Bombs dropped in the borough of: Redbridge
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Redbridge:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Redbridge
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by peter (BBC WW2 People's War)
Setting the scene:
My Dad was the headmaster of a Junior Boys School, Attley Road, in East London, just round the corner from Bryant and Mays Match Factory.
I went to the local Infants and Junior School, "Redbridge" in Ilford, Essex
The transmission of news and public information was by the BBC Wireless, the Cinema News Reels and the National Newspapers. The whole impression, looking back, was of an extremely formal (and, as it later turned out, easily manipulated) information system.
The news had swung from the optimism of Munich to an increasingly pessimistic view. I sensed, even at my age of nine, that most people thought that the war with Germany would come and come soon. My reaction to all this and that of most of my compatriots was one of excitement tinged with some trepidation.
Every school in the area of greater London (and Manchester, Liverpool etc. I now know) had made plans to evacuate all children whose parents had agreed for them to so go. As my father was an Head Teacher it was decided that I with my mother as a helper would go with his school if and when the call came.
We started to prepare ourselves for what to me and thousands more children was to be the start of a great adventure. We had been issued with rectangular cardboard boxes containing our gas masks and these were mostly put into leatherette cases with a shoulder strap. We also each were to have an Haversack to hold a basic change of clothes, pyjamas, wash bag and so on.
During that late August 1939 we had a rehearsal for evacuation and every school met up in the playgrounds and were marched off to the nearest Underground Station. The next stage to one of the Main Line Stations was for the real thing only.
We each had a label firmly attached to a button-hole with our name, address and school written on. Each child had to know its group and the responsible teacher. This tryout was to prove its worth very soon.
The news was getting worse by the day. Germany then invaded Poland and it was obvious that the declaration of war was imminent.
At 11 am on Sunday the 3rd of September the Wireless announced that despite all efforts we were at war with Germany. It was, in a funny kind of way, an anticlimax.
My memory fails me as to the precise date of our evacuation. It was, I believe, a day or so before the war started, probably the 1st of September, no matter, the excitements, traumas and all those myriad experiences affecting literally millions of children and adults were about to start.
The call came. We repeated our rehearsal drill, arriving, in our case, by bus and train to Bow Road station and walking down Old Ford road to Attley Road Junior School. All the children that were coming, the teachers and helpers assembled in the play ground. Rolls were called, labels checked, haversacks and gas masks shouldered. We were off on the great adventure!
We "marched" off with great aplomb to waves and tears from fond parents who did not know when they would see their kids again, if ever.
The long snake of children and teachers arrived at Bow Road Underground Station and were shepherded down onto the platform where trains were ready and waiting.
Looking back, the organisation was fantastic. Remember, this was in the days before computers and automation! It was made possible by shear hard work and attention to detail. Tens of thousands of children were moved through the Capital transport system to the Main Line Stations in a matter of a few hours.
Our train arrived at Paddington by a somewhat roundabout route and we all disembarked making sure to stick together. We walked up to the platforms where again the groups of children were counted by their teachers. Inspectors were busily marshalling the various school groups onto awaiting trains.
We boarded our train together with several other schools. It was a dark red carriage, not, as I remember, the GWR colours, and settled ourselves down. The teachers were busy checking that nobody was missing and we then got down to eating whatever packed food we had brought with us. Many of the smaller children were beginning to miss their Mum's and the teachers and helpers had their work cut out to calm them down. Remember that most of these children had never been far from the street where they lived.
Eventually, the train got steam up and slowly moved out of the station. This would be the last time some of us would see home and London for a long time but, we were only kids and had no idea of what the future would hold. To us it was the great adventure.
The train ride seemed to go for ever! In fact we did not go that far, by mid-afternoon we arrived at Didcot.We disembarked and assembled in our groups in a wide open space at the side of the station where literally dozens of dark red Oxford buses were waiting, presumably for us.
It was at this point, according to my father, that the hitherto brilliant organisation broke down. A gaggle of Oxford Corporation Bus Inspectors descended on the assembled masses of adults and children and proceeded to embus everyone with complete disregard to School Groupings.
The buses went off in various directions ending up at village halls and the like around Oxford and what was then North Berkshire.
My father was by this time frantic that he had lost most of the children in his care (and some of the staff) and no-one seemed at all worried!
The story gets somewhat disjointed now as a combination of excitement and tiredness was rapidly replacing the adrenaline hitherto keeping this nine year old going.
Anyway, what can't be precisely remembered can be imagined! We, as mentioned, went off in this red bus to a destination unknown to all but the driver (and the inspector who wouldn't tell my Dad out of principle) - I'm sure, in retrospect, that this is when the expression "Little Hitler" was coined!!
On our bus were about fifty odd children and six or seven teachers and helpers. Most, but not all, were my dad's, but where were the rest of the two hundred or so kids he'd started out with? It was to take several days before that question was to be answered.
After some hour or, so two buses drew up together in a village and parked by a triangular green. There was a large Chestnut tree at one corner and a wooden building to one side. There was also a large crowd of people looking somewhat apprehensive.
We all picked up our haversacks and gas masks and got off the buses, marshalled by the teachers into groups and waited.
Ages of the children varied between seven and fourteen and naturally enough there were signs of incipient tears as we all wondered where we were going to end up. For me it wasn't so bad because I had Mum and Dad with me - most of them had never been separated from their families before.
