Bombs dropped in the ward of: Hampstead Town
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Hampstead Town:
- 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 Hampstead Town
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by vcfairfield (BBC WW2 People's War)
Over the Seas Two-Five-Four!
We’re marching right off,
We’re marching right off to War!
No-body knows where or when
But we’re marching right off
We’re marching right off - again!
It may be BER-LIN
To fight Hitler’s KIN
Two-fifty-four will win through
We may be gone for days and days — and then!
We’ll be marching right off for home
Marching right off for ho-me
Marching right off for home — again!
Merry-merry-merry are we
For we are the boys of the AR-TIL-LER-Y!
Sing high — sing low where ever we go
TWO-FIVE-FOUR Battery never say NO
The 64th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, Territorial Army has roots going back to the 1860’s. It first saw action in France during the Great War 1914 to 1918 when it took part in the well known battles of Loos, Vimy Ridge, River Somme, Ypres, Passchendale, Cambrai and Lille.
Its casualties numbered 158 killed.
Again in the Second World War it was called upon to play its part and fought with the 8th Army in Tunisia and then with the 5th and 8th armies in Italy. It was part of the first sea borne invasion fleet to land on the actual continent of Europe thus beginning its liberation from Nazi German domination. Battle honours include Salerno, Volturno, Garigliano, Mt Camino, Anzio, Gemmano, Monefiore, Coriano Ridge, Forli, Faenza, R. Senio Argenta.
Its peacetime recruits came mainly from the Putney, Shepherds Bush and Paddington areas of London up to the beginning of World War II. However on the commencement of hostilities and for the next two years many men left the regiment as reinforcements and for other reasons. As a result roughly one third of the original Territorials went abroad with the regiment, the remainder being time expired regular soldiers and conscripted men.
Casualties amounted to 84 killed and 160 wounded.
In 1937 I was nineteen years old and there was every indication that the dictators ruling Germany in particular and to a lesser degree Italy, were rearming and war seemed a not too distant prospect. Britain, in my opinion had gone too far along the path of disarmament since World War I and with a vast empire to defend was becoming alarmingly weak by comparison, particularly in the air and on land. It was in this atmosphere that my employers gathered together all the young men in their London office, and presumably, elsewhere, and indicated that they believed we really ought to join a branch of the armed forces in view of the war clouds gathering over Europe and the hostile actions of Messrs Hitler and Mussolini. There was a fair amount of enthusiasm in the air at the time and it must not be forgotten that we British in those days were intensely proud of our country. The Empire encompassed the world and it was only nineteen years since we had defeated Imperial Germany.
The fact that we may not do so well in a future war against Germany and Italy did not enter the heads of us teenagers. And we certainly had no idea that the army had not advanced very far since 1918 in some areas of military strategy.
In the circumstances I looked round for a branch of the forces that was local to where I lived and decided to join an artillery battery at Shepherds Bush in West London. The uniform, if you could call the rather misshapen khaki outfit by such a name, with its’ spurs was just that bit less unattractive than the various infantry or engineer units that were available. So in February 1937 I was sworn-in, with my friend Ernie and received the Kings shilling as was the custom. It so happened that soon afterwards conscription was introduced and I would have been called up with the first or second batch of “Belisha Boys”.
I had enlisted with 254 Battery Royal Artillery and I discovered, it was quite good so far as Territorial Army units were concerned, for that summer it came fourth in Gt Britain in the “Kings Prize” competition for artillery at Larkhill, Salisbury. In fact I happened to be on holiday in the Isle of Wight at the time and made special arrangements to travel to Larkhill and join my unit for the final and if my memory serves me correctly the winner was a medium battery from Liverpool.
My job as a “specialist” was very interesting indeed because even though a humble gunner — the equivalent of a private in the infantry — I had to learn all about the theory of gunnery. However after a year or so, indeed after the first years camp I realised that I was not really cut out to be a military type. In fact I am in no doubt that the British in general are not military minded and are somewhat reluctant to dress up in uniform. However I found that many of those who were military minded and lovers of “spit and polish” were marked out for promotion but were not necessarily the best choices for other reasons. There was also I suppose a quite natural tendency to select tall or well built men for initial promotion but my later experience tended to show that courage and leadership find strange homes and sometimes it was a quiet or an inoffensive man who turned out to be the hero.
Well the pressure from Hitler’s Germany intensified. There was a partial mobilisation in 1938 and in the summer of that year we went to camp inland from Seaford, Sussex. There were no firing ranges there so the gunners could only go through the motions of being in action but the rest of us, signallers, drivers, specialists etc. put in plenty of practice and the weather was warm and sunny.
During 1939 our camp was held at Trawsfynydd and the weather was dreadful. It rained on and off over the whole fortnight. Our tents and marquees were blown away and we had to abandon our canvas homes and be reduced to living in doorless open stables. Despite the conditions we did a great deal of training which included an all night exercise. The odd thing that I never understood is that both in Territorial days and when training in England from the beginning of the war until we went abroad there was always a leaning towards rushing into action and taking up three or four positions in a morning’s outing yet when it came to the real thing we had all the time in the world and occupying a gun site was a slow and deliberate job undertaken with as much care as possible. I believe it was the same in the first World War and also at Waterloo so I can only assume that the authorities were intent on keeping us on the go rather than simulating actual wartime conditions. Apart from going out daily on to the firing ranges we had our moments of recreation and I took part in at least one football match against another battery but I cannot remember the result. I always played left back although I really was not heavy enough for that position but I was able to get by as a result of being able to run faster than most of the attacking forwards that I came up against.
The really odd coincidence was that our summer camp in Wales was an exact repetition of what happened in 1914. Another incident that is still quite clear in my memory was that at our Regimental Dinner held, I believe in late July or early August of 1939, Major General Liardet, our guest of honour, stated that we were likely to be at war with Germany within the following month. He was not far out in his timing!
Well the situation steadily worsened and the armed forces were again alerted. This time on the 25th August 1939 to be precise. I was “called up” or “embodied” along with about half a dozen others. I was at work that day at the office when I received a telephone call from my mother with the news that a telegram had been sent to me with orders to report to the Drill Hall at Shepherds Bush at once. This I had expected for some days as already more than half the young men in the office had already departed because they were in various anti-aircraft or searchlight units that had been put on a full war footing. So that morning I cleared my desk, said farewell to the older and more senior members who remained, went home, changed into uniform, picked up my kitbag that was already packed, caught the necessary bus and duly reported as ordered.
I was one of several “key personnel” detailed to man the reception tables in the drill hall, fill in the necessary documents for each individual soldier when the bulk of the battery arrived and be the general clerical dogsbodies, for which we received no thanks whatsoever. The remainder of the battery personnel trickled in during the following seven days up to September 2nd and after being vetted was sent on to billets at Hampstead whilst we remained at the “Bush”.
The other three batteries in the regiment, namely 253, 255 and 256 were mustered in exactly the same manner. For instance 256 Battery went from their drill hall to Edgware in motor coaches and were billeted in private houses. The duty signallers post was in the Police Station and when off duty they slept in the cells! Slit trenches were dug in the local playing fields and four hour passes were issued occasionally. There were two ATS attached to 256 Battery at that time a corporal cook, and her daughter who was the Battery Office typist.
I well remember the day Great Britain formally declared war on Germany, a Sunday, because one of the newspapers bore headlines something like “There will be no war”. Thereafter I always took with a pinch of salt anything I read in other newssheets.
At this time our regiment was armed with elderly 18 pounders and possibly even older (1916 I believe) 4.5 howitzers. My battery had howitzers. They were quite serviceable but totally out of date particularly when compared with the latest German guns. They had a low muzzle velocity and a maximum range of only 5600 yards. Our small arms were Short Lee Enfield rifles, also out of date and we had no automatics. There were not enough greatcoats to go round and the new recruits were issued with navy blue civilian coats. Our transport, when eventually some was provided, was a mixture of civilian and military vehicles.
Those of us who remained at the Drill Hall were under a loose kind of military discipline and I do not think it ever entered our heads that the war would last so long. I can remember considering the vastness of the British and French empires and thinking that Hitler was crazy to arouse the hostility of such mighty forces. Each day we mounted a guard on the empty building we occupied and each day a small squad marched round the back streets, which I am certain did nothing to raise the morale of the civilian population.
