Bombs dropped in the borough of: Croydon
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Croydon:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
No bombs were registered in this area
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Croydon
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Leicestershire Library Services - Coalville Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
"This story was submitted to the People's War site by Lisa Butcher of Leicestershire Library Services on behalf of Len Taylor and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."
In 1939 when rumours of war began to spread and the six month’s conscription started I was just too old to be included in that and before any of the chaos who were called up had finished their six months, war was declared on Sunday 3rd September 1939 by the Prime Minister broadcasting to the Nation at 11.00am.
As were most mothers with sons of the right age for call up, my mother was in tears, my father, who was an Overman at Whitwick Colliery, offered to get me a job down the pit. I told him I could not live with that, but promised I would not volunteer, but if called up for conscription I would have to go for my own conscience.
I was of course, soon called up and my first preference was to be in the RAF as a Rear Gunner, but I failed a very strenuous medical and was turned down.
In due course I was called up to the Army to be a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, along with a few other local chaps, one being Jack Walker from Heather.
We had to report to the RA Barracks at Oswestry, it was a dark day to remember, getting off the train at a small station near the Barracks. We were ordered to form three ranks on the platform, where a rather large Sergeant Major addressed us by saying he had seen a lot of recruits coming in but we were about the worst shower he had seen and promised to knock hell out of us until we became good soldiers – they certainly took great pride in making you feel uncomfortable.
We were marched to the Barracks and shown where and how we would live for the next three months. I will never forget the first dinner that evening – potatoes and cabbage were the strangest colour I had ever seen and tasted even worse than they looked, with all the eyes in the potatoes looking at you and daring you to eat them. It really wasn’t a grand welcome.
The next day we collected our uniforms, the only things that fitted were your boots. If any of the rest fitted, you were accused of being deformed.
Then came the first parade of this motley looking mob and the first thing was the order for haircuts, anything less than a crew-cut you were ordered back again, however we survived those first few days and got down to serious training of both our minds and bodies. I think our bodies probably suffered the worst.
That kind of training finished with a series of inoculations, I shudder to think what could have happened with these, judging by today’s standards. We were lined up and the “Doc” had one needle which he kept filling up and jabbing away as fast as he could. Some fainted and he just jabbed them where they lay, and for some hours later, slowly but surely everyone went down to the T.A.B. inoculations, which seemed to give you malaria instead of protecting you against it.
After those three hectic months when most of us had been knocked into shape and the rest left behind, we were sent to a firing camp on the Welsh Coast, to put into practise when we had been taught – anti-aircraft Guns.
We first had to go into a Gun Pit whilst anther Gun Team were firing the Guns, to allow us to get accustomed to the noise. It was an experience to begin with; some men couldn’t stand the noise and had to be taken off the Guns, but once we got going it was almost fun competing against each other for the best Gun Team.
On finishing our live ammunition gun training we were given seven days leave. I took this opportunity to marry the girl of my dreams. Getting all of that fixed up took half my leave, but I was a very happy man for a few days but reality came back and I had to return to the Army.
On getting back to my Regiment we were told that the Blitz on London had started, and we were sent to form the first Anti-Aircraft Division, whose task was to defend the capital. We had some very interesting and sometimes frightening experiences during that time.
One of the first things I remember about the Blitz was arriving on the outskirts of London, where we took over a gun site with four 3” Naval Guns and a Command Post. We thought these guns looked rather small, as we had done all of our training on much larger guns and had got familiar with the blast, so when we got called out on the same afternoon to intercept three Stuka Bombers, we manned the guns without our ear plugs.
The Bombers attacked the factories we were guarding, so we opened up with our ‘small’ guns but soon realised our mistake when our ears were badly punished. We had not realised that the smaller the shell in artillery the worse the crack of sound. As the guns get larger the sound from them develops from a crack which really hurts your ears to a sound more like a roll of thunder which is not so painful. We were very careful to wear our earplugs after that lesson.
We used to wear a special shoulder flash, which was a picture of a German Dornier Plane with a sword through the middle. Most Londoners recognised this flash on our uniform and so we received rather special treatment – cinemas either didn’t charge us at all or only a token charge, and we often had more free beer in pubs than was good for us in appreciation of our efforts to defend London.
We stayed in London all through the Blitz, but not in the same place for long. We were on Gun Sites across London, after getting bombed and set on fire with incendiary bombs.
One night I was off duty and down at the nearest pub for the kind of medicine that might have got you some sleep, when a bomb fell outside our pub and blew the front in. In the scramble that followed I picked up a tea plate with the pub’s name on it as a souvenir of that evening. I still have that plate, it even has the landlord’s name on it. I have considered for the last fifty odd years whether to own up to this theft and take my punishment, but I don’t even know if the pub still exists. Its name was ‘The Robin Hood’ in Anerly Road.
During this time the civilians were wonderful. Just imagine living near to a Gun Site with sometimes as many as sixteen heavy guns firing for most of the night. We used to see them open the front doors every morning and part of the routine of their cleaning was to sweep out all of the fallen plaster from their walls and ceilings, while feeling very pleased that they still had the building standing up.
When bombing first began on London it could be a little un-nerving if you happened to be caught on the Underground Tube Trains between stations under the Thames. This was because they stopped these lines and closed flood doors in case a bomb penetrated the river and flooded the Tube, in other words you were the sacrifice to stop the flooding becoming general. This practice was eventually dropped.
Of course, the Tube stations were used as Air Raid Shelters, thousands of people slept down there every night from September 1940 until May 1941 which was the worst time of the Blitz.
One site we set up at Wellington a few miles from Croydon Airport was a secret Gun Site that was camouflaged during daylight. Next to it was built a ‘Dummy Air Strip’ where fire was started at dark hour to make the German aircraft think they had set fire to Croydon Airport and drop their bombs on that and we would attempt to bring them down. It was terrible for the people who lived in that area as they were a constant target.
We had many lucky escapes. One I remember very well; a bomber approached our gun site and let go with a stick of three bombs. The first exploded about 100 yards short of our guns, the second bomb fell right inside the next gun pit to ours but did not explode. It buried itself in the ground and tipped the gun nearly on its side. The other bomb exploded some 100 yards further away from us-boy what luck!
After the raid was finished and not knowing when the bomb might explode, we took turns going into the gun pit carrying a round of ammunition weighing 56 pounds each. There were hundreds in the gun pit and lucky for us the bomb did not go off. When day-light arrived so did an Army Bomb Squad to diffuse and dig out the bomb, which was a large 500 pound bomb that fortunately did not have any of our names on.
After the bombing died down we had a rather quiet time waiting for something to happen. During this time the film industry decided to make a film record of events as they occurred. We were asked to help by becoming extras. Some of us dressed up as soldiers returning from Dunkirk and others dressed as Germans to take part in mock battles. The star was Jimmy Hanley. We didn’t get paid but it was some light relief for the normal duties of being a soldier.
We then began training for the D-Day landings. We had to learn to use our heavy guns not only against aircraft but against tanks, also as Field Artillery and as Coastal Artillery against any enemy shipping that might arrive anywhere near us. It was hectic training that took us all over Britain, and we eventually passed out as being ready for the Big Day.
During the first few days before D-Day we had to waterproof everything, which involved filling every nook and cranny with Bostik, which came in five gallon drums and was like a kind of sticky grease whose object was to keep the sea water out of vital parts of our equipment. We finished this filthy task and were ready for the action when out of the blue came orders for us to de-waterproof. It was a damn sight harder to get off than it had been to put on. However, we were given only a short time to complete this task, and we were rushed to the South East Coast. Of course at this time we didn’t know why but we were soon to learn the hard way.
Through the intelligence they had found out that London was to be attacked by a new secret weapon and with all of our experience during the Blitz we were called to put into practice once more against this new weapon. It soon arrived in the shape of the ‘Flying Bomb’ which was a pilot-less aeroplane timed to reach London and run out of fuel crashing down with a mighty explosion. It was a frightening thing to begin with, but became almost a competition to see how many could be shot down before reaching the coast line.
We stayed there for a few days whilst a new line of defence was established down the coast line, then we were released for the invasion of France.
This is a rough sketch of my first few years in the Army. New experiences were in store for us once we got into Europe.
I would like to add that during this time I had received some leave and as a result my wife and I were blessed with a lovely son and on embarking for France I left my wife behind, having done the same trick again. Good stuff these army rations!
Contributed originally by ritsonvaljos (BBC WW2 People's War)
Letter writing during the Second World War
During the early days of the Second World War many men and women from the age of 18 onwards either volunteered or were conscripted into the Armed Forces. For most, it was the first time they had ever been separated from family for any length of time.
It was felt that one thing that could be done to counteract possible feelings of separation or loneliness among serving members of the Armed Forces or those left at home was to encourage letter writing. Many local newspapers played a part in this strategy by encouraging people to write in and find a 'Pen Pal' and exchange letters. One of the local newspapers who did this was the 'Norwood News', whose main circulation area covered an area of south London including Norwood, Thornton Heath and Croydon.
One of those who wrote took up this invitation and wrote asking for a 'Pen Pal' was a Leading Aircraftswoman in the WRAF Marie Cranfield, originally from South Norwood, London. In 1942 Marie was 19 years old. By co-incidence, her letter went to soldiers in the Royal Army Medical Corps one of whom was Marie's first cousin Clifford English.
Ronald Ritson, who was one of Clifford English's best friends in the Medical Corps, read Marie's letter. Ronald was originally from Scilly Banks, near Whitehaven in what was then the county of Cumberland. Scilly Banks was a small village of about twenty dwellings and a Brethren Chapel. It is now in the county of Cumbria.
Ronald and Marie started to write to each other and exchanged photographs. Things stayed like this for a while. Then Cliff English left the Unit and was posted elsewhere. This is how Ronald explained it to me on one occasion:
‘‘Well then, there was this young fellow that I had met up with in Aldershot. They called him Private Clifford English. Now, he left us after a while. I don’t know where he went to start with. I think he finished up in North Africa and Italy. We were training up at Inverness then.’’
‘‘But while I was in Inverness, I got another letter from my future wife. She told me that she had met her cousin, who was Private Cliff English then. He made corporal later on. Anyway, they must have got talking, and he had likely given her my pedigree, I suppose! So she sent me another letter and I sent a letter back, and so on. We kept in touch.’’
The two Pen Pals, Marie and Ronald, kept writing to each other for some time. After a while, Ronald’s Unit was moved from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands to near Portsmouth on the South coast of England. This is how Ronald explained to me what happened next:
‘‘So when we went down near Portsmouth, they used to let us have some weekend leave. But, living so far away in Cumberland, I just couldn't take any extended leave. However, I could take a twenty-four hours leave. So I went to Marie’s Mam and Dad's place in South Norwood and stayed there for twenty-four hours in London.
This was when we first met, really. Otherwise, we had just been pen-friends up until then. My future wife's family were called Cranfield, so she was called Marie Cranfield. I must have spent about three weekends with them I suppose.’’
Marie’s home address was 47 Huntley Road, South Norwood, London SE25. Ronald’s letters were sent either to that address or sometimes to a different address depending where Marie happened to be billeted by the WRAF, such as Eastcote, Ruislip. Eventually, in 1944 Marie and Ronald became engaged, as Ronald explained:
‘‘Now, when we used to meet up, we used to talk about getting engaged. Well, I wasn't too keen really to begin with. Mainly because I said to her that I didn't think I would come back! Marie asked me why I thought that.’’
‘‘So I said "Well there's going to be this going overseas. I have two brothers at home so I'm the only one that's come into the army." Being among the first to go across into the war zone that turned out to be Normandy, I didn't think I'd have much chance coming back alive. However, we did get engaged before D-Day. It was before D-Day.’’
Letters from the Frontline
Ronald took part in the Normandy Landings and landed at Sword Beach on 8 June 1944. He subsequently travelled through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Writing letters home became even more special when Ronald was with the colours on active service in mainland Europe. When I asked Ronald about letter writing from the Front line, this is what he said:
‘‘I used to write home to my father and mother and my two brothers that were at home at that time, Tom and Joe. Then I used to write to my Pen Friend Marie in London, who was by then my fiancée.
Of course, as you know, Marie later became my wife. I think we did pretty well really getting letters through. They might have been held up sometimes but this was probably for some good reason. But generally with letters, they did get through.’’
On the evening of Tuesday 11 July 1944,Ronald wrote a letter while in his camp at Plumetot, Calvados. Just a few hours before Ronald had driven his CO Major Hargreaves into newly-liberated Caen and witnessed scenes he later told me were ‘indescribable’. In the letter he mentions none of this. In a wartime frontline letter, specific references to places and names are avoided. This is a transcript of that letter addressed to ‘2033627 ACW1 M.F. Cranfield, London’:
‘‘Private R. Ritson,
26 Field Hygiene Sect.,
Tues 11 July
My Darling Marie,
Today I have received another of your most welcome letters. I‘m pleased you are keeping fine, as I am in the best of health. We all feel much better and happier since the day we landed.
Today we had bread for the first time since we left England and it was nice and fresh. I think it had been baked here by the Army. But it was lovely. Of course all our other food is in tins. It’s very good, but nothing like the food cooked at home.
Well darling I hope you have heard from your Mum and Dad. But I have a feeling they will be much safer where they are for the time being.
The letter which I have received is dated Friday 7 July. So it hasn’t taken very long has it dear? Now they are coming in by air, it’s very good.
I hope you are getting some of my letters dear, also a few bars of chocolate which I sent off over a week ago. And I have sent lots of letters off, so I do hope you are getting some darling.
We have still got our wireless, and get some good music on. It’s grand to know it’s coming from home. We have just heard General Montgomery on the wireless and should say a recording from over here, but I think it‘s very heartening. What do you think Marie?
