Bombs dropped in the ward of: Coldharbour
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Coldharbour:
- 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 Coldharbour
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Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)
After a few months of the tortuous daily Bus journey to Colfes Grammar School at Lewisham, I'd saved enough money to buy myself a new bicycle with the extra pocket money I got from Dad for helping in the shop.
Strictly speaking, it wasn't a new one, as these were unobtainable during the War, but the old boy in our local Cycle-Shop had some good second-hand frames, and he was still able to get Parts, so he made me up a nice Bike, Racing Handlebars, Three-Speed Gears, Dynamo Lighting and all.
I was very proud of my new Bike, and cycled to School every day once I'd got it, saving Mum the Bus-fare and never being late again.
I had a good friend called Sydney who I'd known since we were both small boys. He had a Bike too, and we would go out riding together in the evenings.
One Warm Sunday in the Early Summer, we went out for the day. Our idea was to cycle down the A20 and picnic at Wrotham Hill, A well known Kent beauty spot with views for miles over the Weald.
All went well until we reached the "Bull and Birchwood" Hotel at Farningham, where we found a rope stretched across the road, and a Policeman in attendance. He said that the other side of the rope was a restricted area and we couldn't go any further.
This was 1942, and we had no idea that road travel was restricted. Perhaps there was still a risk of Invasion. I do know that Dover and the other Coastal Towns were under bombardment from heavy Guns across the Channel throughout the War.
Anyway, we turned back and found a Transport Cafe open just outside Sidcup, which seemed to be a meeting place for cyclists.
We spent a pleasant hour there, then got on our bikes, stopping at the Woods on the way to pick some Bluebells to take home, just to prove we'd been to the Country.
In the Woods, we were surprised to meet two girls of our own age who lived near us, and who we knew slightly. They were out for a Cycle ride, and picking Bluebells too, so we all rode home together, showing off to one another, but we never saw the Girls again, I think we were all too young and shy to make any advances.
A while later, Sid suggested that we put our ages up and join the ARP. They wanted part-time Volunteers, he said.
This sounded exciting, but I was a bit apprehensive. I knew that I looked older than my years, but due to School rules, I'd only just started wearing long trousers, and feared that someone who knew my age might recognise me.
Sid told me that his cousin, the same age as us, was a Messenger, and they hadn't checked on his age, so I went along with it. As it turned out, they were glad to have us.
The ARP Post was in the Crypt of the local Church, where I,d gone every week before the war as a member of the Wolf-Cubs.
However, things were pretty quiet, and the ARP got boring after a while, there weren't many Alerts. We never did get our Uniforms, just a Tin-Hat, Service Gas-Mask, an Arm-band and a Badge.
We learnt how to use a Stirrup-Pump and to recognise anti-personnel bombs, that was about it.
In 1943, we heard that the National Fire Service was recruiting Youth Messengers.
This sounded much more exciting, as we thought we might get the chance to ride on a Fire-Engine, also the Uniform was a big attraction.
The NFS had recently been formed by combining the AFS with the Local and County Fire Brigades throughout the Country, making one National Force with a unified Chain of Command from Headquarters at Lambeth.
The nearest Fire-Station that we knew of was the old London Fire Brigade Station in Old Kent Road near "The Dun Cow" Pub, a well-known landmark.
With the ARP now behind us,we rode down there on our Bikes one evening to find out the gen.
The doors were all closed, but there was a large Bell-push on the Side-Door. I plucked up courage and pressed it.
The door was opened by a Firewoman, who seemed friendly enough. She told us that they had no Messengers there, but she'd ring up Divisional HQ to find out how we should go about getting details of the Service.
This Lady, who we got to know quite well when we were posted to the Station, was known as "Nobby", her surname being Clark.
She was one of the Watch-Room Staff who operated the big "Gamel" Set. This was connected to the Street Fire-Alarms, placed at strategic points all over the Station district or "Ground", as it was known. With the info from this or a call by telephone, they would "Ring the Bells down," and direct the Appliances to where they were needed when there was an alarm.
