Bombs dropped in the ward of: Lewisham Central
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Lewisham Central:
- 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 Lewisham Central
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 EileenPearce (BBC WW2 People's War)
All the control staff were issued with full uniforms. We had from the beginning worn navy blue skirts and white blouses, but now to these were added navy battledress tops and, finally, overcoats and a smart cap. I didn't like wearing uniform particularly, but, as it was difficult to dress at all, let alone well, with the aid of the clothing coupons ration, the C.D. clothes were a great help, and definitely undemanding, as one was not required to look different from others, but rather the reverse.
Time progressed, and for a long time it seemed as though the good news hoped for would never come. At least the B.B.C. could be trusted in the main not to issue lies instead of news, but this meant that there was little to cheer us from the war front.
It was a very exciting moment when, late one night, the news came through of the success in North Africa, the first big success we had heard of. Our shift was just coming off duty at 11.30 and I remember running upstairs, through the old Town Hall across to the new building, downstairs to the basement and into the canteen to spread the tidings. How terrible that battle, slaughter and misery could give such a lift to the morale at home!
Work in factories and everywhere else was constantly interrupted by air raid warnings, when employees had the right to stop work and take shelter. Often, however, the bombers giving rise to the warning were still far away. The public warning system was a very blunt instrument, driving underground thousands of people in no immediate danger, and keeping them there twiddling their thumbs when they would have been better employed getting on with their work.
To meet this difficulty a system called the Alarm Within the Alert was devised, and the Civil Defence Control staffs in the Metropolitan Boroughs of London were in some cases, Lewisham being one, entrusted with the working of it. Installed in our Control Room, it consisted of a writing table with a large map of south-east England propped up on it, covered by Perspex.
This material had never been seen before, and its great virtue, as everyone now knows, was that it could be written on with the appropriate stilus and the writing rubbed off easily with a duster.
Beside the map was a telephone directly connected to a gun site somewhere on Blackheath. On the other side of the map was a push button bell, which was connected to twenty or more factories in the district. The Blackheath gunners were, of course, in communication with the Royal Observer Corps on the Coast, our first and vital defenders who, with the aid of their binoculars, kept vigilance at all times. They were still needed, even after the invention of radar, the next line of defence.
When enemy aircraft approached the coast, our direct line would ring, and we in the Control Room would be connected so that we were eavesdropping on the "plots" passed to the site, from the Observer Corps or Radar, for the Ac Ac gun to be fired with the correct range and bearing. From these plots we indicated the course of the enemy on the map. This was quite an exciting addition to our more humdrum duties, and, though we all had to train to know what to do, Tiddles and I were soon the usual two on our shift to cope with the Alarm within the Alert System, soon called "the Hushmum", as we were sworn to secrecy as to its existence and purpose.
Required secrecy about matters of this kind came under the Official Secrets Act, Clause 18B, (but I have no idea to what clauses 18A or indeed 18C might have referred).
This Alarm within the Alert System caused quite a flutter among the people on the Local Authority Staff who provided the greater part of the Civil Defence Control. There were ten groups of/ about a dozen people culled from the staff in the Town Hall, Libraries and other establishments situated near the Control Room, and each group was on duty one day in ten, a "day" being twenty-four hours. Each group had an officer-in-charge drawn from people in a senior position on the staff. The Civil Defence Controller for the Borough was the Town Clerk, and the Deputy Controller was the Deputy Town Clerk. The Message Room staff to which Joanna and I belonged saw the clock round in eight-hour shifts, and dealt with the day-to-day happenings between air raid warning times, as well as being on duty during alerts. When the Officer-in-Charge was in the Control Room, we were responsible to him.
The Stretcher Parties also came under the Borough Council, but the Heavy Rescue was the responsibility of the London County Council, and the Officers were mostly Architects, like Adrian, seconded from the L.C.C.'s Architectural Department, or, alternatively, Engineers.
The Alarm Within the Alert was outside the ordinary Civil Defence system, and came under the Ministry of Defence, so that the Town Hall Shifts were not initiated into its mysteries. There it was installed in a corner of the room, but they were supposed to look the other way and not ask questions. I cannot think it was so very secret, but no one ever questioned us about it, and we never told anyone anything.