I keep hearing from home, and Mother writes to be remembered to you, and hopes you are keeping well and sends her best regards to your people and hopes your Dad is getting much better. I had a letter from my pal and he asked had I brought you out there, and says I must take you up there even if it is on my next leave (if we get any). Even my relations always ask about you. So you are going to be very welcome no doubt.
There are one or two of my old pals over here, some were from my own village. It’s rather funny with only being a few houses there are three of my pals, four including myself and I have a feeling there is another one which must make five. So, it’s quite a lot considering there are only twenty houses there. But I haven’t met any of them yet. I may do, one never knows.
Well darling, I think that is about all I have for the moment. So in the meantime, please take good care of yourself and keep your chin up. I’m always thinking about you, darling. So Cheerio for now and the best of luck.
All my love,
On Thursday 8 February 1945, Ronald and Marie married at St Chad’s Church, South Norwood, London. Mainly because they were originally ‘Pen Pals’, the story of their wedding was the lead story in the local Norwood newspaper, ‘Norwood News’ published on Friday 16 February 1945. Both of them continued to serve in the Forces until in November of that year Ronald was released to return to his former job as a coalminer at Walkmilll Colliery, Moresby Parks in what is now Cumbria. Originally, because of housing shortages, they had to live in the same cottage as Ronald’s parents and younger brother at a place called Scilly Banks. Although there was no Mains electricity, they were able to obtain fresh food and there was candlelight, oil lamps, running water and a battery-powered ‘wireless’.
Marie and Ronald saved virtually all of their wartime letters in a box. From time to time they would look through the letters, read them again and think of past experiences, both good and bad. During the war, many of the letters were shown to close friends in their unit when they were received. However, after the war probably only Marie and Ronald ever read these personal wartime letters.
Some years later Marie and Ronald decided to place their wartime letters into a sealed box and place it in the ground. Although the exact location where they buried the box is unknown, it is thought this may be in the Scilly Banks / Moresby Parks area in Cumbria, near their first home. .
As with many others with experiences of World War Two Marie and Ronald talked very little about their wartime experiences to others, and especially the post-war generations. The main reason was that no-one asked them! They retained several items to remind them about wartime, such as photographs, the newspaper article about their wedding and a couple of letters they had written.
It was some time after Marie passed away in 1990 that Ronald told me about his wartime experiences to help with my research for a university project. It was only then I learnt, and perhaps began to understand for the first time, the extent that World War Two was indeed a «People’s War». Everyone who lived through those times must have had experiences that should be recorded and remembered. In Marie and Ronald’s case, Normandy and Norwood were two places that would always remain in their memories.
Contributed originally by Geoffrey Hoad (BBC WW2 People's War)
During the war I worked as a lift boy at a large block of flats about 100 yards away from the sea and my boss was an ex army man, a quarter master sergeant in the rifle brigade.
He called me down to the flat on the Sunday when I was on duty and said ‘listen lad, this is very important’ and the message came through from Neville Chamberlain that we had started the war against the Germans. The first thing that happened was within the hour the sirens warning went off and there was an aircraft heard. We heard the aircraft around but obviously they were just flying around and I’m sure it was a German aircraft. It was seen over St Leonards, very close. It didn’t take long really, the all clear went and then he got on to explain what could happen. In this block of flats they were a very reserved type of people there and they were back to back. There was a boiler house there and they said ‘look the first thing we are going to do’ he said ‘is we are going to breed some rabbits, so if food is short, we’ve got rabbits’. I didn’t live here at the flats at that time but that was his first thoughts on how we were going to eat when the rationing would come.
It was very shortly afterwards, within a couple of months that we were invaded by young children from London, the evacuees. They arrived one morning by train, the residents were asked to take the children in and give them a home. So we, my mother and my grandfather who we were living with, decided that we had a spare room and that we would take two children. We had two girls who came along. They were about 13, they came from Greenwich in London and it was for me, the 16 year old, great fun to have someone share the house, and someone to play around. It was really good to have someone else in the house but it wasn’t for long because as there was no activity in London. There were no expected air raids, their parents decided — most of them did this — at Christmas instead of just going home for Christmas, they didn’t come back. But of course we all know it wasn’t that long after that things started to hot up all round.
The next major thing happened that I remember is the boats coming over from Dunkirk and landing our troops back in this country who’d been serving in France. That is the first time that really things showed that there was something going on. The troops after landing, were in Bexhill, where the regiment were stationed. They stayed in some of the big hotels. Also some of the RAF came to do their training as pilots and aircrew. By the autumn there were notices up in the town that, (I think it was in mid-summer) that people, if they would like, they were encouraged to be evacuated themselves. My mother and grandfather went up and finished up near Trowbridge, away from the coastline. I didn’t want to go, so my boss said you can stay in the flats. We’ll fix up a couple of rooms down in the cellar, which was quite clear, nothing much in it. So we (his wife who died shortly before), so we both stayed down in the cellar in case of air raids. Mr Thatcher being an ex army man, he decided that he would invite some of the army boys on their evenings out or what not to come down into the flat we made in the cellar and play darts and cards and he would give them tea and coffee. So we had plenty of company. Most of the tenants had then gone and they just moved away keeping the flat on but they moved away to various areas in which they thought were safe in the country. One morning there were four or five of us, the postman had called in, Mr Thatcher and one or two of these lads and we were standing in the main hall, the siren went off and before we had time to move there was a terrific bang. Well it was never discovered exactly what had happened. Obviously there was a bomb dropped but it hadn’t hit anything. It had exploded before it reached the ground or it might have landed in the sea, but no crater was ever found. But it broke many of the plate glass windows in the flats and most of them were on the seaside of the building, so it could have been a blast bomb. But it meant a lot of tidying up for us to do to clear the glass away. That was a very fortunate thing for us, because it could have been very near. We often had hit and run raiders come in. They would fly in and by the time the sirens had gone they’d circle in on their way out so it didn’t give our aircraft, the Spitfires, time to get down from their airfield to keep them away before that, bombs had been dropped across the town. We had quite a few on the coast, Eastbourne, Hove, Hastings and I remember one particular occasion Bexhill had two or three bombs, one hit a local chemist shop and also one of the cleaners that were in the town. One of my friends who were at school with us, he worked in this dry cleaners and it was a direct hit so he was killed on that occasion. Blackey Barker we called him, he was quite a dark lad and it was a great shame. There were several other times hit and run raiders came in. One afternoon we had a Messerschmitt, the warning was on and we were down in the cellar and this Messerschmitt came in, or came through, obviously escorting some bombers and they were shooting their machine guns and I know I went up from the cellar and looked out and I was really torn off a strip for going out and having a look because later on when the all clear had gone we found some of the spent bullet shells and holes in the wall so I was very lucky. But my boss didn’t appreciate what I’d done and he really gave me the dressing down.
Another occasion, a little later on, I had to be home, to see if everything was o.k. and stayed the night and on the way back, there was an aircraft, a warning and an aircraft. We saw it was a clear morning, a clear moon up in the sky, it was quite early and I stopped and spoke to the milkman as I was going to work. We saw this aircraft circle round the moon and as we thought it was going away we both said ‘oh well it’s not dropped anything…’ we can hear bombs coming down. Well the nearest landed, to us, landed about 400 yards away and they dropped 13 bombs across the town. So it did quite a bit of damage. It just missed the town hall, there was quite a bit of damage there. There was several occasions when we had working in the town and living by the sea in this building that stood out, it was right next to the De La Warr Pavilion so several occasions that we had near misses around there.
One day there was a big fire next to the De La Warr Pavilion, the other side of where our flats were and it was the Metropole Hotel, which the air force had taken over. I still have pictures (small photos) of the fire at the Metropole but no one ever knew how it caught light. Whether it was carelessness by the forces or some kind of bomb but we never found out what caused it.
Of course being 17 there were several of us young lads who used to get around the place and I remember one evening, there were two of us just walking along the sea front and we came to the end, past the clock tower and to where what was called the flag staff where they put a siren up on the scaffolding. So in devilment we decided to climb the scaffolding not realising the problems we could have caused. As we were coming down the air raid warden was waiting for us. It was a very good job he knew us because he said we cold be blamed for trying to sabotage the siren that was up there so we got a good dressing down for that. He went up and had a look to make sure everything was working all right and I imagined it was working. It went off a few days later but when you’re young you do silly things and not realise what you’ve just done.
As I was then 17 ½ and not available, or not possible to go into the army or the forces because my eyes were not so good, I decided I would go to London to an engineering course and work in munitions so my boss wrote a letter to the minister for labour saying that I’d tried and nothing happened so he wrote to Aneurin Bevin and said that I wanted to serve my king and country and so within a week I was called to the labour exchange and fixed up to go on this course. I would be highly qualified to go into engineering. Well this I did and by November I went to Waddon training centre near Croydon and spent the next 3 months at this centre earning very little, just enough to pay some lodgings money. A lady and man that had this big house, there were about 20 people there lodging and most of the money that we earnt went to pay out for our digs. After going through the course, I got a good job in the company Phillips which was a big electrical engineering company and I thing it’s still going now, Phillips. That was only 3 or 4 miles cycle away from Waddon to Hatbridge, near Mitcham. I managed to get a job as an improver in their tool room, which was something well worth doing because I spent the rest of my life in engineering and doing tool grinding and tool making. So for me it was very good to do that but I still had one or two near misses when I was staying in Croydon.
I remember one day going to the cinema. I was on nights and going to the cinema on a Monday afternoon and my friend who had to work asked me if I could take his girlfriend to the pictures because he’s promised her that she would see this film and it was at the Davis Theatre in Croydon. In the middle of the film there was a terrific explosion, the siren had gone but nobody used to worry because we were inside. We didn’t think we would be any safer outside, the terrific explosion was in the front and fortunately for me I was fairly well back in the stalls and a bomb had gone through the roof down into the stalls but it didn’t explode but several people were killed on that occasion and I fell that, that was another life that I had had. I’ve been well looked after by someone above. So when I went out afterwards I realised that one of my friends daughters worked there as an usherette, so I looked around for her and found her and I went afterwards to see her father, saying that she was alright. But by the time I got back to the lodgings there had been a call for me from the Home Guard, which I had to join a few months before. This was to call me up into town with the rest and to patrol because there had been other bombs dropped and a certain amount of looting. I had quite a busy day that day. I didn’t go to work that night; well we were called out all night so we didn’t get away until the following morning.
One or two things I remember about being at Phillips. The first thing was that there was no proper air raid shelter in the actual company and not enough for everybody. So there were quite a few, it was all men in the department I was in and we used to go into one part where we thought it was reasonably safe when the siren had gone off. I was amazed all the young lads, most of them fairly young or less than 30’s anyway and we used to go down to this place and all the time that there was a warning on they would sing and it was really great friendship. It was good to hear all these men singing the popular songs of the day and some of the older songs such as Roses Are Blooming In Piccaddy and that type of thing as well as the popular shows at that time and the Holy City is another one that I remember. Another thing that I recall of the men in the tool room, on a Saturday before Christmas we always had the day off and we would go to Morden station but we all had to wear bowler hats which was great fun and travel up to London where we would see a show. Well before that we would go and have a meal and see a show and all the way up in the tube we would sing carols and it’s something to hear at that time anyway. We might have been noisy but we weren’t a rousy crew and people used to listen and laugh with us, then after seeing the show we would have something else to eat then go back to Wimbledon. Wimbledon Palais to a dance and that was an annual event that happened every year but of course some of the boys they lost their bowler hats. I know coming back and spending the day and not being used to hats like that many of them had to buy a bowler hat for the person that lent them their bowler hat.
After working at Phillips I had to do quite a bit of night work. So I decided a couple of times to cycle back down to Bexhill. Well it was quite a long journey, especially on a cycle without any extra gears or anything but the worst thing, I got lost several times because all the road signs were taken down because of the threat of invasion so it was very difficult unless you got to know the roads. You could easily turn off especially over the Ashdown Forest or somewhere like that but I know I was lost twice. The second time coming back I went on a slightly different road it was the weekend which they called the Big Fire in London and quite a few fire engines had gone up from the coast to help. The London Fire Brigade and on my way back on the Monday morning I met quite a few of them coming back towards the coast and it took me quite a while to get back and of course I had to go back to work in the evening so I made an early start getting back early afternoon and then going onto work about 7 o’clock.
Another memory I have of Croydon and the war. My landlady woke us up one night and said the sirens had gone and there were several aircraft about. While we were talking about it there was the sound of an aircraft as we thought and it suddenly went quiet and I remember saying ‘it’s alright it’s landed at Croydon Airport’ and then there was an explosion. What it was, it was the first night we had discovered that it was the fly bomb or Doodlebugs as they were called so I remember that first night and the bomb had only just landed 2 or 3 roads away. Shortly after that I remember particularly cycling home from work after doing just a Saturday morning and watching this fly bomb come over and what they did, when they cut out, it normally did a half circle turn back and then drop onto the ground. I remember this one flying across and praying that it wouldn’t cut out until it got past. Of course someone else would have got it and I was terribly worried at that moment that it could have done exactly the same and it would have been very much nearer.
One other very important thing happened quite late in the war. I met a girl at Phillips when I was working and she was working there and she later became my wife in 1946 and we were married for over 30 years before she died. So that practically concludes my wartime experience and I would like to say that VE Day or rather the day war finished, I spent at Phillips social club jollying it up with some friends. I went up to London and waved my flag and there were thousands of other people at VE Day and also I saw the big victory parade which they had after and when the generals of all the regiments paraded through the streets of London which was quite an exciting thing but that was a couple of years after the war.
