Bombs dropped in the ward of: Royal Docks
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Royal Docks:
- 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 Royal Docks
Read people's stories relating to this area:
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.
Contributed originally by Ivy (BBC WW2 People's War)
THE START OF IT ALL
Aged seven and with a cardboard box containing my gasmask hanging from my shoulder I had been one of a bewildered crowd of youngsters gently but firmly ushered on to the train at Waterloo by the nuns from St. Joseph's Convent School in Abbey Wood, London. 3 million children were to be evacuated from London by the authorities in the first weeks of the Second World War but ours was a private arrangement and we were off to Canterbury - a ludicrous decision when with hindsight it is remembered what that city suffered. The little girl I was billeted with was definitely not my favourite friend. While she made the best of things I snivelled my way through the days. Letters home pleaded for my beloved teddy bear and soon the parcel arrived. I can remember vividly the feeling as I opened it that here was just one thing of my own in this alien world into which I had been catapulted.
During the first ten months after war was declared on 3 September, 1939 all remained quiet in this country - the phoney war as it became known - and the expected raids had not yet made any appearance. After sleepless nights on the part of my parents and begging from my grandparents to "bring the poor little chicken home", my mother flung caution aside and decided to do so. A marathon effort was required to obtain any long-distance transport, attempts to find a train from London to Canterbury met with the delivery in tones of great scorn the question "Don't you know there's a war on?" Trains were being commandeered for troop movements and there was no knowing when any normal passenger service would be running. Later, we became used to seeing billboards reminding us that "Careless Talk Costs Lives" and demanding "Keep It Under Your Hat" - we learnt to see spies round every corner. But I think that the first of these posters was the one that shouted "Is Your Journey Really Necessary?" at every station. My mother insisted that hers was and, not one to be easily deflected, eventually found a Green Line coach. Of the reunion I can remember no details. Only that "Mummy is here and I'm going home".
The problem of my education now had to be dealt with. My parents sent me to the nearby Council school. The cold stone of the walls, painted in the regulation dark green below and grubby cream above, the bare concrete steps, the echoing corridors.... did nothing to cheer my unwilling soul. The day came when a school inspector entered our classroom and as a new girl I was called out to meet him. The inspector beamed, asked my name and then said "What does 'dog' spell backwards?" I remember replying with some hauteur "God", whereupon I was vouchsafed due praise and allowed to sink back into oblivion. But the standards there were far behind those at the Convent and I was gaining nothing. After a few weeks I left.
Not long after this school also was evacuated and now there was scarcely a child to be seen in the streets. The air-raids had still not begun. As summer approached I spent happy days in the garden where stood the Anderson shelter that my father had installed, one of two and a quarter million distributed by the Government around the country for private citizens. He excavated a large area and walled it in with fifteen sheets of corrugated iron, those forming the sides curving inward at the top to make the roof. A small opening was left at the front covered by sacking. The excavated soil was heaped over the top, back and sides for added protection and insulation. Piled up sandbags formed a solid "porch" in front of the opening so that, during a raid, shrapnel and other debris would not fall into the shelter. Lastly, my father shortened a ladder by which to descend. That very ladder has only recently disintegrated after standing in my present garden behind the shed. All those years....
But the war in Europe was worsening. The British Expeditionary Force, sent to defend Belgium, had been beaten back to the coastal town of Dunkirk, in France, where they were surrounded by the Germans. Then began the almost miraculous rescue, Operation Dynamo, when 222 naval boats and 800 small private vessels of all kinds - trawlers, yachts, small motor boats - crossed and recrossed the Channel over a period of about nine days to take nearly 340,000 men off the beaches. But 68,000 men lost their lives, strafed by German fighters as they queued on the sands waiting for a boat.
The "phoney war" that had left us civilians in relative calm ended in June 1940 when France capitulated. Then Hitler turned his attention to this country. On 10 August he began the bombing of our airfields spread over south-east England with catastrophic damage to our air defences. That having been achieved the next target was London.
