Bombs dropped in the ward of: Palmers Green
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Palmers Green:
- High Explosive Bomb
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:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Palmers Green
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Julian Barrett (BBC WW2 People's War)
As I was only 3 at the outbreak in September 1939 my strongest memories are of the latter stages of the war.
So I have no recollection of September 3 even though I have two memories from earlier: one was to do with a visit to the seaside, but the other was relevant to this account because we visited relations in Southampton over a Bank Holiday (probably Easter '39) and my father and a couple of cousins were playing around with the wireless. They stumbled across a foreign station which was probably German and I recall being petrified and bawling the place down. Which shows the effect of propaganda on even the young: I had no idea of who these 'Germans' were other than that I had good reason to be frightened of them.
Later I learned that on the morning of 3 September, my mother was returning from church when the air raid siren went following Chamberlain's broadcast announcing the declaration of war. Apparently she was about a quarter of a mile from home and by her own account ran in a panic faster than she had ever done before or subsequently.
We lived in Edmonton, North London, and though this was not directly in line of air attack we were sufficiently close to Lea Valley industry and the East End for me to have a recollection of the Blitz. I remember being woken night after night and carried by my father to a neighbour's Anderson shelter, with constant noise from the bombs and ack-ack guns (there was a battery nearby on the pre-war Saracens' rugby ground), while the dark sky was pierced by the searchlight beams.
This was comparatively early in the war so this shelter was just that, a hole in the ground covered over with corrugated sheeting and earth, with a cold, damp and gloomy atmosphere. Later I would occasionally stay a night or two with my great-aunt and uncle who lived a mile away and by then they had installed bunks with some bedding and had tried to create a little comfort with a small rug and a drape over the entrance such that these visits were quite an adventure for a small boy.
In 1941 the bombing continued but was not as intense, and it was time to start school. There would be occasional daytime scares but I cannot recall my trips to or stay in school being severely disrupted by air raids. My abiding memory is of the long tedious walk generally accompanied by a cousin (my mother had had a second son the previous year and was pregnant again) to the convent in Palmers Green, I was not a happy walker at this time.
Shortly before that, however, there had been a family crisis the full measure of which I only learned many years later. I had an ear infection which would not clear up and which puzzled our family doctor. Eventually he sent me to the North Middlesex Hospital where I was given M&B (I believe), the seemingly magic cure-all of the time and kept in a room at the end of a large ward away from all other patients, my parents were not allowed in the room, they could only wave through the glass partition from several yards away. Although I was in a half-drugged state it was very frightening but probably not exceptional for that time. What was different in wartime was that staffing in hospitals was difficult, and not all nurses in civilian establishments were of a high calibre.
On one occasion I had wet the bed and the Matron (or Sister, I did not know which) called me all the names under the sun and gave me a thorough verbal going-over. After 7 or 8 days of this, apparently my parents were informed that I had 24 hours to live which must have been acutely distressing for them.
However, that same night I coughed with an unusual sound. I had suppressed whooping cough and after this I was moved to a children's ward, stayed another couple of days, went home and the infection took its course.
My life took on a steady routine as it did for many others as the air raids receded. In late '42 we moved to a rented house in Southgate, the owner having moved out to live with his mother in the safety of the country for the duration of the war. I continued to travel to school in Palmers Green but now by bus, usually on my own, though friends would join en route. Nothing out of the ordinary then, but almost unimaginable for a 6-year old today.
My main memory of the buses was of many lady conductors, still something of a novelty then, and the restricted view from the windows: there was a small clear diamond only, the rest of the glass being covered with a tough gauze to minimize shattering from bomb blast.
As in hospitals, so in schools staffing was difficult and the quality was patchy to say the least. In spite of this, in spite of the fact that there were some teachers who were fishes out of water, I and many like me were taught by some wonderful people who, having known better times pre-war, could not have found life easy and yet they were able to impart a love of learning and school in general.
In my case I made great strides and eventually at the age of 7 went on to the Preparatory section of a grammar school in Finchley, mostly with 9-year olds and remained the ‘baby’ for another 6 years. This pushing of children into older groupings was not unusual at that time.
