Bombs dropped in the ward of: Catford South
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Catford South:
- 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 Catford South
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by nationalservice (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was added to the site by Justine Warwick on behalf of Alan Tizzard. The author is fully aware of the terms and conditions of the site and has granted his permission ofr it to be included.
This is the story of how wartime stole my childhood and forced me to become a man
Saturday the 7th September1940 was a glorious summer day. I was 10-years-old, sitting in the garden of my parents home in Hither Green Lane just off Brownhill Road, caught up in the knock-on effect of the teacher shortage at Catford Central School in Brownhill Road and attended mornings one week and afternoons the next.
This was the case for those of us whose parents would not be parted from their children, or whose wisdom suggested something was fundamentally wrong with evacuation to destinations in Kent or Sussex. Surely these places were nearer the enemy across the Channel?
Anyway, I was at home with my mum, dad and older brothers and sisters and it was great!
My dad, because, he was a Lighterman and Waterman on the Thames and had been a policeman, found himself on the fireboats patrolling the river to
put out fires caused by enemy planes. My brother-in-law Jim was in the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) stationed in a nearby school. He drove a commandeered London taxicab that towed a fire pump trailer. Brother Ted was a peacetime Royal Marine, serving on HMS Birmingham. Brother Chris, at 16 years was crazy on American gangster films and used to make wooden models of tommy guns they used. He encouraged me to make model aircraft from the Frog Model kits of those days.
On that sunny Saturday afternoon in early September I was sitting on the kitchen step whittling away at my model when the sirens sounded. No sooner had the sirens stopped than the fírst planes came into sight. They were high, by the standards of the day, maybe twenty thousand feet. Hurricanes and ME109's. They were twisting and turning, weaving and bobbing. To me this was a grand show. So far my sight of war had been at a distance and knocked the cinema version into a cocked hat.
Suddenly what had been a spectator sport, not wholly real changed to War. I was to leave childhood behind forever.
From the front of the house we did not see the approach of that part of Luftflotte Zwei from across the Channel as they came from behind us. A sudden shower of spent machine cartridge cases rained down all around us. What had been the relatively dull ever-changing drone of the fighters in dog-fights high above our heads with their guns making no more than a phut, phut changed to pandemonium. The stakes had changed. We were now a part of it.
Chris said: "I think they're trying for the bridge." As he spoke, a Heinkel 111 flashed into sight coming in at an angle from our right. I believe it was being chased by a fighter as another shower of empty cases came down, bouncing and pinging on the front garden paths and pavements. Suddenly an aerial torpedo fell away from the Heinkel, which seemed to bounce higher into the air as the weight of the missile fell clear. The Heinkel disappeared, climbing away to its right out of our sight. Some seconds later we heard the explosion.
Later, in a conversation, my brother-in-law t the AFS man stated the showrooms had copped it from an aerial torpedo. From his comments and the first hand observation of my brother and myself that afternoon, I believe the Heinkel 111 we saw was the culprit.
I am not sure. But this much I know that was the day I stopped being a little
boy. I think it was seeing German planes still managing to fly in formation not withstanding all that the Hurricanes were doing to try to stop them, that took away my innocence.
Two days later, on the afternoon of Monday September 9,I answered a knock at the front door of my parents' home and was taken aback by the spectacle of a man so covered in oil and filth from head to foot that I didn't at first recognise my brother-in-law. Jim the firefighter had gone on his shift on the afternoon of 7th and had only then returned. Calming my alarm at his state, Jim explained that his unit had been in I he docks fighting fires
for over 72 hours and that at one point had been blown into the oil-covered waters.
The filth laden atmosphere pervaded the air for days. The sky to a great height wreathed with smoke of all colours that glowed red, orange and in some places blue.
Soot seemed to fall contínually and as you wiped it away it smeared your hanky and smelt of oil.
On the afternoon of the 11th September the sirens went again. We were all getting very weary from the raids, Í was little more than a young child and I had, had enough. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the grown up members of my family. ^^^H
Certainly, we had by now we had given up trying to brave it out when the bombing got local. So my mother, two sisters, my brothers Chris and Arthur and Jim, all climbed into the Anderson shelter in the garden.
Usually the doors were pretty firm. But things were really getting hot outside. All hell was going on out there
The door was hammering against the shelter and coming loose - at one point Jim leapt forward and simply held on while I was pushed to the floor and my sister Maisie threw herself on top of me As I lay pinned down I could see Jim rocking to and fro at each blast from outside.
I don't know when, but in due course things became quieter, and Jim climbed out. I don't recall actually leaving the Anderson, but I do
remember what 1 found outside. My mother's orderly wartime garden, her pride and joy, was a wreck. The back door to the house 'was laying in the yard. All the rear windows were gone, where the frames had survived shreds of what had been net curtains hung in tatters.
