Bombs dropped in the borough of: Hackney
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Hackney:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Hackney
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK (BBC WW2 People's War)
"I'm a cockney born in Kingsbury Road near the Ball's Pond Road in the East End in 1937, so I was like 4, 5 and 6 when all this happened. I went to a Catholic School and during the Blitz when the air-raid sirens went, we'd get under the table and our teacher would say 'now you've got to pray' so we all prayed until the all-clear went.
One morning at 3, my mum's sister cam in and said 'there's a big bomb dropped near the old lady's house - that's what we called my gran - but she said she's all right. We rushed down the road and saw that a bomb had dropped on a school. I'll never forget, there wasn't a window left in none of the houses around. We went into a schoolhouse, the door was wide open, and there was blind man upstairs which they got our early; the whole ceiling had come down on him. We went into the kitchen and there was only about three bits of plaster left. The plaster round the rose on the ceiling was about the only bit left. I asked the blind man if he was okay and he said 'yeah' so I made him a cup of tea. We was lucky because if that bomb had dropped at three o'clock in the afternoon it would have killed all the kids.
I'll never forget this, the front door swung open and a fireman stood there. He said 'Everyone all right?' and one of the women said, well, I can't say what she said, but to the effect of 'that xxxxx Hitler can't kill me!'
We lived off the Ridley Road at the time and during one of the air raids one night, everyone went down the shelters and my dad said to me "Want to watch the airplanes?' My mum said 'That's not a good idea', anyway, he put me on his shoulders and we stood in the doorway and watched the dog-fights overhead. And I tell you, when them German planes got caught in the headlights, they had a hell of a job to get out. Anyway, the morning after these raids, all us kids'd go out collecting shrapnel from the shells, I had a great big box of the stuff.
Was I scared? Only when I was in bed at night and the air-raid warning went. When you're asleep and you suddenly woke, you didn’t' know what was happening so it was pretty frightening. At that age, you didn't know what air raids were all about. Some of the time I slept in the cupboard under the stairs and it felt a bit safer there.
One day, I went round to the corner to my aunt's house and she was sitting by the window when there was an air-raid warning. Inside the window where she was sitting was a table with a statue on it. They told her to come in away from the window. I'll never forget this, there was a bomb blast, the window come in and the statue toppled off the table and onto the floor. If she hadn't have moved, she'd have been covered with flying glass.
My dad didn't go in the army, because he was wanted on the railways. He took me down the dog racing one day at Hackney Wick. This flying bomb - a doodle-bug it was - suddenly appeared over us. You could see every detail of it. We all ran. It went right across the track and dropped in a field somewhere.
One day a landmine dropped near us in Kingsbury Road and didn't go off. A fellow came down from the Bomb Disposal unit, to try to disconnect it and he got killed. Opposite us there was a block of flats and they named it after him - Ketteridge Court.
I was evacuated for a little time, to Kettering, but I don't remember much about it, only that I didn't like it. I'd have to ask my mum about it. She's 100 but still remembers everything.
Me and my family are Pearly Kings and Queens and we do a lot of charity work, entertaining with music and the old cockney songs and that (Phone 020 8556 5971). We are now the biggest 'Pearly' family, made up mostly of the Hitchins (my mum's family name) in Hoxton, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Clapton, Shoredich, Hommerton, Dalston, City of London, Westminster, Victoria, Islington and Stoke Newington. "
Contributed originally by RoyalFusilier (BBC WW2 People's War)
People were friendly in those days and if the siren warned us of an air raid when we were out of doors, they would open their door and call us in. I have taken shelter in stranger’s homes on many occasions and given shelter in return. Our flat was open house for anyone passing or for residents of the top flats who didn’t feel safe during a raid. We had as many as twelve people sleeping as best they could on the floor of our little flat. The comradeship in those days was wonderful! One of the most horrifying sounds was that of the whistling or screaming bombs. These were meant to put fear into us and lower our morale. They really terrified me and lots of other people as well. As they came down, they made such an awful piercing, screaming whistle that I could not stand up. I had to sit on a chair before my legs gave way as they completely turned to jelly. My heart seemed to stop beating and I couldn’t get my breath until the explosion came. It certainly was one of Hitler’s most effective terror weapons. It broke my moral every time and left me with a terrible fear so that, even now, I am nervous when a low aeroplane flies overhead. Often I cried when one came down, only to hear more falling from the sky. This was the time that I looked forward to hearing Winston Churchill give one of his morale boosting speeches, as we all felt better after one of those. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think that we would have won the war. He was staunch, strong, stirring and comforting. Good old Winnie!
The V1, buzz bomb or doodlebug was another horror. When the first one came over the newspapers said that our artillery had shot down a new type of aeroplane, but when they went to examine the wreckage, there was no pilot and no parachute to be seen. On closer examination, they found that there was an engine at the back and flames came out of it. More came over and we realised that when the engine cut out, the unmanned ‘plane would dip and fall to the ground. They fell anywhere and everywhere and Hitler could not claim that he was trying to avoid killing innocent civilians. When you were at home and heard these things coming, your heart would be in your mouth, especially when the engine cut out. It would fall and explode killing and maiming some poor devils and we breathed a sigh of relief until the next one came our way. Peter was a baby when these things were on the go and many is the time I’ve thrown myself across his pram, as I couldn’t get him out quick enough. If you were outside, you could see them coming and if they were pretty near, the best thing was to run towards them so they passed over you. Dad was often delivering letters when they came over and he would go towards them and then crouch behind a garden wall to escape the blast when they fell and exploded. Next came the V2 rockets that you couldn’t hear at all. There was no warning, just the explosion so there was nothing that you could do to protect yourself. You couldn’t stay in the shelters all the time just in case a V2 came over, so we just carried on with things and hoped for the best.
During the war years, it was not all horror and fear. We had some happy times and laughed at all sorts of things. I remember one old girl called Mrs Thompson used to come out and put up her umbrella during an air raid as she was afraid of the shrapnel. She thought that the umbrella would save her — poor old girl! We used to go out and watch the dogfights and shout “Hooray” when a German plane came down and boo and hiss when a German was the victor. At the beginning of the war, I went out with a boy called Ron Calnon. Sometimes during the bombing, you’d lose your water supply. One evening, Ron and I were carrying a galvanised tin bath full of water back home from his parent’s house near Manor House, which was a long way. Then the air raid siren howled its warning! We emptied the water, put the bath over our heads and ran like anything through the dark streets! The shrapnel whizzed all around and one piece struck the bath with a great clang that sounded right through our heads. Then we had to go back and get another bath full.
Doris Robson wrote this as part of her memoirs in "Gaslight on the Cobbles" She married Leonard Herring in 1943 and died on New Years Day, 2001
Contributed originally by Researcher 249331 (BBC WW2 People's War)
In September 1940 the bombing raids really started. The warning would start wailing very loudly, the nearest siren being on top of Stoke Newington Police station, which was almost opposite where we lived. The bombers started coming over every night, the first few nights we sat on the stairs with blankets wrapped around us, shivering from cold - or was it fear? All of us were very quiet listening to the pulsating sound of the bombers overhead.
After a few nights of discomfort we started going into the basement of our next door neighbour. We couldn't use our cellar, as it was full of bundles of firewood that were in stock to be sold in the winter - they were sold for tuppence a bundle, in my father's greengrocery shop. The Vogue cinema was at the other end of of the block of buildings where our shop was situated. It was the sort of cinema that when the film was over you waded through monkey nut shells, on your way out to the exit.
The Blitz comes close to home
One night a bomb dropped onto a bus outside the Vogue. It made a large crater, and fractured a water main. After a while, water seeped into the cellar we were in. As we were hearing a lot of noise from the anti-aircraft guns, and from the dropping bombs, it was decided to go over the road to a proper shelter under the Coronation Buildings, where there was a very large air raid shelter.
We came out and saw the sky criss-crossed with searchlights. Whilst we were running across the road, a bomb landed with an enormous bang on the West Hackney Church. The blast blew out the windows of The Star Furnishing Company windows. The huge glass windows just disintegrated, and fell to the ground like a beautiful waterfall, with all the noise and dust. We rushed into the shelter, but amazingly we were all untouched.
During the day I used to watch the occasional dogfight overhead, and like most boys of my age (I was 11) at the time, my hobby was to go around looking for bits of shrapnel. One morning, coming home from the shelter over the road, I found an incendiary bomb on the pavement outside our shop. I stupidly picked it up, and was examining it when a policeman appeared and said 'I'll have that' - and ran across the road to the station with it.