There were circles drawn on our map of the southeast, one far out over Surrey and Kent, and another tightly in around Lewisham and neighbouring Boroughs. When the telephone bell rang the two allotted the duty sprang to it and seated themselves at the table with the map before them. This map was covered with newly invented Perspex on which the plots were drawn and could easily be rubbed off with a duster. Tiddles (Doreen Chivrall) and I were the usual pair to perform this duty on our shift, as Nicky (Ann Nicholson) was the senior one of our shift of four, and Frankie (Olive Leonard) though charming, willing and extremely ornamental was far from swift in her reactions when plots came thick and fast. We all had some training in converting the plots into arrows on the map, but some of us were quicker than others.
Incidentally, (Oh, Women's Lib!) it had been found that the girls were rather quicker than the boys when tests of speed in these tasks had been made, or so we were told by our instructor.
The map was, I suppose, the ordinary kind used in military circles, and was divided into large and small squares. Each enemy aircraft was given a number which came first over the direct line followed by the ominous term "Hostile", and this was followed by a combination of letters and numbers, together with a direction (N.E., N.W., or whatever) enabling us to pinpoint the position of the aircraft and its direction and to draw an arrow appropriately. Once a plot crossed the outer circle we were on the qui vive to give the alarm to our factories by pressing the push button wholeheartedly and long should the inner circle also be penetrated.
We both wore headphones, one of us entering the plots in a book and the other inserting the arrows on the map. The tension eased slightly once the alarm had been given, but, on the other hand, it increased in that we knew the enemy was more or less overhead, and we would often feel the vibration if something fell not far away, and even hear the drone of the bomber's engines if it passed near enough, in spite of being underground.
Of course, we were given plenty of practice with our new toy by being connected to the gunsite when they had time to carry out exercises, and these dummy runs were always prefixed by the word "Exercise." Tiddles and I were plunged in at the deep end when the installation in the Control Room was completed. The electrician had just connected the last wire and we were all, including Mr. Alan Smith, the Controller, standing round admiring the pristine map and general set up, when the bell rang. Tiddles and I had been designated for that day's duty, so I picked up the receiver and heard "Hostile" - followed by a plot, "Hostile", I squeaked, and, before we knew where we were, we were madly plotting and writing in an area unexpectedly close to our Lewisham boundary. Within a few seconds the first aeroplane had penetrated our sacred circle, swiftly followed by four or five others.
We pressed our button, but there cannot have been more than the briefest of warnings before the bombs were dropping. We did, however, beat the public system, as the air raid sirens were sounded only after the bombs were dropped.
What had happened was this: about half a dozen German planes had come in over the coast, where I suppose they had been reported by the Observer Corps, but they had then descended to a very low level so that they had got below the Radar, and, daringly, they had hedge hopped all the way to South London.
By the time we received our first plot, which may well have come from the Observer Corps, they were almost upon us. They were, of course, flying below the barrage balloons, almost at roof height, and we heard the roar of the engines.
Although there were no casualties in "our" factories, who duly received our first ever warning just in time to scram, this was for Lewisham a tragic raid, as there was a direct hit on the primary school in Sandhurst Road, near the Town Hall; forty-seven children and three teachers were killed, and many injured. As there had been rather less aerial activity for a time since the early blitz, many parents had decided to bring their children back from the evacuation areas, otherwise no doubt the casualties would have been fewer, but it is easy to be wise after the event.
Contributed originally by Thurza Blurton (BBC WW2 People's War)
SOME MEMORIES OF MY WAR
I have a store of memories of the second world war. Here are a few of the most unforgettable.
When the war started, I lived in Lewisham, South East London, with my parents and older sister, Connie.
She and I were 'called up' for war work. And Dad volunteered for the A R P (Air Raid Precautions). He was a Member of the Light Rescue Division. This was responsible for administering first aid to the injured after they had been dug out by the Heavy Rescue. Dad had a terrific sense of humour and kept us and those around from going insane, by the funny things he said.
