Bombs dropped in the ward of: Plaistow North

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

High Explosive Bomb

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

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

No bombs were registered in this area

Memories in Plaistow North

Read people's stories relating to this area:

Contributed originally by Billericay Library (BBC WW2 People's War)

I was evacuated for the first three years of the war but my parents were living in the east end of London. My father was a ship's plumber in the docks and as soon as the war started my mother went back as a nurse on a first aid post. After a few months the post was closed due to the fact that there were no air raids and mother went to work at the local hospital. She was a fully qualified nurse and had given up nursing when I was born.

I only knew one person who was at Dunkirk, and I remember him making lots of jokes about it when he came to tea after he was rescued. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr Churchill was an inspiration to us all as we listened to his broadcasts on the radio, I never for one moment imagined that we might lose the war.

When the Blitz started, life became very difficult for the eastenders and my parents decided to have an Anderson shelter in the back garden. The bombing was dreadful but I only knew one friend who was killed. She had been my patrol leader in the guides before the war and was sheltering with her mother and brother. During a lull in the bombing her brother went into the house to make a cup of tea and the shelter received a direct hit killing May and injuring her mother, her brother surviving with minor injuries.

Things gradually became worse and many foodstuffs were rationed, the bread was very grey, and long queues formed for anything unrationed, e.g. fish, offal. It was difficult for my mother working and getting unrationed foods but after a while we had a new neighbour move in and she would queue for mother as well as herself. Occasionally we would be allowed an extra ration of dried fruit for special occasions and I can remember having to wash the fruit about 20 times to remove the grit before it could be used.

In 1942 I returned from evacuation and the worst of the Blitz was over so I set about finding employment, not the easiest thing despite having done well in my exams, the trouble being that I didn't want to be evacuated again and many firms were now located in the country. I applied to banks and insurance firms and finally went to the headmistresses association who offered me an interview with an accountant and a solicitor. Having no idea what either of them did I opted for the accountant and was offered a place as a comptometer operator and audit clerk which was a deferred occupation and released a boy for the forces. I first had to train as a comptometer operator and then would go on audit carrying the machine. All for 35/- a week (£1.75)
That winter I also learnt to make blocks of coal with nutty slack because the coal we received on ration was mostly dust.

I would also go shopping in the market in Green Street, Upton Park for material to make clothes, soon learning that if I didn't mention coupons nobody asked for them. I've since learnt how these materials were obtained and occasionally get a twinge of guilt!

My father died in January 1943 and the night before his funeral we had an air raid, Mum snatched up her knitting and we rushed under the stairs leaving insurance money and other valuables on the dining room table.

My father had been ill for a long time from effects of the first world war and although I was very sad to see him go I have to admit that things were easier after his death. There was no health service and my mother had to pay all his Dr's bills and hospital bills out of her salary once the panel money and HSA had run out. When my mother was on duty at nights I would get my father's tea in the morning and my own breakfast of dried egg etc: which was edible as long as you ate it as soon as it was cooked otherwise it was like leather. I could manage dried milk in coffee but it was awful in tea and at work I would drink marmite.

Shortly after the death of my dad my best friend lost her father and that summer we went to Torquay on holiday with my mother. The train was packed with troops and the guard invited us into the guards van where we were able to sit on luggage and from which we emerged covered in smuts from the engine. We had a great time, a small part of the beach was open and we were able to swim. The food was excellent and we had scones with Devon cream for breakfast.

My friend and I both worked for the insurance side of the business when I was not on audit and we girls loved to help the office boys take the ledgers down to the basement where they were put in the safe against bombing. When on audit I would travel all over London and occasionally would go away. I went to some lovely places, The Hotel de Paris in Bray near Maidenhead where Willis Faber were was beautifully situated by the river and you could imagine the rich and famous, including the Prince of Wales staying there. I also went to Derby to Rolls Royce, and stayed in the Midland Hotel realising that wealthy people were able to acquire better food and conditions than we mere mortals. The senior auditors used to go for long walks in the countryside around Derby and once they realised that I would not be a drag they allowed me to join them, and despite the icy conditions I fell in love with the area.

