Bombs dropped in the ward of: King's Cross

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in King's Cross:

High Explosive Bomb

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:

Memories in King's Cross

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

Hello. My name is Alan French, and today is the 14th October 2004. The anniversary of the battle of Hastings. Well firstly I can’t remember a lot about World War Two, because I was wearing napkins at the time. My war time experiences were spent in Abbot’s Langley and Holloway.(Not the famous part, but the region in London.)I have got a feint memory of my father being close to my face going, 'Shhh! Shhh!' and hearing some bangs in the background, which I think could have been bombs. I can also remember some blue curtains behind him. I’ve been told there was a situation where I was having a tin bath, because in those days we didn’t have bathrooms, unless you were terribly posh or very lucky. There was an explosion somewhere, and my father grabbed me out of the bath. When he looked, there were all bits of glass that had shattered in the water. So I was very lucky. Very lucky indeed. My mother had a sister, Mary. She also had a brother, George Beales. Her sister married into a family called Bishop, elsewhere in North London. The Bishops moved to Abbots Langley in the late 1930s. During the war, for a few months, my mother and I, stayed with them, in Breakspear Road. So that is why I hovered between Holloway, where I lived, and Abbots Langley during this conflict. Tom and Mary Bishop, with my cousins, had two dogs. Bob and Toby. Bob, I have been told would guard my pram. He would not let people near me. (Although, of course it could be that he was comfortable and did not wish to be interupted.)It was during my stay in Abbots Langley, that one of my older cousins, whilst in the army at the time, was married. Although some of my earliest recollections, probably took place in the war they are not all war related. One thing I can remember very distinctly, and it’s something that I’ve seen even in adult life, is that you didn’t have to go far without seeing a bomb site. I mean, quite close to me, there was a whole school that had been blown up. Things like that were common place. It was also quite common in the street, for some years, to see people who were unfortunate to have limbs, or an eye, missing. I understand that I was born during an air raid. When, a few months later, I was taken to Abbots Langley, I gather there were nasty things coming down from the sky and exploding upon landing. I was just rushed into the van, car, lorry or whatever vehicle, and whisked off. So I consider myself to be very lucky to be alive. There are many who are not. And of course there are stories you hear from your parents, and there are some you don’t hear. When I sit back and think, I don’t really know much about the nitty-gritty details of what my father did and whether he saw things that he didn’t want to talk about. He wanted to join the Royal Air Force. He went up to enlist, and I gather they said, “You’re missing”.
Apparently someone with the same name was missing from duty. He worked for a leather firm in Somers Town, which is in another part of London which comes under St Pancras. If you think about it, leather was a very valuable commodity. Soldiers used/needed it for boots, straps for rifles etc. So he was required to do some work in this field. At least one lady gave my mother bitter comments due to my father not being at the front. My mother worked for a firm called Cossor's who manufactured wireless sets, as they were called then, radio today, also radar equipment. She did say that there was this bomb or rocket or something,that severely damaged the factory leaving this huge awsome crater. The firm was based at Highbury Corner. We lived in a road called Madras Place, which is a turning sandwiched in between, Liverpool Road and Holloway Road. Appropriately one entrance is opposite the Islington Library, so perhaps I should be recording this interview there.My parents became fire watchers. I cannot find it at the moment but I know I’ve got a Fire Watchers Handbook and other hand books, Battle of Britain, What to do if Hitler Invades, and if I come across them I will come down here some day and say, 'Look what I’ve got!' I have some memorabilia here, including a letter from the desert which I will read out later, because its very difficult to transpose. (See Part two.) I’ve got a photograph of me at some celebration. I don’t know whether its 1945 or 1946. Because there were a lot of Victory parties in 1946 as well.