A large man in a tweed suit, he turned out to be the Billeting Officer, seemed to be organising things and he kept calling out names and people stepped out from the crowd and picked a child out from our bunch. It closely resembled a cattle market!
My Father, naturally, was closely involved, monitoring the situation and trying to keep track of his charges while all this was going on.
Eventually, when it was virtually dark, everyone had been found homes in and around the village. Some brothers had been split up but, most of the kids were just glad to have somewhere to lay their heads.
While all this was happening we found out where we were; not that it meant much to me then. We were in a village called Cumnor situated in what was then North Berkshire and about four miles from Oxford.
At long last, after what seemed to me to be for ever, I was introduced to our benefactors who we were to be billeted with.They were a pleasant seeming couple of about middle age & we stayed with them for about 6 months before finding a cottage to rent.
The Village at war
It is difficult to include everything that happened during that period of my life in any precise order. Therefore, I have included the remembered instances and effects relating to the war.
The first effect was, undoubtedly, the upheaval in agriculture. Suddenly fields that had lain fallow ever since the last war were being ploughed up to grow crops. Farmers who had been struggling to make ends meet for years were actually encouraged and helped to buy new equipment to improve efficiency.
The war didn't really touch the village until the invasion of France and Dunkirk. That is, of course, not to say that wives and girl-friends weren't worried about their men folk serving in the forces.
Then, all of a sudden, you heard that someone was missing or, a POW. The war was suddenly brought home with a vengeance to everyone. Also, the news on the wireless and in the newspapers was very bad, although usually less so than the reality.
One of the village girls had a boy-friend who was Canadian. He had come over to Britain to volunteer and was in the RAF. He was a rear gunner in a Wellington bomber and was shot down over Germany during 1942.
For a long time there was no news of him and then Zena, her name was, heard that he was a POW. At the end of the war he returned looking under-weight but, happy and there was a big party to celebrate his return and where they got engaged! a truly happy ending.
Another memory, this time not a happy one, was the son of some friends, who was a Pilot in the Fleet Air Arm was shot down during the early part of the war and killed in action.
There was a Polish Bomber Squadron based at Abingdon and they were a mad lot and frequented a pub near to Frilford golf club called "The Dog House".
As the war wore on so the aircraft changed. Whitley and Wellingtons were replaced by Stirling's and Halifax's. finally, the main heavy bomber was the Lancaster. These used to drone over us from Abingdon and other local airfields night after night.
We also started to see a lot of Dakota's often towing Horsa gliders. In fact, several gliders came down nearby during one training exercise and one hit some power cables, luckily without major injuries to the crew.
More and more of the adult male and female villagers had disappeared into the forces and more and more replacements were needed to work the farms.
The result of all this was to put at a premium such labour as was available. This meant Land Army girls, POW's and me and my friends!
Various Army units appeared from time to time on exercises and the like.
It sounds strange now but, remember that everyone was travelling around at night with the merest glimmer of a light. Army lorries just had a small light shining on the white painted differential casing as a guide to the one behind. Cars had covers over their head-lights with two or, three small slits to let out some light.
Then there was the arrival of the Americans - I believe it would have been during 1942 that they were first sighted. They were so different to our troops - their uniforms were so much smarter and their accents were very strange to us then.
They established a tented camp just up the road from the Greyhound at Besselsleigh and naturally it became their local. This was viewed with mixed feelings by the locals as beer was in short supply and the Yanks were drinking most of it!
Their tents were like nothing we had ever seen then - They were square and big enough to stand up in without hitting the roof. They were each fitted up with a stove. Nothing at all like the British Army "Bell tents".
We all got used to seeing Jeeps and other strange vehicles on our roads, they in turn, got used to our little winding lanes and driving on the wrong side.
The Americans were very keen to get on with the locals and when invited to someone's home would usually bring all sorts of goodies such as tinned food, Nylon's for the girls and sweets for the kids. They knew that the villagers didn't have much of anything to spare at that time.
A British Tank Squadron came into the village at one time. They were on the inevitable exercise and were parked down near Bablockhythe, in the fields. We boys went down to see them and found about four or, five Cromwell (I think that was their name) Tanks parked with their crews brewing up. Naturally, the sight of all that hardware was exciting to us and we were allowed up and into the cockpit of one.
During the build up for the D day landings there were convoys going through the village day and night. There was every sort of vehicle you could possibly think of - Lorries, Troop Carriers, Bren Gun Carriers, Tanks of all shapes and sizes, Self-propelled Guns, Despatch riders and MP's to control and direct the traffic.
This almost continuous stream continued for what must have been a fortnight before it gradually quietened down to something approaching normality.
Naturally, during this time and whenever I was home from school I would walk up to the corner just below the War Memorial and watch these convoys with great interest and excitement.
There were troops of every nationality including French, Polish, Czech, Dutch, Canadians, Anzacs, Americans and so on. Obviously, the build up for the second front was beginning and something big would happen before too long!
Just before all this activity we had seen dumps of what seemed to be ammunition along local country roads and this was further evidence that the big day was getting close.
People's morale was starting to improve by this time. It had never been broken but, for three years the news had been mostly bad or, at the very least, not good and people's resistance had begun to wane a little.
North Africa had been a great victory and this coupled with the nightly bombing raids over Germany and the day raids by the Americans as well, really cheered people up and convinced them that we had turned the corner.
Everyone, including us teenager's used to sit with our ears glued to the wireless when there was a news bulletin.
