission. After basic training as an Ordinary seaman, I was drafted to a cruiser, HMS Southampton (a sister ship to HMS Belfast which is now berthed on the Thames near Tower Bridge). We went to the Mediterranean where we were in action with the Italian fleet, then made an interesting journey through the Suez Canal to east Africa and back to the Mediterranean to support relief convoys to Malta. There we were sunk as a result of German Stuka dive bombing on 11th January 1941.
I survived and took a passage back to the UK in a Dutch trooper MV Christaan Huytgens. Eventually I was commissioned as a Ty. Sub. Lieut. RNVR in august 1941 and was appointed to HMS Loosestrife, a Flower Class Corvette as Anti-submarine Control officer. I was promoted to Lieut. on 1st January 1943 and appointed to HMS Trent, a River Class Frigate In both ships we carried out convoy escort duty duties the North Atlantic and , in HMS Trent, in the Indian Ocean, operating between Aden, Bombay and Columbo. We also formed part of the escort of the invasion convoy to Sicily in July 1943. I was demobilised and returned to civilian employment in March 1946, having received £101.10s as war Gratuity and Post War Credit of Wages!
I can think of no better finale to this record than to offer you the treat of listening to a supreme exponent of the English language, the great war-time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who kept so many of us carrying on hopefully at home and overseas during the early dark days of the war, through the statements he made to the House of Commons on June 4th and June 18th, 1940.
Typed May 2004 from original recording transcript in March 1994.
Contributed originally by J. Betson (BBC WW2 People's War)
My mother died in January 2000, at the age of 88. During the War she and my father and my elder brother, born in 1938, lived in Bexleyheath, which is on the outskirts of South East London, and not far from the rivers Thames and Medway.
Mum said that, at the time of the fall of France and the Dunkirk evacuation, for several days they, in Bexleyheath, could hear the guns all the way from the French coast.
She remembered how, during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, a year when the skies seemed to be permanently clear and blue, she and the other women in her road used to stand on their back steps and watch the “dog fights” going on overhead between the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF and the Luftwaffe fighters.
The women would jeer at the enemy and cheer our lads on enthusiastically, especially when they shot down one of the German planes.
When talking about the War, my mother and brother used to say: “Do you remember next door’s dog?” and they’d laugh. Apparently, they always had advance warning of when the air raid siren was going to go off, because a couple of minutes before, the said dog would come tearing out of next door’s back door, barking wildly in warning, charge along the garden path, and bolt straight down into the shelter. He always got down there before any body else. It used to amuse my brother as a little boy, and he still laughs about it now.
My parents remembered that at some point during the War, a neighbour who had been on duty down by the River told them that a large number of bodies had been washed up. He’d seen them, he said. Other local people had whispered of it too. They said that there had been some kind of disaster but nobody knew what it was, and nobody was allowed to talk about it.
My father was a mechanical engineer, working in the inspection department of Molins Machine Company’s war time premises at Ruxley Corner, Sidcup. Until 1940 he had worked at their normal base in Evelyn Street, Deptford. During the War they made machines for weighing and packing amunition, machinery for loading shells, and other items in the munitions field, so he was in a reserved occupation, and wasn’t called up, despite being only in his thirties.
He said that they had a lot of women working in the factory. He remembered one of them felling a foreman with a shifting spanner, because he’d been rude to her sister.
Dad also said that the employees of the firm voluntarily raised the money to buy a Spitfire for the RAF.
He was in the Home Guard for a while, in 1943 and 1944. One of his “spare time” occupations was driving a munitions truck from Woolwich Arsenal to the anti-aircraft guns at Erith docks
I still have his wartime National Registration Identity Card, issued by the National Registration Office on 15 May 1943. Everybody had to carry identity cards during the War.