On 7 September, late on a warm afternoon, my parents were enjoying a peaceful rest dozing in the sunshine or catching up with the news from the Front, while I was playing on the lawn, collecting discarded sparrows' feathers. Insidiously a distant but steady drone began to invade our consciousness. It was strangely ominous. I noticed my parents glance questioningly at each other and caught their uneasiness, suddenly feeling frightened but not knowing why. The insistent sound grew in volume and became recognisable as the throb of many aeroplane engines.
All at once an air-raid siren wailed faintly in the distance but we did not need it, already we could see the oncoming mass of bombers. My parents grabbed me and we scrambled into the shelter. I did not know what was going to happen but was terrified as pandemonium took over outside. Other sirens joined the first, screaming their warning nearer and nearer as the planes advanced up the Thames. But all too late. After the devastation of our airfields over 900 German aircraft were able to reach London almost unopposed. We had been within inches of our refuge, but God help the poor souls caught out in the street for almost immediately the Germans were overhead. The uneven beat of those Heinkel 111's was to become a signal for terror for many months to come. The shelter was damp, cold and dark but we had had no time to fetch anything from the house with which to make ourselves comfortable. Why had there been such an appalling lack of warning?
Then began the most horrific night of the war for London. "Black Saturday", we came to call it. A black memory indeed.
We were in the middle of a three dimensional battlefield. The army was soon on the spot with the mobile artillery, lumbering along the street firing at the bombers with shattering reports which slammed our ears as the reverberations echoed around the enclosed spaces between the houses, and then moving on to a different location to avoid being pin-pointed by the enemy overhead. Up there everything was taking place at such low altitudes that we could hear the rattle of the firing as gun-turret levelled at gun-turret. As my mother held me tight, trying to shield me, I heard the first piercing whistles of falling bombs not understanding what they were until the explosions sent me frantic with fear and I knew there was something horrible happening.The bombs exploded all around, some with that extra crack in the sound that only those who have heard it would recognise as "a near one". The clink of shrapnel and debris constantly showering the shelter told us that there were plenty of those.
Afternoon lengthened into evening, light faded but the raid continued, wave after wave of bombers following the moonlit ribbon of the Thames to reach and destroy London. All night long the dogfights overhead, the whistling of sticks of bombs hurtling down, the ear-wrenching scream of aeroplanes falling out of the sky - victims of the Spitfires now weaving and diving frantically amongst the bombers, and probably at times one of those valiant young fighters themselves - had us hugging each other tight on the hard wooden bench. We shrank into one trembling, cowering mass waiting for each cru-u-ump which told us that we had escaped again, but only at the expense of some other life.
Had our own home been hit? It may have been only a few yards away but then so were many of the explosions we heard. My father tried to look outside once or twice but my mother grabbed him back with a "No, Jack, no".
About six the next morning there was a lull. Bombing ceased. The sound of planes receded.
The all-clear had not sounded but we climbed stiffly out from our shelter, cold, hungry, thirsty and weary, oh so weary. The deckchairs were still on the lawn. The dawn sky was lurid with the light of fires and the air was thick with acrid smoke which tingled in our nostrils. We dreaded what we might see, for there had been so many explosions during the night, so much debris raining down on the Anderson roof.
But our home still stood. It had not escaped damage. As we walked down the three steps into the yard we saw the big kitchen window frame leaning out at an angle, glass and broken slates littering the concrete and as we went indoors the floors were inches deep in plaster - all the ceilings were down. Joey the canary was a fluffed-out golden ball huddled at one end of his perch, eyes wide and unable even to squawk. Plaster littered the floor of his cage, too.
I think I was too exhausted by the terror we had been through really to take it all in, perhaps this was a nasty nightmare and I would wake up soon. I trailed after my parents as they hastened through the rooms checking for damage. Plaster crunched beneath our feet and covered everything in sight while the thick dust still hung in the air so that we tried not to breathe in too deeply. We went out into the street. Another sound had taken over from the bombing, a clinking and rattling as people swept their shattered glass, broken slates and plaster neatly into the gutters, trusting even in their exhaustion that order would soon take over and the debris be removed by the Council. There was a parade of three shops opposite us, one of which carried billboards advertising the programmes of the local cinemas. These were soon to be closed for the duration of the war as were all other places of entertainment. The billboards now carried posters announcing "Charlie's Aunt - still running" and "Gone With the Wind". After the night that we had had our laughter had a hysterical sound.
