Bombs dropped in the ward of: Teddington
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Teddington:
- High Explosive Bomb
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Teddington
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Angiemum (BBC WW2 People's War)
Chapter 1 - Evacuation.
My brother and I sat eating our breakfast at the scrubbed pine kitchen table in the back of my father's shop. The radio was on and in hushed silence we heard that Britain was at war with Germany. In seemed very unreal on that sunny September morning in 1939 and as if to heighten the moment, an air raid siren sounded. Donning my gas mask, I walked sedately to the neighbour's Anderson shelter.
I was born in 1929, the year of the Wall Street crash. My parents were from well-to-do families that had lost their riches in the Great Depression. Now my father's fortunes had changed and he bought two furniture shops in the High Street, Ilford. For some time now there had been rumours of war. We had been issued with gas masks at school, the children making fun of the rude noises they made when we breathed out. I watched men parading in the school grounds, and the Black Shirt rallies in the streets. To a skinny hyper-active ten year old it all seemed exciting.
Our nextdoor neighbours had built an Anderson shelter in their back yard that flooded when it rained and now we sat with our feet in water waiting for the All Clear to sound. Mother had already packed a suitcase in case we had to leave in a hurry, her sister having arranged for us to live with a friend of the family in Somerset. Father rang for a taxi to take us to the station and, bundling us into the back seat, gave us each a bacon sandwich to eat on the journey. My brother was crying but I thought it was an adventure. We were going to live deep in the countryside and I imagined a little house like Hansel and Gretel snuggled in a lush green forest.
There were groups of frightened children at Paddington Station, hanging on to their cardboard boxes of gas masks and labelled so that they would not get lost. Mothers and fathers were waving farewell with trepidation. Many of the children had never been away from home and certainly not to the country. They thought milk came out of bottles not from cows' udders. Some of these children stayed with their foster families but many of them were to return to London after a few weeks.
My mother's sister had already gone down to Hatch Beauchamp with her children several weeks before, and was there to meet us at Taunton station. They were staying on a farm but we were to live with an elderly spinster school teacher in the village of Ashill, eight miles from Taunton and twelve miles from Ilminster.
Although from an early age I had become used to moving from place to place, the contrast in lifestyle was to be intense. From a busy city, with trams clanking down the main street and lights blazing through the bedroom windows over the shop, I was to experience total silence and dark lanes. I had attended a Roman Catholic school, went swimming every day in the Olympic swimming pool, explored the city environs with my younger brother and stood in the smoke from the steam engines on the overbridge at the station. I had learned to ride a bike, dive from the top board, done well at sports and art, and gone to church every day. Now nothing would ever be the same again.
We motored through open countryside enclosed with high banked lanes, a far cry from what I had imagined deepest Somerset to be. The upright three storey red brick house looked as if it had been planted in a field of vegetables. It had a large garden with an orchard of damson and apple trees. A straight path, bordered by Sweet Williams, led from the front gate up to the front door. There, a tall austere lady, with her hair tied in a neat bun and wearing a grey flowered frock, greeted us.
The house which was to be our home for the next six months, had a typical Victorian layout. The staircase was immediately opposite the front door, with the drawing room at the left and the kitchen/scullery to the right. The drawing room smelled musty and contained an old out of tune piano, only played for hymns on Sunday, a horsehair stuffed sofa and chairs with antimacassars and hand embroidered cushoions and the nondescript rug on a wood floor. A large aspidistra in a brass pot on a stand stood in front of the heavy lace curtained window, defying any vestige of sunlight to pass. The plastered walls graced pictures depicting departed parents, a boy blowing bubbles and Jesus knocking at a door with a lamp in his hand. We were told this room was only for entertaining visitors.
In contrast, the living room was comfortable with a large polished dining table and Victorian round backed stuffed chairs. An oval rag rug was spread on the flagstone floor in front of a coal range. A huge oil lamp, various lace doilies, china dogs, and vases of dried flowers stood on a big sideboard against the wall. In the corner of the room a beautiful grandfather clock ticked away the hours. A rocking chair was drawn up beside the range where a large black kettle was steaming on the hob. Memories of the comfort and warmth of this room linger with me to this day.
There was no electricity so cooking was done in the range oven or on an oil stove in the scullery. Lighting was with oil lamps and we used candles in the bedrooms. My bedroom was in the attic, furnished with an iron bed with a feather mattress and a cotton counterpane, a wash stand with a large china jug and basin, and a small wardrobe. A chamber pot under the bed and a rag rug strewn over the bare wood floor completed the room. Apart from a large chest of drawers, my mother's bedroom on the landing was identical. Because I wet the bed, my brother was to sleep with her in the double bed.
There was no bathroom and the outside toilet was a wooden shed attached to the house inside which was a bucket covered by a wooden seat. A tray of ashes from the fire was trowelled into the bucket on top of the excrement. When the bucket was full, the contents were tipped over the hedge onto the farm midden ready to be spread on the fields at muck spreading time. On a hook just inside the door was a bunch of torn up newspaper tied with string to be used as toilet paper. The place was cold, dark and dank and a haven for spiders. We waited for as long as we could before going there. My brother preferred to mess his pants rather than do so.