People, during that wartime period in their lives, were much closer to each other than they had ever been.
Back to 1944 - The build up of men and materials continued and there was a constant stream through the village. Then a period of calm followed for a week or, so. And then came the news of the D Day landings - we all sat with our ears glued to the wireless whenever we could. For the first few days the news was fairly sparse and we didn't really know if the invasion was going to work.
After a week or, so the news began to be more positive and our hopes were raised. There were set backs and of course, there were casualties but, we were getting closer to the end of the war.
Then one Autumn morning in very misty conditions we heard lots of aircraft overhead. Through the patches of hazy sky we could discern dozens of Dakota's and the like with Gliders in tow. A few hours later they were to return with their gliders still hooked on.
Wherever they had been going to drop their tows must have been covered in the fog that had persisted most of that day over us. The result of this was gliders being released all over the place as the Dakotas prepared for landing.
A day or, so later the same "exercise" was repeated and this time the planes returned without their gliders. The battle of Arnhem had begun.
So the war continued for several months but, one could sense that the end was drawing ever closer.
The war in the Far East was to continue for several more months but, at last, the main enemy had been defeated.
How did all this affect us? In all sorts of ways - there were preparations for a General Election. The soldiers began to come home and there were frequent welcome home parties.
Food was still on ration as was petrol and clothes. So, there wasn't any sudden improvement to the rather dreary existence we had all got used to. In fact, it was a bit of an anticlimax. One of the few nice things to happen in that immediate post-war time was the return of Oranges and Bananas to the shops. We hadn't seen these for six whole years!
Basically, The United Kingdom was worn-out and broke by the war's end and to a great extent so were it's people. Our former enemies were helped by the USA to rebuild their countries and industries as also were France and the Lowlands countries but, we had to try to help ourselves for no-one else was going to.
Peter Nurse 1994
Contributed originally by Mrs_B_Dyer (BBC WW2 People's War)
The Prime Minister’s quiet and responsible voice from the radio which announced that we were at war with Germany had the same immediate lack of impact that is true of hearing of the death of someone we love, one’s whole being refuses to acknowledge its truth. One cannot grasp it or acknowledge what it will mean or how it will change one’s life. The wartime comedy which showed the dad saying “Put the kettle on Mum we’ll have a cup of tea” was an expression of the reactions of the time which made it a classic response to disaster.
In 1939 my husband was a schoolmaster in the Waltham Forest area and he immediately became involved his school to the “safe” area in the Midlands( Kettering). We lived in Woodford Green and the children (three) and I began hastily to pack up our special needs for we knew not how long , to go to the same area. The children took favourite toys and my eldest son was persuaded very reluctantly to leave behind his xylophone. It was put in the loft for safety but was never seen again.
A large limousine ( schoolmasters could not afford limousines ) came and collected us and in a bemused stste we set off across Hackney Marshes on our way to become that downgrading term to describe our flight , “evacuees “.
Our first billet was in a good residential area, and in a large house inhabited by a single lady who had never been married or had children ( the two situations almost invariably together in those days ). In addition she had a gentleman friend who called every morning , but after our arrival he stood and held a conversation at the gate . ah!
Young children are inclined to be rather conservative in their expectation that life will continue on the same pattern and that food will be what it has always been at home. Fortunately an arrangement was made for them to attend school( far away it seemed ) and the nearby Wicksteed Park was a blessing in the freedom and fun it offered . However food was often a problem …”What’s that!” - (a summer pudding) - A child wet from top to toe who had walked into the lake pretending to be our blind piano tuner was not laughingly received by our hostess, unused to family messes, it must have been a more traumatic experience for her than we stopped to consider at the time.
After a time we were invited to move next door to be billeted with a breezy Head Teacher of a Primary school and her Billy Bunter son. The former was in the habit of spending either one or other day of the weekend in bed “ to enable her to cope with the stresses of her professional life”. The introduction of a mother father and three young children was really more than could be endured by any settled group and we too found it very difficult to be constantly trying to fit into another’s pattern. One day something (perhaps the whole thing) seemed too much and I burst into tears which startled everyone, even myself.
Change and new thinking was required and my husband, very capable of both, found us an empty house to rent. It must have been empty for years! It was filthy, but we set to with joy and turned it into a home.
Settled at last, my mother and sister joined us at first from a ‘defence area’ (Southend) from which everyone had to evacuate as German invasion was expected. All able bodied citizens had to be employed as a gesture towards the war effort; my young sister, an art student, became a telephonist. My mother, brought up and educated to be a lady had never had a professional job, but she became a shop assistant in the curtains department of a large local store and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her Head of Department was a very jolly little Welshman who made toys surreptitiously under the counter. He also knew which grocer would have oranges or bananas in (absolute treats during rationing), which butcher would have a few sausages ‘off ration’ for friends (shades of Dad’s Army), and which customer would bring in a few eggs for the staff if ‘spoken to nicely’. Another blessing when clothes were on ration too was the curtain material (off ration) which my sister and I purchased and made into house-coats.
Kettering was the enter of the boot and shoe industry, well-off, socially comfortable and until the coming of the evacuees, undisturbed by the war. The mass invasion of Londoners, particularly after the bombing started was not welcomed and could be equated with the seeming intrusion of immigrants and refuge-seekers today. Those who came in the early days of the war settled into local schools but when the bombing of London actually happened, children from east London which was then a very poor area flooded in.
