Bombs dropped in the ward of: Bishop's
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Bishop's:
- 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 Bishop's
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by hemlibrary (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the Peoples War web site by Hertfordshire Libraries working in partnership with the Dacorum Heritage Trust on behalf of the author, John Greener. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was born (1st June 1937) and grew up in Edgware, Middlesex (Queensbury, to be precise). Our address was 7 Millais Gardens, Mollison Way, Edgware. Edgware was right on the edge of London then - a sizeable sprawl of the mid-thirties house building explosion. Miles of, mostly terraced (Bauerhaus influenced) , wide windowed houses occupied by respectable upper working class families with aspirations. I think that most were quite happy in their brand new easy-to-run houses in the leafy suburbs - and then came the War.
My childhood memories consist mostly of always going to sleep with searchlights continously passing across the wall and the distant sound of bombs dropping and gun fire. During the day barrage balloons all across the sky and how nice and cosy and almost homely they looked. Air raid sirens and the feeling of dread they produced in your stomach. Of course, the legendary air raid wardens yelling “Put that light out” which infuriated my mother and she used to have angry rows with him. Funny green tape criss-crossed on the windows of underground trains (it was still there in the mid-50s). Air raid practise at school - this consisted of crouching under wash-hand basins until it all went away.My mother found out we were sheltering under these basins at the teacher’s direction and every time the air raid warning went off, she used to run round to the school and take me home.
I grew up in an extended family of extrovert and batty people - I was the only child in a family of eight of us - my sister was twelve when I was born so was almost grown-up. We had two adjoining mid-terrace houses - my Mum and Dad, my sister and I in one house and my mother’s two sisters and their husbands in the house next door. The women had bitter arguments and there was always one sister who was not speaking to another sister but they all had very strong loyalty to each other, bonded together by the horrors of growing up in the Camden Town slums at the beginning of the twentieth century. They all idolised me and whenever one of them found a treat in the shops - either over or under the counter - it would come my way.
When the air raid siren sounded we went en masse to the shelter in the street which was very damp and always flooded but Mum and her sisters decided that it wasn’t very healthy in there and the neighbours were doing unmentionable things to each other which they didn’t want me to see. Therefore we had three Morrison shelters - one for each family. I suppose by then it must have been about 1942.
My sister was eighteen in 1943 and was “called up”. She had the choice of going into the ATS, training to become a nurse or becoming a bus conductress or working in a factory. She chose to join the ATS. She hated the idea of being a nurse or going into a factory and Dad said he wouldn’t allow her to be a bus conductress because they were all tarts (he drove a no. 13 bus!) So then there were just Mum and Dad and I and the cat to sleep in the Morrison shelter.
One night (I think perhaps in the Autumn of 1944) the air-raid siren sounded and we moved into the Morrison to sleep. We were fast asleep in the middle of the night when there was a terrible red flash and flames racing up the wall and I screamed “Mum, we’re on fire”. Immediately after the flash came the noise of the doodle-bug crashing into a house round the corner. It has always seemed as if the reflected flash of the fire came first and then the sound of the bomb. I think Dad must have called out “Is everybody allright” . My mother was screaming hysterically. I was crying because the cat wouldn’t come in that night and I was convinced he must have been killed in all the devastation that seemed to be going on outside. We were right under the window and all the glass from these wonderful wall-to-wall curved Bauerhaus windows blew in. A big lump was chipped out of the piano.
My Dad said “If I have to put up that bloody front door any more I will go mad”. Uncle Ern next door rushed out to see if everyone was allright and cut his bare feet to ribbons on all the glass on the floor. Then there was the sound of fire engines and water hoses and the fire seemed to be all round us. A man kept running up and down the street screaming “My wife is dead. My wife is dead”. I don’t remember any more about that night but I found our cat Sandy hiding in the garden the next morning quite unharmed. That day or maybe several days afterwards I can remember standing in the pouring rain holding the hand of one of my uncles and looking up at our two roofs with all the tiles missing. Some Irishmen were scrambling about trying to fix tarpaulins on the roof and I can remember asking “Will it be allright” and the uncle said “Oh yes I’m sure it will be quite soon now”.
My Dad drove a no.13 bus from Hendon, through Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus and across (I think) Waterloo Bridge. He used to come home covered in soot from all the fires he had driven through and once stopped just before a huge bomb crater somewhere.
One night I couldn’t sleep. It must have been deep in the winter because I can remember feeling desperately cold. My dad was in the bathroom having a bath and when I heard the door open I called out “Dad, I can’t sleep. I’m so cold”. Dad’s hair was sticking up in spikes (like a punk) from being washed. He said that when he was in the trenches he used to wrap the blanket right round the back of his neck and tuck it in tight. I still do that now with a duvet and it does work.
My dad and Uncle Ern and Uncle Fred used to go fire watching in the flats across the road. They used to sit there all night playing cards and smoking and drinking brown ales. One night they must have all fallen asleep and one of them must have left a cigarette still burning - it set the flat alight and they had to run round to the ‘phone box and call for a fire engine!
My sister who was a good looking girl, came home on leave from time to time with various boyfriends who were in the Services. She also had several American boyfriends but they always seemed to be killed in Europe. She was also engaged to a boy called Frank Ritchie who was serving in the Navy - she used to work with him in a butcher’s shop in Burnt Oak before the war - I think he was the owner’s son. He was killed the day after the war finished. He was in a jeep with a gang of American soldiers - I guess they were celebrating the end of the war. The jeep crashed and he was killed. My sister was devastated and I don’t think she ever really got over it.
Uncle Ern’s sister Gwen was going up to Glasgow to join her sister. My mother was having a sort of nervous breakdown - it’s her nerves they used to say. They all decided I should go up to Glasgow to be away from the bombs and to give Mum a break. We had a nightmarish train journey up there. The train was tightly packed and I think we had to sit on our suitcases for the whole twelve hours it took to get there. The lights kept going out and the train kept stopping while the bombs were dropping. One of the soldiers on the train kept bringing us cups of tea.
I can remember when we got to Gwen’s sister’s house (the sisters had six children between them) she pointed to the Morrison shelter which was full of kids and said “You’ll have to sleep on the top. You can see there’s no more room in there!” I decided I wasn’t going to like it there. Then they made me take cod liver oil before I went to bed and also to drink Ovaltine made with water - Mum always made it with milk at home. So I thought I don’t like it here. I’m going to make such a pest of myself that they’ll send me home. So I kept crying and saying I was homesick and wanted to go home. I used to listen to them talking when I was supposed to be in bed and very soon they were saying “We’ll have to send her home. She’s a horrible child”.
I was there for a month so I did quite well really. I had a great time playing with the children though. I think I did the journey home on my own and the whole family was there (apart from Dad, who was driving his bus, I expect). I had in a month acquired a very strong Glaswegian accent and my mother burst into tears and said she couldn’t understand a word I said.
We used to have wonderful Christmasses. Somehow, between them all they used to produce some wonderful food and lots of drink, despite wartime privations. We always used to have a chicken - a real once a year luxury then. The men always used to do a “turn” for Christmas night - once they each had a sand covered tray which they danced on, doing what they imagined were Egyptian type gestures, copying a comic music hall team whose name I have forgotten. They also loved dressing in drag and larking about. It was their proud boast that we were always the last people to still be celebrating in the whole street and we used to take great delight in doing the conger down the street and all singing very loudly just to wake the neighbours.
When I was a bit older my sister and I rehearsed some duets ( the only song I can remember now is “Sentimental Journey” - I did the descant, I think) to sing at the family Christmas party. During all of this Aunty Vi would sit in the corner, occasionally sipping a small sherry, looking very disapproving, and knitting furiously!
We were always quite hungry - there just wasn’t enough food in the shops most of the time. I think it was during the war that my mother brought home some whale meat. She didn’t know what to do with it so I think she just fried it. It was quite disgusting. Like eating very dense, very fishy liver.
Early in the war Mum and Dad decided to keep chickens. I regarded them as my best friends and used to sit in the hen house talking to them for hours. My favourite one was always pecking me. The smell of potato peelings stewing for hours was quite horrible but we did get fresh eggs - worth their weight in gold then, although they always seemed to be going broody and we had to leave a china egg in the broody one’s nest, which was supposed to encourage it to lay. When one of them got too old to bother any more, Mum used to keep nagging my Dad to ring its neck which he hated because they kept running round the garden even though they were dead.
One day, amazingly, a duck flew into the garden. I fell in love with it immediately and christened it Donald, of course. On my birthday we had a special meal with this rather strange meat . I remember thinking that it was Donald but that I’d eat it anyway and then look for him in the hen house and if he wasn’t there, I’d make a big fuss and cry a lot to show how upset I was.
I can remember going to the Victory celebrations and being carried high above everybody else on Uncle Fred’s (he was quite tall) shoulders.
That’s about it. My Dad and my uncles died many years ago. My mother died aged 95 living in an almshouse in the Hertfordshire village where I now live. My two aunts are still alive and living in care homes in Clacton-on-Sea - they are now 99 and 97.
Contributed originally by Bob Scrivener (BBC WW2 People's War)
What did I do in the war? To be frank, not a lot. An extraordinary run of good luck, kept me in England for most of the war, and apart from one or two isolated incidents, my service career was more a joke than anything else.
At the outbreak of war, my wife and daughter evacuated themselves back to my wife's home in Northumberland, and I was left on my own here in London until my calling up papers arrived. My younger brother, Wally, had been conscripted just before the war began and in about October I decided to pay him a visit.
He was stationed at the time with his anti-tank regiment in Potters Bar, just north of London. When I saw him in uniform… my little brother who I had played with so often… I decided there and then, that I had no alternative but to join up. Had I waited for my calling up, I daresay I could have had another year as a civilian, but the prospect of Wally holding back the hordes of Germans with out my help was a situation that could not be tolerated. At Acton Drill Hall I had my medical, and was instructed to join a Royal Artillery Heavy training Regiment in Blackdown. And so the whole idiotic train of events began.
The squad I was in was a mixed group, covering all classes of English society from top to bottom. After a month’s square bashing one of our number caught measles… this is the truth, I swear it! We were isolated in a barrack room for a whole month. Our food brought to us, forbidden to go out; well we did go out once; and the rest of regiment was confined to barracks till we were safely back in our cage. This delay in our training meant that we missed being sent to France; we weren’t ready, but at the end of it all we were sent to a depot at Watford.
My God, what a dump that was. I swear that there are still gunners in Watford living in empty houses waiting for a posting. After a few weeks we were all set again for a move (I’ve no idea where), and again I missed it. My father died while working on building the new Waterloo Bridge, and at last left his miseries behind and found peace.
Compassionate leave meant that I missed the posting, and after my dad was well and truly buried they shipped me off to Hull where I joined the 9th Super-heavy Regiment. Sounds great doesn’t it? 9th Super heavy Regiment Royal Artillery. “Ubuque Que Fas et Gloria Ducunt”. The RA motto which meant “Everywhere; Where Right and Glory Lead”.
This time it led to a goods yard at a railway station in Grimsby. The Super heavy consisted of two railway mounted twelve-inch howitzers, last used at Amiens in 1918. It took at least three days to get these magnificent old guns into action, and each time we did so, the powers that be decided that the enemy weren’t going to invade there, and shifted us off somewhere else.
Contributed originally by CSV Solent (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Marie on behalf of John and has been added to the site with his permission. John fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.