If we wanted a bath, the copper in the scullery was filled with buckets of water from the hand operated puimp outside the back door. The fire was lit underneath it until the water was hot, then allowed to go out. Mother did the family washing, then my brother and I bathed, using rain water from the water butt outside to wash our hair. When we had finished, mother put a zinc bath in font of the coal range, filled in with buckets of dirty water from the copper and had a leeisurely bath all to herself in front of the blazing fire. Afterewards, she dragged the bath to the back door and emptied it outside. I hate to think of the pollution it might have caused to the well water. We did not bathe very often. Hot water was sometimes brought up to my bedroom for washing in the morning, but more often than not I washed in cold water.
It was soon realised that the school teacher was not used to catering for a family and so my mother decided to do the cooking. Large cottage pies, steak and kidney piddings and blackberry and apple pies put weight on us. We had never eaten so well. Vegetables from the garden were soon eaten up, as were the fruits. Breakfast of new laid eggs, clotted cream and h9omemade damson jam on newly baked crusty white bread was a delight. I was sent down a deep muddy lane to the local farm to collect skimmed milk in a billy can and a jug of clotted cream that was always on the table for practically every meal. The cream was used instead of butter.
We were soon enfolded into village life. All the children were expected to help with haymaking and stooking of sheaves of grain. The hay was cut with sickles and pitchforked onto large haywains drawn by cart horses. It was taken away to make into hay ricks. It was hot a prickly work with biting insects that brought us up in hives. Men, moving along the rows in long slow movements, scythed the grain and I was allowed to try my hand at it. Tractors and mechanised farm machinery were looked at with suspicion and regarded as "new fangled". Farmers preferred to use horses and farm labourers. The only concession was a traction engine that threshed the grain and provided straw for the stables and cow sheds.
We also had to collect apples for making cider. It was an almost mystical occasion with the men manning the presses and sampling the casks as they came out of the barn. It was the pinnacle of the harvest.
I loved the secret lanes bordered with tall grasses, stinging nettles and Queen Anne's Lace. Further down the lane from us two old ladies lived. One of the sisters had bright henna hair tied in a bird's nest bun. She was stone deaf and held a hearing trumpet to her ear. Her sister always wrote down what we said to her. They sold new laid eggs, and one day when we went down to buy some, they said they were not able to sell them to us because the Government were going to make them into dried eggs. They were to be rationed.
Since the nearest Roman Catholic church was in
Taunton, Mother decided that we go to the Baptist chapel in the village. Our local butcher offered to take us in his pony and trap. His teenage son drove the horse and I was fascinated by his crisp dark curly hair. We found the Baptist Minister kind and welcoming and the congregation very caring. The butcher had his farm across the fields from us, where he killed his own meat and sold it from the back of his van. This was to end too when meat was rationed. I went to watch a pig being killed one day and saw it rushing around the yard with blood pouring from its neck. My mother was horrified when she found out.
I was also asked to help with milking the cows. I had to hold the cow's tail and pump it up and down otherwise the milk did not flow. It was a long while before I saw the joke. Cows were milked by hand then, and it took a long time in the cold abnd dirty cowsheds to clean and milk the herd. I also learned about foot rot in sheep and watched while their feet were coated in tar and the maggot infested dags were sheared. I peered at the piglets in the sties, visited Ferdinand the bull in his pen, and scratched his forehead. He loved to sniff the flowers I brought him, with an ecstatic look on his face.
The butcher's wife was in charge of the duck and hens and kept a sparkling kitchen, scrubbing the flagstone floors every day. Mother said she worked too hard. She baked an enormous amount of cakes and bread in her Aga oven and was always mixing something in her crockery bowl. Invitations to afternoon tea were a stomach groaning adventure with pies, cakes, scones and the ever present clotted cream and homemade damson jam.
My brother and I went to the local village school where just one remarkable and talented elderly teacher taught children aged between four and twelve in an open classroom. I was the eldest girl and the oldest boy used to have competitions with another boy to see how far and how long they could piss down the white line in the road on the way home. I quickly learned the Somerset vernacular and dialect. I had one language for home and another for school.
It was about two miles down one hill and up another from our house to the village. My mother used to accompany us on a sit up and beg bicycle, and when it rained she held up a large black umbrella whilst cycling along. This plus singing at the top of her voice was the most embarrassing thing she could ever have done. I wanted to hide. At school I was put in charge of teaching the little ones reading, writing and alphabet. Each morning the whole school faced the blackboard and called out simple word spellings in parrot fashion. I learned far more than I had ever done at my other schools. Fractions and decimals were explained thoroughly, and I was given freedom to write about anything I wanted to. All the girls learned sewing, knitting and spinning, while the boys learned to weave, make models and create a topographical map of the village from clay.