Q. Do you know which one you are?

A. That’s me and the lady on the end is my mother, only just in sight. The only other person I know there, is a little girl, in the front row, called Wendy, who used to live next door. There’s another little girl I played with called Denise, who also lived nearby. But I do not think she is in the photo. I don’t know where it was taken. I think it was organized by some Canadians. I was forbidden to go to one victory party. Apparently I was too young. Babies not allowed. My mother wasn’t very happy. I didn’t know this until I was well into my adulthood. In compensation, the organiser gave my mother a toy for me. She explained that I never had it. She said, ‘Well it was one of these things you sometimes get in Christmas crackers made of metal, you press it and it clicks. I thought it was very dangerous for a baby, and what's more it was made in Japan!'
Remember, the Japanese part of the conflict, ended, for the first time ever, in nuclear warfare. Nazi Germany was also on the verge of an atom bomb. See the film, 'The Heroes of Telemark.' So World War 2 was in some ways a nuclear war.

Q. It must have been very difficult for your mum and dad to have had such a small baby.

A. Yes.From what I gather, they used to live in Westbourne Road, which is in the Barnsbury part of Islington. I think they were a little worried because they were living upstairs somewhere, and with bombs coming down, if anything happened... So they moved to Madras Place, in Islington's Holloway region. We lived downstairs. We had at least one bedroom, a kitchen, a living room and a front room. There were other people who lived above us. There was Mr & Mrs Horton. Above them, at the top, there was a man I called 'Uncle' Jack. There was a lady who lived with him for a while. I am not sure in what way she was related to him. Before he moved in, there was a Mrs Bennett who died. I can remember quite clearly other neighbours. I have already referred to Wendy, who together with her brother Trevor,lived next door with their parents, Ted and Doris. On the other side of my house,there was a family called Biggs, Mr. & Mrs. Wheeler and another lady called Alice, all living above or below one and other. Mr and Mrs Biggs, had a son who was in the Navy. Thanks to him, I had my first banana. He got it from Gibraltar. There might have been a daughter called Babs. I can remember elsewhere in the street, a family called Rowbottom. The block of flats at the junction of Liverpool Road and Madras Place, I can remember being built. I can't remember what was before them. Denise, to whom I have referred earlier, lived at the end of Ringcroft Street. One of two roads that entered Madras Place from its side. I can't remember her father's name, but her mother's name was Grace. There are stories I have heard. I don’t know whether or not I should tell them on the air, because they may not be for the squeamish, so If I do tell , there will have to be some toning down. There are some nasty stories and some very comical ones. Do you want to hear the serious ones first?

Yes, tell the serious ones.

OK, I’ll try and tone down the first one because it’s not very pleasant. I gather a bomb or rocket came down and exploded. A pub's bar room floor collapsed with people on it, into the cellar. Unfortunately, there were spirits in the cellar. They ignited. There was a huge mass panic to get people out. I’ve toned that story down considerably. Another tragic one, is where a rocket came down on a house and a woman, who incredibly, had thirteen children, happened to be out at the time. All thirteen children were killed. Just like that. I have been informed by someone, who claims that he went into the building afterwards. There was nothing that could be done. It was a terrible sight. The children were just all huddled there. All that could be done,was just get their bodies out. There was nothing else you could do. I have also heard of a woman's husband being absoloutely riddled with bullets. So there were some tragedies. But I’ve also heard that sometimes, there were were things that could make you laugh. There’s the situation of a Costermonger, (Costers as they were also called as well as barrow boys) named Billy Hutchings, who when I knew him had a stall on the Holloway Road Pavement Market, as did one of my grandmothers, Lucy Offer. (Offer, by her second marriage.) Unfortunately, whilst he was taking his bath, (A tin one) a rocket came over Islington and split in half. One half just went into a roof without exploding. I don’t know if it was his house or a house nearby. Inevitably, something came down the chimney - soot, dust etc all over him. There is a story I can tell of a similar experience someone had when I moved to Hemel Hempstead but it has nothing to do with the war.

End of Part One.

The second half includes the reading of a letter from Tunisia as well as a continuation of this interview.

By the same contributor:-
'The Three English Brothers French.'
'The White Figure.' (A true wartime ghost story.)

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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

The Three English Brothers French.

By Alan French.


