Bombs dropped in the borough of: Newham
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Newham:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Newham
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 1
My name is Reg Yates. I lived in London at Canning Town, London E.16 and Plaistow E.13 during WW2, going to Beckton Road Junior and Rosetta Road Schools except for my periods as an evacuee to Bath during September to Christmas 1939,then Cropredy May 1940 - July 1942.
I then worked at A. Bedwells, Barking Road delivering groceries for the rest of the war.
I'm still alive and kicking! Anyone remember me?
A Community Coming Together
War clouds came and we had to dig a big hole in each garden at least three and a half feet deep, at least six feet wide and roughly eight feet long depending on the size of the family using it, an awesome task. All the neighbours pooled resources and after about two months hard work most houses had a hole and had the Anderson Shelter erected to the supplied instructions. We had to make sure the rear exit worked properly. Two-tier bunk beds 2 x 6 feet one side and one other bunk bed and two chairs were there along with a bucket for the toilet and a bucket of water to drink. We never knew how long we would have to stay in there. During The Blitz we had to stay all night.
The shelters proved to be a godsend as they survived everything except a direct hit. They survived near misses and houses falling on top of them. People came out shaken but alive. They were worth their weight in gold.
There was another shelter built to fix over the kitchen table, steel top and legs for people who could get underneath in an emergency. Safe from falling masonry, it was called a Morrison Shelter after Lord Morrison a Labour Lord at the time.
I started smoking about this time. I could buy five woodbines and a box of matches for two pence, boys will be boys. I also remember going on an errand for my Dad, I had to take a letter to a house in Wanlip Road, Plaistow and she had tiles on the walk up from the gate to front door. She went ballistic because I dared to skate up to her front door. She made me take them off whilst she wrote a note to my Dad saying what a cheeky so and so I was for skating up to her door and that if I came again I would have to walk to teach me a lesson.
There were plenty of rumours about kids having to get evacuated very soon and on 1st September 1939 we were transported to Paddington Station and put on a train to the country.
We all had to say goodbye to our parents at school after they tied a label around our necks with name, date of birth, religion and which school we were from. So just after my eleventh birthday I said goodbye to Beckton Road School for the first time and landed up in the old city of Bath in Somerset.
Evacuated For The First Time
It was only two weeks after my eleventh birthday when we arrived at Bath Junction signal box, and someone said “just the thing for you kids from the smoke, a bloody great bath.” I didn’t realise what he meant until years later!
I was sent to a place called Walcott in Bath, and I was sent to a Mr & Mrs Pierce who to my eyes, were quite old looking. However, they were very nice people and looked after me very well.
They had a middle-aged navvy with whom I shared a bedroom, and our own beds I’m glad to say. I remember him getting dressed for work, hobnail boots, corduroy trousers and he tied about nine inches of car tyres around his kneecaps. He had a walrus moustache and looked a fearsome bloke to look at, but was a gentle chap really.
My two sisters were evacuated to a house just around the corner up a steep hill. Doris was eight years old and Joyce was thirteen and a half. They stayed with nice people who had two girls of their own of about eight to ten years of age. We all went to the local school along with about forty other kids from London.
We all had to sing a hymn ‘For those in peril on the sea.’ Just before Christmas we lost an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, with great loss of life and most of the sailors came from the West Country. The local rag had pages and pages of photos of those lost on the carrier.
Sometime in November 1939 I was playing a game called catch and kiss with some of the locals. This time they went along the road at the top of the hill. On one corner was a grocers shop, which had a wall with big white letters, “we sell Hovis bread”. What I didn’t know at that moment was that the police had very recently made the shopkeeper black it out as it could be seen from an aeroplane.
Running at full pelt, I ran straight into it thinking it was the turning. I was in hospital for three weeks. When I started school again, I could not see the teachers’ writing on the board.
At the end of December our Mum came to Bath to see us, and after saying goodbye to my sisters and all the other kids, she took me back to London so I could have treatment for my eyes. I had damaged my optic nerve and have worn glasses ever since.
Joyce came home in February 1940 when she was fourteen, but Doris stayed there until just before the end of the war in 1945.
Christmas and New Year came and went, 1940 began and the war was getting worse. I think rationing was introduced about now and some foods were already becoming scarce. Cigarette cards disappeared from packets to save paper and you couldn’t buy pickles loose in a basket.
A couple of weeks went by and the time came to go back to school. Nothing much changed as most children who got evacuated the previous September were still away, but a few more seemed to come back every weekend.
The Beckton Road School was taken over by The National Fire Service, a first aid post and umpteen other things so they found the kids another school called Rosetta Road (off Freemasons Road) that was built of wood and all on one level after the First World War when all the servicemen came home.
Council workmen had dug some slit trenches just in case of an air raid but they looked useless to me, because if it rained it would be like running into a mud bath.
There was some talk about kids having to leave London again and come May it proved to be true and about seventy of us from this school were sent to Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Later in 1942 Mum and Dad moved to Wigston Road that was the next turning. Most people had moved because of the bombing.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 3
Having returned from being an evacuee, on my 14th birthday I started work for a firm called A. Bedwell & Sons who supplied grocery and provisions, delivering to grocery shops around London, Essex and some parts of Kent.
The firm no longer exists as the end of the war saw delivering to shops become outdated with big warehouses springing up who sold to shopkeepers willing to pay for goods as they wanted them in bulk.
I started as a van boy and when I was seventeen, I was officially allowed to drive a one ton van all by myself, and took another van boy on our delivery through Blackwall Tunnel, up the big hill to Blackheath and via Kidbrooke to Crystal Palace, then back via Lydenham and through Blackwall Tunnel again. Quite a nice day’s work, safe and sound. I really enjoyed myself and have never looked back.
We also had to pick up a load from various wharfs, another warehouse and some firms, at the same time looking out for any chance of getting things that were on ration. The war never ended until I was seventeen years old and rationing didn’t cease completely until about 1952, although as time passed things got easier and easier.
One of the vans I drove was an old model T type Ford with large back wheels and the body on top of the chassis, which made it heavy. It was hard to control in wet weather, the engine was so ‘clapped out’ it couldn’t climb a hill to save its life and it used half a gallon of oil every day which used to come out of the radiator cap with hot water, making an awful mess.
Going to one shop in Potters Bar we would fill the van right up to the maximum weight and at a big, long, steep hill we would try to get at least half way where there was a gate that allowed us to turn around and reverse the rest of the way up until just before the top where we turned around in a field and continued to the top facing the right way but smoking and steaming.
We kept complaining about the van and after about three months it would not start, so the garage mechanic said he would take it off the road and strip it down. The next day he called me in the garage to see the state of the engine. The van was eighteen years old so I expected the worst but was still amazed. The inside of the piston bore was red rust and oval instead of round and the valves were burnt so much that the round bit at the top of the valve was half the width they should be. He reckoned the engine had been running on fresh air for years.
He told the boss it would cost more to repair than to buy a new one, which was reluctantly agreed to and so he bought a smaller van which is similar to today’s transit.
The new van climbed the hill in Potters Bar first time, but on the way back I skidded it in the rain and finished side ways in a ditch which I managed to get towed out for a couple of quid. Luckily there was no damage apart from some paint scratches, which the mechanic sorted out for me for a drink. Nobody was any the wiser - I hope!
Another day I was driving a long wheelbase Bedford lorry in Leytonstone and the steering snapped, I hit the kerb and finished in someone’s front garden, lucky again! All this in my first year as a driver, mishap after mishap.
There was another time while I was driving to Romford in monsoon conditions at about ten in the morning, I got as far as The Dukes Head pub in Barking when I saw a trolley bus at a stop on the opposite side of the road and an army three ton lorry coming along behind it to overtake. The army lorry stopped beside the bus leaving me nowhere to go except between the army lorry and a lamp post which I did, but the top of the body and sides of my truck jammed between the lamp post and army lorry with the rest including me continuing down the road for twenty yards. To make matters worse all the goods were now exposed to the elements. It was like a scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie!
Fortunately for me a police car behind the army lorry stopped and the officer told the army driver to stay put, then guided me back under the van’s body. We borrowed some rope from a nearby garage and tied down the body to the floor. After ticking off the army driver for being so stupid he escorted me back to my firm near the Abbey Arms in Plaistow. Another one I got away with!
While I was a van boy and still only sixteen, (you couldn’t legally drive until seventeen) my driver decided to teach me how to drive the van. He put a blindfold on me and made me feel the gears, levers, clutch and gas. Then he revved the engine so I could hear the sound of the engine and feel the clutch ‘bite’, and drove so I would know by the sound of the engine when to change gear. Soon he taught me to drive the van for real on the quiet back roads and eventually let me on the open road.
Every Tuesday while he was courting, he would pick up his girlfriend from work and take her home where he went in for a bit of nookie. I had to wait in the van before we carried on with our deliveries. Her mother always used to make me apple pie and custard, which I ate in the van while waiting. Once he had taught me to drive, he let me take the van on my own (age sixteen) to continue deliveries while he had his nookie.
During Christmas 1945, my mate who was my driver got married to his girlfriend. She lived in Gidea Park, Romford and worked at Romford Steam Laundry (where Romford Police Station is now). The wedding was a big feast and drink up, which lasted right up to the New Year. His dad bought a forty gallon barrel of beer from the Slaters Arms and we pushed it home to his house, where we took his back fence down so we could get it in the garden and lift it on to a stand he had made so we could get the beer easier.
His dad said “nobody goes home until all the grub and beer has all gone”, so we stuffed ourselves silly with all the drivers eating 30lb of cheese, 4 x 7lb of spam, 10lb of butter, a big bag of spuds, many loaves of bread, 10lb of bacon, three dozen eggs, 4lb of tea, a case of evaporated milk and a big bar of Ships chocolate used for making drinks.
I got home on New Year’s Day at teatime stinking like a polecat with a week’s growth of hair on my face. I really enjoyed myself.
Starting back at work I found two new Morris Commercial three-ton lorries and I got one after we all tossed up coins to see who would get them. Lucky me, it was a lovely lorry to drive, pretty fast as well.
Coming back from Chatham the police would chase us every week for speeding, but could not catch us because we were having a cuppa in a wayside café when they caught up with us. Mind you the police in those days had 200cc motorbikes. It was not until later that they had much faster bikes like 500cc Nortons and Triumphs.
It was not long after this incident that I had to go to a South London wharf in Tooley Street to pick up five tons of sultanas. Coming up to Tower Bridge, the bridge was up, so I crept up on the outside of the queue of traffic. In those days there were still a lot of horse and carts around so it was a crawl over the bridge.
Just as I got over the bridge on the east side I saw an old motor coach come out of Royal Mint Street onto Tower Bridge. There was an obelisk there dividing the road for southbound traffic but you could go either side. I stopped dead so the coach could get by and a horse and cart came up on my near side. The coach kept coming and I could see that it was going to hit us if it didn’t pull over a bit, so I told my van boy to quickly get under the dashboard and curl up.
Unfortunately the coach did hit us, right in the radiator and the bonnet flew off into the River Thames. Our engine came back into the cab, the gearbox came up through the floor and five tons of sultanas went all over the cab. Both doors caved in trapping me in the cab right against the steering wheel and the offside front lamp of the coach came through the nearside windscreen, frightening my van boy because he could not move.
Somebody called the police, fire brigade and ambulance. Fortunately they managed to get my van boy out in minutes, but I was stuck for about forty minutes until they cut the steering wheel in half and forced the door out.
Imagine my surprise when I was pulled out, I never even had a scratch. My saviour was a leather belt I wore to keep my trousers up and an old army belt I used to wear around my boiler suit. The steering wheel went flat where it hit my belt and saved me from any injury.
When I got to hospital they could not believe that I didn’t even have a bruise. I was so lucky.
The coach driver had more room than me to get by and needless to say, he was charged for driving without due care and attention.
These are just a few of my memories of WW2. I hope you enjoy them. I am certainly enjoying reading all the stories from other people.
I now live in Devon.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Terry Buchanan (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was a child during the second world war and we lived at Plaistow in East London, the house we occupied in Marcus Street was bombed during an air raid and after a brief period in Berkshire we evacuated to Canvey Island in Essex. The reasons for this were that we already had family there and because my father was in a reserved occupation as a ship repairer it was more convenient for the train journey to either the London Docks or Tilbury. He had his own stories of aerial machine gun strafing and the differences in what was available to the crews of the ships he worked on. My own first memories of him at that time were how important he must have been keeping a rifle in his wardrobe especially as my secretive attempts to lift it failed every time. Its weight was far beyond the capabilities of my war ration nourished muscles. His importance in my mind became even more enhanced the night a homeguard colleague almost kicked our door down in his frantic effort to raise my father because it was thought that an invasion fleet had been seen in the Thames Estuary. It turned out to be a false alarm but like the heroes in the comic books he brought me from the American ships he worked on, he was off to save us all.
Canvey Island was not the best choice for an evacuation location because it was under the flight path of the German bombers attacking London during the air raids. In the back room of our bungalow in The Driveway my mother used to put me into a shelter made from thick sheet steel and close down an iron grill as soon as the air raid warning sounded. Soon after this the heavy drone of the approaching bombers would be heard and then the Pom-Pom sounds as the artillery battery opened up then, distant thuds as the bombers ejected their deadly bombs over London and the docks. My mother would try to re-assure me by saying that it was only polar bears outside looking for food and that I should imagine I was in an igloo and settle down to go to sleep. Not long after it seemed the bombers would return but they had a different sound because they had been seperated from their formation and a new sound appeared, a rat-a-tat-tat, probably the noise of fighter machine gun fire.
Canvey Island during the war was very much a village community. You could roam the fields because they were not surrounded with barbed wire as they are today. The main junction of this island village was at the Haystack public house and on the other side of the road was a large notice board claiming that the Island would one day have its own hospital, if you turned right at this junction it would eventually lead to the 'sea' front and the Monico Hotel, this was an Art Deco style building which later became the honey pot for local American servicemen and young women from further afield. They also brought with them a constant request from local children, "Got any gum chum" and the more tasteful pleasure of the ice cream 'Knickerboker Glory".
The Cinema was also near to the Haystack and it was here that most of the news was exchanged. During the intermission china cups and saucers were brought in and and tinkling sounds filled the cinema as tea was poured once the cinema-goers had looked around and then with a thumping of raised seats moved places to be nearest to a friend or someone who might know what was happening. It was here that I first learned that the war was over from the babble of excited conversations. My mother also used to take me to the cinema in Southend via a stop over at the cockle sheds at Leigh-on-Sea. At sixpence a plate for cockles and with the damp smell of boiled shells coming from the cooking at the back of each shed it was one of those cockney baptisms. The film showing at the cinema was Bambi and at a crucial moment of suspense a notice flashed on to the screen for us to leave and go to the shelter because an air raid was in progress. Even now, when I watch that film with my grandchildren, that moment rushes back into my memory.