We lived about three-quarters of a mile from Woolwich Arsenal, one of the country's biggest armaments factories, and of course both it and the docks at North Woolwich on the other side of the Thames had been major targets for that night - and would be for many more. The Arsenal had been clearly illuminated in the moonlight and the Germans made the most of the opportunity. Massive fires raged. I stood petrified, staring at the flames leaping into the sky and expecting them to burn their way to our house.
The all-clear had still not sounded but we hurried down the road to see how my mother's parents had fared. They also had come up for air after a night spent in the dank mustiness of their shelter and hastily made a cup of tea for us all. But we scarcely had time to feel the warm comfort of the drink slipping down our parched throats before that uneven engine beat could be heard throbbing up the river once more. Could it really be starting again? We fled into their garden and down the shelter hardly daring to hope that we would survive this fresh onslaught.
But the all-clear did finally blazon out its relief and we were alive. We returned home for the big clear-up. But this was just the start.
THE NEW DAILY PATTERN
Raids became routine, day and night. Over 1500 civilians were killed in the first four days of the blitz, while casualties rose to nearly 6000 killed and 10,000 injured by the end of the first month. But on 15 September the RAF hit back. 175 German planes were shot down. At this unexpected setback Hitler ordered that day-time raids be stopped although at night the onslaught continued until 2 November, 57 nights in all. The Government went all out to increase production of aircraft. Buildings - private and official, church and cottage - were stripped of their railings and appeals were made for surplus metal tools and utensils to be handed in at specially organised collection points. These were all melted down and used in the factories now going day and night to get more planes into the air.
The brewery where my father worked threw open its underground shelter in the paddock at night for use by workers' families who lived near enough to reach it in time. During the daytime, of course, it was available only for their employees, so we used the Anderson when things became bad. But my parents considered that the paddock shelter would be safer, so each evening we hurried to clear the supper things and get ready for the night before the sirens went. The little portable mattresses, made of strong card with a padded surface, were rolled up and bundled together with the grey blankets my mother had managed to buy, a flask of tea and some sandwiches were prepared and we would make our way up past the high wall of the public house next door, to the brewery paddock and its shelter. Sometimes we grew fatalistic, or just plain defiant, call it what you will, and left it late. Sometimes the raids were early and the overhead fighting had already begun before our preparations were complete. Then, heavy jagged pieces of shrapnel pinging all round us in the darkness, we close-hugged that pub wall, ran in through the brewery gates and then faced the frightening final dash across the open paddock to the shelter, where we rattled down the steps as fast as we could.
One evening I must have been feeling particularly indignant at the way the raids were dictating how we should live our every moment. I had had a sudden fancy for a big bowl of bread and milk. Tucking in as if I had been starved all day I was savouring every mouthful when, of course, the sirens started in the distance. "Leave that", said my mother abruptly and moved to lift our coats down from the hooks in the passage. Our bedding was ready - up till then routine had been followed that night as it was every night. But I rebelled. Muttering my equivalent of "I'm damned if I will", I carried on spooning up what was to me now as the best caviar to a gourmet. The sirens sounded nearer. My mother's urging became stronger. Whhether I carried on to the last or whether I gave in I do not remember, but eventually off we went.
By then the planes were overhead and bombs were whistling down. Searchlights swept the sky and crisscrossed to pinpoint the bombers. Down at our level the streets were deserted and the two of us (my father was on nightshift) were the only ones out. It was unearthly, as if we had been abandoned while everyone else had rushed for safety and locked the doors behind them, leaving us to the mercy of the night.