My own family became relatively settled and I enlisted as a voluntary billeting officer. The children from London arrived often after nights of bombing, wearing a name and address label, carrying a gas mask and sometimes a packet of food. They surged into local schools where we met them, reassured them, and the professional full-time billeting officers sorted them out for likely homes.
The children varied from one extreme to another in their response to the experience. Some were as jolly as if on a treat, sitting on tables, swinging legs, making friends and waiting for the next happening. Others cried sadly, and some, but only a few inconsolably. Later a handful of children actually walked back to London, and other parents were known to collect their child and take them home, especially when there was a lull in the London bombing.
My role soon became established and in the first instance it was to accompany the billeting officer in his car with two or three children, and to back him up when he arrived at a house and announced to the occupants that they were to have a child, or sometimes a family (brothers and sisters were kept together where possible) billeted on them. Protests were sometimes overcome (‘I have a sick mother – or aged father etc) but the times were urgent and in general a willing attitude was expressed. Later I visited the families to help with problems that arose: e.g. children homesick, incompatible relations, bed-wetting.
The poverty in east London during the 1930s can hardly be imagined today – and it showed itself in the condition of many evacuees. Children came with scabies, ringworm, impetigo and other expressions of the conditions in which they lived. Some had never eaten at a table or slept in a bed; additionally they had already lived in air-raid shelters, the underground stations, bombed sites or any place deemed safer than their own home or street. For the people in the Midlands who had never before met children of such poverty, adapting to their needs cannot have been easy, but the spirit of the times was remarkable in hindsight and our hearts and minds were totally focused on the war effort.
The arrival of the American Air Force in Kettering during the war had an impact on the local people comparable to the arrival of evacuees but with a very different effect. Their appearance and demeanour were so relaxed as to make a sharp contrast with our own troops.
To our eyes the Americans wore soft fitting uniforms, like a gentle summer suit and shoes. They walked in an easy manner, not marching and without the tough resolution which was underlying the British trained members of the forces. Amongst their number was Clark Gable, the leading film star of the day (‘Gone with the Wind’), and when he appeared on the High Street, police were called to control the crowds.
Women in Kettering whose husbands and sons were not in a ‘reserved occupation’ had been bereft of male company for a long time and these very attractive newcomers had a refreshing effect on the local population. Ultimately the Americans had well-stocked canteens, and dances and entertainments were set up by the Red Cross. American generosity, especially to children became renowned.
I have a lingering memory that at 4 am in the morning we heard the strong throb of the American planes as they set off to bomb Germany (daylight bombing) – many did not return and our respect for their courage and support for our war effort added to their glamour. Not unexpectedly liaisons were set up and promises and expectations of marriage ‘after the war’ abounded.
My mother and sisters wee volunteers at the American Red Cross canteen, and my sisters, both artistic painted and decorated the canteen walls with huge attractive murals. An American soldier fell in love with my younger sister but the liaison did not end in marriage. My second sister had a lighter relationship which snapped when her husband startlingly returned from India where he had been taken by ship after the fall of Singapore.
My second (middle) sister and her husband and two small children were in Singapore when the war came. My brother-in-law was a surveyor there and when the Japs invaded my mother spent sleepless after sleepless nights worrying about their fate – no news, no news, no news. Then one unbelievable morning my sister and her children turned up on our doorstep in Kettering wearing extraordinary Red Cross clothes, carrying a few bags and parcels and the children’s Kiddycar.
By this time we had moved into a more salubrious home, a small house at the top of the town. Already we were five people plus my mother and sister. Now we nudged up more closely and took in one more sister and two little children. All the newcomers from Singapore were traumatized. Their family goods, silver, cars, wedding presents and any other valuables had to be thrown into the river in Singapore. Father and servants had been left behind. The ship on which they travelled back to England with many other refugees had been threatened by enemy submarines, the refrigeration system had broken down, and children and especially babies on board had suffered from the consequences; lack of fresh milk and noticeable effects.
During her years in Singapore my sister had been waited on hand and foot, experience of wartime conditions here were perhaps cruelly hard for her to adjust to. An outstanding memory was of a tray of tea cups and saucers being thrown into the sink at a time when utility cups, as thick as shaving mugs, could only be purchased in the market by near seduction of the vendor. Her children screamed all night and soon developed (with her) scarlet fever, and passed it on to our children – some were sent to the isolation hospital, already well stocked with London evacuees. Parents were kept beyond the glass verandas and when visiting I was much amused to hear a parent shout to her child: ‘Don’t do nuffink wot they tell yer!!’
There came a time when we returned to London (the sequence of events is confused in my memory) and to a large family house we bought in Wanstead. It may have been following the D-day invasion or after the Germans invaded Russia, probably their most serious military mistake – Hitler had certainly never read history and Napoleon’s fate. It seems in retrospect that at this time Germany developed a huge new bomb which came without warning and created wide destruction, the doodle-bug.
John my husband, now Deputy Director of Education in the London Borough of East Ham once again arranged to take us all to a ‘safe’ area, his mother’s home in Hakin, Pembrokeshire. Yet again we strove to adapt to her way of life – not easy.
A strong and courageous woman whose husband, skipper of a fishing boat, had been lost in the first World War when serving in the Royal Navy. His ship was said to be carrying gold bullion between England and Ireland and had been sunk. The crew were known to have escaped in a ‘long boat’ and for years my mother-in-law truly believed he would turn up, perhaps having been picked up by another vessel but also because she knew him to be a strong swimmer ‘with webbed toes’.
