Bombs dropped in the ward of: Herne Hill

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

High Explosive Bomb

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

No bombs were registered in this area

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

Memories in Herne Hill

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

Since forming the Evacuees Reunion Association many people have asked for an
-Account of my own evacuation and why I founded the Association.

What follows is an attempt to meet that demand.

1938 and the war clouds are forming.
I was seven years old in 1938, living with my parents, three brothers and sister in a five bed roomed house in Camberwell, south London.

As the youngest of the family I lived a very sheltered life, there was always someone there to look after me. Our way of life was strictly governed by the social rules of the time and of our immediate environment.

To understand those rules you need to know the history of Camberwell from when it ceased to be a rural village in the County of Surrey and first became a very fashionable suburb of London, later .to find parts of the area degenerate into crowded slums.

The Victorian houses in our road ceased to be lived in by people who could afford to employ servants but it remained quiet and very ‘respectable’.

On Sunday mornings we children would go for walks to places such as Ruskin Park, but before we were allowed to set off we had to line up and be inspected by our father, who would look to see that our shoes were highly polished, our hair brushed and combed and that we boys’ ties were straight. “No child of mine leaves this house looking scruffy!” was his rule.

We were only allowed to go to the park and there were certain parts of Camberwell and Peckham that we were forbidden to walk through, sometimes, we broke that rule, only to be shouted at by the children who lived there. Such was the social structure of the times and the district.

During 1938 and early 1939 we saw the preparations for war being made, sandbags were stacked in front of public buildings, gas masks were issued and great silver barrage balloons wallowed in the sky over London.

The Anderson shelters were made available for people with gardens and parents were urged to register their children for evacuation. My parents attended the meetings at o schools and decided that we should go if war broke out.

As I was only eight and brother John nine, it was arranged that we would not be evacuated with our own school but with that of our sister Jean who was then nearly fourteen. Brother Ernest was to go away with his own school, but our eldest brother, Edward, had already left school and therefore stayed at home until being called up for military service.

During the summer holidays of 1939 the order came that schools in the evacuation areas were to immediately reopen and all children who had been registered for evacuation were to report daily to the school they were to go away with, taking with them the things parents had been told to pack, plus enough food for a day, but nothing else.

No one knew when, or even if, the evacuation would begin. Everyone involved had to wait for the government to issue the signal ‘Evacuate Forthwith’, which happened on Thursday 3l August 1939.

Evacuation Day

When I went to my sister’s school on the morning of Friday 1 September, with my gas mask in its cardboard box slung over one shoulder and carrying a little suitcase, I didn’t know what was about to happen. Soon we were lined up in a long ‘crocodile’ and the teachers came round tying luggage labels on us.

Then, led by the Head Teacher and two of the bigger girls carrying a banner on which were the words ‘Peckham Central Girls School’, we marched out on our way to a railway station, with a policeman in front to stop the traffic.

We didn’t know where we were going; neither did our parents or most of the teachers. All that was strictly a secret.

I can remember every detail of that day, the crowds of parents standing in silence on the other side of the road — they were not allowed to walk with us — I wondered why so many of the women were crying and why a very angry man was shouting “Look at those luggage labels, they are treating them like parcels!!!” I was wildly excited, after all my parents had told me I had nothing to worry about, it would be like going on holiday and that we would all be home again before Christmas.

Little did I know that four years would pass before I returned home for good, or that our very close family would never again be fully reunited.

I caught a glimpse of our mother in the watching crowd and waved to her, but I don’t think she could see me. I often think what it must have been like for her to return home knowing that four of her children had been taken away, to where she didn’t know, and to see four empty chairs at every mealtime and four unslept beds. How quiet the house must have been.

They marched us to Queens Road, Peckham, station. To reach the platform you had to climb a steep flight of wooden stairs and on the way up some of the girls stumbled, causing others to fall on top of them. The platform was already crowded as another school was already there.

That was when the teachers and porters started shouting “Keep back, keep back” and pushing us away from the edge of the platform. But there was no room at the back.

After a long wait a special train arrived and a mad scramble aboard began, brothers, sisters and friends trying desperately to keep together, teachers trying to push us all into the tiny compartments.