There were false air raid alarms and we spent quite a lot of time filling sandbags which were stacked up outside all the windows and doors to provide a protection against blast from exploding bombs. In the streets cars rushed around with their windscreens decorated with such notices as “DOCTOR”, “FIRST AID”, “PRIORITY” etc, and it was all so unnecessary. Sometimes I felt more like a member of a senior Boy Scout troop than a soldier in the British Army.
After a few weeks the rearguard as we were now called left the drill hall and moved to Hampstead, not far from the Underground station and where the remainder of the battery was billeted in civilian apartments. They were very reasonable except that somebody at regiment had the unreasonable idea of sounding reveille at 0530 and we all had to mill about in the dark because the whole country was blacked out and shaving in such conditions with cold water was not easy. Being a Lance Bombardier my job when on guard duty was to post the sentries at two hourly intervals but the problem was that as we had no guardhouse the sentries slept in their own beds and there was a fair number of new recruits. Therefore you can imagine that as there were still civilians present, occasionally the wrong man was called. I remember finding my way into a third or fourth floor room and shaking a man in bed whom I thought was the next sentry to go on duty only to be somewhat startled when he shot up in bed and shouted “go away this is the third time I have been woken up tonight and I have to go to work in a few hours time!”
Whilst we were at Hampstead leave was frequent in the evenings and at weekends. Training such as it was, was of a theoretical rather than a practical form. However we very soon moved to “Bifrons House” in Kent, an empty stately home in very large grounds near Bridge and about four miles south of Canterbury. Here we resided until the middle of 1940.
In this position we had a bugler who blew reveille every morning while the Union Jack was raised, and lights out at night. The food was quite appalling in my opinion. It was prepared in large vats by a large and grimy cook and by the time it was distributed was almost cold due to the unheated condition of the dining area. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs eaten in the cold semi darkness and the yolks had what appeared to be a kind of plastic skin on them that was almost unbreakable. Indeed all meals were of the same poor standard and there was no noticeable improvement during our stay here.
The winter of 1939/40 was very long, very cold and brought a heavy fall of snow which stayed with us for several weeks. Christmas day was unforgettable. I had a touch of ‘flu and the first aid post where another soldier and myself were sent to was an empty room in a lodge house. There was not a stick of furniture, no heating, the floors were bare and we slept on straw palliasses on the floor. I recovered very quickly and was out in two or three days! On one day of our stay at Bifrons, on a Saturday morning there was a Colonels inspection and as a large number of sergeants and bombardiers were absent from among the gun crews I was detailed to take charge of one gun and stand in the frozen snow for the best part of an hour on what was I believe the coldest day of the winter. And so far as I remember our Commanding Officer decided not to include us and eventually we were dismissed and thawed out around the nearest fire.
In general however I think most of us quite enjoyed our stay here. It certainly was not like home but we made ourselves comfortable and parades finished about 1630 hours which gave us a fair span of time until “lights out”. At weekends we spent the Saturday evening in the pub in nearby Bridge and occasionally walked or begged a lift to Canterbury which was four miles away. In our spare time we played chess and various games of cards. From time to time we were entertained by groups of visiting artists or had sing-songs in typical army fashion. Looking back it was in some ways I suppose like an of beat low class boarding school with the battery numbering some two hundred and fifty men billeted in the bedrooms and stables of the house. Nevertheless we did a lot of training. We even went out in the cold snow covered countryside at night in our vehicles as if we were advancing or retreating, for two or three hours at a time. We had to take a certain preselected route which was very difficult to follow because with everything hidden beneath the snow, with no signposts and with trying to read an inch to the mile map at night with a hand torch giving only a very restricted light because of the blackout the odds against making a mistake were fairly high. We would come back cold and hungry to a mug of hot tea or cocoa and a bite to eat. By day we practised other aspects of artillery warfare either as part of the battery as a whole, sometimes with our signallers but more often as not as a group of specialists going through the many things we had to learn, time after time. When the weather improved this was a most enjoyable way of spending the morning or afternoon session for we could take our instruments out to an attractive bit of the countryside within walking distance of our billets and do some survey, map reading or a command post exercise.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by David Draper (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on the ninth of April 1939,in the Dick Whittington Wing of St. Mary's Hospital North London, to Florence Margaret and Albert Edward Worboys.
Of course I had no idea at that time of what lay ahead of me.
Years after it was all over, in my teens and in a moment of some weird flashback, I asked my mother, "Did she ever try to stuff me into a basket, when I was a baby ?" She looked at me strangely and said: "Why do you ask ?"
I was lying on my back looking up, as this thing came down upon me it covered the whole length of my body (little did I know then, that I measured about 18 inches in full at the time)
It was shaped kind of oval and I could see a pattern similar to an Easter egg.
As it came down on me I screamed my head off and fought against it in sheer terror..... then blackness.
My mother said: "I tried to fit you into a baby gas mask chamber, you were too big for it, you were about nine months old, you didn't like it one little bit "
My first memory of the war.
I cannot remember, times, dates or even the year in which my memories of the war occured. Strangely, they are simple, vivid flashes, with nothing either side to identify what was happening before or after. Albeit, they have been with me all my life.
My father led my mother, then me, followed by my younger brother John, down the passageway of our home in Landseer Road, (off Holloway Road, Islington) Outside the closed front door I could hear explosions. My father was about to open the door. He stopped suddenly and said: "Wait". There was a high pitched pinging sound outside the door.
After it stopped, we went out to the shelter.
I often wonder, now what would have happened if my dad had not recognised what must have been shrapnel coming at and hitting our front door. I think I was about 18 months old at the time.
We had moved into my Grandmother's house at number 1 KIngsdown Road, in the next street, off Holloway Road. Air raid shelters had been built on the road directly outside the houses all along the street. Brick and concrete,shaped like giant shoeboxes.
Whenever I smell green concrete, I remember those shelters.
One miserable morning after spending the night in our street shelter,my mother and I had emerged to see a sky absolutely filled with flack. I looked up at it, there was a fireman standing near a fire engine.
I said to my mum and pointing up at the flack," Who gets that stuff out of the sky, mummy?".
Mum looked at me and at the fireman, who was smiling, then she said"The firemen do,my love" I replied "How"? My mum seemed momentarily lost for words and then confidently answered,"They go up on their ladders and clean the sky with their hoses".
I was very young then but the vision that came to me of a fireman climbing high up into that sky on a ladder with a firehose to wash out all of those little black clouds, didn't somehow ring quite true.One look at the firemans grinning face convinced me that"Mum" wasn't being quite accurate with me.
Sometime, about when it all began, I was huddled against my grandmother in the corner of the street air raid shelter, it was dark and the noise of the explosions,close by, was terrible. I said to my grandmother: "Nan, who is doing this ?"
She said:"The Germans."
I conjured up an infant's image of fire breathing dragons, I could not comprehend that other human beings were creating such terror for me and my loved ones.
As the war went on and during nights spent in the air raid shelters, my nan and I became very close.
One of our favourite times was when the "All Clear' sounded after a raid (or as it was later, an uneventful night in the shelters) I would go to her and she would take my hands in hers and I would say "All Clear Nan," and she would smile at me and say "Yes,my lovely all clear."
Now and again amid the noise, flashes, bangs and occasional screams of it's occupants the door of the shelter would open and a white helmet with ARP painted on it's front, would appear, atop the tiny head of Mrs. White, the wife of the cornershop grocer, "Everybody allright"? she would enquire, The reply was always "Yes,Mrs.White we're allright " Warm, comforting thoughts and feelings for each other were a way of life by then.
After the war we would continue to get our groceries from Mr. and Mrs. White's shop and comiserate with and help her when her husband became ill and began taking terrible fits. She was only a tiny woman but she had a great heart and magnificent patience.
I had started school with my younger brother John, at Grafton Road infants, (near Seven Sisters Road, Islington) and there we were in the assembly hall with all the other kids listening to Miss Somper the P.T. mistress telling us that "We were not allowed to take cherries on the train, which was going to transport us to the evacuation centres." "The stones and wrapping paper will make too much of a mess."
