Bombs dropped in the ward of: Tottenham Green
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Tottenham Green:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Tottenham Green
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Herts Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
Keith Ranger — Wartime Memories Part One
Q: Can you tell me about your childhood during the war?
A: When war broke out I was 3 years old — I can’t remember much about the declaration.
Q: What were your first memories — can you remember gas masks?
A: I remember gas masks — I don’t think I had a Mickey Mouse one — my wife had a Mickey Mouse one, unfortunately she hasn’t kept it — but I know I had a gas mask and would have to go to school with gas mask over my shoulder and as we walked to school we used to pick up pieces of shrapnel, they were pieces of bombs or bullets. they used to be lying all over the road and we used to prize these if you found a nice bright silvery one they were quite treasured at school.
Q: Where were you living?
A: I lived in London. I lived near Finsbury Park, I lived on the other side of Finsbury Park to the Arsenal ground — that’s on one side and I lived on the other side of the park. I didn’t support Arsenal actually I support Tottenham Hotspur because my father was a season ticket holder at Tottenham, he actually went to White Hart Lane school so my father supported Tottenham so I supported Tottenham - whereas most of my friends supported Arsenal naturally being so close to the Arsenal ground.
It might be interesting for young people to know that the Arsenal actually shared a ground with Tottenham during the war — the Arsenal ground was commissioned by the Army — so Arsenal didn’t have a ground in those days, they used to share the ground with Tottenham and used to go along to Tottenham every Saturday because there was always a game — one week it would be Tottenham and next week it would be Arsenal at the Tottenham ground. When you went to see the games you didn’t know quite who would be playing — sometimes it was someone called ‘A.N.Other’ because they weren’t quite sure who was going to be playing, and often you would get people like Corporal so and so and one of my favourites was Sgt. Ditchburn — Ted Ditchburn who used to play in goal at Tottenham, he was a Sgt. On the programme it cost a penny I think it used to be Sgt. Ditchburn playing goal for Tottenham.
Q: Did your dad work?
A: My father worked in Smithfield Market and therefore was a reserved occupation but he had to go into London, most nights he’d come home from work got a little sleep then go back into London into the City into Smithfield and do some fire watching which was looking out for enemy aircraft, he also had to fight the blaze and repair the damage which was incurred on London during the blitz, he was in fact quite lucky towards the end of the war there were things called V2 rockets, these came after the V1 rockets, I’ll explain more about those in a moment.
The V2 you didn’t know when they were going to come they were very quick and they were the forerunner really of space travel, a lot of these people that worked on the V2 rockets were taken by the British and Americans after the war and worked on space programmes, but these rockets came across and just plunged into a town without any thought as to who they were going to hit, they weren’t targeted in any particular place.
One fell on the market itself and smashed it to smithereens, many people were killed and badly injured in that raid but my father was very fortunate in that respect because although he was in the market at the time the blast went around him because he was behind a very big pillar which held up the market and from the market there used to be a little underground railway where they used to transport the mail and the blast when it hit also travelled underneath the ground which is why it caused so many casualties and so much damage, so my father was very lucky that night. I did have picture of the market after it got hit and my eldest son actually gave it away — he gave it to someone who was doing a history of Smithfield Market and my son thought it would be very interesting to him and I haven’t seen it since, I’m not sure where that photograph is now. But it’s a rather famous photograph of the whole market in fire and collapsed buildings. It might be interesting because my wife’s father he also was in that sort of thing at one time, he did fire watching also in London until he went into the Army and went over to India but they lived in the East End, my wife’s family all come from the East End, they got very badly bombed and their house was a few that was still standing and when my father-in-law had to go to work or to go fire watching or whatever he often had to tread across all the people that were asleep in the hallway of the house to get to the front door.
I lived in London, near Finsbury Park and also near Haringey Arena. You have probably heard of Haringey which is not receiving good press at the moment, but when I lived there there used to be an Arena and a Stadium unfortunately neither are there anymore but they used to have the big boxing competitions in the Arena, even the world championships were fought in the Arena and the Stadium was next to it and they used to have speedway and greyhound racing and so on. But during the War the Arena was taken over by American troops so there were lots of Yanks around and we used to scrounge chewing gum from them, “Have you got any gum chum?” and invariably they used to give us the chewing gum and they used to give us rides in the tanks around the area.