The whole house was in tatters. The road outside was a shambles, everywhere were those empty cartridge cases. Arthur and I started collecting them looking to see if they were theirs, or ours. Over on the other side of the road, a showroom was burning, soldiers were milling around some kind of control vehicle with a dome on top painted in a chequer-pattern. I believe they must have been bomb disposal chaps.
I remember later, in the back garden my brother Arthur endeavours to chop with a garden spade the burnt half of an otherwise un-burnt incendiary bomb that he had found in the front garden.
The whole thing had an unreal feeling about it. It was then that my family moved.
I have no recollection of any decision being taken by my elders to leave the house. I do recall being in the back of what must have been a 15-cwt Army lorry with some but not all of my family. The vehicle bumped away from our house and as I looked through the back I was being cuddled by my older sister Maisie. The sky was yellowy and smoky. Opposite and to the left of our house five houses had five houses had their upper floors torn away, our lovely Methodist Church and my cub scouts' hall had totally disappeared.
The 15-cwt turned left into Wellmeadow Road and made its way to the rest-centre at Torridon Road School where we remained until the 15th September before temporary evacuation to Sutton-in-Ashfield Notts. We returned to Bomb the Alley of southeast England after a short respite and I regarded myself as grown-up for the remainder of the war.
NB:This article written by me appeared in The Greenwich Mercury November 28th1996.
The article was accompanied by two photographs one of me in my parents wartime garden of the house from which we were bombed out shortly after it was taken.
The other photograph was taken in 1954 following my return to England having been in the Occupation Army in Germany.
The little girl in one of the pictures was Joyce Eva Maycock of Hampton Village, Evesham, Worcestershire a sweet little thing from the country not realising she would later marry the urchin above. (as I write this Tuesday, August 03, 2004 come tomorrow Wednesday 4th August 2004 we shall have been married fifty years)
Contributed originally by Marian_A (BBC WW2 People's War)
Gladys’s Diary 1940, cont.
2/10/40 Was just about to sally forth this morning when the siren sounded. A bomb dropped over the green, just as I was near, in Brookhouse Rd. Bricks hurtled around me. I rushed across and took cover in Anderson shelter of a house opposite. “All clear” went half-hr. later, only to be followed by a siren a few minutes later. Took shelter in the same house till 11 o’clock. About 3 people were killed in the house including two women Mum knows. I eventually got to work at 11.45…Left office at 4.30 in a raid warning. Got home about 5.30. Siren sounded at 7.45 p.m.. Final “All clear” about 6.15 a.m.
4/10/40 Today was a terrible one. Nothing happened until lunchtime, when the siren went, just before one o’clock. During the afternoon we had to go to the shelter once or twice. Miss B went about 4.30, and I stayed to finish a letter…I had to go to the shelter twice again. Eventually I set off home at 6.15 during the warning, another having sounded after the “All clear” at 5.45. During my train journey the second “All clear” and a third warning sounded! This last proved to be the all night one — I went straight in the shelter when I got home, emerging only at 11 p.m. during a lull in the firing to change and get some food, which we ate in the shelter.
7/10/40 There was no raid during the night, and when Dad came home [from his night shift job] just before 5 a.m. we went in to bed. However, there was a warning at about 6 a.m., so Mum and I returned to the shelter. Another warning sounded while I was on the train, but nothing happened (to me!) Various warnings occurred, and once we adjourned to the shelter. I was very busy all day and did not leave the office until 5 during a warning. The “All clear” went as I crossed over to the station. Didn’t get home till half past six. Just had dinner and changed when the siren sounded at 7.40 approx.
8/10/40 The raid alarm sounded this morning about 8.45, and the “All clear” about 10 a.m. When I set out for work Mum, who was going to the shops, came with me. We got caught in two more alarms, during the first of which we sheltered in an Anderson shelter at the invitation of some workmen, and in the second we went into a public shelter. I eventually reached the office (in the middle of a fourth alarm!) at 12.45!
13/10/40 (Saturday) After breakfast Arthur put in some more work on the air raid shelter. While I was having my bath, the siren went, and just as I’d dried all of me except my feet, and was clad only in vest and knickers, I heard bombs descending. Just as I was I ran down and dived beneath the stairs! Luckily Arthur was in the garden and so did not witness my undignified descent.
14/10/40 Heard this morning that last night’s raid was very bad, with many casualties…
16/10/40 Had lunch in office. Walked to Cheapside and found, much to my joy, that some shops, including Woolworths, are open again. …Found everyone in a profound state of depression at home. Siren went about 7 p.m.. Mum very depressed in the shelter…
17/10/40 This morning there were two warnings before I set out for the office, and I eventually got a train about 11.20! …Arthur phoned … he is O.K., thank God, but said about 90 bombs were dropped in this district in recent night raids. Caught a train from Holborn during a raid. Had to leave the train between Catford and Bellingham and walk back along the line to Catford, whence I travelled to Southend Lane by lorry! Bellingham signal box has been damaged by bomb. Siren went just before 7. Heaps of bombs dropped.