Then the porters ran along locking the doors. It was old fashioned, non-corridor train and therefore had no toilet facilities, the day was hot, the journey lasted hours and the results were inevitable.

Eventually the train stopped at a country station and the staff came to unlock the doors. Then all the shouting started again as they hurried us off the station, but first we each had to collect a carrier bag containing foodstuffs that were to be given to the people who took us in.

In each bag was also a big bar of chocolate.
Soon there were hundreds of children milling around the station forecourt, with their teachers frantically trying to keep them together.

A solution to the problem was quickly found — they put us in the pens of the adjoining cattle market, where we waited to be taken by bus to the village school.

I only saw one single deck bus that ran a shuttle service, so for so the wait was a long one. Someone found a working standpipe in the cattle market to we were all drinking from that.

Eventually we arrived at the tiny village school, but before we could go in we had to be inspected by a woman who dunked a comb in a bucket of disinfectant before yanking it through our hair.

She was the nit nurse! Inside the school the local people had set out sandwiches and drinks for us on trestle tables, but I for one didn’t take anything and I don’t think many others did.

The day had long since ceased to be a great adventure; anxiety had set in. “What was happening to us?” we wondered. I wanted my Mum! But kept quiet about it.

Then a lot of adults came in and stood in front, looking us over before pointing at a child and saying “I’ll take that one!” They were the foster parents.

One by one the children were lead away and the anxiety for those not yet chosen increased as they worried about what would happen to them if they remained un-selected.

Meanwhile Jean was keeping a tight hold on to John and me. She had been told by our parents that she and must not allow the three of us to be separated.

But they couldn’t find anyone to take all of us and John was forcibly dragged away from her and led off. Poor Jean was in floods of tears and desperately worried, feeling that she had failed our parents.

Then she and I were bundled into a car and driven to a very remote cottage, where the woman who lived there at first refused to take us in, but after being threatened with prosecution (billeting was compulsory) she opened the door.

The man who had brought us ran to his car and quickly drove away. “You can’t stay here!” she kept saying, but there was nothing we could do about it.

The cottage was very primitive and not at all like what we were used to. It lacked electricity, gas, piped water or flush toilets, the ground floors were of brick and the lavatory consisted of a bucket in a brick shed at the bottom of the overgrown garden.

There was only a single bed for Jean and I to sleep in. Jean cried all night in spite of me force feeding her some of my chocolate bar in an attempt to make her feel better.

One of the first things we had to do when placed in a billet was to send a postcard home showing our new address. We had been given the postcards back in London and told how important they were, because until they received them our parents did not know where we were.

We younger ones were told what to write on the cards, such as “Dear Mum and Dad, I am very happy here and living with nice people, don’t worry about me.” However it seems that I wrote on mine, “We’ve lost John and the stinging nettles got me on the way to the lavatory!”
“I’ve always wanted to live in a sweet shop! “®
After a couple of weeks the Billeting Officer arrived at the cottage and told us to collect our things as we were being moved into the main village (Pulborough, West Sussex). We found ourselves back near to the railway station.

Jean was billeted with the family of a signalman and, to my great delight; I was taken to live with people who ran a shop that sold sweets and many other things. They lived on the premises.

Apparently I said “I’ve always wanted to live in a sweet shop!” and was told that if I was a good boy and did all the jobs they gave me I could have one pennyworth of sweets every day and two pennyworth on Sundays, but I must never help myself.

The jobs included carrying in the buckets of coal, chopping firewood, feeding the chickens, helping on the allotment and, because they had a tea room, doing mountains of washing up.

Very soon they had a surprise because John was also brought to live there, although they had never been asked. He had been living at an outlying farm and was not very pleased about leaving it.

Jean’s billet with the signalman’s family did not work out and she was again moved. That meant John and I saw very little of her because her new foster parents would not allow us to visit. I don’t know why.

Then I was told that John was being moved to another billet because our foster parents could not manage to look after the two of us. He was not far away and I saw him nearly every day, but it did mean that for the first time in my life I was on my own, with no older brother or my sister to look after me.