We ran as fast as we could up to the brewery gates and along the path. But here it was my mother who paid the penalty for my stubbornness. It was pitch black, no moon, and as we turned past the brewer's house we both crashed into an object that had not been there the previous night. I found myself bent over something with my arms up to the shoulders in water while beside me there was a scream and an almighty splash as my mother overbalanced and fell right into what later proved to be a static water tank. These were now being placed about the streets and in building complexes to provide water for fire-fighting, firebombs having been added to the high explosives and land mines that rained down on us day and night. As she fell in, my mother had hit her head on the metal crossbeam of the tank and was knocked out. If I had been taller I would have gone in, too. I remember screaming in terror - there was no movement from the water, no sound from my mother and the raid was still exploding all around.
Suddenly my mother's head rose above the water. "All right, dear, all right", she said. The bombs no longer mattered. My mother was there again. She said afterwards that it was my screams that had brought her round. Somehow she scrambled out and we stumbled on towards the paddock. Despite the distance and the sounds of the raid my yells of "Mummy, Mummy" had been heard down in the shelter. They had guessed that it was "young Ivy" and by now several of the men were rushing up to see what had happened. They helped us along, supporting my mother, until we were all safe underground. There were exclamations as everyone found out what had happened, and gave vent to their feelings at the dangerous siting of the tank - it was moved the next day. Men took off jackets, women cardigans and coats to try to peruade my mother to discard her sodden clothing and put on something dry. But she insisted that she would be alright and remained all night soaking wet and frozen. Her right eye had taken the brunt of the knock on the metal beam and the flesh was swollen and badly discoloured for weeks. Fortunately the sight was not affected.
For a brief spell early in the war we had a Morrison shelter in the living-room, a great steel cage with a solid roof which would no doubt give protection from all but a direct hit. But it filled most of the room and after a while it was taken away. It was while its dark green bulk dominated our daily lives that I made the momentous decision that Father Christmas was not the chap who came down the chimney once a year, but merely a cover for my parents. And it was for such a slight, almost indefinable reason.
I had come down that morning in a state of great anticipation to find my presents. Somehow, there was something about the way the furniture had been moved a little in the cramped space that the shelter left us, moved so as to give room to display my presents properly. It was not the sort of thing that Father Christmas would have done, was it? He, if there were a "he", had so many other children to visit and he would have left the presents where he could and hurried off. Wouldn't he? And I had been harbouring suspicions for quite some time.... I had long ago decided that the fluffy yellow chicken on my Easter Egg plate had definitely not laid those miniature sugared almonds. But, I thought scornfully, I was just a baby then. Now I had learnt to run for my life. My last illusion fading, I was growing up.
Some time later my mother learnt that my school had returned from Canterbury, having discovered the error in choosing that unfortunate city for a refuge. Day-time raids had eased and my parents decided that I could go back. Well I recall that day I did. My father had been home for breakfast - morning shift started at 6 a.m. and although he always had a cup of tea and sandwiches which my mother prepared for him, he was ever ready for a good fry-up at 10 a.m., the only advantage of living two minutes from the job! He had returned to work, my mother had cleared away, then without warning surprised me with "Come on, we are going to see about you returning to school". I could scarcely believe my ears - could hardly wait to go back.
Getting off the bus we entered the Convent gates. All was quiet because it was mid-morning and classes were in full swing. As we went through the door of the Prep School a nun was coming down the stairs, Mother Roberta the kindergarten teacher, young, rosy-cheeked and affectionate. She stopped in astonishment, then - and I can hear the echoes of her voice now - cried out "Ivy!" She hurried down the last few stairs, ran up to us and enveloped me in such a bear-hug that I was almost stifled against the voluminous skirts of her habit. Then "Wait, I must tell Mother Theresa". This was the head of the Prep School and in contrast to Mother Roberta was the classic idea of a nun, calm, serious almost majestic as she moved about the corridors. But her face also was wreathed in smiles as she came down to see us. We went into her office and no doubt my mother filled her in on the hiatus in my education since my precipitous return from Canterbury, I must have been about 18 months without schooling. But all I can remember is the warm feeling of having come home and excitement at the thought of seeing my classmates again after so long away.