I do not remember if it was my fifth birthday or my first day at infants' school. It is a remembering which although I can see in every detail is lost in the rambling chronology of rememberings. I was excited and left the bungalow with my mother holding my hand. The sight that greeted me was wonderful to my childs eyes.
From every rainwater gutter, rooftop and telegraph wire hung thousands of strips of silver foil, they moved with the breeze and glistened brightly in the morning sun. I looked up at my mother excitedly but she just looked straight ahead with a sense of fear showing on her youthful face. I learned much later that these strips of foil had been dropped by the enemy bombers to confuse the Radar during their night time attack. There were other times when my mother's sense of fear came through to me, another time we were walking together when we heard a flapping noise directly above us, like sheets being shaken in the wind. We looked up to see white parachutes opening directly above us we rushed home to seek security whilst other people were putting on the kettles preparing a cup of tea for the crew bailing out of their RAF earoplane. At another time I was in the garden and heard a violent flapping sound and over the top of our bungalow came a huge American bomber seemingly not much above the chimney stack. It was orange and black and large parts of its torn fuselage crashed in the wind against other parts of the bodywork, it was being flown by the American pilot without power to avoid the areas of housing and heading towards the sea. He was too low to bail out but such acts of sacrifice are commonplace in war and mostly go un-recorded.
As a schoolboy, with new found friends, Canvey became a countryside to be explored. An island drained by Dutch engineers and with a protective sea wall like a Mediaeval fortress it was unlike any other English landscape. At the top end of The Driveway was a small wooded copse with a damp soil inhabited by lizards and newts that formed an important part of our sometimes sadistic boyhood games. We could roam the fields and play soldiers or cowboys on the haystacks or wander the marshes where an oil refinery now stands.
The initiation was a 'booter', getting both socks and shoes soaked in the marshland rivulets and then walking home with squeeks and squelches amongst the sounds of mischievous laughter.
On Sundays, a girl, our older 'minder', took a handful of her young charges along the sea wall and down to The Point of the island. We passed by upturned clinker built boat hulls blackened by tar and used as houses until we reached a flat bottomed punt shaped boat. Painted a gleaming white with a large house like structure on its deck it was surrounded by a pretty baluster and bobbed in the tidal flow of the creek, it was the Sunday School. The motley congregation sang our little hearts out, best suits, white dresses and shoes covered in marshland mud. I was,without knowing it, living in the remnants of a Dickensian landscape.
The war continued with its everyday experiences, one morning I came out of the front door and as I closed it the ground and house shook violently in the shockwave from a terrifying explosion. I looked out of the porch towards a huge column of jet black smoke rising rapidly into the sky. I shouted and screamed with fear as I banged my tiny fists against the door with frenzy in the attempt to seek the safety of my mothers arms.
It had been a 'Doodlebug'.
I saw others much closer after that, large orange coloured rockets belching a loud gutteral roar from the jet of flame that propelled it. Whilst it made this sound you knew that it was passing, when it suddenly went silent you dropped to the ground and waited. Apparently our fighter pilots at times tried to tip the wings of a doodlebug with their own aircraft wings in an attempt to deflect its course, sometimes with terrible consequences. I overheard, " She was cooking at the time when the doodlebug came down and the saucepan handle went through her neck." The image of this was distorted, nightmare fashion, in my childs' mind.
School had its own excitements, one morning a boy got his leg trapped between the classroom wall and a large heating pipe. At the same moment his shouts were echoed by the wailing of the air raid siren. The children remained silent and bewildered as they watched teachers, in confusion and panic, trying both to release the boy and shepherd the rest of us to the playground air raid shelter.
Restricted rations and the lack of nutritious food left some of us in poor health but almost as a form of compensation there was a list of things that could be done even when there was no medical need.
The removal of appendix or tonsils or ear nose and throat operations were a matter of course. I remember my mum and a Matron standing at the foot of my bed in hospital, the matron asking, "whilst we have him in here would you like us to remove his appendix?"
My own 'ear,nose and throat', was done at a hospital on the mainland, I think it was at Hornchurch. As I came round from the anaesthetic there was an almighty explosion, the french window doors at the side of my ward bed blew open with tremendous force as the curtains rose horizontally like flags and crashing glass spewed its way across the floor. Nurses rushed in to comfort us and we went back to sleep. A boy of my age had been in the bed next to mine and when I awoke in the morning he was gone, his bedsheets had been pulled back and they lay open soaked red with blood.
Some winter mornings I would be taken to Lea Beck school nourished by a large crust of fresh warm bread and a small red carton of Edwards Granulated Soups. I loved crunching my way through those ox-tail granules and it is interesting how wartime tastes and smells can be just as easily rembered as the happenings.
Apart from the jubilation at its ending my final sounds of war were on the day my mother and an aunt took me near to my fathers place of work on the Thames. We walked along a pavement close to the river along which stood a long row of soldiers, some were smoking cigarettes, some were silent, others talked quietly but some were crying. Tears streaming down their faces these soldiers were sobbing loudly. Lowering their heads my mother and aunt walked swiftly past to avoid giving embarassment whilst I, in childhood innocence, just stared in disbelief. I thought about it for days afterwards but my childish reasoning could not understand why a soldier would cry.
Just ten or so years after the war I understood because my own National Service taught me that soldiers are just men in uniform.
My own experiences were at times harrowing. A soldier more experienced than I saved us both by his perceptive observation during a period of terrorism. But, I think that two other soldiers died in our place.
My own torment for a promise that I made to a group of young soldiers only to break it just hours later. The sound of their laughter haunts me but I am glad to be haunted by those spirits because all that their mothers have to remember is the sound of their own tears.
I am saddened that the history of National Service will be extracted by the academics from the dusty official written records of fact, not from the voices of experience.
Its chronicles will be the bawdy frivolous novels that torment fact by their fiction.
Young men, teenaged young men, died during National Service, will fiction be their only epitaph?
ENDS A Child's Sounds of war
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Essex Action Desk (BBC WW2 People's War)
The attached Police Report was obtained from the London Fire Brigade records with their permission. No action was taken of the rescue. It was considered to be the thing to do as a professional fireman.
COPY Police Office,
Royal Albert Dock.
10th March 1941
To — The Chief Police Officer.
IMMERSION — M.Korn
I beg to report that on the 9th March 1941 at about 8.30p.m. at No. 1 Warehouse, Royal Victoria Dock, Morris Korn, age 33, an A.F.S.Fireman No.2888 West Ham Fire Brigade, attached to No.23 Fire Station near Vernons Gate, was about to step on to the barge “FROME” to assist in extinguishing a fire caused by an incendiary bomb, when he missed his footing and fell into the dock water between the barge and the quay. Fireman Frappell who was on the barge heard a splash, and on looking round, found that Korn was missing. He jumped back on to the quay, looked over the edge and saw Korn in the water. He shouted “Man overboard”, and, lying flat on the ground, reached down and held Korn’s hand. Fireman Fisher, who was in charge of the appliance on the quay lay down beside Frappell and held Korn’s other hand. Together, both men tried to pull him from the water but were unsuccessful. A rope was then lowered and Korn held on to this. Once agtain an attempt was made to pull him from the water but without success. By this time Korn was becoming exhausted and told the others that he could hold on no longer. Frappell then asked for a line to be tied round him. This was done by Fisher and he was lowered into the water beside Korn. Another lione was lowered and this was tied round Korn’s shoulders by Frappell. With Frappell pushing from below, and Fireman and P.L.A.Fire Spotters pulling from the quay Korn was hauled from the water.
Both men were taken to No.23 Fire Station, rubbed down and wrapped in blankets. Frappell had fully recovered by the following morning, but although Korn said that he was not too bad he still seems a little shaky. There were six barges moored at this spot, three to the end of the barge “Frome” end to end, and liable to move in the wind. Korn admitted to me that if Frappell had not entered the water and tied the line to him he would have gone under and probably drowned. The rope dropped into the water had slipped through his hands and had almost reached the end when the other line was secured round his shoulder. Frappell is rather a stout man; his age is 45, and the lines used were the life lines that Firemen carry as part of their equipment, not much thicker than cord.
The thinness of the lines made it difficult to pull the men from the water and certainly appeared a little frail to hold a man of Frappell’s bulk. The water was some feet below the quay edge. A N.N.Easterly wind was blowing at the time which might have blown the barges towards the quay and so jammed the men between barge and quay. Both Firemen were fully dressed and were wearing rubber boots; these filled with water and weighted the men down. There is little doubt that Frappell saved Korn’s life.
An intensive air raid was in progress, incendiary bombs had been dropped and there was every likelihood of H.Es following. So, although Frappell had the line round him, if the barges had moved towards the quay, or bombs dropped near causing Fisher to Release his hold on the line, he would have been in a precarious position.
He said he is a fair swimmer but has not been in the water for some years.
I respectfully suggest that the action of Frappell be brought to the notice of the West Ham Fire Brigade for the commendation he so richly deserves.
I give below statements taken by me.
MORRIS KORN AGE 33 A.F.S Fireman No. 2888, West Ham Fire
Brigade, attached to No.23 Station, states;-
“About 8.30pm 9th March 1941 I was taking a hose from the quayside of No.1 Shed, to a barge on which an incendiary bomb was burning, when I missed my footing and fell into the water between the barge and the quay. Then one of my mates leaned over the quay and held my hand, and tried to pull me out. He could not do this and lowered me a rope. I could not pull myself up the rope and became exhausted.
Fireman Frappell was lowered on a rope and assisted me to the quay. If he had not come to my help when he did I should have gone under again. I feel reasonably well this morning.”
CHARLES FRAPPELL age 45, A Fireman No.122, West Ham Fire Brigade attached to No.23 Station states;-
“About 8.30p.m. 9th March 1941 I was standing on a barge (The “Frome” owned by Whitehairs) extinguishing an incendiary bomb when I heard a splash and on looking round found that Korn, who should have been following me on to the barge, had disappeared. I shouted “Help — man overboard”.
I jumped onto the quay and saw him come to the surface of the water between the barge and the quay. I lay on the quayside and put my hand over the edge and he grabbed it. Then Fireman Fisher came up and did the same as me. Each of us holding a hand. We tried to pull him out but were unsuccessful. He then said he could hold on no longer. I asked for a line to be put round me and was lowered into the water beside Korn. Then another line was lowered and I tied this under his arm and helped to push him up while the others pulled him out. I am a fair swimmer but have not been in the water for some years. I feel none the worse for the immersion”.
CHARLES FISHER No.088. Fireman in charge No.23 Station, West Ham Fire Brigade states;-
“About 8.30p.m. 9th March 1941, I was in charge of the appliance attending the fire on the barge “Frome” at No.1. Shed, Royal Victoria Dock. I heard a shout of “man overboard” from Fireman Frappell and went to the quay edge and saw Frappell lying on his stomach holding the hand of Korn, who was in the water, between the barge and the quay. I also lay down and held Korn’s other hand and together we tried to pull him out. This we could not do and a rope was lowered to him. He held this and we made another attempt to pull him out, again we could not. Korn then said he could hold no longer and a line was tied round Frappell and he was lowered into the water beside him. Another line was lowered and this Frappell tied round Korn’s shoulder and with Frappell pushing and myself and other firemen together with some P.D.A. men who had arrived, we got Korn out. Both men were taken to this Station, given a rub down and wrapped in blankets. They were fully dressed in full uniform and rubber boots. In my opinion if Frappell had not gone in korn would have drowned.
The above Police report on a very praiseworthy act by a member of the West Ham Fire Brigade is forwarded with the suggestion that Frappell’s action be brought to the notice of the Chief Officer of his Brigade.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by The Stratford upon Avon Society (BBC WW2 People's War)
The Stratford upon Avon Society and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
12a - Transcription of an interview that took place on the 18th February, 2005
Neville Usher Dr.Michael Coigley
Neville Usher: … you can tell, the tape recorder, it works but it’s noisy. And I am just transcribing one now were the problem is that the lady had got a canary with the loudest voice I have ever come across, it’s a job to hear.
Dr. Michael Coigley: Talking about birds, well I can tell you a lovely story about old Mrs. Tromans who was very old when she died in Alveston, and she had this budgerigar, and we went in to see her one evening and shut the door loudly, I didn’t hear what it said, but she said oh she said I am sorry, did you hear that, did you hear that? Oh I said no what? Oh she said the budgerigar, she said I got that she said when my dad died, after the war and it had been with him all the war in London, and if there’s ever a loud bang anywhere, it says “bugger old Hitler”, and if you slammed the door like we did, you could just hear this budgerigar saying “bugger old Hitler”.
Neville Usher: My grandparents had a friend who was the first female police officer in Birmingham, and one of my earliest memories is being taken to see this lady who lived in Yardley by the cemetery there and she had a parrot, and the parrot used to say “I’m Polly Miles, who the devil are you”?
Anyway, it’s Friday the 18th of February 2005, and we are at 6 The Fold, Payton Street, Stratford, it’s 11.15 and it’s very nice to be talking to Michael Coigley.
Could we just start very briefly with where you were born and how you came to Stratford and then move on to the war Mike?
Dr. Michael Coigley: Oh crikey. I was born in central London, the other side of the road from the Middlesex Hospital in a flat in a property which my father and grandfather later bought, and there’s a long story to that. And then we moved very quickly to Sidcup in Kent where my maternal grandfather was Borough Surveyor and Engineer, he had been head-hunted. He was a civil engineer of some repute really, he used to design …, he was very good at designing sewerage disposal systems. Well they got him in to oversee the first big East End slum overspill out of London to around Sidcup. And we had this lovely house which was an old medieval house with a Victorian extension on it, and he said better move because it is coming right behind you, so we moved out to Sevenoaks, I was born in London.
And then I was at Sevenoaks School, which is I think the first school to bring in the international baccalaureate, very progressive school and always very high up. The oldest …, one of the oldest grammar schools in the country, the only school mentioned by Shakespeare in one of his plays. Lord Sackville from Old House owned a lot of property round here of course, owned Halls Croft at one time, the Sackville’s, and in Henry VI part II, (shall I go on with this, because it’s very …?)
Neville Usher: Yes please, yes.