Also the other side of Finsbury Park near Highbury Stadium was the main line out of Kings Cross so these were two areas very strategically placed for the Germans to attack so we used to have quite a lot of bombing and attacks on us and when it got quite bad, Mum decided we should be evacuated but we were evacuated to Chalfont St Giles, unfortunately Mum didn’t like it very much as it was very lonely and we were on a farm and coming from an area of London she was very lonely and there was just her and I and the people that owned the farm and after three weeks only we decided to go back to London and take our chances really. We lasted longer than my wife. She was evacuated to Peterborough and lasted ten days and they couldn’t stand it either, so they went back to London.
So when we went back to London we went back to our own house and because the raids were so bad we got, I don’t know if we had to buy them in those days or we were given them by the Government, but we had a shelter called a Morrison shelter and this was like a cage, a reinforced cage which stayed in the bedroom really and I used to sleep most of the time in this cage thing but if it got really bad, if the bombing got bad, my Mum and Dad used to get in it as well, which left my Nan, who lived with us, upstairs. If it got really bad, we had to take other action, and the action we took was to go to next door, because next door had a shelter called an Anderson shelter and this shelter was actually built in the garden. It was a very small garden that we had and it was back to back houses so the gardens were very small but they had the Anderson built in the garden and they were very kind to us and we used to have to get into this Anderson shelter so there were quite a few of us in there. So to get there we had to climb over the garden wall because we had a brick wall that separated the garden houses as you did in those days, there was a 4ft brick wall. We had to climb over this wall and not only was there a wall but because we didn’t have much food in those days even though my Dad worked in Smithfield we were rationed, so what my father did was to build some chicken runs all round the garden, and as I say, it wasn’t a very big garden, so we built these chicken runs around the garden and we also had some rabbit hutches, we used to keep rabbits on the top, so we had to climb over the wall and the chicken run and rabbit hutches to get to next doors garden to get into their shelter and my Grandmother as well so there was not only next doors family, the mother and father and their son, who was in fact my bestman when I got married. There were those three and there was all of us that got into this Anderson shelter until the all clear went and then we clambered back over the wall again into our own house.
Q: So, how often did this occur, that you had to go next door?
A: Probably two or three times a week we had to climb over the wall. It depended on the seriousness of the raid really, as you know the siren went and you would know that the bombers would start dropping, so you got prepared for that so you instinctively new if it was going to be a bad one or it was going to be just a few sort of recognisance aircraft may be dropping a few flares or something, as I say we used to go in there and pull the door shut and take our chances really. But not only did we have chickens and rabbits and we also thought we should have a duck and that would be nice for a Sunday lunch or something so we bought this duck, I can’t remember where we got it from now, I think Porterbella market we got it from. So we got this bath and sunk it in the ground at the end of the garden and put Donald the Duck in the thing, so he lasted as we just couldn’t kill him as we just didn’t have the heart to kill him, we used to kill the rabbits and the chickens and eat them but we just didn’t have the heart to kill Donald and he died of old age quite a long while after the war had finished.
Q: Presumably the chickens gave you eggs as well?
A: Oh, the chickens gave us eggs as well and things that I can remember was Mum making up the food for them and all the stuff used to go in the big pot and she used to buy some stuff to mix with it and this feed the chickens and the rabbits and also Donald of course, he was quite plump when he passed away.
Contributed originally by Jim Hepting (BBC WW2 People's War)
Home From Home. by Jim Hepting.
The story of one child's experience of the Blitz
and finally evacuation during the second World War.
My name is Jim. I was one of a family of 13 children,all born between 1923 and 1945. I was born in January 1934 and attended my first
infants school in 1939. After attending there for
a year I began to hear rumours from some of the teachers that we may all be evacuated at some stage, as a direct result of the declaration of war with Germany. Just before I was about to leave the school one afternoon I saw a big lorry drive up to the main gate. There were men on the back of the lorry in uniform, women also. They unloaded a massive silvery looking object into
the playground. When we all arrived at school the following morning we were amazed to see a large silver balloon floating above the school.