Mum did as much for the war effort as the rest of us. Like many other mums, who kept the 'home fires burning,' so to speak. She always had a hot meal ready for us when we got home, which had to be eaten quickly before the Sirens sounded, warning us of approaching enemy aircraft. We'd have to run down to the Anderson air raid shelter in the garden, which was affectionately called - 'the dug-out.'
Sirens sounded. Some nights (and days) if the warning went while we were having a meal we'd pick up our plates and hurry down to the shelter with them.
On one particular occasion, though terrified, Mum made us laugh by putting the plate on top of her head to protect it from the bombs.
Dad was on duty at Greenwich one night and we other three and our Scotch terrier, Judy were in the 'dug out,' Bombs were dropping fast and furious. They were chucking everything down that night. 'even iron bedsteads,' Dad said afterwards. Which reminds me of when the government confiscated all the iron they could lay it's hands on for the war effort. They took the railings from the front of our houses. I don't think any of them were replaced.
But as I was saying, on this particular night, the three of us were chatting in the shelter. We talked about this and that to try and take our minds off the bombing. Mum told us what had been happening that day. In the afternoon there was a raid including incendiary bombs. Mum went to the front door to see if any passer-by wanted to come in until the ALL CLEAR sounded when an incendiary landed on the doorstep. Mum picked it up hoping to throw it into the road, (I don't think she intended to chuck it back up!) but an Air Raid Warden shouted at her, "Put that 'bleepy' thing down, you silly 'bleeper'". Mum dropped it, rushed indoors and shammed the door. Luckily, the bomb didn't flare up, but burnt a hole in the doorstep, where it remained until the house was bombed all together. But that's another part of the story.
Anyway we had a good laugh when Mum told us all about it.
Another night we were in the shelter when heavy bombing was in progress. Suddenly Connie screamed.
Mum said, "Don't worry love, we're all here together. (Meaning if we got killed, we would all go together).
"It's not that," Connie cried pointing to the pile of blankets which served as our communal bed, "There's a mouse in there." To say we were terrified, was putting it mildly. We scrambled through the opening of the shelter and stood leaning against it, too afraid to stay inside with the mouse. We stuffed our fingers in our ears, because the noise was more deafening out in the open.
Dad found us there when he came off duty.
"What are you doing out here you silly 'bleepers,?' he asked, "It's not safe, get back inside."
"There's a mouse in there," we said in unison.
Dad got rid of it and we all scrambled back into the shelter. Dad said, "If Hitler had dropped a load of mice instead of bombs, he'd have won this 'bleepy' war."
Dad used to tell us what happened while he was on active duty; not the really bad things, though there were plenty of those; like how, who and where they'd been killed. One night, Dad was attending to a wounded family who'd been rescued from it's demolished Anderson shelter.
Dad tried to comfort an elderly lady. "Don't worry love," he said, you'll be alright, the ambulance is here."
"My leg, my leg," she cried, "Where's my leg."
Dad called to one of the other men, "Tourniquet wanted here, leg off. " It was difficult to see exactly what had happened it was so dark. The men daren't use torches, the light would be seen from the air and make a perfect target for enemy bombers.
The injured were carried on stretchers and into the
ambulance. The lady wearing the tourniquet was still shouting about her missing leg. Her husband tried to soothe her. Then he whispered to my dad, "Did you find her leg?" "They're looking for it mate, " Dad answered, knowing there was no chance of finding it. Just as the driver started the engine, the lady's husband said, "It was propped up against the shelter just inside the door."
"What was?" Dad asked.
"Her wooden leg," he replied.
In the factory where I worked, there were humorous notices stuck around the walls to keep up our morale. One read: 'You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps.' And,
'If an incendiary bomb falls through the roof, do not lose your head, put it in a bucket and throw sand on it.' This was meant to be serious. There were other notices, not so polite.