His sister worked as a clippy on the buses, and did fire watching at night. Their mother, who also lived in South East London, but a bit further in, was “bombed out” three times during the War. Amazingly, she survived unscathed. They didn’t have a shelter in the garden, as my parents did. I don’t think they had a garden to have a shelter in. They had to make do with getting underneath a big strong table shelter in the kitchen. Dad’s father was a locomotive engineer, and around sixty, so he continued to do that during the War, it being vital to keep the trains running. He’d done similar work in Sheerness dockyard during the First World War.
Mum was hard of hearing from as early as her fifties, and she always blamed it on the deafening and continual noise made by the “Ak-Ak gun at the end of the road”, and also the bombs exploding nearby.
She spoke of barrage balloons overhead. They were there to make things difficult for enemy aircraft.
My parents kept chickens in the back garden, to supplement the meagre egg ration, and of course they grew vegetables in the rest of the garden.
When I was small, I came across a bag of different coloured balls of knitting wool with kinks in it, in the bottom of the wardrobe. Mum said that it had kinks in it because it was left over from the War, and during the War it was very difficult to obtain knitting wool, so if you wanted a new jumper you had to unravel an old one and re-knit it. She said that often people would knit multi-coloured striped garments, combining bits of wool from several different old garments, just to try to introduce a bit of variety to their clothing.
At that time she still had their old gas mask cases too. They were the size of a hand bag, black, the shape of a semi-flattened bucket, with a lid, and a shoulder strap.
Our American cousins offered to have my brother for the duration of the War, but my mother said “No. If we are going to die, we are all going to die together”. So my brother stayed. The American cousins frequently sent my family parcels of things which were unavailable here, to try to make life a bit easier. Both my mother and her sister said that they were very generous, and couldn’t speak too highly of them.
The house opposite my parents’ bungalow received a direct hit one day, and was destroyed, but the people who lived there were all in the shelter in the garden, and survived. The explosion blew out all the windows in my parents place, and the neighbours houses.
On one occasion, my brother, who suffered badly from croop, had been sleeping on the settee in the living room for several nights, because it was warmer in there than in the shelter. The first night he wasn’t on the settee, the tip of a shell came through the roof and landed right on it. If he had still been sleeping there, he would have been killed. We had that shell tip up until 1970, when it disappeared in a move. It was made of thick polished steel, about six inches across, and very heavy. We used it as a door stop.
Mum spoke of a terrifying incident which happened one day when she was out shopping, with my brother strapped in his push chair or pram. A German plane swooped down and chased people along the road, machine-gunning them. She was running, and wanted to dive for cover, but couldn’t get my brother out of his pram because he was strapped in. If she’d stopped to unstrap him, they’d both have been hit by the bullets, so she just had to keep running and pushing the pram. She made it to cover and they both survived.
Another time, my father was on his motor-bike and Mum was in the side car, and they were going along a country road in the Dartford area, when a Nazi plane came along shooting up any body on the road. They both had to jump in to a ditch. My father pointed out the spot to me one day, when I was a child, but I can’t remember its exact location now.
Mum spoke of the “doodlebugs”, V1 flying bombs which made a buzzing noise and then their engines cut out and they dropped. There was dead silence, then an explosion. She said they were called doodlebugs because they doodled around all over the place, so you couldn’t work out where they were going. They used to have lots of them coming over Bexleyheath. She said that when you heard one buzzing overhead you’d just hold your breath and pray that it kept buzzing until it was clear of you. The RAF fighters used to chase them and try to shoot them and make them explode in mid air, so that they didn’t do so much damage.
After that, towards the end of the War, she said, came the V2 rockets, which were even worse, because they were faster, struck more suddenly and were much more difficult to shoot down. Lots of those passed over, or dropped on the Bexleyheath area as well.
When my parents were demolishing their Anderson shelter at the end of the War, they found a small plain pottery gnome which they had never seen before, about one and a half inches tall, buried in the earth near the entrance. Mum always kept it, because, she half-jokingly said, it must have looked after them during the Blitz — something to do with the old country belief that if you had a goblin living beside your hearth it would keep the house safe.
Contributed originally by Grayish (BBC WW2 People's War)
This account of my world war II memories comprises extracts from my autobiography (unpublished) which I have linked with explanatory paragraphs.