Nobby was also to figure in some dramatic events that took place on the night before the Official VE day in May 1945 when we held our own Victory Celebrations at the Fire-Station. But more of that at the end of my story.
She led us in to a corridor lined with white glazed tiles, and told us to wait, then went through a half-glass door into the Watch-Room on the right.
We saw her speak to another Firewoman with red Flashes on her shoulders, then go to the telephone.
In front of us was another half-glass door, which led into the main garage area of the Station. Through this, we could see two open Fire-Engines. One with ladders, and the other carrying a Fire-Escape with big Cart-wheels.
We knew that the Appliances had once been all red and polished brass, but they were now a matt greenish colour, even the big brass fire-bells, had been painted over.
As we peered through the glass, I spied a shiny steel pole with a red rubber mat on the floor round it over in the corner. The Firemen slid down this from the Rooms above to answer a call. I hardly dared hope that I'd be able to slide down it one day.
Soon Nobby was back. She told us that the Section-Leader who was organising the Youth Messenger Service for the Division was Mr Sims, who was stationed at Dulwich, and we'd have to get in touch with him.
She said he was at Peckham Fire Station, that evening, and we could go and see him there if we wished.
Peckham was only a couple of miles away, so we were away on our bikes, and got there in no time.
From what I remember of it, Peckham Fire Station was a more ornate building than Old Kent Road, and had a larger yard at the back.
Section-Leader Sims was a nice chap, he explained all about the NFS Messenger Service, and told us to report to him at Dulwich the following evening to fill in the forms and join if we still wanted to.
We couldn't wait of course, and although it was a long bike ride, were there bright and early next evening.
The signing-up over without any difficulty about our ages, Mr Sims showed us round the Station, and we spent the evening learning how the country was divided into Fire Areas and Divisions under the NFS, as well as looking over the Appliances.
To our delight, he told us that we'd be posted to Old Kent Road once they'd appointed someone to be I/C Messengers there. However, for the first couple of weeks, our evenings were spent at Dulwich, doing a bit of training, during which time we were kitted out with Uniforms.
To our disappointment, we didn't get the same suit as the Firemen with a double row of silver buttons on the Jacket.
The Messenger's Uniform consisted of a navy-blue Battledress with red Badges and Lanyard, topped by a stiff-peaked Cap with red piping and metal NFS Badge, the same as the Firemen's. We also got a Cape and Leggings for bad weather on our Bikes, and a proper Service Gas-Mask and Tin-Hat with NFS Badge transfer.
I was pleased with it. I could definitely pass for an older Lad now, and it was a cut above what the ARP got.
We were soon told that a Fireman had been appointed in charge of us at Old Kent Road, and we were posted there. After this, I didn't see much of Section-Leader Sims till the end of the War, when we were stood down.
Old Kent Road, or 82, it's former LFB Sstation number, as the old hands still called it,was the HQ Station of the District, or Sub-Division.
It's full designation was 38A3Z, 38 being the Fire Area, A the Division, 3 the Sub-Division, and Z the Station.
The letter Z denoted the Sub-Division HQ, the main Fire Station. It was always first on call, as Life-saving Appliances were kept there.
There were several Sub-Stations in Schools around the Sub-Division, each with it's own Identification Letter, housing Appliances and Staff which could be called upon when needed.
In Charge of us at Old Kent Road was an elderly part-time Fireman, Mr Harland, known as Charlie. He was a decent old Boy who'd spent many years in the Indian Army, and he would often use Indian words when he was talking.
The first thing he showed us was how to slide down the pole from upstairs without burning our fingers.
For the first few weeks, Sid and I were the only Messengers there, and it was a very exciting moment for me to slide down the pole and ride the Pump for the first time when the bells went down.
In his lectures, Charlie emphasised that the first duty of the Fire-Service was to save life, and not fighting fires as we thought.