At the ‘big’ school we developed a bravado, such that when an occasional air raid siren went off we had the option of making for the (brick) shelters in the grounds or staying in the classroom, and mostly we stayed put.
In 1944 came the pilotless flying V-bombs and I remember the papers being full of the awe which greeted these ‘robots’, just the sort of dirty trick you would expect the dastardly Germans to get up to. Certainly their spluttering low engine note was scary but no more so than the eerie silence which followed the engine cut-out and which meant they were falling from the sky and about to explode.
This was something we experienced at first hand on 1 July 1944.
It was a Saturday and my mother had done her shopping in the morning, but, when she returned, she thought the meat she had bought with precious ration coupons was ‘off’.
My father who had volunteered for the army in ’39 but was rejected as not being fit. had kidney problems which always gave him considerable back trouble and after two spells in hospital, in ’43 he had one removed. This was an almost life-threatening operation at this time and he took a long time to recover. However, he was a clerk in the old Covent Garden fruit and veg market and, on this Saturday, returned from work around lunchtime as was customary in most jobs. After dinner, as we called it then, my mother went back to the butchers. I and my brothers were playing in the garden, Dad was clearing up in the kitchen. The air raid siren sounded and shortly after we could hear a ‘buzz-bomb’ drone. Dad called us in, my younger brothers obeyed, I being of the very advanced age of eight, wanted to carry on playing, nothing had happened before, so why should it happen now?. There was a knock on the front door, it was my mother hurrying back. Dad rushed to the front to let my mother in, usually the man of the house was the only person in possession of a key, then returned to the back and almost dragged me inside bodily. Mum scrambled under the kitchen table together with my small brothers. I can still see her swagger coat spread out over the floor and her hugging the deep wicker shopping basket.
Still in arrogant mode I refused to join the babies. Our house was quite modern then, John Laing 1935 construction, with a lot of long rectangular glass panes in what were then innovative Crittall metal frames. The bomb’s engine stopped. Dad had his back to one of these windows by the sink, facing me and with a hand on my shoulder as a sort of protection. He said: ‘this is one of ours’, and seconds later there was a fearful explosion, together with a the clatter of glass, tiles, and falling masonry.
My earlier cockiness vanished in an instant. My young mind could not comprehend everything and I was convinced the bomb had landed directly on our house and was working its way downstairs and would explode again. With all 3 children crying in fear, Dad led us through the debris. The front door where Mum had been standing just a minute or two earlier was blown off its hinges, and we emerged into the street where already neighbours had gathered. We were led down the road to a friendly cup of tea but Dad, we learned later, had glass splinters in his back, still not fully healed from his two previous operations, and he passed out when he reached the street. And all in the cause of shielding me.
We lived on one corner of a crossroads, and the bomb had fallen on the diagonally opposite corner, demolishing a large three-story building of flats in which another family of five were all killed.
We went to stay with my grandmother in Edmonton for a few weeks. In the meantime, the windows were covered up, the roof had tarpaulin thrown over it, the door was re-hung. Then a government official inspected the damage, pronounced the house as unfit and in need of demolition. There being a shortage of labour to carry out this work it could not be done immediately. Which was just as well. My father and the owner contested this decision and 60 years later the house remains repaired and intact, which says something about wartime conditions as well as about bureaucracy at any time.
A few weeks later, with the horse having bolted, Dad decided to close the stable door and applied for us to be evacuated. This time mothers were allowed to accompany their children, in contrast to the difficulties at the beginning of the war when children had to be sent away without their parents.
Early on a Sunday morning late in August we trooped off to New Southgate station, and stood for a very long time (probably around a couple of hours, good preparation for my later National Service) in a very long queue. A rumour went down the line that we were going to be shipped to Cromer. Now I had no idea where or what Cromer was, and Mum’s grasp of English geography, after a sheltered upbringing in the West of Ireland was shaky to say the least. I had been learning Latin for a year by this time and ‘Cromer’ had a foreign sound to it. But that was a puzzle, why would we be going abroad, surely that was not allowed unless you were in the services?