There is just one other thing I have just remembered. It was while I was a Bexhill, it was about two years after the war had started. The first big raid by Germans on Croydon. I was going to see my friends at Sidley and the warning went and we could see in the clear sky it was a beautiful summers evening we could see clearly squadrons of German aircraft. The bombers flying in formation through to London we thought, well that was the beginning of the big bombing raids in London. They went in formation, they came back in formation but the only things we saw and know afterwards there were one or two of the fighters shot down not far from the coast. One near Catsfield so we know at least two were shot down and they still came back in that formation flight as they went out. I just remembered that when I saw it and I think that’s about all I can remember about the war.
Contributed originally by ritsonvaljos (BBC WW2 People's War)
Some years ago I was researching the Battle of Normandy and World War Two for a university project. I asked one of my uncles for assistance as he had served with the RAMC during the war, taken part in the Normandy Landings, Battle of Normandy and other battles before V.E. Day on 8 May 1945. During the World War Two he was 7517826 Private Ronald Ritson, RAMC. He signed a form to say I could write about the events of his life, that they could be donated to an archive that could be read by others.
One day, Ronald said to me “You do know I was two days late for my own wedding?” When I said I didn’t know of this, Ronald told me about the events in February 1945 when he married his fiancée. During the war she was known as 2033627 ACW1 Marie Florence Cranfield. Unfortunately, by the time Ronald told this to me Marie had passed away. Hence I was unable to record Marie’s version of events that, looking at retrospectively, seem unusual even for World War Two.
However, Ronald did have a contemporaneous copy of ‘Norwood News’ dated 16 February 1945 that had featured Marie and Ronald’s wedding as the front page lead story that day. I have used these and other sources to write the account of Marie and Ronald’s wedding. I believe it is an accurate account of what happened based on the evidence.
One of the things that the official authorities encouraged during World War Two was writing letters. For many people it was the first time many young people had been away from home for any length of time. Many local newspapers played a part in this strategy by encouraging people to write in and find a ‘Pen Pal’ and exchange letters and even photographs. One of the local newspapers that helped with this was ‘Norwood News’. Its main circulation area covered an area of south London covering Norwood, Thornton Heath and Croydon.
In 1942 Leading Aircraftswoman Marie F. Cranfield was 19 years old and was one of those who started writing to a ‘Pen Pal’. By chance this was a Private Ronald Ritson a soldier in the Royal Army Medical Corps who came from the small village of Scilly Banks near Moresby Parks in what was then Cumberland, and today is in Cumbria. By further coincidence, one of Ronald’s best friends in the RAMC was one of Marie’s cousins, Private Clifford English, also from South Norwood, London.
It was through Cliff English that Marie and Ronald met in person for the first time. Eventually, early in 1944 they became engaged. Marie continued to serve with the WRAF in the London area including, it is believed, a posting at RAF Uxbridge. For his part, Ronald landed at Sword Beach, Calvados (Normandy) on 8 June 1944, eventually moving into Belgium and the Netherlands.
Throughout the period while Ronald was in Normandy and Marie in Norwood, they continued writing to each other on an almost daily basis. Marie and Ronald began to make plans for their wedding and began putting aside a little money to pay for it. Ronald’s four shillings a week (20 New Pence!) was no use to him while in Normandy.
On 17 June 1944 Ronald received a little help to arrange things from his Commanding Officer, Major Hargreaves. The CO wrote to Mrs Hargreaves, also back home in Britain, asking her to assist Marie and Ronald to set up a Post Office Savings Account and arrange Ronald’s magnificent sum of four shillings a week to be paid into it. This was a small act of kindness by Dr and Mrs Hargreaves that was never forgotten. It is recorded here so that it is acknowledged and also that others will know how important such apparently insignificant acts were during World War Two.
Eventually, in the New Year of 1945, Marie and Ronald were able to set a date for their wedding day. By this time Major Hargreaves had left Ronald’s Unit to take up a Staff job in Paris. By this time Ronald’s Unit, 26 FHS, was in the Netherlands, close to the German border and the Siegfried Line. So it was that Major B. Mann, the new CO, kindly arranged that he could have leave, travel to London and marry Marie.
Naturally, with Ronald at the frontline in Europe, it was Marie and her parents and sister who made virtually all the arrangements. The wedding was arranged for Tuesday 6 February 1945 and would take place at St Chad’s Church, South Norwood. The reception was booked for the Hol-Mesdale Road Baptist Church. Marie had a wedding dress made and also one for her sister Joyce who would be bridesmaid. By coincidence, Marie’s cousin and Ronald’s friend Cliff English had won a five week’s ballot leave from the Sanitation Section of the RAMC he was then serving with in Italy, so he too would be at the wedding.
With it being wartime, only a few of Ronald’s close family were able to travel to London for the wedding. They lived over 300 miles away near the West Cumbrian town of Whitehaven. In wartime sometimes even the closest of relations were unable to attend family events such as weddings, christenings or funerals if they were needed elsewhere for the war effort. Ronald himself had been unable to obtain leave for his brother Tom’s wedding earlier in the war. Nevertheless, Ronald’s mother and two brothers were able to travel to London for the wedding.
The Wedding Day
Ronald should have arrived at Norwood on Monday 5 February the day before the wedding. His relatives arrived that day by train and were accommodated with Marie’s relatives nearby. Ronald however, did not appear. The wedding day came and went and there was still no bridegroom. Nor was there any word from him. In circumstances like this, no news is not good news.
So the arrangements were postponed until the following day. Wednesday came and there was still no bridegroom, and still no word. So the wedding was put off yet again. I asked my Uncle Tom about this and he said, “I said to them I didn’t think he was going to turn up!” My father Joe Ritson remembered he saw and heard a German ‘doodlebug’ for the first time, and that the Londoners just went about their business in spite of it.
Meanwhile, Ronald the bridegroom was rather ‘lost in France’ not knowing what to do. He had got as far as Calais and was then unable to cross the English Channel because of stormy weather. In those days, especially with there being a war on, there was no means of telephoning or sending a message to let anyone know what was going on. The ‘Norwood News’ headline about the event stated,
“Wedding Twice Postponed: The Bridegroom had to wait across the Channel. The Ship was held up until storm abated”
However, while crossing the Channel, Ronald was able to send a ship-to-shore telegram to Marie to say he was on the way. At last, the wedding could go ahead! According to ‘Norwood News’, “It all ended happily for Norwood Pen Friends”.
So Marie Florence Cranfield was married to Ronald Ritson at St Chad’s Church on Thursday 8 February 1945. The priest was a Father Corrocan and the organist a Miss Brown. Tom Ritson, Ronald’s elder brother, was the Best Man and Joyce Cranfield the bridesmaid as had been originally planned.
Somehow, Marie had managed to obtain a white crepe-de-Chine wedding dress, halo and orange blossom and carried red tulips. Her sister and bridesmaid Joyce wore powder blue taffeta with a matching net and carried pink tulips. There was only one photograph of the wedding, of the bride and groom, the bride’s parents, the Best Man and the Bridesmaid. The wedding photograph didn’t even make it into the ’Norwood News’ article!
There were about thirty guests at the wedding. However, because the Baptist Church hall had another prior booking for the Thursday, the guests were entertained at Marie’s family home. Marie and Ronald then went on honeymoon to Ronald’s home village of Scilly Banks in what is now Cumbria. It must have seemed a rather tranquil place after all the events in Norwood! Because of the delayed wedding, Marie had to obtain a few days’ leave extension from the WRAF. She received the telegram granting this leave while at Scilly Banks.
Cliff English, who by this time was a corporal in the RAMC, also got married during this leave, on Saturday 17 February 1945. No doubt that wedding was a rather more organised event than Marie and Ronald’s wedding had turned out.
The events that happened at many wartime weddings seem extraordinary when looked at years afterwards. At the time, and to those who lived through World War Two it may have been that events did not seem so extraordinary, whether they were bad or good. Perhaps this partly explains why for many years I knew hardly anything about what is really a good and happy memory of the war.
Marie’s wedding day, in spite of everything that happened, must have been one of the happiest of her life. Unfortunately, we cannot now ask for Marie’s view of what happened. It cannot have been every wartime bride who had the bridegroom lost in France.
Marie and Ronald enjoyed many years together, living at various times either in South Norwood, London or in and around Whitehaven, Cumbria and had four children. Marie passed away in October 1990 and Ronald in July 2000. I am pleased to honour their memory by writing this memory of World War Two.
Contributed originally by rahoona (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the BBC WW2 People’s War site by Mrs M A Nallen of St Benedict’s Catholic High School on behalf of Stephen Corsi and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
SECOND WORLD WAR MEMORIES OF STEPHEN CORSI
Aged 10 years 8 months at outbreak of war; 16 years 4 months in May
THE PERSONAL WAR
On 29 August 1939, I was sent back from Italy by train in care of sleeping car conductor to Paris, where I was met by my father and flown to Croydon, stayed one night in London then on to the country by train. This was the first time I had ever travelled entirely on my own on a main line railway with having to change of trains. However, I had been using the London Underground system regularly for 3 years by then.
Then on Sunday 3 September at 11:00 everyone listened to the radio to hear the Prime Minister say that the country was at war. Actually, it would have been a greater surprise if he had not said it, because it had seemed inevitable, since Poland had been invaded 3 days before.
Life seemed to be normal all through the war as everything developed slowly. By 1941 it felt as if we had had identity cards and ration cards all our lives. This was particularly true in the country where rationing was very well supplemented by local produce.
In the cities, you could eat in restaurants without ration cards up to a value of 5 shillings per meal. Expensive restaurants overcame this with a “cover charge”. People who were very hungry sometimes had 2 lunches in different restaurants to fill up.
Ration cards were issued for food, clothing and petrol. Food and clothing was adequate but not generous. With the help of unrationed food you could get by quite comfortably and the gardens of houses were turned into vegetable plots, tennis courts were dug up and many open spaces ere rented out as allotments to people who had no gardens.
Many houses kept pigs, chickens, goats and other livestock which were fed on leftovers from cooking or from growing vegetables.
Everyone was issued with gas masks but after a few months hardly anyone carried them.
At first, cars received petrol rations but later only essential vehicles were allowed to have petrol. Paraffin for farm tractors was coloured red to stop people using it in their cars. You could fill the carburettor with a few drops of petrol to start it and then a car would run on paraffin. Some cars were adapted to use town gas and had large silvery balloons fitted on their roofs to carry it.
At night all the curtains had to be shut tight to prevent even a chink of light getting out. Cars had special covers over their headlights so that they only shone downwards.
I rarely went near any major cities for next five years, merely passing through when necessary.
I watched the red sky above Coventry when it was being bombed but was too far away to hear the explosions. By contrast to the devastation of Coventry and Birmingham, it is said that only 1 bomb fell on Leamington throughout the war on open space between 3 possible targets.
For the first year of the war, some of my London School were transferred as a group to Arnold Lodge, Leamington, sleeping in the family home of our former headmaster, in Jury Street, Warwick.
As a boarder at school in Dunchurch (1940-1942) we went down to the cellars whenever the sirens sounded. One night a land-mine (large bomb on a parachute) landed near the middle of the village and when I came back upstairs after the all-clear my bed had moved a foot away from the wall.
Our home, in London, was a six-storey town-house and one night a bomb landed precisely on top of the wall dividing it from next door, knocking down some 5 metres of wall. The top two floors were later found to have moved about 3 centimetres sideways. The building was shored up and my father continued to live there except for the top floor and I would sometimes spend the occasional night there.
The house had been built just after the 1914-1918 war and the first owner had thought that there might be another war and had built it with a cellar which was designed to be used as an air-raid shelter.
One night, when in London for a couple of days I went across the river by underground to visit friends but when returning was caught on the wrong side of the river during an air raid and had to spend the most of the night in the tube train.
One day when he1 on a farm, the farmer and I heard a German aeroplane approaching and we hid behind a haystack but we must have been seen because the tail gunner fired off his machine guns at us but without effect.
Towards the end of the war the Germans started to use flying bombs (Vi), which people affectionately called “doodlebugs”. These were planes with ram-jet engines and no pilots and no remote control. They were started up pointing towards southern England and when they ran out of fuel they came down. There was a very eerie period of about 10 seconds between when the engine stopped and when the explosion came. Those ten seconds could seem like hours. Fighter planes used to be sent up to shoot them down over open ground and sometimes, if they were found near the coast, the fighters would get under a wing tip and ease them round so that they would fly back to France.
After these came the rockets (V2) . In some ways these were an improvement because the first thing you heard was the explosion, which meant that you had escaped as it must have fallen some distance from you.
I had two paternal uncles both of whom had been born in London and had British passports. One uncle (Edward) was a doctor but had been practising in Italy at the start of the war (15 June 1940 for Italy). He was interned with his brother (Tino) but being a non combatant was exchanged and came back to England. After which he joined the army medical corps (RANC) and worked in field hospitals in France. My father (Henry) was too old to be called up in 1939 but he had worked in field hospitals in 1914-1918.
The other uncle (Tino) was released in July 1943, when the Italian government stopped fighting, but the Germans more or less took over Italy for the rest of the war and he became a partisan for some time before escaping to Switzerland where he was interned for the rest of the war. This was in a hotel in Lugano, which happened to be owned by friends who had been allowed to stay in the top floor flat. His wife (Bice) and son (Carlo) had escaped to Switzerland earlier and were living as refugees with other friends in Lugano.
The end of the war came twice, once on 8 May 1945 and then on 15 August 1945. Most people remember the first date more than the second and certainly bonfires were lit on 8 May and everybody celebrated but there was probably as much joy in August when it really was all over. However, life went on afterwards much as before, rationing continued and later on bread was rationed for the first time. In some ways it did not feel as if the war had really ended until ration cards were abolished in 1951.
