Bombs dropped in the ward of: Perry Vale
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Perry Vale:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Perry Vale
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Contributed originally by Charles Nightingale (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was only one at the outbreak of war, one of four children born between 1935 and 1941. Memory starts with seeing my brother brought home after he was born in 1941, when I was just three. We lived in the road that led from Penge to Crystal Palace. At least four houses in it were flattened, and more than half including ours were damaged. I do not recall the collapse of our roof but was often told of my fathers dramatic trip up the stairs through a fog of powdered plaster, to rescue me: I was 'miraculously' lying in my cot surrounded by debris, yet unharmed. My mother has told me that one night at the height of the night-time blitz, she and my father abandoned hope, when the bombs seemed to be setting fire to the whole neighbourhood. They lay in each others arms waiting for the end with the sound of Armageddon in their ears. The sky, all around, was flickering red she said.
Mostly, though, we used to sit under the stairs wearing ghoulish Mickey Mouse gas-masks. My mother had Edward, my youngest brother inside a sort of capsule into which she used to pump air, whilst my father was fire watching. There were frequent air-raids which I enjoyed, because I was brought down stairs. I felt no fear, I didn't think we could be hit, since my mother showed no fear herself. I knew that people were hit though. At a nursery school I attended one child stopped appearing at school and I heard that she had been killed. I recall her name, Valerie, because I had sat next to her for a time. I kept her drawing book in which she had painted what she said was “A pea family”. I guess she had been told the flowers she drew were members of that botanical order.
During the raids my mother used to look into a coal fire which we could see from the door of the “air raid shelter”, and make up stories which were inspired by shapes she showed us in the fire. After the war, I boasted about her apparent courage when my first 'girl' came to tea. My mother interrupted: “I was in a state of blue funk from start to finish” she said. My father was not afraid though - he had been in the trenches and fought in the Battle of the Somme. He had got used to being shelled all day every day. “But as long as you don't have to do anything” he said, “its OK”. Neither he nor we thought anything of his Somme medal. “We all got them” he told us – no heroics then – we believed him.
Each morning after a raid we ran to school, hoping to see new bomb damage, and find shrapnel which boys collected. We backed onto the cricket field in the Crystal Palace Grounds (now a park, then being used by the army). One could trace the line of bomb craters, like a malevolent giant's footsteps stalking across the field culminating in a direct hit on a large nursing home (Parklands). This was largely destroyed leaving only a beautiful dome almost like the Hiroshima memorial. Like all the kids we played amongst the willow herb in the dangerous ruins. We and our friends 'owned' bomb-craters which remained for years after the end of the war. The water filled ones were very educational - with dragonflies, water-boatmen, water-spiders and so on. One night an incendiary bomb fell in our tiny front garden, and my mother couldn't open the sack of sand you were supposed to empty on them. She says she tipped the cat's earth box on it - but I have no recollection of that. Another time the soldiers in the requisitioned house next door, who we children had befriended, pulled us into their practice trenches when a siren suddenly sounded in the day. I looked up and saw a plane screaming across the sky with tiny sparks on the leading edge of its wings. For us it was a Spitfire shooting down a Messerschmitt, but of course it might have been the other way round.
When the V1's began to arrive it was very terrifying, as they sometimes came with no siren. When their engine cut out, the residents below had a few uneasy seconds to wonder where they were going to land. It was said you could hear them coming through the air, if they had your house number on them. We were fortunate to survive a narrow escape, but it pushed my poor mother into a nervous breakdown. She had set out with us from Crystal Palace, to visit Horniman’s museum which was situated in nearby Forest Hill. As we came out of the house, I looked up and saw what appeared to me to be an odd-looking aircraft. I was familiar with the shapes of the more common planes that flew around, but this seemed quite unlike them, having very stubby wings. Whether this was the V1 that occurs later in the story I don't know. If it was, it must have circled around for at least fifteen minutes before it fulfilled its purpose. We took a bus near to the museum - and stopped off at a sweet shop. There my mother got into an argument with the shop assistant who was talking with another person instead of attending to her. We were all obliged to walk out as an ostentatious demonstration of my mother’s anger. We children were not pleased as we walked along toward the museum. A few minutes later there was the loudest bang I had ever heard, and some of us fell down. As we got up we saw that a bus had stopped at a rather acute angle to the kerb - I don't know if it was pushed there by the residual blast or if the driver reacted in surprise. He looked at us and asked us if we were hurt. My mother was very shocked, and he offered us a free ride back to our street which we accepted. As we went past the row of shops my mother shouted that the sweet shop, from which we had walked in a huff, had been 'bombed out'. I looked and saw a lot of bricks and glass lying at the side of the road and people running out of surrounding buildings. Later on she used to swear that the shop had been completely demolished, but I don't recall seeing any actual gap in the stand of shops.