Dutifully, my brother and I did not take cherries on the train. We were the only little tots that didn't. There were purple wrapping papers, stones and stalks from one end of the train to the other. My brother and I had none.
Was it Banstead, Burk Hampstead or some other place I don't remember exactly. I do know it was an evacuation home and that ache that had been in my throat since leaving my family in London, was there as usual.
One of the nurses at the home collected a large group of us littlies and shepherded us down across the playing field to a "monkey climb" . She then proceeded to place the other kids on the "climb" and then placed me in front of it facing her. There were some other people there with cameras and one of them put a blindfold on her and then she,(the nurse)made as if to try and catch me.
I had returned to my family in Kingsdown Road(I don't think the war was quite over at the time). There was may grandmother and my mother, at the kitchen table and there was this newspaper "The Sunday Pictorial" They were pointing at it, for me to look at the front page. There I was, playing "blindmans buff" with the nurse. A full front page.
Was it that same afternoon that, as we all stood there in that room,suddenly there was a massive whoosh of air and the windows seemed to buckle in and out like balloons. My grandmother screamed and then it was all over and quiet again. I didn't know what doodlebugs were at that particular time, I do now.
After the war, the bombed areas(we as kids called them debris)became our playgrounds. On them we attended concerts organised by the local "talents", built barricades and engaged in territorial gang wars, climbed into the attics and out onto the roofs of derelict rows of condemned houses, took the lead out of the windows of the burned out church and melted it down, etc.etc.
The burnt out church in question was Saint Pauls and once stood at the corner of Kingsdown Rd. and Stanley Terrace. It must have been a beautiful structure before the blitz but had been reduced by incendiaries, to a shell whose walls and internal pillars only remained. It's pulpit was filled with a small mountain of rubble which extended from wall to wall at each side.
The door of the church had gone and the brickwork so patiently and continuously erected by workmen to seal it off was constantly being removed, just as patiently, by us kids, so we could get in and play. The floor was usually covered by about eight inches of water from end to end and made an excellent obstacle course for traversing across on old milk bottle crates and other junk.
One day whilst playing there, I and my mates, for some inexplicable reason decided to dig away at the rubble near the pulpit. We started at the left side and before long to our wonder and awe, we realised we had uncovered an arched opening over a large concrete shelf, beyond which we could see what appeared to be a small room. We clambered over the shelf,into the room one by one and as I stood there, my eyes becoming accustomed to the dark, feeling like an explorer,as I imagine pyramid explorers might have felt, entering a mummies tomb, another, strange,familiar feeling came over me.
I was looking at the walls;
They were patterned in gold diamond lattice over a purple background that I had seen somewhere before. I forgot about it and I and my mates continued on with our usual activities of getting thoroughly dirty and wet.
Weeks, maybe months later, I was talking with my Nan and out of the blue I said to her: "Nan, have I ever been in the old church, before it was burned?" My Nan looked at me incredulously and said: "How did you remember that?" I said to her: "It was the pattern on the wall in a room we discovered next to the pulpit". My Nan was amazed, she said: "You were only a baby then, we went into that room in the church to get a food parcel".
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by wellslibrary1 (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was added by Tricia Humphrey, Librarian, Wells Public Library, Somerset as told by Shelagh Levy Addis.
Every day during the war someone from Hampstead went up to the Whitestone Pond, the highest point in London, and if they could see the cross on the top of St Paul's cathedral, London was safe and free.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by winchester (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was twelve years old in 1939. I had earlier in the year passed the scholarship exam at my Junior school in Duncombe Road in North London N19, and was looking forward to going to the Grammar school named William Ellis which was situated on the edge of Parliament Hill Fields which were part of Hampstead Heath.
About a week before the 1939 war began my father received a letter from my Uncle Fred in Tiverton in Devon. He offered to have me and two of my cousins Doris and Rosie who were sisters to stay with him and his family while the war was on. It was agreed that we would go although I wasn't asked for my opinion. There was a problem developing here but it wasnt thought of at the time. Doris's mum and dad were both deaf and dumb, and Doris seemed to have an aptitude to understand what they said and was a go between between them and other people. So by going to Devon her mum and dad would be left on their own.
My sister Lily who was twenty-four at the time and her boyfriend named Bob, who had a car, said that they would drive - we three potential evacuees - to my Uncle Fred in Tiverton. So on Saturday 2 September 1939 the five of us all got into Bob's car, which was a 1935 Wolseley Hornet open-top sports car. My sister and Bob were in the front and Doris, Rosie and me were in the back with our luggage stowed wherever it would fit between us.
We left north london at about 2.30 pm and drove up Highgate Hill and in time on to the A30 road to the west country. The roads were different in those days - not so much traffic. I remember we stopped at the side of the road somewhere near Bagshot Heath for a break and to check if every thing was alright. While we were stopped a coach went by and Bob said look its a Daily Mirror eight but what that meant I dont know. Fortunately it was a fine warm day so we didn't need to have the canvas hood put up as bob couldnt remember where it was amongst all the luggage.
After we had been travelling for some time it began to get dark, Bob had put some blue paper over the headlights before switching them on because he had heard that there was to be a practice blackout this night. We had reached some where near Salisbury when we were stopped by a policeman wearing a cape waving a torch at us, he told bob to put the lights out "didnt we know there was a war on"?. On we went with no lights on its very strange that in the country when its dark and there are no lights its possible to see but not very far. We had been travelling for about another mile or so when Bob became agitated, he wasnt happy that he had no lights on I suppose that we were moving at about twentyfive miles an hour when bob switched on the lights and there we were travelling towards a brick wall as the road took a sharp turn to the right, there was a screech of brakes and a heave on the steering wheel and round the corner we went with a sigh of relief. We stopped to recover our nerves and have a rest. I got out of the car and sat on the mudguard of the front wheel it was the sort that tuned whith the wheel, I rested my head on the bonnet of the engine and fell asleep. I woke up after a while and got back in the car and we went on our way. Eventually we arrived in Tiverton at about six o'clock in the morning, but lily couldnt remember exactly where Uncle Fred lived but we found it in the end, it was about a mile outside Tiverton on the Exeter road.
Uncle Fred lived in the Lodge Gate house to an estate called Howden Court, where he was a groom but also did other jobs. On one side of the house was a drive to Howden Court which was an enormous place, and on the other was a narrow lane about half a mile long leading to a farm. They were pleased to see us and we went into a large kitchen. Doris and Rosie and I were tired so they went upstairs to have a sleep and I had a sleep on the settee in the sitting room. I woke up and went back into the kitchen in time to hear Neville Chamberlain say that England was at war with Germany. I didnt think too much about it at the time, I was too busy scouting round the outside of the house,it seemed strange to look out on to fields and hedges, seeing cows and rabbits. It came time for lily and Bob to return to london. and of they went. We three were now on our own with complete strangers who we had never seen before and so the rest of the day passed with the grownups discussing what would happen now that war was declared.
Uncle Fred had been in the Royal Horse Artillery in the 1914/1918 war and was only one of three people in his battery to survive an attack by German soldiers simply because he had taken the horses to the local village to water them. No one had any idea what would happen and we all went to bed. I was to sleep on the settee in the sitting room. The following day Monday the 4th September it suddenly dawned on me that there were no other boys about. the house we were in was a three bedroom one and where everyone was sleeping I had no idea. There were six females aunts Ella,and Lucy, cousin Eileen who was about twentytwo, cousin Joyce who was about seventeen, then there was Doris who was about fourteen Rosie who was nine, uncle Fred and me. what was I going to do ?. There was one saving factor uncle Fred had a dog called Mopsey and Mopsey was the same age as me. After a while where I went Mopsey went and we became great friends.
A week later after we had settled in I was enrolledinto the local junior school which wsnt much use as I had completed all the work they were doing back in london. I stayed in this school for about six weeks when someone decided that I should be moved to the Tiverton Boys Middle school which was the equivalent to a Grammar school, so I went there. Now the school uniform colours of the Middle school were red and green which everyone wore, except me, the school colours of William Ellis Grammar school were Royal blue jacket with a golden Oak tree embroidered on the breast pocket so it was obvious that I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had one or two arguments with other boys at the school because I spoke differently to them but I began to settle in. The only problem I had was that I had missed the initial indoctrination at the beginning of the September term so I was behind in my learning although I had had so much upheaval in the previous few weeks that I didnt much care whether I learnt French or not.