The rumour persisted and it became clear this strange place was on the coast somewhere. At which I badgered Mum for us to go back and fetch my bucket and spade, which she made clear in no uncertain terms was not going to be allowed by the man (or men) in charge. How this rumour took root I shall never know. It was difficult enough with all the coastal defences for locals to gain access to towns by the sea never mind a gaggle of refugees from V-bombs.
Anyway, eventually we boarded a train which made a stately progress north and I remember seeing the brickworks which I was told were in Peterborough and I also remember the vast railway yards at Doncaster. I kept asking when we were going to be in Cromer, and not getting a satisfactory answer. Eventually we pulled into Leeds Central and were bussed out to Bramley, where we were gathered in a hall. Here the kind ladies of the WVS (as it then was) arranged cups of tea and allocated billeting with various volunteer householders.
The numbers kept shrinking as one after another family was fixed up until we were the only ones left. Apparently almost all the others were in groups of 3 at most whereas we were 4 and finding room for 3 children was proving near to impossible. In the end the organising lady, a Mrs Fieldhouse, a very natural Yorkshire soul took us in and for the next 10 weeks we all slept in the same room.
This period was relatively uneventful. I was intrigued by the fact that the back doors looked out onto the street where the washing was hung, whereas the front doors looked out over small gardens and wasteland. I made friends with local lads of my age and in general they were very welcoming of this rather reserved southerner.
When the school term was due to start I was told I would be going to the nearby ‘council’ school. This was almost exotic to my young ears, though I had a shock when the headmaster did not believe that I was 2 years ahead of most of my peers. However, he decided to give me the benefit of the doubt but said he would test me with some long division. I enjoyed arithmetic from the beginning and found a lot of fun in solving problems for many years after but on this occasion, I froze completely and I have no idea why. I was sure I detected a slight smile of satisfaction on the headmaster’s face at the comeuppance of this smarty-boots ‘intruder’. Whatever, I was placed amongst boys of my own age and became very bored as I was going over things I had left behind long since.
In due course, Mum couldn’t cope with being cooped up in one room in someone else’s house and eventually persuaded Dad to bring us home. The house was habitable, Dad had requisitioned a Morrison shelter which went into the dining room and while the end of the war was not certain it was nevertheless in prospect.
From my point of view evacuation had been a big adventure. Trips to Roundhay Park on the trams were a treat, the accents were fascinating to my southern ears, and I had been indulged by Mrs Fieldhouse and her friends and family, though it was another 30-odd years before I visited Cromer for the first time!
Along the way one memory stands out: one Saturday morning I barged into the kitchen only to be quickly ushered away. However, I had heard enough to understand that the husband of a friend of one of MrsFieldhouse’s daughters had been killed and I heard the word ‘Arnhem’. It meant nothing then but many years later I learned bout the fate of many Yorkshire Light Infantrymen at that failed bridgehead.
The remaining months of the war passed relatively quietly as far as I was concerned, though certain things stay in the mind: asking my Dad what would be in the newspapers in peacetime when there was no war to report, seeing him bring home his ‘cotchel’ every week; ambling home from school one day with a clear sky overhead and seeing a V-2 rocket blown up in mid-air a few miles away (which turned out to have been over Barratts sweet factory at Wood Green). seeing my aunt’s grief on learning that her Canadian airman boyfriend had been killed in a raid over Germany.
However, I suppose my time during the war was really characterised mostly by ordinariness and a little bit of luck. Two events afterwards, however, made a big impression.