Shortly after that my mother told my father that she couldn't take any more and we left for Oxford to stay with relations. My mother just wrote them a letter and set out once she thought they had got it. On the way we saw the build up of war materiel at the side of the track. I watched a Bristol Beaufighter land amid huge clouds of smoke. My mother asked my father if it had crashed, but I think it was just dust on a hot summers day. All the aeroplanes and gliders had black and white stripes on their wings - all boys knew them to be 'invasion planes'. On the train a kind older couple agreed to take my two older sisters for the night. They later reported that they were terrified and thought the kindly woman was trying to poison them when she offered sweets. On arrival at Oxford I got lost, and was taken in hand by a WAAF who sat with me where she found me, until my father reappeared. As we approached the house of my aunt we saw her sitting in an upstairs window. I couldn’t follow the conversation between her and my mother, but in later years I heard that it went something like this. Mother – desperately: “Did you get my letter? Aunt - frigidly: “yes – but didn’t you get my telegram?” We stayed in Oxford for 14 weeks with a nice old couple who couldn’t have been kinder, with five extra people to cope with – my father having returned to London. We took a trip down the river to Abingdon, our steamer staying close to another one full of young men in cobalt blue uniforms, some with manifest injuries. “Aren’t they quiet?” my mother said to two ladies we were befriended by. It turned out they were convalescent American aircrew. “They are on our side” my mother said. I have never forgotten their white uncertain faces. They had seen the horrific face of war.
The V1 menace passed as the invading forces overran the launch sites, and we returned. On the way up the hill from the station we heard – out of the blue – a sudden huge bang. It was the second loudest I ever heard, after the V1 in Forest Hill. We got home very shaken, to hear later that a new weapon had been launched at us – the first of the V2 rockets. Even aged six I could see how crestfallen my poor mother looked. And a week or so later her sister’s flat was badly damaged when one hit one end of Park Court, the stylish apartment block lower down the street in which she lived with her son. The boy, who was my age, told me he had looked at the wreckage and seen the V2’s nose “with German writing on it”. At the time I believed him but of course it was nonsense. His mother broke down and my elder sister later acted out the sudden collapse in tears which she had witnessed. “Uncle Jim hasn’t written since he was taken prisoner”, she told us. He had been captured at some point, which my mother rather callously told us “was not very glorious”. Other husbands, sons and fathers were not so lucky. I recall a discussion between my sympathetic mother and a friend who had lost a son, where the phrase “right through his helmet” in a rising tone of distress culminated in a hysterical outburst which I found frightening.
I was in bed when news of the surrender came. All the electric trains whose tracks infested the area stopped and turned on their strange whistles. The next morning the world was exactly the same, but completely different. It was a sunny day and looking at the urban flower beds near the shops I got a picture of blue sky, green grass and scarlet flowers, and it was peace. There were lots of celebrations, and we walked up to Crystal Palace and looked out over the city where bonfire after bonfire into the distance were blazing like ever receding sparks.
The park with its bomb-craters and its reel upon reel of barbed wire and other seemingly unused equipment was cleared by the German prisoners and we befriended them as we had the soldiers before them. One said to my mother “We give you tea, we demand coffee”, just like a real German was supposed to talk, but she understood it was a confusion in the simple English they were learning. The trade was established. They used to sit in a circle at their breaks and sing snatches of English songs they were learning “Spring is coming, spring is coming, all the little bees are humming”. One man picked up my little brother who had long blond hair and danced with him in his arms saying “I am going to take him back to Germany”. I ran in, in a panic, thinking he was going to finally show his true Nazi qualities, but my mother was watching from the gate and just took my hand. Peace had arrived, and with it my little brother’s epilepsy, and a polio outbreak which raged around the area. That vision of blue sky, red flowers and green grass has stayed with me all my life – I always dream of peace. But I know now it’s the one thing you never get – that dream cannot be realised.
Images in Perry Vale
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