The account starts when I was aged 8 living with my Mother, Father and younger brother Ian in Baldwyns Park, Bexley on the edge of Dartford Heath.
One Sunday I was out on my roller skates when my Dad suddenly appeared and took me home. War had been declared and everyone thought we would immediately be subjected to heavy air attack. The sirens sounded but nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for about a year and life went on pretty much as before. They dug up the playground at school and made an air raid shelter and we were all issued with gas masks which we carried everywhere. Dad became an ARP Warden and a battery of heavy anti-aircraft guns was installed on Dartford Heath. After dark a strict blackout was enforced. Dad made plywood shutters for all the windows in the house that prevented any light showing and gave protection against flying glass. Later on an Anderson air raid shelter, named after the then Home Secretary Sir John Anderson, was delivered and installed in the garden. These shelters were assembled from sheets of corrugated iron bolted together and partially buried in a hole excavated for the purpose. The soil dug out of the hole was then piled on top of the shelter which then afforded good protection from everything but a direct hit. When the daylight raids started we would hurry to the shelters, either at home or at school, but later we became inured to the noise of the guns and we would stay out and watch the battles in the sky. Several aircraft were shot down near Baldwyns Park one, a Hurricane, crashed in nearby Joydens Woods and the pilot baled out. We later saw him being taken back to his base in the back of an RAF truck. Many years later we learnt that the pilot was shot down and killed eight days later. Eventually the shelter in the garden filled with water and we had an indoor Morrison shelter named after Herbert Morrison who had taken over as Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security under Winston Churchill. These shelters were made of steel sections bolted together in the form of a large table with a steel sheet forming the top. Wire mesh screens could be clipped to the sides after the occupants had crawled in and a system of steel laths fixed to the sides by springs afforded support to mattresses so that a family of four could spend a reasonably comfortable night.
I had just started my second year at Secondary School when I contracted appendicitis. Whilst still in hospital recovering from the operation I further contracted scarlet fever and was transferred to the Brook Hospital at Shooters Hill.
The Brook Hospital at the foot of Shooter's Hill was built in 1896 to accommodate patients with infectious diseases. Separate wards were provided for each disease, scarlet fever, diphtheria, poliomyelitis etc. the wards being spaced well apart and inter-connected by open walkways. Each ward was on two levels, females on the first floor males below, and was situated in its own grounds in which walking patients could exercise. The wards were spacious with some ten beds arranged down each side and the centre area occupied by the nurses' stations, and tables and chairs where those up and about, which was pretty well all of us once the spots had gone, had their meals. There was strict isolation from the outside world and of course no visitors. All outgoing mail was 'baked' to kill any bugs. Dad sent me maths exercises every week which I worked at and sent back for marking. The night time bombing of London was in progress and some of us helped the nurses put up the blackout curtains every night and for this we were allowed to join them for a late supper. There were no air raid shelters, we put our heads under the pillows and hoped for the best. Occasionally we ventured into the garden where we found a pile of earth heaped against the wall which allowed us to hob-nob with the diphtheria patients next door.
My father worked for Molins in Deptford, manufacturers of cigarette making machinery
The manufacture of cigarette making machines was not regarded as an important wartime industry and the government ordered that the Molins workforce be employed on more urgent work. One result of this was the building of a ‘secret’ factory in a disused sand-pit on Dartford Heath where Molins personnel manufactured ‘Very’ pistols, used for firing signal flares, and aircraft cannon. Dad was transferred to this site, just two miles from home, and of course it made a tremendous difference to his journey to work every day. Instead of many changes on public transport he now went by bicycle, although this did not mean he was at home any earlier since large amounts of overtime had to be worked. The factory was designated ‘secret’ but you only had to follow the noise of the cannon being tested, a Hurricane wing was installed for this purpose, to find its location. However it was beautifully camouflaged from the air. I was taken to the top of the sand-pit one day and you just could not see the place even being right on top of it. An enormous net had been draped across to form a false floor to the pit and with a few gorse bushes placed over it the factory was invisible. After the war Molins gave up the factory and Dad had to return to the Deptford site in Evelyn Street.