The first was on the morning of Christmas Day ’45, Germany had surrendered in May and Japan had thrown in the towel in August. I usually walked to the church at Cockfosters where I had become an altar-server and would often be joined by one or other of the lads who lived nearby. We were down for the 11.30 Mass and as we emerged onto Bramley Road a small squad of German POWs was being marched in the same direction. They came from a camp which had been set up just off Cat Hill. We tried to keep in step but they were too quick for us. A few minutes later we arrived at the church and discovered that these prisoners were also at the Mass. This was a surprise, after all, weren’t these the agents of the devil as we had been led to believe? They were seated at the back under guard. Later during the distribution of communion they stood up and gave the most beautiful and moving rendition of Silent Night (in German, naturally) I had ever heard or have heard since. Here was a group of men we had been told to hate and yet even to my young and inexperienced ears they had presented something exquisite. I was not into any philosophical thoughts at the time but gradually down the years it taught me a lesson about the utter waste and futility of war, that we are all human beings, and all of the same race.
The second event happened a couple of years or so after the end of the war. The radio was on and a play was about to start on the Home Service. The opening sequence included an air raid siren. I was only half-listening but immediately I was riveted to the spot and broke out in a sweat of fear.
A sound about which we had become almost complacent through the war clearly had had a much deeper effect than we knew.
Contributed originally by Rosalie (BBC WW2 People's War)
Wartime in London
When I remember the day war broke out I automatically think of that far distant holiday with my family at Pevensey. We had booked a bungalow on the beach against advice, as everybody had been warned to keep away from the coast, but it was our only chance to take my invalid sister back to visit her beloved sea once again. So we set off in a very large hired car together with my beloved black cocker spaniel dog, my mother’s “home help”, lots of luggage and the rest of us.
War had not actually been declared yet but everyone was on the alert and we were stopped and questioned many times during our journey, as of course there were many rumours going round about “spies” probaby disguised as nuns or in other innocent-looking garb.
We arrived OK and nothing untoward occurred until the next morning when my father, who was very elderly but extremely energetic with auburn hair and the temperament which goes with it, summoned us all to get up and get in the sea for our early morning dip before breakfast. Almost at the very moment we started to run down the beach to the sea, all the world seemed to go quiet except for the radio which in solemn tones announced that the Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain, was about to make an important announcement to the country. This announcement was to tell us that the promise we had all been hoping for from Hitler to state that he would not invade Poland had not been received by 11 am which was the stipulated time. Thus, this country was now at war with Germany.
Naturally, war not being exactly an everyday occurrence, we did halt in our trek to the sea to listen to the awful news, but my father turned back to us, beckoning furiously to get into the water and start swimming now and let the war look after itself until the more important business of physical recreation had been dealt with. Our country was of course bound by a promise we had made to come to Poland’s aid if Hitler invaded their country.
Unfortunately, soon after the announcement of us being at war, it was decided to try out the air-raid siren ( I presume it was in order to make sure that it was in working order) and of course many people panicked, wondering where to run for shelter in case bombs started to rain down upon them. In actual fact, we had no air raids for quite a time, which almost lulled us into a sense of false security and made it even harder when the big raids really did start night after night.
We were instructed to cover the glass parts of all our windows with strong adhesive paper, to avoid splintering of the glass as much as possible in the event of a window being shattered by a bomb. Also, we were told to buy yards and yards of black material with which to cover all our windows in order to avoid any single chink of light being visible to an enemy ‘plane. In the case where anyone was careless, an Air Raid Warden would soon rap on the front door and tell us off for not obscuring all light efficiently.
Then we were all issued with gas masks!!! I have an idea they were all handed out to us at the local Church hall, where we received instructions as to how to use them and, it was rather like looking at a scene from a horror movie, to view all our old neighbours and friends wearing those awful but necessary monstrosities. Even babies had them of course. Ration books came next, but although I still have vivid memories of furiously trying to cope with making dried egg into scrambled egg (although my mother steadfastly refused to touch it) and also beating up margarine with milk to make it spread further, I cannot recall exact quantities, but I will visit the library before I close this stock of wartime memories and see if I can find a book giving these details as I am sure someone has noted them down.