Christmas 1939 came and mum and dad came down for a holiday apparently it was very quiet in london and they stayed a few days. It was good to see them. But I dont know where they slept. Uncle Fred told dad that I wasnt doing very well at school but I wasnt bothered I think I had switched of. Dad asked we three evacuees whether we wanted to go home to london, I opted to stay as I liked the country and had Mopsey the dog. Doris and Rosie wanted to go home, I think Doris was worriedabout her mum and dad so of they all went. At least that was two females out of the way. Aunt Lucy went to stay with other relations in Tiverton, so space was getting better and the family only had me to put up with.
One night there was an air raid, planes flying overhead all night. they used the river Exe as a guide to get to Bristol and other towns further north. Uncle Fred had us all take shelter under the Morrison table shelter that had appeared one day while I was at school. The top was made of quarter inch thick steel and the legs were of half inch thick steel and it was very cold under there in my pyjamas. On this particular night raid one of the bombers was attacked by a fighter, we could hear the machine guns firing and then there was the whistle of the bombs coming down, but they missed me and fell in a field the other side of the river Exe about half a mile away. Uncle Fred had joined the Home Guard by then and kept his rifle which was a Short Lee Enfield 303 by the side of the sideboard, I wsnt interested in it.
Uncle Fred was good to me we used to do many things together, play darts,and table Skittles against each other ,the ladies did their knitting.
Spring 1940 came and the country side came to life and I was able to disappear into the countryside with Mopsey but he was getting old. The Master of Howden Court used to hold a rabbit shoot where the local gentry would gather with their shotguns, Uncle Fred was the masters loader, I was chief dead rabbit carrier. uncle Fred shoed me how to hold a rabbit by its back legs and give it a rabbit chop to the back of the neck. I did it but I didnt think it needed it after having been blasted with a shotgun load of pellets. I had them all kept in a sack and mopsey was my guard dog.We would take them back to the court stables and lay them out in a row for the shooters to choose from when the shoot was over. Mopsey would sniff at them and then follow me back to the shoot.
It came to uncle Freds notice that Mopsey was having trouble getting out of the ditches,I used to go in and get her, I didnt mind but nobody said anything, but I came home from school one day and Mopsey wasnt there. Uncle Fred said that it wasnt fair for the dog to suffer so she had been put to sleep. That was another of my friends gone. There was only uncle Fred and me as Eileen was a telltale and Joyce was making eyes at the soldiers who had taken over part of Howden Court. They were also guarding a railway bridge which went over the river which was only about a hundred yards down the road.
Spring turned to summer and before the summer holidays the school used to hold a cross country race every year which was divided into upper school and lower school, I was in lower school. Now this race was not round a flat circuit, it went through fields, cow muck, over five barred gates through hedges, across streams over the Salmon steps and anything else that happened to be in the way at the time, but if there was one thing I could do it was run. I could run for ages. I was the fastest runner in my school in london. I won the lower school section of the race which was about two miles long with no effort at all. The headmaster the next day when presenting me with the cup said he thought londoners could only run for buses. My name appeared in the local paper and my aunt Elle basked in my notoriety when she went shopping in the Tiverton shops.
I put my name down to run in the school mile race which was open to the whole school, it was held round the school playing field, but the crafty devils held the race while I was at art class. I suppose they were frightened that I might win. I was annoyed at that.
The school holidays came and I went and worked on a farm. One day we had to take two Shire horses to be shod,one of them was a real softy and would nuzzleup to us, but the other one was called pat,and he was dangerous. the farmer had to tie the harness halter to the other horse so that we had the nice horse between him and us.
The family were avid church goers, Chapel in the morning, Sunday school in the afternoon, evensong in the evening, and I had to go to all three and each session involved a mile walk each way so I was walking six miles a day on Sundays.
Uncle Fred had an allotment which was on the road to Tiverton. His wheelbarrow was broken and he bought a rolls royce of wheelbarrows with a big fat rubber tyre. It had been made by a wheelright in a village on the same road that the cross country race had started and he asked me to go and get it. I had a large piece of string tied to the handles and looped it round my neck to take some of the weight from my hands. It was a marvellous barrow.
That evening uncle Fred loaded the barrow with his seed potatoes with the early ones on the bottom then a divider and the late ones on the top. As I had wheeled the barrow home from the maker I was allowed to push the barrow to the allotment, unfortunately I lost the balance of the barrow, it toppled over and all the potatoes got mixed up, uncle Fred was upset but he didnt tell me of.
August came to an end and on 2 September 1940 my dad turned up to take me home. I hadn't known he was coming. I was sorry to say goodbye to uncle Fred and I would miss him and the country. So my dad and I caught a train tp Tiverton junction changed at Taunton and arrived at Paddington station about half past four in the afternoon of the third of September.
We walked up the slope to the street it was a beautiful day with a glorious blue sky, and all we could see were these airplanes flying round, with bombers being chased by fighters I said to my dad "I thought you said that nothing was happening." He replied, "If I had known it was going to be like this I wouldn't have brought you home". So we got on a number 27 bus and came home.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Ernie-the-Author (BBC WW2 People's War)
Extraordinary Schooling in WW2 - Part One
This account is chiefly about my wartime school experiences.
Despite its name, St. Mary's School was an independent (private) non-denominational co-educational school. To many of us former pupils, however, it was more than this - it was a remarkable and unique learning experience —albeit not particularly academic.
St. Mary's school had Froebel leanings with group and experiential learning practices. To what extent the school was "progressive" is debatable - as, for instance, we still addressed our teachers formally (viz: Mrs E., Miss Gardener, Mrs Paul). The school seemed heavily biased to the learning of languages and the arts from an early age, sacrificing time devoted to the sciences and technology.
The school was owned and run by Elizabeth Paul, assisted for most of this time by her husband Heinz Paul. They were of German Jewish origin and had previously run a school in Berlin. They bought the school as a going concern in 1937 when it was still at 1, Belsize Avenue, Hampstead (where I believe the original school was founded a few years earlier - in what form I know not). The Pauls relocated and restarted the school in a pair of adjoining "semi-detached" houses at 16 Wedderburn Road (between Fitzjohn's Avenue and Belsize Park) in Hampstead, London N.W.3. during the summer of 1937, initially as a day school.
With the outbreak of world war two in September 1939 St Mary’s became a boarding school on evacuating London. (Shortly after the war ended in 1945, the school split and was renamed St. Mary’s Town & Country School. The main part returned to within half a mile of its pre-war location - to 38-40 Eton Avenue (into another pair of leased semi-detached houses) just off Swiss Cottage - where it remained until its demise in 1982. The "country" boarding section moved to Stanford Park in Leicestershire - but this only lasted for a few years.)
Formal education started for me at St. Mary's School in 1937, about a couple of months before my fifth birthday. As Mrs Paul’s purchase and rebirth of the school was that year, I must have been among its first pupils. I remained there for my entire primary education, or what Mrs Paul later termed the "Junior School." At the end of world war two in 1945 I transferred to The Beltane School - now also defunct.
On my first morning, I recall being told on arrival to play in the sand pit, which was located in a large ground floor bay window. Unfortunately, the school cat(s) had been there before me! Nothing else of note comes to mind from my first couple of happy years at school, except that I was much more enthusiastic about graphic art and finding out how things and nature work, than about the three "R’s".
Another memory was my appendicectomy, at The London Clinic, when I was almost six. A huge get-well card arrived at my bedside from all 15-18 of my school class mates. Five days after surgery I was allowed up from my hospital bed for the first time. This was to see, from my hospital room window, the 1938 Guy Fawkes fire works across London - the last before the war put an end to these more festive rocket missiles and explosions.