Once upon a time, in a country called England, there was a very poor area in the London Borough of St. Pancras, called Somers Town. It was here, that three brothers were born. Their names were William, Thomas and James French. Sadly, their father died of wounds that he obtained during the dreadful Battle of the Somme, in 1916. This left their mother, now a young widow and parent, having the unenviable task of having to make ends meet, like a lot of others, in a very hard and tough environment. Eventually, their home was demolished. I believe this was due to a government scheme to smarten up the area. The French’s found themselves acquiring new accommodation, which was, believe it or not, next to Pentonville Prison, in the Caledonian Road, in the London Borough of Islington. The residence was known as Burns Buildings. It was possible that at a certain vantage point at this address, the prisoners could be seen exercising in their yard. That is providing the warden could not see you.

Their mother, Harriet, never remarried. As time progressed, their lives went down each respective path. The one crisis which was common to them was the outbreak of what became another world war.

Their mother survived this dreadful time in human history, and died during its post war period.

The following is a brief as possible account, of what happened to the three brothers during the conflict.

William. Known by me as Uncle Bill. And possibly in some circles as Watford Willie. :-

Uncle Bill, when leaving school, forsook a potential career with Marconi. Instead he worked for the local railway’s, road haulage service. Originally with horse and cart, and subsequently by motor vehicle. This job prevented him, upon the outbreak of war, from serving in the armed forces. The job had a reserved occupation status, as it was deemed valuable to the war effort. So in his spare time, he became a member of the Home Guard. (Dad’s Army.) In this capacity, he found himself on duty, in a park near Buckingham Palace. Here he manned guns. Although it is doubtful that the gun shells ever reached the range of the respective target, it did boost the morale of people who felt that something was being done in the interest of their defence.

I have heard that possibly due to the fact that his employer required him, he was unable to join the army as he wanted, and be alongside with his youngest brother, Jim.

Uncle Bill was a family man. He had a wife and two children. His wife, I knew as Auntie Anne. His two children, a girl and boy, were named after their parents. Uncle Bill never spoke much of his Home Guard experiences, as far as I am aware. After the war, life resumed back to normality. Late in life, he moved from Somers Town.

However, his son, on one occasion, as a wartime evacuee, attended a church. When the collection plate came round to him, he found he had a minor problem regarding money. He therefore, made his donation and then, quite innocently, took some change from the collection plate. I think it best, at this point to move on to the next brother.

Thomas. Known by me as ‘Father’ and to my cousins as Uncle Tom:-

He was the second oldest brother. As mentioned elsewhere, he planned on joining the Royal Air Force. But his employer eventually stepped in, as they required him for their contribution for the war effort. They were a leather firm based in Somers Town, with the name of either Connolly, or, Colony Brothers.

I have heard him say that when he went to enlist in the R.A.F. he was told that he was reported missing. Obviously, it was someone with the same name.

Because he did not become one of the ‘First of the Few’ he became a Fire Watcher.

I gather my father may have been asked to supply a character reference for someone, who it was felt should not have been serving in the armed forces, and so was causing concern to certain people. I regret the full details of this are not known to me. Therefore I am not able to say anything further regarding this matter.

Although I have heard my parents often referring to the war, it is not until I became involved in this project, how little I know of his actual wartime activities. This seems to be a common situation.

My parents lived in Islington during the war. Originally, in Barnsbury and subsequently the Holloway region of this London borough. This is where I was born. My mother’s name was Rosina or Rose for short. The reason why they moved from Westbourne Road to Madras Place was because they were near, or, at the top, of their dwelling. This was not an enviable position to be, should they have had cause to evacuate the premises, in an emergency.

I, however, must be grateful to my father on one particular occasion, when our address caught the blast of an explosion. My father instantly grabbed me from my portable tin bath. Had he not done so, I, as a baby, would have been lacerated. For bits of glass went in the water. I am indebted to that man for this action.

We eventually, in 1950, moved from London to Hemel Hempstead.

After my father’s death, many years later, I did come across a letter that was possibly used as a reference, praising him for his loyalty and reliability as a Fire Watcher. I have a feeling that should he be alive today, my father would have a very interesting story to tell.

For not only saving me, but on behalf of anyone else he may have helped, I must owe him a debt of gratitude. Thank You.

James. Known by me as Uncle Jim:-

Uncle Jim was the youngest of the three brothers. He, like his two older brothers, had a sense of humour. He was a very popular member of the family. It is therefore with some degree of sadness, that I have to say what I have to, during this narration.

