Bombs dropped in the borough of: Southwark

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

High Explosive Bomb
Parachute Mine

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

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

Memories in Southwark

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Contributed originally by BoyFarthing (BBC WW2 People's War)

I didn’t like to admit it, because everyone was saying how terrible it was, but all the goings on were more exciting than I’d ever imagined. Everything was changing. Some men came along and cut down all the iron railings in front of the houses in Digby Road (to make tanks they said); Boy scouts collected old aluminium saucepans (to make Spitfires); Machines came and dug huge holes in the Common right where we used to play football (to make sandbags); Everyone was given a gas mask (which I hated) that had to be carried wherever you went; An air raid shelter made from sheets of corrugated iron, was put up at the end of our garden, where the chickens used to be; Our trains were full of soldiers, waving and cheering, all going one way — towards the seaside; Silver barrage balloons floated over the rooftops; Policemen wore tin hats painted blue, with the letter P on the front; Fire engines were painted grey; At night it was pitch dark outside because of the blackout; Dad dug up most of his flower beds to plant potatoes and runner beans; And, best of all, I watched it all happening, day by day, almost on my own. That is, without all my school chums getting in the way and having to have their say. For they’d all been evacuated into the country somewhere or other, but our family were still at number 69, just as usual. For when the letters first came from our schools — the girls to go to Wales, me to Norfolk — Mum would have none of it. “Your not going anywhere” she said “We’re all staying together”. So we did. But it was never again the same as it used to be. Even though, as the weeks went by, and nothing happened, it was easy enough to forget that there was a war on at all.
Which is why, when it got to the first week of June 1940, it seemed only natural that, as usual, we went on our weeks summer holiday to Bognor Regis on the South coast, as usual. The fact that only the week before, our army had escaped from the Germans by the skin of its teeth by being ferried across the Channel from Dunkirk by almost anything that floated, was hardly remarked about. We had of course watched the endless trains rumble their way back from the direction of the seaside, silent and with the carriage blinds drawn, but that didn’t interfere with our plans. Mum and Dad had worked hard, saved hard, for their holiday and they weren’t having them upset by other people’s problems.
But for my Dad it meant a great deal more than that. During the first world war, as a young man of eighteen, he’d fought in the mud and blood of the trenches at Ypres, Passhendel and Vimy Ridge. He came back with the certain knowledge that all war is wrong. It may mean glory, fame and fortune to the handful who relish it, but for the great majority of ordinary men and their families it brings only hardship, pain and tears. His way of expressing it was to ignore it. To show the strength of his feelings by refusing to take part. Our family holiday to the very centre of the conflict, in the darkest days of our darkest hour, was one man’s public demonstration of his private beliefs
It started off just like any other Saturday afternoon: Dad in the garden, Mum in the kitchen, the two girls gone to the pictures, me just mucking about. Warm sunshine, clear blue skies. The air raid siren had just been sounded, but even that was normal. We’d got used to it by now. Just had to wait for the wailing and moaning to go quiet and, before you knew it, the cheerful high-pitched note of the all clear started up. But this time it didn’t. Instead, there comes the drone of aeroplane engines. Lots of them. High up. And the boom, boom, boom of anti-aircraft guns. The sound gets louder and louder until the air seems to quiver. And only then, when it seems almost overhead, can you see the tiny black dots against the deep, empty blue of the sky. Dozens and dozens of them. Neatly arranged in V shaped patterns, so high, so slow, they hardly seem to move. Then other, single dots, dropping down through them from above. The faint chatter of machine guns. A thin, black thread of smoke unravelling towards the ground. Is it one of theirs or one of ours? Clusters of tiny puffs of white, drifting along together like dandelion seeds. Then one, larger than the rest, gently parachuting towards the ground. And another. And another. Everything happening in the slowest of slow motions. Seeming to hang there in the sky, too lazy to get a move on. But still the black dots go on and on.