Meantime my mother applied for the position of matron at an old folks home at Cuffley Hertfordshire so we went to live there. It was a lovely old Georgian house at the top of a long hill. I would cycle to the station each morning which took ten minutes and back in the evening which because I had to walk half the way took thirty minutes. We had a swimming pool and tennis courts in the grounds and I had a huge room and a servant to clean my shoes. Every so often they would hold a Red Cross fete which was great fun and to which I donated all my old toys. The only regret I have is that I gave all my cigarette cards and my son now collects them and would have loved them.

One morning in May 1944 I was cycling to the station and became aware of masses of planes overhead. D-Day had arrived. One night shortly afterwards there was an air raid warning and having got the patients into the main sitting room several of us went on to the terrace to watch the bombing over London. We saw a plane dive to the ground and all felt sorry for the pilot little realising that we were watching one of the first doodle bugs.
Within a few weeks we received a call saying that our house had been damaged and my mother went up to East Ham to see the extent of the damage. The bomb had fallen two roads away but the house was ok at the front nearest the bomb except for losing all of its windows. The roof had come off, the wall between the front and living room had collapsed and there was a huge hole in the back of the house. My half sister who had been staying over night was standing at the front door in the pouring rain brushing the muck and rain out as it poured down the stairs.

The emergency services soon effected repairs to make the place reasonably safe. The windows had a sort of frosted glass fitted and mum said, the middle wall was so well fixed she thought that whatever else came down that would last forever.

I was supposed to be going to Scarborough for a week with a friend who lived even nearer to the bomb but while waiting at the station received a message to say that she couldn't come so eventually she spent the week at Tolmers where I was living. The authorities gave you money and clothing coupons if you were bombed and she did quite well all her best clothes had been packed in a suitcase ready for her holiday.

I remember that we walked out of the village to see the Italian prisoners of war. They seemed happy enough and stood by the wire whistling at us.

I was allowed to go dancing at East Ham and stay over night before the bomb providing the girl next door stayed with me and one night a buzz bomb dropped fairly near and we crept to the back door to make sure that her house was still standing having no idea of the damage they inflicted. Sometimes I would go to a film in London with a boyfriend and on one occasion missed my train and ended up getting the last train home arriving at Cuffley at 1am and getting a real rollicking. 'You could have been attacked in the woods by a prisoner of war' but as we all know those sort of things never happen to us!

After 18 months my mother transferred back to East Ham to become matron in charge of the day nurseries, a change which pleased me greatly as I was able to resume all my activities. I studied bookkeeping and accountancy, went to the cinema at least once a week and joined the old school club and dramatic society. Not that I was any great actress, they soon made me secretary. I would spend at least 2 evenings with my mother and knitted myself jumpers and made various items of clothing. I was never bored.

One morning we were shopping in the High Street when the alarm went off and we dashed in to the basement of a butchers. As we went down the stairs we saw a huge rat and decided we'd rather face the bombs and went straight back up again.

At last VE Day came and we had a great celebration. I shall never forget the atmosphere and I didn't even mind that it was my birthday and I received no post.

The blackout protection came off the train windows and it seemed as if we were travelling in a large goldfish bowl.

A few months later VJ Day arrived and I was on holiday at Clacton but although we all celebrated there was not quite the same feeling of relief possibly because things at home with rationing and shortages were even worse. Still, the boys were coming home and life could gradually get back to normal. Best of all we could now stop sleeping in the shelter for as I had reverted to my old ways and wouldn't get up when the siren sounded my mother had fixed two bunk beds together in the Anderson and every night we trooped down the garden to sleep. It was really quite comfortable but boy did my mother snore. I had always attended church and we all went to a Thanksgiving Service, we had been very lucky.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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Contributed originally by Billericay Library (BBC WW2 People's War)

My name is Len Smith, I was born in 1928 and was about to commence my secondary education at the time when the war broke out in 1939.