Coronation Avenue buildings consists of a terrace of about 15 shops with five storeys of flats above. The shelter was beneath three of the shops.The back exit was in the yard between Coronation Avenue and another block of buildings, called Imperial Avenue. We went over the road to the shelter whenever there was a raid, and when the 'all clear' sounded in the morning, we would go back over the road, half asleep and very cold, and try to go back to sleep in a very cold bed.
The shelter consisted of three rooms. The front entrance was in the first room, the rear entrance was in the third room, which had bunk beds along one wall.The rooms were jam packed with people, sitting on narrow slatted benches. I would sit on a bench and fall asleep, and wake every now and then, and would find myself snuggled up to my mother and sister. My father had the use of one of the bunk beds, because the men were given priority, as they had to go to work.
On 13 October 1940, the shelter received a direct hit. We had settled down as usual, when there was a dull thud, a sound of falling masonry, and total darkness.
Somebody lit a torch - the entrance to the next room was completely full of rubble, as if it had been stacked by hand. Very little rubble had come into our room. Suddenly i felt my feet getting very cold, and I realised that water was covering my shoes. We were at the end of the room farthest from the exit. I noticed my father trying to wake the man in the bunk above him, but without success - a reinforcing steel beam in the ceiling had fallen down and was lying on him.
The water was rising, and I started to make my way to the far end, where the emergency exit was situated. Everybody seemed very calm - with no shouting or screaming. By the time I got to the far end, the water was almost up to my waist, and there was a small crowd clamberinig up a steel ladder in a very orderly manner. Being a little more athletic than some of them, and very scared, I clambered up the back of the ladder to the top, swung over, and came out into the open.
It was very cold and dark, and I was shivering. The air was thick with brick dust, which got into my mouth, the water was quelching in my shoes. I still dream of, and recall, the smell of that night, and the water creeping up my body. My parents and my sister came out, and we couldn't believe the sight of the collapsed building. My brother had been out with a friend - so was not hurt, and we were all OK.
My mother, sister and I went over to number 6, and my father and brother stayed to see if they could help in any way. Some bricks had smashed the shutters in front of the shop, and had to be replaced with panel shutters, which had to be removed morning and evening. The windows were blown out, and were replaced temporarily with a type of plastic coated gauze.
The next morning, we were told that only one person had survived in the other two rooms, and about 170 people had been killed. (In recent years I have been to Abney Park cemetery, where there is a memorial stone, with names of a lot of the victims who must have died in our shelter.)
There was a huge gap in our building, on about the third floor. There was part of a floor sticking out, with a bed on it. Someone said the person in it was OK, but this story might just have been hearsay.
A lot of the women used to bring photographs of their families to show each other during the long periods of waiting in the shelter. That evening my mother had brought a handbag full of photos to show some women, and fortunately she had not gone into the other room to show them. The photos were never recovered. My sister said she was alright, until she went up into our parents room the next morning, and saw soldiers arriving outside, with shovels - then she started crying (she was 15 years old).
A few days later, I saw men wearing gauze masks bringing out bodies, and placing them in furniture vans. Having seen bodies since, this is the only thing that comes back in my dreams - the furniture vans and the water.
Having nowhere to go for shelter, my parents decided that we would go to the Tube station to sleep. We would close the shop early, and with bundles of blankets go to Oxford Circus station, via Liverpool Street, and sleep for the night on the platform. When the trains started to run the next morning, we would get up feeling very dry and grubby having slept fully clothed all night. We had to wait patiently until the platform cleared, and then back we went to Liverpool Street, and the 649 trolley bus home.
One night we heard a lot of noise above, and the next morning I went up to have a look, and saw a lot of Oxford Street burning. On the way home by trolley bus - amazingly they were still running - we went through Shoreditch, and saw fires still burning. But the motto everwhere was business as usual.
Looking for shrapnel when I got home, I saw an Anderson shelter in Glading Terrace that had received a direct hit - it was just a twisted lump of metal. The bombing was very heavy and some areas were roped off because of unexploded bombs. But it was a pleasant surprise when the King and Queen visited Stoke Newington - that was when I first had my photo taken with the Queen.
Photo with Queen Elizabeth
A water main near us had been had been hit, and my sister and I were trying to find a bowser lorry to get some water, when somebody told me that the King and Queen were in Dynevor Road, nearby. So I ran there, and managed to sqeeze through to the front of the crowd. The Queen made some comment about me to the woman behind me. Some time later my sister saw the photograph taken at the time, and contacted the newspaper and got some copies.
Eventually my parents arranged for my sister and me to be evacuated, and my brother (who was 19 years old) was posted to North Africa. He went from Alemein right through to Italy, and came home and went to the continent - finishing his war in Germany.
Contributed originally by normanfosh (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Navarino Road, Hackney, in 1929 and my first home was in Clifden Road, Homerton, where we lived until 1933. Then we moved to Firsby Road, Stamford Hill, where I was attending Northwold Road School, Stoke Newington in 1939.
The day before war was declared I was evacuated. There we all were in a crocodile clutching our cases and as we walked to the station, I saw Mum crying, frantically looking for me to say goodbye. The first time I had ever seen her cry and I was desolated. Goodness knows how long the train journey took from Upper Clapton Station or how we got from there to Old Warden in Bedfordshire
Then started the worst seven weeks of my life. Somehow or other, I finished up with
about twelve others from another class, none of whom I knew and they were all very
tough. We were billeted on the Lady of the Manor, Lady Shuttleworth. Sounded fine
but it wasn't. We were in dormitories and it could not have been more wrong for me - the first time away from home, apart from having my tonsils out in hospital. I still
shudder to think of the dinners in the village hall. Stewed rabbit twice a week; rice
without milk which they cut with a knife and added some unsweetened prunes. The
only good meal was sausages with delicious gravy. The village school was good and I soon became a member of the church choir, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Mum and Dad used to travel by coach every Sunday but had to walk a couple of miles to get to Old Warden. However, most fortunately I caught mumps after seven weeks and had to come home. I remember I had a bed down in the dining room and although the
mumps were painful, it was worth it to be home again.
Then it was a problem finding a school. The only one still operating was St Thomas's in Upper Clapton. But there were so many children wanting to go to it and so few teachers that I only went for an hour a day to start with. Then it was a day a week and increased from there. Despite that, I was one of the three who passed the Junior County Scholarship, having taken the exam at Millfield Road School in Lower Clapton.
So was I to be evacuated again? Fortunately not, because I was one of the lucky six
who got a place at Mercers' School, and whilst Mercers' was evacuated to Horsham, in September 1940 they decided to start operating from Holborn again as well, and that's where I joined them.
With the bombing, the journey to and from Holborn on the 643 trolleybus was quite
hazardous, so in the early days my mother took me to and from Holborn on the bus.
On one occasion, the 643 could not get through to Holborn so we took a bus to
Moorgate and walked through to Holborn from there. Fires were still burning and
there were firemen’s hoses everywhere. Another time, as I came out of school, the
sirens went, so we dived down into Chancery Lane Tube Station but had to get on a
train as they closed the station. So we returned home via the Central and Piccadilly lines to Manor House Station and took a 653 trolleybus home from there.
Around that time, nightly air raids began. So each night was spent in one of our cellars
in our basement, with me on a camp bed and Mum and Dad sleeping in deck chairs.
Later on we had a Morrison shelter in the basement and decided to stay in our beds
until the sirens sounded, when we came down the stairs carrying pillows and got under
the shelter until the all clear. It became such a routine that, on a couple of occasions, I
was found sleep walking with pillows under my arm at the bottom of the stairs.
When the bombs fell we used to count "one two, three ..." because I believe after a
certain number, it couldn't be you who was hit, so you were waiting for the bomb to
strike. Several times we had our windows blown in. One night an incendiary fell in
our front garden and Dad was busy dealing with that when a neighbour told us there
was another one in our back garden so we all had to dash there and put that out too.
The biggest fear was one on the roof.
Then there was one night we heard shushing which meant there was a landmine
coming down. In fact there were two falling on Clapton Common. One destroyed St
Thomas's Church and opposite a number of shops in Old Hill Street were destroyed
and about ten people were killed including our butcher Mr Bosley.
Immediately the vicar of St Thomas's, Father Dachtler, where I was a regular attender,
started the New Church Fund, and services moved to St Thomas's Hall, next door to
the Swan public house. Sometimes there was an ack-ack gun on the forecourt of the
Swan and throughout the War there was a barrage balloon on Clapton Common.