Dr. Michael Coigley: In Henry VI part II, when Jack Cave the Kentish rebel gets to Smithfield in London and is confronted by Lord Saye and Sele who now lives at
Broughton Court …, Broughton Castle near Banbury. Well Sele is a little place next to Sevenoaks in Kent and he took his …, it was a Norman title that he took the title Sele from Sele next to Sevenoaks and he and Sir William Sennard were the two founders of Sevenoaks School in 1432, and it’s the only school he has anything to do with, and Jack Cave before they behead him on stage says you are condemned for corrupting the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school, so that has been researched and well is obviously Sevenoaks School,it was found out,it is the only school.
Anyhow, I was taking a scholarship to Cambridge called The Tankred Scholarship, King Tankred of Sicily was the Norman King of Sicily in 1065/66, and of course they went both ways the Normans didn’t they, they went to Sicily and England, William came here, went both ways. And he’d been worried, this Norman Tankred was English by now in the sixteenth century that scientists were becoming too specialized at a young age, this scholarship had to take in history, classics, something else, in order to read a science, so I never used it because the war came, and I didn’t want to spend the next 18 months studying medicine.
And I remained a medical student during the war because I was actually a “Bevin Boy” (do you know the Bevin Boys?)
Neville Usher: Yes
Dr. Michael Coigley: And the only way I could get out of going down the mines was to remain a medical student which I did so I was at St. Thomas’s during most of the war; we were evacuated of course down to Surrey, and then we came back to very difficult things at St. Thomas’s. And I then met …, I met Sylvia my wife whilst I was there, I then went in the army after I had been qualified for two years and went out east, thinking we were going to have a nice time but spent two years trekking through the jungle after the ruddy bandits.
Neville Usher: Oh dear, in Burma, or …?
Dr. Michael Coigley: No, Malaya, Malaya, it was after the war you see, it was ’48, the Malaya emergency started in June ’48. And then I came back and did a few jobs and wondered what to do, and then Scot Trick who was a partner - do you remember Scot Trick, old Trick? Well Scot Trick who was a partner in the Bridge House practice, the senior partners being Harold Girling, Dudley Marks and Scot Trick, Offley Evans and etc. And he had a very bad coronary on New Year’s day 1954 and for some reason, I can never know why and he wasn’t quite sure, the secretary of the medical school from St. Thomas’s rang me and said (because Dudley Marks was a St. Thomas’s man), and he was a local surgeon, he was a senior surgeon, South Warwickshire, one of the old GP surgeons you know, and he had rung the medical school saying do you know anybody who wants a job quick? So he rang me and said there’s a job going up there if you’re interested, and I said well I don’t know really, I wanted to be a cardiologist at the time, and I was working in the hospital you see, senior registrar in the hospital in Chichester, and Sylvia’s mother was dying of alchziemers just outside Leominster where they lived, Herefordshire, and we were going backwards and forwards and so I rang ‘em up, going up the next weekend, and came for the interview on Saturday morning with Harold Girling and Dudley Marks, and Offley was there, and out of interest and that was that, and the following Sunday Harold Girling rang me up and said when can you start? Well I had sort of dismissed it from my mind really and we had to think very deeply about this because I had this job, I had to get a release etc. from it, but with my mother in law being so ill, deep in the country, and Sylvia going backwards and forward all the while, so we decided if I could get released I would take it, although I could go back to the hospital you know after a couple of years, anyhow I never went back to the hospital because I liked it so much here, and it’s been great, so that’s how I got to Stratford.
Neville Usher: And what about the Second World War, what did you …?
Dr. Michael Coigley: Well I was in dad’s army of course, and my father who was auctioneer, chartered surveyor, estate agent etc. in Kensington in London (his business of course went), so he took a job doing war damage survey work covering over all the East End bombs and everything, and he’d been in the trenches in the ‘14/18 war of course my dad, and “The Lion” kept getting bombed, and so they moved, everybody was being evacuated, they moved further into London, they moved into Chislehurst, and at that moment I had got a place in medical school, and I well remember the interview I had for medical school because I went up with my father and I saw a very famous chap Thompson, Big Bill Thompson who was then at medical school a famous chap, and we went to see Chu Chinn Chow at the Palace Theatre that night, and there was a hell of an air raid, we weren’t allowed out of the theatre (we got out about three o’clock/four o’clock in the morning at the end), and being entertained by the cast marvellously all night you know, and got home to find there was a telegram to say that I had got a place in the medical school.
And neighbours at Chislehurst, and the Home Guard headquarters was next door to us actually at Chislehurst, and I was in that, but then the medical school were evacuated to Surrey, and it was a military hospital that had been built at Guildford, outside Guildford, and they took that over ‘cos Thomas’s was bombed quite badly, and about the only hospital really …, but they were after the Houses of Parliament of course which is the other side of the river, right opposite, and so there I was and I qualified at the end of ’46, and took my degree in March ’47.
But during that time you know, Chislehurst was right on the …, whenever I was at home I had to get up every night to firewatch on the roof and that sort of thing ‘cos you had got incendiaries all round you, you know, and funnily enough yesterday I went to see the Orpen, William Orpen exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, it is a brilliant exhibition and I was just walking out and there was a chap and his teenage son, and he can’t have been more than, I should think he was forty, something like that, they were looking at the V1 and the V2, doodlebug, and the V2 and I heard him say …, I just stopped to have a look and he said to his son, of course that was the V1 and that was the V2 big rocket, and he turned to me and he said “am I right”? He had diagnosed me brilliantly! Am I right? And I said yes you are absolutely right, and I can tell you about the very first V2 which dropped on this country, it dropped at Petts Wood and my mum was just doing the washing up in their top flat in Chislehurst and she got the cutlery, the crockery, she got the crockery together on the sink, on the drainer, and she took some of it to put in the cupboard along the wall and as she did that there was a hell of a bang and the window over the sink came straight past her and pretty well hit the wall, and that was the first; and nobody knew what it was of course. We had had the V1s of course, the put, put puts!
Neville Usher: But they couldn’t pick it up with radar or shoot it down, it was so fast?
Dr. Michael Coigley: No, a rocket. But I tell you a story about the V1s, because they had this ram jet engine, they went “put, put, put” they came on, when it cut out you knew it had gone somewhere, and they used to sort of hear the wind whistle when they came down, and I came off Home Guard duty early one morning, and I thought oh I just popped in home, took my uniform off though it’s not worth doing anything, I’ll go to bed, and went down to the station, caught an early train, went into the students’ club at St. Thomas’s, saw a chap called Dempster there, arrived at the same time (a very good fly half he was by the way, died about two years ago), and we said let’s have a game of snooker. So we went into the billiard room and we were having a …, and we heard put, put, put, we heard this V1 approaching, we looked out of the window and it was coming actually straight for us in the club. We looked at each other, we got under the billiard table and shook hands and nothing happened, nothing happened, we hard it whistle past, an air current took it up and it went along York Road and it dropped on a siding of Waterloo Station and that caused some trouble because it hit a tanker which had some phosphorous substance in it, took the top off a bus, killed a lot of people, and we all rushed over to casualty, and police came in and somebody had discovered this phosphorous liquid stuff in this tanker, and it’s a devil if you don’t get it off the skin, and it’s undetected you can see it, so we got the books down, and it’s very simple, you make a solution of copper sulphate like you used for bathing, wash it over it goes black, and you can see it, otherwise it goes on boring if you don’t.
But there were so many experiences during the war. I was on duty the Sunday morning in casualty that the doodlebug fell on the Guards Chapel, that was carnage that was terrible, and we had all the casualties in from that and I can see a Guards Sergeant Major, and funnily enough I served with The Guards out in Malaya later, and being lead up the ramp to casualty with a guardsman in his arms, all of them just covered in blood and god knows what and his face shattered, he couldn’t see and yet he had another guardsman in his arms, he was 6’2” or so the Sergeant Major, and another guardsman you know, I thought you know these chaps are marvellous.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by London Borough of Newham Public (BBC WW2 People's War)
As told by Donald Wharf
The air-raid siren - as chilling as ever - wailed as the daylight was fading. Having had no serious air-raid for ages, I thought that, perhaps, it was 'nothing' but then came the very familiar 'booms', and so we retired to the shelter. Hitler had, obviously, not given up and, much as I'm sure we all thought it, the excitement had not simply passed us by - the war had come back to East Ham. Next, I detected a coarse, raucous sound that was closing surprisingly fast. 'One of their aircraft in trouble', I thought but, just as it seemed to have passed, the engine cut out - and then it happened: the explosion was not far away. Almost at once I could hear it again, that same unforgettable sound which stopped, like the first time, very abruptly - and so, yet another explosion. This didn't end: it continued to happen amidst some formidable gunfire - something that finally caused me to say, "The bombers, they're shooting them down!" Slowly, my father turned round to one side: he was laying full length on a bunk-bed. "If that's the case then they've got some new gunners", he said - or something like that. When, in the end, after several hours we emerged from our Anderson shelter, all the old smells of the 'blitz' were there - then I realised what this could all mean..... Saturday: would I be able to go? The Odeon: was it still there? Then, as if nothing else mattered at all, I started to question my mother which brought a deservedly curt response - "It'll have to be cancelled", she said.
Cancelled it was, but there wasn't a choice as the bombing looked set to continue. After that memorably noisy night, we learned that we hadn't heard aircraft but, what was referred to as, unmanned missiles, technically known as V1s. These were propelled by a strange type of jet engine, which, when it finally cut out, meant that the missile then dived down to earth with its payload - a ton of explosive. More of them came down the following day which my mother said looked rather ominous.
As it turned out, all her fears were proved right when in no more than four or five days, life was resembling the earlier 'blitz'..... but at that point the guns disappeared! This was because they had moved further south to positions in Sussex and Kent, where hitting and shooting the missiles down wouldn't defeat its own purpose. 'Missiles', in fact, was a rarely used word which, very soon after that Thursday, was replaced by 'flying bombs', 'buzz bombs' or 'doodle-bugs' - words that, to us, had some meaning.
One almost instant change that took place, after the guns had moved on, was our air-raid routine during daylight hours: we no longer stayed in the shelter. Shrapnel was, obviously, not coming down so there wasn't a danger from that, and as for the strange-looking flying bombs - they did, in fact, give us some warning. Firstly, their noise told us when they were coming, then, due to them flying so low, we were able to watch their line of approach - but suddenly all would fall silent: that was the point when we just had to guess where the bombs were most likely to land. Sometimes we did have to dive down the shelter but, mostly, we stayed in the garden.
Naturally, after a period of time, it all became very routine with most people choosing to stay indoors during, what we all called, an 'alert'. Usually, however, a look-out was used who would shout in the case of real danger - this, out of school hours, was me for my house and Roy for his house, next door. Actually, the pair of us worked as a team, up on the roof of our shed which hadn't been used as a look-out post since the days of the Battle of Britain.
During the course of July, and then August, parts of East Ham really suffered. We, on the other hand, saw some near misses that still remain etched in my brain but, generally, our stretch of Central Park Road only sustained minor damage. One such 'near miss' came at lunch-time, one day, while I wandered outside in the garden, waiting for something like dried egg and mash that my mother was quietly preparing. Having just come home from school, very hungry, I wasn't a look-out that day! Also, I'd realised, with total surprise, that my father was home for lunch too, so feeling, perhaps, just a little intrigued, I was thinking of asking him 'why?'. This never happened as thoughts such as that were suddenly blown from my mind.
Coming in fast was a flying bomb that I'd, obviously, not been aware of, and flying low, I remember thinking, due to the tone of its engine. Almost at once it careered into view, as I searched for it over the rooftops, blasting its way in a straight line towards me - that was the point when I shouted.....partly, perhaps, to release the tension but also to forewarn my parents. Then, when its engine cut out, right above me, I physically cringed, but I stayed there, knowing that, usually, they dived at an angle but rarely at ninety degrees. This one was different: it flipped itself over then dropped in a vertical dive! Stricken with fear, I just froze like a statue but, after a nasty few moments, two pairs of hands were pushing and pulling me - then, I was down in the shelter, crouching beneath both my mother and father waiting, I thought, for oblivion. Seconds ticked by: perhaps four, perhaps five - "Where is it?", I yelled, "What's happening?" Next came the dull, rather horrible thud..... it was close but at least we'd survived.
As luck would have it - that is for us - the bomb had pulled out of its dive and landed just north of the Barking Road, a three minute walk from our house. This wasn't lucky for West Ham United: the bomb had come down on their ground!
One other quite harrowing image of war from the 'doodle-bug' days of that summer, came on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning while lots of us just sat around. Not having eaten my breakfast by then, I have to admit, I was one. First came a few very distant explosions but then, when we thought they were finished, someone outside shouted, "One's coming over!"..... it missed us but not by a lot. Naturally, everyone rushed to their windows or stood in their tiny front gardens to see where the bomb had eventually come down, but it wasn't that obvious at first. Next, I remember, I noticed that smoke was starting to rise in the sky from somewhere - again - near the Barking Road, though I couldn't be sure from our doorstep. Nobody else actually made a suggestion but some said they thought it was nearer. Half an hour later, the sky was still quiet so, with partial parental approval, I ran to where everything seemed to be happening which was where I'd thought it would be.
More than a few of the local people were standing in groups in the road, helpless of course, and looking dazed but most of them would have been neighbours. Then there were firemen and rescue workers, scrambling about in the rubble, heaving great lumps of it out of their way in a desperate search for survivors. What had been, once, just a quiet little street was a scene of appalling destruction. One house - the house at the end of the terrace - had simply been razed to the ground with only some pieces of outside wall still, temporarily, standing upright. As for the next house, the one next door that was still technically standing, though most of its roof had been blown away and two or three walls had come down. Thankfully, further along down the terrace, the damage grew steadily less.
Suddenly, there was a buzz of excitement as someone was found in the debris then carried, precariously, down to the road and into the back of an ambulance. That seemed, at least, like a glimmer of hope but almost at once there was more - a rescue worker appeared through the dust, stumbling, but carrying a child. As I looked harder it looked like a boy but wrapped in an A.R.P. blanket. Naturally, then, we all tried to close in but the A.R.P. wouldn't let us as more of the victims were being brought out in a street getting ever more crowded. Possibly, I'd been reminded of Ginger as, right at the height of this drama, I found myself feeling unpleasantly hot - then I wanted to leave, very quickly.
On the way home, I decided to stop and to sit on the kerb by the roadside. All that I wanted to do, in fact, was to settle myself and cool down, which seemed to me better than getting home flustered and having my mother ask questions. This, it turned out, was doomed from the start when a voice near me called, "You alright?" then I found myself trying to explain that I was to a deaf and persistent old man, who told me that he would accompany me home - so I just had to get up and run. When, minutes later, I walked through our door, I had as it happened, recovered.