She lived long before there was state support for widows and children, and her determination that her children should have a good education led her to work very hard to give them that chance. She worked equally hard for us whilst we were with her, cooking and shopping, preparing picnics for us for the beach. She was strict and her home lacked any of the facilities we take for granted today, but we managed to live and endure much time in Wales thanks to her generosity. The children went to school here – another cultural change.
Still later when the bombing in the south-east stopped and we returned to London the future appeared assured. In the euphoria of the time I became pregnant, but grievously we were perhaps too hungry for peace and once again the bombing began.
At this stage our first two children were settled in schools. Our eldest son at the City of London School was evacuated to Marlborough College Wiltshire which he loathed. A telegram which said ‘Please come and fetch me, everyone here hates me’, could not be acceded to. Perhaps the fact that he was billeted with the Vicar and his wife and that when I very rarely visited (due to petrol rationing) I was required to sit in the garden shed with my son. It speaks more of the reception in Marlborough than a more detailed account could offer.
My daughter was now a pupil at St. Angela’s Forest Gate where her Grandmother had been educated, a very satisfactory situation. Nevertheless the bombing once more urged us out of London and this time (my mother and sister having returned to the south-east, no longer a ‘defence area’) we went to stay with them near the coast. The elder children continued at their respective schools, the City of London School finally returning to London. During all this change and readjustment the children remained undisturbed and reflecting on the times today remember it simply as the way of family life.
Television was unknown and entertainment was home-made. A sheet of string across the room for theatre and plays were created on the spot. Often the productions were hilarious and reflected the war as heard on the radio but devoid of the trauma of reality. Ships were demonstrably sunk, planes were seemingly bombed, people were apparently rescued, no-one was apparently mortally injured or died, a child view of the war.
Three other memories return to mind. The first is that dentists seem to have disappeared in our area, probably recruited into the services. The second was the pressure on the local G.P., probably doctors too were called up. Medicine bottles were in very short supply and every patient to the G.P. was invited to bring a urine sample in a medicine bottle, a most effective way of restoring the current inadequacy.
The third memory is of the role of the W.R.V.S. in helping us to vary the use of limited rations during the war to make food more interesting and attractive. A shop was set up in the High Street with cooked food on display, recipes printed and available, and demonstrations of cooking where cakes made with the rinsed out milk-bottle as fluid mixer were seemingly palatable.
With Churchill’s speeches to the nation we pressed on with never a doubt that we would win.
Contributed originally by ActionBristol (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was 13 years old in 1939, a pupil of Ilford County High School for Girls and living at 26 ARDWELL AVENUE, ILFORD, ESSEX with my parents George Fenn (a nurse at Whipps Cross Hospital)and Gwen (Mother) and my two brothers Leslie aged 16 and Michael aged 6. We all went to different schools and had been rehearsing for evacuation for several weeks. On the 1st September we got the go-ahead and quite suddenly our family was fractured. Leslie went to Kettering, Michael to Hitchen and I went to Ipswich. It was to be many years before we were all together again.
Evacuation was quite traumatic for me at first, but what must it have been like for my baby brother? Only many many years afterwards did I learn that Leslie came home the first Christmas and never went back, preferring to get involved in War work and Michael was sent back because he was so unhappy. I was the only one who stayed evacuated and I wasn't to return home until I was 16. We were moved around Ipswich several times until we were deemed to be close to the school which we shared - one week morning school and one week afternoon school. I was very happy in my last billet with a Mr and Mrs Rumsey and their young family. They did their very best to ensure I was as happy as possible and made my friends welcome as well.
It therefore came as a great shock to be told we were to be moved right away from Ipswich (too close to the Germans!)but we weren't told where we were going. Back we went to London, to Paddington Station, and so began a long, cold journey which seemed to last for ever. Every so often the train would stop, perhaps to allow a troop train to go by, perhaps to take on water or fuel. Whatever, we got more and more weary until at last we arrived. We found ourselves in a village hall in a small place called BLAEN-GARW in South Wales. We were plied with cups of tea and buns while our teachers sorted out our billets. The whole of the village showed the greatest kindness to us over the next 2 weeks and we were fascinated by everything and everyone. The road petered out into the moutain, we were really in the "back of beyond" and sheep were everywhere - they would roam through the front door and out the back door with no-one raising an eyebrow, we thought it hilarious. Every house had a kettle permanently hot on the fire and we were given strong tea with spoonsful of condensed milk at the drop of a hat, these kind people were determined to make us welcome. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that a monumental mistake had been made. There was no senior school of any sort that we could go to, in fact we should have gone to Porthcawl and the infant school which had ended up there should have come to Blaen Garw. As by now the infants were settling in their new homes it was thought kinder to leave them there and look for somewhere else for us!