In 1946 I visited Guernsey, which had been occupied by the Germans. However, the Senior Officers in the Channel Islands, being mostly professional soldiers past retiring age, had always seen that their troops behaved correctly. The one thing that I remember is that all the schools were full of furniture. The soldiers had moved the furniture around between the houses that they had commandeered and returning householders had found these pieces in their homes and were displaying them for the real owners to find and collect.
THE REAL WAR
The “real war” hardly seemed to affect daily life in England. There was no television so news came by radio or in the newspapers. Everyone followed the progress of the fighting but at no time did the population believe that the Allies could lose in the end. When Hitler invaded Russia, repeating Napoleon’s mistake of 130 years earlier, everyone in Britain heaved a sigh of relief as the end then seemed to be inevitable.
The war in North Africa was seen as a purely professional operation in which the tanks merely replaced the medieval knights in armour. It was followed with interest but with a certain amount of detachment as if it did not really affect us.
People became rather depressed when Singapore fell in 1941 and also on the occasions when we lost major ships like the “Hood” and the “Prince of Wales” but otherwise the reverses were taken in one’s stride and the victories were considered to be our due.
After the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, interest became more intense but by then, with both the Americans and the Russians fighting on oour side, the only question was “How long will it take to get to Berlin?”
THE DOWNSIDE AEROPLANE CRASH
The following is based on a letter to an old school friend dated 11 May 1994 about a crash by a fighter aeroplane on a bank where most of Downside School was gathered to watch a cricket match on Saturday 15 May 1943. The pilot and 9 boys were killed and 14 boys were injured.
“I read your account of the crash in the Raven with interest and until then I had no idea that the full picture of what happened that afternoon was unclear. It is now a very long time after the event but I think that it is still not too late to record what I remember seeing.
I was playing cricket on the upper field and at the time was fielding in a position facing the pavilion. My concentration was not entirely on the game and I was watching the antics of these two aeroplanes with some interest and even trepidation as they were flying lower than any I had seen before.
As was always the case, the instructor was in front and the pupil was flying behind and some ten to twenty feet below his leader. The final pass was very low and over some very tall fir trees at the edge of the field. The first plane cleared these but the second one just touched the tallest tree, probably with its tail, so that its nose tipped downwards. At that height there was no chance for Sub-Lt McCracken, the pilot, to do anything and he ploughed straight into the crowd on the bank.
There is a tree with a dead section at the top at approximately the point where the aircraft touched and it would not surprise me if this was the actual tree that was struck and that the dead section had resulted from a partial fracture of the trunk.
Everything that happened after that moment is a blur and the only things that I can remember were that we were all given sandwiches the next morning and told to go out and not come back before teatime. I also remember seeing the shrouds laid out in the squash court and only half-believing that underneath these were the bodies of my friends, particularly David Lowndes whom I had already known for seven or eight years. My most vivid memory is of his brother Michael coming back from hospital with his terribly scarred face. On the Monday everything returned to normal and life continued exactly as before being only interrupted for the joint funeral of the dead pilot and boys.
I ought to have been in one of the Junior House dormitories with all the other first year boys but had been moved up into the Smythe dormitory at the beginning of that term so I have no recollection of the empty beds on the Saturday night. This might also explain why I was playing cricket when most of my friends were sitting in the crash area.
I hope that this helps to clarify the actual sequence of events and I would be very pleased to know whether there is any evidence to support (or disprove) my memory of that terrible event.”
Contributed originally by Moira Hickie (BBC WW2 People's War)
I had just turned 18 in the summer of 1940 and was working as a junior Civil Servant in the Public Trustee Office in London, when I was transferred to a Dept. of the War Office dealing with casualties to Army Officers.
After a period of training I was informed that the Dept. was re-locating to Liverpool and I would be based in the Blue Coat School in Wavertree, the children having been evacuated to a safer place.
We were to be billeted in private houses nearby and duly arrived in about mid-August, to find that the School had been adapted to the needs of a busy office and was all in readiness.
I was taken by the billeting officer to meet my new landlady - a Mrs Eadie Grayson. She and her husband, Bob, were a middle-aged childless couple with aa spare bedroom and so were 'pressed' into taking a Civil Servant as a lodger. They were very kind to me and we got on well together. My new address was Daffodil Road, Wavertree, L15.
Eadie received from the Govt. an allowance type of book and was paid 25/- a week in return for my bed, breakfast and evening meal. She told me later that some of the "press ganged" landladies (and there were many locally) would sometimes mutter as they collected their 25/- at the Post Office that the Civil Servants had a cushy life being kept by the Govt. She was quite surprised when I told her that her 25/- was deducted from my pay of 32/6d a week and that I was 'hard up' most of the time!
Going to Liverpool was the first time I had left my home in Croydon. I had been at school until the summer before. The 'times' were dangerous and my mother was worried about me. As a keepsake she gave me one of her most treasured possessions - a thin gold-plated bracelet given to her by my father on her wedding day. Taking it with her, she had gone with him to India on two separate tours of duty and sadly he had died there 9 years before. So it was indeed a precious gift she gave into my care, the day I left home.
I never did dare to wear the bracelet, but kept it in it's box in a drawer of the dressing table in my front bedroom at Daffodil Road.
Air raids were frequent and heavy all through the winter of 1940 and the Liverpudlians felt quite hard done by and felt their sufferings were minimised by the Press in comparison to the publicity given to cities like London, Coventry ect. The name of the city of Liverpool was never mentioned, but raids were just reported as having taken place on a "North West" port.
I think it turned out that it was a deliberate strategy for intelligence purposes.
Nothing prepared the city though for the German onslaught of the first week of May 1941 when they made a determined effort to put this vital port out of action. It was our life line for food and supplies from the U.S.A. and for troopships to and from the Middle East. It was a long and weary week sitting in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden for hours on end and then stumbling out at dawn to wash and change and go to the office.
On the night of 7th-8th May 1941 when the siren went, I decided that I had had enough, could take no more and would sleep through this one.
However, Eadie kept calling me to get up. She said Bob was on Fire Watching duties and she would be alone. At her insistence I got up, pulled a jumper and some trousers over my pyjamas and went downstairs.
It was bright moonlight as Eadie walked down the garden path carrying the budgie in it's cage. I followed and remarked that it was what folk called "a bombers moon". She reached the sheler, opened the door and began to walk down the steps into it, well below ground. I was following her, when suddenly I was blown in on top of her, the shelter door was blown off it's hinges and hit me in the back. It turned out that quite a few neighbours had also come into the shelter and there was also a little boy there.
Panic and pandemonium broke out in the cramped darkness and after what seemed an age, we heard voices and saw dimmed torches and we were all helped out by Air Raid Wardens, one by one. As we stood on the grass in the moonlight, a policeman came and took a roll call. Bob Grayson came rushing up, to see how we all were. It soon became evident that although he was some distance from the explosion he had been made totally deaf. He took out his cigarette case and offered one to the policeman, who took one. It turned out to be a perfect paper tube, there was no tobacco in it, or any trace of the case. The policeman said he would keep it as a souvenir.
Some while elapsed before the extent of the blast damage dawned on the stunned people of Daffodil Road. The air was filled with strange smells of plaster, brick and dust and explosive etc. It seems a parachute mine had landed in the centre of the road outside our house. The houses must have taken the full force of the blast and we were spared at the back. I learned after, that about 11 houses were demolished. Neighbours were killed and colleagues also from the office, living opposite, were killed in bed.
Various officials came and went as we stood around waiting - some to help, some at rather a loss as to what to do. One girl with vague memories of her First Aid lectures said "shouldn't we be tearing up sheets or something?" A swift reply from a neighbour soon scotched that idea. He said in his lovely scouse accent "Tear oop sheets, ain't there been enuff bloody destruction?" In any case there probably weren't any sheets.
Eventually we had all been assigned to various Rest Centres and walking still in bright moonlight, I followed a Warden till we reached this Church hall. I was given a cup of tea, and was shown a spot on the floor where I could lie down. 'Bombed out' people were all around me, wide-eyed and sleepless with shock. I too lay sleepless, thinking of my family and how upset they would have been had they known of my plight.
I left the Rest Centre at about 6 a.m. and made my way back to Daffodil Road. Something drew me to it, and I had nowhere else to go at that hour. The bombed part of the raod was roped off with a notice to "KEEP OUT". I slipped under the rope and located the rubble that had been Eadie's and Bob's house. Climbing over some bricks I disturbed some which moved with a clatter. The noise brought a policeman as if from nowhere. He asked me what I was doing there and hadn't I seen the notice. I explained that I had lived there and I wondered if I would find anything of mine. I wasn't thinking of anything in particular, though I did recognise parts of my bed!
We began to talk about the night before, and emboldened by my presence, some other people also slipped under the rope and began to poke about. The policeman lost patience and jumping up on a mound of bricks be called everyone over and said it was dangerous to be there and they must go away at once.
With that, he hent down and picked something out of the rubble. He held it up and said "does this belong to anyone here?" I looked ant couldn't believe my eyes - it was my mother's bracelet. I couldn't get the words out quickly enough "Oh it's mine, it's mine" I shouted.
He handed it to me, not knowing what a miracle it seemed to me - the much travelled bracelet had survived a parachute mine with just one small dent.
Then a second miracle happened. As I turned to go away, I saw a Postman standing by the roped off section, with his bag and a bundle of letters in his hand. I said to him "have you anything for Miss Hickie?", he replied "you are in luck, you have a letter from America". It was from my brother in Tennessee - a card for my 19th Birthday.
I sat down on a pile of bricks and opened it, and pondered on the fact that my letter had been safely brought across the submarine infested Atlantic, had been sorted in a city under siege from the air for seven solid nights and had been delivered to a house demolished by enemy action.
Most of all I was struck by the sheer coincidence of events, that I was there, when I could so easily have missed both the bracelet and the letter.
I got up and made my way to the office where I was able to wash and borrow some clothes from friends. I was taken to a doctor who gave me a sick certificate for a month off work. He wrote on it "Shell-Shocked". I then collected a travel warrant to my home station and to home I went, owning nothing but the bracelet and the birthday card.
I had nothing to put in a case, so travelled light. There was no one to counsel me, no one to give me a lift, so I got a tram from Penny Lane to the Pier Head and walked to Lime Street Station and so to Euston and my home in Croydon (where I was just in time for the heavy Air RAid over Croydon and London of May 10th).
The Office had contacted my Mother through 'Official Channels' so she was expecting me.
I returned to Liverpool after the month at home fully 'kitted-out' by my mother and was billed this time in Mosspits Lane, where I stayed until 1943 before being transferred back to London.
Having been sent to different Rest Centres, I was separated from Eadie and Bob that night. I never did find them again and never knew what happened to them.
By the grace of God and Eadie I survived to live a long a fulfilling life, and I would like to have thanked for even as she was urging me to get up, the mine must have been floating down in our direction.
It has always puzzled me why I have no recollection of ever hearing the explosion, yet I was so near to it.
I went back to Daffodil Road some years ago. The house had long since been re-built and the quiet air of suburbia was there again, as it was when first I saw it. Newcomers to the road would need a huge leap of imagination to appreciate the horrors of that night so long ago.
Contributed originally by Mary Aynsley (BBC WW2 People's War)
My story starts during the First World War. My father, Lieut. James McCready was awarded the Military Cross for extreme bravery. He returned to Livpool but there was no work to be had in this brave new world. He married his sweetheart and they emigrated to Canada to make his fame and fortune. I was born in April 1921 weighing 2 lbs only and my Mother promptly died. A Dutch family looked after me until I was 6 months old when my father brought me across the ocean wide to Liverpool. I was happily looked after by my paternal grandparents until, I was 4 year old when my father married again and I went to live with my "new" mother and her son. Fast forward to March 1939.
I had passed a written and physical examination to become an Established Civil Servant. I was allocated to a typing pool in the Office of Works, at Dean Bradley House, Horseferry Road, London. I was therefore entitled to A MAT and to start work at 10 am every day. The Government had employed a great number of temporary staff due to the possibility of war. These poor temps. had to start work at 9 am and were not allowed mats. When the only other established Civil Servant was absent, I was in charge although the other girls knew much more about the work than I did. Can you imagine this division happening today?
I can remember seeing the King and Queen and the two young princesses, Elizab eth and Margaret opening the new Westminster Hospital opposite the office.
I lived at a girls' Hostel in Warwick Square and I had to walk a few miles there and back. I had very little money for transport, lunch or entertainment but I felt I was in the centre of the world walking gauntily down Victoria Street and gazing longingly at the goodies in the Army and Navy Stores.
I can vividly remember the outbreak of war. I was in Church when the MINISTER stopped the Service to announce the news. We all trooped outside to hear the first air raid warning. Nothing happened but we were all pretty shocked. I had joined the Rangers and we had to deliver notices - for what I cannot remember. It was quite hard work and I really appreciated toe postmens' taskes for the first time. By the way I had moved from the hostel as I had a nightly battle with the French, and Belgium girls in the dormitary. I opened the windows and they promptly closed them etc. I was well looked after by a kind landlady in digs near Parsons Green Station. She provided me with a packed lunch so I could afford to go to the office by tube. The office was evacuated to anunknowndestination "up north". It turned out to be Rhyl in North Wales. I was much better off financially - no fares, rent subsidised (the Civil Service couldn's have cared less about their young provincial staff when in expensive London) I had enough money to see a new play every two weeks at the Pavilion Theatre performed by the evacuated Manchester Rep. Company. I bought a second hand bike for £3 and took long cycle rides into the beautiful Welsh countryside; swam, flirted and danced my way at the Royal Corps of Signals camp at Prestatyn most Saturdau evenings.