After the huge, airy rooms of 'The Manse' (Port Sunlight, where Donald had been evacuated in August 1944) my house seemed even more tiny. As for the garden - I'd almost forgotten the amount take up by the shelter, covered, that Autumn, in long stalky grass and the seed pods of dozens of marigolds. Little had changed though - at least, near to us - except for the wail of the siren. That had, apparently, been very quiet since the 'doodle-bug' era had ended. What had replaced them, the V2 rockets, were able to fly undetected, making the usual defences useless as well as the old wailing siren.
My first experience of this latest weapon came, not on the day I returned, but during the course of the following morning while I was at home with my mother - playing outside in the garden, in fact, as all of my friends were at school. Suddenly, there was a terrible 'bang' which caused me to jump and turn round, just as my mother appeared in the kitchen; "Sounds like a rocket", she called. Then, looking roughly southwest from our house, I saw what was obviously smoke, billowing up and forming a cloud in the area beyond Boundary Road. Nothing but silence reigned, just for a while, but that was soon broken by bells: fire-engine bells and then ambulance bells - the 'blitz' and V1s yet again!..... What was so different, of course, to all that, was the absence of some sort of warning.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Colchester Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
One evening my friends and I were playing along the road with a ball. We noticed that several people had come out of their houses and were talking together, then some more came out. It was a lovely sunny day but it was very unusual as some were crying, others just talking.
We stopped playing and went to see what was happening, thinking someone might have died. As we drew near, one of the men could see we were uneasy and put his arms around us and said "don't worry, nobody has died" but the news on the wireless said war has been declared. Some of the older people were upset because they had lost family in the last war - killed or wounded. We went to school and were told all that we were to do was not to wander off from our homes when playing.
When the planes came over dropping bombs it was frightening. Such noise - all our windows were blown out. My father covered the windows with boards of wood, so it was always dark so we had to keep the lights on all day. At night outside it was dark too as no street lights were on. That was so that the planes could not see what they were bombing. We were issued with gas masks. One day at school we were all given a letter to give our parents. It was to ask if our parents would like us be sent off to a less dangerous area. My parents said yes so I was sent to school with a change of clothes to be kept at school until arrangements were made for our evacuation.
We all had to take a pack of sandwiches. This same routine went on for about six weeks. Then one day we were told to keep our coats on, pick up our clothes, gas masks round our necks and we walked in rows of two's, all excited at this new adventure, marching off to the railway station. We did not know where we'd be going. Some of the children were frightened of going away, but the teachers were very kind and held their hand as they walked along. At the station the teacher called out our names and we got onto the train.
It took several hours before we got to where we were supposed to be going. Some of the children had fallen asleep, with one of their friends cuddling them. We all looked after each other and sang some songs. At last the train stopped. We had to go in two's again and marched off to a big hall. We were given drinks and sandwiches and told to keep close to our teacher and friends. We had arrived at last in Bath in Somerset. It looked so peaceful.
Then a lot of people arrived and we gradually sorted out to go with different people who would be kind enough to take us in their homes and look after us. This all took time as we all had to have our new address to be added to our teachers list and these people to sign their names and our names on a special register. Some of the king people wanted very young children to live with them. Some of them wanted children a bit older. One of the girls who lived down my road was picked out with me by a man and his wife.. We were asked if we would like to go with them and we went with them to 14 Walcatt Building, Bath. It was out of the busy area. It was a four story building, terraced with a very long garden with a vegetable patch, lots of flowers and some apple trees and a river running along at the bottom of the garden - it looked lovely.
Inside the first floor was a sweet shop, next floor an elderly aunts flat, third floor Mr Barrows and top floor our flat. Lovely bedroom, 2 beds, wardrobe, dressing table, window that looked out onto the street.
We soon unpacked and went downstairs again. By this time the shop had been shut. We had an early meal and then bath and bed.
We were taken for a walk around Bath and then for a walk by the river. Mr Barrow had a boat and I used to go out with him. I learnt how to undo the locks to let the water through till we could carry on again. We could not go to school until arrangements were made to slot us into ability groups, so we had about 6 weeks of helping out in doors, then off for picnics, blackberry picking, making jam, looking after our friends, We wrote home and were soon receiving letters from parents, brothers and sister. They were still alright but very tired with loss of sleep with the guns and the docks when the planes kept dropping the bombs, mostly at night. After a while things in London quietened down and by now I was getting on well at school working my way up in class and sport wise. I was getting very used to this new life when my mother came down to Bath for a visit and then told Mr and Mrs Barrow that she was taking me back to London, as it was much quieter. In a way I was a little bit disappointed as Bath was such a lovely clean place to visit with clean air. Mum and I traveled to London by coach back to my family. It was dark and rubble where houses had been knocked down by bombs and blast. But people were getting on with their lives in the day time but not many people ventured out at night - only those who had to work at night or went to the pub for a drink. It was very different. A lot of my friend had moved right away and I never saw them again. After a while the bombing started in our area again. One night there was a very big bomb dropped.
The next morning we made our way around to one of our friends, but there were no houses standing there, they had all collapsed. My mother turned me around quickly and we went home for a cup of tea.
I remember that my father had to walk home from work and he looked warn out. He worked at the Gas works with over 100 men and a lot of the men had been killed or moved away.
When we went to church on Sunday morning my father and i were in the choir. The parson has a talk with my father and asked if he would like me to be evacuated as times were worse now than ever. So I was sent away again, through the church. Again we were taken to a village hall. It was in Verwood in Dorset. I was soon picked out by a Mr and Mrs Brown who had a daughter two years younger than me and a son about eight years older.
They had a small farm with three cows and some farm land against the moor where some ponies roamed. I was Starlight Farm, Verwood,Dorset. I soon settled in and Eileen liked having someone to play with. Her big brother Victor was deaf and very nice. One week later I was in school and it was so different. I had already done the work they were doing in London, but they didn't do much sport as it was a small school with few facilities for sport.
Girls did not play much with boys. Some skipped by otherwise stood in little groups. At the weekends Eileen and I would take the milk and cream to the people who lived in the lane to the farm. At one house the man and woman were both artists and they had five kittens. I liked them. The mother to the kittens had got knocked down and the vet could not save her so we used to help feed these baby kittens and it took quite a while. Mr and Mrs Browns were about 10 years older than my parents and had their children later in life. One day they had a letter from my father to pay for my coach fare back to Victories Station. My father would be there to meet me and take me to Mount Bures to stay with him and my cousin Bertha. Mother would be traveling down with furniture. Phylis helping her two days later.
Father looked really ill. We walked down to the rectory, where we lived till we could find a bungalow to rent. Everybody soon looked a lot better.
Forty years later I visited Mr and Mrs Brown and took her a large bunch of flowers fro being so kind to me. Mr and Mrs Barrows had died several years before in Bath.
I was grateful for all of the kind people who took care of us, especially our teachers who visited us as often as they could at the school or in the homes we were at. They never went back to London anymore they moved down to Bath for good.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Leeds Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
They were happy times but at the age of nine and a half, 1938, things changed. The powers that be decided I was small for my age and underweight so I was sent to an open-air school at Fyfield in Essex, where I spent the next 18months, being just a number amongst about a hundred and fifty other girls. We all slept in long dormitories with one side open to the weather except when we had a thunderstorm.
The classrooms were the same, each one set in a large open space. Meals were served in a large wooden hall on long wooden tables and we sat on long wooden forms. Brown bread and warm milk, porridge you could cut with a knife and if it was not eaten you went without. All meals were served in enamel mugs and dishes and to get one that was not chipped was a bonus.
Sunday walks to church are vivid in my mind. In lines of two, girls at the front and boys at the back we went through country lanes and little villages. Things of interest were pointed out to us and this is where I began to appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
Visitors such as parents were allowed to come to the school on one afternoon every three months and this was a great day. Every child had to learn to sing ‘Jerusalem,’ ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ and ‘Oh for the Wings of a Dove.’ These songs were sung at assembly when all the visitors had arrived and sometimes when I am resting I can hear the singing still.
One morning I was amazed to see a large balloon in the sky [barrage balloon — large silver balloon with ropes dangling from it to catch planes flying in low] we all thought it was an elephant! We were all frightened and wondered what it was going to do. No one knew what it was or where it had come from. It was some weeks before we were told and the mystery was solved. I can’t remember the exact day we were told to line up in the playground for a special announcement.
We were then told to empty our lockers, collect all our belongings and report back to the nurse who would give us our own clothes which we were to change into at once as we were being taken home. I was too excited to wonder why this was suddenly happening but late that afternoon we boarded buses and as we were driven out of the school gates buses were coming into school from the opposite direction bringing sick and crippled children out of London. These were the children from the hospitals and orphanages, any sick children that needed looking after. We’d never seen children like that because they were so sickly. We didn’t know why they were being brought in.
It was only when we got home we were told the country may be involved in a war and these children had to be brought to a place of safety in case London was bombed. At that point they were thinking about evacuating children.
Things were very different at home but I soon settled; only eight of us, out of fourteen children, were at home now with mum and dad, five boys and three girls. The others were all married. We were all happy for a while. September 1939 war was declared between England and Germany. Things would never be the same. Three brothers left home the same day, two went in the air force to France and ended up in Dunkirk and one went to Gibraltar and one into the army ended up in Burma. They were all in the Territorial Army before this so had to report immediately. I remember them putting their three kit bags on the table and packing their kit. I’ll always remember the three of them walking away together.
All civilians were given an identity number and identity card, a gas mask in a small square cardboard box with a cord attached to it to enable us to carry it everywhere we went. Tiny babies were given a ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas mask, it was coloured and they were put right inside it. Some of the small children had ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas masks so they weren’t scared to put them on.
Schools closed and cinemas and most places of entertainment shut their doors. Food, clothes and coal were rationed. I remember taking an old pram and standing in a queue for hours to get one sack of coal.
By this time another brother had been called up to go into the air force. He was sent to Egypt. The brothers who were sent to Egypt and Burma went on sister ships and met in Durban, South Africa, before one headed to Asia and the other to the Middle East.
When I met my husband three years after the war I brought him home and he recognised my brother. They had served together in Burma.
My brother ‘Bert was at Dunkirk and was saved by a colleague in the Air Force. He pulled him out of the water, into a boat, when he was being machine-gunned. The air man came to our house for us to say ‘thank you,’ met one of my sisters, married her and became one of the family!
Most of the children in London had been evacuated to the country for safety. I stayed at home; my parents wanted me with them. Before the boys went away they had put an Anderson shelter in the garden for our safety. It was a double sized shelter and took up most of the garden. There were bunks down both sides. We spent a few months sleeping in there every night, we never bothered going to bed upstairs, you knew you’d be woken up in the night.
Our house was in the East End of London and when the air raids started this part of the South of England was given the name of ‘Bomb Alley.’ It was very frightening. By this time we were getting used to the routine of going to bed in the shelter night after night.
Early one morning the police called us from the shelter and said, “Grab what you can from the house as time is short and go to the end of the road.” Everyone took a bundle of things wrapped in a sheet or tablecloth. Then the police told us to find somewhere to stay because there was an unexploded bomb near the house.
The air was full of smoke; fires were burning everywhere we looked. There were no buses so we had to walk to the safest station where we managed to get a train, after the ‘all clear’ sounded, to Romford because my sister had a house there.
Living in Romford was nice. We could sleep in a bed again and the bombing was not so bad. My youngest brother was called up for the navy but he was to be a Bevan boy, which meant he was sent up north to Mansfield, to work down the mines.
I suddenly found myself on my own with elderly parents and I had a much bigger part to play digging the allotment, planting veg, to help rations go round, making bread and standing in queues for hours. I also became a member of the training corps and was taught to fire a rifle.
At fourteen I started work. The war was still on and as soon as I was fifteen I took a job in a factory making wing ribs for Spitfires. Suddenly I had grown up and felt I was at last doing something worthwhile to help the rest of my family.
There were funny times in the factory. When the sirens sounded we had to switch off all machines and make for the trenches in the field across the main road. We would all crouch down and watch the Battle of Britain being fought above our heads. We didn’t have time to be afraid someone would see the funny side of the situation and we’d all begin to laugh, every time!
War is a terrible thing, it is surprising how people would come together in times of need. Food was very short, rationing was hard but no one starved. If a child had a birthday all the neighbours would give what they could and a birthday cake would appear, and we would all get together for a party.
Christmas presents were lovingly made by Granddads who would make trains, boats, cars, out of old bits of wood. Anything that could be used was used, but no one ever made a toy gun. Grandmas knitted dolls clothes from unwoven woolly jumpers. My sisters and I made soft elephants and rabbits from old clothes and stuffed them with scraps of rag left over from the cloth rugs we made. Every house had a homemade rug. Strips of old clothes were cut and threaded through a piece of sacking ad knotted at the back and then a huge piece of sacking was sewn on the back. Patterns could be made with all the different colours of cloth and some were very grand after they were trimmed. Making rugs was a popular pastime, which kept us occupied in the shelters, young and old could all help.
Going out was not a thing we did unless it was necessary, even then we would be sure we could get to a shelter if the sirens sounded. I don’t think anyone was comfortable walking in the blackout. One Friday evening my brother was riding his bike home from work, in the black out. Unfortunately a family were moving house and had left a flat barrow piled with furniture in the road, in the complete darkness. My brother ran into the barrow with such force he bit his tongue in half. When he staggered in the house, blood all over him, everyone forgot me in the bath and dashed off to the hospital where a very clever doctor stitched his tongue together again. He still has a lisp to this day.
Travelling was difficult even with an identity card. I went to see my sister on the Isle of Wight. I had to go to the police, who gave me a permit to travel. That was because I would be going through Portsmouth or Southampton and they were royal navy dockyards.
My eldest brother was the civil engineer in charge of the American army camp at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. He came to London on one occasion and I thought it would be nice for me to back with him to his family for a break. He had a daughter my age. Once again I had to get permission from the local police and give them all the details of my intended movements.
What a holiday that was! They were still having barn dances in the local church hall. It seemed to me the war had not changed much. Italian prisoners of war worked in the fields in the camp. My brother’s house was on the road, inside the camp. Shirley was my niece and we were good pals. She was a brilliant musician and could play the piano and accordion.
Sometimes we would sit in the front garden of the house and she would play the accordion. In the field opposite Italian prisoners would be working. As soon as they heard the music they would sing their hearts out. They had a prisoner working in the house; he did the housework and was well behaved. Sometimes he would bring a list of music for Shirley to play. He said it reminded them all of home.