We had a rather late summer holiday in 1939, in Llanmadoc on the Gower peninsula in South Wales. This was a farmhouse holiday, with the five of us, plus my baby brother Peter's nanny - Evelyn, alias "nurseydear" - and our closest friends, the Flemings (originally Fleischmann): Oscar, Nina and their then teenage son Cecil. I remember that there seemed to be endless expanses of sand and dunes, which were about ten minutes walk through bracken and sheep cropped grass from the working farm. It was there, on the third of September, that we learnt that, because of Hitler's invasion of Poland, Britain declared war on Germany.
My father had to hurry back to London. St. Mary's School was about to evacuate to the south west coast - so it was arranged that Oscar would drive my sister Marian and me direct from Wales to the school's new Devonshire location. I recall that we had to bed and breakfast en route and the first time that I had a cooked English breakfast: egg and bacon. Oscar was far more Jewish than we were, yet he enjoyed his bacon too! Marian, aged five and I, not yet seven, were suddenly about to become boarders. Along with about twenty other children of various ages, we were expected to be relatively safe in rural England.
Marian and I had no idea then, of course, how heart-wrenched and devastated mother must have felt, not knowing when she would ever see us again. She returned to our London home to care for her ageing and ailing parents, toddler Peter and with Robin already well on the way.
St. Mary's School left London to escape from the imminently expected blitzkrieg. So, it changed from being a day school to a boarding school. Beesands is a tiny village on the Start Bay shore between Torcross and Start Point in the southern most part of Devonshire known as the South Hams. This beautiful fertile region of English countryside lies between the English Channel and perhaps the most rugged barren "last wilderness" in the southern half of Britain: Dartmoor.
The school house was a fairly large farmhouse, situated about a quarter of a mile along the shore just north of Beesands, towards Torcross It housed a total of about two dozen staff and pupils. The garden bordered the beach and was enclosed by a very high thick hedge - a very effective wind-break.
We had one of England's finest beaches on our doorstep - a vast expanse extending to about six miles north of Torcross, Slapton Sands and about three miles south to Hallsands. But these are misnomers, as the beaches are almost entirely shingle.
Tragically, the sea had almost totally eroded away the village of Hallsands and I believe that only two cottages were still inhabited when we left there in 1940.
There were no caravans on the foreshore then and for the first few months we had the beaches entirely to ourselves. Bathing was treacherous, with steeply shelved shorelines and severe undertow, other than at low tide and even then, never without a teacher being present was the strict rule, I recall.
We had a wonderful time. During that first "Indian summer" we, the younger groups, often ran around naked within the enclosed garden. Even during the first winter, we played mostly on the beach and foreshore.
I recall little of class sessions. I think that we were split three ways: a few under six years of age, about six of us between six and eight, about the same number between eight to 11 and a very few older children. I remember only three staff during that first year: the heads, Mr and Mrs Paul and Mrs E. (with her two children, Priscilla and her younger brother John, who was two or three years my senior).
Elizabeth Paul was a large, vibrant woman, who was enterprising, imposing and assertive. Beneath her larger-than-life macho image, I felt that there was some warmth and empathy, which she kept hidden most of the time. She was a linguist, being fluent in English, French and German. Heinz Paul (we nicknamed him "Higgy" - quite why escapes me) supported his wife, mainly behind the scenes and quite possibly was a tour de force there. I do not recall him actually teaching, possibly not being qualified. He appointed himself largely as the general factotum. Mrs E. was a gem of a primary teacher, with infinite patience, warmth and kindness.
Strangely enough I was not homesick, although Marian (still only five) was at times. Marian and I remained at the school over that first Christmas holiday, our parents deciding to visit us for the festive weekend instead, with a few very basic presents and extra clothes. The main reason for this, I believe, was that our London home was still filled with Jewish refugees (from father's escape line) awaiting clearance and passage to the States. Our parents had to come by train to Kingsbridge (this branch line later became a casualty of the "Beeching cuts") and then by taxi, as cars and petrol were allowed only to "essential" (and privileged) users during the war. I recall startling mother with my total rejection when she suddenly switched to speaking German to us (which I explain later).
I remember the arrival of Paul and his cousin Natasha, Jewish refugees from Vienna, who actually witnessed the Nazis marching into the Austrian capital - a situation which I found astonishing, in that they still managed to escape. Paul and I became firm friends for much of our childhood. (Paul went on, via Aldenham School and the Architectural Association, to earn quite a reputation as an architect. It is a small world - many years later, Marian met him and his own young family at the Caversham Centre in Kentish Town, London - the pioneering group practice/health centre, when it was still in Caversham Road - where Marian was the practice nurse!)
We had some beautiful walks: the Devon South Coast footpath to Start Point lighthouse, about seven miles round trip from the school. To Torcross too, via the mini fresh water newt pond in a glade (with many dragon-flies, newts and water-boat-men) and climbing Jacob's Ladder up a small rock-face to the top of the little headland to descend to the village. Behind Torcross lay the large fresh water lagoon of Slapton Ley alongside and just behind the beach, created by the natural silting-up process. (I found this path again over 40 years later and the vertical iron ladder, very overgrown but still there, exactly in proportion as I had remembered this at the age of seven.)
Naturally, we also explored the deeply hedged Devon lanes inland, into the farming areas, with the rich red clay soil and hedgerows dividing cattle from crops. Red squirrels were then still quite common, before being ousted by the grey.
The farm adjoining the school was mainly a pig farm. We were all upset with the slaughter sessions, as we could hear the pigs squealing for their lives. In those days they cut their throats and let them bleed to death, harvesting the blood. A nature walk for the entire school was organized on these afternoons, to allay our distress.
Most mornings, we had a before breakfast run: the older kids ran about 500 yards to the village store, called The Crab Pot (I believe it still is) and back, the younger ones ran about half way. Breakfast was certainly welcome after that. Despite food rationing, we always seemed to have had plenty.
Half a day each week was dedicated to maintaining the "sea wall" just below the high tide line as best we could, due to the immense tides causing erosion. This meant piling up stones and filling gaps with as many flat stones we could find, but setting them in a vertical plane with edge to seaward, to combat the lateral power of the waves along the beach. Frequently, we saw massive schools of porpoises or dolphins playing and "show-jumping" in the inshore waves.
By the time of our first holiday at home in 1940, I had deliberately forgotten all my German, despite the boast that the school specialized in being multi-lingual! There were three reasons for this. Firstly, anything German I was determined to scorn and reject, as Germany had rejected us and then became the dreaded enemy. Secondly, maintaining two languages may have exacerbated my speech impediment - a severe stammer (which I have long since learnt to manage). Lastly, in contrast to most refugee kids, my living-in (at home) grandparents knew sufficient English to not have to converse with them in German. So Marian and I lost our German, though for quite a while we could understand when we were not meant to!
One morning we discovered that a U-boat (German submarine) was trapped in Start Bay by a sandbank at low tide. We were rushed inland and out of sight, lest they opened fire on us. Apparently, they surrendered and a coast guard boat went out to officially take them prisoner and a trawler towed them in, probably to Plymouth.
On another occasion, we were all ushered to the back of the house when one of us noticed what looked like a mine floating in the waves. Very bravely, Mr Paul crawled Indian fashion down to the waters edge to investigate, eventually to return somewhat sheepishly (and wet) with a large medicine ball bladder (like a double sized football)!
Our world was beginning to feel a little less safe than that desired. Then, in late June 1940, about a month after the Nazi occupation of Belgium and Holland, France capitulated to the Germans. This meant that the Hun were amassing just across the water, with the invasion of England due next. Thus, the school had to evacuate again, from a potential combat area to a safer more central inland location. This move was indeed timely and fortuitous, as a stray torpedo (I know not whose) blew-up much of what had been our schoolhouse a few weeks after we vacated it.