He was the unfortunate one of the brothers. He saw action, much to the detriment of his health.

His wife, I knew as Aunt Flo. His eldest child was Brenda. When she was old enough, but still a toddler, Brenda would sing ‘Pistol Packing Mama’ in the air raid shelter. (I wish I had a record of her performance.) Her brother Jimmy was born after the European segment of the war had ended, but the Japanese part was still on. During the now peacetime, two more daughters came on the scene. These were Pam and Jackie.

Uncle Jim served in the Royal Fusiliers during the war. His love of football earned him a place in his unit’s team. (Well, after all, he did live near Islington’s local football team’s stadium: Arsenal.) He at one point became a corporal. It is known that during his army career, he was billeted somewhere on the European continent where there was a little French girl. The soldiers, I gather, would sit her on their knees and try and teach her some simple English.

But war is a gruesome business, and sooner or later, niceties vanish. Uncle Jim’s unit was involved in an operation, shortly prior to the action of Arnhem. He was, somewhere along the line, wounded. He was in a snow covered ditch. We do not know where. He was mistakenly, left for dead. Who knows what thoughts went through his mind, as he lay there? Not only wounded, but he had now contracted snow blindness. How close to death? No-one knows. How long did he lay there? I don’t know. Eventually, a booted foot belonging to an American soldier, trod on him. This caused Uncle Jim to groan. This saved his life. He was mistaken for a French Canadian and sent to a hospital for Canadian soldiers. Again, I am not certain where the hospital was. It was during this stay that the Arnhem campaign was in full swing, causing horrific casualties. Some of those casualties were admitted to the same hospital as Uncle Jim, who, in turn, heard the terrible cries of pain from those who were badly burned. At length he was transferred from mainland Europe, to his native England. Oxford, in fact. This enabled him to be visited by his friends and relations. He was a patient for some time.

Eventually, he was discharged from the army. With his discharge papers was his pay book. It read, “Services no longer required.” His army mates wanted to know what to do with his kit. He issued instructions for them to sell it and have a drink on him. The experience left him very bitter. So bitter, that he refused to receive his medals. I must admit, that I think that the army’s phraseology in his paybook seems too abrupt and cold. I appreciate that on medical grounds they had no option but to discharge him, but I think they could have put it more delicately. It could still have been short. But as the wording stands, it displays no human depth or gratitude to a man who had fought and suffered for his country. It achieved the adding of metaphoric salt to an emotional wound, which became soul destroying in the process. Possibly to the extent of a de-humanization factor, leading to contempt. I feel angry and emotional myself, as I relate the story. I can well understand Uncle Jim’s bitterness and frustration. He was more than a name, rank and number. He was a flesh and blood human being.

Uncle Jim’s sight did return. But the snow blinding experience did pose problems on occasions. With the progression of time, and certainly in his very late years, his sight badly deteriorated.

In the late 1950’s he moved from Islington. The penalty, if you pardon the expression, was that he was not close to the Arsenal Football Stadium. He eventually retired from his maintenance job with the London Underground.

Although some details of his army experiences were known, many were not. He did not want to talk about them. However, it is after the sad death of his wife, my Aunt Flo, during the closing months of his own life, that he started to open up on the subject.

Uncle Jim fought for his country, and peace, as a soldier, during World War 2. In peacetime, he lived for his family. Here his services, I am pleased to say, were required.


There you have it. Three brothers who lived through two dreadful world wars. Each of them raised their respective family. Each had their ups and downs, like most people. I am pleased that I both knew, and was related to them.

But was the effort worth it? Did the achieved peace, work? Did civilization live happily ever after? That, my dear fellow members of the human race, is now up to you.


Copyright Alan French. May 2005.

By same contributor:

Alan French: War Baby: Interview . Parts 1 & 2.

Uncle Jim: Send Him Pictorious!

The White Figure. (A true wartime ghost story.)

Handed to Hemel Hempstead Library in conjunction with the BBC’s People’s War Project, May 12th 2005. Subject to conditions related to this project.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in King's Cross:

High Explosive Bomb

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:

Images in King's Cross

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