Another problem for us boys was that because we had been evacuated with our sisters’ school we did not know any of the teachers or pupils other than Jean. When the Village Hall began to be used for the evacuated girls school John and I had to be taught at the Village School.

Initially, as could be expected, there was friction between the village boys and we evacuees, they shouted at us “Dirty Londoners”, we called then country bumpkins and fights often broke out.

Poor John suffered from bullying much more than me, but I was very upset when I saw chalked up messages saying “Vaccies go home. We don’t want you here!” Of course that had been done by a few silly children and was soon stopped, but we evacuees were all suffering from homesickness and all we wanted to do was to go home, but we couldn’t.

Soon after that we were all chalking up big Vs, that being Churchill’s sign for V for Victory. I was given a V for Victory badge that I wore for years. After a year or so John was moved to the Village Hall School, so I saw even less of him.

As the war dragged on.
Earlier I said that we had been told we would be home for Christmas. Many evacuees’ parents defied the government and did allow their evacuated children to return home for Christmas in 1939.

The result was, as the government had feared; many evacuees never returned to the reception areas. My parents were made of sterner stuff and we were not allowed to go home, which was a great disappointment.

In fact our first Christmas back at home was not until 1942, after which we had to return to Pulborough.

What is not generally known is that when an evacuee reached school leaving age they were no longer classed as being evacuees by the government. The allowance paid to foster parents ceased and it was entirely up their parents what happened next.

Of course most evacuees went home, but some obtained work in the reception areas and stayed with their foster parents. For many children the school leaving age was fourteen, but as Jean went to a Central school she left a year later and went back to London.

During the Battle of Britain the skies over Pulborough were the scene of many dogfights and we saw planes explode and come crashing down.

The German fighter planes would zoom low over the village machine-gunning as they went. Anything was their target, even school children, but fortunately none of us were hit.

Then the blitz began and at night we could see the red glow in the sky of London burning.

Very often a policeman would come into school and an evacuee was taken out, we fully realised that that child was probably being told.

Disaster struck the nearby market town of Petworth, where the boys’ school received a direct hit, killing all the children and their teachers.

The threat of invasion turned Pulborough into a fortified village, surrounded by barbed wire, its roads fitted with tank traps. Huge concrete gun emplacements were built, also machine gun posts and slit trenches made behind roadside walls and in many buildings.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers were camped all around the area. Many would call at the sweet shop tearoom, making more washing up for me!
Homesickness-the ever-present problem.

I believe that all evacuees suffered from homesickness, whether they were being well looked after or not. I know I did. It was always there, no matter how hard you tried to keep it away. But in those day’s homesickness was not acknowledged in the way it is now and evacuees showing signs of it were soon told to stop moping around and asked “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” Evacuees became very adept at hiding their inner feelings. You would put on a smiling face and never let anyone see you cry.

That led to many foster parents believing their evacuees were happy, not realising that they were crying themselves to sleep nearly every night.

I managed to hide my homesickness so well that no one knew about it. Apart that is for one occasion that I will never forget. There was to be a concert in the village ball and my foster parents were given a complementary ticket in return for displaying a poster in the shop.

They didn’t want to go so I was given the ticket. Wearing my best suit and tie I felt so important as I was shown to my seat on the night of the concert. It was the first time I had ever been to such an event, especially on my own.

All went well until very near the end when all the caste came on stage, the lights turned to a red glow and they started with some of the songs that my parents used to sing, such as ‘Red sails in the sunset’, ‘The wheel of the wagon is broken’. Then came ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home’. That was too much for me.

I started crying and, try as I might, could not stop. At first no one could see me because the lights were all so low, but then every light in the hail was switched on and the audience stood to sing the National Anthem, the show was over, but I couldn’t stop crying, so I made to get out of the hall as quickly as I could, out into the anonymity of the blackout.

People were looking at me and one woman tried to put her arm round me, but I pushed her away. By the time I had walked back to my billet I had composed myself and showed no signs of any problem, but then I worried for days that someone would come into the shop and say, “Your evacuee was very rude to my wife the other evening”.

But no one did.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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

High Explosive Bomb

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

No bombs were registered in this area

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

Images in Herne Hill

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