In 1941 the war was still raging. Most of Europe was occupied by German troops. France had fallen and there was only the channel between them and us.
It was not until I went to Yugoslavia, years later, that I realised how close to England France was.
So much had happened. I now had a brother serving in Burma, one in Egypt, another in the king’s flight with the RAF and one had returned safe from Dunkirk. Food, clothing, sweets and coal were rationed. Underwear was a big problem which some of us solved because we were able to get damaged parachutes. These chutes were made of fine white nylon and providing someone in the family had a sewing machine and a little bit of dressmaking skill the finished garments were beautiful. Also if we could acquire an army blanket or even better an air force blanket we could make a warm topcoat. I myself altered RAF trousers into ladies slacks. They were very rough on our skin but very warm. At one time after we had used all our clothing coupons up and we needed new shoes we tried clogs. That resulted in too many sprained ankles so we soon went back to the well worn out shoes.
The blackout was very necessary. We had to be very careful if we used a torch or lit a cigarette. The smallest light could be seen from the air and Air Raid wardens were always on patrol to make sure everyone observed the rules. If a light was seen you could be accused of signalling the enemy.
If we ventured out in the blackout we would always go in groups of three or more. Although we did not smoke, one of us would hold a lighted cigarette in our hand. This we hoped would make them think we had a man with us and made us feel much safer.
My sister lived in Romford and we were able to stay in her house until my parents could rent a house. This house was in the same road as my sister’s. There was a brick built shelter at the bottom of the garden and my father soon made bunk beds for us and we had a small camping stove on which we could make tea.
Some people had indoor shelters these were called Morrison shelters. They looked like reinforced cages. They were about six foot square and we had to crawl into them and lie down. There wasn’t enough room to sit up but with a blanket and a pillow you could be quite comfortable. Most families had them in the dining room and used them as tables.
Although we were away from London the air raids were quite bad and quite a lot of bombs were dropped on this part of Essex. Doodlebugs and V2 rockets were still coming over. People seemed to take everything in their stride and just carry on with their lives. We shared things we had and made the best of things. We always managed to see the funny side of something so there was plenty of laughter.
In 1941 Germany attacked Russia and it was bad news every time we listened to the radio. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the United States of America came into the war on our side. What a surprise they were. There were sweets, chocolate, chewing gum, cigarettes and nylons. They had everything and soon became very popular with the teenage girls.
Dances were held at their barracks ever week. It was fun to see the girls changing from work clothes into dresses suitable to go dancing in. Coffee or tea was used to dye their legs and they would draw a line at the back of the legs to look like a seam. If it rained it was a disaster, the dye would run and their legs became striped.
The Glen Miller Band came over from the States and their music was extremely popular. Music While You Work was broadcast every morning to the factory. We all found it very hard to stand still. We would be Jitterbugging with hammers in our hands. Everyone cheered up and sang. The more patriotic the music the louder we would sing.
When things were going bad for the Allies some songs were banned. It was upsetting for some families who had relatives serving abroad. ‘The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot’ and ‘Russian Rose’ were two we did not hear again until the war ended.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by derek_j (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Prince Regent Lane, London E16 in 1933. My father, William Johns, managed a small grocery shop with my mother Olive assisting him and we lived over the premises. It was about half a mile from the Victoria and Albert docks and this was to have profound consequences when war was declared in 1939.
Things began to hot up in the autumn of 1940 when the Luftwaffe began their raids on London. The docks were a prime target and every night the family took refuge in the Anderson shelter in the garden behind the shop. Though only six-and-a-half at the time, I can clearly remember the nightly fall of bombs close by. One night in particular was different when a new explosive sound punctuated the crash of the bombs and the banging of the anti-aircraft guns sited in the recreation ground just up the road. An almighty barrage of a different nature made us wonder what was happening. The next day we learned that HMS Cossack had been moored in the docks and had contributed its gunfire to the assault on the enemy bombers. This was a tremendous morale booster to everyone.
As the Blitz reached its heights in September, it got too hot in West Ham and my father decided to move us to my aunt Rose's house in Aveling Park Road, Walthamstow. Even this got rather fraught after a while and the two families decided to pack suitcases and get out of London. They had no real idea of destination, but the men decided to get tickets from Euston and go to Bletchley. Why they decided this I do not know.
Suffice to say, we ended up at Bletchley railway station and my father, my Uncle Ernie Young and his teenage son Ken walked off down the road to find somewhere for us to stay. We were refugees in the truest sense. Finally, after a very long time, the men returned and told us they had found an old couple in Fenny Stratford who would give us lodging for a few days.
A long walk ensued and we finally reached the home of Bill Busler and his wife. The 'few days' extended to a couple of years for my family (my uncle and family returned to Walthamstow when the Blitz quietened down). My father commuted to the business in West Ham coming home at weekends, only to find one Monday morning that the shop had received a direct hit the night before.
My sisters were called up for war work. Marjorie, the eldest, ended up at the famous Bletchley Park working with the code-breakers whilst Eileen, my younger sister, joined the ATS and was stationed at the RAOC depot at Bicester.
Our war culminated in a most amazing coincidence. Marjorie's husband, George Alexander, was a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery serving for a time in Iceland. As D-Day approached his unit was billeted in the old West Ham speedway stadium just across the road from dad's shop.
One of George's officers, a Lieutenant Pepper, happened to say that he was short of cash and needed to cash a cheque. Although the stadium was sealed off, officers were allowed out at this time and George said to him 'I can help you there'.
He suggested he visit the shop at the top of the road and say to the shopkeeper (my father) that George had sent him. The cheque was duly cashed and dad told the glad tidings to Marjorie. Despite tight security George managed to wangle a pass out of the stadium for a brief but emotional reunion with Marjorie.
Not long after, the unit embarked at the docks for their journey to Normandy a few days after D-Day, landing at Arromanches Gold Beach.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Steerpike (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is on behalf of my father as he does not have Internet access.
Some Experience of the London Blitz, 1940
My name is John Davey. I was born on December 27th 1924 in South Moltom Road, Custom House, West Ham, and a couple of miles from the Royal Docks. In September 1940, on the Friday evening of the weekend the docks were first blitzed, I was sitting with my friend in his house. At about 7 p.m. there was a series of explosions and the shattering of glass. We ran into the road and saw at the end a flame that shot into the sky, seeming to light up the whole area. My friend and I and lots of others ran towards the fire.
On the way we passed our old neighbour calmly sweeping the broken glass from the pavement as though this was an everyday thing. We reached the end of the road and saw that the first house or two were demolished and several others damaged. It was then I noticed something lying on the pavement, covered up. I lifted the cover and saw my first ever dead person, an occupant of one of the demolished houses.
My father, who had worked as a stevedore in the docks until he suffered a head injury, played an active part in the rescue operations. It appeared that a couple of bombs had been dropped, the first hitting a gas main in the road behind the house facing the top of our road, the second hitting the houses. The plane was visible circling above the fire; the bombs had missed a nearby factory by about 50 feet.
Another friend, Jackie McCall, normally came home from work at about the time the bombs dropped. He was not seen after that day. His body was never found. A few months later workmen were repairing the roofs and a body was discovered on top of one of the gables. The blast had carried it there from the pavement below and it was assumed to be Jackie.
On the night of November 12th 1940 I was standing in our porch behind my dad and an old neighbour called Mr. Cicanowitz (Dutch and known as “Mister” because we could not pronounce his name) and his dog. It was a still night. Suddenly we heard the drone of a plane that dropped several flares, like a gigantic firework display. I asked my dad whether we should go to an Anderson shelter at another house down the road (our shelter was only brick built). He said, “Yes, we’ll go in a minute”.
The next thing I knew everything went grey and I was falling sideways. Eventually I settled on my side, trapped by the rubble of our demolished house. I was screaming abuse. My dad’s voice from somewhere near said “don’t worry son, they will get you out”. ‘Mister’ just called my dad’s name a few times.
After a while I heard voices above. They heard my shouts and the rescue operation began from then. I could see the stars in the sky through what appeared to be a small gap. I could hear the dog trying to find its way out and shouted up for them to see where it appeared. They saw him, giving them some idea as to where I was. I eventually shouted up to them to lower a torch, which they did, and was able to guide them to me.
The marvellous rescue workers toiled throughout the night. I was finally rescued after eight hours or so. Unfortunately, my dad, aged 41, and ‘Mister’ did not survive. They found a pocket watch on my dad, stopped at 8.45 p.m. My mother and younger brother were evacuated when all this happened. I was sixteen at the time but it still remains in my thoughts.
The bomb was evidently a 2000 pounder that landed just 50-60 feet from the house. I never heard it coming or explode – it is strange but true when they say that you do not hear the one with your name on it and I can vouch for that.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Billericay Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
In August 1939, aged 13, I was on holiday. There had been much talk of war for over 12 months and we cut our holiday short in order that my parents could attend my half brothers wedding which had been brought forward as he was being called up into the army.
The following week we were called back to school to prepare for evacuation. Each day we attended school as normal taking a suitcase with essential clothes which were checked each morning by our teacher followed by gas mask drill. We then played various indoor games until home time. On Friday 1 September we were told that we were leaving and duly labelled, lined up to march to Upton Park station. I had always been a fussy eater and a very bad riser but the ‘bush telegraph’ had done its job and most of the parents were at the school gate to see us off and call loving messages, mine being ‘Get up first call and eat everything that’s put in front of you.’
Why we didn’t go round the corner to East Ham station I do not know but we marched in crocodile behind the headmistress singing ‘ I have lost the doh of my clarinet, the me, fah etc.’ and caught a train to Ealing Broadway where I believe we should have caught a train to Cornwall. However, we were put on a train for Oxfordshire and told we were off to Kidlington. We soon ate our sandwiches and then settled down to watch the countryside speeding by. Some time later we arrived at Bicester where we were taken to the village hall and given a drink of milk, put on to buses and driven to Kidlington. Another village hall, where we were put into groups and sent round the village to be billeted. By now it was getting quite late but on we trudged stopping at various houses to leave girls at their new homes. At the end of the Banbury Road there were four of us left and we knocked at a door and a very pretty little lady came running round the side and we entered in, and that was how my friend Joan and I met Mrs Maycock. Two other friends were welcomed next door, and after something to eat we had to write a card to our parents with our new address and then met Mr Maycock and a short while later we went to bed. Mr. & Mrs ‘M’ as I called them had only been married for 2 years and in later years I really pitied them having to take in 2 teenagers, mind you, teenagers in those days weren’t anywhere near as stroppy as they are these days.
On the Saturday the teacher in charge of our group came to check that we were ok and then we had little to do. Mrs ‘M’ suggested that we took a walk over to the aerodrome which we did and gazed at the one mechanic, the petrol pump and the [plane.
On Sunday 3rd September we went to visit Mrs Maycock senior who lived by the canal and heard the prime minister declare war. I was somewhat bemused to see Mrs Maycock senior crying at the thought of war.
For a few weeks we shared the senior school with the local children, they going for lessons in the morning and we having the use of the school during the afternoons. This worked quite well as we had games and nature rambles in the morning, but soon afterwards we were given an old zoo house with various barns where the animals had been kept. As this was the other end of the village Mr ‘M’ who was a keen cyclist made me up a bike from spare parts which helped a lot. My parents came for a visit and laid down the ground rules and both Joan and I settled into a routine. Come Christmas I had a new cycle which I must say had better brakes that the other one. Joan decided to go home as there had been no bombing and I moved into the small bedroom. Mrs’M’ began to let the double room to air force personnel for weekends and longer when their wives visited.
Our teachers had been very strict about school uniform but once clothes rationing came into force we were allowed a little latitude. The winters were very cold and I suffered badly from chilblains but there were compensations in that we used to go to ice-skating on Benheim lake, and come the summer we used to go fishing in the river and canal. Our gym mistress used to take us swimming in the river and used to insist we swam in the nude much to the joy of the local boys on the other side of the river. It was freezing. I only went home occasionally when there were lulls in the blitz, my mother had returned to nursing and worked shiftwork. Returning home one night in a heavy raid she was crouched against a wall when something touched her shoulder. Convinced that she was hit by shrapnel she turned round fearfully to find a ginger cat patting her shoulder.
Mr ‘M’ was a bricklayer by trade but all civilian building stopped when war broke out so he got a job at the local bacon factory and used to bring home offcuts which Mrs’M’ made into delicious pies. He was also a very keen gardener and we never lacked fresh vegetables. With the hens which they kept and the odd pig or two they were always busy. I tried my hands at growing vegetables but was not keen on weeding and had quire a few lectures. The school dinners were very small and I suffered badly from hunger, present nutritionists tell us we were better fed in wartime but as a growing girl I dispute this.
The council house where I lived had one cold water tap between four houses and the first one up in winter would boil a kettle of rainwater and pour it over the tap to defrost it. We had a shed in the garden with a bucket for a toilet which was emptied by a collector once a week, and on one memorable occasion the axle broke on the cart and the contents spilt all over the road in the centre of the village.
We had loads of fun and lots of hard work. When we had RAF personnel staying we would play darts in the evening which I enjoyed even though it meant I had to get up early to do my homework. My mother would never have recognised me especially when I got up early on May morning to cycle to Oxford to hear the choir on Magdalen tower.
We regularly attended church and also the cinema in the village especially when Deanna Durbin was on. Mr & Mrs ‘M’ treated me to the pantomime in Oxford and occasionally we went dancing at the aerodrome after Mr ‘M’ became a handyman there. Though I must admit that as a skinny fifteen year old I was hardly ‘Belle of the Ball’.
I was a member of the school guide company and enjoyed getting badges. The Maycock family treated me as one of their own and we have remained friends all our lives, Mrs ‘M’ and some of her family are still alive (2004) Sometimes I would go to Woodstock where Mrs ‘M’s mother managed a sweet shop and I remember sitting in bed with her sister Lilian and Mr ‘M’s sister eating unrationed sweets. My friends and I tried smoking in the blackout but when I was 16 Mr ‘M’ gave us a box of cigarettes and told us it was now legal. We didn’t bother any more!
We had very little German air activity over Kidlington. Once when my parents were visiting a plane came over and my father said it was a german, and everyone laughed until a stick of bombs fell on the aerodrome. The pilot got away because the airman manning one of the guns had hopped over the fence to meet his girl in Oxford. A plane was shot down one Xmas time and one of our RAF friends was guarding it in bitter cold weather so we cycled out with hot soup for him.