Night raids continued but not so frequently, and we stopped the routine of going up to the brewery shelter each night after supper, cautiously getting used to the luxurious feel of our own beds once again for as long as the bombing would let us. But we were certainly not free from it. I can remember waking up at nights already sitting on the edge of my bed, an automatic bodily response to the siren which had penetrated my sleep. My mother would come running into my room as I tried to keep my eyes open while hastily pulling on my clothes and I would hear my father moving quickly about in the other room. We would rush downstairs and decide whether to go into the Anderson, up to the brewery shelter or brave it out under the table.
HITLER'S SECRET WEAPONS
The intensity of the bombing had eased by the first week in December, 1941 as the war became concentrated in the battlefields of Europe. The Prep School had continued with a full day as usual but in the Senior School a shortage of teaching staff mean that it operated at first on a half-day basis. There were still sporadic raids throughout 1942 and much of the work was carried on down in the shelters. I remember photos in the school magazine of pupils taking their School Certificate exam. down in their depths. That the buildings never suffered a direct hit is almost something of a miracle, for in the fields next to the Convent was an army camp with its anti-aircraft gun emplacements.
But gradually people were able to gather together some semblance of "normal" life. For my mother there was time to concentrate on getting the housework done without fleeing to the shelter three or four times a day. There was time to worry about how to feed the family as, going to the butcher's to see if she would be able to buy a little meat with the weekly ration allowance, she would be met with the news that there was none - another ship had gone down. That brief comment needed no further explanation for we all knew how convoys of merchant ships, defying the U-boats to carry supplies for home consumption, suffered with many casualties despite the vigilance of the escorting corvettes and destroyers.
Then June 1944 saw the appearance of the first V1 rocket. It fell on Rye, Sussex. They were being launched around the clock and soon, of course, the scarred streets of London were targeted by this new peril, which were promptly christened buzz-bombs or doodle-bugs. Over 3000 are said to have been launched in the first few weeks. But anti-aircraft guns and specially adapted planes shot many down and by the end of August only one in seven reached London. But still about 2,400 fell on the city altogether. To stand and watch these things was an experience difficult to describe, even though the image is crystal clear in my mind to this day. The unearthly pulsing sound, the flames belching out at the rear and the menace of this flying bomb's gradual approach used to fill me with a kind of sickening horror that even the blitz had not given me. If at school, we would be shepherded down to the cellars should "it" seem to be coming our way. At home the distant sound of that terrifying drone would have us cocking an ear with a resultant sharp "Yes, there's one". I would run into the garden to watch for it to appear over the rooftops, calling to my mother once I had it in view. If I considered that the bomb's path was taking it on past us I would go back indoors but should its proximity be too uncomfortable I would yell "Mummy, quick, shelter". If, despite a response of "All right, dear" she did not appear immediately I would dash down the steps into the back-yard, my strangled cry of "Come ON" filling the yard and my heart pounding as the black shape with its short, square ended wings and streaming tail of flame pulsed nearer. The dread was, of course, that the V1's engine would suddenly stop. That meant that the bomb would then start its downward glide. Hearing my yell my mother would rush out of the back-door, probably more from an anxiety to get me down into the shelter (she knew I would not leave her indoors) than from fear for own safety. Like most people, she harboured a resentment against these "things" for causing so much interruption to everyday tasks. It was not bravado, just a weary doggedness, trying to get on with life in the midst of it all.
Having run into the shelter we would crouch together, trembling as the engine cut, listening to the unearthly rush of air as it passed overhead....waiting.....praying for it to keep going. Then, as we heard the crunch and felt the blast of the explosion, our throats would go dry as we "saw" the scene. Relief at our own survival but simultaneous misery at others' deaths were two sides of a coin I could never quite handle.
There was an assumption at first that all the time the engine was pulsing a V1 would pass on by but as soon as it stopped you'd better dive for cover. Later on such a guide to survival became unreliable. Sometimes the bomb's elevation would alter and it would come down with engine still going while another day the engine would die but it would glide on quite a distance before descending. Whether this was a malfunction or a fiendish refinement to add to the terror we did not know. Best not to trust any of them. 8,900 people were killed by these V1's and 24,000 injured.