In 1943 a call went out for young men to train as railway shunters on the mainland. I volunteered and within a few weeks I was sent to the marshalling yard at Feltham in Middlesex. The size of the place was an eye-opener — it had 32 miles of track and sidings and a fleet of nearly 100 steam locomotives. I was given lodgings with the family of one of the yard foreman, gave my ration book to his wife and then had 2 days to look round and familiarise myself with the yard and the workings of this vast layout. After another couple of days to learn the rudiments of loose shunting, I was assigned to a shunting gang which consisted of two class three shunters and one class one shunter who was in charge. The class Three shunters were, depending on their knowledge, either working the hand points or unhooking the wagons to get them marshalled in station order. You had to do a lot of running to keep up with the work and I was put on the shunting pole unhooking the wagons and working twelve hour shifts. When I started in this gang I was told how the previous shunter had had a very serious accident and had both his legs amputated below the knee which wasn’t the kind of thing I needed to hear. There were a lot of points that needed to be stepped over — on the night shift with restricted lighting this was difficult and made even worse by air raids when all the lights would go out but we had to carry on working until the German bombers went over when we would go for shelter, or when the nearby anti-aircraft guns started firing and shrapnel would rain down like confetti.
After working twelve hour shifts I would arrive at my lodgings very tired and filthy so would wash and clean up, have my meal and then go straight to my room and bed. One evening I was woken up by the husband banging on my door — the Germans had been dropping bombs on a nearby depot but some had started landing on the roofs of the local houses and everyone was outside with ladders and rakes getting these incendiary bombs down onto the ground so they could be covered up with sand and earth which would put the flames out. And until I was woken up, I hadn’t heard a thing!
As winter fell shunting became even worse — we now had to contend with the black-out, frost, snow and ice underfoot and above all the London smog which sometimes lasted days. We had to carry out the flat shunting using whistle codes so the driver knew to pull up, set back or stop. Even so, there were derailments and collisions everytime the smog came down, and the freight trains leaving the yard were hours late. As these had to be slotted into the mainline passenger train service — with 4 trains an hour into waterloo and 4 trains an hour out, the signalman controlling all this mayhem had quite a job.
Early in 1944 the freight traffic started to increase more than ever — this was for D-Day, but of course we didn’t know it at the time. Because of shunting staff shortage I only got one Sunday off in five, when I would attempt to visit my family on the IOW. I would get away late Saturday afternoon and be back on Monday. This worked well until Saturday 4th June 1944 when I arrived at Portsmouth harbour to find that the paddle steamer boat service to Ryde had been suspended — the only boat to the IOW was the Portsmouth to Fishbourne car ferry and there were no more of them until Sunday morning. I went back to Portsmouth Town station, found somewhere to get a sandwich and a cup of tea and then saw the Station Forman and told him I couldn’t get home. He fixed it up for me to sleep in the compartment of an electric train and for someone to give me a call in time for the first car ferry. As this ferry came out of the harbour I saw rows and rows of ships large and small stretching out as far as the eye could see. The weather was terrible and I felt so sorry for all the soldiers being tossed about in the flat bottomed landing craft by the very rough sea. When the ferry landed, I got the bus home to Gunville and explained to my mother what had happened, had a meal and then had to go back to work. I heard that the invasion of Europe had started and turned up at the yard to find they were looking for volunteers to go as shunters in Southampton Docks to help deal with invasion traffic. I volunteered straight away and on D-Day plus seven, I was on my way. I had to report to the Dock Superintendant’s Office traffic Section — a large building in the old docks facing Canute Road. I was given my lodgings address and told to wait for the Superintendant — he noticed straight away that I didn’t have a London accent and his face lit up when I told him I was from the IOW. He’d been brought up in Alverstone which was the last station I worked at before I went to London. By now he’d obviously formed his opinion of me and he said “I know you’re very young, but if I offered you a Head Shunters job do you think you could do it?” I said I would give it a jolly good try and he sent me to the New Docks as the track layout was a lot easier to learn than at the Old Docks.
The next morning I reported to the New Dock Inspector and was assigned to a Head Shunter so I could start learning the track layout for the whole of the New Dock area. It was no easy task, but after nearly two weeks learning on different shifts I said I was ready to take over with my own engine. This job turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my career. I had to deal with trains of petrol in jerricans, these had to be shunted out from the sidings, taken across the roadway and pushed onto the dockside at berths 107 and 108 to be loaded onto pallets and hoisted on board the ships. Ammunition was loaded at 101 and 102 berths, and things like large tents, nissen huts, picks, shovels etc were moved from berth 103 to 106. We also had three ambulance trains fully manned and ready to go 24 hours a day. Two of these trains were American and one of British medical staff, and whenever a hospital ship was due to arrive at the Old Docks, the New Docks shunters would have to pull these trains out of the sheds and over the Town Quay, threading your way between pedestrians and motor traffic, and all the vehicles that were parked too close to the railway lines that would mean you had to stop, find the driver and get them to move it so you could carry on. Some days there were many of these trips!
By now I had settled into my lodgings — the front bedroom and a small sitting room of a Victorian house in Winchester Road — and I persuaded the landlady to take in another shunter so I had some company when off duty. Shunters were allowed extra cheese rations and this pleased her, but not us — nearly every day we had cheese in our sandwiches! So being on a 12 hour shift I sometimes went into the Dockers Canteen where the food was basic but filling, and when off duty I went to the Government run British Restaurant serving wartime meals. This restaurant was on a bomb site in the High Street, Above Bar. But everywhere you looked there were bomb damaged buildings, especially in the Old Docks and surrounding areas. We were now getting Allied troops back from France, the first lot I can remember were the American Rangers from Normandy. They had taken awful punishment and lost a lot of men trying to get a foothold on “Omaha” beach landing. After some very severe fighting they had managed to advance inland, and now after a few weeks they were relieved and came back to England. They were being sent to London for Rest and Relaxation. The first train to leave with these bomb-happy troops kept getting stopped by some of them pulling the emergency cord and it took many stops and starts just to get to the Millbrook exit onto the mainline. The train driver and guard asked the Docks Traffic Inspector to get the officer in charge to stop the cord pulling or the train would not go any further as it would be a hazard to other trains on the mainline. Sure enough, that put a stop to all thr trouble!
Just outside No 8 gate, on spare ground sloping down towards the sea, the Americans had built a concrete hard to load tanks and troops. These large boats were departing one after another, and then after a few weeks the flow of men and tanks got less. They then laid temporary railway tracks down the hard and started loading railway freight vehicles. These had arrived as a kit of parts in large crates and were tested and assembled on spare land at the Millbrook end of the docks and then pulled down to Number 8 gate and pushed onboard. The track had to be flexible in places to compensate for high and low tide and some derailments did occur but a crane was kept on stand-by to deal with these. The boats started coming back full of German P.O.Ws instead of being empty. They were unloaded and marched to a very large compound of huts, and barbed wire which had been used by the Allied Troops days before D-Day. There they were deloused and then loaded back onto trains to be taken to Kempton Park Race Course or Newbury Race Course under a military escort to await dispersal to proper P.O.W. camps.
Amongst all of this work, we also had traders inside the docks who needed their wagons to come and go. Hibberts had wagons full of lager from Alloa in Scotland — it was bottled and ready to go onto ships; Cadburys had ships chocolate and cocoa arriving daily; there was Ranks Flour Mill supplies and Myers Timber Merchants receiving materials, plus coal for the coal fired ships, so we were kept very busy.
I remember receiving a letter from my mother early in 1945 with some bad news, our village had lost another young man, John Caute, who’d been a school friend of mine. He was serving in the “Royal Tank Corps” and had been killed crossing the Rhine River. There’s a plaque to his memory in the village church at Godshill where he was an altar boy.
V.E. Day arrived and I remember all the ships in the port of Southampton sounding the morse code V on their sirens and the church bells rang for hours, no black out restrictions anymore and the pubs were full that evening. The “Channel island” boat service started up taking refugees and supplies back with them. The Queen Mary came back into Southampton and the Queen Elizabeth came to Southampton for the first time since she was built. They were both still in wartime grey paint and put into service repatriating American troops — if memory serves correctly they took 10,000 troops at a time. Later the Queen Mary had to go into dry dock to have all the barnacles and weed removed from her her bottom as it was affecting her speed and steerage — I was one of the shunters who took away the loaded wagons of evil smelling scarpings. I made friends with the dry dock forman and he took me down the stairway to the bottom of the dock so I could see just how big she was, and the size of her proppellors and rudders. It was quite an experience! Then in 1946 I finished my time at Southampton Docks and was sent back to Feltham Marshalling Yard to become a train despatcher.
Contributed originally by Joan Quibell (BBC WW2 People's War)
On 6th January I became 20 years of age. I had a lovely day, receiving cards and letters from many people and the sweetest telegram from Les. The day culminated in a birthday banquet with Rita at Pam’s Pantry.
During February Les had 14 whole days leave. H.Q. magnanimously granted me five days furlough so we were able to dash up to Birmingham for a few days. Upon our return we talked long about getting married. Les said he felt we should wait until the end of the war, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were husband and wife. I was wildly happy and resolved to write to Mother and Pop to inform them of our hopes and plans.
After his leave finished, I wrote to Mother and Pop and told them how deeply in love we were and that we wanted to get married on hi s next leave. I needed their permission and their blessing, and I implored them to give it.
On the 23rd February, I wrote that I felt about as happy as a fish out of water. Not only had we just come through one of the worst nights imaginable, a visit with a vengeance from the Luftwaffe, but I also received a note from home written by Mother, saying no, they certainly would not give permission for me to marry before I reached 21. My spirits plunged to absolute zero. I then had the difficult task of writing to Les with the news that our marriage could not take place for many many months.
The air raids were resuming with renewed intensity and frequency, but the enemy were sustaining heavy losses due to our magnificent anti-aircraft barrage. On the news, M.T.Bs had been in action in the channel and I felt so anxious.
Eventually a letter came from Les, saying although he was disappointed, he respected my parents’ views on the subject of marriage and perhaps it was all for the best.
Further letters from him told of the hectic times they were having. He was now based at Lowestoft, and the radio news seemed to be constantly mentioning actions on that part of the coastline. I feared so much for him. Then one night there was a terrible action off Ymuiden and shortly afterwards I got a telephone call from him saying he was in London on six days leave. I dashed happily up to see him but oh how awful was his news. His ship had been very badly smashed up, the bridge had received a direct hit, killing or injuring all the officers, one had died in his arms. He brought the poor battered vessel back, stern-first, through a minefield. His terrible experiences showed in his tired, sad face. But thank God he had survived and he was here with me for a few precious days. We saw each other every available moment.
All too soon his short leave was up and I again thought my heart would break when we said goodbye. What was he going back to? When would we meet again? The War had gone on far too long, if only it would end and we could start to really live.
Unfortunately this prospect seemed more remote than ever and we were getting some quite terrific raids. When I was cowering in the hut listening to the sickening screaming of the bombs and the barking of the guns, I though of Les who was enduring far greater dangers.
There was tremendous activity at H.Q. particularly in G — we knew something was in the wind. Les sent a wire telling me to cease writing until I got his new address. He was on the move again. Then at last came the news they were picking up a brand new ship and would still be in Home Waters. He was at Lowestoft awaiting drafting to the new boat.
I had a 48 hour pass which I spent in Birmingham. It was the first o time I’d seen my parents since they’d refused their permission for me to marry and the short leave did give us the opportunity to clear the air. Mother was quite reasonable about it and explained she had nothing against Les personally, he seemed honest and dependable but marriage was a very big step and was something I should enter into seriously and it should be entirely my own responsibility. She didn’t want me going to her if it didn’t work out, asking why she had given her permission. I could see her point. “You’re very young” she added “It won’t hurt you to wait until you’re 21 and then the onus is entirely on you”. The 48 hours I felt had made things better between us and I journeyed back with perhaps a little more understanding of her reasoning.
A few days later I received word from Les saying he was at a Signals School in Petersfield for a few weeks on a course. As Petersfield is only a 2 hour run from Waterloo on the Southern Railway I was able to visit him there. He was very tired and unhappy. He said the course he was on was something to do with Japanese and he had a strong idea he would be sent to the Far East, based at Golden Hind, which was Australia. He said he had been through so much, seen lads his own age killed or terribly injured, he seemed unable to look on the bright side any more. He felt the future too uncertain to contemplate.
Back at work, the pace hadn’t slackened and we seemed hardly able to draw breath. Night duties and duty typist stints wore me out, not to mention platoon evenings and hut cleaning activities thrown in.