Eventually we took our exams and left for home with mixed feelings. Some of the girls couldn’t settle in their foster homes and they opened a very large house where they lived for four years. I had loved being one of a large family but looked forward to my new life at work. I was so lucky to have the billet that I did and Mrs’M’ was paid the princely sum of 7/6 (37 1/2p) for my keep. My mother gave some extras such as blankets and as I said we have always remained friends.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Chelmsford Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Jackie Jude of Chelmsford Library on behalf of Artin Cornish and has been added to the site with his permission.
The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
As far as I can recall, I only returned to London in August 1941 for just a few days as there were still air raids going on from time to time, although the Blitz itself was over. I think I was only there long enough to perhaps get my new school uniform and then I remember being put on the train to go to Wellingborough where I was met by Mr. and Mrs. Catling and their son Roy. I remember it was a long walk from Wellingborough railway station to Oxford Road where I was to live for the next 18 months or so. This was a small town and quite a different environment from living on the farm. Nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. Catling were very kind and again a Christian couple, he in fact was a lay preacher in the Methodist church, although his actual job was as a local civil servant. Roy, with whom I got on very well, was younger than me. I think he would be about 9 years old at the time and went to the local school. We would have to go to the Methodist service in the little chapel around the corner from the house, which I found rather strange, being quite different from Church of England and being in the choir at Churchill. The school I attended was West Ham Grammar. St. Bonaventure’s was also evacuated, and we had to share the facilities at Wellingborough Public School and Wellingborough Grammar School. We always used to assemble at Wellingborough Public School and then we would go either into classrooms at the Public School or walk up to the Grammar School. Perhaps half way through the day we would have to go back to the Public School to one of their classrooms.
Sometimes when changing from one school to another we would meet another class en route and a certain amount of bullying would take place, the older boys chasing younger boys. I remember being chased up a side street and rescued by a postman from an older boy who was trying to hit me over the head with a satchel. All part of public school life! As we were a football playing school we used the rather nice playing fields of the Public School because the Wellington Grammar School played rugby. One rather sadistic master we had at the time ( I can’t remember his actual name) if we did something wrong would call the boy up and make him stand against the wall holding his hands in the air until he couldn’t hold them up any longer. As soon as they dropped he would shout “ put them up “ This would go on for a few minutes before he was allowed to sit down again. He later died in an accident and we had to line the road as his hearse went by and raise our caps. There was a six foot Latin master called Mr O’Connor who would stride into the room, slapping a cane on his trouser leg as he came in and frequently caned boys if they had not done their homework properly or learned their Latin verbs or whatever. It did encourage one to attend to one’s Latin homework! As a school we seemed to have no association with the Wellingborough schools with which we shared facilities I expect they regarded us as second class citizens. In fact I can’t remember having a particular mate at school during that period. I suppose partially because we were scattered about and it was quite a long walk from the school to where I was billeted. My main companion was the son of the house, Roy. I played with him in the garden, we would go out as a family at weekends perhaps for a walk, and I would go to the cinema on a Saturday morning, sometimes with Roy. In the evenings I would do my homework and after tea on winter evenings I remember we would all sit down as a family and work on making a rag mat. These were made from cut up pieces of material which we would thread through the weave of a canvas which was stretched on pieces of wood. We used something like a crochet tool. I think lots of people used to do this at the time.
In the summer of 1942 we all went swimming and it was on a lovely evening that I became ill. I had terrible pains in my stomach and initially it was thought that I had caught some sort of chill, but later on a doctor was called. At half past ten at night I was rushed by ambulance to Northampton General Hospital with acute appendicitis. After having my appendix removed I spent ten days in hospital and was then transferred to a convalescent home for another ten days at Naseby, where there was a battle in the 1600s. While I was in hospital my mother and my Aunt Nell came all the way from London to visit me. In those days appendicitis was quite serious and often people would die if their appendix burst. I went back to school before the end of term but was not allowed to play sports until the autumn term.
We used to have long summer holidays and rather than going back to London, other than for a brief spell, I went to Lowfield Farm for most of the summer before returning to Wellingborough.
Wellingborough itself was regarded as a safe area and that was why we were evacuated there but strangely enough, whilst I was on my summer holidays at Lowfield Farm, a stray bomber overflew Wellingborough and dropped a stick of bombs. It was a Saturday morning and Roy was injured on his way to the cinema as a bomb blew out a window, badly cutting his chin. I would probably have been with him had I been in Wellingborough. As a consequence Roy was still being looked after and I could not return to the Catling’s. For a fortnight or so I stayed across the road from the house in a block of flats with one of the teachers’ families. This was very nice because it was a lady teacher, who was very kind and in fact she had visited me whilst I was in hospital earlier in the year bringing me some tinned peaches, which was a great treat. However as soon as I was able to return to the Catling’s I remained for the rest of that term. In December it was decided that it was safe enough for the school to return from evacuation back to London, as the raids had more or less ceased apart from the occasional spasmodic raid at night.
That really ends my story of evacuation but the strange thing was that my mother, now being a widow, was considered to be a single person. As a consequence people of her age had to do some form of National Service and so she was called up becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries which was evacuated down to Boscombe near Bournemouth.
So I found myself back in London, happily staying with my Grandmother in Rotherhithe and in turn my mother had to come back to London and find accommodation in West Ham if I was to be able to continue at West Ham Grammar School. of course I wished to do so and eventually we found somewhere in Upton Park where I continued to live for many years after. Initially I had to commute from Rotherhithe to Forest Gate, taking the train from Rotherhithe to Whitechapel and changing there to travel to Upton Park, walking from the station to my school in Forest Gate. My mother still had to work and when we did settle down she was having to dash out at 8 o’clock in the morning to go up to the West End where she had been transferred to the Ministry Offices. I would go off to school and come back in the evening, wash up the breakfast things, get things ready for tea, light the fire in the winter and do my homework before she got home at about half past six or quarter to seven. Once a week I used to do the shopping which wasn’t very arduous as there were hardly any decisions to be made because most things were on ration so you ‘got your ration’ and anything else that they might have in. Of course, my mother would bring a few things in that she was able to get during her lunch hour. At that time there were very few air raids and those that we did have were in the evening or at night, in which case we would go down to the shelter until the ‘all clear’ went. It wasn’t until 1944 when the Doodlebugs, or flying bombs, started to come across and initially we used to get a warning when they were coming, and then they came in such profusion that there was a constant warning. Then the four occupants of the house, the gentleman and lady from upstairs and my mother and I would actually sleep on the bunks in the air raid shelter, which was in the cellar of the house. One end of the cellar would be full up with coal and at the other end were the bunks and other bits of rubbish that might have been stored there. Not a particularly healthy environment, but we seemed to survive.
When there was a raid during the night I was not expected at school until 10 o’clock. This was a concession which was made when there was a constant alert and we would go to school regularly at 10 o’clock with lessons being held in the cellars of The Friary next door to the school, which was not very satisfactory. As far as I can recall this situation lasted for two or three months until the Allied Armies captured the flying bomb launching sites in Holland. I recall on one occasion sitting upstairs in the living room hearing one of these flying bombs approaching and tearing downstairs. I just managed to reach the steps of the cellar when the bomb exploded about a quarter of a mile away, near enough to bring down part of the living room ceiling and deposit a great lump of plaster on the seat where I had been sitting. If I had stayed there it would have given me something of a headache I should think, but apart from a couple of broken windows I don’t think any substantial damage was sustained.
Flying bombs were rather eerie things. You would hear their very noisy engines getting louder and louder as they approached, then they would cut out and there would be this long silence until you heard the bang and you knew they had exploded. If you heard it you knew you were all right and someone else had been unfortunate. Flying bombs were followed by the V2 rockets where you got absolutely no warning at all, just hearing a very loud explosion in which case, obviously, you were still alive. Unfortunately these continued until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
What a celebration that was, with bonfires and people singing and dancing in the streets. By this time I had been working for seven months as in October 1944, after just over two years at grammar school, my Grandfather had phoned to say that the firm for which my father had worked needed a junior in their City office. He felt that I should avail myself of this opportunity as, in his opinion, the war couldn’t last much longer, as after the First World War the troops came back very quickly. I would be leaving school at a time when this would be happening and it would be very difficult for me to find a job. However, unlike the First World War, National Service continued and the men were reduced and demobbed much more gradually. Nevertheless I took his advice and so without any qualifications I started work as a junior clerk in the City office of a small stevedoring company in Leadenhall Street.
I had good intentions of going to evening classes to continue my education but of course that is the beginning of another chapter of my life.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Mrs_B_Dyer (BBC WW2 People's War)
The Prime Minister’s quiet and responsible voice from the radio which announced that we were at war with Germany had the same immediate lack of impact that is true of hearing of the death of someone we love, one’s whole being refuses to acknowledge its truth. One cannot grasp it or acknowledge what it will mean or how it will change one’s life. The wartime comedy which showed the dad saying “Put the kettle on Mum we’ll have a cup of tea” was an expression of the reactions of the time which made it a classic response to disaster.
In 1939 my husband was a schoolmaster in the Waltham Forest area and he immediately became involved his school to the “safe” area in the Midlands( Kettering). We lived in Woodford Green and the children (three) and I began hastily to pack up our special needs for we knew not how long , to go to the same area. The children took favourite toys and my eldest son was persuaded very reluctantly to leave behind his xylophone. It was put in the loft for safety but was never seen again.
A large limousine ( schoolmasters could not afford limousines ) came and collected us and in a bemused stste we set off across Hackney Marshes on our way to become that downgrading term to describe our flight , “evacuees “.
Our first billet was in a good residential area, and in a large house inhabited by a single lady who had never been married or had children ( the two situations almost invariably together in those days ). In addition she had a gentleman friend who called every morning , but after our arrival he stood and held a conversation at the gate . ah!
Young children are inclined to be rather conservative in their expectation that life will continue on the same pattern and that food will be what it has always been at home. Fortunately an arrangement was made for them to attend school( far away it seemed ) and the nearby Wicksteed Park was a blessing in the freedom and fun it offered . However food was often a problem …”What’s that!” - (a summer pudding) - A child wet from top to toe who had walked into the lake pretending to be our blind piano tuner was not laughingly received by our hostess, unused to family messes, it must have been a more traumatic experience for her than we stopped to consider at the time.
After a time we were invited to move next door to be billeted with a breezy Head Teacher of a Primary school and her Billy Bunter son. The former was in the habit of spending either one or other day of the weekend in bed “ to enable her to cope with the stresses of her professional life”. The introduction of a mother father and three young children was really more than could be endured by any settled group and we too found it very difficult to be constantly trying to fit into another’s pattern. One day something (perhaps the whole thing) seemed too much and I burst into tears which startled everyone, even myself.
Change and new thinking was required and my husband, very capable of both, found us an empty house to rent. It must have been empty for years! It was filthy, but we set to with joy and turned it into a home.
Settled at last, my mother and sister joined us at first from a ‘defence area’ (Southend) from which everyone had to evacuate as German invasion was expected. All able bodied citizens had to be employed as a gesture towards the war effort; my young sister, an art student, became a telephonist. My mother, brought up and educated to be a lady had never had a professional job, but she became a shop assistant in the curtains department of a large local store and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her Head of Department was a very jolly little Welshman who made toys surreptitiously under the counter. He also knew which grocer would have oranges or bananas in (absolute treats during rationing), which butcher would have a few sausages ‘off ration’ for friends (shades of Dad’s Army), and which customer would bring in a few eggs for the staff if ‘spoken to nicely’. Another blessing when clothes were on ration too was the curtain material (off ration) which my sister and I purchased and made into house-coats.
Kettering was the enter of the boot and shoe industry, well-off, socially comfortable and until the coming of the evacuees, undisturbed by the war. The mass invasion of Londoners, particularly after the bombing started was not welcomed and could be equated with the seeming intrusion of immigrants and refuge-seekers today. Those who came in the early days of the war settled into local schools but when the bombing of London actually happened, children from east London which was then a very poor area flooded in.
My own family became relatively settled and I enlisted as a voluntary billeting officer. The children from London arrived often after nights of bombing, wearing a name and address label, carrying a gas mask and sometimes a packet of food. They surged into local schools where we met them, reassured them, and the professional full-time billeting officers sorted them out for likely homes.
The children varied from one extreme to another in their response to the experience. Some were as jolly as if on a treat, sitting on tables, swinging legs, making friends and waiting for the next happening. Others cried sadly, and some, but only a few inconsolably. Later a handful of children actually walked back to London, and other parents were known to collect their child and take them home, especially when there was a lull in the London bombing.
My role soon became established and in the first instance it was to accompany the billeting officer in his car with two or three children, and to back him up when he arrived at a house and announced to the occupants that they were to have a child, or sometimes a family (brothers and sisters were kept together where possible) billeted on them. Protests were sometimes overcome (‘I have a sick mother – or aged father etc) but the times were urgent and in general a willing attitude was expressed. Later I visited the families to help with problems that arose: e.g. children homesick, incompatible relations, bed-wetting.
The poverty in east London during the 1930s can hardly be imagined today – and it showed itself in the condition of many evacuees. Children came with scabies, ringworm, impetigo and other expressions of the conditions in which they lived. Some had never eaten at a table or slept in a bed; additionally they had already lived in air-raid shelters, the underground stations, bombed sites or any place deemed safer than their own home or street. For the people in the Midlands who had never before met children of such poverty, adapting to their needs cannot have been easy, but the spirit of the times was remarkable in hindsight and our hearts and minds were totally focused on the war effort.
The arrival of the American Air Force in Kettering during the war had an impact on the local people comparable to the arrival of evacuees but with a very different effect. Their appearance and demeanour were so relaxed as to make a sharp contrast with our own troops.
To our eyes the Americans wore soft fitting uniforms, like a gentle summer suit and shoes. They walked in an easy manner, not marching and without the tough resolution which was underlying the British trained members of the forces. Amongst their number was Clark Gable, the leading film star of the day (‘Gone with the Wind’), and when he appeared on the High Street, police were called to control the crowds.
Women in Kettering whose husbands and sons were not in a ‘reserved occupation’ had been bereft of male company for a long time and these very attractive newcomers had a refreshing effect on the local population. Ultimately the Americans had well-stocked canteens, and dances and entertainments were set up by the Red Cross. American generosity, especially to children became renowned.
I have a lingering memory that at 4 am in the morning we heard the strong throb of the American planes as they set off to bomb Germany (daylight bombing) – many did not return and our respect for their courage and support for our war effort added to their glamour. Not unexpectedly liaisons were set up and promises and expectations of marriage ‘after the war’ abounded.