19/10/40 (Saturday) I did my various jobs this morning and got ready for Arthur, but he was very late. Planes were about terribly, but no raid occurred…Arthur did not arrive until 5 o’clock … he’d had to stay to H.G. [Home Guard] rifle drill. I felt so very relieved to see him. He’d some sandbags for the shelter and we went down to the shops to get some creosote for them, and Arthur was still covering the bags with it when the siren went.
21/10/40 Had day of warnings and had to take shelter several times. Took from 4.15 till 6 p.m. to get home. Siren went at 7.10, but we heard gunfire and planes earlier, and were already in our dugout.
25/10/40 Had two bombs drop this morning before sirens went, and afterwards there was a very great noise of diving planes, and more bombs dropped. After the “All clear” Mum and I sallied forth to Bellingham wireless shop, and I purchased a portable set, on weekly terms, for the air raid shelter. Carried it home part of the way, and met Dad who took it the rest…Had pretty bad raid tonight but the wireless “took it off”.
26/10/40 (Saturday) Had a lot of air raids, and took cover once or twice, and by the time I’d done my various tasks it was late, and I didn’t reach Arthur’s until about
3 p.m….We sat and talked, and then had tea. Soon it was “siren time”, and we went into the shelter, Arthur first rescuing a white dog which had somehow got shut up in an upper room of a derelict house opposite. Arthur and Mrs B [Arthur’s mother] played cards and I knitted. We packed down about 10 p.m.
28/10/40 …I felt very tired and depressed. Jolly old siren went at much the usual time. Things were “pretty hot”, but I felt very cold. Didn’t do any knitting. Accumulator had packed up so no wireless. Just sat and listened to the guns etc…
31/10/40 …Arrived home about 5.30. It’s been a dreadful day, pouring with rain. I was drenched. The siren went very early, just after 6.30, and I’d had to put my hair in curlers in the dugout…
10/11/40 …No day alarms at all…
12/11/40 The siren went at about 6.45 p.m. A bright moon shone, and there was very, very heavy gunfire.
14/11/40 Planes zoomed about a good deal this morning, but nothing happened…got home about 5.15. Scoffed my tea, then washed my hair. Was all ready for the shelter when the siren went; as a matter of fact we were there already, as we’d heard planes and guns.
16/11/40 …The time bomb in Elfrid Crescent went off just as we were at the Post Office. Nobody hurt, but we had some windows broken and I had to clean my bedroom floor, more bits of ceiling having fallen…
18/11/40 We were awoken by terrible bomb explosion at 4 a.m. It blew our lamp out…Didn’t go out lunchtime as it became dark and poured with rain. Continued so all the afternoon…The siren didn’t sound till 8.15, but as it was a cold, dark night and the shelter was warmer than the kitchen, we went down there about 7.30.
17/12/40 …As there was no warning, we stayed indoors tonight.
25/12/40 (Christmas Day) After a peaceful night, we got up fairly early, and had our breakfast. We lit a fire in the front room in honour of the day. I did the usual tidying up etc., and heard a broadcast featuring evacuees in Wales, including Datchelorites [girls from Mary Datchelor, Grace’s school] and there was a special message to Joyce Davies, Grace’s friend who is in hospital. After dinner I sat in the parlour and opened my presents… After tea we played “Bombardo” and listened-in. No air raid occurred.
27/12/40 The air raid warning went about 7. It was such a bad raid that we couldn’t get to the dugout. We went under the stairs twice. A bomb fell on the allotment by Dr Wallace’s house, badly damaging it and several other houses around. I dragged Gran under the stairs when I heard it falling, and knocked her head! She made a dreadful fuss. Just after we managed to get to the shelter a shower of incendiaries fell.
29/12/40 …The siren went very early, at just after six, and there was a terrible raid. I felt very frightened, and Arthur was very sweet and kind. Poor Dad had to go out in it. Arthur got Gran down to the shelter... We went back to the house before going to sleep, and saw the red glow of a great fire in the sky…
30/12/40 …Our trainline is out of order, so I travelled to Cannon Street from Catford Bridge. Saw devastating scenes in the City. All along Cannon Street & Queen Victoria Street fires are still burning, and a ring of fires is round St. Pauls. St. Brides and St. Andrews-by-the-Wardrobe are gutted — also Guildhall. Fires rased also both sides of Cheapside and in Ludgate Hill etc. Everywhere in fact. Felt very miserable when I saw it all…
31/12/40 Had difficulty getting to the office. Got train to Charing Cross, and walked thence to the office, there being still no buses in the City. Fires were still burning… The Home Secretary broadcast an appeal for fire watchers. Some neighbours who are organising such a local service called, but Dad being on nightwork , he’s no good. I offered, but they only want men. No siren had sounded up to 9.40 p.m.