I did voluntary work at a Soldiers' canteen at Rhyl
on Saturday afternoons. This was run by the local W.I very snooty ladies who told me I must wear stockings as it was not proper to have bare legs. I was not prepared to have my precious silk stockings snagged - bar e legs or no me. Can you imagine this happening these daysa.
The war did not impinge on us until theLondon blitz hit the headlines. My life also changed. A boy at the Rhyl office had invited his Selhurst Grammar school friend up to Rhyl. Len's parents, little brother and dog were in the garden shelter; Len asleep on the settee in the house when it was bombed in August 1940. The family were all killed in the shelter. Len was physically unhurt but very shocked. To this day he has never talked abhout it. I was formally introduced to him - he was so different from my many soldier friends. I volunteered for Air Crew training and was accepted. Air Crew trainees wore a white flash in their caps. I was so proud to be with hi9m when he came to Rhyl in his leavews. He was then post ed to Canada for further training asnd proposed to me at the top of The Great Orme, Llandudno.
The Establi8shed staff had to return to London in 1943- the temps were left in Rhyl - much envvied by mee. I hated it back in London - there was veryn little bombing at that time but the Office of Works accomnmodated me in a Girls' Hostel near B\rons Court Station. EThe Manager was a prissy Scosttish "lady". She dictated how we were to make our beds, sit for meals etc. I tolld her I would make my bed how I wanted it as I was paying the rnet. We were at daggers drawn so I applied for promotion - got it and was sent to Nottingham - the youngest Supervisor in that area. I got on quite well with the much older women when the work that had to be completed each day was evenly apportioned and the slackers received the wrath of the workers if they did not pull their weight.
By this time Len was operational with the 69th Squadron of the 2nd Tactical Airforce. We were married on the fourth day of the fourth month of 1944 + so he would never forget the date.
When he managed to get leave in England, he would phone me at the offic e. I would take the first available train from Nottingham to London - no luggage - Wem would spend a few hours together before I took the milk train back to begin work by 9 am in the office.
He finished 35 ops safely flying the Wellington Bomber and was posted to be in charge of a bombing range on the borders of Shropshire and Wales. I therefore got a transfer to the Birmingham officee to be nearer him. This was the first time I had to cater for myself and realised how hard it must have been for my previous landladies to eek things out. I was clueless - asked in a shop for 1 lb of pepper. I was literally taught to cook by my latest landlady. Len was due to go out to the Far East when peace was declared. Icidentally his eldest brother ddied in a prisoner of war camp so he was the only remaining member of his family.
He was demobbed and we were allocated a small flat in Shirley, Croydon - due to his loss of home etc.
The war, therefore, was "lovely" for me because I met my future husband through it. Strangely I may have met him in Gretna, near Napanee. Ontario if my mother had lived as he was posted for training to Hamilton, Ontario - comparatively near in Canadian terms. However, I did realize that for many people, friend andn foe alike, it was a horrible war.
I saw flattened Coventry soon after the bombing. Len and I spent 3 days in St Petersburg the yearf after PERESTROIKA. We were recorded on
m.v.Kareliya - a Russian Cruise ship - by BBC interviewers from the Charlie Chester Show about the reactions of the Russianss to this new regime. I told them that the Go-Getters embrac ed it but the conformists and timid ones hated it. My dulcet strangled Liverpudlian vowells were heard over the air maany weeks later. Perhaps the BBC has stil got a re3cording ot it?
My 80th birthday treat was a visit to see our Grandaughter attending Berlin University as part of her German degreee course. Even as late as this Berlin still looked like a builders yard in many parts. The people must have gone through very hard times.
I also remember seeing a half thatched summer ghouse in a Toronto Park and was informed that it would never be completed until there were no wars anywhere in the world. WILL THAT EVER BE?
Len and I hope to celebrate our 60th (diamond) wedding anniversary on the 4.4.2004. We still play badmington and tennis with our Austrian, German, English and Rumanian friends. We have also motor caravanned and met many people from all over the world.
I have a book called WELLINGTON THE GEODETIC GIANT BY MARTIN BOWMAN. There is aphotograph of the crew in it - he looks very handsome. It gives a story of their exploits and you may borrow it if you like. If you would like to contact me MARY AYN SLEY by phone 02088656,2644 or mail (no home computer) 12 Gladeside, Shirley Croydon, Surrey CRO 7RE I would be ;pleasdd to tell you more about our exploits in meeting so many people from all over the world in our Motor Caravan.
Contributed originally by Doddridge (BBC WW2 People's War)
Last year I sat down and decided to put pen to paper and record my memories of the Second World War. When the war started I was only six years old, and my first recollection was sitting in the living room of our end of terrace house in Croydon and hearing the famous speech by Mr Chamberlain.
My next recollection was being sent away to stay with my aunt and uncle in stone in Oxney near Tenterden Kent, my uncle Ralph was the vicar and we lived in the very imposing vicarage sitting on the hill opposite the church on the outskirts of the village. the family them consisted of aunt Millie, uncle Ralph and cousin Helen who was about the same age as me, plus two Scotties. I remember helping my aunt polish the brasses in the church and dusting the pews but it seem extraordinary to me I cannot ever remember attending a church service. My uncle took me to the little c of e church school close to the vicarage. I remember watching the road members repairing the foot path and I ran down the path and fell over and remember looking down at the big hole in my knee and looking around on the floor for the piece that had fell out of my knee I still carry that scar today. I also remember a Christmas at the vicarage. I was taken on a trip into a town and was taken to see Santa Claus I cannot remember meeting him but I remember sitting in the back of my uncle's car and my aunt was saying “oh! go on let him open his present" I was clutching a pretty wrapped parcel and when uncle Ralph said "yes" it turned out to be a small box of paints those little square paints that you had to put water on them to get the colours. It was after lunch on Christmas day that aunty and uncle took us down the large hallway to the lounge at the rear of the house, throwing open the door we were greeted with a large decorated Christmas tree sitting in the French windows and the room beautifully decorated throughout. That Christmas brought back another memory, we were taken to the village hall to see the local pantomime I think it was "snow white and the seven dwarfs".
I remember our walks around the countryside and the Scotties chased the rabbits along a high escarpment that uncle said that the sea used to come right up to there in olden times.
the only other memory that comes to mind was on one Saturday uncle Ralph took me to the large outhouse at the vicarage and upstairs was the most fantastic clockwork train layout and we had the most wonderful afternoon, I remember I had difficulty in winding up the trains.
I came home just before the blitz started.
The blitz started before I went away, I remember watching the German planes bombing Croydon airport, and my mother grabbed me and took me indoors. We did not have an Anderson shelter at the beginning and we shared next doors. We all had to sit in chairs around the sides. We were kids then and the war seemed to be a great adventure, we swapped pieces of shrapnel. We used to walk through the cemetery on the way to school looking for shrapnel and the fins of the incendiary bombs, which came down among the gravestones.
The second time I was evacuated was at the start of the blitz, this time it was to a little village called Eltisley, between St. Neots and Cambridge in Cambridgeshire. One of our group had measles so we were kept in a hospital, so I was late getting to my billet. I was put with a couple who was old in my eyes the old man had a wooden leg they had a son that worked on the land and they had a farm hand lodging there as well, he had the job of fetching the drinking water from the village pump every evening carrying two buckets of water on a yoke across the neck and the buckets were suspended on chains, on bath night the water was collected from the village pond. Every Friday night the people went to the woman’s institute to collect extra rations this was given to people who worked on the land during the war, I used to be given the crust and jelly off a large pork pie that was among the extra rations.
There was one time that a big convoy of British troops came through the village and it must have been a long convoy because every night they pulled up on the grass verges out side our houses and we talked to the men on a tank.
I also remember the night the Germans bombed Caxton gibbet air field the sky lit up. I remember the church bells ringing to celebrate the desert victory at El Allemande.
I remember the hard winters we had in the war when we couldn't get to school for at least a week at one time. I used to like the long summer nights we used to enjoy when we went pea-picking, bean picking and potato lifting I used to go along with my aunt to help as they were paid by the weight or sack full they picked. She also sent me to the fields when they were reaping the corn with the old type reaper and binders and we followed behind stacking the stooks six at a time to dry in the sun. When the stooks were collected and taken to the rick in the corner of the field we were sent out gleening that is to collect all the ears of corn laying on the ground this we took home to feed the poultry that were kept to supplement the rations. us youngsters always liked to go to the fields where they were thrashing a rick they had a big traction engine driving the thrashing machine and we collected a big stick and tried to hit the rats and mice as they run from the rick as the sheaves were thrown on the top of the machine, when a sheaf was lifted the mice scattered in all directions and we had great fun trying to catch them and beating the dogs to them.
I was glad in some respects when the blitz subsided and my mother came to take me home my other aunt came with my mother to pick me up and we missed the bus to St. Nets to catch the train. so we started to walk and a passing motorist stopped and gave us a lift, I remember my aunt trying to give the man a pound note for his trouble but he refused, I always had the impression that my aunt Jemima was very wealthy, well she had more money than my mother as she brought both my sister and I up on her own as my father died when I was very young.
when Hitler decided to throw the doodle bugs and v2 rockets at us I was home and remember the doodle bug fell in our road we had just got into the Anderson shelter in the garden when it dropped and the blast blew my mother down on top of us in the shelter we were all so frightened that we never left the shelter until it was light, and what a scene of devastation greeted us, there was no windows left in our house even the whole window frame from the lounge was laying across the dining table. outside the other side of the street had completely disappeared all that was left was great piles of rubble stretching from one side of the street to the other, one thing I remember which was most poignant standing up in all that devastation was a solitary telegraph pole and hanging on the top was a feather pillow, I stood there and wondered how it got up there and stayed in one piece in all that devastation.
I was then bundled off to Shirley near Birmingham were I stayed for around for a few months I spent v/e day there but was home for the v/j day celebrations (v/e; victory in Europe day.) (v/j; victory in Japan day),I stayed with a middle aged couple who had two children in a nice semi detached house which was built just before the outbreak of war as the street was in various states of building.
I remember I did a paper round and used to buy national saving stamps every week I was lucky this time as a lot of my friends from Croydon were evacuated to the same area and we spent many a happy times together and it was at this time that I had my first serious association with the other sex i.e. girls!! Well I learnt a lot during that period as we had to find out things for ourselves in those days. we used to visit the local parks were there was a big lake also we found a lot of exciting places to play our war games behind the main Solihull Stratford road was a large wood yard where they stored big wooden crates and we used to make camps in them and had secret societies, there was a large wood close by and was a good hunting ground for conkers. I remember the day that Churchill announced the end of the war and we had a holiday from school and there was a sort of celebration in the street a man played an accordion and another man brought out a large rocket that he said he had saved all through the war for this day, well we all stood back as he lit it there was a phut! And spluttered and nothing happened we all had a good laugh over that. I cannot say really how I felt that day when we got on the coach to return to London I wanted to see my mum so much but I did not want to leave the friends I had made also my first childhood sweetheart.
So it was on a coach and train then a coach to Tavistock School Croydon and waited for my mum to come and picked me up and took me home.
So every thing started to get back to normal as best it could with all the restrictions still on for it took the country some years to get back so some sort of normality.
Contributed originally by Dudley Wood (BBC WW2 People's War)
(Formerly of 20, Constance Road West Croydon)
Croydon, just south of London, was not the most salubrious of areas to live in during the war years but as I was only two at the start of the war and as I didn’t know what salubrious meant anyway, I didn’t bother to move away from my parents — that came later, in the form of evacuation.
My first memories of the war were of standing up in my cot in the middle of the night and shouting ‘siween Daddy’ whenever the siren sounded an air raid. I felt no fear, just a desire to be of help to my mother and father. Anything to oblige, Dad. Along with my sister I would be bundled up in warm blankets and taken downstairs to the ‘safety’ of the cupboard under the stairs. As the war increased in it’s intensity and bombs started to fall thick and fast, we became the proud possessors of an Anderson shelter, which was supplied by the Government for a nominal charge. The shelter consisted of sheets of corrugated iron and nuts and bolts which were to be erected in the back garden and the resultant shelter afforded some sort of protection should you be unlucky enough to have a bomb land in close proximity. That was the theory, which later the Germans put to the test.
In the meantime my father set-to erecting the shelter and made an excellent job of it — the finished product was just like a half submerged house, containing four bunk beds, courtesy of Dad, with steps leading down to the entrance, in front of which was a blast wall, for additional protection.
Dad was a carpenter and joiner by trade and therefore, whilst having been accepted for the Royal Navy, was retained for war work in the U.K. On one occasion he was sent to Blandford in Dorset to assist in the building of an airfield and I clearly remember the day he left home. I was in my mother’s arms at the front gate waving good-bye to him. He turned the corner, disappearing from sight and we went indoors. I went and sat quietly in Mum’s armchair and then burst into tears. I can’t believe this but I am moved to tears just recalling the event! Memories are made of this?
When I was six, my older sister Shirley and I were evacuated to Loughborough in Leicestershire. We congregated at what was then the Croydon Polytechnic in Scarbrook Road, (at the top of Surrey Street market) and made our way by double decker bus to London where we embarked on our journey to Loughborough by train. I do not remember any sense of fear or unhappiness, maybe I was too young to realise that I was leaving the comfort of my home and parental protection for which was to be an unspecified period of time. We finally arrived at our destination, a school, where our would-be fosterers selected the children who were to stay in their houses for the foreseeable future. I did not of course, realise what a lottery this was and at six years of age, who would? All in all my sister and I fared well and we were taken to live with a lady who’s husband was abroad fighting for his country. This didn’t stop her from having a boy friend who was in the R.A.F. There’s nothing to beat a bit of patriotism and helping with the war effort, is there? Of course these thoughts never entered the head of a six year old.