I believe we were allotted about 4oz per week of margarine and about 2oz of butter. I remember the tea ration was an embarrassment , as the ration I believe was about 2oz per week and one simply couldn’t afford to be hospitable if a friend came to visit in the afternoon , as it just didn’t go far enough. I remember the meat ration varying from time to time according to the lack of shipments I suppose, and also the bread ration was cut severely at one time, which was a real hardship, as one could always “fill up” with bread when meat and cheese were in such short supply. Very occasionally, if one was lucky, one could spot a long long queue outside a butcher’s shop, which might mean that he had a small supply of offal which was off the ration and one would hopefully join the end of the queue and wait hours in the hope of getting a small portion of something off the ration to make an extra meal. Also, I remember on a few occasions, if you were on good terms with your butcher, he would tip you the wink that he had put a couple of sausages into your shopping bag on the quiet if you were a good customer.
I can’t exactly remember what the milk ration was, but I do remember being issued with a tin of frightful powdered milk which we had to use to make up any deficiency in this direction. I did taste it once and can still recall that awful tinny condensed flavour. I don’t remember any particular feeling of hardship about the milk ration though, and I know that there were thousands of landgirls taking the place of all the farming lads who were then in the Army and they must have helped the country enormously. I seem to remember the lack of butter and margarine most of all and I recall, when on one occasion having some distant relations visiting us and having no margarine left at all, I risked trying out a wartime recipe for sponge cake made with liquid paraffin of all things! It was so exciting when it rose up and looked just like a real normal sponge cake and, with a spot of home-made plum jam in the middle, nobody was any the wiser as to the ingredients. Talking of jam, we were so grateful for the plentiful fruit which we had in the garden at that time as the plum and greengage trees produced such bountiful crops. I can remember one year when we gathered over 90lbs of lovely fruit which we distributed around to all our neighbours and friends, and also bottled lots as well as making pounds and pounds of jam. We were of course encouraged to grow as many of our vegetables as possible as well and most able-bodied people took on allotments, as well as using all the spare room they might have in their home gardens. Of course there were hardly any foreign fruits because they had to be transported by ships. Occasionally, one might be lucky enough to find a shop with a very limited supply, but many youngsters had never seen oranges or bananas until after the war.
Oh, and the sweet rationing!!! That was indeed hard to bear, especially to those like my family who were all chocoholics! Once our tiny ration was finished we had to suffer until the following month. And perhaps not even a cigarette to fill the gap!!
Fish was not rationed, but of course it was limited and one could very rarely get anything more exciting than herrings or fish that could be caught by our local fishermen around our own coasts. Indeed I do remember having to deal with the most unusual and extraordinary-looking fish whose like I had never seen before and we usually got over the problem by stuffing them with onions and herbs etc. and baking them in the oven. This seemed to get over the problem and indeed, some of these fish were quite palatable. However, I do sometimes wonder if this experience in some way accounts for my now avoiding fish as often as I do.
Tobacco wasn’t exactly rationed, but you just couldn’t get any! Naturally, anything which had to be carried over the dangerous seas was very scarce indeed and after all, in wartime was considered a luxury, although at times I reckon it saved our sanity in times of stress and worry. Occasionally one could find a stray packet of cigs perhaps in a country pub or corner shop, although loose pipe tobacco was a bit more accessible and, I remember spending hours on my honeymoon sitting on the bedroom floor in a country hotel, rolling the most revolting-looking fags from filter papers and pipe tobacco.
After that very first seaside holiday when the war started, we were no longer allowed to visit the coasts on account of mines - also the Army settled in at many coastal places, building defences. But I can recall a delightful holiday when Edward and I had some leave, on a tiny farm at Ledbury away from the coast. The young farmer and his wife had only recently started up on their own and were quite poor and, to help financially they started to take in a few visitors. They were such a nice couple and we arrived just as it was time for lifting the potatoes so, being mugs, we helped in this somewhat backbreaking job, as the only other help they had was from an extremely lazy Italian prisoner-of-war who kept on falling asleep. But we really enjoyed it and the farmer and his dear little wife were so grateful that they gave us loads of apples and a small chicken to take home. A free meal! I shall never forget those apple dumplings which the farmer’s wife cooked in a huge pot for our evening meals.