Unlike many of my contemporaries, I was not evacuated to a ‘safe area.’ I lived throughout the war years in one of the most heavily bombed areas of Britain - the County Borough of West Ham.

I have experienced life as a schoolboy and then as an adult under these extreme and traumatic conditions, since family circumstances deemed it necessary for me to start earning my living at the minimum school leaving age of 14.

It is worth mentioning that following the first big air raid of September 7th 1940, we were under attack for 57 consecutive nights and thereafter from heavy raids several times per week until the end of May 1941.

Put into perspective, each of those nights, from dusk to dawn, was spent in the musty confines of an Anderson shelter with only a candle or oil lamp for lighting. After May 1941, the air attacks became more sporadic, until the nightmare onset of the V-weapons assault in 1944 and 1945.

In September 1939, following the mass evacuation of children from London and other vulnerable areas, many schools closed. A large number of teachers were evacuated along with their pupils, while younger male teachers were conscripted for military service.

Initially, no provision was made for pupils remaining in London. We were simply told to go home and await instructions about our future education. After about 6 weeks, I was allocated a place for part-time education in a local mission hall, 2 afternoons a week from 1.30 to 3.30pm. The subjects were English and arithmetic.

In February 1940, with the situation at home remaining quiet, many evacuees and some teachers returned and I was able to resume full-time classes.

In September 1940, following the first major air assault of the blitz, the school promptly closed again and there was another mass exodus of people fleeing the capital. Main line railway stations and coach stations were besieged. For the next 3 months, there was no organised education. During this period, a number of schools were destroyed or seriously damaged, while some provided temporary accommodation for bombed out families. Others provided makeshift mortuary accommodation for the large number of fatalities resulting from the bombing.

Meanwhile, the children with no schools to attend were just running wild in the streets. Who cared about education? Personal survival was all that mattered, tonight we may be dead!

Sadly, it was a school that featured in West Ham's single worst air raid incident. Several hundred people bombed out of their homes in the Tidal Basin area of the borough were being housed in the South Hallsville School in Agate Street, Canning Town, while waiting to be evacuated to a safer area. The buses arranged to transport them out on Monday afternoon of 9th September failed to arrive.

It was rumoured that the buses had been sent to Camden Town by mistake, and this meant that the homeless people were obliged to spend another night in the school. In the early hours of Tuesday morning 10th September, the school received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb. The official death toll was estimated between 70 and 80, with scores injured, many seriously. Locally, it us believed that the number of the dead was considerably higher. Whole families were wiped out in this terrible incident.

In January 1941, I was able to resume my erratic education when a total of 80 pupils were mustered, including an intake from a nearby school which had been destroyed. Conditions were far from ideal for studying. We were all under stress, including the teachers. Any homework had to be completed before the nightly trip to the Anderson shelter, as we were still under attack from heavy night raids. Occasionally there were daylight raids, and when these occurred, we would be marshalled into the corridors which had been reinforced with blast walls. Such was the uncertainty of life at this stage, that as I was walking out of the schoolyard with a colleague one afternoon and we turned to go our respective ways, he said to me, ‘See you tomorrow, I hope.’ I said yes and he replied, ‘That’s all we can say now, isn’t it?’

I can still remember a chorus we would sometimes sing at morning assembly. I think it may have been composed by one of the teachers. It went something like this:

‘Jesus is with you, don’t be afraid
He will protect you, all through the raid
When bombs are falling, and danger is near
He will be with you, till the all clear’

My school survived several near misses and sustained blast damage to windows and roof once during school hours.

Many people owe their lives to the Anderson shelter. Named after Sir John Anderson, Minister of Home Security in Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet, they were supplied to all homes with a back garden. A charge was made according to family income, the maximum being £7. They were a crude structure in heavy gauge, galvanised corrugated steel, set into a 3’ 6” deep pit in the ground and covered with earth from the excavation. They were also one of the best life savers of the war. I have seen them mangled and distorted by the bomb blast but their occupants survived. Obviously, they couldn’t withstand a direct hit and sadly, a number of such incidents did occur. In a neighbouring street, all five occupants of the shelter were killed instantly including my mother’s friend and her teenage daughter.