The night that's etched on my memory for all time, was in nineteen forty one, the day after boxing day. It was a dreadful night. The bombing was particularly horrendous. South East London and the surrounding districts were continually being blown up and so many fires that some people described it as the second great fire of London. Dad was on duty at the time, not only heavy bombs were dropping but incendiaries as well and as we had to put them out, we couldn't go into the shelter; as fast as they were extinguished, more flared up. After sometime when things had died down a bit, we were exhausted, so we went indoors to make some tea. Suddenly, Judy, our dog, barked at us and crawled underneath the kitchen table.
"Why is she doing that?" I asked.
It must have been a few seconds later we knew why. We didn't hear the bomb, it was too near. The first thing I knew, was coming round after being knocked out. I felt sticky all over and slowly realised it was blood which seemed to be everywhere and I was spitting out debris and trying to remove glass from my face and clothes. This was difficult to do when you can't see what you're doing in the dark with debris and bombs still dropping around.
I mumbled in the darkness, "I've been injured."
Mum answered, her voice barely above a whisper as she was still dazed, "So have |."
We waited for Connie to reply. But she didn't. Then Mum's voice again, "Con, Con, you alright?"
No answer. We feared the worst. We waited and waited. Then at last we heard my sister's muffled voice, "My head feels as if it's been cut, but I'm O K"
'Thank God," Mum said.
Mum wasn't sure where she'd been injured, but everywhere was hurting.
Even though I was twenty one years old, I was a bit childish
at that moment.
"What about the doggy, she warned us about this?"
Then we heard a little bark as much as to say, "I'm still alive."
"Arrrhs!" were heard.
We had to wipe the dust from our eyes before we could open them. We were all covered in glass, which was responsible for most of our injuries. We groped around trying to find our bearings in pitch dark and talking to each other all the time, mostly about our dear Dad and praying that he was alive. We weren't in the dark for long. There was a whoosh! and flames shot up in front of us, revealing a deep crater where the front of the house had been. We grabbed tight of each other as we stumbled through the rubble. There was another whoosh! Flames surrounded us. We heard afterwards that the gas main had been hit.
Judy stayed close to us as we picked our way over the rubble to find a way out. It was a miracle she was unscathed, because the table she had sheltered under wasn't there any more.
"Come on," Mum said, "We'll try and find a way into the back garden." How we managed that is still a mystery, because there was another crater where the back of the house had been.
But eventually we managed to find the garden and were relieved to find the dug out still intact and stayed there what seemed hours as the bombing continued. We took some comfort from the sound of the Ack Ack guns fighting back, on Blackheath and in Greenwich.
"Perhaps someone will soon come and rescue us," Mum said hopefully.
"I wonder what's happened to Dad," we kept saying.
Then at last, we heard a voice call out, "Are you in there?" It was our wonderful Dad. It was a dreadful shock to him when he came home and found his home in ruins and wondered if we were still in the land of the living. As Dad began to make his way among the rubble the warden in charge tried to stop him. "There's no one left in there he shouted, "You can't go in it's too dangerous.
"You can't tell me what to do, my family is in there somewhere. You can't stop me 'I'm Light Rescue," Dad shouted back, pulling rank.
I can't describe the look of relief on all our faces when we found our family was still in one piece, (well almost) And we kept thanking God.
As Dad was helping us out of the shelter, Mum said to Dad, "Your dinner's in the oven, it's your favourite, boiled bacon." She must have been joking.
"Oven!" Dad cried, "There's no 'bleepy' oven there."
Trust Dad to give a funny answer as well. That's what our family were like, no matter how bad the situation we'd see the funny side. It's the worst situation we have ever been in. We all laughed hilariously. It was really hysteria, but it was better than crying and feeling sorry for ourselves. The tears came next day, when we found we had no home left.
Dad was our rock of Gibraltar, not only did we love him to bits, we felt safer when he was with us.
Anyway, Dad attended to our wounds as best he could and took us to the nearby first aid station. Then a make-shift ambulance, a grocery van, took us to the hospital (a school in Greenwich). After we' d been attended to, we spent the night trying to sleep. Connie and I were given a children's wooden form to lie on. We didn't get any sleep. It was too uncomfortable. My left arm was in a sling and the other side of my body, my bottom had been jabbed with a needle,
with something to keep me quiet because I couldn't stop talking.