Shirley and I were sent to the same school and I remember there being two classes held in the one classroom with half the desks facing one way and half the other. We made friends with local children and in general had a happy time ‘up there’. I do remember, however, one dark event that took place in our new home. My seventh birthday took place on the 22nd September 1944, whilst I was evacuated. The presents and cards that arrived for me had all been opened, courtesy of our fosterer. Lovely lady! May God forgive you Madam, for to this day, I surely haven’t!
During our time in Loughborough the word got around to us children (little devils, everyone) that the Yanks could be persuaded to part with money if you adopted the following scam (a word not in my vocabulary at that time). During the afternoon on a fine day, you went to the park to find yourself a courting couple, the male of which should be a member of the armed forces wearing an American uniform. You then sat down in close proximity to the happy couple and awaited the offer of money to go away. Shirley and I, together with a friend, adopted this ploy and were rewarded with half-a-crown! We left the park elated and asked the first person we saw if she was able to divide the money equally between the three of us. She was able to; ten pennies each and it was only many years later that it occurred to me that the first person asked was able to come up with sufficient change to effect our request. Amazing!
Mum arrived one weekend to visit with us and I remember her taking us to the cinema to see a film, which was very scary indeed. It was called ‘The Lodger’ and I remember being very glad that I was sharing Mum’s bed that night! During her weekend stay Mum noticed that Shirley and I were constantly scratching away at our heads and upon inspection she found that our hair was flea infested. She said nothing to our fosterer at that stage but returned to Croydon on the Sunday. The next weekend, having consulted with Dad, she returned to collect us. This time she had plenty to say to the fosterer and without doubt sent her away with a flea in her ear! The journey back to London was spent with my sister and I sitting next to the open window whilst our dear mother dispensed with the fleas one by one! Yuck!
Had Mum and Dad been able to foresee the events that were to unfold upon our return, their decision to bring us home would surely have been different. Croydon suffered very heavy bombing during the war years and with the advent of the V1 and V2 rockets the situation was about to get even worse. These unmanned missiles were launched from France and approached the English coastline from a southeasterly direction. They had a distinctive sound emanating from their engines and on hearing the sinister buzz (hence the nick-name ‘buzz bombs’) one had only to look up and over the tall elm trees in Elmwood School grounds to confirm ones suspicions that, once again we were under attack! The flying bomb had an unpredictability to it’s flight duration that was positively eerie, inasmuch as having reached the target area, say Croydon (i.e. us), it’s engine would cut out and the missile would either nose-dive into the ground or glide silently onward for miles before delivering it’s deadly cargo. Picture the scene. It was mid-morning and Dad was home. The siren started it’s melancholy wailing to signify an imminent attack and we children were summoned to the shelter once more. Off we go again! Exciting, I think in my childish innocence. Shortly the sound of the ‘doodle bug’ flying inbound reached our ears and then the dreaded cut out of the engine followed. A deathly silence was maintained for several seconds and then there was this almighty explosion, the immensity of which you cannot imagine! This horrendous noise was followed by what I can only describe as the sound of tinkling rain, and then another deathly silence followed. I looked at Mum aghast. My sister started crying, then my mother started crying and then I started crying. Tears were falling heavily thus replacing the bombs which had already been delivered! It was of course the shocked reaction to the terror of what had just taken place. You had to be there to understand, but I’m glad you weren’t. Anyway, Dad remained resolute, as always and decided to see what awaited us up top. He went up and opened the door to be greeted by the sight of a row of terraced houses with not a pane of glass in their window frames! The ‘tinkling rain’ was explained. Dad went out (followed by his now recovered and brave son) and checked with neighbours to ensure that they were alright. Fortunately, all was well. Quickly, we set-to sweeping glass shards into tin baths and various other suitable receptacles. It transpired that the rocket had fallen on a dance hall in Elmwood Road which was at the rear of Constance Road (our road) and which ran parallel to our road. I would estimate one hundred yards distance from our back garden and the shelter! Mum and Shirley meanwhile had gone indoors and the news was relayed to Dad and me that ceiling plaster had landed in the saucepan of potatoes that was sitting on the gas stove waiting to be boiled for lunch! I can see that saucepan in my mind’s eye sixty years on from the event. Hard to believe, but true!
When I think of what the adults had to contend with in the war years I can only admire their immense bravery and tenacity. As a young lad it was all very much an adventure and I cannot remember experiencing any of the fear my dear mother and father must have felt for themselves and even more so for their beloved children. But life went on - until it didn’t. True grit, indeed!
Eventually, the war ended and there followed street parties everywhere. Dad made cricket bats for competition prizes and the residents of Constance Road enjoyed their own party. Everybody pitched in to provide tables and chairs for our outdoor festivities along with lots of sandwiches, trifles and jellies.
In the process of describing my wartime memories I have been surprised at how quickly they have flooded back and how clear those memories remain all these years on. It also surprised me at how emotive recalling my wartime experiences has been. That period of my life clearly left it’s mark!
It’s a great pity that the sacrifice made by millions of people during that dark period of the world’s history doesn’t seem to have taught us any lessons, as planet Earth is still as dangerous a place as it has ever been.
Man’s inhumanity to man. When will we ever learn?
Contributed originally by DenisPerry (BBC WW2 People's War)
It is interesting that when viewing 'Peoples War' accounts as these have appeared on the B.B.C Television - that in their reminiscing, they quickly acknowledge the group that they were with - and who of course shared the experiences that they relate and that happened during the war.
What follows is almost unique.
What follows is to do with a group certainly - all volunteers - all boys from age 14 until they were called up - but - with more volunteers aged 14-15 joining the group.
On the evening of the 16th August 1940 the German Luftwaffe aircraft bombed Croydon Aerodrome. In fact they hit factories on evening shiftwork. There were many casualties. These were taken to Croydon's Mayday Hospital and to Croydon General Hospital. The pressure on the hospitals' staff made it immediately apparent that within their own staffs these hospitals lacked numbers in their A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) coverage and personnel.
So local troops of the Boy Scout Movement were asked to volunteer.
Thus this is not my story alone - but that of the 48th and the 20th Croydon Scout Troops who manned at Mayday Hospital, Thornton Heath, Croydon. There was also other manning by other Scout Troops at Croydon General Hospital, West Croydon. At the time I was age 14.
As the daylight air raids turned to night time bombing - the London Blitz - the volunteers were asked to cover in groups of twelve or more each night on a duty rota of duty every third night. We were each issued with steel helmets and heavy duty gas masks. The training involved fire-fighting - and in groups of four manned a mobile equipped with hoses, axes and standpipes for hydrants. So we were all trained in handling pressure hoses - and how to couple up on to the fire/water points of the hospital wards on the second and third floors.
Volunteers aged 16+ went up a very high tower as observers - overlooking the whole of the hospitals' many roofs of the wards. This was fire-watching to watch and to report the location of incendiary bomb fires.
Myself, in addition to fire party manning, was among the messengers. When next of kin were needed urgently - to come to very serious casualties - because not many homes possessed telephones - the messages were hand delivered. So we rode our bikes across Croydon - through the blackout and the gunfire regardless if an air raid was on - to hand the urgent request to the relative.
In addition, when there were many casualties - to turn the ambulances around quickly - we were called upon to unload the stretcher casualties arriving at the hospital. Then to carry these into "WARD ONE - CASUALTY" - where there were THREE operating theatres.
Once entering WARD ONE we were required to pull back the blanket covering the casualty to enable the doctors to quickly prioritise the need of each casualty. Sometimes quite dreadful. On one occasion passing a theatre I was handed a large rubber blanket and told "take that to the incinerator". It was warm - it was a leg!
As the Blitz continued - when the siren sounded we went into the Maternity Wards to remove new born babies in wicker baskets and then to carry them down to safety into the deep concrete air raid shelters. The mothers were put under their bed and covered with the mattress for their protection. Also we went to wards away from the main hospital to reassure patients, also to accompany the night duty nursing staffs.
The training and the manning and the duties were organised by a splendid Scout Leader - Ted Mayne. Always there and always good humoured.
Once I was 16 I did the fire spotting duty up the very very high tower. This involved walking up many many floors of the block where the tower was located - and then climbing up interminable rungs of a ladder to get to the observation tower. We had telephones to a control centre. Certainly a very good view perched high above Thornton Heath
However. The night air raids eased. Nevertheless we all still remained doing hospital A.R.P. - now Civil Defence - duty every third night. As our older chums were called up - fresh 14 year olds came in to maintain the rotas. The new arrivals were apprehensive but soon settled into the training and duties.
In June 1944 Croydon + London was hit by Doodlebugs - flying bombs. Initially no-one was quite sure what they were - with motorbike like noisy engines that cut out! And a tremendous wallop when they hit.
So the hospital was busy with casualties again.
Croydon had more Doodlebugs fall on its streets than any other London Borough.
In late 1944 I was called up for the Army.
Denis E Perry 20 Shirley Church Road, Shirley, Croydon, Surrey, CR0 5EE
Contributed originally by gloinf (BBC WW2 People's War)
We lived in Thornton Heath near Croydon after our marriage. Before our wedding we went to church to finalize the arrangements: my future husband was in the Fire Service and while we were there the sirens went and he had to report for duty and left me at the church.
My wedding dress and the bridesmaids’ dresses were at home and had to be moved for safety because a bomb had been dropped and was embedded in the next-door neighbour’s settee!
On our wedding day the Chief Fire Officer and fire service friends attended and, halfway through the service, the Air Raid sirens went the fire service crews had to leave, but my future husband was allowed to stay!
Due to the severity of the bombing we spent our wedding night in an air raid shelter with about eight other guests.
My husband and I later had the great honour of meeting the Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine who kindly autographed a photograph of us.
(See photograph above.)
My job to help towards the war effort was working in a factory with a large group of ladies making hypodermic needles for the hospitals and other medical organizations.
Due to the heavy bombing where we lived we spent a lot of our time in the air raid shelters, which were most of the time under water, and our furnished fiat was badly hit.
Then when 1 went to live near Upperton Rd a landmine was dropped across the road a direct hit killed nine people.
When my husband was in the front line with the Fire Service in Coventry he attended a fire at the Cathedral, and he fell when the roof collapsed.
After the war I visited Bertesgarten, Hitler’s retreat, with my second husband.
During the war my second husband designed underwater missiles for the Americans.
Contributed originally by granger (BBC WW2 People's War)
SHEILA GRANGER’S MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II
N.B. Sheila Granger came to visit me, Rosalind Stew in my office at Age Concern Epsom & Ewell. She had heard about your web site but had no access to a computer so I edited her written memories for her down to less than 3,000 words. She has approved this version and asked me to submit it on her behalf. If you need to contact her, send me an e-mail and I will pass it on to her.
In 1939 I was nineteen and living at home with my parents in South London. I had met a young man called Don when I was on holiday in Jersey two years previously and I was there visiting him when suddenly our joy was shattered by the announcement of War. Don enlisted at once and expected to be sent to England but this did not happen and I soon met another fellow, Ralph, who worked at the de Havilland factory. He was a nice chap who took me out a lot and who very much wanted to marry me. Who knows I may well have drifted into marriage with Ralph. In those days marriage was considered to be the ultimate aim for a woman giving her security for her future and in return she would keep house and bear children (to be honest, that part did not very much appeal to me). Due to the war Ralph worked many late nights, which meant I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I went with my friend, Milly, to the Lorcano (? sp ? Locarno) Dance Hall in Streatham; it is still there by the way but has since changed names many times. Milly had a dancing partner who suggested that he bring along his friend to meet us for a foursome and that of course is how I met Matt (never dreaming that he would be my future husband!).
A meeting was arranged, a blind date! To my delight he was very tall, 6 fit 6 inches in fact, and I a mere cheeky 5 ft! In those early war days we wore gas masks around our necks so we must have looked very silly. We did not strike a rapport immediately but I would say we felt comfortable with each other. It turned out that Matt also had a girl, Ivy, to whom he had been engaged for some years. However, she worked for the Admiralty and had been evacuated to Bath because London was considered to be unsafe in the war. Matt eas therefore lonely and willing to make the date just for a bit of fun and company. Now Matt was a very keen cyclist and loved riding out into the countryside. He missed this form of recreation with Ivy so much that he bought a bicycle for me and coaxed me to go riding with him. It did not take me long to become as keen on this way of life as Matt was. In 1940 Matt was thirty-one and had not yet been called up. We had glorious days out in the quiet countryside (there was no traffic around due to the war). Mutual thinking and a love of the country made our friendship strong. However those friendly feelings became more than just that. We then knew that we had a problem knowing that we wanted to marry. It was easy for me to disentangle myself from Ralph but more difficult for Matt who had been engaged to Ivy for many years. Ivy solved our problem by meeting and falling in love with a South African pilot. One day Matt came to my house with the news that he was a now a free man as Ivy had married her pilot.l He had a few mixed feelings as I imagine it was a bit of a blow to his ego. I had to comfort him and remind him that this was what we had wanted and he soon consoled himself with me. This made me wonder at the time if he was not rather fickle but I have to say that my thoughts could not have been more wrong because Matt was for the fifty years the most loyal, true and loving lover and husband that anyone could have wished for …
Memories race through my mind of lovely days out in the country on our bikes. I remember at one time we having a picnic and cooking sausages on a spirit stove with Spitfires flying overhead engaged in fighting with German aircrafts. It was frightening but quick thinking Matt threw me into a ditch near by and jumped in after me. We could easily have been killed. Despite the war the lovely summer of 1940 will remain in my thoughts for the rest of my life. I was really in love with this nice gentle giant as he was so often called.