Everything was geared to this purpose, and once the vehicle carrying life-saving equipment left the Station, another from the next Station in our Division with the gear, would act as back-up and answer the next call on our ground.
This arrangement went right up the chain of Command to Headquarters at Lambeth, where the most modern equipment was kept.
When learning about the chain of command, one thing that struck me as rather odd was the fact that the NFS chief at Lambeth was named Commander Firebrace. With a name like that, he must have been destined for the job. Anyway, Charlie kept a straight face when he told us about him.
We had the old pre-war "Dennis" Fire-Engines at our Station, comprising a Pump, with ladders and equipment, and a Pump-Escape, which carried a mobile Fire-Escape with a long extending ladder.
This could be manhandled into position on it's big Cartwheels.
Both Fire-Engines had open Cabs and big brass bells, which had been painted over.
The Crew rode on the outside of these machines, hanging on to the handrail with one hand as they put on their gear, while the Company Officer stood up in the open cab beside the Driver, lustily ringing the bell.
It was a never to be forgotten experience for me to slide down the pole and ride the Pump in answer to an alarm call, and it always gave me a thrill, but after a while, it became just routine and I took it in my stride, becoming just as fatalistic as the Firemen when our evening activities were interrupted by a false alarm.
It was my job to attend the Company Officer at an incident, and to act as his Messenger. There were no Walkie-Talkies or Mobile Phones in those days, and the public telephones were unreliable, because of Air-Raids, that's why they needed Messengers.
Young as I was, I really took to the Fire-Service, and got on so well, that after a few months, I was promoted to Leading-Messenger, which meant that I had a stripe and helped to train the other Lads.
It didn't make any difference financially though, as we were all unpaid Volunteers.
We were all part-timers, and Rostered to do so many hours a week, but in practice, we went in every night when the raids were on, and sometimes daytimes at weekends.
For the first few months there weren't many Air-Raids, and not many real emergencies.
Usually two or three calls a night, sometimes to a chimney fire or other small domestic incident, but mostly they were false alarms, where vandals broke the glass on the Street-Alarms, pulled the lever and ran. These were logged as "False Alarm Malicious", and were a thorn in the side of the Fire-Service, as every call had to be answered.
Our evenings were good fun sometimes, the Firemen had formed a small Jazz band.
They held a weekly Dance in the Hall at one of the Sub-Stations, which had been a School.
There was also a full-sized Billiard Table in there on which I learnt to play, with one disaster when I caught the table with my cue, and nearly ripped the cloth!
Unfortunately, that School, a nice modern building, was hit by a Doodle-Bug later in the War, and had to be demolished.
Charlie was a droll old chap. He was good at making up nicknames. There was one Messenger who never had any money, and spent his time sponging Cigarettes and free cups of tea off the unwary.
Charlie referred to him as "Washer". When I asked him why, the answer came: "Cos he's always on the Tap".
Another chap named Frankie Sycamore was "Wabash" to all and sundry, after a song in the Rita Hayworth Musical Film that was showing at the time. It contained the words:
"Neath the Sycamores the Candlelights are gleaming, On the banks of the Wabash far away".
Poor old Frankie, he was a bit of a Joker himself.
When he was expecting his Call-up Papers for the Army, he got a bit bomb-happy and made up this song, which he'd sing within earshot of Charlie to the tune of "When this Wicked War is Over":
Don't be angry with me Charlie,
Don't chuck me out the Station Door!
I don't want no more old blarney,
I just want Dorothy Lamour".
Before long, this song was taken up by all of us, and became the Messengers Anthem.
But this little interlude in our lives was just another calm before another storm. Regular air-raids were to start again as the darker evenings came with Autumn and the "Little Blitz" got under way.
To be continued.
Contributed originally by Robert V Bullen (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Brixton, London SW2 and lived in Endymion Road, Brixton Hill from before and during the war.
