Bombs dropped in the ward of: Plaistow South
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Plaistow South:
- Parachute Mine
- 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 South
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.
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
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.
Contributed originally by dougsbody (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is a "script" which I use when talking to schoolchidren about my experiences as a small boy during the war. I do this about three times per year for different local schools, when they have World War Two as a history subject. The children are all primary school children hence the rather simplistic language used in the "script". I use it in conjunction with photographs on overhead slides and a collection of wartime artifacts that I have aquired, including some toys.
The Memoirs of a Small Boy during World War Two
I was born in Plaistow, which is on the East Side of London in July 1936
I lived in East Ham at my Grandmother's House together with my Mum and Dad, two aunts, two uncles and my Great Uncle Dave who had fought in the war against the Boers in South Africa and in the first World War. My grandfather died before I was born
Then when I was three years old , Britain went to war with Germany. My father had been a regular soldier in the Royal Horse Artillery and he was called up straight away leaving my mother and me to stay with my Grandmother.
The Government was afraid that there would be bombing in London so they made air raid shelters available for the people who lived there. There were two types, the Morrison Shelter and the Anderson Shelter; both named after the men who designed them. The Morrison Shelter was a metal cage that fitted inside the house usually under the table but the Anderson shelter was put in the garden and was made of big curved sheets of corrugated iron. My Grandmother had an Anderson Shelter and I can remember my uncles digging a big hole in the garden and putting the shelter into it. Then it was covered over with all the soil that they had dug out and my Grandmother grew vegetables and things like lettuces and radishes on it.
My grandmother also kept chickens for their eggs and rabbits. We used to eat the rabbits and the chickens too, if they stopped laying eggs
Another early memory was of the workmen coming down the street that my Grandmother's house was in and cutting down all the iron railings that ran in front of all the houses. They said they needed the steel for the War Effort to make guns and shells and tanks.
Then the government decided that all the children should be evacuated to the so that they wouldn’t be killed when the bombing started.
Evacuation meant that the children were sent off into the Country without their mums and dads, to live with people they had never met before. Sometimes their brothers or sisters went to live in a different house
Some children went to Australia and Canada but most of them went to the country here in England or Wales or Scotland
But not all of the children went on their own. Small children could go with their mothers, so I went with mine. My mother packed our belongings into two suitcases; one for me and one for her and off we went with our Gas Masks over our shoulders to catch the train.
That was how I came to be evacuated to a little village near Dunster, in Somerset with my mother.
When we arrived they took us to a big hall and I was running round the hall and I bumped into a gentleman whose name was Captain Lutteral. He sked, “Whose child is this?” and my mother came and rescued me and he said to her “you can come home with me”. That is how we came to stay in a big house in a little village called Bicknoller, right at the foot of the Quantock Hills with Captain Lutteral and his family.
Captain Lutterall must have been very rich, because he had servants and a cook and a parlour maid. His daughter was called Miss Elizabeth. She was 16 and she had her own pony.
We didn’t stay very long in Somerset because the Germans didn’t bomb London after all so lots of mothers, mine included, took themselves and their children back into London
So we went back to stay with my Grandma and my uncles and aunts, in East Ham. Neither of my uncles were called up to join the Army because they were both in “reserved occupations”. That means that the job that they did was ever so important to the “War Effort”. The youngest one, Tom was a toolmaker making tools that were used to manufacture shells, but at night he was an Ack Ack Gunner.
Anyway, back we went to London and we weren’t there very long before the Germans did start to bomb. We used to sleep down n the shelter every night because of the Air Raids and we had mattresses on the floor. People who didn’t have shelters used to go down into the London Underground and sleep on the Station Platforms.
We also used to go down the shelter in the daytime if the siren sounded.
Fire engines and ambulances didn’t have sirens in those days, they had bells.
Air Raid Wardens wore steel helmets and they used to go round the streets making sure that people didn’t have any lights showing because it would guide the German planes and show them where to bomb. So all the houses had to have blackout curtains made of black material to stop the light coming through the windows. The Wardens would shout, “Put that light out” if they saw anyone with a light showing. If you had a torch it had to have a cover over the bulb.
One day after a very big air raid I remember coming up out of the shelter and all the air was full of smoke and all the sky was red. The Germans had begun what became known as the Blitz, which is short for Blitzkrieg and is German for lightening war. I can still remember the smell of the smoke and the cordite (which was in the bombs) as if it were yesterday
When the Germans began to bomb London my mum took me to live with some friends in a village in Essex called Tiptree.