At the end of May, I received a letter from Les to say his course was completed and he was leaving Petersfield. But for the time being, at any rate, he was not going foreign. He was in fact returning to M.T.Bs but did not know exactly where. He said there was a new boat waiting for him and I prayed fate would be kind.
On 6th June the news we had been waiting for and living for broke upon the world. It was D-Day. The second front had opened. British and American forces had landed in France in Normandy. Operation Overlord had begun. All day long, squadrons of planes droned over Uxbridge almost continuously filling the air with their sound. At H.Q. we were frantically busy and my thoughts, needless to say, were with Les. Just where was he, amongst all this. The whole operation was perfectly co-ordinated and early reports were that it was all going extremely well.
I finally received a letter from Les, written 2 days after D-day. It contained little news except to say that he was on M.T.B.753, a brand new D-class.
That night, Hitler played a dirty trick and launched his secret weapon. It was a pilotless aircraft. They were like winged huge bombs fitted with an engine. They were launched from a site on the other side of the channel, the motor carried them so far, and then, when it cut out, they fell to earth and exploded. Our Intelligence had known about this evil device and it had the code name Diver. The motors could only carry the bombs for a limited distance before they cut out, but London was well within that range and so most of them achieved their target, the area around the capital. They became known as Doodlebugs or Flying Bombs but officially they were P.A.Cs — Pilotless Aircraft — and they quickly became the bane of our lives. They would come chuntering over — and you would hear the distinctive, almost spluttering sound, as the wretched thing droned on. Then it would stop. Complete silence. You would hold your breath waiting for the sickening bang. They couldn’t be aimed with any degree of accuracy so they fell anywhere, quite indiscriminately, and claimed many lives and wreaked much damage.
Les wrote that his hopes for leave had been dashed and it now looked unlikely he would be home for months. I was able to adopt a philosophical attitude. The main thing, after all, was that he remained safe.
The flying bomb raids were gaining in intensity. On 8th August there was a big naval action off St. Nazaire and once more my stomach churned with fear.
September arrived and we were very busy at H.Q., moving guns and gun-sites now that, mercifully, PAC activity seemed to have ceased.
A letter arrived from Les to say he’d been moved around a lot of late, but was now settled, he hoped. After operating from a Normandy base, he was once again on our side of the water.
On 10th September, we could hear the distant thundering of the guns which turned out to be a heavy naval bombardment off the coastline of Belgium and Holland. Our land forces on the continent were encountering fierce resistance and we realised our hopes that it might all be over by Christmas were a little premature.
Hitler launched a new secret weapon upon us, which was a long range rocket. These again had a limited range, but, like the doodlebugs, London fell within that scope. They were even more terrifying than the P.A.Cs because you got no warning whatsoever of their approach. Just the sickening crunch when they landed.
The folks at home seemed to be doing all right. Pop was busy on his allotment, digging for victory. They didn’t appear to know anything about the rocket attacks. Funnily enough there was never any mention of them on the radio news.
We were definitely winding down in G. It was like the aftermath of a hurricane. Where we had a short time ago been rushed off our feet, we were now gently ticking over. We had a wonderful time when we weren’t busy, playing cards, making toast and telling jokes. I also used to read aloud to them, sometimes Ghost Stories by M.R.James, but these were not recommended immediately prior to Night Duty.
On the 9th October, Light Coastal Forces were reported as being involved in many battles off the coast of Holland and as I knew that to be Les’s area, I was naturally reduced to a mass of worry again. I was so relieved when he rang me on the 11th so say he was O.K.
Shortly after this I received a phone call to say he was in London and had 13 days leave. During this time we went up to Birmingham. While we were there Les had a good talk with Mother and he must have cleared up a lot of her doubts and misgivings because before we left at the end of our stay, she said she had been doing some serious reconsidering and declared she was now willing for our marriage to take place on Leslie’s next leave. I threw my arms round her neck and almost throttled her. She declared she’d go and see Vicar Hart at St. Paul’s, our local Parish Church, to see what arrangements needed to be made regarding the Banns since we didn’t know just when the date would be. She became quite carried away with enthusiasm, saying as it was to be a small family wedding she could do the food herself and would ask Mrs. Simonds to make a cake. She would also see if she could come up with an idea as to what I could wear. We left on this very happy note and they waved us off in very high spirits.
We were happy to be back in London, making plans and preparations. We were so excited. We asked about Utility Furniture and were told how to go about applying for units which would enable us to buy some of this. I was to try and find us a flat during the next few weeks as Les’s leave had now finished.
Mother wrote that she was pretty sure she could borrow a wedding dress for me. My cousin’s friend had recently got married and was about my size. She was only too pleased to loan me her dress. There wasn’t a head-dress or veil as she had borrowed these herself. It sounded very pretty, white lace over taffeta. My cousins Mary and Gladys had agreed to be my bridesmaids and they had lemon dresses already sorted out. I was thrilled. Queenie Hastie, my married colleague in G, declared I could borrow her veil and head-dress and brought them back from her next visit home. It was a full-length veil edged with lace and the head-dress was white gardenias.
I heard fairly regularly from Les who seemed to fluctuate between Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Belgium and Holland. There was still plenty of activity around our shores and the Little Ships were constantly in the news. Fierce fighting was going on, on land too.
The odd rockets were still coming over and several fell quite near to us, giving us nasty shocks. I was pleased when my 48 hour pass came round and on 7th December I left immediately after Pay Parade.
I had taken home Queenie’s veil and head-dress, carefully packed in a large cardboard box. I tried on the wedding dress and it fitted perfectly. It was so pretty and so too were the lemon dresses that Mary and Gladys were to wear.
That evening, Mother, Pop and I, talked about the Big Event. Mother had been round friends and neighbours who had generously rallied with food coupons and contents from their store cupboards. She had miraculously amassed tins of ham and tongue and fruit. She planned to do a salad meal with cold meats, followed by fruit cocktail and trifle. She had procured sufficient dried fruit from goodness knows where, and Mrs, Simonds had actually made the cake. Only a single layer of course, but we were lucky to have that. She would marzipan and ice it a little nearer the time. Of course ground almonds were unobtainable but soya flour was quite a good substitute with a few drops of almond essence for flavour, and only the top would be iced, but, with a white frill round the sides, I was sure it would look perfect.
Mother had sorted out no end of household items which she said were surplus to her requirements and I left at the end of my 48 hours, feeling a great deal had been achieved towards our wonderful day.
Normally in mid-December, thought s of Christmas predominated all else but not this year. I seemed unable to think of anything other than my coming wedding. And then, on the 22nd I had the most amazing luck. I actually found a flat. It was situated at 35 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Road London N7, and was the top floor in a large Edwardian house. The rooms were large and airy and the rent was 10 shillings a week, well within our means. The house was owned by a Mrs. Kathleen Jemison who said she would keep an eye on it during our absence and would do anything she could to assist us. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and sent a wire to Les telling him the fantastic news.
I was on duty Christmas Day but lunch was very special. We went down to the Camp and had a super meal, all the Christmas trimmings. We tucked in with gusto, and when the pudding was brought in, all ablaze, we cheered heartily.
On the 29th I left Uxbridge to spend my 48 hour pass in Birmingham Mother had sorted out many more articles which she said we could have. Pop joked it would feel like coming home, when they came to visit us, there would be so many familiar things around.
On 31st December I returned to Uxbridge to a very quiet New Year’s Eve. No roistering celebrations this time. Just a fervent hope and prayer that 1945 would bring us Peace and lasting happiness.
Contributed originally by cornwallcsv (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War by Lynn Hughes on behalf of John Freeborn, the author and has been added to the site with his/her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
My first memory of the war was being fitted for a gas mask; I must have still been at school for that is where we went to be fitted. They smelt horrible and made a rude noise when you breathed out, like a whoopee cushion. Gas masks were issued prior to actual war being declared, which must have been a terrible worry for the adults fearing a repeat of the 1914/1918 war.
The following year on 8th September 1939 Neville Chamberlain the Prime Minister declared war on Germany. I had left school and was back in London living with my grandparents at 1 Hyde Park Street, Paddington, where my Grandfather had got me a job as assistant porter, he being the head porter. We lived in the basement flat, I remember his words as we listened to Neville Chamberlain on the wireless, “Well John will not be involved, it will be over before he is old enough”. As a 14 year old having only just left school it was impossible to grasp the significance of it, you have to remember that at that time there was no TV or portable radio’s the only visual news at the cinema, and no children’s Saturday morning shows. But the Air Raid siren that screamed out only moments after his speech certainly brought home the reality of it.
So started the wartime phase of my life. Grandfather had decided we should use the wine cellar in the middle of the basement as our air raid shelter as it had a strong vaulted roof. Looking back I certainly thought that it was strong enough, but would anybody have found us under all the rubble had the building been bombed? We did not have any food or water down there to survive.
Living in the centre of London alongside Hyde Park you quickly learnt the realities of wartime Brition. School children were evacuated out of London and the open area’s of the park rapidly filled up with anti aircraft guns (200 ringed London) and barrage balloon’s. Some areas were criss crossed with dug art air raid shelters, those in the area behind speaker’s corner are I believe still there just as they were sealed up with concrete slabs after the war. The first ones had just been trenches with wooden sides topped with wooden planks and earth. As the war dragged on they were rebuilt in concrete. Other areas by the Knightsbridge barracks became large deep quarries where soil had been dug up to fill sandbags. These quarries were filled after the war with bomb rubble and are now football pitches.
Later in the war as the Americans came any small space left in the park became a base Ball pitch, and the London Taxi drivers made hay as they took Americans on trips round London. The Taxis then had drop down hoods over the back seats that were put down to give a good view.
As a teenager in London that had not known anything different, you took all changes in your stride. While you went to dance lesson’s Ballroom dancing in those day’s in my case near where I worked in Acton, you cursed the people laying all over the underground station platforms as you came home, they were sheltering from the bombs. I had joined the ARP Air raid precautions as a messenger, so even the buildings destroyed became norm, just part of the statistics at our ARP post. We had a room in the basement of a house near our church in Hyde Park Crescent as our post. To while away the time between raids we had a half size billiard table. It was here that I met my first girl friend Olive, a little older than me she was a warden. Gran was very kind and invited her home for tea and made quite a fuss of her, we did the usual things in those days, went to the pictures and dancing. Olive joined the WRAF (Womans Royal Air Force) and left before I joined the Navy. I did see her on a couple of leaves, and met up by accident after the war when I found her working in the Sketchly Dry Cleaning shop in Connaught Street not far form Hyde Park St. She had married a Scotsman, they visited us once when we lived in Ewell.
My stepsisters Iris Hennickie used to travel from Kenton some evenings to join me in dancing lessons, we went to a dance club in the Edgware Road. Looking back I shudder to think where it was we went, it was a bit sleazy, the sort of place that I now know you go to pick up a prostitute, but we had no trouble and they did teach you to dance. By this time I was apprenticed as a printer to a firm in Acton, travelling to work by bus every day you noticed all the different coloured buses from other cities that were taking the place of the traditional red London bus as they were destroyed in the blitz. So many were lost that it is surprising it did not appear with the aircraft losses, i.e. 6 aircraft and 2 buses were lost in last nights raids.
In our area there had not been a lot of bomb damage. It could have been the fact that the Anti Aircraft guns in Hyde Park kept them away from us we did have lots of incendiary bombs on the roof, in the morning you found them burnt out on the roof luckily they did not burn through the Tarmac to the rafters. The house on the other corner Albion Street was not so lucky and did catch fire and we could only watch helplessly from the street all night seeing the fire moving closer to us all the time. The fire engines were all rushing past on the way to the fires in dockland, that being the night of the fire blitz on the docks. The fire was put out just in time to save us but not that house. Going to the Discovery next day I cursed all the fire hoses over the pavement that you had to lift you cycle over. That house was pulled down and the basement flooded to make an emergency water tank. We did have was obviously a small bomb hit our marble front door steps, all the windows were blown out and the heavy oak front door to pieces. I did manage to save enough of the wood to make a Tea Trolley for my Auntie Winnie Winifred Levy. I managed to leave bits of the shrapnel in the wood as a reminder of what it was. Unfortunately this was disposed of after her death because her children did not know of its origin. I got into a bit of trouble about this, as I was seen taking the photograph and reported as a spy, luckily Granddad being an ex policeman was able to it out.