Mum laid on the table usually used for another purpose,
I won't mention what. Then when the 'ALL CLEAR' sounded Dad and our little dog walked all the way from Lewisham to Charlton where his sister lived. Next day, we managed to salvage one or two bits from the pile of rubble that had once been our home. We found the left-over piece of pork from our Boxing Day dinner and the rest of the Christmas cake Mum had baked and iced, she'd saved up the rations for months for this.
Dad went to Greenwich Town Hall to beg some clothing coupons, telling the man in charge that we only had what we stood up in.
Then a cousin took us in his van to the auntie at Charlton and she took us in until we found somewhere else to live. It was the day of my uncle's, her husband's funeral. He was a Signal man at Victoria Station and had been killed in an air raid while on duty, so we all comforted each other. At auntie's house we washed the pork under the tap and dusted off the cake and ate them.
There were many casualties that night in South East London, A lot of fatalities including our neighbours.
This following memory is a 'favourite' of mine. Amongst the ruins of our house was a thin column of bricks that had once been part of my bedroom wall.
It reached up into the sky and there was still a scrap of wallpaper stuck to it; clinging bravely to this, was a small picture of Jesus surrounded by children of all colours and nationalities. This was given to me in 1934 when I left school at the age of fourteen. I have taken it with me every time I moved home. It's always hung on my bedroom wall above my head.
Copyright Thurza Blurton. Mrs Thurza Blurton
5 Mosyer Drive
Kent BR5 4PN 01689 873717
Contributed originally by Eric Clarkson (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is an account of my experiences from 2 September 1939 through to mid-July 1940.
It all began in the last days of peace in 1939. We had been away on holiday at Barmouth for three weeks, that is my Dad and Mum, my brother who could only have two weeks holiday, a friend of ours Cyril Worsell, and my uncle Cyril and his son Trevor who was a little younger than me. We had had a good time learning to sail, going for long walks, and playing cricket on the sands. But the threat of war was always there.
All good things have to come to an end and so it was with this holiday. No sooner had we returned than I had to report back to school. School for me was what we now call year 12. I had not done very well in my General Schools exams in May 1939 and I was due to repeat the course work in my 6th year at Grammar School. School for me was Brockley County Secondary School in Lewisham.
“We had to report at school today and prepare for evacuation.” So reads my diary entry for 28th August 1939. Next day it reads “Did the same as yesterday, lot of Gas Mask drill” - I should add that we had had Gas Masks from the year before in 1938.
Friday 1st September the entry reads “Told this afternoon to prepare to evacuate the next morning”
So it was that some 250 – 300 boys assembled in the school hall and walked down to the local station at Ladywell. As I recall my mother was there to see us off. This would have been about 10.00 o’clock. At school we had been given a brown paper carrier bag, and we all had our Gas Masks and a medium sized suitcase which contained a change of clothes. In the carrier bag were things which were to keep us going until we got some food. The contents are, a packet of Rich Tea biscuits, some sandwiches, an apple and an orange, a tin of Condensed Milk, but best of all a big bar of chocolate.
Because I was one of the older children we didn’t need to have a label with our name on, it was assumed we knew who we were!
Once on the train you can imagine that we discussed among ourselves where we might be going. Well, the train puffed its way through many unfamiliar stations on the southern outskirts of London. All we could tell was that we were going in a southerly direction. Eventually after about two hours we drew into a small station called Jarvisbrook, its now called Crowborough. Lined up outside were a large number of country buses and into these we piled for onward move to our destination. This turned out to be Wadhurst a small village in E. Sussex.
On arrival, we then had a roll call to be sure that no-one has got lost on the way. We were told to wait outside the hall and await the billeting officer to come and allocate us to whoever were to be our hosts.
My friend Colin Boxall and I had agreed that if were possible we should stick together, but time went by and nobody came to pick us out. I expect that they took one look at us and thought we would take a lot of feeding.
Fortunately it was a lovely summer’s day and not unpleasant to be outside. About three o’clock a smart car drew up and a young man only a couple of years older than us came up to the billeting officer and asked if there were four boys together. Quick as a flash a couple standing near us, Charlie Rye and Geoff Roberts with whom we were fairly friendly, put up our hands.