I often finished my work well before the others, so I was sent outside to feed the chickens with dandelion leaves, take caterpillars off the cabbages and put them in jars so we could watch them turn into chrysalis, and prepare the soil ready for planting seeds. I learned how to read the clouds and the leaves to predict the weather, and designed a weather chart for each day. We were told how to tell the difference between birdes, and rabbits and hares, and shown the secrets of herbs and tell when it was time to harvest the wheat. We learned about shapes of trees and habitats of flora and fauna. The teaching was imaginative and rich and it served me for the rest of my life.
As soon as an aircraft was heard, all the children rushed to the windows of the classroom. We soon could tell the difference between types of aircraft by the sound but as yet there were no enemy planes. There was only one other evacuee at the school and she and I used to make up things about where we had lived and what we could do. There was a French Jewish boy who was being repatriated who did not want to go home, and two Quaker girls who wore long pigtails down their backs and funny flat hats. They did not mix with the other children.
The village shop was over by the butcher's farm and I used to be sent to pick up groceries and coat-tail packets of rasberry drops. It was customary to pick blackberries on the way and one day I lost the change from the envelope I was carrying. Mother had a violent temper and was none too pleased. However, although I looked I never found the money and mother thought perhaps someone picking mushrooms must have got lucky.
Towards the end of November and the beginning of December, the village was busy preparing for Christmas. The puddings had been stirred by us all in the big crockery mixing bowl, the almonds shelled and chopped, the muscatels seeded, suet chopped and breadcrumbs grated. The final addition of barley wine meant we could all sample some and scrape around the bowl. The pudding basins were plunged into the copper and boiled for hours and then placed on the shelves in the scullery larder. The Christmas cake had been made and baked slowly in the oil stove. Apples were cored and sliced and strung on strings in front of the coal range to dry. Plums were dried and eggs pickled for winter. Jam and pickles had been made earlier and the jars sat neatly on the larder shelves. The whole place smelled of wood smoke, clotted cream, spices and baking.
We were all invited to the Hatch Beauchamp Christmas school concert and one of the older boys led the community singing of "We'll Hang Out the Washing on the Zeigfreid Line" and "Run Rabbit Run" amid loud applause. There was a nativity play and then the Mummers came in from the back of the hall with the dragon, the doctor and Saint George. The uproar and laughter they created was wondrous and when the doctor pulled a string of sausages out of the unfortunate dragon's stomach, the house was brought down. The dragon was healed and promisede not to terrorise the people any more and Saint George passed around a hat for coins. Afterwards we went to another farm for an enormous supper.
I was asked to write a nativity play for school to be acted in front of our teacher. I had a doll for baby Jesus that was brouight down from Heaven by an angel. The farm children with their knowledge of birth and death must have thought it very strange. Previously we had made large envelopes decorated with pictures from last year's Christmas cards and cut up white paper for snow. I had no idea what they were for, but on the last day of school we were given them filled with all kinds of items that the teacher had saved from Cornflakes and soap packets throughout the year. We each had something, including samples of chocolate and sweets. I had a lace making wheel, a French knitting spool and a painting set. I still have the lace making wheel.
I do not remember a lot about Christmas Day but on Boxing Day we visited a farm near Sedgemoor. The robust sons came in from shooting rabbits and pheasants amid lots of excitement from the guests. There were a lot of people there and we played all kinds of party games before sitting down to a great feast. We viewed the hounds in the kennels and watched the horsemen in their red coats getting ready to hunt the fox. Some of the hound puppies were not yet weaned and they smelled of that special smell of sweet dog's milk and hay that only puppies have.
After Christmas it snowed with drifts up to the top of the hedges. Sheep were lost and cows stood on the barns with icicles hanging from their noses. Each morning when I woke there were fernlike fronds of ice on the windows and I had to break the ice on my water jug to wash myself. I suffered terribly from chilblains that burst and mother wrapped them up in bandages soaked in castor oil. The snow lasted for weeks and soon it was spring again
with primroses and pussy willow catkins in the hedgerows. There was no sign of war starting, let alone ending. The French appeared to be holding their own and the British were supporting them as best they could. Father had sold the shops and was enlisted to work in Hawkers aircraft factory in Kingston-on-Thames. He had found a rented house near Worcester Park, Surrey, and wanted us to come home. Mother's sister was already back in New Malden nearby and so we said farewell to all our friends and never saw them again. I often wonder what happened to the children at the village school and the teenage farm boys.
Chapter 2 - Air raids
The Head Teacher in my new small private school called us all into the assembly room. We sang "For Those in Peril on the Sea" and she told us how British troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk. Small private vessels were being sent out to rescue them because the larger ships could not cope with the numbers. It was one of those defeats that Britain makes into heroic victories. Our school motto "Ad Astra" had been taken from the Royal Air Force motto, and we were to wear our school uniform with pride, always reaching for the skies. We were given "girl power" with examples of female heroes and role models. Women could do anything and were now the backbone of the nation because our men were fighting in the war.