My mother and sisters wee volunteers at the American Red Cross canteen, and my sisters, both artistic painted and decorated the canteen walls with huge attractive murals. An American soldier fell in love with my younger sister but the liaison did not end in marriage. My second sister had a lighter relationship which snapped when her husband startlingly returned from India where he had been taken by ship after the fall of Singapore.
My second (middle) sister and her husband and two small children were in Singapore when the war came. My brother-in-law was a surveyor there and when the Japs invaded my mother spent sleepless after sleepless nights worrying about their fate – no news, no news, no news. Then one unbelievable morning my sister and her children turned up on our doorstep in Kettering wearing extraordinary Red Cross clothes, carrying a few bags and parcels and the children’s Kiddycar.
By this time we had moved into a more salubrious home, a small house at the top of the town. Already we were five people plus my mother and sister. Now we nudged up more closely and took in one more sister and two little children. All the newcomers from Singapore were traumatized. Their family goods, silver, cars, wedding presents and any other valuables had to be thrown into the river in Singapore. Father and servants had been left behind. The ship on which they travelled back to England with many other refugees had been threatened by enemy submarines, the refrigeration system had broken down, and children and especially babies on board had suffered from the consequences; lack of fresh milk and noticeable effects.
During her years in Singapore my sister had been waited on hand and foot, experience of wartime conditions here were perhaps cruelly hard for her to adjust to. An outstanding memory was of a tray of tea cups and saucers being thrown into the sink at a time when utility cups, as thick as shaving mugs, could only be purchased in the market by near seduction of the vendor. Her children screamed all night and soon developed (with her) scarlet fever, and passed it on to our children – some were sent to the isolation hospital, already well stocked with London evacuees. Parents were kept beyond the glass verandas and when visiting I was much amused to hear a parent shout to her child: ‘Don’t do nuffink wot they tell yer!!’
There came a time when we returned to London (the sequence of events is confused in my memory) and to a large family house we bought in Wanstead. It may have been following the D-day invasion or after the Germans invaded Russia, probably their most serious military mistake – Hitler had certainly never read history and Napoleon’s fate. It seems in retrospect that at this time Germany developed a huge new bomb which came without warning and created wide destruction, the doodle-bug.
John my husband, now Deputy Director of Education in the London Borough of East Ham once again arranged to take us all to a ‘safe’ area, his mother’s home in Hakin, Pembrokeshire. Yet again we strove to adapt to her way of life – not easy.
A strong and courageous woman whose husband, skipper of a fishing boat, had been lost in the first World War when serving in the Royal Navy. His ship was said to be carrying gold bullion between England and Ireland and had been sunk. The crew were known to have escaped in a ‘long boat’ and for years my mother-in-law truly believed he would turn up, perhaps having been picked up by another vessel but also because she knew him to be a strong swimmer ‘with webbed toes’.
She lived long before there was state support for widows and children, and her determination that her children should have a good education led her to work very hard to give them that chance. She worked equally hard for us whilst we were with her, cooking and shopping, preparing picnics for us for the beach. She was strict and her home lacked any of the facilities we take for granted today, but we managed to live and endure much time in Wales thanks to her generosity. The children went to school here – another cultural change.
Still later when the bombing in the south-east stopped and we returned to London the future appeared assured. In the euphoria of the time I became pregnant, but grievously we were perhaps too hungry for peace and once again the bombing began.
At this stage our first two children were settled in schools. Our eldest son at the City of London School was evacuated to Marlborough College Wiltshire which he loathed. A telegram which said ‘Please come and fetch me, everyone here hates me’, could not be acceded to. Perhaps the fact that he was billeted with the Vicar and his wife and that when I very rarely visited (due to petrol rationing) I was required to sit in the garden shed with my son. It speaks more of the reception in Marlborough than a more detailed account could offer.
My daughter was now a pupil at St. Angela’s Forest Gate where her Grandmother had been educated, a very satisfactory situation. Nevertheless the bombing once more urged us out of London and this time (my mother and sister having returned to the south-east, no longer a ‘defence area’) we went to stay with them near the coast. The elder children continued at their respective schools, the City of London School finally returning to London. During all this change and readjustment the children remained undisturbed and reflecting on the times today remember it simply as the way of family life.
Television was unknown and entertainment was home-made. A sheet of string across the room for theatre and plays were created on the spot. Often the productions were hilarious and reflected the war as heard on the radio but devoid of the trauma of reality. Ships were demonstrably sunk, planes were seemingly bombed, people were apparently rescued, no-one was apparently mortally injured or died, a child view of the war.
Three other memories return to mind. The first is that dentists seem to have disappeared in our area, probably recruited into the services. The second was the pressure on the local G.P., probably doctors too were called up. Medicine bottles were in very short supply and every patient to the G.P. was invited to bring a urine sample in a medicine bottle, a most effective way of restoring the current inadequacy.
The third memory is of the role of the W.R.V.S. in helping us to vary the use of limited rations during the war to make food more interesting and attractive. A shop was set up in the High Street with cooked food on display, recipes printed and available, and demonstrations of cooking where cakes made with the rinsed out milk-bottle as fluid mixer were seemingly palatable.
With Churchill’s speeches to the nation we pressed on with never a doubt that we would win.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by glemsfordlibrary (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on March 12th, 1925. Actually there were two of us born that day, as I had a twin sister, Eileen. I also had two elder sisters Rose and Hilda and a brother, John. My father John,(called Jack) worked in the Royal Albert Docks as a labourer. Together with my mother, Elizabeth, we all lived in an upstairs flat of a terraced house in Monega Road, Manor Park, East London. My mother used to tell us to say our prayers and ask God for a little house. Our prayers were answered when, in 1931, we were given a new maisonette in Hartshorn Gardens, on a new estate in East Ham. It was like a palace to us, three bedrooms, our own bathroom and garden. We were so happy.
In 1938 our world began to change.My twin-sister and I went to Vicarage Lane School in East Ham. During the summer of that year we had two German Jewish sisters come into our class. Their names were Fannie and Peppie, aged ten and thirteen. The younger one would cry quite a lot. I did not know at the time of the terrible circumstances that had brought them to our country, and that they would probably never see their parents again.
There was talk of war in late summer, and the school began to make arrangements for us children to be evacuated. We had to have a small bag packed with underclothes and little personal things, and were given labels to go on our clothes for identification.
September 29th, 1938, the Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain, went to Germany to appease Hitler, and at the expense of Czechoslovakia came back waving a piece of paper saying it was 'Peace in Our Time.' Our evacuation plans were all cancelled.
The following year I left school and started work in a wholesale stationer's, P. G. Hicks, of Wakefield Street, East Ham. I had only been at work for two months, when Hitler invaded Poland, and consequently, on September 3rd, England declared war on Germany. Apart from a few air-raid warnings which we presumed were false alarms, things went on as usual. The council gave us an Anderson Shelter, but this lay in the garden for a couple of months, as there was no sense of urgency at that time.
July 10th 1940 was the start of the 'Battle of Britain.' The German air force came over with the intention of getting our 'planes into the sky in the hope they could destroy them. We would be out in the garden some days watching them twisting and turning in combat. Germany lost many planes and their plan did not go as they had hoped.
They decided to concentrate on bombing London. On September 7th, 1940, I went with my mother to buy some groceries. The air-raid alarm sounded, and the shop-keeper advised us to go into the cellar. We were there for three hours, and we did not know then that we were going to experience the first major raid in London. When we came out, there was a terrible smell of smoke. The Royal Albert Docks were on fire all around. We were only two miles from the docks. A direct hit had come down on Woolworth's in the High Street, with many killed, and a jewellery shop was hit with people sheltering in the cellar, and they all drowned as the water mains burst and they could not get out. We all knew then that we were in for it. We were all issued with identity cards. The ships ceased to come into the London docks, so my father went to work for the council, supervising the men who put up the shelters.
My father and my brother had already put up our shelter(or 'dug-out') in 1939, at the bottom of the garden. Everything was fine at first, but when we had a spell of rain we found we were treading in a foot of water. A concrete floor was put in, and bunk beds, and it was made a home from home. People went to work, then when they got home, as soon as it was dark, the raids would start. We then went into the dug-out, until the 'all-clear' sounded in the morning. I would go to work looking all around me on the way, to see what had been hit. At times the roads were cordoned off, as there were time-bombs waiting for the Army to attend to them.
We were issued with gas masks which we carried every day. They were in a cardboard box with a shoulder strap. After a while we looked upon them as fashion accessories and had all sorts of fancy containers. It was a competition, to make sure your friend did not have a better one than you!
My eldest sister, Rose, trained as a V.A.D. nurse (Voluntary Aid Detachment) with the Red Cross before the war. During the war she was a shop assistant in a large departmental store, and at weekends and some evenings she would do shifts in the local hospital. It was a 'Casualty Clearing Station' and many times she would get home and be very upset at the terrible things she saw of the bomb victims. She would join us in the shelter, and when the 'all-clear' went in the morning, went off to work again to do her day job at John Lewis, Upton Park.
In 1940, my sister, Hilda, had a baby boy, Alan. She had been evacuated, but came back to Barking to have her baby at home. Her husband, Frank, was working locally on munitions. There were nights when she was on her own, so my twin sister and I took it in turns to stay with her. One Sunday morning, whilst I was staying with Hilda, my twin, Eileen, arrived from East Ham, crying. That night a family living three doors from us were all killed, the mother and five children. A bomb had come down directly onto the Anderson shelter. The house was still standing with just a crack down it, which seemed to prove a point that night.
Rose was married to Eddie in January, 1941. The church, St. Mary Magdalene in East Ham, had been badly damaged by a bomb a few days before. There were no windows, and only part of the roof. We were freezing in our bridesmaids dresses that day, otherwise everything went well!
My brother John had been called up in 1940, and was serving with the 1st Army, 56th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was away for about five years in all, and saw active service in Algiers, Tunisia, Italy and France.
(JOHN HUDSON'S MEMOIRS ARE ALSO AVAILABLE ON THIS WEBSITE, REFS: A3878760 and A4148633)
We had rationing in 1941, clothes, soap and sweets, and a points system for food. There were queues for various things. We would see a queue and get on the end, even though we did not know what it was for, but it was usually something you were pleased to get!
I used to go to the 'pictures.' While you were in there, if there was an air-raid, they would put an announcement up on the screen. The lights would go up and those wishing to do so could leave. Most people stayed, and when the screen announced the all-clear had sounded, we would all cheer. One night I went with a boyfriend to see a film. As we came out, and were on our way home, the sirens sounded. The anti-aircraft guns started up, and shrapnel was falling all around us. I must say I was scared that night.
The planes came over mostly at night. We knew by the steady droning when they were loaded with bombs. After they were dropped, they had a lighter sound as they went back for more supplies. We stayed in our shelters as we knew another wave would be over. At one period of time, the raids went on for 100 nights non-stop.
'Lord Haw Haw' would broadcast every night from Germany to England, trying to break our morale. We looked upon him as a comedian, and had a laugh with our mates when we went into work the next day. He was the traitor William Joyce, and was hanged after the War.
Our bombers increased their bombing of Germany, consequently the raids over England died down. One morning, I got up and picked up the newspaper from the front doormat. My mother usually asked for the headlines, and when I told her the Germans were 'in catastrophe', she exclaimed: "Oh! My God! Where's that?"
In 1943, I received some call-up papers, which meant I had to go into the forces or a munitions factory. The family firm (Hicks)that I had worked for since I was 14 wrote to have me deferred, as they had lost so many staff. I wanted to go into the Womens Land Army, and in July 1944 the deferment was cancelled. On August 24th I reported to the Womens Land Army in Harlow, Essex.
My twin sister did not receive any call-up papers. She worked for the London Co-operative Society and her firm claimed that their work came under food distribution and all were deferred.
Meanwhile, we had another bit of trouble, as the Germans started to send the flying bombs over, called the V1. They made a terrific noise as they went over. Once they had passed over and the engine shut off, you knew you were safe, as they could not turn back. You just hoped it would come down in a field, but sadly that was not very often the case.
We then had the V2 rocket, which you did not know was coming, until you heard the terrific explosion when it hit the ground.
I enjoyed my life working on the land, staying in a hostel, which was in a mansion, Mark Hall, in Harlow, taken over by the government. We came under the 'War Agriculture Committee' and would go out, about forty girls to a lorry, to be dropped off in groups at various farms. I ached so much after the first day's threshing that I thought I was going to die! There was potato picking, sugar beet 'bashing', hoeing, and many other jobs that we got used to. Then we had the hedging and ditching in the winter.
We had late-night passes, and on occasions the RAF or Americans would send trucks to the hostel and pick us up for their dances at the camps.
I was a 'tractor-driver's mate' for a while, and we would go to farms taking machinery that had been hired, such as ploughs and disc harrows, etc. We would winch them up on our trailer. After a while I had a provisional driving licence, and had my own road tractor, a Ford Ferguson. I felt like I was King of the Road (or Queen!) I then went to Bedfordshire, where I went on a driving course. I was attached to a hostel there, at Hassles Hall, Sandy, and had my own three-ton truck. I was a spare driver for a while then one day I was called upon to take forty girls to work. I had never driven a big truck before on my own! I had a few hair-raising experiences that day, but I managed to get them all back in one piece!
During the potato harvest, workers were in very short supply, so after we had taken the girls to work, we then had to go to various places to collect potato pickers. I went to Cardington RAF Camp, Bedford Prison, and a camp where Yorkshire and Welsh miners lived, who had come to work on the land apparently to get some recuperation from being in the coal mines and having to work extra hours. They would work on the land for two months, and I would work with them all day, mostly potato-picking. I would then take them back to their camp, then go and pick the Land Girls up and take them to their hostel.
The local people and the farmers wondered what had hit them when we swept through the villages! Forty girls, mostly Londoners, singing at the top of their voices, 'old-time' Cockney songs that our parents used to sing, like "I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am" and "My Old Man said Follow the Van."
The war in Europe was drawing to a close in May 1945, and on May 8th was VE Day (Victory in Europe.) A group of us Land Girls went up to London for the celebrations. We managed to get to the gates of Buckingham Palace, shouting: "We want the King!" with thousands of others. Everyone was dancing and singing, it was a great day, and we joined on the longest 'Conga' ever.
The Land Army was still needed, as food was short. Our men were having to carry on the fight with the Japanese, and it finally ended in our victory, in August 1945.
I stayed on for a few more years, and dreaded the thought of working again in a closed atmosphere. The Land Army was finally disbanded, and I settled down to civilian life. I met Bernard again, who was a friend from my school days, and had been stationed in India.