Because of the bombing, people were firewatching at home and work. Dad used to
firewatch once a week with two other Firsby Road residents, each of them, I think,
doing two hour shifts between midnight and 6am. However, in addition, he also had to firewatch at his factory in Hertford Road behind Kingsland Road Hospital once a week too. Whether they got a chance to sleep or whether they kept watch all night I am not sure. Whilst before the War, Dad made and repaired gas meters, during the War he was making fuel tanks for aircraft.
Other memories of air raid precautions were always carrying a gas mask wherever we
went, the blackout when, as there were no street lights, everybody needed a torch, and
vehicles had masked headlights and all homes had blackout curtains over all windows
so no light escaped. Even interior bus lights were put out when there was a purple
warning, when a raid was expected but was the stage before the siren actually went.
Later in the War, flying bombs, which we called doodlebugs appeared. You could see
them quite clearly, and when the engine cut out, they dived to earth and you dived for
cover. Later the V2 rockets took their place, but as they were completely silent you
received no warning. In the Summer of 1944, during morning school break, one fell
on Smithfield Market killing many people and showering us with glass in our Holborn
playground. The Headmaster decided to close the school for the rest of that term, and just brought in one class at a time to take exams in the shelter.
One enjoyable feature of the war time summers was going to school harvest camp for a month to Minster Lovell each year between 1943-1945. Quite a new experience and hard work too. In 1945, when the end of the war with Japan was announced several of us hitchhiked to London for two days to join in the VJ Day celebrations. Another school activity was being a member of the Honourable Artillery Company cadet force which met in Armoury House, City Road. That really was most enjoyable because you really felt you were contributing something to the War. Besides the military activities, we used to play football and cricket against local teams and also marched in the Lord Mayor's Show and took part in the Remembrance Day services at St Paul's Cathedral.
Of course, rationing was with us throughout the War and even continued into the first half of the 1950's. To help our food supply, Dad used to keep six chickens which ensured we were well supplied with eggs but I was not that amused trudging home from Stoke Newington High Street with a heavy bag of chicken balancer meal. Normally we did not eat many sweets, but because food was so short generally, we made sure we had our full sweet ration and there was always great excitement every Friday night to see what Dad had bought at the sweet shop. Two ounces of butter, a similar amount of cheese and ten pennyworth of meat a week really had to be stretched. Cooking and heating were difficult too, because due to the bombing, electricity, gas and water supplies were often cut off. Paraffin heaters were a real boon for cooking and heating but getting the oil was not easy.
How wonderful it was when the lights came on again and the blackout curtains came down. I remember celebrating VE Day in the West End with boys from school. It had been a long war!
Contributed originally by Ann Bradbury (BBC WW2 People's War)
BBC The Peoples War
My father appeared at the living room door; he had been listening to the wireless. “It’s war” he said in a grave voice to my mother. There was silence. It was just after eleven o’clock on the third of September 1939. I was seven and a half years old to the very day and it didn’t mean much to me wrapped as I was in my child-world.. It wasn’t until February 1940 when my sister’s husband, who was in the Merchant Navy, went down in the North Sea, leaving her a widow with a three-month old daughter that I realised that life was going to be very different.
I was born the youngest of ten children in a Victorian house in Hawksley Road, Stoke Newington in North London. I was the youngest by a long way, and at the outset of war, the rest of the family were in their teens and twenties. I stayed in London for the duration of the war except for a fortnight in September 1944 when the V1s were coming over the North Sea and dropping in a circle round our house. I did not want to leave my parents to be evacuated in 1939 and my parents couldn’t leave; they had to work and look after the family.
My school closed down and was used for storage; one morning, I went to the school gates where there were red double-decker buses parked and said goodbye to my school friends as they went on their long journey to a place they didn’t know and to live with people they hadn’t met. I never saw them again. Two months later I was sent to a Church school and made new friends. The school attended church monthly. Churches weren’t heated in winter during the war and they were so cold that all the children dressed up in extra jerseys, scarves and gloves.
When the blitz started in the autumn of 1940, I soon learnt to differentiate between the sound of the German bombers with their unsynchronised engines and the sound of our own aircraft. At home, my father had reinforced some of the house to withstand bomb blast. Wooden rafters were put up in the living room to support the ceiling and there were wooden shutters outside the window that we could draw up at nightfall. Brown paper strips were gummed crisscross inside every window in the house to contain flying glass. Buckets of sand were placed everywhere to deal with incendiary bombs. In fact my father was called out one night to help when five incendiary bombs fell on our row of terraced houses.
The coal cellar was reinforced with girders to be of air raid shelter standard and the coal hole in the front garden was enlarged into a square with steel rungs going up the wall inside to be used as an escape hatch. The cellar under the stairs was only four foot wide so for a bed we had boards across the width supported on trestles and a mattress was laid on top. I slept here with my parents during the blitz, the mini-blitz of 1944 and the flying bombs, although more often than not, my parents were in the kitchen brewing up tea being unable to sleep. Some of my siblings slept in the reinforced living room where a mattress had to be laid on the floor every night; some slept in their own beds preferring to die in comfort.
In 1941, a delayed action land mine dropped at the end of our road. Luckily it got caught up in a tree and the immediate area was evacuated so there were no casualties. I was alone in the cellar when it eventually exploded at 4am and the bang was horrendous. It was followed by a thumping down the length of the staircase overhead. This was my 14 year old brother leaping downstairs shouting ‘Mum, I’m on fire!’. Apparently there was such a firestorm when the mine exploded that it lit up his bedroom with a red glow! The impact of the blast slightly sucked out one wall of our house so that there was a gentle curve to it and it stayed like that until the late forties when it was rebuilt under the war damage scheme. The cracked windows were replaced by opaque glass as clear glass was hard to come by. The resulting bombsite became our playground. There were dilapidated houses to investigate and damaged stairs and floorboards to clamber over.
One evening, after I had had a birthday party, I went out with my father to take some of my friends home. There was an air raid on but all was quiet. Suddenly on the way home the guns started booming and an enormous piece of shrapnel about a foot long came from behind our heads and fell in front of us. One of us had narrowly escaped being killed that night.
We collected shrapnel from the streets after a heavy raid and exchanged large pieces with our friends. We collected newsprint from our neighbours and gave them to shopkeepers to use as wrapping paper and played many games such as tag, marbles, hopscotch and skipping. Children make their own happiness.
By the end of 1939, I had three brothers in the RAF: a sister joined the WAAF in 1941 and another brother went into the army in 1943. I did plenty of letter writing when my brothers were posted abroad. My brother Ernie, who was a rear gunner on a Halifax 111, was killed on the night of 3rd/4th March 1945 when the Germans mounted their Operation Gisela in which nearly 200 night fighters were sent over this country at low altitude to infiltrate the returning bomber stream. His aircraft had been diverted from his home base at Melbourne, Yorkshire and was approaching a nearby airfield when it was shot down by a JU88. it crashed at 0145 hours on the 4th March on Spellow Hill, Staveley. Ernest’s body was brought home and buried at Chingford Cemetery, North London on 10th March on the very day he was to have been married in York. He was to have finished his tour of operations that week.
We were continually being asked by the government to save to help the war effort. We had standard metal money boxes in the shape of a small book which had a crest on the side and was locked, the key being held by the post office. When it was full, we took it to the post office and the money was extracted and put into National Savings Certificates and the box was locked again.
Many of the popular songs written at this time were about the conditions we had to tolerate. We children all hated Hitler, Berlin and the German nation most intensely and wanted them obliterated. There was one song called ‘Run, Rabbit, Run,’ that we sang as ‘Run, Hitler, Run’ and it continued about having a gun and shooting him. Many songs were adapted like this by us and were sung with great intensity.
My mother coped magnificently with meals in that we never went hungry. The weekly rations of tea, sugar, meat and dairy foods were very small, but we had bread and potatoes to fill us up, also suet puddings with golden syrup; and dumplings in a vegetable stew with the bone from the Sunday joint. The dripping from the roast was used to spread on bread and was very tasty. There was sometimes fried bread with tomatoes or a strip of bacon for breakfast. Sausages were made with mostly bread but sausage rolls were tasty, heated with thick gravy poured over them. Steak and kidney pies were also in evidence but they only had one cube of steak and one piece of kidney inside; the rest was mush. Nevertheless they made a tasty dinner. We ate lots of vegetables but only fruit indigenous to this country except for oranges; no peaches, grapes, pineapple or bananas. We had to queue for nearly two hours for a few oranges per person when a boatload occasionally came in. Word soon got round that Jim the greengrocer had had a consignment of them.. Children were allowed a pint of milk a day and free concentrated orange juice and free cod liver oil. My one weekly egg was always boiled for breakfast and was a special treat. We were allowed extra points for dried fruit at Christmas for the puddings and extra sugar for jam making during the summer. At one time, soap became scarce and one of my sisters came home with a stick of shaving soap which was beautifully soft to wash with.