Contributed originally by Doddridge (BBC WW2 People's War)
The contributor has agreed to the BBC terms for entry of stories to the website.
This is the second part of my story, the first part covered my childhood and the early part of the war.
The village of Heilly was on a very minor road and we could hear the sound of bombing and gunfire before we met up with the main road, on approaching the main cross road we could see that it was full of refugees and Dad decided to drive across fields and then find a way across in the
direction we required, we could from these fields also see civilians walking in front of tanks in adjoining fields and German planes bombing and machine gunning the stream of refugees which included French soldiers and army lorries and ambulances. We finally found a way across and entered a small village which had been shelled and bombed, the road was badly damaged and difficult to negotiate and we were therefore moving very slowly, at one point there was a ladder against a wall and at the top of this ladder was the body of a man with all his inner parts hanging down to ground level, this was a sight which I will never ever forget and does on occasion flash before my eyes even now 63 years later.
It soon became obvious that we would not be able to reach the coast and
it was decided to try and head south towards Rouen, this involved joining the stream of refugees some of whom moved aside to allow cars past but this also involved being straffed by enemy planes forcing us to leave our cars and seek shelter in ditches or behind trees.
The sight of remains from the straffing and bombing will remain with me for ever and it is a fact that even now I cannot watch a film in which this sort of horror is shown.
A couple of times we managed to get ahead of the refugees gaining a fair distance only to be overtaken at night when we had to rest with the cars
hidden from sight behind branches, in fact on the first night we were overtaken by the Germans and one of their vehicles stopped only a few yards from us for a call of nature.
By the next morning there was no sign of the Germans and we once again joined the stream of refugees getting ahead of them again for a short distance only to meet up with another endless steam, it was on this occasion that a heavy bombardment and straffing began and my parents
and my younger brother and 1 took shelter in a deep ditch with water running in the bottom, there was a anti aircraft battery in the adjoining field and the fumes and stench of cordite from the shells and bombs started to make us choke, my Mother tore strips off her underskirt and wetted these in the water and we had these over our faces until action had stopped as the cordite fumes was also making our eyes very sore.
We then carried on again until we had almost reached a road leading through a wood when enemy planes once again started very heavy
straffing, we just managed to get inside this wood and my Mother took me for shelter behind a tree and Dad did the same with my brother, this time 1 did a very stupid and dangerous thing by leaning my head out of the shelter area at which time the pilot had reached the end of his straff run and was about to lift up above the trees ,1 could clearly see this pilot prior to the aircraft going up, 1 got a well deserved telling off from my parents for exposing myself to so much danger.
We then carried on but the clutch on the other car gave out and Dad towed this car until we found a cafe where he dismantled the clutch and repaired the cork driven clutch part with corks cut to size by hand from a supply of corks from the cafe. He was of course a motor mechanic. This was his first rescue as a mechanic during our escape. 1 did forget to mention that we had until this time kept our dog (Bella) with us and the cafe owner kindly offered her a good home.
Following all this we carried on in the stream of refugees until we ran
out of petrol and had to carry on on foot with our cases etc in the handcart, we still had to endure the machine gunning and bombing and the sight of countless bodies.
We eventually arrived at the port of Rouen on the river Seine as French
troops were preparing to blow up the bridge in an attempt to try and stop the Germans, [this bridge for some reason did not get blown up. These soldiers were also trying to restrict the flow of refugees crossing the bridge without success and having managed to cross over we turned right along the quayside whilst the majority of refugees carried on down the main road heading south.
We could see that some distance along the quay were some merchant ships and beyond these 2 liners, we therefore first went to where these
liners were and it could be seen that they were absolutely full of refugees,
the foot ramps were still in position with a senior crew member at the quayside to stop further loading and despite my father pleading to at least
allow my brother and I aboard the requests were refused. We therefore turned back and my father then asked the captain of a Norwegian coal boat for help. The captain refused the request stating that as much as he would like to help, the risks for our lives through a sea with minefields were far too great. This request for help had been overheard by a member of the ships crew.
We therefore left the area of the Norwegian boat called (the Ringhom) from Bergen, and were wondering what to do when my father was approached by a sailor who said that he was a member of the crew of this boat. He had discussed our plight with other members of the crew who without delay told him that they would without authority help us to go on board.
We were told that the boat would be leaving for England in the early hours of the next day and told us to come back after dark at which time the captains attention would be diverted while we were smuggled aboard.