We married and had two children, Pauline in 1956, and Martin in 1961. After living in London for 77 years, we are now living in a bungalow in the village of Glemsford, Suffolk, where we are very happy.
I am proud that I lived in London during the War Years, and I am thankful that we all came through in one piece, but I do not forget those who were not so lucky.
GLADYS LEVINGBIRD (nee HUDSON) DECEMBER 2004
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by Brian Wilkinson (BBC WW2 People's War)
The following account was written by my father, Frank Wilkinson, recollecting his WW II experiences. It was written shortly before he died in 1992. Parts 2 & 3 follow as separate stories.
WW II itinerary of 14701281 (Wilkinson, Frank) — Part 1
In 1938 I was 27 years old and living in Normanton, West Riding of Yorkshire where I volunteered for work in assembling and fitting gas masks for civvies. Then did a bit of LDV preliminaries on the grammar school football pitch. Armour, one broomstick, marching etc.
This sort of feverish activity did not last long but gas masks continued. I qualified for 3 — an ordinary common one, then later a Civilian Service one and then a Services one.
As outbreak of war approached there was hectic preparation at Council Offices, packing and labelling of records and vacation of space to accommodate Civil Defence. I had to take charge of Financial Records, Files, etc.
I was due to marry on 6th September but War, declared on 3rd September, meant cancelled honeymoon but a special concession of 1 day off for wedding.
On 3rd we had to report to Council Offices for “sandbagging fatigue”. The sand was reclaimed ashes from council tips, the bags were fairly open hessian and it absolutely teemed down.
Hoist soggy bag, thick juice flowed up arms, down armpits and everywhere else. My joy was complete as I saw, pipe in mouth, smirking, a Councillor who seemed highly amused.
Wedding Day, carrying gas mask, turned out lovely, although I had been handling a ton of coal delivered that morning to our new home. Decorators had to do a rush job, which they did and celebrated by spreading dried peas etc., under the bed sheet.
Life settled happily and by 1940 I had transferred my voluntary activity to the Auxiliary Fire Service. 1 boiler suit, 1 tin hat, 1 pair wellies and 1 hatchet. Turn out at every air raid warning and home on the ‘All Clear’. Fatigue seemed worse a full 24 hours after call out. 36 hours training was necessary and involved ‘Climax’ pump operating, hose running and coupling, ladder drill, roof work, fireman’s lifts etc. 1 chap came to the ‘station’ and didn’t leave for 36 hours and was most upset not to have qualified as a Fireman. Equipment, 1 Morris Fire Engine (full time brigade), 1 Climax Pump (large) and 1 Climax Pump (small) and 1 GUY M/V lorry known as ‘Spitfire’ and 1 Ford V8 Pilot Support Car. Highlight call was with the ‘Spitfire’ and Climax to a chimney fire on Pontefract Road and we had to door knock to find where it was. It had been choked out.
Before turning out, of course, I had to see wife and daughter safe down the cellar.
Stand-by time at the station was spent either playing the piano (honky-tonk quality) snooker or snacks. This until the onset of the NFS, which brought a promotion to Control Room Officer with shiny metal epaulettes.
All this time I served because I was first in a “Deferred” occupation at the Office followed by a “Reserved” occupation. When this showed signs of terminating my wife took up paid work first in the Food Office and then as a clerk in the Electricity Office, with the Council.
Eventually towards the end of l943 my Call-up notice came telling me to report to “Brancepeth” Castle, County Durham on Jan. 6th which I duly did and woke up to my 33rd birthday to Reveille. What an awakening. Stuffy barrack room, top bed on a 3-tier bunk. We recruits
were received into the Main Hall of the Castle, big open fireplaces both ends fired with full size Pit props. Spam sandwich and mug of Cocoa. We never saw that Hall again.
Made a trio with a man of similar age and an 18 year old from Hull and when I sought to find the nearest Methodist Church they volunteered to walk 2 miles or so with me. We helped each other to settle.
My various items of kit, jabs and aptitude tests followed over the first two weeks, then followed square bashing, rifle drill, bayonet drill, trench digging and crawling with rifle.
This resulted in their conclusion that I was NOT a fighting man, my conclusion that you must be fully fit to be able to report ‘sick’ and wear “Full Battle Dress” and the reward ‘medicine and light duties’.
I was glad to get over the first 6 weeks and was then posted to ‘Signals’ at Catterick. Further tests of temperament and attitude made them put me to Cipher Training, my ability to concentrate being the key.
However, before I could be trusted to secrets of Cipher I must go on an NCO’s course for a number of weeks.
Catterick — we were housed much more comfortably in Hoare-Belisha “Spiders” designed by H-B, a politician, and all the prospective NCO’s were mature age some even older than me. It was now nearly March 1944 and mornings were not so dark and cold.
We had fun! We had to take square drill on our own, watched of course by Regular Instructors.
One chap with a weak voice let us get out of earshot and with Arms at the Trail (arms length and horizontal) left us heading straight for the corrugated cover at one end of the Square, and you can imagine the clatter as the muzzles hit the metal.
At firing practise I did very well and got 8 holes out of 5 shots on my target, and the grouping was good enough to pass me. The man on my left had aimed at my target and had to wait a week to retake his test. “Exercise ME” was interesting. We were each given an Ordnance map and a Compass, sent out in an enclosed lorry driven out into the countryside, dropped individually at wide intervals and then find our way to a rendezvous at say 3 p.m. Failure to get there meant find your own way back. I failed to rendezvous but eventually got to Reeth where I found there would be a bus to Richmond at 8 p.m. and then hopefully some transport to camp. Fish & Chips and a cup of tea in Reeth helped but it was a long wait to 8 p.m. Arrived in Richmond late but found another bus to camp but unfortunately the lad behind me had had too much drink, the bus shook a bit, he exploded and I got the benefit. It was horrible. Just to put the finishing touch, I was called into the Guard Room to explain my late return, they smelt my uniform and suggested I’d been drinking but after a lot of sarcasm and a few dark threats I was sent to my billet. My pals greeted me to say that I was detailed for Church Parade in the morning but they all lent a hand, cleaned my uniform, ‘blancoed’ my belt and gaiters. Got to bed at last, got ready for Church Parade at the Methodist Church, my responsibility to report to the Signals Corporal outside the Church. Couldn’t find him, went into Service which I enjoyed only to find ‘I had been put on a charge for failing to attend Church Parade”. I was marched into the Orderly Room and when questioned claimed that I had been there. “You’re sure of that, Wilkinson?”, “Yes Sir”. “Right, ask Lt.?? to come in. He was at the Service and will question you”. It turned out alright in the end.
Finished at Catterick, passed my exams, was made a Lance Corporal and posted to Cipher School at East Dulwich.
While there my father-in-law died on a weekend when all leave had been cancelled and my address changed to BWEF (British Western Expeditionary Forces). I tried to get compassionate leave, was sent from Dulwich to Signals HQ, from Signals to the War Office and eventually was given a 72 hour Pass and travel warrant and was warned that, in view of the cancellation order, all the CMP’s will stop me to see my documentation. No one stopped me and off I went to my in-laws’ home at Sandal, Wakefield.
Reported back to Dulwich, completed the Cipher course and was ceremoniously sworn to secrecy and posted to 43 WESSEX DIV. at Tenterden (Kent) although officially just BWEF. Spring 1944 was glorious and the streets and lanes in Tenterden a mass of flowers — primroses, fruit blossom, wild flowers — bliss. After Signal Office night duty, a wash, shave, breakfast and then out into the fields. Feeling a Philistine treading on primroses, found a nice sunny spot laid down and slept. It was idyllic. Tudor Rose Café for coffee and scones and back to base for mid-day meal.
Too good to last and were uprooted and in a convoy moved into a marshalling area, which turned out to be London, West Ham Greyhound Stadium. The convoy journey there was fantastic with people lining the route cheering us and offering sweets, drinks, just anything and everything they had. It struck me that we were probably already better fed than them. As we neared London we became impressed by the number of captive balloons.
The stadium accommodation was rank upon rank of 3-tier bunks, some of which protected by corrugated iron roofing. On our first night in West Ham we were deafened by the box-barrage and the peppering of shrapnel on the iron roof. Add searchlights to this lot, and the drone of planes it was impressive we thought as we lay on our bunks fully clothed wearing our tin hats, we soon realised that tin hats wouldn’t protect us much. However, we began to crow about the box-barrage bringing down our planes, until after a few days, we realised it was most likely V1’s with fuel spent, coming down and exploding, not reassuring!
After a few days we got the whisper of D+11, our intended move. We were taken by bus to Tilbury Docks and embarked on the ‘Fort Esperance’, one of the American Liberty ships, welded not riveted. As expected we were assured the welding wouldn’t stand up to depth charges and mines.
In our hold there were 364 of us, some 80 to 100 in shallow hung hammocks, and the rest of us bedrolls edge to edge on the lower hatch covers. There were one or two blue lights to help us grope our way. Sea-sickness or nature made visits necessary and you can imagine the crawlings, groans,
cursings etc., but we managed. One satisfaction, as we moved down the Thames Estuary, was a V1 passing fairly low over us, moving in the same direction as us. The clever ones of us, realised that the V1 had probably had its wings ‘tipped’ by one of our fighters and was now heading back to enemy occupied territory.
We moved out to sea and we were told that the captain would be firing our 4” gun (our main protection). A flash, an explosion, smell of cordite, a shell tearing the air apart and a poor seabird disappearing in a cloud of feathers. Next morning, on deck, we saw we were part of a huge convoy of ships of all kinds and sizes guarded by a cruiser, 2 destroyers and smaller but faster naval craft.
It seemed a very long trip but watching the convoy was interesting and an occasional one couldn’t keep up, so was told it could leave the convoy but it would have to make its own way.
Later in the voyage we could see what looked like a near wreck tethered to a line of fence posts. This didn’t make sense at all but eventually it transpired that it was part of the Mulberry Harbour, being towed into position by one of the ships already filled with concrete ready for scuttling when in position. As we neared land the sea got rougher and stayed so for 6 days during which time we had to ride at anchor; all the others doing the same. Behind us, further off shore, were two battleships, ‘Duke of York’ and another functioning as artillery against enemy shore emplacements. Add to this, spotter aircraft — small biplanes and Lysanders, exploding depth charges and German magnetic mines, life was never dull. Sea explosions brought up stunned fish, which were cleverly caught in empty dry-ration tins converted to colanders. Lucky anglers managed to get the ships galley to cook them. Our food in this period was ships biscuits, ration chocolate, self-heating soup, the latter quite welcome. The heating was achieved by a tube built-in, activated by removing the tip, having first pierced two air holes. Hot soup poured into enamel mug and enjoyed. Soup tin was holed at the bottom to ensure its sinking when pitched overboard.
Less enjoyable were the following facts:-
1. Our Reconnaissance Unit, housed amidships with transport on deck and transport below, was mined, set on fire and was a total loss of men and equipment. There were other losses too.
2. Spotter aircraft used bulldozed landing strips, which were very dusty and so disclosed their locations. Dust was kept down by spraying with heavy fuel oil, which also impregnated the air and fell at night filling our ships holds and our lungs. As the sun rose, so did the temperature and the fumes.
Six days of this (now D+17) it was safe to land so far as the waves were concerned. Our vehicles, together with operational staff were transferred to LST’s (Landing Ships Tanks) forced on to the beach, ramp doors were dropped, and vehicles driven off, but carefully because they were heavily plastered with water-proofing gunge which had to be stripped off as soon as possible. The area was fairly firm sand dunes, and we on foot had followed to help with the de-proofing. It was dusk and soon dark as we worked but I had time to notice in lulls between battle noises a bird singing beautifully (of course a Nightingale) and in the low dune grasses there were glow worms. That was the “Peace of God that passed all understanding”. It was beautiful.
Now we were functional.
We had landed at Courseulles, moved a short way inland unhindered and located around Caen. We could see Caen being bombed by our aircraft, the Halifaxes and Lancasters flying low
in line astern, through the flac, dropping their bombs and turning for home. Real bravery!
Our battalions were engaged in the battle for Mt. Pincon, the dominating high land. It proved very difficult for them but we were back a little way at H.Q.
Montgomery had boxed us in with 25 pounders to do a ‘stomp’. The blast from the guns shook everyone physically but it was a re-assuring noise. German aircraft came looking for the guns and sprayed the area and our signal office caught one or two rounds. Headway was soon made and we moved to Argentan. This was another heavy onslaught and we had a lovely fireworks display as arms dumps were set on fire. Whose? Tracer bullets are exciting in the dark. Every 5th bullet is a tracer.
We had an evening field concert in this area with George Formby in person. We all had our rifles and once or twice an enemy aircraft flew over. Everyone had a go without effect but I felt afterwards we were a bigger risk to ourselves.
Another memorable event was a field ‘Communion Service’ conducted by the duty Padre. Amid thistles, cowpats etc., we knelt and received the Bread and Wine. Another strengthening.
As we followed our advance we saw evidence of our ‘Typhoon’ raids. They attacked enemy convoys with their under-wing rockets, knocked out the first and last mobiles which stopped the rest to become sitting targets. Once saw a German midget submarine little damaged but totally out of its element.
Things were getting desperate for ‘Gerry’ as he tried to retreat back to Germany. We even came across a piece of horse-drawn artillery on its side with the animals dead.
It was a hot late summer, and our khaki shirts got hard and shiny with sweat and our battle dresses were smelly, but we had to manage. Our water, drinking and washing was from our water-cart and used carefully. To heat water for shaving etc., we had a ‘dehydrated potato’ tin filled with sand and soaked with petrol. Up to 10 or so used it in turn — it was thick at the end. Our mess tin mug etc., washing up was similar with the lazy ones just swilling there tins around without bothering to clear uneaten food, bacon rind etc., Foul!
One late evening we took some heated water behind the camouflage netting and stripped off for a much needed wash down. Three young girls arrived on bikes and we made haste to cover our modesty. The girls were quiet but reluctant to leave, we were filthy, so we hurriedly but thoroughly washed. We ourselves saw later what their interest was. One of our D.R.’s, an Australian, was a sun-bather and he too was having a wash-down. He was deeply tanned except for the ‘white’ critical part and in the fading light it must have seemed weird.
I can’t remember place sequences after this period as we cleared France, Belgium and much of Holland as we moved towards Germany. It was surprising to see mobile 88mm guns in emplacements on both sides of the main road being used as heavy artillery. Yet here they were obviously in good order but abandoned.
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