It was decided we would go to Aberdare and share with the Girls' High School there, so off we went again. I ended up in a very large flat in a big house called Mardy House in large grounds. There I stayed, with Lyn and Gwen Morris, until 1942. Our teachers must have wondered what to do with us when we weren't at school, but somehow there was always something of interest. Of great excitement to some of us was when we were taken down a coal mine. In small groups we descended in the cage to the first level. I can still see it in my mind's eye and smell the coal dust. There we were able to talk on the telephone to the foreman at the pit-face. I don't know what he thought of all these Essex girls asking him questions but we found to our embarassment that we couldn't understand him at all, his Welsh accent was beyond us. We all tried to say the correct thing and I sincerely hope he understood. Ever since that experience I have had the profoundest admiration for the miners. Just that short while underground gave me feelings of claustrophobia and panic. When we were told that the men went down much deeper, sometimes crawling on their bellies to get to the seam of coal, we all felt very humbled.
Schooling went on apace, but it became evident that we would not be able to study all our subjects for our School Certificate. We were given our core subjects which had to be taken and were allowed to drop three, giving us the minimum Six which had to be passed at one sitting (no retakes in those days). I willingly dropped German, and also History and Latin. I wish now I had been able to keep the two latter subjects but there was physically not the time to fit them all in. The war did not affect us where we were, it all seemed so far away, but we knew Ilford was receiving its fair share of bombs, also Bristol where my grandparents lived. Shortly before our exams, my friends and I decided we were going to return to Ilford and finish our schooling there. So many girls had gone home that they had had to open up the school again.
1942 saw me back home, with my new baby brother Roger (who was born in July) taking my exam which fortunately I passed. There was no chance I could go into the 6th form as I was expected to get a job and start earning.
As I loved books I became a Junior Library Assistant but when it became clear that I would have to take exams to make any progress, I decided to use my shorhand and typing skills and so obtained a job as junior clerk/typist in a firm in London called Kidditogs, making outdoor clothing for children. Things were hotting up in the area with high explosive bombs and incendiary bombs being dropped both in Ilford and near where I worked. At this time I also belonged to a Concert Party and we would travel, in an old ambulance to various localities all over London to entertain the troops. If we were visiting our Ack-Ack station, we knew we would be in for a noisy night often singing and dancing to the background noise of the guns blazing away at the enemy planes overhead. My Boss at Kidditogs, a Mr Bollom, had been invalided out of the Army with a leg injury and he was very frustrated as he wanted to be back fighting again. All the men at the factory and in the office would take turns at firewatch duty. After work they would stay there, on the lookout in particular for any incendiary bombs landing on or in the factory. I greatly admired them because they would then come back to work the next day as if they had had a full nights sleep. No-one complained, they just got on with it.
By this time, Leslie had joined the RAMC and was posted abroad and I thought I'd do my bit. I tried to enlist at 17 and 17-and-a-half years but was told to come back when I was older. Eventually I was able to sign up in 1944 and was sent to Guildford for my initial training with the ATS. Having been evacuated I did not mind leaving home, but many of my companions were very homesick and there were tears on the pillow for some time until they settled down. I found Army life exciting, I loved the lectures, which were all entertaining and I particularly liked Drill; perhaps because I was a dancer I enjoyed the precision of the movements. What I didn't like were the inocculations. We all lined up with our shirts off, arms on hips, and it would be 'bang, bang, bang' until the needle had to be changed! Some of the girs fainted clean away, some had bad reactions and some only minor discomfort. At least we had a day off to recover! We were warned that we would have a route march towards the end of our training and it would be awful! So when the day dawned we were all very fearful. However it turned out to be much better than expected and we were all relieved and proud to have succeeded. Our passing out parade went well, we were in 3rd Platoon Coy No 7 Training Centre Guildford, and we were given leave before being posted. I elected to visit my grandmother in Bristol and she came to Temple Meads station to see me off. I was standing in the entrance to the carriage saying goodbye when the guard came along slamming the doors shut. Unfortunately, my right thumb was caught in the door. I screamed, the door was re-opened, and I nursed a rapidly swelling, very painful digit on the journey to Guildford. Reporting to sick bay when I got there, I was sent to Aldershot where I was X-rayed, told I had a hair-line fracture and my hand was put in plaster. I was then told I would be unable to go with my friends to Camberley Driving School and would have to remain in Guildford in a holding unit for 6 weeks. In a holding unit, you get all the dead end jobs such as kitchen cleaning duties, etc but because I couldn't use my hand I was put in the Quartermasters Store where all the uniforms etc were kept. At least I was nice and warm (it was a very cold winter)but I was frustrated at the delay.
Eventually, my thumb healed and I went to Camberley in Surrey for my driving instruction. This seemed to be a very big camp but I found myself, with several other girls, taken to a private house outside the camp, which was to be our billet. This was fine, but there was no heating or hot water and we were told we mustn't attempt to light a fire. To make matters worse, we had to get to and from camp by crossing a golf course. Naturally, no lights anywhere, only the dimmest of torches as we stumbled our way across, aiming for the lights of the Camp. I cannot imagine what damage we must have done to the greens - we fell into enough bunkers anyway!
Once again we were back to lectures of all kinds. I don't think any of us knew how to drive and I had hardly even sat in a car, let alone understood how it worked. We had all walked, bicycled or used Public Transport pre war, so this was a very unknown world we were entering.