Everything went according to their plan and we were taken down to the
bilges where we were to remain until the ship sailed.
During the night we heard the noise of heavy boots and it would appear
that these were the boots of German soldiers who despite the boat being
from a neutral country had insisted on carrying out a brief search before
giving the captain plans of the minefields for the sea crossing to England,
The Germans could not due to neutrality refuse sailing and had to issue these plans.
The boat left the docks in the early hours and a crew member then took us
on deck to the captain who did not appear to be surprised, he told us that
he certainly could not put us off and that his quarters and other quarters
would be made available for us.
I must now come to an extremely sad part.
You will recall that I told you about the 2 liners that we could not get on.
On reaching the estuary of the River Seine we encountered the scene of a
terrible tragedy, both of these liners had struck mines and sunk. The prows of both ships were sticking up out of the water and as we sailed between these prows numerous bodies could be seen floating on the surface.
We were later told that the boats were British, therefore considered as
enemy by the occupying forces and they were not provided with mine
field charts or given clearance to sail. We were also told that there were
no survivors. How fortunate for us that we were not allowed on board either of these ships.
And so started our sailing to England little realizing the distance or time
which would be involved, indeed only one person knew our final
destination and this was of course the captain.
We had been at sea for 2 days when the power machinery for the boat which was steam powered broke down, a major fault having developed
for which the necessary spare part was not available among the normal
spare parts kit, this necessitated the manufacture of the required part
and the engineer and my father were working for a full 36 hours making
this part out of any suitable material that they could find, with the failure
of power the anchor could not be released and the ship was therefore
drifting for all of this time in mine infested waters. I of course being so young did not realize the considerable danger we were in and kept looking at the sky at the slightest sound of aircraft as I had now associated these with the previous horrors on land and I was in constant fear.
After many more days at sea we eventually arrived at Barry docks in South
Wales having avoided with the use of the minefield map, the minefields in the English channel, the sea area around Lands End and the Bristol
The other British family were, up to this time with us though we saw very little of them even on this small boat. I really do not know why they kept apart from us, I do know for certain that my Father had to make all the decisions and that our car was in the lead right up to the time that we had to abandon the vehicles.
On arrival at Barry docks we were taken to a building and it was from the
moment that we entered this building that we lost all contact with them.
This was indeed very strange.
From this building we were taken a short distance along the coast to another place which I would now describe as an old workhouse, it seemed
so strange on the way to see families enjoying themselves on the beach
with what appeared having not a care in the world while so much was going on in Northern France. Indeed our troops had while we were at sea
endured hell on the beaches of France, and we of course through lack of
radio contact knew nothing of this. On arrival at this other building we were met by ladies who I now assume were members of a voluntary organization. Mother and Harold were taken to one part of the building while dad and I were taken to another part where we had to take off our cloths and were then dusted with a powder, this was followed by a bath and we were then given clean clothes. We were then reunited with my mother and Harold and given a meal.
The night was spent in this building and the following day we were
allowed to leave and made our way to Catford in London where we
stayed while dad went to Exeter to arrange to stay with Corky Newcombs
wife and young son. After a couple of days we went to Exeter where we stayed for 4 or 5 weeks while dad went on to Faringdon where his sister lived to find a house and employment.
Dad found a small terraced house which he named [Heilly] and also found employment as a motor mechanic and also as a special war reserve police constable. He was working all sorts of very long hours in order to provide as much as possible to make the home comfortable and we therefore did not spend a great deal of time with him as a family. I was then just 13 years old and my prior education had all been in France, I could read a little English, I had no knowledge whatsoever of pounds, shillings and pence or measurements of weight, liquids or distances, in plain language I knew very little and could not write in English as I could not spell.
You may now guess that I had to put up with a considerable amount of
teasing by other children and was often involved in fights, I did however
have one very good friend who would always come to my aid resulting in
other kids coming off worst, unfortunately this occasionally had bad
endings, the abusers would go home with black eyes or bruises and tell
their parents that I had picked on them, the parents would then come to
the school and complain saying I was a trouble maker and should not be
in this school and should go back to France.
As you can see, life was a little hard for the first few months.
School in those days due to the number of evacuees was restricted to half
a day for locals and half a day for evacuees.