Besides being in the ARP I was still in the Sea Scouts on the “Discovery” moored by Waterloo Bridge. There we senior scouts also performed Mine watching duties against the latest threat of 2200lb parachute mines being dropped into the Thames to drift on the tide to cripple the shipping in the docks. We older Scouts Rover Scouts also helped the Fire Brigade with its floating pumps, they had made emergency fire floats, putting trailer pumps into empty Thames dumb barges to help them fight the warehouse fires from the river side. These barges were often on our moorings alongside the “Discovery”.
We senior scouts were also undertaking Navel training on the Discovery, meant to give us a flying start in the Navy as CW candidates for entry as midshipman. The engine of the “Discovery” had been taken out as scrap to help the war effort. This had been a very large triple expansion steam engine. The space left by the removal of the engine and its boiler was converted to sleeping accommodation for us as trainees. Proper naval routine was followed, with us doing drills on the flat roof of Temple underground station across the embankment from the Discovery. Many did achieve entry as CW candidates I unfortunately did not; my schooling was not up to grade. I did achieve entry into the navy, which was difficult at that time, the main entry being into the army. Unfortunately I lost contact with all my chums then and I do not know if any survived the war. I did become a deep-sea Scout; we wore our scouts badge on a wrist strap and hoped that we would perhaps meet up with other scouts at sea. After the war I did try to trace my old friends through the troop records, but City of London Sea scouts had been disbanded and all records lost.
15th July 1943 I volunteered for the Royal Navy as a visual signalman, at Willesden recruiting centre. 6th September 1943 I received my travel warrant to Skegness to join HMS King Arthur. Which turned out to be Butlins Holiday camp, where we were kited out with uniform and had a full medical overhaul and inoculations followed by basic drill. Followed most importantly by me, a psychology test to try and fit round pegs into round holes. That’s where my poor schooling mainly spelling failed my wish to be a visual signalman. In their wisdom the navy choose my destiny, to be a wireman the navy’s name for a basic electrician. I was whisked off to HMS Shrapnel at Letchworth a RN unit in a factory that produced the gear that we would have to maintain on board ship and into civy billets in Hitching. It was there that we learnt our trade and found out we would be join Landing Craft. Passing out with good grades they were right I would make a good electrician. I was then posted to HMS Quebec, for a moment I thought whoopee, I was off to Canada only to be brought down to earth Scottish earth. It was another naval base camp on the shores of Loch near Inveraray.
This was where we were introduced to our landing craft. I would point out here that the Navy has a peculiar method of moving you around, together with your kitbag, hammock and tool chest, and a lot of gear. Wherever you were drafted you first took a train back to your home barracks in my case Devonport spent one night there and then back on the train to your next ship or base. From there I was drafted to HMS Mylodon in Lowestoft with the obligatory visit to Devonport. I saw a lot of England from those trains. All combined operation bases i.e. landing craft had names of prehistoric animals. HMS Mylodon was in a disused silk works on the river Waveney. By the way The Mylodon was a Great Tree Eating Sloth. Here I found that my skills were judged to best suit joining the base staff, were landing craft were repaired and maintained, in my case LCT’s and Assault craft.
It was here at Mylodon that I met Grace, girlfriend 2. A Wren Writer, who worked for the Master at Arms. We were together in that camp right up to when we were demobbed. The rest is as they say history, Grace has always said that she should not have gone out with somebody also on the base staff, it stopped her meeting other boys, and she would certainly have got many others, she was such a looker. In Lowestoft we started having Potato and Gravy pies probably the forerunner of the instant food shops like McDonalds. At this time I advanced to Leading Wireman. It was now the run up time to the Dday landings, this combined with the geographical position of Lowestoft Mylodon was in the forefront of perations. I was pleased that having gone through the London blitz I was playing evens a small part in the final stage of the war. Although my part was fairly modest it was a good feeling. VE Day celebrations came and went in Lowestoft and our duties changed to decommissioning the landing craft along the banks of the river. Following VJ Day with everyone being demobbed, Mylodon by then had become a demobb centre I drew the short straw and had to stay and decommission the base.
Finally I was demobbed on 12th July 1946 3 years in the Navy almost to the day. It was then back to civy street to complete my apprenticeship as a printer, and hopefully to find somewhere to live in the ruins of London.
If the young think that they have it hard now, they should have had a go back then.
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
The train drew into Hayes station slowly jolted and shuffled to a standstill\ the carriage was so hot that with a feeling of relief I heaved and collected my gear and dumped it on the platform, wondering very much what was coming next. I wished that the little brown eyed man, who was the M.O.T. official, who had met me so efficiently at Waterloo to escort me across the whirl undergrounds; assuring me when the noise was slightly less than usual] that I was' especially lucky to have Miss Gayford as my trainer; was still with me to help me face this marvellous person. A brisk voice behind me asked to carry my kit bag, said its name was Miss Gayford ' Everyone calls me Kit'. That was over. The owner of the voice was slim and extremely vigorous aged about thirty five [this I afterwards found was too generous] black hair, gold earrings, muscular brown arms and legs, which I envied and hoped to emulate as soon as possible, a rosy weather-beaten brown face, long nose and a friendly smile, delightful green eyes. She was dressed in an old red frock with an open neck. We walked across Hayes Bridge to the other side of the ‘Cut’ where the Boats were lying. Oh magic words my inside throbbed violently with excitement and time so to speak stood still. Its a funny thing about Hayes but nearly always I have noticed that the sky seems to be covered with thin white cloud, the sort of cloud that makes a sunny afternoon chilly but still bright and Hayes bridge which is built of white stone, is very wide and seems to pick up the light of the sky and reflect it so that looking westwards it all seems like a river of light, across which if one happens to be there about five in the afternoon, the swarms of cyclists returning home to tea form a dark stream of people flowing against the current of light. Rather like Blake's River of Life. Though perhaps a rather far-fetched comparison.
We dumped my gear on board the motor Battersea and went off to find the food office about ration cards. On the way we met Kay. My first reaction was' My God' and so apparently was hers. Especially as we were to be cabin mates in the motor cabin, by far the smaller of the two cabins. One is apt to wonder what ones mate is going to be like.
Kay was middling height and seemed very blonde - with-a, very brown face, very blue eyes-very wide red mouth - an extremely short cotton print frock and most striking of all exceptionally pure white legs. I couldn’t think how this had happened and remember thinking rather idiotically perhaps she is one of those people that never tan all over. Her voice terrified me, it was sophisticated in the extreme, frightfully efficient and wordy. I sounded completely helpless the moment I opened my mouth and felt it. However when we got back, worse followed Miranda appeared from the butty cabin to put a pie the star in cupboard. She too was fair but not so fair, had long aristocratic features, ice blue eyes that gazed at me with no expression at all. At Kit’s introduction ' ah yes Hallo' and disappeared. Not encouraging. But very much, I thought, what I had expected and remembered Baker's remarks about tough women. Frightfully, frightfully you know with unexpected warmth.
Miranda was left on the butty, Kay was taken by Kit on the motor. I was given a piece of' Boater's Pie' to fill the increasing gap in my middle. It's very good 'Boater's Pie' either hot or cold and is much like Cornish Pasty made of mince and cold potato. I ate and listened to -them start the engine. Kit's engine was a dream to start, rarely needing more than a couple of turns with the crank before she would slip into gear and burst into a rhythmic powerful throb; it would vibrate through our little cabin, separated from the engineer room by only a thin partition, in a very definite way. Sometimes when we were tired and trying to get a rest at the end of a long day - it could be just hell. But then it was just exciting.
I got my things unpacked into the drawer and top cupboard which were mine, Then had a mighty struggle with my mattress getting it stowed away into the bed locker where Kay already had hers stowed. Hers however was small and blue and mine a mighty stripped thing that fought against imprisonment like a wild thing. I wondered if this had to be done everyday as I supposed it had, just how we were going to cope. I still wonder. The cabins of canal boats are, I think, feats of carpenters’ skill. There is everything one needs for a completely well supplied, if not comfortable existence in a space 'of 8ft by 6ft. The motor cabin is smaller than this, having the extra room taken up by the engine room. The final effect is that from the outside the butty appears to have less space than the motor. You descend from the false step, false because it is taken out to be scrubbed regularly and dried to pure whiteness on the cabin top on to the coal box. A triangular affair which fits under the step, its lid must always be spotless. On ones left is the stove slightly at an angle to give as much space as possible, it has an oven rarely used as such, usually for drying wood There is an open grate on which a lot of cooking is done in winter .It is customary to keep one's primus or oil stove on the left hand corner of the fire for extra cooking. The background to this corner is painted sax blue. The stove should be brilliantly polished. Then come the cupboards. The food cupboard with its arch shaped table forming its door and held at the top so that one lets it down for meals. Below this is a small cupboard in which saucepans may be kept. Adjacent to this one of the large drawers for clothes. Above this the locker for bedding, quite a deep affair, the front of which is at night' let down across the centre space of the cabin supported by the bench on the other side. Forming one of two beds and can if need be be used as a double one. Above the bed are two small lockers for small private possessions and toilet items. At the end of the butty cabin is a door leading into the annexe. A neat little stall place divided from the actual hold by a board partition and tarpaulin sheets. One keeps vegetables/brooms/oilskins in here. It's inclined to be troublesome, if the rain doesn’t get in the coal does and when they both get in together as not infrequently happens one is in for a hell of an afternoon spring-cleaning. '
Emerging once more from the annexe, observe our neat bookshelves and a hook for coats. The side-bed bench is about one and a half feet wide and runs completely down one side of the cabin. The drawer takes up the first half of it. Then comes what is commonly referred to as under the side bed. A large hollow space which one reaches through the top. The kindly carpenters having left several of the planks loose therein are kept shoes and other glory hole items. The far end of this space is partitioned off for the battery. These batteries last about a week giving a very good light. They are charged off the motor so one the advantages of motor cabin life is constant good light. Cups and jugs hang neatly on hooks along the cabin wall also hurricane lamps if one has them. It doesn’t seem to me that the space could be more neatly used. There are in addition a flap for the side bed which is raised at night and rested on the coal box and a wooden plank which goes across the bed space for a small extra seat. Beneath this if one is lucky one has a painted bread tin and somewhere hanging on a hook, its allotted space to cover two small ledges for pan and floor cleaning materials at the door end of the cabin and over the stove a lovely rose covered 'Arnbowl' or hand bowl in which all ones washing is done. The regulation issue for the G.V.C.C. are scarlet, lovely they look when new. But they can never compare in gaiety with the riot of flowers that cover the dark green surface of the hand painted ‘Arnbowl’ with their spotless white interior and the dainty castles painted on their bottoms for display when they are hung up. But this did not occur to me then. The cabins of the training boats were dingy and dark and very well worn. Nothing was very well polished - not that there was much to polish- it was hot and stuffy. So as soon as I could I changed my smart clothes and put on an ancient summer dress that had seen its best days harvesting and emerged on deck. To emerge from a cabin is the only way to describe it, the entrance is steep and narrow and awkward, especially on the motor where one has to avoid the gear handle and the steerer, who wants one out of the way as quickly as possible. The result is a series of bruises about ones shoulders for the first week; after which one becomes agile from necessity. We were on that occasion all set, that is we had our loading orders for London Docks and nothing to collect from the Depot. So in grand we sailed past the Depot, I can't remember anything about Hayes Corner ‘A famous and fateful spot’ then and on for the top of the locks where we were to tie for the night.