The mini-blitz and the V-weapons came as a terrible shock after nearly five years of war; it seemed that the blitz was starting all over again and it was generally felt that we couldn’t stand another lot. Everyone had pasty-looking faces and were tired with sleepless nights and it was back to sleeping in the cellar again. At least you could see the V1s and take shelter when one was coming your way but the rockets came from nowhere and one wondered if one would be alive in a moments time. Sometimes at school when we heard the explosions of a V2 weapon, I would run home when school finished wondering if my home and family would still be there. Occasionally I had to leave for school in the morning when the alert was still on and was told by my mother to shelter in a doorway if necessary.
Every day we followed eagerly the progress we made on the continent after D-Day and sometimes we thought the Allies weren’t going to make it so it was a great relief when the surrender was signed in May and we could at last hope that it would soon be the end of the World War. I can remember going to bed that night, the fear gone, and that, after nearly six long years, I would be able to go to sleep knowing that I would wake up in the morning and not be lying under a lot of rubble. The feeling was very strange. We didn’t celebrate the end of the war as we were in mourning for my brother Ernie: we were just very relieved it was all over. The promised big party that was to be held when they all came home from war service, failed to materialise as one of us was missing from the family.
I still had two brothers abroad, one in India and one in Ceylon: they were posted there at the end of 1944 preparatory to fighting in the Asian war to overcome the Japanese. The atom bombs saved them from having to fight and possibly losing their lives and they arrived home safely.
We could at last look forward to peace.
Contributed originally by Angela & Dianna (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was written by Angela's mother, Dobbie Dobinson:
It was 1936. I was just 16 and looking for a bit of excitement, so I was quite interested when I was invited to a Blackshirt meeting. I was told it could get a bit unruly, but the boys were really dishy.
The meeting was in south east London and was bursting at the seams with young people, male, female, black, white - they were all there. I couldn't believe that politics were uppermost in their minds, and I'm sure it wasn't in mine.
I was completely bowled over by the appearance of the members - girls and boys alike. The immaculate black silk shirt and tie. The slim trousers tucked into long black shiny boots. Topping it all was the wide leather belt with the large shiny buckle with the Blackshirt emblem. I learned later that it wasn't just decorative, but had a slightly more sinister use. Under the buckle were several sharp spikes, which could be released when the belt was removed and became rigidly upright. It formed an extremely effective weapon when whirled around among would-be attackers.
I decided to become a member, with all arrangements for my uniform to be delivered ASAP. My parents, needless to say, were very disapproving, and that's putting it mildly, but they had always encouraged us to learn by our own mistakes - and they both reckoned this was a big one!
So far, I had only attended local meetings, but once I had my uniform I was keen to go further afield and hear the better speakers. Sir Oswald Mosley, our leader, was due to speak in the East End of London, always reckoned to be a very lively venue. The great man arrived to address what was a really huge audience. There were Brownshirts, Greenshirts, Communists and a very high proportion of the Jewish community.
To me he looked rather like a doll that had been very carefully dressed. Nothing was out of place. His hair was perfect for the then popular Brylcreem and his little moustache looked as though it had been crayoned on his upper lip. His boots shone like glass and when he gave the salute and clicked his heels I expected them to crack!
He began his speech, but it didn't last long. There was a lot of catcalling and he seemed to have difficulty in holding the interest of the crowd or controlling it. But his deputy arrived to save the day, introduced as William Joyce.
I recognised him at once, although it was quite some time since I'd seen him. His sister Joan had been in my class at Dulwich Hamlet School and I eventually met all his family and it was a very lovely one. Joan had a twin called James, then came Quentin, then Frank and last came William. They were all very happy and confident people and I much enjoyed their company.
As soon as William started speaking the atmosphere changed completely, and I was to learn from future meetings that he had the ability to manipulate a crowd like no-one I had ever heard before.
From then on I never missed one of his meetings, but of course they could be pretty rowdy and this was when I saw the belts put to good use. The opposition was not to be outdone, however, and whirled long pieces of thick string with a raw potato attached to the end with several razor blades stuck in at different angles. Both weapons were not to be argued with for long, but if you were unwise enough to stand your ground an ambulance was quickly required.
It was at one such meeting when things became really out of hand and the police, who always attended our meetings, moved in in force. They had evidently decided that enough was enough and rounded up a number of youngsters, including me. We were bundled into a large police van, the door of which was covered with a metal frame. It felt like being in a cage and the atmosphere became very subdued.
The younger ones, including me, were made to give the usual details and were asked where our parents could be contacted. They were told to come and pick us up. Most parents arrived in a very short time and it was made clear there would be a whole lot of trouble when they reached home. My father decided otherwise - he obviously felt it might give me food for thought if he left me until the next morning.
Actually, although I didn't get any sleep, I learned a great deal about a policeman's lot during the small hours and it was not a happy one. They dealt with drunks, street people and some very abusive people, and my vocabulary increased considerably! A very nice sergeant gave me cups of strong tea with lots of sugar and two arrowroot biscuits. I think he knew I wasn't a real criminal, just a rather stupid brainwashed youngster, and with hindsight I have to agree with him.
I left the Blackshirts when I met the boy who was eventually to become my husband. By then it was 1938 and preparations were going on for war, like sandbags, shelters and gas masks. My boyfriend, who had joined the Territorials, was called up and was whisked off to the Cornwall coast on a London bus, and there given a rifle but no ammunition!
War finally came and sitting alone one evening I turned on my little battery radio and was astounded to hear a voice I knew only too well saying 'Germany calling! Germany calling!' The voice still held an audience even though the messages raised the blood pressure of any red-blooded Englishman. These messages continued every evening and eventually William Joyce came to be known as Lord Haw Haw. He had left this country and joined forces in Germany with our enemies and therefore became a traitor. The war ended and William was brought home, to be tried and sentenced to death by hanging.
I clearly remember the morning the sentence was carried out. I got up early and left the family sleeping; I sat quietly by the window until the clock struck the hour and I knew it was all over and William was no more. But he had stuck to his beliefs till the end and I think, in his case at least, he really believed in the Blackshirt cause, misguided as it was. But as he was often heard to say: 'You can't win 'em all.'
Contributed originally by Stockport Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Mrs Margaret Boon and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
Friday 1st September 1939, a beautiful sunny morning and there I was, Margaret Webb, at the age of 9 years, standing on the platform at London
Fields Station in the East End of London, with my sister Joyce who was 4 years older, plus hundreds of other children. We were all agog at going on
this lovely train journey to God knows where. At that age we were very naive and didn't really understand what a war meant.
Most of our parents were there to see us off, double-checking that our name labels, which were tied to our coats, were secure and that we had our gas masks neatly packed in their boxes and slung over our shoulders, plus a case or bag containing our clothes and one or two personal effects. They, of course, also had no idea where we would end up. We finally set off about 9 a.m. with some tears, some fears, but a great deal of excitement.
After what seemed a very long journey, we alighted at a station called Thetford, which is in Norfolk (which we didn't know at the time). From there we were taken to a large hall, which I learned some years later was the Guild Hall. We were then given a mug of cocoa and a sandwich. A short
time later our names were called out and we were given a paper carrier bag each, which contained a tin of corned beef, some biscuits and one or
two other items of food, and put into various charabancs or coaches, as we would call them today. We were then dispersed in different directions.
After driving through the famous Thetford Forest and some beautiful countryside, during which time I had been sick (being a bad traveller and the cocoa probably didn't help,) we duly arrived at a village called New Buckenham, this was to be our final destination.
We were all bundled into the village school hall where all the local women were gathered. I cannot recall seeing any men there, apart from the two
male teachers who had travelled with us. Having arrived and feeling very nervous, we were well scrutinized by the waiting foster mothers - our
skirts were lifted to check our undies etc. Joyce and I were holding on tightly to each other as we had been given instructions by mother not to
be separated. Finally a lady asked if we would like to live with her and we were taken over to a Mrs Powell who was in charge of the billeting and
Mrs Tofts, the lady with whom we were to live, took us home to meet her husband and two daughters; Joy aged 7 and Shirley who was just 3. We were thrilled to find we were in fact living at one of the village shops (incidentally they made fantastic ice-cream). Everyone must have thought I was deaf because I can well remember saying pardon to everyone who spoke to me - I just couldn't understand their funny ways of talking. I had never heard the Norfolk dialect before. Mrs Tofts
then gave a basket to Joy and suggested she take us to the common to meet some of the local children and collect blackberries which she wanted to cook for our dessert after dinner.