I left school at the age of 14 and therefore had a total of approximately
6 months of English education but I am pleased to say that due to homework and hard study I was equal to others of my own age. Between
the ages of 13 and 14 I supplemented my pocket money by first being a
lather boy in a barber shop. This involved putting shaving soap on the men’s faces with the aid of a stick of soap, warm water and a shaving brush, the barber would then come along with a cut throat razor and
shave the mans face, this job was quite good and I used to get quite a few
tips. However the school inspector found out and I had to stop because I
was under age for an indoor job. I then went as a telegram boy on
When I left school I became employed as an apprentice motor mechanic
for a period of 5 years, my starting pay was 5 shillings per 48 hour week, equal to the sum of 25 pence per week in the current decimal coinage. there were 2 mechanics in this garage and one of these was shortly after my start transferred by the government to war work in Oxford. I was very interested in this work and as the garage also included a taxi, I did at the age of 17 qualify to carry out numerous journeys as a taxi driver as special licences were not required in those days, you simply applied for a driving licence at the age of 17 no tests being applicable.
When I was 14 I joined the Air Training Corps with my brother Albert, we
had 2 R A F training airfields near Faringdon and on most Sundays we
used to put on our A T C uniforms and go to one or the other of these
airfields and ask if there was any chance of a flip, our requests were
always granted providing there was available space in a plane, these
being Airspeed Oxfords or Tiger Moths.
At the age of 15 I did, with my employers permission, join the local fire
service as a messenger, this involving sleeping at the fire station on
alternate nights and also rushing from work to the fire station when the
alarm sounded, at the age of 17 I became a fireman being paid a retainer
fee and having an alarm bell in my bedroom.
Most young men were called up to join the services at the age of 18 but
apprentices were exempt until they had completed the term of their
apprenticeship, I on completion of my apprenticeship would however have been exempt from call up as motor mechanics were mainly sent to a local military establishment as civilian employees.
I wanted to go in the army and as my apprentice completion date approached I went to Bristol in May 1946 and volunteered, my employers
did not know this as they would surely have tried to stop me and when a
letter arrived informing me to report to Ranby camp near Retford
Nottinghamshire my employers simply thought that I had been called up,
I can quite truthfully say that I soon regretted joining the army, our
instructing regiment was the Green Howards, marching in this regiment
is at the double pace and as one of the toughest regiments other training
was to say the very least extremely demanding.
If I could have found a way to get out I most certainly would have done
so, as it was heartbreaking.
However I survived and in January 1947 went out to the Middle East
serving in Palestine and Egypt until March 1950.
Now we come to the most important part.
When I came back to England I was granted 56 days leave and a few days
after returning to Faringdon I was with my old school friend George Smith
and we decided to go in to the local cafe called Jane’s Pantry for a cup of coffee, a Gorgeous waitress served us and I simply could not take my
eyes off her, I said to George that I would love to have a date with her
and he replied ask her, I had not really spoken to anyone I would be
interested in for over 3 years and I told him I was too shy, He laughed
and said ‘hey Binnie my mate would like a date’, Binnie replied ‘why cant
he ask hasn’t he got a tongue in his head?’ The result was that a date was
agreed this being one thing I have never regretted. We spent every possible minute together, after my leave was finished I was posted to Shepperds Bush in London and came home every weekend, my Mother was at that time spending a great deal of time in France with my Father who had returned with the war graves commission after the Normandy landings, and Binnie had, soon after we met, introduced me to her family, the thought of coming home to a empty house did not appeal and her parents very kindly put a bed in the parlour for me as this room was only used at Christmas. I though the world of her family. Binnie and I became engaged a short time before I left the army which was in July 1952.
I obtained employment as a motor mechanic and Binnie and I were
Married on the 28th of March 1953.
Our home was next door to my parents and life was not always easy,
there being the occasional in-law problem. We had three children while we
lived in Faringdon, Paul, Ruth and Donna.
Motor mechanics’ wages were very low in those days and I supplemented
my income with part time work as a barman, taxi driver and ambulance
driver. Promotion came along quite well in the motor trade and I eventually rose to the position of Service Manager, This was however a position from which there is or was no advancement and I decided to apply for a position as Auto consultant, Motor Insurance Claims Assessor with the largest Company in England. I got the job and we moved to a small village near Reading, I then changed Employers and we moved to Northampton where my second Son Lance was born.
I loved the work I was doing and was after a few years rewarded by
being appointed a Director of this Company. I stayed with this Company until retirement at the age of 65.
I always wondered what had happened to the gallant little Norwegian
boat and courageous crew.
My eldest son Paul who was apart time hypnotist did one day, ask us to
go to the television studios in London where he said he would be making
his first television appearance as a hypnotist, he said that he would feel
better doing this if he had family support. We went as requested and Paul appeared on stage, it was a CilIa Black show called Surprise, Surprise. I had never seen or heard of this show. Paul started well and then Cilla said to my great surprise it isn’t you we have to see is it Paul? it is your dad Cyril we want on here, I was absolutely astounded, Paul had informed the producers of the program in regards to our escape from France and my longing to know what had happened to the boat and crew and they in turn had after months of research managed to find 3 members of that crew and brought them to the television studio in order that I may thank them for all that they had done for us in 1940.