It was our first sight of what we later found out to be a barrage balloon, which was going to be a defence against the German airplanes that were expected to carry out air raids on london.
We all stood gazing at this massive balloon which
was going to be a permanent feature in our playground, at least until it was sent soaring high into the sky with it's thick wire cables
holding it to the ground.It had three half round tail pieces on the back which were keeping it in one place. On the ground it was being controlled by several people, including woman, all in uniform. One day while we were all sitting in the classromm there was an almighty crash on the school roof as the balloon had blown out of control as it was being lowered in a strong wind.
We all thought that a bomb had hit the school, as there were tiles and pieces of stonework all falling into the playground. I have never heard such a loud noise. I never felt too safe at all after that incident. The school was,Stamford Hill
infant and junior school, Seven Sisters Rd,Tottenham,London N15. That incident may well still be on record in the local town hall archives.
One Monday morning when we were all in the assembly hall, our headmaster, Mr Crabb,informed us all that we may all have to be evacuated to the countryside if it were considered that London would be a main target for the Luftwaffe,
The German airforce.
Months passed and there was no sign of German planes. My father had joined up as an Air Raid
Warden, and my eldest brother joined up at 17 years of age into the Army. He eventually finished up in the Airborne division. Another brother joined the Merchant Navy. They both looked very smart in their uniforms, and I used to look forward to them coming home on leave.
My father's Warden post was not far from our house and my mother used to take him some sandwiches and a jug of tea when he was on duty.
I used to go and see him quite regularly. He was always playing cards with his other warden friends.
Everything remained peaceful and quiet for the next few months. It was difficult to believe that we were at war at all. Then, one day, as we all sat at our desks in the school classroom we
heard the air raid warning siren begin to wail.
We had heard it before, mainly when they were testing and practising in the event of an air raid.
This was for real, we all heard the intermittent drone of the German bombers high overhead on this particular day and the teachers herded us all into a concrete air raid shelter in the corner of the girl's playground. We sat in there and just listened. There seemed to be many bombers in the sky, but our school barrage balloon was not high enough at that stage to do
any real harm. I will never forget the noise of
those German planes, but fortunately all of their bombs fell pretty wide of our school. We could hear the strange whistle as the bombs screamed earthwards, then there came the explosions in the distance. this went on for approximately half an hour before we heard the sound of the all clear. That raid made me really frightened that day.
On the same night as that we were all indoors
keeping ourselves amused listening to a speech by Adolf Hitler, on an old Cossor radio that had a very large battery in the back and an accumulator. I never knew what the accumulator did or what purpose it served. The radio was quite crackly but we all listened to the ranting and raving of this German, who they called the Fuhrer.
On this same night the air raid warning sounded again and after about 5 minutes we heard the dreaded drone of the German planes again. This was now about 10 o/clock at night and my mother rushed us all out into the back garden and into an Anderson air raid shelter made of corrigated iron.
It was half buried in earth and was right at the back of the garden. Everybody had them deliverd months before the air raids, but we never really expected to have to use them
Being such a big family we couldn't all get in, so the neighbours either side of us lifted some of us
over their fences and we stayed in their shelters until the all clear sounded. This night raid was more frightening to me as a child because I hated
the dark anyway, and we could not have any form of light on because of the Blackout rules. It was pitch black, cold and wet in our shelter
Then all of a sudden there was a massive explosion
which sounded very near. the ground shook, and you could hear lumps of metal hitting the roofs of the nearby houses. It was shrapnel, fragments of the bombs flying everywhere as they exploded. All oif a sudden my old mum started singing, and one of my brothers played the mouth organ, and we finished up a lot more cheerful then. The bombs just kept exploding everywhere, and you could see the sky light up with a orange red glow as the buildings and
factories went up in flames. This went on night after night, after the initial daylight raids, so my
mum decided that next time a night raid came we would get to the Manor House underground station,
as it was safer there.
We arrived there carrying old blankets and sheets and made our way down to the station platform.