This was my initial year at boarding school during the first year of the Second World War. I remained at the same school for the rest of the war at its new location in the heart of rural England, which is described in my follow-on article: Extraordinary Schooling in WW2 - Part two.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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 heirloompublishing.net
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
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Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
Kit reversed the motor and then crept forward to an odd little landing stage. When we made fast, the engine was turned off and I found I jumped off the cabin quite automatically and walked round the gun whale with no thought of it at all. Kay disappeared into our cabin, changed hurriedly into slacks and went off to pack up her flat with 'my dear, you will be all right won't you!', she vanished. The explanation about her legs became obvious. I decided I needed a wash. It seemed an awfully small bowl to wash in and I was awfully tired. I just sat for quite a long time looking. Behind us the enormous warehouses towered silent and still and very black. Beyond them a bridge spanned the Cut, a bridge with sides built high and a window in the centre like a Venetian bridge. The towpath past beneath it and by the warehouse rising steeply over the entrance to the private dock of the building. It was all so very still, warm, so very silent - the sky behind the bridge was green and above was very deep blue with one or two twinkling stars. A smell of cooking and an invitation to supper called me to Kit's cabin - I woke up and went. Later that evening I tried to boil a kettle on Kay's oil stove, I wound the wick the wrong way and had to wash in cold water. I was too tired to wait up so I went to bed. Kay eventually came in filling the door while I explained about the stove. She was very sweet about it. I decided to myself that I definitely preferred her to Miranda but I'd better be careful and went to sleep. I slept like a log, woke up very early, heard myself say 'hello' to Kay in devastatingly bright tones and went to sleep again. I woke up later and heard Kay put the kettle on. I struggled out of my cupboard and dressed in relays with Kay. It was all so cramped and cold. We bolted tea, bread and marmalade. Kit gave us a cry for action and we leapt and watched them start the engine. Cries from the lock 'a barge coming up'. It came the horse plodding slowly - the barge deep in the water and enormous. We moved gently into the lock bumping the sides. Kit took me to buy sterilised milk from Pink's dairy, as we came back clanking bottles and by the deserted streets I realised it was only just seven o'clock. No one at home would be stirring for another hour. Down to the next lock, the same little cockney lockkeeper, joking and laughing an orange scarf round his neck and everything at such speed. Given instructions on how to wind a paddle (to let the water out of the lock) I found I couldn't move it and was ignominiously reduced to opening the gates pushing with my behind! Then horror of horror I had to jump down onto the cabin top, a drop of about four foot no steps no nothing, "Quick!" cried Kit in peremptory tones and I gathered my fears and jumped - astounded to find I was still whole! It was still very early, misty, cold and noises close at hand were exaggerated while everything else seemed muffled. The warehouses loomed dark. The waterway seemed a white clammy river of mist. Suddenly the sun rose into being and it all became fairyland. The gold tinged mist - the cranes, buildings everything very black against a radiant sky. Our boats, brilliant blue and cherry red - the brass that Kit cleaned busily, winking in the sun - the water turning rapidly into fire. Now and then more plodding barges dark and sidling slowly up stream - their owners, as they walked the deck with the vast tiller sometimes talkative - sometimes glum. More locks - the same routine for each. The lock keepers cheery "Need more pudding afor you can wind these locks you will"! Kay laughing and joking with all of them. Miranda, quiet and efficient it seemed to me. Not so to Kit who mothered me and yelled at all of us with equal vigour. Sounds of London waking and stirring. Then that shrill whining sound that grows and grows and then dies into silence, then a crackling crash. My first buzz bomb. "Bastards bloody bastards" commented the lock keeper and took no more notice. They came about every fifteen minutes and about nine o'clock ceased. “Just the rush hour" explained someone. Locks, more locks - swirling water, shut the top gates, drop the paddles, fun to the end raise those, watch till the water the foaming water stills beyond the gate. Reverse, the boats breasted at the stern - open the gates abreast, jog the motor out, pick up the butty straps, lurch while she picks up speed and onto the next - Hampstead Road, City Road, Sturts, Mile End, Acton, Johnstone's, Salmonds, Commercial Road. Pause at the City Lock. Query about the tug - an absolute queue of barges at all angles, horses standing and snorting lazily while their drivers gaze into space or joke and spit amongst themselves. The tug - square in the beam and exactly like a water beetle sidles busily into view, her orange funnel bright and cocksure - does a sort of shuffle and a brisk reverse. The barges poll themselves into an order of sorts, lines and ropes are thrown and the tug is off, the barges swinging at angles behind. The horses are led away to the City Lock Stables. It's an endless business - first the tunnel, very slowly, then a pause while all the barges get themselves sorted out and attached to their fresh respective horses. Then they have to go down which means two fillings each Lock; then when you get through you pass one or two but are ham sandwiched at the next lock. With comments of every kind on one's method of getting through the locks from the irate arrivals behind and so on. However it was only eleven by the time we cleared the lot and sailed out of the bottom lock with instructions that "I think they want you young ladies round that comer". Boats were breasted and we swept out into brilliant sunshine - whirling seagulls and 'London Docks'. Empty boats breasted look lovely travelling on deep water - the engine gives itself a little shake and a gurgle and goes like an angel. The boats themselves are so light they seem to skim the water. Breasted they have a trim appearance of perfect timing as they swing and curve like the gulls themselves. There is a feel about the Docks that they are the end of your world and the opening to the sea and great adventure beyond. There, to us, the enormous length of our seventy foot boats are dwarfed by a tramp 'Norge' from Stockholm that lay mighty in her berth; unloaded by at least half a dozen cranes and a swarm of lorries. Great shining area of water- a sharp tang of salt in the air barges and mighty lighters from the Thames everywhere. Warehouses, cranes standing idle like hooded monsters or dipping and swinging bales of things and long bars of steel, men shouting, the incredible way the lighters progress round the docks with no motor at all, only a shaft, the lighter man hooking himself first onto one thing and then another, running and pushing with the shaft the length of his lighter, unhooking himself and sailing off merrily till he reaches some other grab able craft which will help him on his journey. I gazed and gazed, as usual there wasn't enough time. We whisked round half a mile of dock and suddenly found three or four pairs of Grand Union boats lying alongside a high wharf and in the shadow of "Norge". Here after some shuffling, we hitched ourselves onto the next pair. A plump old dame, with her black hair in plaited earphones, a felt hat pulled well over her eyes, a white apron, a long light coloured frock and black woollen stockings and shoes, said "Allo Kitty how are you Dear?" They started talking earnestly and Miranda with the help of the lady's silent son tied our bows to theirs. Kay said something explosive and disappeared into the motor cabut reappearing in a few seconds with a string bag and a silver one, "Come along, get your ration book, we will go shopping. Kit having waved violently to a little sandy haired man on the dock, after an incomprehensible conversation said that we shouldn't be loaded till the afternoon so we shopped in Lime house and I was amazed at the quantity of fresh food, at the extreme dirt and poverty of the area, Kay's ability to get things done and her determined manner, which could suddenly be suddenly be sunny, joking loudly with the shopkeepers. One or two smiled "Wondered whether you would be down again missy, liking it?" We talked about bombs. "You'll get some tonight, shouldn't be surprised, it’s the docks they want". We greedily ate onion pies and sauce with mugs of coffee and thick slabs of bread and margarine when we got back. They loaded us, a filthy uncomfortable job at three by four pm, we were finished. The boats had their breasting loosened, their beams and planks on the roofs of the cabins they proceeded to tilt and tip wildly, while the cranes swung steel gently down into them.