The run down to the docks was peaceful as there is no traffic on a Sunday evening. The water is good, one only has to slow down to pass lines of little bobbing pleasure boats that have been bedded down en route or long swaying herds of barges creaking and slamming each other in an elephantine manner; sometimes if badly tied swinging savagely out and snapping at ones heels. A snap from a twenty tonner is no joke. You creep past with a weather eye and scarce a ripple from your bows. "Little Rosie, Gert Winnie or Golden Girl gives a wild lurch, a groan and sinks back to eye you morosely and vengefully.
The evening was warm and lovely, the sunlight golden making kind the endless rows of little suburban houses and tiny gardens. The sweep of the golf links green and rich dotted with sheep and small figures moving slowly across the artificial hillocks in search of pleasure. I looked and looked and breathed the sunlight, felt my hair lift in the breeze and felt utterly indescribably alive, happy and free. The beat of the engine gets into ones blood and makes it race and we were moving too. Kit explained that the butty was short strapped on cross straps for travelling light and that my job was to stand at the long wooden tiller of the butty and if her stern got too near the bank I was to put the tiller in the direction I wanted her to go and swing her away. Easier done than said, thought .I and found out otherwise. Through some of the more gingery and difficult bridges she showed a surprising and alarming tendency to swing in from the motor right in under the curve of the bridge to the danger of life and limb not to mention the chimney and the water can. Both these articles are detachable in times of crisis, frequent in ones early days. One has to do a lot of chimney removing. We chugged steadily rhythmically and easily onward. After a while Kit sent Kay onto the butty and took me along the catwalk of planks laid along the cross beams of the boat which are level-*with the gun whale and therefore suspended about 4ft 9 ins above the bottom of the hold, to the fore end of the butty. The motor slowed down the butty bows slid forward level with her stern counter Kit jumped lightly down followed not so lightly by me.
The stern of the motor - sits down in the water when one is travelling light and her bows rise in comparison. Both boats have a draught of about four foot, nine inches when empty, no draught at all to speak of, so that the difference between loaded and empty boats is incredible. Especially to the steerer who has to see round her cratch when empty. The cratch is the wooden triangle at the bows which is the fore point of the sheeting up framework. Now, I began to wonder about my relationship with boats. Kit told me to sit on the cabin roof and I was terrified to realise that I had to walk round the gun whale which appeared to be about six inches wide and jump onto the cabin roof which has a depth of about three foot from the gun whale. God! I did it in a terrified way and thought eyeing the dark green swirling water slipping between my feet, what is going to happen if I miss it when I jump off. However that could wait, the view became suddenly breathtaking, we had left Suburbia behind and after miles of factories, warehouses and barges, suddenly rounded a long bend, there before us lay two huge gasometers, one camouflaged, one white and dazzling, a long curving white concrete edge of canal before we reached them/beyond which lay London at our feet. All the spires drifting smoke and the immensity of it. In the immediate foreground lay Paddington shunting yards. Someone murmured something about bombs and we looked at those snaking masses of rail, thinking how easily one well placed bomb could have finished them off or heavily disorganised them. Italian prisoners, the first I had seen, waved at us cheerily looking good in the dark green battledress they wear, some more dashing with red tam-o-shanters.
On we went, the warm summer breeze whipping the water into a semblance of those little grey green waves in Botticellis Venus. The clouds golden and warm above the golden haze of the distance it was all an Italian painting, gasometers included. We beat into their shadow and our world went dark-- on a little further, bridges and railways everywhere. Kit said we would soon be in the slum area. Tall buildings blank walls rose on either side of us, cans bobbed in the water and the grass on the banks went dead. The towpath had an evil look about it and the walls turned into houses with blind eyes and balconies that over hung the Cut. The dirt was incredible filthy curtains, filthy windows, carpets hanging over balconies and only odd scrawny scarlet geranium here and there to cheer things up. One old bald headed man with a shiny ruby red face and an incredibly fat belly, attired in his shirtsleeves and very unshaved, gave us a toothy grin. A sudden babble of yells rose from the other side of the Cut where bathing naked in the canal were a large crowd of youths, some swimming vigorously towards us others drying themselves round a large camp fire. I watched them curiously, the ones in the water looking exactly like seals their hair streaming over their faces. Their horse cries making little sense above the noise of the engine. They yelled and whistled until we disappeared, one or two others watched us pass or dived hurriedly into the water.
The canal widened and after a series of wide sprung bridges and a reach of canal far statelier in width than it's surroundings warranted and a particularly filthy stretch of flats known as 'Valentine's Row', we reached Paddington stop. Here, when loaded boats are gauged or tested to find out if their draught is the same as it was when the boats left the docks. When travelling empty you can if you wish collect water, but you have no luck with the office. It's a narrow place through which boats can go breasted up - but in any case one has to creep, as otherwise a tidal wave would submerge the company offices, a nasty jar for them! Just beyond the stop is a wide turn - you creep from under the bridge, swing widely through another narrow bridge and into the tunnel. As it was Sunday there's no need to enquire the 'Tug was coming through'.
On weekdays this is a ritual because every half hour or so a busy little tug collects the light barges going down and takes them through to the top of the locks and brings the loaded ones back up. We whistled through the engines suddenly alarmingly loud and hollow - the air, cold and clammy and the water ink like and slapping violently at the sides. We were out in a few moments - two more bends between towering warehouses; suddenly we were there 'The top of the locks' Camden Lock! We slowed down, Kit released the butty from its shorts straps — handed Miranda the cotton line with which she walked up to the bows climbed round the cratch slipped the noose and was ready to step calmly onto the butty bows as they slid past, do the same to her, the two boats swung together gently.
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
We crawled slowly in 8; the dock lay quiet before us, the great piles of aluminium silver against the dark steel - the cranes still for once and at their foot, rows of boats,- silent and still, there must have been fourteen or fifteen pairs black and silver and very lovely. It was really ecstatically beautiful. We tied up and hushed our engine. Miranda and I suddenly were bitten with a wave of excitement and in our filthiest clothes even. Without washing, went out to buy fish and chips. We walked, eating hungrily and so tired we were part sleep walking up to the town. Past a tall cinema "shall we?" "Lets go in the eight pennies" and in we went to sit in rich red plush seats and in a hot stifling atmosphere, Bing Crosby in "Going my Way". We weren't unloaded until late next day and washed religiously all day. Kay was showing signs of illness and had a lay in: Miranda and I took the boats down to Camp Hill. Them she and Miranda had a difference of opinion on what was the best course for invalids. Kay maintaining that she could cope with the butty without brainwork. And Miranda, that a gentle life on the motor was the thing; Kay wept bitterly and weakly and we all decided it was flu: so I went off on the motor doing my own lock wheeling - leaving Kay and Miranda with the butty. Kay stayed in bed in the afternoon; and we had the hell of a wind blowing and a battle at one of the locks with a family who nipped in and grabbed a lock under our noses, putting us on the mud. I've forgotten a slab of this trip. When I arrived back on the boats I found that Kay had made; friends with an exceptionally dirty family of renowned thieves known as the Coxes. For some time she had been' contemplating the purchase of another dog. They had a large liver and white foxhound which took her eye on our first trip. Over a beer at the "Prospect of Whitby" a well-known dock pub celebrated in one of Miss Dorothy Sayers novels; she and Harry Cox made friends and discussed the matter. Harry was tall, lean and incredibly dirty. He wore dark clothes and a dark cloth cap well pulled down over ~is eyes - a fringe of yellow hair stuck out around the back; he had long dirty neck with a prominent Adam's apple and green eyes which were startling in their surroundings. He talked in jerks and told incredible tales - all lies but which I think he rather believed himself; providing no one contradicted him too often! His father had something the matter with his head and went off his nut occasionally but this was more a matter of hearsay than anything. He too was dark an over - but had remarkable light blue eyes. I only once saw him with his face washed when it was such a shock - that I simply didn't recognise him - and only when their butty swung gaily past ours, a whole bevy of Coxes waving did I realise who they were. Mama was the brains of the family. Harry was sixteen and there was a large and indiscriminate collection of boys of small sizes as well: all dirty, skinny, fair haired and green eyed. But she was gay and slim and very attractive; with a very brown face and brown hair drawn tightly back into a bun. Gold earrings and flashing green eyes, very neat features. A long brown frock which nearly reached her ankles. Kay and Harry became great friends. Harry came over on the Sunday in the docks to see Kay and eventually, having talked most of the day said "you like tea?". Kay smiled charmingly. Thinking an extra packet wouldn't be amiss; Harry with mysterious signs disappeared. Not long after an enormous lighter bumped past. Harry leapt on board "'ere give me that biscuit tin" disappeared and reappeared with it full. Kay thoughtfully applied a lid. Thanked Harry earnestly and feeling that this tea getting was on rather a large scale. Bid him farewell. Harry promised determinedly to take her out for a beer at six. At quarter to a large policeman also a friend of Kay's arrived in the course of his rounds to cheer her solitary vigil; he sat down firmly practically on top of the tea chest and partook of a cup of that beverage. ... Harry appeared and bounced in before he saw the guest and seeing him withdrew in one movement "just a friend" said Kay "dropped in unexpectedly" (feeling the delicacy of the situation) "He's going to take me on his rounds", Harry gulped into his tea cup and drank hurriedly, vanishing with hardly another word. "Some of these boaters are queer blokes" said the arm of the law and proceeded to escort a relieved Kay around the docks pointing out the many places where suicide and attempts there of had been fished out! But to return to the dog; Harry having been reassured about the Policeman handed over the dog - and offered with warmth to "butty" us to Birmingham just to keep an eye on the dog for us. "Buttying" someone means that you travel together and you tie up at the same places. Towards Christmas family and friends butty each other to get together for the season holiday and one passes families - four boats strung together whistling merrily along with everyone in the best of spirits and the families all muddled up. It's a great time for courtship this; as it is one of the few times of year when people get together for more than a night or two. Miranda, however, viewed the idea of "buttying" this celebrated family with not unjustifiable coldness. It was scarcely, perhaps, the best introduction we could have to boaters society! But anyway by now/christened "Kelly" was a member of our family. He was large and inclined to be impetuous. In a minute cabin his swinging tail and eager mouth upset or devoured a surprising amount and both Miranda and I felt glad that he lived with Kay. By the time we reached the Bottom Road we had come to except him; his friendly visits while we cooked our supper, sitting firmly on our step; one melting eye fixed on our supper and one on us - just in case we relaxed and looked the other way for a moment! His pathetic whimpers when we didn't were all part of the days work. But with Kay now ill: he became a devastating problem - he refused flatly to stay in the cabin when there was trouble and leapt blithely and with much tail wagging onto the shore the moment we stuck. Left on shore he howled bitterly and instead of running, on the towpath after the boats. Leapt into the water and struck out after us. A not too excellent idea considering the blades etc. The wind rose and blew with icy persistence: .the engine developed its usual habit of giving out as soon as we were empty - the boats swung time and time again onto the mud. Muddying is comparatively logical with three. One goes up to the bows and shafts them over to midstream. The second throws all her weight onto the tiller to swing .the stern out, the third alternately helps this operation by shafting from the 'stern'; or else trots along to the butty stern and shafts that off, so that no part of the boat drags on the bank and there is some hope of getting up enough speed to prevent one slipping up. With two, the thing is crazy. One can achieve the motor bows off the bank and the stern, but the butty acts as a drag and before you've moved four yards the wind puts you back where you were before. Miranda and I slogged into the growing dark with bitter feelings; we reached the bottom of Minneworth and under a steel blue sky of whipping clouds in the dark shelter of tall trees tied up. As soon as we were tethered a pair of empties came cheerfully past swinging down the middle of the stream as though mud and wind simply didn't exist. We looked after them wondering just what was wrong with us and went to dig out coal for Kay and ourselves from the back end. Next morning. After a night in which the boats slapped each other and the water gurgled between them and the bank unceasingly. We woke up, or we became unwillingly conscious. Breakfast was a silent meal. Kay was worse and showed every signs of flu. She scrambled round and made her own tea in an uncomfortable fashion, whilst Kelly licked her and the food in cheerful abandon. We struggled with the engine, after ten minute’s or so it burst into life and the boat throbbed: a horse boat passed us with shouted imprecations about our tie. We set off. Curditch is a set of locks widely spaced. But single and bow-hauling the butty was a necessity. The wind was if anything wilder, and the engine worse. That day was an unbelievable nightmare. We did not eat- we hardly spoke- we shafted until our hands were raw and our backs were unbearable. The butty became unwieldy, innumerable horse boats passed us and complicated things. The unending beat of the motor nearly drove Kay. Fighting the flapping doors, the dog and her utter misery, mad. We "were unable even to find time to see her - we worked in a blind aching misery - it grew dark and we found we had taken 12 hours to cover six miles and we still had 'lit finished the locks - so suddenly we gave in and went to eat tea leaving the engine running, knowing we were fat to tired to start it again if it stopped. The beat suddenly changed and raced, Miranda struggled off into the dark to find out what had happened. Kay almost tearful said she couldn't bear the beat any longer and had to change the rhythm somehow! That was enough "let's tie up" said Miranda. We all thought it an excellent idea but where? We were on a mud bank on the wrong side of the Cut and in imminent danger of being hit by a horse boat if we drifted so we shafted ourselves across the Cut once more and after about half an hour we made the opposite bank. I turned round to Miranda to yell from the bows that I thought I could jump on shore with a rope when the clip clop of horses’ hooves sounded in the darkness and the swift swish of a boat. Before I could speak I was pinned to the Cratch with a rope and the boat coming rapidly up behind and the rope sliding round our Cratch after the horse. I gave a scream and fought madly, visions of being neatly sliced in half very vivid for a moment. Somehow I slid sideways and was thrown between the cratches of the two boats. The rope pinged across the top and was gone; - what happened at the other end I was too busy getting myself disentangled from a slippery position of safety on the side of the cratch to bother about. The next day was better but we decided to wait for the fitters: our engine was really too much. We then sallied forth the following afternoon, set off by fitters and all, in a mighty struggle with shafts. They waved goodbye to our sidling dubiously, evidently expecting us to come to grief at any moment. But somehow we didn't. Beyond a certain old town by the Cut, between Coventry and Brum is a very low blue brick bridge. It's so low that it's necessary to take down one's motor Cratch in order to creep through. Some blarney idiot told us that our cratches on our new boats were low enough to get through; they weren't and the motor having gone just too far and got jammed beneath; and had to be towed out backwards by a horse boat. We gazed with horror but found the cratch was merely a cleverly put together framework; it had merely collapsed and was still intact. The lamp had gone though, which meant we had no lights on our bully or our motor. We crept up Atherstone, and realised sadly that the following day was Sunday. We tied up in the mouth of the lock and were up well before six next morning. The pair behind us were furious at our good position and tried to make us get out. They started their engines well before the lock was open and were ready to jostle us at the slightest opportunity. However we were beginning to get tough and had our engines going long before the lock was open. Suddenly the gates swung open and we nosed 9ur way in. Then began a mighty race. There were boats coming down and we had the locks with us. So no lock wheeling, we went up easily and shook off the pair behind. Next we swept over the Summit going slowly because of the mud. Our rivals were visible on the long straight stretches but showed no signs of catching up.