On Sunday 3rd September, we attended church in the village and during the service we were told that war had now been declared with Germany. I'm afraid this didn't mean much to me as I thought war was a battle in a field just like the big picture hanging on the wall outside my old headmistress's office. I really had no idea that it could go on for years.
That night when we went to bed, my sister tried to explain it to me and was so convinced we would never see our parents again. I was far more
optimistic and I remember taking the sweet out of my mouth and giving it to her to suck just to pacify her and stop her crying. She was always
sensitive, whereas I was the tomboy of the family and wasn't going to let things like that worry me.
We wrote home to our parents and let them know where we were and told them all about our new surroundings and school and the many new friends
we had made.
One Friday evening, after we had been there about a month, I looked out of the window and couldn't believe my eyes. There was my Mum getting
out of a car. Oh the excitement!! What we didn't know was that she had written to Mrs Tofts, who in turn had invited Mum to come to New Buckenham to stay for the weekend to see for herself that everything was 0 K. During the weekend Mum went to see the billeting officer (Mrs Powell) and got a list of the names and addresses of the parents of all the evacuees in the village and, when she went back to London, contacted them and arranged a coach so that they (or at least one of them) could
make a trip to see the children on the first Sunday of every month.
Just before Christmas 1939, Mr Tofts was taken ill and at the same time his two daughters went down with chickenpox. As Mrs. Tofts had the shop to run as well as look after her sick family, this meant that we had to move and leave the home we were getting nicely settled in and find somewhere else. Unfortunately no one could take us both together, but we found billets next door to each other. Joyce went to live with Mrs Smith on the other side of the village green and I went next door to live
with Mr & Mrs Brown.
Mrs Brown was very strict and extremely houseproud so I had to watch my step. However she was a wonderful cook. Mr Brown (Ronald) was a farmer, a churchwarden, a member of the Royal Observer Corp and a very respected member of the community and I loved him from the start. He had the most wonderful giggle and when the two of us started it drove everybody mad. We always had a lot of fun together. My own father had always been very distant with me and I can never remember him giving me a cuddle or sitting on his knee. Whereas Mr Brown was entirely opposite, so I suppose it was only natural that I came to regard him as my true dad in every sense.
I had only been with the Browns for three days when I woke up and found my body was covered in spots and blisters. I'd caught chickenpox. As it
was Christmas Eve this meant we could not spend the festive holiday with Mr Brown's parents, which was the usual custom, as I was confined to my bed. As Mr Brown was so determined that I should be kept amused he climbed up into the loft and brought down his mandolin which he had brought back from Greece at the end of the First World War (and incidentally never played since) and tried to keep me happy by playing lots of tunes (not too well I'm afraid). Even though I was feeling pretty ill I can tell you we had plenty of laughs.
The farm was just outside the village, but I spent every spare minute there. I may have been a Cockney but I was a true country lass at heart.
I took to the life like a duck to water. I would feed the hens, muck out the cattle, brush and groom the three beautiful shire horses. The largest was Captain and he was huge. Next was Blossom and then my favourite, the smallest one John. I helped with the haymaking and harvest and the threshing and adored every minute.
One day in Autumn, when I was leading one of the horses pulling a cart load of sugar beet I wasn't watching where I was going and the horse ended up standing on my foot. Not knowing any different I tried pushing his body to get him off. He knew better than to be pushed off balance so trod down all the harder. It was only when one of the farm workers saw what was happening and picked up the horse's hoof by the fetlock that I realised how easy it was. Fortunately no bones were broken, but my foot was badly bruised and swelled up like a balloon and stayed that way all the week. I didn't blame the horse - it taught me a valuable lesson.
Mr Brown also owned a couple of orchards and round about September time each year we gathered all the eating apples, cooking apples and pears in bushel baskets and took most to market, either in Diss or Norwich. As he was a farmer and an important citizen he was allowed a certain amount of petrol. I couldn't believe it when I first saw his car - wow! It was a navy blue Rolls Royce.
Whenever we went into the town, Mrs Brown always asked if I wanted to stay with her and go round the shops or would I rather go with Ronald and yes, of course, I always preferred to go with him. He took me round the museums and the cathedral and in the winter we mostly ended up at Carrow Road in Norwich to watch the football. I suppose this must have
caused a bit of jealousy, but at the time I didn't realize it.
Mrs Brown always went out on Wednesday nights to play whist somewhere in the village and did not get back until around 10.00 p.m. She gave strict
instructions each time that Ronald should make sure I was in bed by 8 p.m. Once she had gone we got out the cards and he taught me to play rummy, Newmarket and crib. Naturally as we were enjoying ourselves the time just flew and often we would hear the back gate and I would fly off to bed just before she came in. On entering I would hear the same old question "Did she go to bed on time?" and the answer "Of course Maggie." and I would be giggling under the bedclothes.
In September 1941, I had to go to the school in the next village now I had attained the age of 11 years. Old Buckenham School was just over 3 miles
away and of course much bigger. For the first few months we had to walk there and back, no matter what the weather and that winter was one of
the worst on record. Deep snow drifts and the snowploughs were brought out to clear the roads. I developed enormous chilblains on my feet and
the backs of my legs, but I still got to school every day and on time. There was quite a crowd of us that used to go together which made it all
the more enjoyable.
Eventually the Norfolk County Council gave us all bikes, which we had to take good care of. Our headmaster held an inspection every week to check that we had cleaned them and everything was in order. If we were caught playing around on them or giving someone else a lift they would be taken away, so we were always very careful to keep within the rules. We were taught how to mend a puncture and put the chain back on and pump the tyres up to a certain standard and clean and polish them so they
always looked like new. Extremely proud of our bikes we were - never had anything like it in our lives before. Sometimes at weekends during the
summer I would go out with Mr and Mrs Brown round the countryside on our bikes.
By this time my sister Joyce had already returned to London, having reached the age of 14, and also because she was suffering from asthma and needed hospital treatment.
When I first went to live with the Browns they had a beautiful cat called Peter. Although I have never been a cat lover, something about this one
appealed to me. Maybe it was because he was so friendly from the start. He had a lovely pure white front and the rest of him was a kind of pinky-
ginger. He really was a great big bundle of soft cuddly fur. I spent hours grooming him, while he purred loudly with contentment.
One day I decided to give his whiskers a trim and he sat there quite happily while I cut them back to about one inch on each side. When Mr Brown saw him, he was horrified and that was the only time he scolded me. He went on to explain that the whiskers on animals were used as a measuring device. By putting them against a gap, the animal knew whether the rest of his body would go through -Lesson No. 2.
After I started at Old Buckenham School I developed a habit of stopping off at the farm gate and giving a long whistle. If the horses were not working they would come in answer to my whistle. Invariably John was always the first. One afternoon in late Autumn, I stopped as usual and
could see John lying down in the next meadow. As he didn't respond I got worried and raced off to find Mr Brown to tell him. It transpired that
poor John was so old and had collapsed. The kindest thing was to have him put down. This really upset me and I cried buckets. It's hard for an 11 year old to realise that this was for the best. I had regularly taken all three horses down to the village blacksmith to be shod, and I loved the warmth of his fire, especially on cold winter days.
I had many friends in the village and when not on the farm we used to go on to the common to play. I must admit when the boys were playing cricket I used to steal their ball and get chased and sometimes thumped for my cheek. I was also a bit of a rogue on the farm and tormented the poor farm workers. One day after we had mucked out the cattle sheds and had a nice big pile of warm manure, they got so fed up with my torments they grabbed me by my legs and arms and threw me on top of the pile. I was only wearing a little top and shorts. By the time I climbed off, I stank to high heaven. Mrs Brown was not best pleased when I
Mr Brown Senior, who was my foster grandfather, had a pony called Peggy and a trap, which he took great pride in. Always polishing the wood and brass until it shone. I felt very privileged when he taught me how to drive the pony and allowed me on one occasion to take the reins on a return trip from Diss. I was so proud I felt like the lady of the manor.
Grandfather Brown used to grow grapes under his veranda in the garden, which were his pride and joy. On one occasion when I was playing out
there, I looked up and saw these enormous bunches of grapes hanging down just above my head so I reached up and pulled a bunch down. I was
sitting enjoying these lovely juicy things when I received a cuff around the ear. (The one and only time in my life) - Lesson No.3 - Never take
something which doesn't belong to you without asking permission.
Late in the year of 1943, Mrs Brown informed me that my Mother was coming the next day to take me back to London. I was completely stunned
as I was prepared to stay for the rest of my life and couldn't understand why I had to leave. No explanation was given to me.