We were now living in the ugliest house I had ever seen in a speculative building estate. In the plot next to ours there was a huge electricity pylon that crackled when it rained and mother utilised the ground beneath it to grow vegetables and soft fruit. The windows had been prepared with gummed tape against bomb blasts and blackout curtains put up. Barage balloons like tethered Dumbos drifted in the sky and reinforced brick bomb shelters were being offered to be put in the lee of the house walls. My father decided we could shelter in the downstairs toilet or in the cupboard under the stairs.
We had watched the Battle of Britain from our back garden, marvelling at the spectacle of vapour trails winding in and out and the occasional aircraft spiralling to the ground. Without any warning at all, there was a sudden explosion that shook the house. My father was upstairs getting ready to go to work and he was so frightened that he fell down the stairs in his hurry to get to the shelter of the toilet. We crammed into the toilet, taking turns to sit on the seat until the All Clear sounded. The thunderous noise had come from an anti-aircraft gun that went up and down the railway close by.
Very soon the air raids began in earnest. At school our lessons were often interrupted and we took shelter in the basement of the large Edwardian house, singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" as we marched down the steps. My father worked at the factory on a night shift and came home totally exhausted, his clothes covered in oil and his shoes encrusted with iron filings. Eventually the factory was bombed and he took a coach to Slough where he stayed during the week.
Bombing became a way of life. It was mostly at night, and people went about their business as usual during the day. After a raid it was peculiar to see houses with half their contents lurching crazily into the road, the front walls stripped away, leaving toilet and baths precariously hanging on by their copper pipes. Shrapnel littered the roads, and rained down on roofs during the raids. Only the wardens were allowed out during a raid. My brother and I used to go out and collect shrapnel in the mornings, and sometimes hoped to see bits of people in the wreckage. We never did. I cannot remember ever being frightened, and my father said that if our number was on it then so be it. We became philosophical and people, places and things became valueless.
Deep underground shelters were built near the recreation ground, and we took eiderdowns and blankets with us to sleep in the bunks. The smell was foetid from bad breath, cigarettes, and body odour. My mother disinfected our place with Lysol to get rid of the smell. We were told to keep very close to the elm trees on our way to the shelters in case we were strafed by a German fighter. One of the shelters took a direct hit and my mother decided she would rather die in bed.
On the way back from the shops one day my brother and I heard a plane diving, and as we ran to shelter underneath the railway bridge we heard the bullets hitting the road. Sometimes a German plane was shot down and we would look for pieces of the wreckage. Once a German pilot baled out and was hanging on top of the gasometer amid lots of excitement by the Home Guard. I learned to speak German in case I met a pilot trying to escape. German planes had a very distinct sound to their engines and I could easily distinguish between our planes and theirs.
Food and clothing were very strictly rationed and we got used to wearing hand-me-downs. Mother used to make us clothes from old garments, pulling back old woollen jumpers and making new ones. If our shoes wore out, my father patched them with a cardboard mixture. I used to go up to Worcester Park to the Community restaurant run by the Womens Volunteer Service. They served Spam, corned beef stew, or toad in the hole with processed peas and potatoes. For desert we had suet pudding and watered down custard.
Mother eked out the two ounces of butter a week with margarine and milk, and made jam from marrows from her garden. We picked blackcurrants from the gardens of bombed out houses, and collected rose hips and ornamental apples to make juice. Sweets were rationed, so we ate flavoured gelatine from jelly packets.
One night there was the most incredible raid and the house rocked all over the place as if an earthquake had hit us. My brother and I had taken shelter in the iron Morrison shelter that we had in the back room. The shaking was so intense by bombs dropping fairly close by and the anti-aircraft gun thundering on the railway line, that when we finally emerged we were covered in flakes of rust from the shelter.
The bombing was spectacular and we went upstairs to get a better view and were astonished to see the most remarkable fireworks display we had ever seen. The sky was a dazzling orange from incendiary bombs, search lights, tracer bullets and aircraft plunging in flames. It seemed to go on all night. London was being mercilessly attacked. My father went up to London to help and to rescue my grandmother. She came to live with us until she found somewhere else to live.
The French doors in the back room were regularly hiked off their hinges and dropped intact onto the lawn. Apart from this, we never suffered any damage, nor knew anyone who died in the war. However, a land mine landed in the oak tree at the bottom of the garden and we were evacuated safely out of the way until it had been made safe. A reinforced brick shelter was put in our garden and mother, my brother and I squashed in there like sardines during the worst raids. Perhaps the only time I really felt scared was listening to the bombs whistling as they fell, wondering if they were going to fall on us. We began to live on adrenalin.
Our head teacher thought it would be a good idea if we wrote to some girls in another school in Lake Forest, Illinois. I chose a girl whose mother was on the campaigning committee for Adlai Stevenson and who knew the Kennedy's very well. I still write to her at Christmas. America was not yet in the war but was providing Lease/Lend. My penfriend sent us parcels of tinned food, and material to make clothes. I also wrote to a boy in New Jersey who eventually joined the Navy Seals and went to Guatemala, but who I never heard from again.