With the aid of an engine on a stand, a mock up of a car, illustrations etc, we gradually found out how things worked, until we were ready for our first drive. I can't remember, but I imagine our first tentative attempts would have been in the camp before we were sent out onto the road. We were trained on all sorts of vehicles from a tiny one we called a bug, up through Humber staff cars, to ambulances and trucks. To this day I can remember double-declutching and I can also remember having to start a vehicle using a starting handle. This was inserted at the front and it was an art to turn at just the right resistance before giving a big turn - if you didn't get it right then at best you had to try again and at worst you could break your wrist if it backfired! We were allocated a vehicle and would have an NCO sitting in the front and if appropriate there were two more girls sitting behind. This was all very nerve wracking as each day we would be assessed on everything - tests after lectures, understanding of the engine on the stand and latent driving ability. If you were thought to be not up to scratch, the next day when reading Standing Orders you would find your name and next to it 'RTU' (Return To Unit). Many a girl has been in floods of tears as there was no appeal. I realise now that the Army couldn't afford to keep on anyone who wouldn't make the grade, but at the time it seemed almost inhuman.
I had several 'close calls' but thankfully stayed the course. Once I was in a car in procession waiting to exit the drive when the door opened and the lance corporal was told to get out by an officer. She then told me to get in the driving seat while she sat in the passenger seat and told me to drive off. I had never been in this type of vehicle before and the controls were unfamiliar to me. The brake was in a shaft at an angle to the floor and I was struggling to release it and quietly panicking. I could see RTU beside my name in my mind's eye! "Push it down!" said the officer irritably. I'm afraid I took that literally and tried to do just that with no success. After what seemed like hours but could only have been a very few seconds, I cottoned on to the fact that it was not 'down' but 'forward' and I was able to get started and drive off. Fortunately I survived but I felt annoyed at the officer - down is down and forward is something entirely different! On another occasion, we were in a small copse, practising reversing, in a Jeep. I thought I was doing quite well until I was told to stop and turn right round and look behind me. To my horror I found I was about a foot from a tree. Again fate smiled on me and all was well. As we progressed, we were sent out on our own, two to a vehicle. One night we had to negotiate map references in order to rendezvous at an unspecified point at a certain time. With my friend Gillian Sweeting we went off in a truck, in total blackout, no headlamps only 'slits' of light coming from them. We had to go across Windsor Great Park and we managed this by Gillian leaning out of the passenger side guiding us as best she could, while I leant out of my side making sure I didn't stray off the single track road. Thankfully, we got to our rendezvous in time, which turned out to be a cafe where we all had tea and buns. On another occasion, in snowy, icy conditions, we were out in one of the small 'bugs'. Suddenly we skidded off the road into a ditch at the side. We weren't hurt and there didn't appear to be any damage to the bug, but how to get it back on the road? Just then a lorry full of soldiers drew up, and after many cracks about 'women drivers' several of them got in the ditch and literally heaved it out!
Came the time when we sat our final written exams and our driving test and I believe we all passed. Gillian and I were posted to London, to Chelsea to 920 WO Transport Company, RASC. Groups of us were billeted in large houses behind the Kings Road (worth a fortune these days)and our vehicles, Standard 8 Vans, were garaged at Chelsea barracks. Each morning we would go to one of the houses for breakfast, then collect our vans and drive to Northumberland House in Northumberland Avenue and report for duty. Each of us would have a civilan postman assigned to our van and he dictated where we had to go. For example, our first stop might be Downing Street, where sacks of mail would be taken in and more sacks brought out. These would then be taken , say, to the Admiralty and the process repeated. Sometimes I spent all day driving in and out of Whitehall, sometimes I had to go across London. Each day was different, we never knew where we would go. Once I went a long way out of London and when I returned I was told it was one of the places where Winston Churchill was having a meeting, but I never met the great man, more's the pity. Sometimes there would be Air Raids in the Capital during the day or night. We got quite blase about it, almost fatalistic. What would be, would be, seemed to be our feeling.
Being stationed in London gave us access to many of the Service Clubs, the Nuffield Centre, the Rainbow Rooms and others whose names I've forgotten. There were many pubs where we might go, in groups. We would buy a half pint of 'Mild and Bit' and make it last the whole evening, it was the company we wanted, not the drink. The blackout was quite rigorous, no light was to show at all, and we became quite clever at feeling our way around. I found the food very good, I was skinny and always hungry, so was grateful for whatever I could get! At one time, one of the houses further up the street was occupied by some Yanks. They were like some exotic creatures, their uniforms were beautifully cut and made of fine material while our poor soldiers were in thick khaki, not always well fitting!
Contributed originally by Podgie (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Grimsby in 1926 and moved to London when I was about 4. We lived at Leytonstone in the East End of London. We often went to bed to the wail of sirens and it is now history how the Blitz gradually took shape.
Most able bodied men were called up into the services so it left a work force, in the building trade of men that were unfit or not old enough to go into the services. I was from the later category being about 15.
I worked for a builder called Ackworth who had teams of young lads and older men engaged in bomb damage repairs. This was what was known as 1st aid repairs. When a bomb dropped in an area we were sent to put black outs up with black bitumen felt over the windows that had been blown out. We were usually working on the fringe of the incident and often found ourselves on roofs, throwing tiles to the ground. If a roof was too bad it was sheeted over to make it weatherproof.
One particular time, in Edmonton, we were called to, we had repaired most of the slipped and damaged tiles on the roofs and as it was 12.30pm Saturday, it was time to "knock off". I still had a couple of tiles in my hand so not thinking, I placed them on top of a chimney pot and made my way home. The usual raids took place all over the week end. On Monday I went back to the same site to complete the rest of the work detailed to our work force only to find that another bomb had fallen close to where we had been working. All the tiles on the roofs had been lifted and shuffled down to the gutters which meant we would have to sheet the roof, however, the couple of tiles that I had placed on top of the chimney were still there untouched!. Strange things happened in bomb blasts.