On the day of parting both Mr Brown and I were heartbroken. My Mum told me later that Mrs Brown had written to say she could no longer cope and suggested I should come back to London. As she never did tell Mr Brown the reason he naturally thought my mother was to blame. I can only assume on looking back that she must have been jealous because we had grown so close. Mum thought it might have been because she didn't know how to handle things as I was becoming a teenager and it might mean a lot of explaining. However I did write to them regularly and was invited back each year for a two-week holiday, but of course the closeness between Mr Brown and myself had been broken and I must confess I found it hard to forgive Mrs Brown for that.
Anyhow I was determined not to lose contact and when I was to be married in 1953 at the age of 23, I not only invited them both to my wedding, I asked Mr Brown if he would do me the honour of giving me
away (my parents by this time had been divorced). I don't think I have ever seen such pride and pleasure on a man's face as I did that day. I
thought his speech at the reception was never going to end. To cap it all we went back and spent our honeymoon at my old home in New Buckenham.
Mrs Brown died a few years later, having suffered from diabetes for some time. I discovered she had never told Mr Brown the truth about my departure and I didn't feel it was right to enlighten him.
As he had always been a busy farmer and never had to do cooking or housework he was completely lost and eventually his brother found a neighbour who was widowed and was willing to move in to the house in New Buckenham and become his housekeeper. Eventually they were married and I must say, Grace, the second Mrs Brown was an entirely different
personality to Maggie. She was homely and had a lovely sense of humour and I got on very well with her. I still went for holidays occasionally but
Mr Brown's health gradually deteriorated. Then at the beginning of the '70s I received a letter from Grace telling me he had died and I knew I had lost a true and lovable friend.
I still keep in touch with Grace, even though it is now 2004 - some 60 years or more since I first went to New Buckenham. She is now in poor health and in her late 80's.
I also regularly keep in touch with one of my old school friends, who is 4 years older than me, who was also an evacuee and married a Norfolk man
at the end of the war and settled in Thetford. It was in fact Florrie who organised a celebration for some of us together with the villagers after
50 years. We went back each September where we had a church service and called on some of the village folk that we remembered.
We also had another celebration after 60 years in the village as well as attending a march and special service organised by the Evacuees
Association, in Westminster Abbey. This was supported by hundreds of ex-evacuees from all over the country which included many famous names.
I wrote a poem for each of the 50th and 60th celebrations which were printed in the New Buckenham parish magazine. Copies of both have also been lodged with the Imperial War Museum in London.
As I spent so many happy years of my childhood in Norfolk being loved and cared for, I still class New Buckenham as my home.
Contributed originally by dottie5 (BBC WW2 People's War)
RETURN TO LONDON.
Soon after this, Mum came to Northampton and finding me impervious to all her warnings of dangers to come if I returned to London, she took me home. When I returned home the war had started but, as yet, there had been no bombing, only preparatory air raid warnings to help people to get accustomed to the procedure of taking cover as soon as sirens were heard. Similarly, to know that it was safe to come out when the All Clear Siren was sounded. Nevertheless the predictions were that air raids could be expected soon.
There was an interval when there was no schooling during which an Anderson shelter arrived and was set up in the garden.
It was topped with a quantity of earth, after which sandbags were placed over the earth and on either side of the entrance. Wooden steps led down into the shelter.
My Dad was already growing potatoes, runner beans, cabbages and lettuces in the garden, but as he was running out of space he decided to grow some rhubarb on top of the shelter. Soon we had sticks of rhubarb growing in the earth between the sandbags. Mum and Dad began putting a few items into the "dug-out" as it was called. We started sleeping in it before the raids began, to get the feel of it.
The first night was horrendous. As I walked down the steps into what was going to be my sleeping quarters for the next few years, the smell of dank earth hit my nostrils. A worm appeared out of the "wall". There was no light, no warmth and no facilities. I was given blankets and a deck chair to sleep in, but sleep was impossible. Things improved when narrow wooden bunks were installed. Oil lamps gave us some light and a portable wireless became invaluable, not only for entertainment but also to drown the noise of falling bombs, when they came.
THE BOMBING: A DIRECT HIT ON THE LIBRARY.
In the Summer of 1940 the bombing began. It went on, day and night, for weeks on end.
We stayed in our comfortable kitchen for as long as we could in the evenings, but as soon as the sirens sounded we had to get down into the dug-out. It was my job to whip up the dried milk and water for the tea we would take with us in a thermos flask.
People looked out for each other. After a night's bombardment the talk in the streets would be about the previous night's bombing. Through the grapevine people learned which places had been hit the night before. If they knew someone living in one of these places they would go there to see how things were and to do what they could to help.
By this time many evacuees like me had returned to London and schools had re-opened. One of the jobs I had to do after school was to get the cat's meat. That meant an inevitable queue before I could get to the counter. Even cat's meat was in short supply during the war. Quite often I came away empty-handed and our cat had to take pot-luck like us human beings. It was possible to buy horse-flesh fit for human consumption, or so it was said.
I was an avid reader and it was my habit to go to the public library off Forest Road after getting the cat's meat. The Chief Librarian knew me well and used to save books for me. He'd even broken the rules and allowed me to use the adult section of the library, providing he could endorse my choice of reading.
One day I came home from school and found our street cordoned off. This was common practice if there had been an 'Incident". Naturally, I was shocked. I had to prove that I lived in the street before I was allowed to enter.
What had happened was that a bomb had dropped on the library, which was at the end of the street. My lovely librarian had been killed as also had the young Curate from nearby Holy Trinity Church who happened to be walking by at the time. Only the day before I'd made my usual trip to the library. As I entered the librarian came towards me, carrying a book. "Saved this for you Crofts" he said, handing me the book. It was "The Wizard Of Oz".
When I got home I found the kitchen in a complete mess. Mum always had a coal fire stoked up in the kitchen, even if we were all out. It kept the place warm until either she came back from shopping or Dad popped in for his mid-day meal. A strong metal fire screen was always left in front of the fire and any loose coals could drop into a pan underneath.
Mum hadn't got back from shopping when the bomb landed on the library but luckily Dad was at home. The explosion blew the whole fireplace out and into the room, leaving a gaping hole. If Dad hadn't acted quickly by smothering the smouldering mess with sandbags the whole house would have gone up in flames.
That night the bombing continued fiercely. Everyone had been issued with ear plugs but they were uncomfortable and didn't drown out the noise of explosions anyway. It wasn't only noise from bombs that we had to contend with. The boom of our anti-aircraft guns were almost as noisy as the bombs.
The next morning my boyfriend called Stanley, came round to see me. I thought he'd heard about yesterday's bomb on the library and had come to see if I was alright. That was partly the purpose of his visit but he had something far worse on his mind. His father had been killed. He'd done what so many people did when hearing the whistle, (more like a scream really, of a falling bomb. He'd dived under the kitchen table. The explosion had lifted the table high into the air and it had then crashed down on him, killing him outright. Stanley and his mother were in their dug out and were unscathed.
One thing I learned from the blitz was that dreadful experiences, if repeated continually over time, can become an accepted part of everyday life. Accepted, but not acceptable.
I went to school every day and Mum and Dad followed their usual routine. Somewhere in my eleventh year I took my 11+ examination and got a place at a “Central” school which had a status between elementary school and grammer school. It could have been worse.
Dad was a Metropolitan Water Board Inspector during the day. In his spare time he was a member of the Home Guard and an air Raid warden. Bill had got work in a Bank but unfortunately all its employees were moved to Stoke-on-Trent soon after he started work. This meant that it was just Mum and I in the dug-out at night. Off duty though, Dad could be with us all night. On these nights we each wore a "tin" hat one from each of his occupations. That was only when the bombing was heavy. If there was a lull in the bombing we slept as best we could. Even if the bombing was heavy we managed to get a laugh out of it as three bent heads wearing tin hats collided in the small space of the dug-out with a mighty clonk.
Dad's duties as an A.R.P. Warden covered our local streets so if there was a lull in activities he could pop in to see us during the night. The Blackout was in force and I sometimes heard his voice shouting: "Put that light Out" to someone who hadn't masked their windows sufficiently. The streets at night were very dark. Bus lights were dimmed and of course there were no lights from shops. Places like Police Stations and hospitals
had a dim blue light but you couldn't go out into the street without a torch. With typical youthful inability to regard Mum's warnings not to run, I did just that, slap into a lamp post. But only once.