Down Dodswell and Northchurch tl1e dark dawn &'1d red sky that had dimly lit us up Mathas, lightened and rain began to fall heavily - we got drenched. The towrope made our cabin a large pool. We were so wet, it simply wasn’t any good bothering. Presently 'their lock wheeler began to appear before we were out of the lock and to watch us, a surly girl who refused to help. We daren’t stop or else we should have had to wait all day while the string of boats behind us passed. Our unloading place would have gone. So on we went. Next an old white-haired woman in long black skirts and with a three cornered headscarf appeared in place of her daughter. \\That she didn’t say about 'Girls cluttering up the Cut and stopping honest folks getting' on with their job and earning' a living', wasn't worth saying-but Miranda turned a blind eye and a deaf ear.
The Ovaltine boats arriving slap at thy top gates as we swept out of the bottom. There was no time to eat and less to think. We were lock wheeling again now-- sloshing through puddles, dodging the soaking hedges on and on. If anything went wrong we were done but by some miracle it didn't-- we sailed into Apsley and tied up still head of the team, and as proud as punch.
The rain stopped, it was my turn to go home for a few days while the boats were unloaded and then went down to the docks. I crawled home dry but nearer dead than alive. \When I got to Waterloo I found I had missed the 7.30 and ended up on the 11.30 p.m, At Christchurch it was a glorious moonlight night and I trailed home feeling so unreal. The soft warm sweet smelling southern air after everything was so peaceful. It was so lovely to be in the same town as B he might not love or even like me any more, but he wasn't far away and that was all I asked. He and I under the same stars for once. I fell into bed when I got home and next morning as I lay dreamily~ amongst a pile of letters on my breakfast tray w~. One marked Private and in a strange hand. I suddenly knew and was so weak I could scarcely open it. I looked at the signature and cried from sheer joy and relief. . It took a lot of reading and I was so deliriously goldenly happy that I couldn’t think of anything all day. There wasn’t much to say about that leave except that when you are in love with someone, one expects them to know what you are thinking; a foolish delusion which one would not have under normal circumstances. We met once for about five minutes. A tall dark creature who swept the floor in a cavalier bow when we met. I had a wild desire to run after him when he went, feeling I might never see him again; but I didn’t and he went. I went back to the boats, warm and happy inside but still very tired.
Contributed originally by Donald Stepney (BBC WW2 People's War)
MY WAR 1939 – 1946
My name is Donald William Hutton Stepney, I was born on 23/08/24 to Betty and Walter Thomas Stepney of Staines in Middlesex. Father had served as a Sapper in The Royal Engineers during the 1914 –18 War and in 1939 we were living at 44, London Road Staines. The day war broke out – with apologies to that great comedian Mr Robb Wilton – my Mum said to me, “It’s up to you” I said “me” she said“yes” I said “why” she said “ Well, your Father did his bit in the trenches in the 1914 –18 War and now its your turn”
Well, on the 3rd September 1939 I had just turned 15 years of age and was attending Ashford (Middx)County Grammar School, was commencing my third year, was not very happy there and due to the outbreak of the war was only going to school one day a week initially. I found that due to the war pupils could leave school before the age of sixteen so I jumped at the chance and found myself a job in the Costs Office of the Staines Linoleum Co as junior clerk at a wage of seventeen shillings and sixpence a week.
In a few months when I became 16 I was allowed to become one of the Fire Watchers in the area where I lived, so my war effort began! Together with David Cooper, a friend of the same age and also two older men, we took turns on a rota system of Fire Watching in the area in which we lived. The headquarters were in a nearby disused shop, we went there from 9pm in the evening until 6am the following morning. Duties were to patrol the area and keep a lookout for fire incendiary bombs dropped by enemy aircraft and if necessary deal with them with a stirrup pump if possible. We lived in Staines about 16 miles from Hyde Park Corner. We were also a few miles from the railway marshalling yard at Feltham, a favourite target for enemy aircraft. A few bombs were ditched over Staines by aircraft returning from bombing London. Whilst on these firewatch duties one could see the huge glow in the air over London during the blitz. I did these duties for a year until I was 17 and joined the Works Home Guard unit. I did not have to deal with any incendiaries during this period but do recall one night when a stick of bombs weredropped about a quarter of a mile away from our home and that was just after the All Clear had sounded!!.
Home Guard duties were vastly different to fire watching. I was a private with the unit where I worked, this was a company that manufactured linoleum but now, in wartime was greatly turned over to various munitions manufacture. It’s site covered 50 acres and consisted of some 250 buildings of all shapes and sizes. It had it’s own power station and goods railway yard. It certainly warranted its own Home Guard unit. Specialist training was done with the local Middlesex Battalion Home Guard – Training with Machine Gun firing, Grenade throwing, Rifle and Bayonet use etc; all mostly done at weekends as were military manoeuvres with various other local units. Sadly I recall one Sunday morning, on Staines Moor when grenade throwing was being practised, a member of the town Home Guard was killed. On the lighter side I remember, whilst in the factory unit Home Guard that on the top of one seven storey building Air Observer duties were done on a rota basis. There was no shortage of volunteers for duty on a Thursday afternoon – Why? – well, binoculars were used of course to overlook the surrounds of the Staines area, and it was early closing day in the nearby High Street, so the shop girls and their boy friends spent the afternoon on Staines Moor – need I say more!!??!!.
Having registered for service in the armed forces when I became 17 and having indicated a preference for the Royal Navy, on the 18th May 1943 I was very pleased to be called upon to report to HMS Bristol, at Bristol.
This particular ‘ship’ was what is known, in naval jargon as a ‘stone frigate’ – It was a collection of Victorian built buildings on Ashley Down in Bristol and had originally been built as an orphanage by a George Muller and I believe these children’s homes, in the Bristol area, still exist today under that name. Gloucestershire County Cricket Ground is next to the site.
My medical had classed me as Grade 2 due to eyesight and up to this time in 1943 the RN did not take persons graded as such. However, in May 1943 things changed, and at HMS Bristol an eight week course had been set up to put recruits through their paces, assess the medical problems etc: and if all tests were passed, they were accepted into the RN. We were called Prob Ord. Seaman.
We did plenty of physical training (running round the County Cricket Ground) Rifle Drill, Route Marches etc: Some did not make the grade but I am pleased to say that I did and even took part in a parade in Portishead where a Naval Detachment was called for. I really enjoyed my time in HMS Bristol. If I remember correctly the Commanding Officer at that time was a Captain Walker RN who had previously had a distinguished naval career at sea.
In July 1943 I went to HMS Royal Arthur at Skegness ( This was another ‘stone frigate’ – prewar it was a Butlin’s Holiday Camp) here I changed to square rig and became a Prob Supply Assistant. On the 6th Aug’43 I went to President V in Highgate, London for a Supply Branch Training course. President V was Highgate College. Whilst here I was billeted at home, in Staines, and travelling Staines to Waterloo then Underground on the Northern Line. to Archway, morning and evening!
Previous to all this at some point during my induction period. I should add, I had been asked which naval depot I would prefer to be based at – Chatham, Portsmouth or Devonport?. Naturally, living at Staines I said either Portsmouth or Chatham would be suitable!. Naturally, again! I ended up a Devonport rating!!
On the 18th October 1943 having passed my Supply Branch exams I ended up at HMS Drake in Devonport as a Supply Assistant awaiting a draft posting. That was exactly 5 months after joining.
The 23rd Oct I joined HMS Brigadier who was attached to a buoy in Portland Harbour. I was an assistant to a Leading Supply Assistant and we were responsible for all Naval Stores (Engineering and Maintenance) Brigadier had been a cross channel ferry before the war – she was the SS Worthing and did the Newhaven – Dieppe run. When I joined she was a Landing Ship Infantry, she carried 6 Landing Craft Assault (LCA’s) I did not find out her full history until this year (2005) She was built in 1928 Tonnage of 2,343 gross. In 1939 she was a troop carrier, also a hospital Carrier during the Dunkirk evacuation. In 1940 a Fleet Air Arm target vessel. From 1941 she became an Infantry Landing Ship and carried out troop landing exercises in Scotland then eventually coming south to Portland where I joined her.
Crew wise she was a mixture of RN and T124X personnel. Officers were RNR and RNVR. Ratings were mostly RN and Combined Operations for the LCA’s. T124x rating s had been in the MN and still received that rate of pay – they were usually Stokers, Stewards, Cooks and Victualling Stores ratings.
All other ratings including the two Naval stores supply assistants were RN!