Edward actually was over the joining-up age when the war started, but he had joined the “Terriers” City branch before the war actually started, so he was in it from the first. Strictly speaking, he was in a reserved occupation, in a key position, and it took us a long time to get him back into shipping, which was considered as vital as joining the Forces, as everyone relied completely on tramp ships to bring over most of the necessities of life. However, after many moons had passed, when he had been sent to France and only returned after Dunkirk, he was discharged from the services and then asked to return to shipping, which was needing all the help it could get with the number of our ships which were lost while carrying foodstuffs etc. to our shores.
I too went to join the services, but by that time they would not accept anyone who was in shipping, so I was told to continue in my job.
Now that France had fallen we were on our own and of course then the air raids really began in full swing. Many little children were sent to the country for safety because life in London was so very dangerous. It must have been heart-rending for the parents to watch the pathetic lines of children with their name labels attached to their coats, all clutching gas masks, waiting to be put on trains to be looked after by complete strangers in Wales or elsewhere far from their homes. Some were lucky and got on well with their new families and, in fact, kept in touch with them all their lives, but others were miserable and perhaps not really wanted, and many came back to their own parents and braved all the dangers in the big city.
At this time business went on more or less as usual, except that of course we were constantly interrupted by the wailing of the air raid siren. In our case, we had a safe area under the Baltic Shipping Exchange until the raid was over, but nobody seemed to bother but rather went up on the flat roof to watch our boys in the fighter planes driving off the enemy! Often blobs of oil would fall from the planes as they got a hit somewhere. It seems so strange to think of all that went on in those days and yet it took the IRA to demolish that lovely building - (the Baltic Exchange).
At home things went on surprisingly normally, although at night we had shifts taking turns to turn out with stirrup pumps and huge buckets, so that if firebombs descended we could quickly get started to damp the fires down until the proper fire brigade arrived. It was a bit creepy as there were no street lights at all and we had to grope our way around in the dark, although we sometimes got a fit of the giggles when one of our group got a bit humerous. It was not always funny though, as our house was fairly near a railway line, which was a target of course, and one night the house opposite ours received a direct hit and went down like a pack of cards, killing the owner of the house and injuring his poor wife.
Nobody grumbled at having to turn out at night for this fire-watching, for in any case it was impossible to sleep properly while raids were so bad and it was more cheerful to be with a crowd outside. Also our anti-aircraft guns always made us feel better I think, as we felt they were fighting for us. I always think of my sister’s husband who was a Naval Officer. He was decorated for gallantry while on the HMS PENELOPE the famous “PEPPERPOT” ship which ran the gauntlet of the Germans at Malta and which succeeded in getting through at last. I went with him to Buckingham Palace where he was decorated by the Queen because sadly my sister could not make the journey. In spite of his medal for bravery, he confessed to me that he was shivering with fear when he was on leave at home simply because he could not fight back. While at sea he was in charge of a lot of men behind a huge gun and one forgot to be afraid I suppose.
Air raids were very cruel to animals and I remember when my cousin at Southgate was bombed, we all rushed over to help clear up debris etc., but also to find their beloved dog Monty, who had been frantic with terror and couldn’t be found. We did find him eventually, much to our relief. My own dog was a black cocker spaniel and he became so terrified night after night that he nearly went mad trying to dig his way through the walls, and we had no alternative but to let him go and live in the country with a kind relation so that he could finish his life in comparative peace and quiet.
Then the buzz bombs started coming over and they really were the most unholy invention, as they were an extremely outsize bomb which flew automatically over our cities (if they got through). While it was flying, it made a sort of chugging noise rather like “Jaws”, but the frightening part of it was that shortly before it was going to land, the noise cut out and one was left wondering how many minutes you had before it crashed somewhere and you couldn’t even guess where, because you didn’t know how long it was going to fly. I remember taking an elderly lady visitor home one night as a buzz bomb sailed over Palmers Green. We had to lie down on the pavement and hope for the best, and in fact were quite lucky as it crashed on to Palmers Green Station, which was only one road away from us, but we were unhurt. It was in fact strange that one could not predict which way the blast from a bomb was going. In a house at the back of ours a huge land mine dropped on the roof. It went completely through the roof, through the bedroom ceiling and floor, crashed through the ceiling of the lounge and landed up perched precariously on top of a valuable grand piano, where an elderly lady was sleeping because she had refused to go to the air raid shelter. Apparently it was such a large landmine that everybody from all the roads nearby was evacuated to spend the rest of the night in a Church hall for safety while the mine was being made safe.