Kit asked for some of the steel to be moved to write a list we were developing and then we were ready. We trailed wearily round to the other side of the docks and tied ourselves to some lighters and proceeded to sheet up. It's an exhausting business. For one thing the planks and beams are dirty and heavy and awkward. Each one has one place and the right one only - the order in which they are put into place is a ritual. Secondly, you are now gun whale level with the water. Thirdly you have to erect a cobweb like frame of planks and side cloths over which the top cloths may be thrown. To do this one crawls along the planks, one has just laid so daintily onto the stands, screw them firm then throw the side strings from the side cloths' over the planks, thread them through holes in the side cloths in the other side and back over the top planks where they are strapped up tight. The object of the side cloths is that they prevent a heavily loaded boat from sinking in a lock where the water may foam over the sides. We always referred to them as corsets. My heart remained in my mouth throughout the operation. I don't like heights - I don't like water and the water was very green, if it wasn't the water, it was the steel which looked equally unpleasant and much more edgy! So on the whole, as I crawled, oh so slow, to strap up the strings behind Kit I decided I detested sheeting up. We were still sheeting up when once more came that shrill wine and for the first time I saw a buzz bomb pass across the sky and take its fateful crash. There certainly wasn't any point in moving and somehow after, even the unfolding of the tarpaulins and the walking backwards with them along the top planks didn't seem quite so bad. We finished about half past six, I for one was done. The docks were still now and had the golden peace of a Canaletto painting - away in the distance a tiny pair of boats were sheeting up. In the silence a sailor hung out his washing on the "Norge". Kay suggested I sat on the deck where it was warm while she cooked supper. Bacon and beans and coffee - always coffee - fried bread and cake for afters. We ate till we could burst and then just soaked up the remaining sun, ached and talked about Jerome, Kay's fiancé and Kay's former husband, a young very attractive medical officer who had lost his life in the China Seas. Kay went off to get a beer. I washed and finished my letter home and went to bed with Dickens "Great Expectations" and a mug of cocoa. Suddenly I thought of Bob, dwelt on the thought for a moment hastily despatched and read G.E. till I went to sleep. Kay came in latish, we had a muttered conversation and then slept like logs. Suddenly - a God almighty crash, Kay and I leapt simultaneously out of bed and sat shivering in our nightclothes - the boats bumped each other gently and the sky went red. Kit came over wrapped in her coat 'Just behind the sheds" she said, "Look, are you all right?" We were, but startled so still shivering we gazed at a mounting red glow and heard shouts and running. The watchman standing on the wharf behind us muttered "Some poor bloody swine - God and what a time of night." A nameless voice added "Better than the winter". " Well, your right there". Another came over and another, you could just see them: one went into a searchlight and pitched with a blinding light as it crashed. Suddenly anther note in the sky, sturdy note of fighters their lights full - snarling off into the distance. It was so darn comforting - although neither of us expected that they could actually make much difference. Kay said "Any more of this nonsense and we'll make some coffee," The threat was enough - nothing else happened. We woke about six fifteen to a mist-covered world, out of which "Norge" with much hooting was slipping otherwise silently away to the gigantic lock leading into the Thames. She looked impressive, tinged with the first sun. Her engines suddenly filled with the air with a throbbing pulse which one felt rather than heard. Thin little voices shouted across the dock. An old man climbed down the ladder to our boats, untied a barge from the midst of the others we lay against and quietly poled himself away. The great cranes, which looked in the mist, like great prehistoric monsters, began to bob and disappear from the skyline. The docks were awake. The roar of the water cascading over the "Bottom" gates of the locks sounded ominous - the gates dim under the timber bridge - the swirling white foam and green water at their foot even more ominous. The tollhouse, but Kit didn't risk it and we were at the foot of the lock by five to seven.
At seven, the cheery little lock keeper appeared, slipped the: chain off the end gates and got the lock ready for us. In we went, our loaded boats low and heavy now to steer - but at least one could see over them. We filled water cans - had the boats "gauged"" and were off. I learnt the art of taking the butty. The routine for locks, jump off checking strap in hand over the gate, round the stump, three turns, hold it checked, move rope to a forward stump and tie her up, to prevent her slipping her Elum under the beam of the gate and sinking when the water rose. Shut your gate, go and wind a paddle. Loose your boat as soon as she is beyond the danger line. Wind your rope neatly in coils on the cabin top. Lay the end on your water can and round the chimney. The end ready to be seized next time. Most difficult was the timing of the jump off; one hall to take one's tiller out which one couldn't do until one steered one's butty into the left of the lock. Then before the narrow brick ledge was passed one had to hop out, strap in hand and tear up the steps to check. The windlass jabbed my ribs, where it rested in my belt - my arms ached with the stupid paddles I couldn't move. Lock after lock, between locks, the steering. "Steer the opposite way that you want her bows to go" I repeated to myself. Nearly repeated once too often, for on finding myself heading for a brick wall I steered frantically into it instead of away. Kit on the motor gave a wild cry - made animated gestures to steer the other way. Which I did, avoiding complete disaster but getting a very healthy bump. Practical lesson number one!
Away from the locks at last steering was easier and more time to think. I went on the motor with Kit. Fun this, as I was relieved on the butty by Miranda, had to hop off at the next bridge and tear off to the motor, wait for her at the coming bridge and step neatly onto the gun whale as she slowed down to pick me up. Kay disappeared for a rest and I had my first try at motor steering. She was going nicely and evenly and I found I could steer naturally and hadn't a tendency to over steer like Kay. It seemed like pie. I stayed for an hour feeling absolutely blissful. The butty way at the end of the "Long Snubber". The forty-foot very thick rope used in long pounds (stretches between locks) seemed another world of difficulties unremembered. Kay produced tea and we sipped large mugs of condensed milk and tea. I sat art the cabin top - talking to the other two chewing bread and jam. All of us shouting greetings to the workmen at the factories who whistled and waved. It was all perfect. Boats passed, beating down to the docks; we all slowed down. So that our boats should not be sucked together.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on 18th July 1919, in Bellevue Hospital, New York City, U.S.A.
My mother, Emily Elizabeth Ada Boyle, formerly Inseal, had married a Canadian war-wounded soldier named Patrick Boyle, whom she met in Hampstead. He swept her off her feet and they were married within six weeks of the meeting. The stories of taking her to the United States of America helped this whirlwind romance, but the fact was that he was born in Glasgow. His mother was Scottish, his father Irish. He had brothers and sisters of whom I know nothing except that they all did very well. One was an actress and one a doctor. I know nothing about my grandparents on the 'Boyle' side either, my father having been disowned by his family, this being due to his 'drinking.
He went to the U.S.A. when he was about 17 years old and worked in Hotels. His birthday was 20th July and he was 10 years older than my mother. He joined the Canadian Army at the outbreak of World War 1. He was a charming, good-looking man with blue eyes. After being wounded in France he came to England and was admitted to a hospital in Hampstead. This was when he met my mother. She did not know about the drink problem until sometime after their marriage, when, by then, she was living in a tenement flat at 47, Amsterdam Avenue, New York City, miles away from her parents and loved ones and expecting her first child. My mother had a very strong character, and having discovered what a fool she had been, set about making a life for herself. She found a job with a lady named Lillian Ellis, who was at that time The President of the American Red Cross in New York, and had a lovely house in Greenwich Village.
My mother was 20 years old 'when she first went to work for Mrs. Ellis doing her housework. She also arranged English teas in the afternoons for this lady's friends. This became very popular, so mother suggested having the English garden tea parties in the afternoon for the public. These parties were held I Mrs. Ellis's beautiful garden, and so helped to raise money for The Red Cross. This type of thing was unknown in the U.S. at that time, but very soon became very popular.
Mrs. Ellis was very kind to my mother; she let her continue working for her and arranged the booking of the hospital where I was born. I was named Lillian after Mrs. Ellis and she was my Godmother.
My father, when drunk, was very violent and punched and kicked my mother even when she was pregnant. Mrs. Ellis pleaded with my mother to leave him and suggested she should come and live in at her house, but my mother was so sure she could change him and that when her baby was born he would be different, but after I was born things were just the same. He would be charming when sober for a number of months, but the first drink after a stretch of abstinence would se him off again and he would spend every penny he could. His wages would buy drinks for all his buddies; he had to be the life and soul of the party. Then he would return home penniless having spent the whole of his wages. What had not been spent on drink had been stolen by those so-called friends who would take advantage of him.
Mother worked hard after I was born, taking me with her. Mrs. Ellis gave her a beautiful swansdown pillow to put into a Moses basket for me to lie in.
My brother Bill was born 15 months after me, and things did not change very much. Now with two children and a drunken husband and the main bread and rent provider, my mother was determined that she would save enough money to return to England. Each time she saved a few dollars my father would steal it for drink. Eventually my mother found a safe place to save some money; this was in a cocoa tin in the food cupboard. She had to be careful he wouldn't find it, so she sometimes left a little somewhere else for him to find, thus preventing him from searching further.
He knew that from time to time my mother received money from England, as No.8, Maryon Road, Charlton, had been left to her in the will of her aunt. This house was rented out and her cousin, Henry Stockvis, collected the rents, and attended to the repairs etc, then sent the remainder to her, and of course when it arrived, my father used to be after her for some of it.
Thus the savings in the cocoa tin slowly built up and by the time I was 4 years old, she had saved enough to book the passage for herself and two children to return to England. Without him knowing, she packed her case and when he was at work, she left her flat in New York and caught the boat.