On a lighter note, the air raids during the first eight weeks of the blitz were so regular that the proprietor of our local corner shop chalked on his boarded up window, ‘OPEN TILL WARNING.’ The local baker went one better with this:

‘Though bombs and blast come thick and fast
We’ll carry on quite gaily.
While we’re still here,
We’ll persevere,
To bake out Hovis daily’

During the summer of 1941, our school, along with others in the area, were given the task each afternoon for a period of 2 weeks of filling in names, addresses and National Registration numbers on hundreds of new issue ration books. We were told that we would be helping the war effort by relieving the overworked staff at the local food office and, moreoever, the exercise would help to improve our handwriting skills.

My ‘on and off’ education finally drew to a close at Christmas 1942 when I left to commence my working life and thus complete my early transition from childhood.
I have often been asked what we did for pleasure during those trying years. The answer - by today’s standards - was very little. We made the best of the situation we found ourselves in. There was, of course, no television but we had the radio, known then as the wireless. There were just 2 stations, the BBC Home Service and the Forces Programme the latter providing mainly light music and entertainment shows. However, broadcasting would go off air when a raid was imminent. Cinemas generally remained open, even during air raids. A notice would appear on the screen as follows:

‘The air raid warning has just been sounded. Those who wish to leave the theatre should do so immediately. Meanwhile the show will continue.’

It was decision time, whether to take pot luck and stay or whether to make a swift dash for home, hopefully before the raid intensified. Either way it was a gamble.

Confined to the musty Anderson shelter during the long evenings and nights of the early weeks of the blitz we would sometimes play card games by the light of a paraffin lamp as a welcome distraction from the noisy and dangerous environment outside.

Parks and public open spaces provided some pleasure although some were occupied by anti-aircraft gun batteries and searchlight units, while other housed RAF barrage balloons. With all the coastal resorts of Essex, Kent and Sussex off limits by a government imposed ban, and with notices displayed at railway stations asking, ‘'Is your journey really necessary?'’ most people spent what few holidays they had at home. There was some municipal entertainment provided during the summer months in local parks and recreation grounds with bands and amateur singers. Fruit picking and agricultural camps provided a welcome getaway for some.

Occasionally, we would attend a football match at Upton Park ground. Because most players were serving in the Armed Forces, the West Ham team would often include a number of guest players, if their regular team members were unavailable. The team sheet would always include the player’s military designation, thus there would be names such as Sgt Medhurst, Gnr Gregory, Cpl Corbett and a/c Foxhall, etc.

Ballroom dancing became popular when night raids were less regular, and the favourite local venues were Stratford Town Hall and Canning Town Public Hall.

If anything good arose from the 1940s, it was surely the comradeship that was fostered by the circumstances we were in. We cared for one another as never before, and when someone lost their home or worse when they lost loved ones, there were genuine feelings of sympathy and as much help as it was in our power to give. When a major incident occurred in an adjacent street, our air raid warden came round asking for volunteers to provide tea and refreshments for the rescue teams who had been toiling all night to recover the victims. The response was magnificent in spite of the rationing. We raided our larders to make sandwiches and my mother made tea in a large enamel jug which I took to the grim scene along with a number of other neighbours.

Throughout this story, I have tried to provide just a small insight into our way of life on the Home Front during those troubled times from a teenager’s view. There is so much more to relate, including London’s most terrifying period of the war, namely the nine month assault by the notorious V-weapons of 1944/45.

My unpublished book, ‘The Way We Were’ is at the Local Studies Section of Stratford Public Library. It is a portrayal of life in London’s East End from the early 1930s to 1952. It includes a detailed section on the Second World War and its effect on the local population. The book contains archive photographs of wartime scenes and there is also a local civilian roll of honour of the many who lost their lives, some of whom were my friends and neighbours.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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

High Explosive Bomb

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

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

No bombs were registered in this area

Images in Plaistow North

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