Around about this time there was a threat of invasion, and mother had packed a suitcase ready for us to be sent to Canada. My father asked his brother who lived in Edmonton if we could stay with him until the war was over. We were about to embark the following day when we heard that the ship that had sailed before ours had been torpedoed and hundreds of children drowned. Our sailing was cancelled. Incredibly my mother became pregnant because, she said she could not imagine life without children.
Mother was often in a hysterical state of collapse during the last stages of her pregnancy and I was expected, as the eldest to be responsible for her and my brother while father was away. My sister was born in April 1941 in the middle of an air raid. My brother and I stayed with a neighbour while mother was in the nursing home and I slept with the teenage daughter. I had never had to dress my own hair, so it was a shock having to weave my plaits and tie my school tie.
One of my friends at school became fascinated by a Dutch merchant seaman who was convalescing in a home at the end of the school avenue. We waited outside the home until Cornelius came out to talk to us. He had been torpedoed in the North Sea and rescued by a British tanker. There were also Polish pilots staying there who had been shot down in the Channel and rescued. He gave me some stamps with Hitler and Mussolini on them. I threw them away.
My father hardly came home now, and finally he left having fallen in love with a woman in the factory. My sister was about six months old and mother put her in my bedroom for me to look after. The bombing was not so intense now but another type of bomb was to threaten us. Mother could not afford my fees any more and wanted me to stay at home to look after the baby and the house while she went to work. At school the head teacher offered a compromise. In lieu of fees I would become a student teacher at the school and she would make sure that I continued with my studies. I had already passed School Certificate and taken Royal College of Art exams. I was Head Girl and captain of the netball and hockey teams. Apparently I had a lot of potential but no one ever told me what in. In fact I felt very inadequate at school, always terrified of getting things wrong, and because I was in a class with girls much older than myself, I was socially inept.
Suddenly the flying bombs started with a vengeance. 8000 rockets were launched in the space of a few months. These bombs were terrifying since no one knew when the engine would cut out. Often they would start up again and take off just when they were about to land and explode. My cousin came home once covered in mud when she had dived into a ditch to avoid a flying bomb that had flown under the railway bridge and taken off again.
My school was evacuated to the country and although the head teacher suggested I went with them, mother would not hear of it. I left school just before my fourteenth birthday.
American troops were now stationed in Bushy Park near Hampton Court. As well as the Tommy Handley Show, we could now listen to the American Forces Network and the Glen Miller Band. Bob Hope came to entertain the troops and Charlie Macarthy was popular on the radio. I fantasised about all things American and quick-stepped around the room doing the housework to String of Pearls. An American soldier came to visit a girl staying with one of my couusins and I tried to make every opportunity to visit. However, I was so overawed by him that I could not utter a word without being terribly embarrassed. He gave me chewing gum and a magasine with Sad Sack in it.
We watched with amazement to see wave upon wave of flying fortress bombers blackening the sky over our house, and just as amazed when, still in formation, they came back with large gaps where the planes had been shot down. Once I watched a crippled plane limping home and I prayed for it to land safely. My brother and I often played by the Hogsmill Stream down the road from our home, and one day I heard an incredible rumbling sound coming from the Kingston Bypass. Investigating, I was startled to see line after line of tanks squeaking down the road for miles. The noise went on all day and all night for days, and the main road through New Malden was nose to tail with troop carriers and trucks. We waved to the soldiers as they went by. They were getting ready to invade France.
We learned about the war from newspapers and the radio. One of my uncles who worked for the Evening Standard became a War Correspondent with the American Forces. He told us about the fiasco at Arnhem and how many of the soldiers were crushed when the gliders landed and the jeeps fell out. Suddenly, from all the months of frighteningly exciting activity and noise, everything went quiet and I began to understand what it must have been like for men who had been in the front line to be sent home.
A German Prisoner of War camp was built at the corner where an old farmhouse had been. The men helped to rebuild houses that had been bombed and clear the land. Prefabricated dwellings were built opposite the camp for homeless, and eventually after the war some ugly Council flats were built over the campsite. The elms died from Dutch elm disease. Many of the German soldiers did not want to return to Germany. There was nothing to go back to.
By the time I was fifteen I was working in the City of London. The war was still continuing with news of the fall of Germany and of the death of Adolph Hitler. Eventually I worked at British American Tobacco Company in Millbank and I and my boyfriend watched the wonderful victory celebrations from the top floor of the building. For us the war was over and all the promise and expectations of reconstruction and peace began.
My mother continued to work and retired and died in New Zealand. She never married again. My father died alone in a bed sitting room in Worcester Park shortly after war ended and my brother joined the Air Force and immigrated to South Africa where he died in 1988. My sister married, went to New Zealand and had two daughters. I married, went to New Zealand, had two sons and a daughter and eight grand children. I divorced and came back to Dorset in 1995.