I will always remember those people already down there. just lying around on makeshift beds. One man
was playing a piano accordion and many of them were singing along with him. People of all ages, and all backgrounds all joined in together.I recall lying awake all night wondering if a bomb was going to fall and bury us all alive. That was my biggest fear down the under ground. During the day all the kids would be out searching for pieces of shrapnel
from the bombs and anti aircraft shells that were fired at the german planes all throughout the raid.
But it was a waste of time because they were too high to hit. Barrage balloons were flying everywhere. The whole sky was covered with them.
My mother had had now had enough of London and the terrible danger of remaining there during these raids so she finally decided that we would all be evacuated. I was sent to Cornwall, a little village named Goonhavern, where i lived with a very nice family, named Eplett. My mother went with the youngest children to Luton in bedfordshire. My father stayed in London, as he had a job to do as an air raid warden. In fact we were scattered all over the country. One in Norfolk, another two in South Wales. In late 1944, just before the war ended I returned to London. While i had been away a V2 rocket had decimated a whole area of the road I
lived in, Tewkesbury Rd, Tottenham N15. My mother lost two of her best friends when a flying bomb had fallen on Broadwater Road,Tottenham. It is now the site of the Broadwater Road Estate. As I looked around at the bomb sites all over the place I was glad we had been evacuated from the worst of the Blitz. Our own house had every pane of glass smashed out dut to the rocket blast, but they had been boarded up until the war damage companies got round to repairing everything. My Dad told me he had slept in the warden's post most nights when it was quiet. When all the family were re-united at the end of the war we all felt like strangers to each other as we had been split up for so long.
I am glad to say we all finished up safe and sound.
Ours was a happy story, although it did take us all
some time to re-adjust to our virtual slum surroundings after living in more comfortable homes
Contributed originally by Tearooms (BBC WW2 People's War)
We were too young to understand,
Each battle fought, the bitter cost,
So many husbands, fathers, sons,
Before our innocence was lost.
The train from Tottenham Hale station took us to March, Cambridgeshire, where we were met at the station by some very nice WVS ladies who gave each of us a warm welcome, a packet of digestive biscuits, a bar of chocolate and a tin of corned beef to tide us over the weekend. Once again we were loaded onto coaches and paraded round endless council estates trying to offload us onto anyone willing to take us in. No-one seemed to want my sisters and me, either they didn't like the look of me or, being unwilling to separate, we were too much to take on. It was quite late in the evening when they managed to persuade a Mrs Saunders to have us ''just for the weekend, but they must be gone by Monday". I remember thinking "that's all right; we are going home on Monday". Poor lady, that night she put us to bed, all three of us in one bed and I, who had scoffed a whole packet of biscuits, a bar of chocolate and a tin of corned beef, was heartily sick over the bed clothes and just to cap it I wet the bed. Mrs Saunders was delighted when Monday came; that was the day the war started so there was no way we were going home, London was far too dangerous. I was getting a bit fed up with the whole thing by then until we were taken to our next home, 29 Peashill Road, where a wonderful lady named Rosetta Harley lived with her husband Ted. Mrs Harley was a lovely cuddly lady whose two daughters, Cynthia and Barbara had joined the WAAFs, a third daughter Dora lived round the corner with her husband Ernie so she had a spare room in her house and in her heart. She and I took to each other at first sight; I think she had always wanted a son and the sight of me, scruffy little urchin, must have re-awakened her maternal instincts. Then there was little Joan with her golden hair and Anne who was old enough to lighten the load. We were going to get along fine. Unfortunately, a few weeks later Joan was fretting for her mummy so, under the pretext to me that they were only going home for a few days so that Anne could go to the dentist, off they went. Oh the lies; they never came back and for the next four years I was on my own. On my first night without siblings I wet the bed, and in the morning I was mortified, desperately trying to dry the bed but of course it was hopeless, I lay there awaiting my fate, Mrs Harley would be furious, but no; all she said was "I think we had better get a rubber under sheet". It must have been traumatic because from then on I wet the bed with monotonous regularity, each time with the same sense of shame. Did I mention school? No? Well school was the most fun I'd had since arriving in March, on my first day all the evacuees formed a motley crew on one side of the playground while the local boys lined up opposite us calling out "cor blimey mate" while we retaliated with "moo, baaa, oink". Of course we all tired of this after a while and started to make friends. My