Bombs dropped in the ward of: Highbury West

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Highbury West:

High Explosive Bomb

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Memories in Highbury West

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

The Three English Brothers French.

By Alan French.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James. Known by me as Uncle Jim:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Copyright Alan French. May 2005.

By same contributor:

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

Uncle Jim: Send Him Pictorious!

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

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

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Highbury West:

High Explosive Bomb

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Images in Highbury West

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