By this time many people were managing to leave England and go to the USA. My office decided to do this and I was supposed to go, but I had my family over here, including my invalid sister, and I didn’t want to go to America. So it was arranged to take certain valuables and transfer the office to Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire with a skeleton staff, many priceless valuables belonging to the Shipowners, and also the French Housekeeper. There was one Director, an Accountant, a junior and myself, but of course we were still carrying on the actual London office in St Mary Axe and we had to travel to the City almost every day. It entailed quite a long journey up to Marylebone and then on to the City, but it was better than being in America, as I could visit home sometime over the weekends.
The worst journey I can remember was one day when the Director had gone to Bristol to visit one of our ships and I simply had to get to the City. It was the morning after the most horrific bombing all night and, when the train arrived at Marylebone, there was no means of transport to the City as all buses and tubes were out of action. So we had to walk there and I will never forget the horror of passing the half dead-looking firemen who had been working all night, and the screens set up in the road to hide the bodies of all the poor dead horses which had been burnt in the stables there, as well as many people who had been killed and there had been no time to get the bodies taken away. I wasn’t even sure of my way to the office, but a kind man walked with me all the way and offered to meet me in the evening and walk back to Marylebone again. It was typical of the kindness of simply everyone in those days - everyone helped everyone else, even if they were total strangers. Yes the war was vile and horrible but people were all wonderful. One never heard of muggings or rape or murder and no woman was scared to go out alone at night in those days. Because ships couldn’t be spared for anything except the most vital supplies, nobody was allowed to use a car except Doctors, ambulances, Government officials and anybody in a very important job like public helpers etc. There were taxis, but they were not very numerous as most young drivers were in the services. My cousin was expecting a baby and in the middle of the night her pains began. Her husband called for the Doctor, but he had been called out. Poor cousin Mary scrambled into a few clothes, but in the dim light couldn’t find her knickers. She grabbed a slip, skirt, sweater and odds and ends. No help arrived until the worst happened and her water broke! But suddenly as she stood there with water pouring down her legs in her skirt, sweater and a hat ( with a feather in the side) the bedroom door opened and two burly firemen entered the bedroom as they had come to her rescue and rushed her to Chase Bank Nursing Home, where my favourite nephew John was born. No wonder he’s bought a boat and is mad on sailing after that watery introduction to this world.
At that time many people had air raid shelters built in their gardens. We did not go in for one as it would have been impossible to get my sister into one, so we had to take a chance all together in the house, but many other people spent every night down in the tube stations, which must have been comparatively safe as they were underground and quite strongly built I should think. They were allowed to stay there all night and they brought mattresses and blankets etc and had their own “places” on the platform, mostly resting against the platform at the back, away from the edge of the platform to allow passengers to pass in front of them to get to the trains. Many nights when I was going home I used to see them and although I felt a bit sorry for mothers of small children who must have suffered from lack of sleep with all the row, many brought down musical instruments and they used to sing and play to keep up their morale.
Many people tried to avoid having babies at this time as it must have been absolutely traumatic to have to care for a little child, not knowing how long it might be before you were caught in an air raid with a helpless child, possibly suffering permanent damage through injury or even terror. Also of course, there was a risk of children losing one or both parents, because in the big towns like London it was as dangerous if not more so than in many of the services, which were sent to more lonely places on the coast or in the country.