One day I came home from school to say that Colleen, a girl in my class, had asked if I would like to evacuate with her to Heswall, in Cheshire. Her mother had friends there and had been told that two neighbouring families were willing to take evacuees. Discussions took place between our respective parents and eventually Colleen's mother escorted us northwards. I recall, as we alighted from the train at the other end, gasping at the glorious spread of the Dee estuary below us, the sunlight glittering on the water. It was another world.
My friend was billeted with a delightful elderly lady and her daughter, the latter informing us that her nieces called her Brighteyes. So Brighteyes she became for us, too. Next door, I was with a family who had two sons, one older and one younger than I. Peter did not think much of having a temporary young sister in the household. His attitude was reciprocated, particularly one day when I went into the larder to raid my sweet tin - we had one each for our own private supply, and I found that the level in mine had dropped considerably. It could have been either of the boys but for me, of course, it had to be that horrible Peter. I cut off diplomatic relations immediately. But little Ian was delighted at my arrival - someone to play with, scoffed at as he was by big brother. He was somewhat clinging, but the poor little chap was lonely and I used to play with him when Colleen and I were not out together.
It was the summer holidays while we were there and as September approached Colleen's mother made arrangements for her to start the next term at school in nearby West Kirby. The buzz bomb attacks had been tailing off and I was longing for home. But suddenly the newspapers were full of something new - the V2. At first brushed aside by official cover-up reports of exploding gas mains, Londoners had their own ideas and sardonically christened what they assumed to be the latest secret weapon "the flying gas mains". But reading these first newspaper accounts I was so worried for my parents and my longing to be back with them increased at this new danger. Reluctantly they agreed to my pleading and I returned to London, glad to be back in my own surroundings and looking forward to being at my own school.
On the Sunday before the autumn term was due to start, my parents and I took the bus to nearby woodlands and went for a stroll. Without warning there was an almighty explosion and I went to pieces. The blitz had become a way of existence and we learnt to fit what we could of life around it, while once we had got used to the sight and sound of the buzz-bombs we tried to leave them out of our everyday reckoning until the moment that one actually appeared. Since the age of about eight I had grown used to bombardment of one kind or another and although I knew deep terror it was a familiar spectre and one lived with it. Yet during those few weeks up in Cheshire I had somehow shed war from my consciousness. The habit of stoicism I had acquired, the blind doggedness that made you carry on each day in a kind of defiance of fear seemed to have dissipated, so that now, at 12 years old I was trembling like a baby and half crying with fright, saying "What is it? Let's go home, quickly, let's go home".
But the old way of life soon returned and I calmed down. Hitler's latest surprise flew faster than sound so that the first intimation you had was the massive explosion, followed by the rumble of the rocket's approach. Weird, but if you heard all that then you were still alive while if you were killed you would have had no warning and no time to be scared. So we reasoned, anyway! And carried on.
But this was Hitler's last stand. The unbelievable day of 8 May, 1945 came with the proclamation that it was all over, at least in Europe. Union Jacks hung waving from windows (we had a huge one!), blackout curtains were ripped down and window shutters removed so that at sunset lights streamed out on to the pavements with no warden hammering at the front door yelling "Put that b........ light out". Church bells rang and people spilled on to the pavement from the pub next door with raised tankards and singing that became more unintelligable as evening wore on. Street parties took place with lamp-posts decorated and bunting wreathing everything in sight. A few months later, in August after the horror of the atomic bombs on Japan, the Pacific war finished.
The first New Year's Eve of peace I lay in bed, 13 years old and still trying to believe that there would be no more bombs. We could experience the beauty and calm of a moonlit night instead of dreading what it would surely bring. A nearby public clock sounded the first stroke of midnight and was joined immediately by a siren from a ship lying in the George V Dock across the Thames. That was joined by another, then more until the night was filled with the clamour of hooters and sirens from the boats and the ringing of church bells. A miraculous din, a joyous din which made my heart pound with excitement. The New Year welcome.