How the war shaped our lives I do not know, but what I do know is that we are the survivors.
Contributed originally by waafairforce (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is an extract from a life story that my mum wrote for my brother Richard and myself and ultimately grand and great-grand children to read. She charted her life from her early childhood through to the year 2000 when she lost her beloved husband Norman. The chapter entitled “The War Years” provided us with a fascinating and somewhat frightening view of her life alone in London at the beginning of the war to my parents meeting and the birth of my brother during the war. I was born in 1949 after the war had ended so was not featured in this part of their lives.
As the story begins my mum was just 23 years old. She had moved to London from her home town of Grimsby and was working in the Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square………………………………………
I well remember listening to the radio all alone in my bedsit on that fateful day, 11 am on 3rd September 1939. Shortly afterwards the sirens sounded for the first time. I think most people in London thought it was their last hour. I know I did. I grabbed all my possessions including the photographs of my mother and brother and went into the air raid shelter thinking I would never see them again. Fortunately it was a false alarm and soon the all clear sounded. There was a lull for some time before we all began to return to normal routine.
At Peter Jones department store they formed a fire squad — most of us joined and as a result spent many nights on the roof on duty. The restaurant and lounge were on the floor below so it was not too bad, at least we had plenty to eat, which saved me buying an evening meal. I remember one of the directors was Scottish and he brought along a record player and some recordings of Scottish reels. He taught us the steps and we had great fun learning. At one of the annual balls we were able to give a demonstration. We were all dressed in long evening gowns. It was wonderful, the gowns were part of the show wardrobe and afterwards we were able to buy the gowns. Mine was to become my wedding dress.
However, it was not all fun in those days, but we made the most of it. The bombing had not started but I remember one night looking down from the railings of the roof and seeing the army from the Chelsea Barracks marching off to war. Later I was to see those lads returning from the disaster of Dunkirk. At one point someone got up a little concert party and we toured the sites of the barrage balloons cheering on all the troops.
Things weren’t too bad until the blitz started. I always remember coming home from a visit to my home town of Grimsby one Saturday night. The train was held up for a couple of hours outside Kings Cross Station. When we did eventually get off the train it looked as if the whole of London was ablaze. I was terrified as I made my way back to Victoria. Later my current boyfriend came to pick me up and take me out for a meal. We went to a restaurant where we often went. It was in a basement and I felt quite safe there even though there was an alert on — I could have stayed there all night. Eventually we decided to make a dash for it as I was only about 10 minutes walk away from my flat. As we were walking over the bridge there was a sound like a train on the line below. Suddenly we both realised what the sound was. It was coming from above not below. Fortunately there was a shelter on the bridge. We ran as fast as we could and threw ourselves into it. The bomb landed in front of the restaurant that we had just left. That was my first dice with death. I was to have many more near misses before I left London.
For several months it was not possible to get a good nights sleep in London. I passed more and more bombed areas on my way to work each day. Once I felt I must get some sleep, so I went into one of the tube stations with my blanket but I would have been better staying at home. It was awful, so many people laid on the floor all trying to sleep. Then I tried to shelter under one of the big London buildings but I could not sleep due to the awful smell of so many bodies so I picked up my blanket and walked through the black-out back to my flat. Then one night a friend suggested I go home with her for the night. She lived in Ealing — I went and as a result had a good nights sleep. However, a few nights later they were bombed, not a direct hit but it caused a lot of damage.
Another night I went my good friends Jack and Elsie. They had a ground floor flat in Maidavale. I felt quite safe there but even they were bombed a few nights after. The bombing was following me around! It was awful. The top flat was badly damaged and a family with a young girl who lived there was killed. They only found the little girls arm. Jack and Elsie moved out to the country after that.
One Saturday night I was getting ready to go out. I had just got in the bath and there was a terrible screaming noise. That was the start of the raids with screaming bombs. I soon got out of the bath and got dressed. I still went out though. We were getting used to the raids and not going into the shelters much.
Fortunately I missed the buzz bombs. I was fed up with the whole thing and decided to join up before I was called up. I chose the Womens Royal Air Force. For no particular reason — fate must have taken a hand in my destiny. I was on my way to meet my future husband. After nine years at Peter Jones, I handed in my notice, said goodbye to all my friends and was on my way.
FALLING IN LOVE
I went to Gloucester for five weeks training after which I was given a choice of two postings. I chose London and Lincoln. I was sent to Scampton in Linconshire and there at the gate to the base I met him — Norman Gray. I did not realise at the time but after a few days we had a date. He took me out to tea and to the picture house in Lincoln.
We now saw a lot of each other during the next two or three weeks. It was a warm September and in the evenings we would go for lovely country walks. Each week we went to the dance in the gym and danced to the RAF band. We had some great times there and I made two very good friends — Betty and Dorothy. Dorothy was the mothering type and looked after me. We had to sleep off camp in an old country house, which was said to be haunted. It was very cold there and Dorothy always used to go on the early transport from the camp to put the hot water bottle in my bed. Of course Betty and I were always on the late bus.