I feel I was a lucky man during the war, there were families that were not so lucky, some families hardly suffered a scratch, we were lucky we were one of them.
One of the first bombs dropped in our area was a small one, approx. 250lbs. Shelters had been supplied and installed in the gardens of our house in Woodhouse Road. Most of the adjoining neighbours had them at the bottom of the garden, except one elderly couple who had put theirs close to the house because they weren't very agile. A bomb, which was probably meant for Stratford goods yards went a mie or more astray and unfortunately dropped right on the elderly couples shelter and killed them outright. If they had had theirs in the same place as everyone else they would have survived. The war seemed to take a personal dislike to this family, their son was killed by one of our own damaged planes returning from a raid. He was on duty as an ARP warden at a school that the plane crashed on. Later on their daughter was killed in an untimely accident, so the whole family was wiped out as if they had never existed.
One day a bomb blasted carrots and onions from an old gentlmans garden into our drive. Not wishing to waste such useful commodities my mother went and collected them and we had them for dinner. That sounds heartless doesn't it but with 7 hungry mouths to feed she was not going to see vegetables go to waste.
At 14 I was quite a well built lad for my age, and growing, so clothes were something of a problem. I remember forever ironing my one good pair of trousers in an effort to charm the young females of the area, this combined with a sports jacket, probably handed down to me from one of my elder brothers. I met an old school friend of mine down an air raid shelter at Smiths Paint Factory in Maryland Road. He was sporting a natty line in battle dress wear, complete with great coat and boots. I knew he wasn't in the army as he was too young, so I got chatting to him and he told me he had falsified his age and joined the Home Guard (their uniforms were identical to the regular army). I decided it was a brilliant idea, I don't know if they really believed my "supposed" age but they were desperate for members so I was soon kitted out with a new suit. Admittedly I didn't have a choice as regards style or colour but I thought I looked the cats whiskers.
It was in an air raid shelter, I was about 14 or 15, when I met my fate. She wore an edge to edge black coat with napped in waist, a pair of chisel toed suede shoes on neat feet, a small hood that framed her angelic face.I was smitten.
As the blitz really took hold youngsters would often have to wander from shelter to shelter as there often wasn't often enough room for whole families to sleep. Sometimes you wandered to different shelters, like migrants, looking for people of your own age. At first you would be resented by local lads as they though you were eyeing up their girls. In my case it came to blows with a lad called Ron. He was about 18 and by the look of his nose he had done a bit of boxing. Two locals told me that Ron wanted to see me "up top" so I had no alternative but to show my face. He was there to sort me out, but my father had taught me from an early age to defend myself, so that was it, we squared up and got stuck in. There wasn't really a winnder. I finished up with a lump like an egg on my cheek bone, he finished up with a black eye. We were eventually pulled apart by someone who told us we were a disgrace to the uniforms we were wearing (he was on his first leave from the army). We were made to shake hands and that was that. We became good mates afterwards. After that I was accepted down the shelter, no one bothered me again and I was allowed to pursue the lady of my dreams in peace. 60 years later I am still pursuing her, not perhaps with the same amount of vigour but with the same amount of sincerity!.
About this time I was making my way home from Smiths Paint Works shelter. It was quite late and I was on my own walking towards the Thatched House. I usually turned right into Cann Hall Road and along into Woodhouse Road. There was an air raid in progress and as the searchlights caught one of the enemy planes in their beams the ack ack guns opened up. They didn't seem to be targetting our area that night but when the planes were overhead you had to be careful of the shrapnel from our own guns. Shrapnel was really nasty ragged lumps of metal that could take your head off if they hit you so it was wise to be a bit wary as you made your way along unlit roads. I turned into Cann Hall Road and a young lady stood in the doorway, seeing I was dressed in uniform she felt she could approach me with reasonable safety. She asked if I was walking towards Wanstead Flats. I said that I was and she asked if she might walk with me as she was a bit frightened. She fell in beside me and off we went. I couldn't tell you what she looked like because it was a dark night. We started off towards Wanstead Flats, things were reasonable quiet for a while but that didn't last. We heard the drone of incoming planes and saw the searchlights probing the sky. The gunfire was getting closer and closer, so we made a dash for the nearest protective doorway and sheltered there for a while until things calmed down. Where I lived was some way before Wanstead Flats but I could sense that the girl was frightened and said I would walk her close to her home. Finally we reached the Flats and turned into Danes Road, dodging in and out as the shrapnel flew. I accompanied her as far as a pub, she said she would be alright from there on. She thanked me and we said good night. I turned on my heels and retraced my steps back the way I had come. I don't remember hearing any noise or commotion but there was a huge explosion. I was picked up by a huge blast and blown flat on my face. I was conscious of flying glass as windows were blown out. I expected to find myself covered in blood. I gathered my thoughts, felt myself all over and to my amazement found I didn't have a scratch, was just deaf. My first thought was of the young lady I had just left, so once more I turned on my heels and walked to see if I could find her, but there was no trace. There were so many ways she could have gone that I didn't know where to start looking so I gave up and walked home, jumped into bed and went to sleep. The next day I heard that a landmine had come down in that area and I had been caught in the blast. I often wondered what happened to that young lady, had she survived or had she walked into it.It's something I'll never know.