We lived in a little cottage called Redcot and we had a Morrison Shelter under the table in case the Germans bombed us. By now my Father was at the Army Depot in Collingham in Nottinghamshire because he had come back to England from Dunkirk
The Germans had pushed the British Expeditionary Force back to the English Channel at Dunkirk and lots of very brave people took their little boats across the English Channel to France to rescue the soldiers and bring them home. My dad was lucky; he was one of the soldiers who were rescued.
By this time my father was a Despatch Rider which is a sort of messenger who rides a motor cycle. They were call Don Rs. Don R is short for Despatch Rider
My mum took me to live in Collingham, so that we could be near my Father.
In Collingham we lived with the village postman at first. His name was Mr Harker. Here is a picture of me with Mr Harker. He only had one hand and he used to have a big clip that screwed into the end of his arm and he could put all the letters into it. Sometime he used to take me with him when he went to deliver letters and he would pull up two carrots from the field and wipe them clean and we would eat one each as we walked along the lanes. It was in Collingham that I started school, I was five then.
My dad was sent to North Africa (Tunisia) in November 1942 and we went back to London again to live with my Grandma and my Aunts and Uncles in East Ham. At Christmas my dad sent me a Christmas Card all the way from Tunisia. I’ve still got it. It was printed on special light paper so that it could be flown to England in an aeroplane without being too heavy.
My mum went to work for a factory called Plessey. They made munitions, that is, shells and bullets. The factory was deep down in the ground on an underground railway station. She used to operate some sort of machine making shell cases
I went to Latham Road School, in East Ham. I was only 6 and Barbara, the girl from next door, who was older than me, used to take me to School. We used to walk to the school and on the way we used to collect all the pieces of shrapnel that we could find. We used to put them into a box in the corner of the classroom. Shrapnel were the pieces of shells that had been fired at the German bombers and had fallen back to the ground after they had exploded in the air. They used to be collected from the school and melted down to make more shells. Sometimes we picked up pieces of what was called window. Window was thin strips of silver paper, which were dropped by the German Bombers to confuse our radar.
One night when I was about 7 years old there was an air raid. My Uncle Tom let me stand outside the air raid shelter with him and he put his steel helmet on my head and I was able to see the tracer bullets from the Ack Ack Guns firing up into the sky and the searchlights picking out the German Bombers. There were also lots of Barrage Balloons floating up in the sky on the end of steel wires. This was to make sure that the aeroplanes couldn’t fly low enough to bomb accurately because if they flew too low their wings would hit the cables. The Balloons were full of gas and just floated up when the cables were let out.
On another occasion I was standing in the garden and I saw a V1 which we called Doodlebugs. They were flying bombs powered by a ram jet engine. The engines made a very funny noise and when the engine stopped the bomb crashed and exploded.
We didn’t have television in those days, nor computers, video recorders, tape recorders, music centres or game boys. Most of our toys were second hand because the toy factories were all making shells and bullets and guns or else they were home made. My Uncle Tom made me some tanks and boats out of wood.
We had some comics, like the Beano and Dandy, Film Fun and Radio Fun and we did have what was called “the wireless”.
My Grandma had a wireless and it was powered, not by electricity but by a battery called an accumulator. It was a bit like a small car battery, except that it was made of glass and we used to have to take it to a shop to have it charged up. My grandma’s house didn’t have any electricity so the lights were gas lamps and they used to make a soft hissing sound when they were alight . You had to be very careful when you lit them because the gas mantles were very delicate. At night, one of the adults would draw the blackout curtains light the gas lamps and then we would all sit down to listen to the wireless until it was time to go down into the shelter to bed. We did not have any lights in the shelter only torches and candles
We also had a gramophone, which you had to wind up to make it play. The records were quite brittle and would break if you dropped them. One of my uncles played a banjo and another one played the accordion so whenever we had a party we had lots of music
Towards the end of the war, when I was about eight years old, I moved to Birmingham with my mum and we lived with my Father’s parents. We lived opposite Elmdon Aerodrome, which today is called Birmingham Airport
I used to sit on the grassy bank outside my grandparent’s house and watch the Lancaster Bombers take off and land and in the playground at the school that I went to, we had a barrage balloon.
The war ended soon after that, in April 1945.
All over Britain people held victory parties in the streets. I went to London with my mum and we joined in the victory party in my Grandma’s road. Someone brought out a piano and we had tables all down the street and we all sat down to sandwiches and cream cakes and jelly and ice cream. The grown ups drank beer and danced up and down the street to the music of the piano
My Father was demobilised and came home in January 1946 and I have lived in the Midlands ever since.
D.C.J. Morrison 15th May 2002
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