I do not remember New York at all, but I do remember being on the boat, and a steward giving me a rosy apple every day. Many relations met us at Southampton, and this I also remember.
At first we lived in a flat in Vauxhall Mansions, Vauxhall. My grandmother also had a flat in these old Victorian buildings. There was a big yard at the back where all the children played, and it was not far from the river, so when mother took us out walking it was along by the river wall to Battersea Park, or across the river to the gardens at the side of the Houses of Parliament.
My mother was a very good woman. She would always try to help people; she had a very good brain and had been clever at school. She was the eldest girl of ten children, four boys and six girls. Her mother was a lovely Buckinghamshire lady, and an excellent cook. Her father was a clerk on the railway. He was very fond of the ladies. He died at the age of 48 years.
Mother had always felt she would have liked to be a barrister, in those days an unheard of occupation for a woman, and this just shows what strength of character she had.
Once back in England she started enquiring as to how she could get possession of her house in Maryon Road, so that we could live in it. It took quite some time, but as she had children and was in need of a garden she eventually got the bottom part of the house. The top still being let gave her a small income.
Of course, it was not long before my father came to England, promising once again, that he would give up the drink. For a while all was well and another baby was on the way, my brother Jim. Very soon my father started drinking again and my mother was expecting her fourth child, my sister Dorothy. By this time my mother decided she had had enough and applied for a legal separation and my father returned to the U.S.A. Mother decided it was easier to tell everyone that her husband was dead, rather than say he was a drunk who had returned to America.
She settled down and worked very hard to get money for food, as she had no settlement from my father. She let rooms, cleaned for other people and took in washing; this helped her to make ends meet, and kept us well dressed. We have a lot to thank our mother for her selfless devotion to us. She loved her four children and protected us like a mother hen protecting her chicks.
At first we all went to Wood Street School Woolwich. We used to come home every day to a cooked dinner, then return to school in the afternoon. Even so times were very hard. I hated Mondays. Mother washed all the shirts for the Charlton Football players who lived with Mrs. Haring at 19, Maryon Road. She also did washing for Mrs. Stephens, the builders in Hill Reach. The boiler was alight at 6am and the house smelt of washing all day. It was bubble and squeak for dinner with cold meat from the Sunday roast. When I came home in the afternoon after school, I had a big pile of washing-up to do as mum was washing and scrubbing all day, so washing the dinner and tea plates was my job. I loved taking back the neatly ironed shirts for the footballers along with Mrs. Stephens' sheets and pillowslips. I always got sixpence for myself for taking them back, and that was a fortune in those days. Sometimes my brothers would take them so they could have a turn at getting the sixpence. We could always get three pence for cleaning doorsteps, so there was always a way of getting pocket money.
I was 7 years old when my sister Dorothy was born and as my mother was usually working, I was left in charge of my little sister. I used to take her to Maryon Park, but when it was time for us to return home, she would start screaming and lay on the ground throwing tantrums. When I told my mother, she said 'take no notice of her and leave her there' and sure enough when I started to walk away she would stop crying and come running after me.
My mother was very proud of us all, and kept us very well dressed. She stressed upon us, that in spite of having very little money we were just as good as anyone else in the road. There were quite a number of wealthy people around us. Next door but one lived a toffee-nosed family with one daughter who went to a private school. This family were inclined to look down on my mother having no husband and always having to go to work. But as the years went by they changed their attitude, and more than once came to mother for help and advice.
I went to St. Thomas' Church, was a brownie and a guide. I was confirmed when I was 10 years old and a Sunday school teacher at 15.
During these days mothers became friendly with a single man lodging next door, where she would work now and again. He was very unhappy there, as the lady took in many borders, but did not really look after them. One day George asked my mother if she had a room he could have as he was fed up at No.10. Anyway after a few months "thinking about it" she told Mrs. Stewart, who needless to say, was not very happy about mum taking one of her lodgers. 'Uncle George' came to live in our house. He always came on holiday with us.
Every year my mother took all four of us to Ramsgate. We had a room with Mrs. Tunnicliff in Ellington Road. She used to have rooms and attendance, which meant that we bought the food and Mrs. Tunnicliff cooked it. George used to have his evening meal with us, but he used to stay in a local pub called The North Star for bed and breakfast.
George coming to live with us made life a bit easier for mum, although she still went to work, and had a regular income from George. He worked at Tate & Lyle in the golden syrup department. He was able to buy 7lb tins of golden syrup cheap, so we always had plenty of treacle tarts and boiled suet puddings with golden syrup on them. Thus the regular incomes made life much easier for us all and we had a very happy childhood.
I went to Wood Street School until I was 12 years old, then on to Maryon Park Senior Girls until I was 14. I did not take the Junior County Scholarship, because I had to look after my little sister when mum was working, and was frequently absent from school. My brother Bill passed his scholarship with honours and went onto Grammar School.
When I left school I wanted to be a nurse, but could not start training until I was 18 years old. I had a couple of jobs as a Nursemaid, then went to "Cuffs", a drapers shop in Woolwich, to do an apprenticeship as a shop assistant. This was a two-year course, and when I had finished I went to "Chessman's", another large store in Lewisham as an assistant in the trimmings department. By the time I was 18 it was crisis time and war was imminent and I was more determined than ever to be a nurse.
I tried several hospitals with no success. Then one day I saw an advertisement I the paper wanting 18 year old girls for Modem Mental Nursing, so I wrote and got an interview at Bexley Hospital in Kent. The matron, a Miss Bevan, who was the sister of "Ernest Bevan" a very important Member of Parliament, he introduced the "Bevan Boys" ho worked in the coal mines during World War II.
The interview went very well and I was accepted. It was August 1938 when I left home and started training to become a nurse. My mother was very worried about it being a Mental Hospital, but I was so keen to become a nurse that I did not care what sort of hospital it was. I said, 'just let me go, and if I find it is too much for me I can always leave". I can remember to this day the thrill I had when I put on my uniform for the first time to present myself at Matron' s office to start my first day. Miss Peglar, The Assistant Matron, took me to my first ward, which was Ward L1. We had long dresses, which had to be 12 inches from the floor, in blue and white striped material, long sleeves with a stiff round collar that almost cut your throat fastened in front with a pearl topped stud. Stiff cuffs round the wrists, black lace up shoes, and black stockings. White caps that had to be made up in a special way. We had to learn to do this - it was pleated on top and made like a butterfly at the back, it was a real work of art. Not everyone could get the knack of making a good job of it. I had always been interested in making things and took to making these caps very efficiently, so I was never without friends. I always had someone knocking on my door asking me to make their cap up for them.
We had no training before hand, and everything was learned on the wards by trial and error. My first ward was a ward for elderly ladies with senile dementia. The two charge nurses were both Irish, one named MacGarry and the other Mannouch. Our hours of duty were 6am to 2pm which was called "A" shift, and 2-m to l0pm was called "B" shift. Then there was "c" shift, which was night duty from 10pm to 6am. But we did not do "nights" while we were in our first year. We had 1 and a half off each week, and it was planned so that we had 3 whole days off every two weeks and on return to duty the shift would change. I enjoyed the work, and made friends with a girl named "Winnie Matthews" She came from Grays in Essex. I had only been there a couple of months when war was declared, and our hospital had to be split by half to give room for general patients. This meant every ward had to double up, so instead of having 50 patients it had to be 100. This was really terrible. The beds were all along both sides and up the middle. Beds were also put in the side rooms, which were usually reserved for nurses. We all had to take a turn of sleeping by the wards in case of trouble at night. These nurses' rooms had to have two and three together instead of a room of your own, because the spare rooms were being used for patients. We also had to double up in the nurses Home to make room for nurses who were joining the Civil Nursing Reserve. Winnie Matthews and I shared a room in the Nurses Home.
To return to my first day on the wards, Nurse MacGarry took me with her and showed me where everything was, and when she was giving injections or doing dressings, explained everything to me. That very first day an old lady passed away. I was so surprised that it was so peaceful. I helped do the "last offices" and was not frightened, and was very interested in everything that was shown to me.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
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