Matt then decided that, although he was a printer exempt from war duty, he would volunteer for the Forces. This upset me terribly and I tried to persuade him not to join but he felt he had enjoyed a fairly easy life up to that point and felt it was his duty. The dreaded day came at Easter in 1941 when he was called and sent to Blackpool. I remember thinking how stupid he was to go and that he need not have done so. I did not understand at all. However, having lived with him for fifty years I now realise that he was a man of high moral code and principles. His good character remained with him for the rest of his life, which probably explains why he was so loved by all. He stayed in Blackpool for a year and I travelled up at weekends to visit him. Those were hard days and I do not know how I got through them. I dreaded the thought that he would eventually be sent abroad and perhaps even be killed. When the call for embarkation came we decided to get married at once thinking that if we did not we might never get the chance. He got forty-eight hours leave and a mad rush was on for the wedding with the help of my wonderful mother. Thanks to dear Barbara Cartland who campaigned for brides to obtain the special privilege of having material for white weddings, I already had a wedding gown made and two blue ones for the bridesmaids because we had always planned to get married at some time. A dear vicar of St Luke’s Church at Norwood agreed to marry us at short notice, what seemed like thousands of telegrams were despatched and a photographer was arranged. My husband wore his civilian clothes against the rules and on September 20 we had a lovely white wedding with the sun shining. After the service we went back to my parents’ house where as if by magic many guest had gathered for a wonderful buffet spontaneously arranged by my mother, her neighbour and friends. It was a miracle that they managed to obtain chocolate biscuits, jellies, sandwiches and even a homemade wedding cake with a Union Jack on the top. In the middle of the music and dancing an air raid came with guns going and bombs falling but no one cared and at midnight we were ordered to go off for our honeymoon. Friends lent us their house overlooking Norwood Park but we only had until the next evening when my husband had to journey to Liverpool ready to sail to unknown destinations. After a tearful parting from me Matt was gone. The next time I heard from him he was in North Africa; it might as well have been the moon as far as I was concerned. The worst part of my life followed. For the next four years all I had of Matt were his letters and what wonderful letters they were. I received them four or five times a week. They never stopped coming. They meant so much to me in those dark days when bombs were falling, the terrible V1s and V2s. The letters continued so bright, cheerful and optimistic. The army soon realised that Matt was of officer material and tried to promote him but he turned them down. He did not want the responsibility. Instead he found himself in Italy and North Africa driving around in a lorry delivering water.
Meanwhile I lived in my mother’s large house. She had given us three rooms on the top floor which I furnished and decorated myself. I had help from some Irish workmen who had been sent here to clean up the damage caused by the bombing. I hunted the shops for second hand furniture and soon I had a three room furnished flat ready for my warrior’s return.
I worked from 8 — 5.30 in an office of a perfume making company at the Elephant and Castle to which I travelled by bus from West Norwood. I often had to dodge behind vans for cover from the bombs. I remember one occasion coming home at six o clock when a bomb fell en route and we all had to get off the bus at Herne Hill. We had to go into an underground shelter and stay there all night. We were only a quarter of a mile from home but we were not allowed through and our poor mother worried all night about us but there was no way of letting her know we were safe. I still remember that night. There were no lavatories — only buckets behind a curtain. My sister and I were desperate to spend a penny but we did not want to use those buckets so did not go all night. After that and several other hair raising experiences, I left the job in Walworth and moved to the T.M.C. (Telephone Manufacturing Comapany) where I often worked night shifts but was walking distance of home. I remember one terrible night when the East India Docks were bombed. We could see them blazing from Norwood. We spent many nights in my father’s makeshift shelter which he had made in the place where we stored our coal. We literally slept on blankets on top of piles of coal. On one occasion some houses in our street were bombed — there was glass everywhere. The first thing my mother did was to check the gas so that she could make a cup of tea and then she set to work sweeping up all the glass. Despite the wartime shortages we did not go hungry — we always had bread, biscuits and soy sausages. There was a Civic Restaurant at Norwood which provided a simple, basic cheap meal for the bombed out. We survived the war and eventually my husband returned and we enjoyed fifty very happy years together. Sadl, just eight weeks after the big celebration we held for our Golden Wedding my Matt died leaving me desolate but with a lot of lovely memories and photos.
Contributed originally by Link into Learning (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Dominic Penny of Link into Learning on behalf of Peter Ascott and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s Terms and Conditions.
1939 Sept — Nov helped father settle into recently bought house in Dorking, having moved from Croydon. It was mainly converting garden wilderness.
Got job as an electrical apprentice, based at Leatherhead, Head Office, London. Worked locally at first then worked in London ’40-’41, during the ‘Blitz’ but only during the day, commuting sometimes with extreme difficulty from Dorking. Joined L.D.V., later the Home Guard — back to Leatherhead. Temporary wiring in old school where Chelsea Pensioners were evacuated to. They were pushed out, to make way for wounded troops, back from Dunkirk. This was the first time I had seen a dead body and there were plenty!
1941 winter, sent to work in M.G.’s car factory at Abingdon. Lodgings were impossible to obtain, so four of us slept in a wooden hut and had meals in their canteen. They were not making cars: - repairing Waltzing Matilda Tanks, making Albemarle Aeroplane noses. Covenanter tank turrets and lots of smaller parts. We put in 400 fluorescent lamps, high up in the factory roof.
1942, sent to work in underground hospital in grounds of Dover Castle (all very Hush, Hush) Ran the gauntlet of daily bombing and shelling. We were bombed out of two lots of ‘digs’. The mainly Canadian Dieppe raid took place while we were there our landlady told us on the Friday that something big was going to happen on the next Tuesday. If she knew, so did the Germans, consequently the hospital became a mortuary before it was properly finished.
October 12th 1942, sent to work at Davidstow aerodrome wiring the interior of buildings. I found my ‘niche’ climbing about like a monkey putting 21 lights in the hangars or T2 sheds. I had a little trouble here, with the authorities when I borrowed a dumper truck during the lunch hour, thinking to go the pub, which was too far away anyway. On my return I managed to overturn the thing. I righted it with the aid of some friendly civilians and a bulldozer. No harm done — But as it was an R.A.F. dumper, a warrant officer did not see the funny side of it and reported it to the C.O. who demanded of my foreman that I be instantly dismissed. They could not do that to me as I was an apprentice (and an asset, wiring hangars without the aid of scaffold). So the next day I was sent to an aerodrome in Devon at Smeatharpe, known as Upottery where I continued wiring huts and hangars. An interesting ‘racialist’ incident occurred there when we were supposed to wire an American officer’s living hut. Our foreman refused to do it as it was disgustingly filthy. They even had a tame monkey messing all over. We went away and started wiring one of the black airman’s huts. When the American C.O. was informed of the reason, he just sent a working party of blacks to clean the officer’s huts!!!
I moved on from there after having wired 2 hangars and went to St Eval (Cornwall), where I wired two more. Then on to Portreath for another one, D Day came when I was there — I only wondered the day before — why grown men and flying officers were wasting their time betting on how many flys they could shoot down with elastic bands and dried peas.
1944 My apprenticeship ran out. I was no longer reserved so I got a job maintaining Davidstow Aerodrome, until I was called up in January 1945. It was not of choice that I was selected to be a Bevin Boy (at the age of 21) Went to Creswell for one month’s training. Then to Ollerton (Notts) to work underground (1500 ft down). Great treat to be given a real orange on V.E. Day.
Voluntary and Incendiary Work
Even before I had volunteered for the L.D.V., Home Guard, my father, who worked in an insurance office, joined the A.F.S., the part time fire brigade. Where he helped the local station in their training etc. This was in Dorking, about 20 miles south of London.
He was very keen on it all. One of the regulars told me they used to see him doing all the work, while the others looked on. They did go out on local incidents, such as chimney fires etc.
I am rather ashamed to admit that my mate and I were out on Holmwood Common just south of Dorking, on a very hot and dry summer’s day. We were experimenting, smoking cherrywood pipes when somehow or other, the grass was set alight and became uncontrollable by our feeble efforts of beating it with sticks. We did the obvious and made a bee line for home on our bikes.
As we were going into the house, the fire siren was going and Dad rushed past us, putting on his uniform. I never did tell him!
On the grimmer side of this, his team were sent to Portsmouth, during a Blitz raid. He was there for two days with little if any sleep. On his return he had to have a new uniform as his had been burnt beyond repair. Soon after this experience, which he never spoke about; his thumb was crushed, when someone slammed an ‘appliance’ door. He spoke quite a lot about that and the culprit.
About this time I asked if he could scrounge a tin helmet for me. I had never heard of anyone buying one. I told him that I wanted it, for when I cycled back from evening classes in Guildford, sometimes shrapnel and stuff came down around me. After giving me a severe lecture on the impropriety of stealing, he stopped me going to evening classes and paid for a correspondence course instead.
My sister had one. She was a fire watcher and at the age of 15 stood on the roof of her convent in Dorking spotting for planes and incendiaries. Her helmet was made of compressed cardboard and was a funny shape. It had a crown and was painted light blue.
I got one in the end when I joined the L.D.V. Local Defence Volunteers, pre Home Guard.
One day in 1942, whilst working on an underground hospital under Dover Castle, we had some unannounced visitors. They turned out to be the Prime Minister, then plain Mr Churchill and the American Ambassador Mr J. Kennedy senior. My mate Syd Roberts and I were busy installing an electric fan motor in a ventilating duct.
We were all very conscious of security and the need to “Be like Dad keep Mum” and other exhortations with which we were constantly badgered.
So when Mr C and his entourage stopped, he asked of Syd “What is this you are doing here?” showing a bit of interest Syd replied “I don’t know — I only work here!” Churchill was tickled pink and said “I shouldn’t have asked should I?” Syd, trying to keep a straight face replied “No Sir” and the party moved on to more momentous activities.
Per Ardua ad Aerodrome
Early in 1944 I had been working at Davidstow Aerodrome, having excellent lodgings in nearby Tintagel with my future Grandmother in law the widowed Mrs Ada Fry. When I was told to go and work on 2 hangars at St Eval I was reluctant to leave, especially as it would be very difficult to find lodgings there.
I devised a scheme to get there daily. A workmen’s bus going through Wadebridge, 12 miles from St Eval, went on to St Mawgan. It left Tintagel 6.45 am and returned about 6.30 pm. So I arranged for my mate who conveniently lodged in Egloshayle Road, Wadebridge to keep my bike there. He would bring his and my bike to meet the bus on the bridge and we went on the spectacular route to St Eval via St Issey and Little Petherick, where there is a hump backed bridge at the bottom of two steep hills. They say there are 26 signs there now, nor is the bridge such a hump. It was possible to get airborne if you had nerve enough not to apply your brakes. We had the nerve then, being teenagers. It was 12 hour days and hard work, but we had fun at times.
In one hangar was a Liberator ex R.A.F. Coastal Command, now damaged and scrapped. Some USA Americans came in wanting bits of it for spares. They thought we owned it and offered to pay. I told them if they gave us ‘corfee’ everyday that would do. They did and brought a ‘dixie’, a large oval saucepan with enough for about 10 men. That helped to foster Anglo USA relations. Incidentally they thought we were quite mad to cycle all that way. They piled into jeeps even to go to lunch.
Besides USA American Navy, there were Canadian Engineers making runways and roads some spoke French and some were ‘Red Indians’.
Bill Venning a retired carpenter, now running a fishing shop in Tintagel, remembers the plane crash on Buttern Hill. It was Zoar Chapel anniversary Sunday, at Cold Northcott, on the A395 (21/05/44) not far from Wilsey Down hotel. The Chapel was full and he was ‘on the platform’ — a sort of stage — temporarily erected for the occasion, in front of the pulpit, for school choir recitations etc. They were used to hearing planes landing at Davidstow Coastal Command Aerodrome. This one was different. It was very low and making a different noise. It was so close; they imagined that it nearly touched the roof. The Chapel service continued as they heard it come down on the top of the Hill about 3½ miles away about the same distance from the runways at the Aerodrome.
The next day after school he and his pal persuaded his mother at their farm, where he lived, a few yards from Cold Northcott, to lend, begrudgingly, her bicycle. They both rode on this with other boys on bicycles to Bowithick. They walked from there to the top of the hill. The wreckage was all on the actual top. Fortunately the crew of seven had ‘baled out’. It was a Halifax bomber and was not from Davidstow. Their little group carried off bits and pieces for souvenirs. He remembers one wheel still being able to spin upside down. He wished he had saved the souvenirs because he subsequently joined the R.A.F. for his national service and had an affinity with them.
Excerpt from David Keast’s ‘Memories and Records of R.A.F. Davidstow Moor’ given with full permission.
21st May 1944 - This was a Sunday, a beautiful spring day. A Halifax bomber was circling around the area with a serious engine fire. It is not known whether the pilot was in contact with control at RAFDM or not. After a time a crew member was seen to bale out of the burning aircraft after it was set on course for open moorland. This crew member, (pilot) 22 years old P/O Jack Flemming RAAF landed in a field on Newpark Farm (near the airfield) The farmer and his wife were the first on the scene to find the pilot had sustained a terrible head wound. It was thought that on landing he had been injured by a large stone protruding from the hedge. The farmers wife had been straining milk at the time and in her panic found she was still holding the milk straining cloth in her hand. She folded it and used it as a compress on the wound. Eventually an RAF medical crew arrived from RAFDM, gave P/O Flemming morphine and took him away by RAF ambulance to RAFDM sick quarters (Trewassa) where he sadly died of his wounds.