All the rest of the family knew what was happening and I was well and truly caught out. The sailors had told Cilla that they clearly remember my fear of enemy planes and how I was constantly looking at the sky. The 3 sailors had left that boat in late 1940 and it had been sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland in 1941, all lives being lost.
This I think just about concludes my story up to the present time which is
May 2003 the year in which we have celebrated 50 years of very happy,
marriage .I must say that I have the most wonderful wife who encouraged me to write this account of my life and I most certainly would not have done so without her suggesting it in the first place.
God Bless You All.
Contributed originally by Bryan Boniface (BBC WW2 People's War)
This anecdote was written by Mrs Lydia Coxhead, (nee Blackmore) and refers to the tragic day in January 1943, when the school she attended in Catford, was bombed by a German raider.
Mrs Coxhead currently lives in Crawley, West Sussex.
Should any one reading this wish to contact Mrs Coxhead, please do so through me at email@example.com
“Auld Lang Syne” is a song often sung at the beginning of a new year — January — as it was then, in 1943. I was playing it on the piano in the recreation room of the part of Himley Hall, Dudley, Worcester, which had been generously loaned to the British Red Cross as a convalescent home by the Earl of Dudley. Having learned the song just a few months previously in time for Christmas and as the new year was just begun, it seemed a fitting song for myself and those who were in the room. But suddenly, one girl walked quietly out of the room, tears running down her cheeks, and another told me — “Please don’t play that any more, her little brother who was killed used to sing that song……..”
Now I rarely fail to hear or join in the singing of that song without I remember those words and that little boy, who was five years old and who had not long started school.
Remember, remember — yes, I remember how it happened. That day, January 20th, 1943, though now far away, will never be forgotten. To me, as child of twelve, it was the most terrible day of my life. Yet I think I learned a lot on that day about how brave and self-sacrificing people can be.
The bell at Sandhurst Road School, Catford, South East London, had just gone for home time. It was the dinner break, and as it was a cold wintry day, I had taken sandwiches which I was eagerly ‘tucking into’ around the classroom fire in the company of about half a dozen classmates. Suddenly, one of the girls said “Ssh! — isn’t that the siren?” We didn’t take any notice at first, as we thought she was joking, then there was silence. It was the siren after all — but a distant one. Our first thought was to go to the shelter, as we had been instructed to do. We went out of the room quite calmly, but not too slowly as we were told we were not to linger about after the siren had gone. I remembered that I had left my sandwiches in the classroom, so I told the others I would catch them up whilst I went back for them. I soon caught them up on their way down to the shelter, munching away at my sandwiches.
The shelter was a bricked up classroom on the second floor of the building. We soon settled ourselves, thinking more of our tummies than any danger which might be at hand! Then - - the whirr and screech of a diving aeroplane right above us. My friend, Edna, and myself clung together, our hearts thumping very rapidly. “It’s alright,” we tried to console ourselves. “It’s only one of our fighters.” Then two girls rushed into the shelter — “The plane,” they said, “it’s got black crosses on it!” We all looked at each other, the silence being shattered by a tremendous thud which shook everything and everyone in that shelter.
There was a split second’s silence — the moment between life and death. It was all over. Our school, which I loved, and where I had attended since I was four years old, had been laid to ruin by one man, in one plane, by one evil bomb, during an evil World War.
One man, whose leader afterwards broadcast to the German people of his remarkable day’s achievements. With pride in his voice, he said — “It was a most interesting raid — you might call it a special treat….” One Nazi — did he have children at home, who loved their school and their teachers and chums?
Now, many years later, if he is still alive, perhaps he is enjoying the comfort of a home and family, as I am, as it should be. There is so much that is good in life, in peace. He perhaps knew no better. Perhaps Nazism made him that way Perhaps he was to be pitied.
But those children who died knew no better — no better than to enjoy their fun in the playground, their lessons, the friendship of their schoolmates. Everything was natural to them except the awful news that came over the wireless and the things their Mums and Dads talked about — the houses down the road which were no more. The sweets which were rationed. The being wakened up in the middle of the night — “Come on love, wrap yourself up, we’ve all got to go down the shelter, the siren’s gone. War is not a child’s game, not in reality.
And so to us in that shelter, it somehow was not real. We were transformed from neatly dressed school girls into ghastly frightening creatures, covered all over in dust which was choking us too and some of us bleeding from cuts, one girl was particularly very badly cut. Yet somehow, there was no panic — just bewilderment. Choking, bleeding and with tears streaming down our faces, we made our way out of the shelter, over girders, plaster, bricks, wood, glass. Was this our school?