From when I joined Brigadier in Oct’43 until May ’44 we were on landing exercises along the mostly Devon coast, loading up with British, Canadian and American troops either at Portsmouth or Southampton and transporting them for practising assault landings in the LCA’s
On the 5th June 1944 HMS Brigadier departed the Solent as part of Assault Convoy J10 to land troops at the Juno beach-head on the morning of 6th June 1944. As far as I can remember we lost 2 of our LCAs that day when they went in to land. We came back to Portsmouth. late afternoon, it was very sunny, just off of Arromanches, we took onboard from a MTB, 2 badly wounded soldiers and one who had died and we brought them with us back home.
On this D Day as it was known, HMS Brigadier’s Landing Craft Assault Crews were part of 513 Flotilla and as far as I recall, their Petty Officer was named Croucher and came from Sunbury and the officer was Sub/Lt McMasters RNVR. The Captain was Cdr A Paramore RNR, Ist Lt was Lt D Winters RNR, Chief Engineer was Lt Cdr McLellan RNR and the Paymaster was SubLt D Love RNVR whocame from Hounslow
Some of the Rating friends I recall were LSA Frank Dart from Newton Abbot, Supply Asst William Dummett from Plymouth and Steward Bert Waller who had been on the ship when she was SS Worthing on the Newhaven/Dieppe run.
After the 6th of June Brigadier was part of a cross-channel shuttle service carrying reinforcements of all types, men an stores across to France. Once such journey included the Royal Navy’s own Dance Band,’ The Blue Mariners ‘ under the leadership of pianist Petty Officer George Crowe and featuring the noted alto saxophonist Freddy Gardner who was also of P O rank. The compere of this group that were going to entertain Service units in Europe was Sub Lt Eric Barker RNVR noted entertainer..
We had our moments of danger on these trips, such as, disposing of floating mines with rifle fire! Then there was the time I went aft on deck and saw the 28,000 tons of SS Monowi bearing down speedily upon us! There was a scraping noise on the starboard side but thankfully no serious damage!
The end for HMS Brigadier came on the 11/11/44 - It was a Saturday evening and we were leaving Southampton with 430 troops on board when we rammed the stern of HM Headquarters Ship Hilary at anchor at Spithead. The vessels were locked together and had to be cut apart, Brigadier’s bow was pushed back to the hawse pipes. She returned to Southampton the next day and paid off on the 18/12/44. I understand she was returned to Red Ensign service again and once more became SS Worthing on her Newhaven/Dieppe run! As a matter of interest she was sold to a Greek firm in 1954 and did cruisies in the Med under the name PHRYNI. Sadly she was broken up in Greece in 1954 after an illustrious career
After Christmas leave I was back to HMS Drake in Devonport awaiting draft. I should mention I was now a Leading Supply Assistant having applied to be upgraded whilst on Brigadier,. by virtue of the fact that I had passed my original exam with an 80% plus pass that allowed me to take that step.
On the 1st March 1945 I joined a Castle Class Corvette named HMS Headingham Castle at Blyth in Northumberland. She had recently been completed and it was my job to store her for commissioning. I was the sole supply branch rating aboard responsible to the First Lieutenant for all stores. I had an Able Seaman allocated as ‘Tanky’ (Assistant).
At this stage all the crew were gradually arriving but billeted ashore in Blyth as ship’s accommodation was not ready. One Able Seaman and myself were staying with a very hospitable family in Blyth they treated us as if we were their very own family members.I have always thought very highly of ‘Geordie’ folk since that period of my life.
Castle Class Corvettes were built for anti-submarine work and it was assumed that we would eventually be engaged on such activites. Commissioning took place and we did our ‘working up trials’ around Scotland at Tobermory,. Fairlie and ended up at Greenock. By this time VE Day had arrived whilst we were still at Blyth so when we had completed our trials it was assumed we would be making our way to the Far East. Then VJ Day arrived and that changed things completely. I cannot remember why but on VJ Day we were anchored off of Southend Pier and I recall travelling home to Staines on leave that very day!
Headingham Castle did not head for the Far East but as the war was over became based at Greenock and did three week periods in the North Atlantic as a Weather Ship
For some reason, known only to the Lords of The Admiralty! The crew of Headingham Castle, some 120 men, in Feb 1946 became the crew of HMS Oxford Castle and vice versa ! So eventually on Oxford Castle we ended up back at Portland Harbour. By this time Portland was an ASDIC training base. On the 18th May 1946 I was awarded my 1st 3yr Good Conduct Badge. As my Class A Naval Release was pending, in July’46 I was back at Devonport and drafted to DrakeII to await my release.
My waiting time was spent destoring a Cable ship that was moored at Turnchapel. For this period I was once again living ashore and actually stayed with my friend from HMS Brigadier days, Bill Dummett, he had already returned to civvy street and I boarded with him and his wife at their home in Hartley Vale, Plymouth,travelling into the City and over to Turnchapel each morning.
On the 24th September 1946 I was released from Naval Service from St Budeaux to proceed on 56 days resettlement leave.
I returned to my home with Mum and Dad in Staines, Middx and after my leave resumed my employment at the Staines Linoleum Co. All the members of the family had been very fortunate to survive World War II unscathed.
Contributed originally by VirginiaMayo (BBC WW2 People's War)
For as long as I can remember, I have seen my father Jim Salter overcome with grief on Armistice Sunday. Sixty years on, Jim still misses his brother, Albert, and can never forget the last time he saw him back in 1942. He always used to say of Albert, "My luck never did him any good." It was as if Jim blamed himself.
The Salters were from Bethnal Green, East London. In 1941, at 19 years of age, Jim received his call-up papers and was ordered to attend a medical in Edgware. At that time he had four older brothers fighting in the Army: Georgie had been the first abroad, sailing round the Cape, stopping off at South Africa on his way to Egypt because the convoys couldn’t pass through the Suez Canal. Their eldest brother, Alfie, who had started off in the Fire Brigrade in the National Fire Service, quickly followed Georgie into the Army because he thought it was safer than the Blitz. He eventually joined the Royal Corps of Signals. Georgie, and later Tommy, were both in the Royal Service Corps.
Essex Regiment, then Queen's Own Royal West Kents
Next to join was Albert, who started off in the Essex Regiment and then was transferred to the Queen’s Own Royal West Kents. When finally it was Jim’s turn, he opted to join the Navy as an ordinary seaman. His ship was the HMS 'Ganges' at Shotley in Suffolk, while his main barracks were at Chatham in Kent.
Jim stayed in Kent for a few months before being drafted to Scotland in the Coastal Forces continuing his training for Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) at Fort William.
His training was completed by early 1942, and he was taken out of General Service and placed into the Coastal Forces down at Gosport in Devon. It was while he was at Devon that the news of Alberts’s Embarkation leave came through. Jim had just come off Fire Picket duty and was able to put in a request to see the skipper for 24 hours leave.
The two brothers met up for just one last day together. Jim arrived at Waterloo in the morning, then Albert saw him off at the station in the evening.
Twelve years ago this month I came back to my parents’ house to live with them again after my marriage failed. I had my two small children in tow. As it was close to Remembrance Sunday I was reminded of Dad’s feelings about the war: he still lived in his time warp, and every book he read and every film he watched was about the war. But it was the sight of my children holding his hands, one either side of him, trying to understand him fighting with his emotions as he watched the old veterans filing passed the Cenotaph that I felt moved to first write about him.
And final words
I remembered how he had always treasured the last letter he sent to his brother, returned to him with the words, 'We regret that this letter could not be delivered as the addressee is reported deceased.'
He also kept Albert’s Army belt along side a photograph of his grave in Italy (Albert was killed in October, 1944).
In the end it was a children’s picture book that I wrote and illustrated. In the story my children meet Uncle Albert, who helps them to understand the sacrifice that had been made for them and why he died so that we could live in a better world. The book was called 'Remembering the Story of a Soldier' and was published in 1996.
All the luck in the world
It was only when my father saw the finished book that he finally told us what happened all those years ago. As Albert saw him off at Waterloo his last words to Jim had been, "Jimmy, aren’t you going to wish me luck?" and Jim had replied, "Albert, I wish you all the luck in the world."
Contributed originally by cornishalan (BBC WW2 People's War)
The time of my life
The summer of 1939 was a rather good summer weather wise, and I remember spending a lot of the school holidays playing outdoors. My Father kept pigeons in a loft at the bottom of the garden and Saturdays and Sundays were more often than not spent waiting for the birds to return from their latest race. The excitement of seeing the first bird appear over the roof-tops, speculation as to whose bird it was and, if it was Father’s, the frantic minutes trying to entice the bird to enter the loft so that the racing ring could be ‘clocked’ was almost routine.
In the glass lean-to, which was in the garden directly below my bedroom window, a new ‘plaything’ had appeared in the shape of segments of the Anderson air-raid shelter that the worsening situation with Germany had made necessary. Father kept his pigeon baskets on top of these, mainly to stop my friends and me using them as a slide. This played a part in the first really serious accident that I ever witnessed.
My playmate and I were playing in the garden, both my parents were out, and we decided that we would get into the house through my bedroom window. This meant a climb via the coal bunker to the top of the lean-to and then a very risky balancing act up the glazing bars to the window. I had made the trip before and saw no danger in it, but poor Raymond was extremely nervous and as a result the inevitable happened and he fell through the glass. Luckily he landed on top of the pigeon baskets and, on the top of one of them, he slid down the shelter segments to land, apparently unhurt, at the bottom. In the midst of our laughter (nervous no doubt), he attempted to get up and it was then we realised that he had a huge piece of glass still embedded in his thigh. It was fortunate that a neighbour had seen what had happened and was on the spot immediately to prevent us doing any further damage. Raymond was lucky not to lose his leg or worse, and in later years, probably the only thing he had Hitler to thank for, was the presence of those shelter segments.
In September 1939 I was one of the thousands of children who found themselves being transported away from family to live in some stranger’s house without knowing why of for how long. I was used to living in other people's houses and was more inclined to look on it as an adventure. The first house I stayed in was a delightful place called “Rose Cottage” in the village of Felton about six miles from Bristol. I can remember distinctly waking up on the first morning and hearing cows mooing right outside the window.
The sun was shining and the room was a complete contrast to the usual dingy rooms I found myself in. I liked it! Unfortunately it was only to last for a few weeks because the man of the house was off to war and as the cottage went with his gamekeepers job, we had to move. The next place was almost the complete opposite and, looking back I think it must have had associations with Fagin’s house in Oliver Twist. Always there were numerous children in the house and anything ‘found’ had to be handed over to the adults. There were seven children in the family and I was the eighth resident child. We slept on the floor on dirty flock mattresses which were shared with at least one other but, being one of the youngest, for me it was usually two. I remember spending a lot of time crying and being bullied by the older family children. Not being used to the Somerset dialect made it difficult to understand what was being said to me and as a result I was deemed “a difficult child”. By December my Father, acting on a report of a friend who had delivered some clothes to me, had come to see for himself and I was home again. Dirty, unkempt, and minus most of my belongings! I wasn’t to go away again just yet.
My mother had improved in her health quite considerably and was at work in order to aid the war effort. Father was on shift work, having been exempt from military service because of the nature of his employment and so, when he was at home, a large portion of his time was spent either in bed or tending to his pigeons. The young pigeons were being taken by the military to be used as messenger pigeons and father was given a small allowance to keep them. This came to an end when fathers work was taking up too much of his time to let him look after the birds properly. We enjoyed pigeon pie for a few weeks until all the pigeons were gone! Both of my parents used to go out to the pub in the evenings and so it was that I soon became well used to being on my own apart from the mongrel dog which we kept as a pet. I learnt very quickly how to prepare simple meals and do the shopping and as I got older my skills increased until at the age of eleven I was doing most of the cooking and housework plus a fair portion of the shopping. All this had to be fitted round my school day and it never left a lot of time for boyhood pursuits.
Games with playmates were usually played in the street and there would normally be a gang of about a dozen of us both boys and girls. Our games varied quite considerably from simple games of ‘tag’ to more complicated versions of ‘hide and seek’ such as ‘kick can’. ‘Marbles’ and five stones, or ‘gobs’ as they were known in East London were always popular and, in the right season, ‘conkers’.