favourite teacher was Mrs Powell, who tried to teach us to sing songs from 'Merry England' with spectacular lack of success. The line, 'which like the ever hungry sea howls round our isle,' in particular seemed to upset her. We kept singing' ahls rahnd ahr isle', then the local boys who couldn't help laughing, joined us, and it was our version which was sung at the school concert, much to Mrs Powell's disgust. Another source of entertainment was inventing new noises from our gas-masks, a treasure chest of rich, fruity raspberries, which went down a treat during assembly, when we had gas-mask drill, the head master had to shout to get us to stop, and for some reason he had me spotted as the ring-leader, but I have a feeling he didn't mind too much. The school was a mile or two from Peashill Road which I always walked with three local boys, Ted Hills, Brian Strickland and Michael Nottingham. Our route took us along West End, a narrow lane which ran alongside the River Nene so often we would do a spot of fishing with cotton and bent pins, sometimes we caught eels. In those days there were otters which we loved to watch playing, are they still there? I hope so. Before too long Mrs Harley introduced me to her church, Saint Mary's, I don't think I had ever been in a church before and I loved it, the church was so lovely and the hymns and psalms were the most beautiful music I had ever heard, quite a change from 'Cherry Blossom Lane'. I became a regular and soon I was asked if I would like to join the choir, well after the fiasco of 'Merry England' I was somewhat doubtful but I was very keen to wear a cassock and surplice and sing those lovely hymns so I threw myself into it with great enthusiasm. To conserve electricity, the vicar decided that the organ would be pumped by hand, which would be done by choir boys in rotation? This meant squatting behind the organ in a tiny cubby hole and wait for the organist to knock on the screen, when we were supposed to start pumping to power up the organ. One Sunday I was so engrossed in a comic that I didn't hear his knock, when the music started the organ just died with a horrible groan, this roused me to start pumping like fury but the damage was do - I was in disgrace and had to forfeit my share of the collection, all tuppence ha'penny of it. My high point came though when I was chosen to sing a solo part in the Christmas carol service, I was Melchior in 'We Three Kings', I was so proud, my Cockney twang was fading fast, my family wouldn't know me. I spent nearly four years in the choir and the memory of all those hymns remains with me, I still tingle whenever I hear them. News of the war was a source of endless interest to me; I knew where each battle was being fought, all the advances and retreats, and the names of each general and their commands. My brother Harry was in France with the 51st Highland Division so when the news came of the Dunkirk evacuation; I knew that as a machine gunner he would be fighting a rear-guard action so one of the last to leave. Suddenly the war became serious, no longer quite the game it had been to us kids. When I heard that he was home safe I was overjoyed. Soon afterwards he was discharged from the army with a heart problem, not serious but it prevented further military service. He started work in a munitions factory where he met and fell in love with a girl named Jessie, being wartime they were soon married. A few weeks later, running for a bus, he tripped on a kerb stone, banged his head on a concrete gun post and died instantly. I was broken hearted and I ranted and raved at God for a long time. The vicar and Mrs Harley did their utmost to console me but it took quite a while. The blitz passed us by in March; they had a couple of goes at the marshalling yards but soon gave up. I did go back home in 1942 for Lucy's wedding; she was marrying a Grenadier Guardsman named Dick. What a shock! Instead of our lovely house in Peabody Cottages we had a three storey slum with outside toilet, no bath and in a really grotty neighbourhood. Some rotten swine had dropped a bomb on our lovely house so the family had no choice. Then I had my first taste of real bombing, it was terrifying, but everyone seemed to take it in their stride; all the neighbours ignored the Anderson shelters, which were holes in the ground covered with corrugated iron, in the back garden, nasty damp miserable things. When the siren went, they just grabbed their treasures which were left handily situated in the hall and hot-footed it over to the communal shelter over the road, handily situated in the back yard of the Queen Vic pub. No wonder they didn't mind, it was just one big party, a sing-song, with someone on the accordion, crates of beer, and they didn't seem to hear the bangs outside. After a few days we left for Cornwall to visit the boys and Joan, they were at the Lizard, Joan at 4 Coronation Cottages with a Mrs Johns, Sid and Billy were on a farm nearby with Mrs Johns' mother-in-law. It was great to be with my family again although they teased me no end about my country accent, and I teased them back about their ridiculous haircuts, close cropped all over except for a tassel of hair over the forehead. We spent a week or so there then back to Tottenham. Soon it was time for me to return