Then, through the debris we gasped as only a matter of a few yards away from where we had been in that classroom shelter, there was a huge smouldering gap, like a severed limb, where the bomb had dropped. Where below us, about ten minutes previously those that had the school dinners were assembled. Right on the target — oh God! — those cries and screams. There below us were the bodies of those children, some dead, some dying, some in terrible pain.
Stunned by the sight, we made our way down the remains of the steps to the ground floor. I shall never forget the bloody sights which were all around. One of the teachers was throw
n back onto the stairs and holding her eye, her hand covered in blood from it. I tripped over a board and fell on some glass which cut my knees and hands, but I felt no pain. Then another teacher joined us downstairs, I remember how wonderfully calm and concerned she was. She was badly cut, but soothing us with comforting words. Then I cried. Sobbed. I realised what had happened. The teacher, who herself was now crying and bleeding, wiped my eyes with her blood stained handkerchief. Then I was calm again. We started digging at the debris. I heard a soft whimper. Amidst the rubble in a corner was a friend, June, in a sitting position, one of her eyes hanging on her cheek. “June, June!” I screamed, but all she did was whimper. Then I saw a little arm and hand. Heard the screams and cries. By now, one of my classmates who was with me in the shelter, was sobbing hysterically. “We must get out.” I thought, “I must take her home, I must go home to Mummy, where’s Betty, oh Betty, where are you?” (Betty Barley was my brother’s sweetheart at the same school, she was the school captain, a lovely sweet girl of 15½).
Somehow we found our way out into the playground. There, we heard that before the bomb had been dropped, the pilot machine gunned some children were in it. I did not hear if they were killed. Now my thoughts were on getting home and telling Joe to find Betty. I do not know what my Mother felt when she saw me coming down the road, my dress spattered with blood and dust, which was also in my hair. She had only just heard that the school had been hit and was on her way. I remember she said “Oh my baby.” and fainted. Then I was at home, in my favourite chair, alive, but where was Betty, June, June? Those bodies, those screams!
By the evening, it seemed that every available man in the locality was there, digging, some with their bare hands, as was my brother, frantically searching for loved ones, hearts and hands torn. Boys in the services home on leave, digging, searching, all through the night. The Red Cross, the women in the church hall just across the road making tea, tending those brought into the hut, even the vicar in his shirt sleeves had been there since the search had begun. All with one motive, even if it meant constant danger from falling rubble — to get those little mites out.
The next morning, my father and brothers, pale and worn had many heart rendering tales to tell. My brother Joe came home only for a brief spell — he had to find Betty. She was found, as were many others — dead. She died whilst taking some smaller children down to one of the shelters. The staircase was demolished. The head mistress of the junior section of the school, our headmistress, was killed. Teachers were killed; one was never found.
A day or so afterwards I went back. I know my mother did not want me to, but I had to! I was joined by a couple of other girls, we hardly spoke, we were content to stand staring, thinking, watching the rescue work going on. Wondering why it had happened. What had we and our school done to deserve the death and destruction that was before us? Not long after we had been standing there, a kindly lady reporter came up to us and asked me to tell her all about it.
There were many newspaper stories about that fateful day, many of us had our pictures in the papers. I think a lot of other countries heard about it too. We had books and sweets and other gifts from commonwealth countries. We had three lovely weeks convalescence on that beautiful estate in Dudley, where Lord and Lady Dudley themselves, came several times to see us. We all talked about Lady Dudley. She was very beautiful and spoke so sweetly to us. We would meet her when she and her daughter were out riding. The fact that a “Lady” and a beautiful one at that, spoke to us, made a big impression on us all.
We went to tea in Birmingham Town Hall where we met the Mayor and Mayoress, and on to a pantomime, where we were treated as “guests of honour”, - yes, it did a lot to make us forget a while.
The sisters, nurses and staff at Himley Hall were all so helpful and cheerful. We enjoyed the lovely walks across the hills, picking bunches of wild daffodil. Good clean fresh air, away from war, being children once again, enjoying life as children should. Forgetting during the day, enjoying our convalescence from the recent shock, enjoying the fuss and attention, and above all, enjoying our meals at Himley Hall — those country walks certainly made us hungry!
We were alive to enjoy all this, but what of those who were dead, our friends, brothers, sisters? What of those in hospital, suffering, some of their little bodies badly maimed? During the night in our dormitory, we could hear someone crying, as I myself did. Then it would come back, the realisation of it all, and that we would not see those that we knew, again. The little boy, not long at school, who loved to sing “Auld Lang Syne”………..!
In one of my newspaper cuttings, now yellowing with age, there is a short poem which was written for the Washington Star soon after the episode. I should like to quote the last few lines:-
That God shall help men set aright
The tragic world!…..revealing light
Streams from a school at Zion’s portal.
Shining, tear-jewelled and immortal.
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