About three days later, a local boy was walking through the fields and found a leather flying helmet with a gash in it that corresponded with the pilot’s head wound. The helmet was found two fields away from where the pilot landed. This almost certainly proves that P/O Flemming sustained his injury somehow as he left the burning aircraft. The other crew members baled out in the Callington area and all landed safely. The aircraft crashed into Buttern Hill at 2.20 pm narrowly missing the village of Bowithick. Because the site of the crash was so inaccessible a local farmer with a Standard Fordson Tractor and trailer, was employed by the air ministry to bring all the remains of the Halifax bomber back to Old Park Farm, where it was collected by RAFDM aircraft transporter. I have recently discovered that the Halifax was from Blyton, Lincolnshire 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit on a heavy bomber training exercise.
Contributed originally by Neville Matthews (BBC WW2 People's War)
My memories of the war start when as an eight year old boy we went on holiday in late August 1939. This was in the days when annual leave was not a common privilege. In those days private cars were few and far between, father did own one however, a bull-nosed Morris that took us on day trips and holidays. We could not afford a hotel, but with one of his colleagues from work jointly rented a beach-house.
It was a long journey from Croydon, South London where we lived, particularly for a young boy and cars were much slower than today especially as there were few trunk roads and no motorways then.
Night fell when we were still some distance away. Petrol filling stations were not as common then, nor did they open the hours that they do today either. I remember the atmosphere in the car becoming more and more tense as, with the fuel gauge bumping on zero we made our way in the dark to the depths of the West Country. Our destination was the beach at Dunster in Somerset. We must have
found an open filling station somewhere because we arrived without mishap.
You can imagine our disappointment, disbelief even horror on arriving late at night, in the dark and rain to discover our beach-house which was advertised as having three bedrooms, a kitchen and a large dining area, was no more than a large single-roomed wooden hut with no running water, indeed apart from electricity, no facilities at all!
It had also claimed it was right on the sea front. That last at least, was truthful, there was nothing but sand between us and the waves! What about the advertised bedrooms, living room, kitchen etc.? Well at night curtains pulled across the single room divided the large dining area into the three bedrooms. The kitchen was an alcove off the main room and there were no toilets or washing facilities, these were situated in a communal block with showers and the tap which supplied our kettles
and cooking pots!
I seem to remember that I had a bunk bed, but privacy was almost non-existent. It was far from the standard we had been led to expect. After some discussion it was agreed than rather than pack up and go home then and then (It was very late at night), we would stay until the morning.
However next morning was bright and sunny, the ocean lapped at the front door and the prospects
seemed much brighter. After some discussion (in which I took no part!) it was decided we would stay after all. It was a memorably time, apparently I and the children of the other couple spent all our time on the beach, coming in only to eat and sleep. It was memorable for another reason too, it was during our holiday that the second world war was declared.
I vaguely remember adults clustering round a radio with long faces shushing any children making any noise, but the importance of the announcement was lost on me. The news must have thrown a shadow over our holiday, but I can not say it had much impression on me or the other children. When our holiday was up father and the other family returned home but mother and I stayed on in rented rooms in Dunster village, some two miles from the sea. Being away from Croydon meant I missed the general evacuation of children from Croydon.
Mother and I had our bicycles there (this seems odd to me now, I can not believe we had taken
them down on holiday with us. Perhaps father sent them on by rail, much used for nuaccompanied parcels in those days). We used them to go all over the county, in particular down to the sea, reached by a shallow, but very long hill. Marvellous when going to the sea, murder when returning, too long to walk, too steep to ride, at least all the way back.
Dunster was, and from what I remember the last time we went back many years later, probably
still is, a picture-postcard village with pink and cream washed cottages and blessed with a church with a clock that possessed a peal of bells that not only chimed the hours and quarters but also played a selection of tunes, day and night. One that affected my mother more than I, was “There is no place
The house did not have electricity but was equipped with gas lighting, which was operated by a switch, using a battery in each switch. I have never seen this system before or since. Whether the battery was used to control a gas-valve, or merely light the gas flame (or both) I do not know.
I remember that whereas our garden at home was lawn and flowers, the garden at Dunster was
used exclusively for food. Chickens, fruit, potatoes and other vegetables. This usage was well established long before we came there, not as a result of the governments “Dig for Victory” campaign, a slogan later used to encourage such self-sufficiency. It was a true “cottage garden” and not one as
idealised in gardening programmes of recent years. It was strictly functional.
I particularly remember cabbages, and black-currants. The cabbages because one of my jobs was to collect the caterpillars that otherwise shredded the leaves, and the black-currants because they were used to make jam. I was also urged to weed too, and not only at home, the school garden seemed to take up a disproportionate amount of the school day (but then what else we were being prepared for?) I
remember groundsel was valued for the chickens (as were the caterpillars!) I did not mind feeding the chickens, it was a bonus.
Like all her contemporaries, the housewife with whom we were staying made her own jam,
mainly from fruit from the garden and the hoarded supplies of sugar. Everyone seemed to buy up as much as they could get. When the jam was put hot into the jars, before sealing the lids she used to put the jars on the kitchen window ledge to cool, to the great enjoyment of the local insects. They sometimes became so enthusiastic that they lost their footing. It was difficult to tell which was currant and which was fly. When mother got fed up with fishing them out, she warned me not to eat
home-made jam when it was subsequently served.
Since the war lasted more than the few months expected at the time, I went to the village school, which was a great shock to me. Although there are differences between schools these days, it was far greater then. Whereas the aim of schooling in London was to turn out citizens who (mostly) could read, write and have at least a reasonable standard of numeracy, suitable for shop assistants or clerks, the aim of the village school seemed far lower, mainly to turn out obedient farm
workers who knew their place.
Although competence in reading, writing and arithmetic was indeed a goal, it was hardly
expected of all students. One thing that I can justly claim I owe to the school was impetigo, which despite many visits to the local doctor went undiagnosed at the time, but was recognised (and cured) immediately I returned to Croydon.
After a year or so, mainly because my medical condition was getting worse and partly because
the air raids had not occurred with the predicted ferocity, we eventually returned home, in time to experience the start of the “Doodle-bugs”, or V1’s. Although crude, they were so fast the fighters of the day (Spitfires and Hurricanes) could not catch them in level flight.
They made a quite distinctive noise and we soon grew to recognise them and took no action until
the engine cut out, when everyone immediately dived for cover. They would glide for a short while (which generally gave enough warning), before hitting the ground and exploding. After some months they started to be fitted with a device which made them dive whilst the engine was still running. Sneaky!
Because the ground is higher where I lived, and it was on the direct route to London, the area
around Croydon suffered greatly from these unpleasant devices. Later we were subjected to V2’s (rockets). Unlike normal bombers and V1’s, the air raid sirens were unable to give any warning. V2’s
travelled so fast they exceeded the speed of sound and in those days there was no means of detecting them.
Following an entirely unexpected explosion, you would hear a rumbling echo, which was their
wake catching them up. It was said at the time that if you heard them coming, you were all right, it was only if you didn’t, that you (or your relatives) had problems. Fortunately, from my own selfish personal point of view, Croydon suffered less from these than the V1’s, partly because their launch
sites were being overrun by our forces.
However most of the damage I knew about was caused by bombers dropping high explosive or
incendiary bombs. Some were fitted with time-delay fuses, which caused even more disruption than those which exploded on impact. They could not be left, threatening a factory or houses, but had to be dug up and defused if possible. Whilst this was going on the inhabitants of the houses or factories were
evacuated, causing disruption.
I remember some peculiar and decidedly odd effects of bomb blast on houses, two in particular.
In one case a bomb had fallen during the night on a house in a nearby street, but I took a long time finding it next morning. The reason was that the front of the house was still complete, there was no visible damage, even the tiles on the roof and the very glass in the windows was unbroken and the curtains still hanging behind them, but unbelievably, from there on back there was nothing but rubble!
There were no centre dividing walls between the front and rear rooms, and no rear wall either. The house had been completely disembowelled!
I can’t explain how it occurred. It was not that the house had been damaged in a previous raid and the authorities had pulled down any dangerous structure, it had all happened in an instant during the previous night. The other occasion was almost the reverse, the front and centre walls had gone but
left the rear wall intact. This was not quite so amazing, all the glass in the remaining windows had broken.
Two types of shelter were issued, the type we were given was the Anderson, it assembled into a
curved tunnel-like corrugated steel structure about six foot long, about the same in width and five feet or so high in the centre. It was half-buried in the garden, the soil dug out was placed over the shelter as additional protection. Sand bags were put a little way in front of the entrance to divert direct blast
from that direction. There was just room for four bunks, two upper and two lower with space to walk between. It always suffered from damp and was liable to flood when it rained. Ours was later lined with concrete to keep the ground water at bay.
During the worst of the blitz we slept in the shelter every night and at first ran there during the day when the sirens warned of an air raid, later the warning sirens merely put us into a higher state of alert and we stayed out, but ready to run when we heard the approaching enemy aircraft or V1’s. Apart
from well-shielded torches it had no lighting of course, especially as the “Black-out” meant that even a candle exposed to the night was liable to bring down the wrath of the wardens. The cars and lorries,including military vehicles had their headlights covered by a metal mask with louvers which allowed
only a glimmer of light through, barely enough to see it coming, what it must have been like to drive I hate to think. Not that it bothered me then!
There were also communal shelters built of brick with a reinforced concrete roof. Although
stronger than normal buildings they were not sufficient to protect against a direct hit, but they did guard against bomb blast and the debris from anti-aircraft shells, commonly called ‘shrapnel’. I used to go
out most mornings looking for it. It came of course from the anti-aircraft guns of which there were several batteries on waste ground and parks in the neighbourhood. The other deterrent was the barrage balloons, although we could see several in the sky around, there were none based close to us. I think they were intended to make the bombers fly too high for precision aiming.
The bark of the guns, the thud of the shells exploding high overhead mingled with the distinctive drone of aircraft made sleeping in the shelter during the raids impossible, but it only became more than a nuisance to me when a bomber released a stick of bombs. If they were close one could hear the whine as they came down and we listened for the succession of explosions; hopefully (selfishly) getting
quieter as they receded, or as happened on one occasion landed one either side of our house,
fortunately a hundred yards or so away.
Still I was a child and as a child accepted this as normal. That is how things were. At that age I just did not realise the dangers I lived through. Except perhaps once. My father and I were alone in the shelter when we heard a VI cut out. In the silence that followed it flew closer until we could hear the air rushing over its wings. It got louder and louder, we were sure it was coming right on top of us.
Father grabbed me tightly and pulled me down, then the sound inexplicably faded and a few seconds later we heard it explode as it destroyed a nearby house.
I also remember that metal street fittings, notably house and park railings were taken away. Aluminium saucepans and other items were collected for the war effort. I remember taking a wheel barrow round searching out such ‘scrap’. I can’t help feeling now that it was more psychological than
practical. I must also mention gas masks, we were all issued them, they smelled musty and rubbery,were uncomfortable to wear and allowed only limited vision. They were kept in square cardboard cartons with string to hang round our necks and had to be taken everywhere with us, although later I don’t remember being unduly restricted going to school or roaming the streets and parks. Mine had a protective Rexene cover, probably made by mother.
Father’s health was such that he did not go into the armed forces. Prewar he was in the print butwas re-trained as a turner and sent to work in Grantham, a town which later produced one of our PrimeMinisters, though I do not hold him personally responsible. Due to continual health problems he later returned to Thornton Heath where he worked in a precision engineering factory in near-by Mitcham.
He joined the Air Raid Wardens and amongst the friends he made at that time was a young
solicitor who was of use to me professionally in later life. To increase his income, badly hit by the change in circumstances, we rented a room for a while to a young police constable. Mother also worked although pre-war she had been a full time housewife, most women were called up for essential work, for a time she worked as a typist in the same factory that also employed my father.
Later in the war several relatives lost their homes in air raids and two great-aunts came to live with us for a while. Still later my maternal grandfather also came to stay after he suffered a stroke that affected one whole side. I remember he was a big man and mother found it difficult to manhandle him with his lack of mobility, however I remember he married again and went to livc with his new wife in
At my age the war didn’t make as much of an impression on me as my parents, they tried,
successfully, to shield me from the worst, we were very fortunate that we were spared any real damage to our house and immediate family. There were shortages and food rationing of course, and we ate different food from that my parents would have chosen otherwise, perhaps that is why I developed a liking for corned beef even after real meat became more readily available. I know my parents found that rather odd. But I accepted things, that is how they were and to my mind, always had been.
I remember the garden was converted into an allotment and we grew some of our own food,
particularly tomatoes and I remember we sometimes used to make a meal of them , cut up with salt, pepper and vinegar. I didn’t miss bananas (there was a popular song at the time;- “Yes we have no bananas....”) I must have had them pre 1939 but I had completely forgotten them and remember disappointing my mother when I was not enthusiastic about the first one I tried when they did come back into the shops. One thing that I still retain is horror at the thought of throwing away edible food.
We didn’t have television of course, nobody did, but we listened to the radio avidly. Not only the news but the midday music programmes broadcast from works canteens around the country and comedies, like, ‘I.T.M.A.’ (Its That Man Again, with Tommy Handley Colonel Chinstrap and all). I remember being glued to my chair during episodes of ‘Dick Barton - Special Agent’! The papers were also affected by rationing, becoming very thin, although of course I don’t remember them pre-war.
The papers and the cinema, the Gaumont British and Pathé news reels, provided the pictures of the war that are now shown on TV. The news those days was far less immediate (and censored too, in ways that would be impossible now).
For me life continued in much this way until the war with Germany eventually ended with a great deal of celebration, tinged by the fact that the war against Japan was still continuing, until that too finished.
We had celebrations then too, but rather more muted as the war with Japan seemed less immediate, unless you had friends or relations fighting there, which we didn’t. We didn’t have streets parties in our area, but I remember the victory celebrations well. Rationing and food shortages didn’t end then, but continued for some years afterwards, the end of sweet rationing in particular took a very long time coming.
Images in Croydon
See historic images relating to this area:
Sorry, no images available.