to Mrs Harley so I was put into the guards van of a train in the care of the guard, like a piece of luggage, but he was very kind and put me off at March which was a good thing because all the station signs had been removed to foil Nazi spies; Mrs Harley welcomed me back with open arms; I think she had become quite fond of me by then. Although I missed my family, I soon settled down to what was a very pleasant life in the country. One thing always puzzled me though; my parents never came to visit me in four years and for some reason I never questioned them about this. The only visitor I had was my uncle Len who turned up out of the blue one day having cycled all the way from Bedford, where he was stationed with the RAF, what a very nice man! My friends and I used to play in a field at the back of the houses, we would dig for clay, which we fashioned into model planes, ships and guns, normal toys were very rare in those days. Then there was fishing and roaming the countryside, especially at harvest time when we could help, I don't think we were much help though. there was too much fun to be had, haystacks can be wonderful things to play on but too easily wrecked, that's when the farmers dispensed with our services, ungrateful, these farmers. As March had a large railway marshalling yard there were lots of goods trains carrying all kind of military supplies being transported to the war zones and we were fascinated to watch them go past with tanks, trucks and guns. We would count the wagons, sometimes there were up to a hundred and seemed go on for ages. By 1943 the bombing had subsided sufficiently for me to go home for a holiday, Sid and Billy were home from Cornwall, I think Billy had disgraced himself by setting about the barber with a stick after a particularly hideous haircut. Blood being thicker than water, I begged mum to let me stay, the worst decision I ever made, she agreed so I never went back to the lovely Mrs Harley. Tottenham was fun for a while, there were bombed-out buildings to explore, more mischief with my brothers and each weekend we all went to the T L and R Club, where dad was entertainment secretary. There were dances and concerts which I loved. It made my life in March seems dull by comparison. Of course someone had to go and spoil it eventually, Hitler again, he started sending us V1s (Doodlebugs) which were absolutely terrifying. We could hear them going overhead with an engine noise like an old motor-bike and we held our breath in case the noise stopped, which meant that the thing was about to drop on some poor souls and it could be us. One dropped on Fladbury Road, very near us which killed a lot of people and demolished about three hundred houses. Lucy was living in a flat above a butcher's shop in that direction and I was praying that she was alright. I ran out of the house to go to her, slates were falling from the roofs but I hardly noticed. Lucy was alright but I got a real roasting from mum. It was shortly after this that the subject of evacuation came up again and before I could argue I found myself in Leicester with dear Billy. He was two years older than me and he led me a dog's life, always teasing me and stealing things from me so I was not very happy. We were billeted with a Mrs Gamble, a short, roly-poly woman who loved to tell naughty jokes when she came home from the pub, she would often pass wind and go into Henry V mode exclaiming "Hark, I hear a distant peal of thunder, quick, quick the closet key, too late, too late, I've gone and done it". We slept on canvas camp beds in the parlour; we were not allowed to sleep in proper beds as we had Scabies, a skin disease which was rife at the time. I don't think we were there very long, Mrs Gamble couldn't put up with our Scabies so we were put into Roundhills Sick bay, a large old house filled with evacuees, all with similar complaints. There were just two nurses to look after all of us completely, which was almost impossible, so we were kept in bed like sick patients while the poor nurses did their best to cope. Inevitably disease was rampant and one of the nurses caught Scarlet Fever and I caught it from her. I was taken to Markfield Sanatorium which was a great improvement, and put in a children's ward with lovely clean beds, nice food and being pampered. I was the only evacuee there and in six weeks I had no visitors so the other children's parents felt sorry for me and brought me fruit and little gifts. I ended up with more visitors than anyone else, but not my own parents. In the next bed was a boy named Charlie Pickering, whose parents owned a garage at Measham, they made quite a fuss of me and Charlie and I became good friends for a while. When I was discharged I went back to Mrs Gamble as I was now clean, only to find that Billy had escaped from Roundhills with another boy by climbing through a toilet window then made his way back to Mrs Gamble who would not have him so he nicked my Saving Stamps, 12/6d worth to buy a ticket home. Mrs Gamble agreed to take me in and let me sleep in a proper bed as I was now free of the dreaded Scabies. I had to stay there for a while longer as the Germans were now bombarding us with V2s, which were similar to the Doodlebugs except, being jet propelled, they were silent until the explosion when they hit.