I think Norman and I both knew from the start that this was the real thing and we would marry. He had told me that he had already been married, that he got married young and that his wife had had a terminal illness and died soon after. So we were both free and we planned to get married as soon as possible.
We were marred on 8th November 1941. We had a nice wedding in Grimsby and my grandfather gave me away. Betty and Dorothy and another friend were there and three pals of Norman’s, his best man was Les Taylor his best friend.
We had a lovely reception at Blundell Park House and stayed the night in the Bridal Suite. We then spent a few days at Quarry Bank meeting Norman’s mother and sister Lily with her husband Jack and baby John. They made me very welcome and we had a pleasant stay. Our leave was soon over and we had to get back to camp.
EXPECTING OUR FIRST CHILD
It wasn’t long before I became pregnant and had to get my discharge from the WRAF. We went to live at my mother’s house in Grimsby. Norman got a living out permit and we found accommodation with a young couple sharing their house in Bealey Road in Old Clee, a little area between Cleethorpes and Grimsby. It was not far from the sea front and near to the Danesbury Nursing Home where my baby was due to be born. From there it was a very nice country walk to my mothers and grandmothers, passing the little Old Clee Church where my baby was later christened.
One morning early, when I was very pregnant suddenly without warning a German plane crossed the coast and started dropping bombs. I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs, flinging myself in the air raid shelter. I was very concerned that my baby was all right however a week or so later on the 17th September 1942 my beautiful little boy (Richard) arrived safe and sound.
After I left Scampton, Norman managed to get a living away pass and we shared a house with a very old widower. Norman used to cycle the 12 miles to Grimsby from the RAF Base.
ANOTHER NEAR MISS
We had another near miss when Richard was about a year old. We were still living with the old widower, he was a keen gardener. He hadn’t got a shelter so we used to go across his garden to the next door neighbours Anderson shelter. The old man stayed at home under the table. He was angry with us for going across his garden and told us we should go round the front of the house but we took no notice which was just as well for one night the German bombers used anti personnel bombs. After the raid was over we had just returned to the house via the garden when there was a terrific explosion outside the front of the house. When we later went up to Richard’s room, we found the window had blown in and Richard’s cot was full of glass. Apparently one of the bombs had failed to go off and a man was walking in the street outside our house and must have kicked the unexploded bomb and it went off, blowing him to pieces. If we had returned by way of the front of the house, it could have been the three of us that was blown to pieces. So our dear little baby had two miracle escapes that night and that was not the end of it. A few days later Norman noticed a peculiar hole in the garden just outside the kitchen window. He got a stick and was poking it down the hole when he suddenly realised what it was — another unexploded bomb. What a shock — We had a to get the army in to detonate it — everyone was evacuated from the area.
Later Norman managed to find us accommodation at a farm house in Tetley which was not far from the aerodrome.
One night Norman was cycling home along a tree lined road where apparently a German airman had just parachuted down and been captured by the police. Another time one of the German planes started to shoot up the base. I was in bed while Norman was being shot at! The Germans favourite trick was to follow our planes back to their bases and then shoot up the runway. One of Norman’s jobs was to light up the runway with the Aldis lamps when our planes returned from their missions. That particular night he dropped the lamp and ran very quickly!!
We were very happy at the farmhouse, the villagers were very friendly and we were taken into their little community. We used to go to the local whist drives when we were able. Once, I remember, we won a huge home made pork pie, it was delicious, we halved it with the farmer and his family. We had plenty of good food there especially home cured bacon. When Norman came back after night duty, he gathered lovely big mushrooms in the fields so we had lovely breakfasts. Richard liked it too with all the animals, he learnt to walk and talk a lot there. I was sad to leave there. When we left we went to keep house for the widower who I had always thought of as a granddad. I had lived with him and his wife when I was very young, before being adopted.
MOVING TO THE MIDLANDS
After the bombing we went on a visit to Norman’s mother’s house in Quarry Bank. He felt I would be safer there. We went back and packed all our things and we stayed all the rest of the war years in Quarry Bank, Staffordshire. Mind you I did wonder one night when I lay in bed and heard all the German bombers going overhead on their way to bomb Coventry. I hated being parted from Norman, but he wrote to me every day to cheer me up. He would come and see us as often as he could usually unexpected. I could always hear his footsteps coming down the entry at the side of the house. He used to come in and grab Richard and throw him in the air. I was always frightened he was going to hit the low ceiling. I was always very unhappy after seeing him off at the station. It was an awfully long lonely walk back in the pitch dark, but I was never frightened.
It was very strange at first, living in the Midlands. I felt I was in a foreign country, but I soon got used to the way they talked and I made many friends especially at the clinic with Richard every week. Of course I got to know my new sister in law Lily with her little boy John. We always got on very well together and in later years became more like sisters.