My wartime recollections commence in Sept 1938 at the time of the Munich crisis. I remember feeling slightly disappointed as a 12 year old that there wasn’t going to be a war, having heard stories from my uncles of WW1, which didn’t feature the horrors and sounded exciting. We had been to a local school to collect our gas masks and afterwards went to the pictures to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” the first full length Walt Disney cartoon film.
1939 started with a personal event as I had an appendicitis operation in March. The hospital situation was different then. My father had joined the hospital savings association through a group run by an employee of his company and this paid for my operation and stay in St. Thomas’s hospital at Westminster, where the financial side was run by the Lady Almoner (treasurer). My stay lasted five weeks as I had been near to peritonitis. I was in the men’s ward and in a bed next to a blind veteran of WW1 from the St Dunstan’s Home. He had a kidney problem. One treat was that your family could provide you with new laid eggs for your tea, these would have your bed number marked on your shell and boiled. I recently discovered the letters that I had written to my mother and one mentioned that the air raid sirens had been tried out in the area, a sign of the preparation in case of war. The letters were written in pencil for the ball point pen or biro as it was originally known had not been invented.
In May we had a holiday in Littlehampton. This was the first holiday that we had had and it was partly convalescence for me. Photographs show that beneath my clothes I was still bandaged after the operation, a sign of how long healing took then. The war preparations could be seen as we used to watch the Territorial Army drilling on the green just above the beach. There was a Pierrot show on the green and I went in for a children’s talent show playing the piano and won a box of liquorice allsorts. Later I received a card inviting me to the final competition of Sunday 3rd September. We couldn’t go and maybe it was cancelled as it was the day that war broke out. Perhaps a career in music was blighted by the war!
In August I changed schools to Clark’s College, to prepare for Civil Service examinations. Two weeks after starting, the War commenced. I could have been evacuated with the school, but my parents wanted the family to stay together and so I took a postal tuition that was offered, this was not satisfactory and was discontinued after a couple of months, ending my formal schooling at about age thirteen and a half. We lived in my grandmother's house and I then helped to serve in the little tobacconist's kiosk that she had opened at the back of the house.
During that summer the council had erected an Anderson air raid shelter in our back garden. On Sunday morning of 3rd September at 11.00 we listed to Neville Chamberlain’s broadcast saying that we had declared war on Germany, during this broadcast the air raid sirens sounded and we all went down the shelter. It was the only time that we used it as it would have been too small for us all to sleep in, so when the Blitz started in September 1940 my parents, sister and I all slept in the cellar of the house and my grandmother and aunt stayed in their bedroom on the ground floor.
The period from September 1939 to May 1940 became known as the “Phoney War”. It was anticipated that it would be like World War 1 with armies in lines facing each other and newspapers published wall maps of the front together with paper flags of the nations involved to mark the opposing positions. I had one of these maps on the bedroom wall. The Blitzkrieg of May 1940 ended that idea with the German army invading Holland and Belgium and surrounding our troops at Dunkirk. I remember seeing a train passing through Brixton station loaded with troops who had been rescued from Dunkirk, leaning out of the windows and waving.
An invasion of Britain was expected after Dunkirk and the Local Defence Volunteers ( LDV ) which later became the Home Guard was formed and I remember seeing an uncle of mine, a World War 1 veteran drilling with them in the local park. There was a fear at this time of spies among the foreign refugees who had fled from the Nazis before the war so they were rounded up and sent to the Isle of Man. My grandmother who let rooms in her house had an Austrian refugee staying with her. He was taken away by the police and first sent to the Isle of Man and eventually to Canada.
The Battle of Britain was in August and September 1940 and was followed by the Blitz. The war was well reported in the press but I remember some of the claims of German aircraft shot down in the Battle of Britain, 184 on one day, being much reduced later. This was probably a mixture of propaganda and double claims.