Off we went, going back about two miles from the direction from which we had come. This young man was at University and training to be a Doctor. The car in which we were riding was a Triumph Vitesse which was quite a posh car for those days. Soon we were delivered to the front door of a big house called ‘Bensfield’
The lady who owned it was called Mrs Leete and it was her grandson who had picked us up from the village.
Once indoors were found the we has been allocated two bedrooms with twin beds in both, so Colin and I shared one room and left Charlie and Geoff to share the other.
At first we ate with the servants of whom there were five, three maids, a cook and a kitchen maid. Outside there were two gardeners who each lived in a semi detached house in the grounds of this very large house. It must have had at least 20 rooms besides the usual ‘offices’. There was also a chauffeur called Fillery who didn’t seem to care for us much.
At first we had our meals with the servants but Mrs Leete soon realised that this was not the best use of the space she had available especially as we needed room to do our homework. So she kindly let us have the use of her dining room.
We were fortunate because not only did we have plenty of good food but were very well treated. We even had the use of a half size billiard table and a table tennis table in the games room.
Some of our friends were not so lucky. In a few homes the food was neither good or plentiful. Some of our lads even found that they already had some occupants in their beds!
Mrs Leete like all other folk who had evacuees was paid 10/6 a week or 52 ½`pence in today’s money.This was paid by the Government
On Sunday 3rd September I went to the parish church in Wadhurst but we were only there for about fifteen minutes before a message was brought in to the Vicar saying that war had been declared and he said we should all go home. Shortly after leaving the church we heard the wailing sound of the Air Raid Siren and we all wondered what was going to happen. Actually the ‘All Clear’ sounded not long after. We had had the first of many false alarms.
It was some days before we went to school again. It seemed that no-one had told us that we should turn up on the Monday. In the mean time one of the gardeners decided that with these four lads he could occupy their time profitably in what hecalled ‘thistle dodging’ which meant going into one of the fields surrounding the house and chopping down thistles.
What we eventually found had been arranged was that three village halls had been hired, and these were used until we got a more permanent building in May 1940. The building which we used as a school was in Ticehurst a few miles farther on from Wadhurst and was called ‘Oakover’. It was in that building that I resat my exams and was pleased with my results when they were given as I had matriculated.
The winter of 1939/40 was very snowy and we found a toboggan in the garage and set about making good use of it. Unfortunately it was a bit old and one day as three of us were aboard we went over a hump and when we landed one of the wooden bars broke.
As we tumbled off I tore my trousers on the screwhead and had to get one of the parlourmaids to mend it for me which she did quite cheerfully. The cook was excellent and we really enjoyed the meals she prepared.
In May 1940 following the Dunkirk evacuation Mr.Anthony Eden made a broadcast asking for volunteers to form Local Defence Volunteer (LDV) groups. This name was later changed to the Home Guard. We were too young to join but we enrolled as runners. At first there were no weapons available but the day came when P.14 rifles arrived, theses used .303 ammunition but had been in store since the end of the 1st World War and were covered in thick grease. Fortunately we boys were excused the job of removing all the grease, that was left to the volunteers!!
The following gives an indication of the generosity of Mrs.Leete.
When we went to ‘Oakover’ in May 1940 Mrs.Leete was very concerned about our midday meal because there were no cooking facilities which could cope with 200 or so boys. We had to make do with corned beef and potato chips with an apple for desert. So she arranged that we should go to the local public house and made the proviso that we had a master who was willing to be with us. She paid for our meal,
which I think was 1/6p, but I think that Mr Walmsey had to pay for his meal himself.
Incidentally we became a co-ed school because Mr Walmsley’s daughter, Sonia was the only girl in the school and she also had her meal with us.
After I had left school I went back to see Mrs.Leete at least a couple of times but by then the school had been moved to S. Wales
I eventually left school in July 1940 and went back to London before the blitz started in September1940, and got a job with the Metropolitan Water Board ,but that’s another story.