During Norman’s time in the RAF he was sent on many courses. At one time I went down to London for a week when he was stationed at Uxbridge. Then another time he was in Loughborough and he got us temporary accommodation near by with a local gamekeeper and his wife — we had some lovely meals there too.
Another time he was sent to Blackpool and again he got us accommodation with an elderly lady in a cottage. We had a few visits into Blackpool — it was during May 1944 so even though we were still at war a few places remained open. We went into Blackpool Tower and listened to the organ but not played by Reginald Dixon at that time. Richard would play on the sands. He was about 18 months old then. On the day I returned with him to Quarry Bank, I got on the train and it was packed with American soldiers all celebrating the fact that we had invaded Normandy - it was ‘D’ Day. They all made a fuss of Richard — I expect many of them were missing their own families.
The next move for Norman was to London and he was stationed near the Albert Hall. He hated being there but it was not for long. The war with Germany ended and he was there outside Buckingham Palace celebrating with all the crowds. From there he was sent to Yorkshire and I was hoping he would soon be sent home, but the war with Japan was still on and one day he came home suddenly and he had to have inoculations ready to be sent out to India. I couldn’t believe it.
We enjoyed his embarkation leave as much as we could. Luckily however, he didn’t go to India and some time later he was demobbed and we had him home again. So for the first time we were able to start our normal married life.
We enjoyed almost 60 years of happy married life until my beloved Norman died aged 84 in October 2000
Contributed originally by Derek Palmer (BBC WW2 People's War)
No doubt, for the majority of the contributors, it was our fathers, mothers even, who were in uniform during the 1939-45 war? Nevertheless, for many of us, taking place during our childhood, the Second World War formed an important memory in our formative years. Living close to London, my earliest memory is, when aged around 4-5, seeing the huge glow in the sky, as the London Docks, some 20 miles away, were aflame. However, allow me to relate a little happier memory of the WW2 - and my very first love affair . . .
Besides those unfortunate East Enders, my family had also experienced the Blitz when our former home, west of London, in Twickenham, was flattened in 1941. But moving on, it was now 1942 and the war was still raging. My father was with Monty on the Western Desert. Aged six, I now lived in Isleworth, Middlesex with my mother and, two years my junior, my sister Pam.
Opposite our home was one of the largest hospitals in the country, the West Middlesex, and, with a bedroom to spare; we were compelled to billet two nurses. One was a Scottish lass called Joan, and she was fairly plain. The other nurse was a London girl and her name was Jean. People described her as being petite. She was also dark-haired and extremely pretty.
Luftwaffe permitting, my mother put my sister and me to bed each night at around 7 p.m. Mum kissed us both goodnight - and so did the nurses, if they were not already out for the evening, or on night duty. Oh, how I loved being kissed by Jean. This was not like being kissed by my Mum, or by one of my aunts. This was a real kiss, on the lips, and me with my arms hugging tightly around her neck. Jean was probably about to go out on a date. There were plenty of British uniformed young men around and later the Canadians, with their attractive accents, arrived. The American GIs, with their bubble gum and smart gabardine uniforms, followed these. They were stationed not so far away from us, at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Bushy Park.
Later my father was invalided out of the Army and it was not long before my two nurse friends had to leave us. Oh, how I cried! Fortunately for me they were only moving into nurses’ quarters within the hospital grounds, right opposite our home.
The war went into another year and, during the following one, the bombing resumed. It was 1944 and the incendiary and other bombs had failed to set London completely afire. Now, Hitler was sending us his latest little package of terror - the terrifying V1 flying bomb (or doodle bug as it was called). The V2 rocket bomb followed this and, of course, there was no warning at all with those. You heard a whoosh and then you were either dead or seriously injured! Samples of both types of weapon were delivered close to our home. A V1 landed three streets away causing considerable damage to the semi. Some weeks later, a V2 landed on a factory about a mile away, which, besides making a deafeningly loud bang, also caused death and devastating destruction.
Most of my school classmates were evacuated to the relative safety of the countryside, some for the second time. However, my father decided that Pam and I were to stay put in the London suburbs. I had no objection whatsoever. I knew my beautiful Jean was just across the road. Occasionally, she came to visit us. Sometimes, after school, I would peer through the hospital hedge, the railings having been removed to make guns or tanks, in the hopes I may catch a glimpse of her.
The following year the war ended. Imitating all the other little streets throughout the land, we had a street party on VE (Victory In Europe) Day. Lovely Jean came across helping the mums serve the kids with sandwiches filled with goodies we could not remember having tasted before. Cakes, jellies, blancmanges and something I did not recall having tasted previously nor, mercifully, since - junket followed these! Our biliousness passed within a day or two but, in any case, I had only feasted my eyes upon the very tasty Jean.
I loved my mother very much but Jean was definitely the first woman with whom, from the age of six and until nine, I was really in love. Or, was it just infatuation? I wonder how she looks now? If still alive, she would have to be approaching 80, but I bet she’s still a great beauty or, at the very least, a very pretty old lady!
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