Our first experience of bombing was on October 10th when an oil bomb fell in the front garden of the house next-door-but-one and the burning oil ran along the gutter past our house and we could see the flames through the cellar grill. As a 13 year old I did not experience any fear and took pleasure with my friends in collecting shrapnel that had fallen in the streets on the night before. Sadly the next night after our oil bomb an uncle of mine was killed by a bomb near to his house in Epsom. He had moved there with his family as his son had been apprenticed the year before to a racing stables and my uncle thought that the family would be safer out of London. That night he had left the shelter and gone to meet his daughter coming home from work and was killed by a direct hit.
Our second experience was on 19th March 1941 when we were hit by 2 incendiary bombs. The first was by our chicken house, kept to supplement wartime rations, and was put out by my father and me. We came in from the garden and were going to have a congratulatory cup of tea when burning was smelt. We went upstairs and found that a second incendiary had fallen through the roof into our living room and through the floor there to my grandmother’s room on the ground floor. Fortunately she was with us in the cellar. The fire brigade was called and came to put out the fire, air raid wardens were also present and an amusing mistake occurred as senior wardens wore white tin hats and we thought that we had one there but it turned out to be a neighbour who had put an enamel vegetable colander on his head. He was known from then on as Colonel Colander.
The continuous Blitz ended in August 1941. I started work as a junior clerk with Lambeth Borough Council. Instead of being employed at the nearby town hall I was given a job at the Council's cemetery office, a tram or cycle ride away at Tooting. Fortunately the mass burials of the Blitz had finished and the task was not too hard. I felt as if I was working in a park. At this time I started at evening classes to make up for my lost schooling and to prepare for matriculation. I had also earlier studied shorthand and typing.
After the Blitz life seemed to settle. Everyone went about their work and their leisure, going to the pictures ( cinema ) and to shows. We had rationing but accepted that and I certainly never felt deprived. The war was well reported on the radio and in the papers. Virtually everybody had a relation or friend in the armed forces and sadly there were some who were killed in action.
Earlier in the war many coal miners were called up leaving a shortage, so that when in 1943 the call up age was reduced to 18 some of those conscripted were drafted down the mines. These were known as Bevin boys after the minister of Labour Ernest Bevin. As I thought this change would prevent me sitting the matriculation exam ( although I recently discovered that I could have applied for a delay in call up ), and as I did not wish to go down the coal mines I volunteered in February 1944 to join the Navy. I had always been interested in the sea and I followed in the footsteps of a friend who had joined a few months earlier. I could have entered the Navy when I volunteered or wait until I was 18, which I chose to do and was called up the day after my 18th birthday on 3rd May 1944. I joined at HMS Royal Arthur an ex Butlins holiday camp in Skegness.
I was then sent for training to HMS Ganges at Shotley, near Ipswich and was there when the D-Day landings occurred. I remember lads from my course being drafted from the Navy in to the Army where they we needed more. I was probably all right as I was a volunteer.
On 23rd June the family house was hit again, this time by one of the first V1 flying bombs ( see photo at top ). It fell in the next road and blew the back of our house off. Fortunately none of the family were injured, but warden’s records show that 8 people were killed, 14 seriously injured, 42 houses demolished and 48 badly damaged by the bomb. I was granted compassionate leave to be with my family. There were emergency services there including a mobile laundry, supplied by the makers of Rinso. As this was the site of one of earliest V1 bombs it was visited by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Frank Newsom-Smith and the Mayor of Lambeth, Alderman Lockyer - see the next story for a photo of the visit. While home I went into Brixton and was there when another V1 bomb fell near to Lambeth Town Hall. In the incident 23 were killed and 41 seriously injured. I was in Woolworth’s store and the blast came through the doors and a soldier standing next to me was cut by flying glass. I returned from leave and on 21st July my grandmother died of pneumonia, I suspect brought on by the shock of the bomb. She was 82.