Being in the younger generation at that time, one of the things which hit us badly was the clothes rationing. We could only buy very limited numbers of garments with our coupons at any time. We got up to all kinds of tricks however, and as for a short time we were able to buy curtian material without coupons, I can remember making a smashing summer dress out of a nice flower printed curtain. I remember the Vicar of our church who was quite a love and he used to be sorry for the young brides who used to come to him for the usual pre-marital talk, and he would part with lots of his own clothing coupons to them to help get together a small trousseau.
Many theatres were closed but I remember quite often going to the Leicester Square theatre and also many other cinemas kept open.
The Windmill Theatre carried on right through the war until the bitter end and they were very proud of doing so. I went there once or twice, but I think it might have interested men more than women as it was slightly “near the bone” for those times and the girls often posed in the nude, but they were not allowed to move and had to stand perfectly still in very artistic poses!!
There were also a lot of charity concerts which helped various war charities and I remember one I attended at Wigmore Hall where the Queen (now the Queen Mother) was attending. On the way there, my friend and I happened to pass a sweet shop and THERE WAS A QUEUE OUTSIDE! Of course, as everyone did in those days, we joined the queue to investigate and discovered that they had a limited supply of giant peardrops for anyone who was lucky enough to have a few sweet coupons left. My sister adored peardrops so we waited and eventually succeeded in getting about 2oz.. By that time it was getting rather late so we had to get a move on to get to the Wigmore Hall just in time for the Myra Hess grand pianoforte recital. We rushed in through the door just a second before the Queen arrived, but owing to the poor quality of the peardrop bag I spilt half of them on the red carpet just before the Queen tottered in on her very high unstable heels, which she always wore because she was not very tall and we were petrified in case she fell over them and had a bad accident. My friend warned me that I would probably end up in the Tower of London if she was seriously injured. Fortunately she survived without mishap and I escaped being beheaded and my sister was delighted with the remainder of the peardrops, although I grudged losing the few that were dropped on the carpet.
Perhaps at this time we all lived too fast because here in London as well as many other places, we never knew from one minute to another if we would be wiped out with a bomb. So many young people met in the Forces, got married in haste and then regretted it as they found they were totally unsuited. I suppose we all lived trying to cram a lifetime into whatever time we had left. Wartime memories to me are a mixture of bitter and sweet. Yes, it all sounds exciting and people were all wonderful - it really did bring out the best in them, but when I remember a lovely young fresh Canadian Airforce boy whom my Canadian Auntie sent over to us on his way to serve, and he spent some time with us, and then was immediately killed almost as soon as he arrived at the Squadron, also my friend whose husband was killed so soon, war is sickening, but sadly we had no alternative when a maniac conquered half the world or we should have all been enslaved.
Fuel Shortage - electricity cuts etc
We suffered quite a lot of electricity cuts during some periods of the war and in these cases we were advised to take half-cooked casseroles out of the pot and transfer them to wide-necked thermos flasks which retained the heat until we could finish off the cooking in the oven. Another bright idea was to manage to cook about 4 meals at once in the oven so we only had to use gas or electricity about twice a week.
I have been in the library trying to find out exactly what the rations consisted of but in fact they were not constant all through the war, as I suppose they varied according to how many ships we had to bring the various supplies.
At one time the meat ration was based on price - viz: 1s.10d per week for an adult. This would be worth about nine pence in present day values but of course in those days meat cost only a fraction of present day prices.
Tea ration was 2ozs per week.
In 1940-41 many foreign foods were reduced owing to severe losses of ships. Meat particularly went down and at one time whalemeat was offered to the public to take its place. Apparently barracuda whales were caught and I think it was called “Snoek”. It was sold in tins but I should think it must have tasted vile and in fact I believe it finished up mostly as cats’ food. We did not risk trying it.
I remember one Christmas particularly when we were thrilled to be told we were going to be allowed some extra dried fruit and also extra butter, margarine and sugar in order to celebrate by making a rather anaemic Christmas cake and pudding and it was so thrilling to find a recipe for making “ALMOND PASTE” (to put on top of the cake) made with parsnips, cornflour, icing sugar and almond essence!!!
Images in Palmers Green
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