Contributed originally by rwatkins (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on 30/9/1930 in Tottenham. We lived in Pembroke Road N15. I went to Earlsmead School in Broad Lane, N15. Dad was a machinist at the JAP engine factory until the depression and after nine months unemployment started working as a conductor on the trams at Stamford Hill depot. My first recollection of the impending war was when a barrage balloon was flown from the school playground opposite the Palace cinema to publicise George Formby’s film “It’s in the Air”. The next was when the school listed us for possible evacuation. Then an Anderson shelter arrived. Councilmen dug a hole in the middle of the back garden and erected the shelter in it.
Outbreak of War.
I was on holiday at St Ives, Hunts (now Cambs) with my Mum on the day the war started. Our annual holiday was always a week staying with relatives, either at St Ives or at Halesworth in Suffolk. I can clearly remember listening to Neville Chamberlain’s broadcast to announce the start of the war in the room behind my uncle’s shop in St Ives. In addition to our family members there was a boy evacuated from Hornsey who was billeted with my aunt.
Because I was on holiday I missed being evacuated with Earlsmead School who went to Baldock. At the end of the school holiday the school did not reopen, the teachers had all gone to Baldock with the rest of the pupils. During the period of the phoney war I stayed at home all day until Easter 1940 when part-time classes started in the church hall at St Peters in Broad Lane.
I can clearly remember the day the Blitz started. I was walking with Mum along St Anne’s Road, Tottenham, to visit my granny when the sirens started. We hurried to get to Beechfield Road but as we passed a public shelter the warden would not let us pass and we had to go in. That was the only time I went into a public shelter, it was awful, cramped and uncomfortable with hard seats. Later we heard all the local fire engines going to the docks and when it got dark we could see the glow from the dockland fires, bursting bomb flashes and ack-ack bursts in the sky. From then on we slept in the Anderson every night. It was very damp, the floor was the bare earth and the drainage pit in the corner had to be bailed out regularly. Visiting bombsites became a goulish pastime. We went to see where the first bomb fell in Tottenham, in Ida Road. The biggest was the parachute mine that wiped out several streets at Stoney South. One Sunday Dad took me into the City. I recall an enormous hole in the middle of the road (Old Street underground station in City Road?), beds hanging from the upper wards of City Road hospital and another building with a double decker bus embedded in its second floor. We used to collect bits of shrapnel, bomb splinters and bits of aircraft; one prized possession was a piece of land-mine parachute.
One Friday we were planning to go to St Ives to get a weekend respite. Dad was working an early shift and Mum had gone shopping. I was left at home playing with Margaret who lived at No 11 and when the siren went we went into the shelter. Just as well, within minutes a German plane dropped a stick of bombs south to north across South Tottenham. The last of the stick fell in Earlsmead Road that backed onto us. To this day I can remember hanging tightly onto the string that held the large piece of wood that was used as the shelter door while bricks, tiles and other debris from a house in Earlsmead Road hammered into it. When we emerged from the shelter there were no widows (or frames) left in the back of our house and there was debris in the room where we had been playing. When Mum and Dad got home we set off for St Ives and left the debris as it was.