‘Kick can’ was played by selecting one of the gang to be ‘it’ and also another to be ‘kicker’. The ‘kicker’ kicked a tin can from a marked spot in the centre of the road as hard as he could down the road, and then joined the remainder in finding a hiding place. The person who was ‘it’ had to recover the can and, walking backwards, replace it on the spot. Hiding places were generally people’s front gardens or gaps in the houses. The object was for the person who was ‘it’ to find all the players, but also to prevent the release of those he had found by some hitherto unfound player who, if he could approach the can unobserved, could once again kick the can down the road. Another favourite game, (which had various names and versions that tended to change with the locality in which the games were played.) was ‘Tip stick’. This consisted of balancing one stick, about six inches long, on the edge of the kerbstone and then hitting it sharply with another stick causing it to fly upward. You then hit the flying stick as far as you could away from you trying to outdistance the sticks of other players. Versions included allowing your opponents to also take a swipe at your stick whilst it was in flight in order to knock it down. ‘War’ games and ‘cowboys and Indians’ were popular with the younger children and mainly consisted of the “Bang, bang, lie down, your dead” type of game. This type of game did become completely unpopular at one period when unfortunately one young lad failed to get up at the completion of the game and was found to be indeed dead! He had died from natural causes but in the children’s minds they imagined that they had been the cause by wishing him dead. I still remember that the lad's name was Reggie Scott.
In July of 1940 the Germans started to bomb London on a regular basis and the Battle of Britain was under way. Being in the East End of London we were right in the firing line and had to spend practically every night in the air-raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. It was fortunate that it was summer time and that the weather wasn’t too bad although at that time we used to wish for heavy cloud to prevent the bombers coming over. It was frightening and at the same time exciting. I must admit that at times I was extremely frightened and on one occasion, while my parents were out, panicked when the siren went and the bombs started to fall almost immediately. I was in bed when the siren went and had to dress in the dark because the blackout curtains weren’t drawn. I finished up with my shirt on inside out and my trousers on back to front, and with no shoes on and crying with fright I ran down the garden path and into the shelter. The sound of the siren was enough to send shivers of fear through you and even after sixty years I still shudder when I hear that sound.
We boys became experts on aircraft types and could identify aircraft simply from the sound of their engines. We collected bits of aircraft, shrapnel, nose cones from shells and the fins of incendiary bombs as boys these days collect `Pokemon` cards and the like. Bombs too were easily recognisable from their characteristic whistle and contrast in sound to the anti-aircraft guns. I think we were in almost as much danger from the shrapnel, which resulted from the gunfire, as we were from the bombs! No doubt the guns had some deterrent effect on the German planes but they didn’t seem to hit much. There were numerous events at that time which were humorous, tragic, amazing and in some cases, miraculous, but surprisingly it is the humorous incidents which are remembered best. On the night of the biggest raid on London, which was the 7th September 1940, one of the local factories, that produced oil drums, was severely hit and the resulting fire caused the empty drums to expand and eventually bust with a resounding bang. As there were many hundreds of drums this caused a noise which was almost unbearable for a period of about two hours. On another occasion it was a paint factory which was hit and this resulted in cans of paint being blown all over the place and causing the largest, most multi-coloured, abstract painting of all time. I’m glad to say that the worst we suffered were a few missing windowpanes and roof tiles and a dusting of ceiling plaster throughout the house. Others were not so fortunate! In October (after the bombing had eased considerably) I was evacuated again, this time it was to the village of Lechlade in Gloustershire.
I enjoyed myself in Lechlade; it was almost a schoolboy’s paradise. There were open fields and a river with water meadows full of frogs and other creepy crawlies. Trees loaded with conkers and chestnuts, squirrels to chase girls to tease, and, as we were surrounded by airfields, a great many aircraft to watch. My mates and I were never short of something to do and surprisingly we were rarely involved in any mischief. Maybe we scrumped a few apples on occasions and most likely were noisy from time to time, but that’s as far as it went. One of the pastimes was to build camps and tree houses in which to live out our imaginary games of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ or our own version of the real war that seemed so remote from us. It was being in one of these tree houses at the right time and being completely hidden which gave a friend and myself the first education in adult type ‘games’. It was high summer, the corn was high in the fields, and it was this that led an airman and his lady friend to take advantage of the supposed privacy and to indulge in a very passionate love making session. This took place almost underneath the tree in which we were hidden and we had a grandstand view of the proceedings. It was not the first time that I had seen a naked woman but it was certainly the first time that I had any inkling as to what ‘making love’ meant! My friend and I sat in total astonishment at what took place although it became increasingly difficult for us to control the fit of giggles that finally gave us away. It was a very red faced couple that hastily dressed and made a rapid exit from the area.
Most of my time in Lechlade was spent on a farm which was about halfway between Lechlade and Fairford and during that period we had a walk of about two miles to school every day. We took sandwiches with us for lunch but, being wartime and shortages being a way of life, our sandwiches consisted of little else but the bread. Sometimes we had a spread of sauce on them or for a treat it was ‘dripping’ but whatever it was, it was eaten with relish and nothing was ever wasted. The farm was great fun because we could help with the various chores like fetching the cows in for milking, or ‘mucking out, and best of all helping with the harvest. During the winter we had a great barn to play in and this we shared with all the smaller farm animals and birds. I unknowingly learnt a great deal about the countryside and I don’t think I was ever really happy in a large town again. It was an unwilling boy who returned home; a move forced on me by the reasons of my foster-mother being ill and a shortage of billets in the area. After a few months at home it was decided that I needed long term treatment on my ankles which had been slightly deformed from birth, so I was sent to Hydon Heath camp in the heart of Surrey close to where St. Thomas’s Hospital had been evacuated to from London. This was an ex-army camp and housed a few hundred children mainly from the Barking and East Ham areas. It was run on the lines of a boarding school with a Headmistress and teachers to supervise and teach us at all times. The highlights of my stay there were the trips into Godalming to spend whatever pocket money I might have (which was precious little) and the occasional bus trip out into the countryside. Once in a while, if you had achieved something special or undergone some misfortune, you were invited to have tea with the headmistress, and spend the evening in her company. Apart from these outings there was the daily trip to the hospital, which I hated, because, they only meant pain and also cut short my lunch break. Toward the end of my stay the hospital visits were reduced to about once per week. The good thing was that my ankles were now considerably stronger and, for the first time that I could remember, I didn’t have to wear boots all the time. Nine months later, in November 1943, I returned home again.
Now there was virtually no bombing except for the rare ‘hit and run’ raids which were usually carried out by low flying pairs of aircraft and did very little damage. I remember that our school was machine-gunned early one morning just as the children were beginning to congregate in the area prior to attending school, but, as luck would have it, no-one was hurt and the only damage was some new chips in the brickwork and a few broken windows. My mother and I had a terrible fright one evening when we were sitting in the kitchen in front of the open grate where a small fire was burning. Without any warning it appeared to us that the glowing embers of the fire jumped out of the grate and then promptly returned. The poor dog, who was lying in front of the fire, must have thought his end had come and he gave a yelp and scrambled to the back door just as fast as his legs would let him. It was then that we heard a scraping noise on the roof of the house. I ran to the front door and when I opened it, saw what I thought was a parachute hanging in the tree which was in our front garden. Leaving the front door open I ran back through the house to my mother who had gone to the back garden and told her what I had seen. Discretion being the better part of valour, as they say, we went to the air raid shelter, to join the dog who had beat us to it, believing that a parachute mine was about to explode. It was there that my totally mystified father found us the following morning when he came home from his work. There was nothing to be seen in the front garden or anywhere else that could explain our experience but later that day we found out that a barrage balloon had broken adrift some-where and had slowly descended and bounced on the roof of our house. This caused a down draught in the chimney followed by an equal up draught thus explaining the behavior of the fire embers. The remains of the mooring cable dragging across the roof caused the scraping noise. Mystery solved!
I joined the Scouts, and also the Boys Brigade and belonged to both at the same time! I enjoyed the activities and the dressing up in uniform and, I suppose, acquired the self-discipline that stood me in such good stead later in my life. The fortunes of war were swinging our way and generally speaking life was fairly pleasant although there were still extreme shortages of some things and some of the substitute foods which we had to live on, were utterly tasteless or revolting. We did experiment with various ingredients to try to make up for some of those things that were missing from our diets. Boiling and mashing parsnips and adding a few drops of banana essence made a very good banana substitute. ‘Russian cream’ consisted of a thick mixture of dried milk powder a small amount of sugar and a teaspoonful of jam. ‘Toffee’ was made with vinegar, dried milk and sugar boiled and allowed to cool on a tray. Chocolate’ was dried milk, cocoa and sugar mixed into a very thick paste and dried by gentle warming. This was not always successful and depended on the right heat to dry but not melt it.
As I said previously life was fairly pleasant that was only until the 13th of June 1944 when we became the targets for Hitler’s latest weapon, variously named as the `V1`, the `Flying Bomb`, the ‘Buzz Bomb’, or, most commonly, ‘Doodle Bug’. I well remember the first intensive night assault by these bombs on the 15th June. I was on my way home from a Boys Brigade meeting when the siren went and the first distinctive sound of the Doodle Bug engine was heard. It seemed to me that every gun in the world opened fire at the same time and the bombardment of the heavens continued almost non-stop for the next four hours and then intermittently throughout the rest of the night and the following day. We were certainly in more danger from the shrapnel than the Doodle Bugs but when they landed they caused considerable damage and loss of life. I was lucky in that, although I had a couple of ‘near misses’, and on one occasion was so close to a still flying Doodle Bug that I threw stones at it in sheer frustration and anger, neither my family or I came to any harm. By September the attacks had dwindled and when life was beginning to get back to normal the second of Hitler’s secret weapons was unleashed against us. This was the very frightening V2 rocket that gave no warning of its approach and exploded with devastating power. It was fortunate for us that the allied advance in Europe, and the bombing raids on the launching sites, prevented the attacks from developing into the constant barrage that Hitler had planned. How-ever the attacks continued throughout the winter and it wasn’t until about March that they finally ceased. In the January of 1945, at the age of fourteen, I left school and started work in a small woodworking factory making a variety of items including tea-trays, egg cups and cake stands, bed trays, toys and novelties. My pay was the princely sum of one pound and six-pence per week and of this my mother required seventeen shillings and six-pence for my keep. Even in those days, three shillings (15p) didn’t seem much reward for a forty-six hour week and a four mile cycle ride each way every day! I wasn’t very happy! I stuck it out for a few months but then found myself another job nearer home and paying one pound ten shillings (£1.50p) although I told my mother that it was only one pound five shillings. The hours were shorter too. In this job I learnt a fair bit about furniture making, especially about how to take short cuts and cut down on the labour! I was shown how to drive screws in with a hammer except for the last few turns, and how to achieve a ‘hand polished’ look with a paintbrush and a piece of sponge. This was “utility” furniture at its best! I eventually got the sack from there for riding on a conveyor belt after being warned not to.
The winter of 1946/47 was a very cold hard winter made harsher by the post war shortages and rationing of food and fuel existent at that time. As a young lad who had left school nearly two years previously and who had a scratchy wartime education, I was finding it hard to find my niche in the industrial world for which it seemed, I was destined. Lads like me were competing for jobs with newly demobbed ex servicemen many of whom had the experience and skills required by the employers who saw no reason to spend their time and money on us. When the hold on the job I had in an engineering firm was looking extremely tenuous, mainly due to the fact that the weather was making it difficult to keep the factory running, I decided that I would do something that had always been in the back of my mind. Setting an example that would have been appreciated by a latter-day politician, I jumped on my bicycle and pedalled the four miles from Barking (where I lived) to Romford (where the Naval recruiting office was), and asked to enlist as a Boy Seaman. To my delight, and after passing the preliminary entrance exams, I was told that I would be accepted
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