Looking back, I think that our parents, lives must have been hell. Especially mothers. Not only did they have to spend much of their time patiently queuing for food for their families, they then had to go home to their kitchens to use all their ingenuity and skill to eke out the small and sometimes strange foods that were all that were available. Dried egg spam, whalemeat and dried potatoes being some of them. Even bread was in short supply and
people were encouraged to eat more potatoes and less bread. There was even a war-time loaf, not as tasty as all-white bread but, we were told, more nutritious. Quite likely, we wouldn't complain about that today.
Added to all that my Mum had to put up with me, a stroppy juvenile adolescent, needing to prove myself, dependent and yet wanting my independence, and most of all, wanting to get some enjoyment out of life.
I went to dances in the Blackout. I could get a bus there but had to walk home.
A TASTE OF SHEER TERROR.
Came the night when I was walking home with Stanley, and the sirens went. Soon an air raid was in progress. Now, it seems incredible but at that time it was normal, we passed a small qreen where young couples were sitting chatting and cuddling. I don't know whether they stayed in the green or went home because at that moment a V2 slunk into hearing and then its engine cut out. Stanley flung me to the ground and threw his body on top of me for protection. Some people have sniggered when I've told them about that incident, but they were wrong. I remember him as a very gallant young man. Fortunately for us it came down to earth some distance away. Mum was waiting for me at the "street door when I got home. She was distraught. I didn't have an inkling of how she must have felt, waiting for me that night. She must have gone through hell. I got my come -uppance a few nights later.
Dad was on ARP duty and Mum and I were in the dug-out. Taking the opportunity of a lull in the bombing, (en emy plan es came over in waves), I enticed Mum into letting me go upstairs to my bedroom, to the comfort of a real bed. I was luxuriating in the pleasure of being able to stretch my limbs in a warm, comfortable bed when a V2 droned into hearing and from the sound of it, it was right over our house. Then the engine cut out. This time, alone, I had my first taste of sheer terror. No use diving under the bedclothes and certainly not the bed after what happened to Stanley's father. Stupidly, I found myself sitting bolt upright in bed, every muscle in my body taut, willing with all my might that it would come to earth somewhere el se. Obviously, it did. After the explosion I heard Mum calling from the garden to get back down to her. When I got downstairs she was crying. I promised to stay in the dug out -in future.
Dad came in looking grim. He said he'd taken an elderly neighbour to a place of safety. - Her house had been blasted. He'd carried her on his back which was some feat considering that he was a slightly-built man and not much over 5 ft. tall. Another night Dad came into the dug-out very upset, having just come from a policeman writhing in agony in the middle of the road with a lump of shrapnel in his stomach.
'WE HEARD THE ‘BOOM BOOM’ OF OUR ANTI-AiRCRAFT GUNS
AND PEDPLE STARTED TO LEAVE. "
Pubs, cinemas, theatres and restaurants stayed Open during the war. There was even a chain of -"British Restaurants", set up by the Government to provide nutritious, cheap meals to the populace. I desperately wanted to see the film of "Jane Eyre". I'd read the book and so had Stanley. We went to the Odeon in Kingsland High street but we hadn't been in there very long before an Air Raid Warning was flashed up on the screen. Some of the audience got up and left but a larger number stayed, including Stanley and I. People were so used to air raids that they tended to weigh up their chances and stay put, in the hope that the situation wouldn't hot up.
We could hear the sound of bombs, seemingly, not too' close, but then we heard the boom-boom of our anti-aircraft guns and people started to 1eave. So did we. Outside massive searchlights swept the skies for the sight of enemy aircraft. Stanley said we should run for it and I realised why when bits of shrapnel started ‘pinging, against’ the walls and all around us. This was my first experience of shrapnel. I had no idea it could be so dangerous. Stanley said that shrapnel didn't only get scattered from exploding bombs but could fly off our guns too, and it terrified me. Fortunately, neither of us lived far from the cinema so it didn't take long to get home. Poor Mum wasn’t the only one to sigh with relief when I got there.
The bombing was very heavy that night. There wasn't much chance of sleep so Mum and I sat on our bunks with our tin hats on. Mum also held a thick towel round her head to deafen the sound of bombs exploding.
"STOP FOR NOTHING." AN UNEXPLODED LAND MINE.
It was well into the night when we heard Dad running up the garden, shouting to us to get out and not stop for anything. An unexploded land mine had landed at the back of our garden. The night was nearly over when Mum and I climbed out of the dug-out and started the walk to the Rest Centre. As we turned in to Dalston Lane we saw the sky, glowing red from all the fires caused by the night's bombing raid. There were no more bombs that night. The raiders had shot their bolt and gone home. Dad was with us as we walked. Two policemen were walking behind us and I heard one say to the other: "they're alright". I suppose we did look a composed little trio. I had a blanket round my shoulders that Mum had grabbed as we left the dug-out and I was looking forward to a cosy reception at the Rest Centre. It was a school that had been converted into a reception area for people like us who'd been bombed out of their homes. True, we hadn't actually been bombed out but we wouldn't be able to return home until the land mine had been removed.
That Rest Centre will stay in my mind as one of the worst experiences of my life. We entered into a school hall packed with people, either sitting or lying on the uncarpeted floor. I don't remember having any refreshments offered to us. There was nothing to do but try to squeeze into any space we could find and then try to sleep. Next day we had it confirmed that nobody would be allowed into Woodland Street until the land mine had been removed. Fortunately, an aunt living nearby at 18 Burder Road, a street next to our former home: Canterbury Road Offered to put us up until we could go back to our own home. So we were temporarily back in Islington again.
My last recollection of this whole period is of rushing into my Aunt Em's garden during an air raid. The siren had only just sounded when we heard a loud thud from the garden. Foolhardy as ever I reached the garden first, in time to grab a sandbag and throw it on to what was an incendiary bomb. The next day, out of curiosity, someone picked up its shell. Inscribed on it was the number 18. "This one was meant for us" he said. Everyone laughed. If they could get a laugh out of a situation during the war, they did.
Contributed originally by Billericay Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in a two bedroom flat in Shoreditch. I was the youngest of three children. My sister Beatrice but called Sis was three years older than me and my brother Vicki was three years her senior. My father, who was ten years older than my mother, suffered form a stomach ulcer and successive haemorrhages necessitated his removal to hospital at frequent intervals. Even when in good health, this being the years of depression, work was hard to find, and money was often a cause of dissension between my parents. Even so, from old photographs we all appeared to be plump and well cared for.
Hamilton Buildings, as our flats were called, had a large asphalt playground in front of them, gardens were non-existent. Our complete surrounding consisted of grey brick scooters out of orange boxes with ball bearings for wheels. Everyone knew everybody else in these flats, which was not surprising as none of them had bathrooms or toilets. These, meaning the toilets, were at the end of a passage and they were shared by at least four families.
I started school just after my third birthday. This was quite a usual practice at the time, as it enabled the mothers, some of whom found it easier to find employment than their husbands, to leave their children. I cannot remember much about school except that anyone naughty enough to swear was taken to the washroom and made to rinse their mouth out with carbolic soap. I think this must have deterred them for life.
My father’s family who lived next door to a church in St. John’s Street were very religious and, although to the best of my knowledge he never darkened a church door, we were all duly dressed in clean, white ankle socks and packed off there each Sunday. After church we visited our grandparents and on the way home we stopped at a pub in the main road, where by this time on a Sunday my father could be found and where we were sure to get a glass of lemonade.
About the middle of 1939, when it became obvious that a war was inevitable, arrangements were made for the whole school to be evacuated. We were issues with gas masks and out clothes were packed and deposited at school and each day we went to school with a fresh pack of sandwiches just in case it was the day to go. No one, not even the staff, knew our destination. It never ceases to amaze me that so many parents were prepared to go along with this. Three days before war was declared, off we went in a long line, with our bags and gas masks and a label stating out name tied on us to Liverpool Street station; that evening our train came to a halt at Hunstanton in Norfolk. Here we were out in coaches and driven around the town and were literally dumped on anyone with sufficient room to accommodate us.
My brother and sister, five other children and myself were placed in the home of a well to do spinster who lived in a large villa on the outskirts of the town. She protested strongly to the billeting officer at the imposition of having us thrust upon her. He assured her that he would do his best to find us other billets as soon as possible. She had a plump housekeeper named Mrs Williams and we were relegated to her charge in the kitchen while she withdrew to her drawing room.
Our parents were informed of our whereabouts and on the Sunday my mother and father arrived to see if we were alright. Such was the nature of our unwilling hostess that she would not even invite them into the house. Dad was furious at being treated this way and was all for taking us straight home again but my mother, fearful about the war, prevailed on him to let us stay.
After three weeks of trying to cope with eight children in her kitchen, Mrs Williams protested to her employer, who in turn protested to the billeting officer, and then my brother and the three other boys were taken to another billet in the little village of Old Hunstanton three miles away. So our family was broken down one stage further.