On return to the Navy I had to change my course to make up for the time lost in training. After completing basic training I went to H.M.S. Valkyrie on the Isle of Man for Radar training. The Navy here had taken over hotels on the sea front at Douglas. More training followed at HMS Collingwood at Fareham in Hampshire, where I was able to visit at second cousin and his family at Warsash, where he was an officer in charge of servicing landing craft. This completed my training and in November 1944 I went to Chatham Barracks to await drafting to a ship.
I joined my first ship, HMS Locust in Harwich on 18th November. She was a gunboat designed for service on the China rivers and had taken part in the Dunkirk evacuation, the Dieppe raid and the D-Day landings. She remained at Harwich and I was able to get home for Christmas leave and for a day or week-end visits. The war in Europe ended on 8th May and on the 14th we went over to Holland with the Captain in charge of minesweeping. We were first at the Hook of Holland and then moved to Ijmuiden. From the Hook of Holland we were granted shore leave and the Army provided trucks to take us in to Rotterdam. We saw armed resistance workers arresting collaborators and in a struggle we saw a wig knocked off the head of a woman whose head had been shaved as she had been with the Germans. The locals wanted cigarettes, perhaps as currency and I bought a camera and film for some from a young lad.
At Ijmuiden there were German troops lining the road waiting for a ship to take them back to Germany. We were able to go freely into their deserted defence pill boxes where there were rifles and ammunition so we did some target practice at signs on the beach. We took part in a liberation parade, marching to a Canadian army band. The Canadians had liberated the town and I have since in 1995 and 2000 taken part in anniversary celebrations with them where the Dutch have been grateful and generous hosts to us.
On 7th June we returned from Holland and I took photographs of friends in the crew on the journey using the newly acquired camera. We went first to Sheerness where we were granted leave and then returned to Harwich where we were for the VJ celebrations when the war with Japan ended in August. In September the Locust went into reserve and I returned to Chatham barracks. I had various duties there including the Barracks guard where I was able to go home for week-end or night leave. I was also on a working party preparing a cruiser for transfer to the New Zealand Navy. I could have volunteered to join the crew to take her there but decided that I wanted to be near home ready for demobilisation, but that was not to be as the Navy were very slow in releasing men and I had to wait for nearly 2 years for that!
I remained in Chatham barracks until August 15th 1946 when I was drafted on to the cruiser HMS Dido, then in Chatham dockyard. We joined the home fleet in Portland harbour where as well as my Radar plotting duties I was a member of the motor-cutter's crew, maintaining contact between the ship in the harbour and the shore. On 1st February 1947 we sailed from Portland in the escort that accompanied HMS Vanguard which was taking the King and Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to South Africa. We left them at Gibraltar and then paid ‘showing the flag’ visits to Casablanca and Oporto. We returned to Portland on 12th March having missed a very cold winter with fuel shortages.
I went on 2 weeks home leave in April but was recalled after a week as the ship was to take a Marine contingent with band to take part in the funeral procession in Copenhagen of the late King Christian on 30th April. There was also an American cruiser with marines taking part. I was in the crowd watching the procession. We left Copenhagen on 1st May and I spent the next day, my 21st birthday feeling very sea sick. We arrived at Portsmouth on the 3rd May. We returned to Portland and on the 31st sailed to Guernsey to start another goodwill cruise which also visited Haugesund in Norway, Frederichshaven in Denmark and Stockholm. At all these places we allowed visitors on board, particularly children and were entertained in town by the local community. We returned to Nairn where I had my first flight, courtesy of the Fleet Air Arm at Lossiemouth, and finished with a review of the fleet by the King at Gourock on the Clyde.
We returned to Portland and on 6th October I left the Dido for Chatham barracks and on 11th November went to Fareham for demobilisation and to collect an outfit of civilian clothes. I started work in early December at Otis elevators. I didn’t return to the local town hall as I feared that I would have to take exams to get on , but ended up years later taking accountancy exams.
My final release from the navy was on 7th January 1948, nearly 4 years after joining and 2 and a half years after the end of the war.
Images in Coldharbour
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