During the weekend it was decided that I should stay with my aunt Elsie and Uncle Ron at St Ives and Mum would join me when Dad was called up a few weeks later. I could not go to the evacuee’s school because I was not an official evacuee so I started to attend the boy’s council school in St Ives. This school was totally different to Earlsmead, there were only four classes for the whole age range of 7 to 14+; at Earlsmead there were two classes for each year entry. There were only four teachers and each took their own class for all subjects all day long. There did not seem to be any timetable, e.g. If a sums test result was poor we got more sums all day. Earlsmead was a mixed school, St Ives was segregated. The discipline system at St Ives was barbaric, it relied entirely on corporal punishment. The cane was given with great frequency; it was given for lateness, talking in class and lack of attention as well as more serious misdemeanours. In the end it didn’t work! The more disruptive kids were beaten day after day but their behaviour never changed. The cane was also given for poor work! I remember more than one occasion when I was caned for poor handwriting. At Earlsmead we were taught to write in “joined-up writing” using loops on l, g, y etc. at St Ives Tom Palmer insisted I wrote script with a relief nib. After the punishment I could not even hold a pen yet alone write with or without loops. It didn’t make sense to me at the time and still doesn’t. The pupils were often given a choice of cane! Tom Palmer had rolls of different thickness of cane in his cupboard and would cut off a new length when he thought that the current cane was losing its stiffness. It was not so bad in the scholarship class; Mrs Frith did not cane but sent pupils to the Head, her husband Sammy, for beating in cases of bad behaviour.
In September 1943 I went to Huntingdon Grammar School. I had to sit two scholarship exams. After getting a place at Huntingdon Grammar the Hunts County Council insisted that Tottenham BC should pay for me to attend so I had to sit a second exam to satisfy the TBC that I deserved the place. Fortunately only the Head was allowed to cane and it was a very rare occurrence.
While staying at St Ives both Mum and me were involved in uncle’s business (miller and corn chandler), Mum as a ledger clerk and shop girl while I helped with local deliveries around the town on the shop bike. I recall being sent on the train to Histon to collect seeds from Umwins to sell in the shop. I also had to do my share on the allotment and looking after the pet rabbits and chickens, neither of which I had to do in Tottenham. Food rationing was not such a severe problem as in Tottenham. Uncle Ron operated in a “slightly grey” market. An extra bag of chicken feed to a farmer would result in a regular supply chickens and a bag of pig meal guaranteed meat for a month or more. Once a local butcher had an order for rabbits from the Officers Mess at RAF Wyton and all our pets (except one pregnant doe who miscarried from the shock) disappeared overnight.
Again there was some war sightseeing. During the winter of 1940/41 we used to watch bomb flashes, ack-ack bursts and fires in London from St Ives around 60 miles away. An oil bomb was dropped on a search light post in St Audrey’s Lane and with some friends I cycled to Needingworth to see a crashed Short Stirling bomber in flames just off the Bluntisham Road. The bodies had all been moved before we got there, there were only blood-covered sheets of corrugated iron that had been used as stretchers. The German bombers passed over St Ives on their way to the Midlands, the River Ouse being a good landmark. On one particularly bad night we slept or rather tried to sleep under the dining room table. We learned from the radio next morning of the devastation of Coventry.
Return to London.
After three years Mum was getting a bit fed up with living with relatives and raids on London had stopped so in July 1944 we returned to Tottenham and I transferred to Tottenham County School. It was only a week or so into the new term when the V1 doodlebugs started. It was at night when we saw the first one and we thought that it was a plane that had been hit and was on fire before crashing. It was a few days before details were released and pictures of them appeared in the papers. We did not use the Anderson and just stayed in the house, we were getting blasé about air raids! If the siren went off during school hours we had to go and sit on benches in the downstairs corridors. These warning periods were enjoyable; I was able to sit holding hands with my first girlfriend! The nearest doodlebug fell in Broadfield Road and later a V2 wiped out Fladbury Road and Osman Roads leaving an enormous hole in the ground.
In Tottenham women were being sent to compulsory work at the Lebus furniture factory, they were making bits of DH Mosquitoes. To avoid this Mum got a job in the accounts department of Bernard Wetherill, a family firm of bespoke tailors in Conduit Street W1. At that time their main business was making officers uniforms. Many years later the son, Bernard junior (Jack to the staff) became an MP and the Speaker of the House of Commons.
On VE night Mum took me up to Westminster. We took the Underground from Manor House to Trafalgar Square the walked down the Mall to The Palace and cheered the Royal family on the Balcony. We were on holiday at Halesworth staying with Auntie Ivy for VJ night and joined in the big bonfire celebration. The celebration meant most to Auntie Ivy because Uncle Leslie was with the RAF in Burma. The war was not really over for us until Dad returned in September.
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