My sister and I stayed here for about two months, and then late one autumn afternoon, we were also taken to a new billet in this village. It was about five o' clock and already dark when we arrived at the tiny thatched cottage. The door opened to reveal a short old lady who held an oil lamp in her hand; her hair was scragged back into a bun and her face withered and wrinkled. I was terrified of her. To me, six year old with a vivid imagination, she looked just like an old witch. I clung to my sister and it was weeks before I regained the confidence to let her out of my sight.
Granny Matsel, as the old lady became known to us, was a very good old country woman and she cared for us very well. Mt fear departed and I began to take notice of the countryside around us.
The winter came and was very severe with a very heavy fall of snow. An eight foot snow drift blocked the lane, cutting us off from the other end of the village. The village pond froze and the children made a long slide on it. I think this must have been my first experience of snow and I was delighted with it. All the trees and bushes coated with frost made everything look like fairyland. We settled down here very well. We went to the local village school and the old Norman church. Every Saturday we went to the cemetery to tend the grave of Granny's husband. Everything in this cemetery was so well kept and peaceful that death held no terror for me. Somehow the sense of oneness with creation, which country people seem to possess and which gives such tranquillity to their natures came into me and I was happy.
The spring came and to me, a city child, it was like a revelation. To walk through a wood and discover a beautiful blue periwinkle hiding under a leaf and to find that elderberry stalks when cut open contain a deliciously spongy substance which could be used as an eraser, were things that gave me so much childish pleasure. Spring turned into summer and everything was fine until some beaurocrat decreed that all the evacuees in the outlying villages were to go back to town, where a large residence named Hatfield House had been obtained as a school. Our original school which had come from London was to be reconvened. Granny, who had grown fond of us by now, fought hard to keep us, but all to no avail. The green Rolls Royce, loaned to the W.V.S. for the duration of the war, arrived and we were whisked away.
Fate was kind again though and we arrived at the home of Mr and Mrs Page, Granny Page and their eighteen-year-old daughter Olwen. This family was very good to us and once again we began to settled down. We were given our own jobs about the house, for which we were paid pocket money, we joined the brownies, in fact we did all the normal things that little girls do, but not for long. Mrs Page became ill and it was soon obvious that this was a serious illness. So reluctantly they had to say we must leave.
We moved further down the road to the home of a woman called Mrs Crown, who had a husband and three grown up sons. Mrs Crown did not really want us but had agreed because of Mrs Page's condition. We were not being properly cared for and soon the school informed the billeting officer. She visited Mrs Crown and pointed this out. Mrs Crown said she hadn't realised that she was responsible for all our washing as well as everything else. We had been there six weeks so you can imagine the condition we were in.
Hitler came to our rescue when one night a stray German bomber, as it headed homeward across the North Sea dropped a solitary bomb and it landed smack outside our house. We awoke to feel the plaster form the ceiling falling on us. When we tried to get out of bed, we found the weight of the plaster too much to shift. By now Mrs Crown was out of bed and standing on the stairs screaming hysterically, 'The stairs are gone, the stairs are gone.' While we struggled to free ourselves form the bedclothes and her husband tried to pacify her, one of her sons felt his way along the banisters and in the darkness gingerly tried each stair in turn and found they were, in fact, intact.
Hunstanton, being a holiday resort in peace time, now had many empty houses and one was quickly found for Mrs Crown and her family and with the job of making a new home for herself and her family, she had a legitimate excuse for asking to be relieved of us.
My father had by now received the school report on our condition and had decided that my mother should apply for a release from her job at the Air Ministry and come to Hunstanton to look after us herself. Holiday accommodation was very cheap to rent so a lovely four bedroomed bungalow, which stood only a hundred yards back from the barbed wired east beach was obtained and we all gladly moved in.
My brother was brought form his billet and my father came to see us every alternate weekend. This worked well for the whole of that summer but by autumn Mum could see that Dad, who was supposed to be on a strict diet because of his stomach ulcer, was not looking after himself properly and his health was deteriorating. One day she met a young army wife, who, with her two young children, rented a very large flat over a butcher's shop in the High Street. Between them they agreed that we should all live in this flat together. This would help the young woman financially and enable our mother to leave us at weekends and go to London to take care of Dad. His health continued to deteriorate and soon after Christmas she decided we would have to go back into billets again.
My brother, who was fourteen and old enough to leave school, went back to London with her and we went to live with an old spinster called Miss Hunt. Miss Hunt already had two other evacuees, both girls, named Jean and Vera and it was really too much work for her to look after us all properly.
About this time, the school discovered that a number of pupils had ringworm of the scalp. We were all examined and I was found to be infected so, along with about ten others I was taken several miles away to an infirmary. Here we all had our heads shaved and there (liberally daubed with Gentian Violet) we stayed for three weeks. We must have looked a pathetic sight, a ward full of little baldies like a row of coloured Easter eggs. The after being pronounced clean, we were issued with new clothes from the W.V.S. Mine included a navy blue raincoat and flat black boys' shoes. Thus attired the shorn lamb returned to Miss Hunt's.
One day a letter came for Miss Hunt; she gasped as she read it but hurriedly put it away in her apron pocket. All through tea she was fidgety; she kept getting up from the table and going out into the kitchen for no apparent reason. At last, as we were all clearing away the tea things, she sent the other two girls into the kitchen and said, 'It's no use, I must tell you, your father has gone to heaven.' So Dad died and miserable and uncomforted we stayed on at Miss Hunt's and our family was broken down again.
At Whitsun Mum came to see us. She looked marvellous, all dressed up in a navy pinstriped suit with a little hat and a beautiful Silver Fox fur. We were delighted to see her looking so grand; it never occurred to us in our naivety, to wonder where these things had come from. We asked if we could come home but she explained that she was going to move and we would have to wait until she was settled at the new house. We waited all that summer and autumn and then in November Miss Hunt decided she could not manage any longer and wrote to say we would have to go back to London. So just before Christmas, bursting with excitement to be going home to see Mum and our brother, we returned to Highbury.
The house we were to live at in Highbury was a four storyed house which had different tenants living on each floor. It was owned by a diverse pair of Jewish sisters who lived on the ground floor. The elder sister was frumpish and strictly religious, while her younger sister, a peroxided blonde, was definitely liberal. On Saturday, strictly in accordance with the law of Leviticus, no fire would be lit by the elder one, so her sister, before going out to enjoy herself for the day, would light the fire and I would be paid a shilling to go down and poke it for her.
When we arrived here, we looked around the house. We occupied three rooms on the first floor. One small room was my brother's bedroom. One large front room was my mother's and our bedroom and the other room was a kitchen cum living room. We asked where our brother Vicki was and were told not to disturb him as he wasn't feeling well. When we asked what was wrong with him, she explained that Vicki had hit her so she had asked my Uncle Jack, who lived in the next street, to come and deal with him as he was six foot tall and more than she could manage. Uncle Jack was a bad tempered and sadistic man at the best of times and with an open invitation from my mother to come round and give him a hiding, had done just that. It was three days before he came out of his bedroom and when eventually he did appear, his face was swollen and blue with bruises. I wondered why he had it her and it wasn't long before the answer appeared.
Bill Daycott, a short, dark haired French Canadian soldier of the Black Watch regiment, arrived, complete with food parcels, on the Friday evening. It was obvious that he was expecting to stay for the weekend. That night, I slept in the armchair and Sis slept in the camp bed while Mum and Bill slept together in the big double bed. With the puritanical moral vision of youth, which sees things as clearly as either black of white and not as mid-grey, which age and compromise blend most things to, I was shocked and disgusted by her behaviour, jealous also that someone else was receiving the affection that I felt so deprived of. I began to understand things better now, the fur and my brother's behaviour. Everything began to come clear to me; I was growing up fast.
We asked if we could see Dad's grave and one day Mum took us to the cemetery at Highgate. The chaotic arrangement of the mammouth pieces of monstrous monumental masonry in this place, with its General Booth obelisk and Karl Marx bust and innumerable winged angels, contrasted so strongly in my mind with the peace and orderliness of the cemetery in Old Hunstanton. It took us nearly an hour to find Dad's grave and when we did, I was filled with incredulity that there were seven other people all in the same grave. Communal lavatories I had grown up with but communal graves was something that at nine I was not psychologically prepared to accept. The peace about death I had experienced had now departed and I shuddered every time a funeral passed me, which happened frequently in war time London. Funeral parlours advertised their services with the inexpensive in a prominent position. Not that they needed to advertise as there was no shortage of customers.