The Dartford and Crayford area contained many factories engaged on ‘war work’ and various methods of hiding them from enemy air attack were adopted. One of these was the use of smoke screens. The prevailing wind determined that the smoke generators should be sited in our area. These crude paraffin burners were positioned every few yards all along our local roads. They were lit at night and apart from the smell, which was appalling, the spillage of paraffin from the daily refuelling gradually caused a black oily stain to spread all over the pavements and roads. Another consequence of our closeness to an important industrial area was the requirement to show our identity cards when travelling. If we took the bus to Dartford it stopped on the Heath, just by the army camp containing the anti-aircraft guns as it happened, and a policeman checked everyone's card. While we waited we could check the performance of the guns on the nearby notice board which showed the number of enemy aircraft they had shot down.
In 1944 we moved home to a larger house in the same area of Bexley.
We installed our Morrison table air raid shelter in the downstairs bedroom in the new house and when a bad raid appeared imminent we crept inside. This bedroom became to be called the shelter room and retained that name, much to the bemusement of visitors, until my parents moved away in 1958. Sometimes the raiding aircraft dropped a flare, either as a guide to following planes or to illuminate the countryside below in an effort to ascertain their whereabouts. The gunners on the Heath tried to bring these flares down using a small calibre gun firing tracer shells and we sometimes stood on the doorstep to watch. Loud cheers greeted a direct hit and the fact was duly posted on the camp side notice board.
We were fortunate to live on the edge of the main target areas and although a few high explosive and incendiary bombs fell in the vicinity, mostly jettisoned by pilots anxious to head for home, no serious damage was done. The main hazard was falling shrapnel from the explosion of the anti-aircraft shells. Jagged chunks of metal would litter the ground after a raid and the larger pieces, if they hit a roof could easily smash several tiles. Damaged roofs were repaired with any tiles available and these were invariably of a different colour to the originals. Houses wore their multicoloured patched roofs with pride. The shrapnel together with the remains of incendiary bombs were gathered up and most households had a sizeable collection.
One night soon after we moved we realised that the engine noise from aircraft overhead was suddenly stopping and was followed by an enormous bang. The pilot less flying bomb, Hitler’s V1 secret weapon was being used for the first time. These ‘doodle bugs’ as they came to be known were quite indiscriminate. They were launched from sites near the French and Dutch coasts in the general direction of various British cities and the engine timed to cut out when the target was reached. The plane would then glide down and explode on contact. Various defensive measures were taken. We had become used to seeing the hundreds of barrage balloons deployed around London, their tethering cables designed to rip the wing off a low flying aircraft. We were astonished to see that overnight the entire barrage had been removed. They were now deployed along the coast as a first line of defence against the new attack. As we had watched the dogfights of the Battle of Britain from our back garden in Baldwyns Park we could now watch the doodlebugs fly over from the roof of our coalbunker in our new garden. If the engine of an approaching V1 cut out before it reached us we dived for cover. If it passed overhead still running we could watch it in relative safety although some were known to double back on themselves.
In the Summer of 1944 my mother and brother and I spent the summer holidays with my uncle’s family in Rowlands Castle in Hampshire.
Although the raids at home continued and Dad reported that all our back windows had been blown out it was decided that we should return home at the end of the summer. The story is that on the day we returned the first of another of Hitler’s secret weapons, the V2 rocket, fell on London. The V2 was a rocket-propelled ballistic missile with a range of just over 200 miles and a high explosive payload of about a ton. There was no defence against these things, they fell apparently at random, you couldn’t hear them coming until after they had hit the ground and exploded, so we tended as far as possible to ignore them. Ian and I were cycling home one day when we were blown to the ground by the explosion of a nearby V2. It had fallen in soft ground and we were showered by stones and earth but we were unhurt and after brushing ourselves down we continued home.
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