Dad goes off to meet the girls. Mum makes the tea. I can’t take my eyes off what’s going on. Great clouds of white and grey smoke billowing up into the sky way over beyond the school. People come out into the street to watch. The word goes round that “The poor old Docks have copped it”. By the time the sun goes down the planes have gone, the all clear sounded, and the smoke towers right across the horizon. Then as the light fades, a red fiery glow shines brighter and brighter. Even from this far away we can see it flicker and flash on the clouds above like some gigantic furnace. Everyone seems remarkably calm. As though not quite believing what they see. Then one of our neighbours, a man who always kept to himself, runs up and down the street shouting “Isleworth! Isleworth! It’s alright at Isleworth! Come on, we’ve all got to go to Isleworth! That’s where I’m going — Isleworth!” But no one takes any notice of him. And we can’t all go to Isleworth — wherever that is. Then where can we go? What can we do? And by way of an ironic answer, the siren starts it’s wailing again.
We spend that night in the shelter at the end of the garden. Listening to the crump of bombs in the distance. Thinking about the poor devils underneath it all. Among them are probably one of Dad’s close friends from work, George Nesbitt, a driver, his wife Iris, and their twelve-year-old daughter, Eileen. They live at Stepney, right by the docks. We’d once been there for tea. A block of flats with narrow stone stairs and tiny little rooms. From an iron balcony you could see over the high dock’s wall at the forest of cranes and painted funnels of the ships. Mr Nesbitt knew all about them. “ The red one with the yellow and black bands and the letter W is The West Indies Company. Came in on Wednesday with bananas, sugar, and I daresay a few crates of rum. She’s due to be loaded with flour, apples and tinned vegetables — and that one next to it…” He also knows a lot about birds. Every corner of their flat with a birdcage of chirping, flashing, brightly coloured feathers and bright, winking eyes. In the kitchen a tame parrot that coos and squawks in private conversation with Mrs Nesbitt. Eileen is a quiet girl who reads a lot and, like her mother, is quick to see the funny side of things. We’d once spent a holiday with them at Bognor. One of the best we’d ever had. Sitting here, in the chilly dankness of our shelter, it’s best not to think what might have happened to them. But difficult not to.
The next night is the same. Only worse. And the next. Ditto. We seem to have hardly slept. And it’s getting closer. More widely spread. Mum and Dad seem to take it in their stride. Unruffled by it all. Almost as though it wasn’t really happening. Anxious only to see that we’re not going cold or hungry. Then one night, after about a week of this, it suddenly landed on our doorstep.
At the end of our garden is a brick wall. On the other side, a short row of terraced houses. Then another, much higher, wall. And on the other side of that, the Berger paint factory. One of the largest in London. A place so inflammable that even the smallest fire there had always bought out the fire engines like a swarm of bees. Now the whole place is alight. Tanks exploding. Flames shooting high up in the air. Bright enough to read a newspaper if anyone was so daft. Firemen come rushing up through the garden. Rolling out hoses to train over the wall. Flattening out Dad’s delphiniums on the way. They’re astonished to find us sitting quietly sitting in our hole in the ground. “Get out!” they urge
“It’s about to go up! Make a run for it!” So we all troop off, trying to look as if we’re not in a hurry, to the public shelters on Hackney Marshes. Underground trenches, dripping with moisture, crammed with people on hard wooden planks, crying, arguing, trying to doze off. It was the longest night of my life. And at first light, after the all-clear, we walk back along Homerton High Street. So sure am I that our house had been burnt to a cinder, I can hardly bear to turn the corner into Digby Road. But it’s still there! Untouched! Unbowed! Firemen and hoses all gone. Everything remarkably normal. I feel a pang of guilt at running away and leaving it to its fate all by itself. Make it a silent promise that I won’t do it again. A promise that lasts for just two more nights of the blitz.

I hear it coming from a long way off. Through the din of gunfire and the clanging of fire engine and ambulance bells, a small, piercing, screeching sound. Rapidly getting louder and louder. Rising to a shriek. Cramming itself into our tiny shelter where we crouch. Reaching a crescendo of screaming violence that vibrates inside my head. To be obliterated by something even worse. A gigantic explosion that lifts the whole shelter…the whole garden…the whole of Digby Road, a foot into the air. When the shuddering stops, and a blanket of silence comes down, Dad says, calm as you like, “That was close!”. He clambers out into the darkness. I join him. He thinks it must have been on the other side of the railway. The glue factory perhaps. Or the box factory at the end of the road. And then, in the faintest of twilights, I just make out a jagged black shape where our house used to be.
When dawn breaks, we pick our way silently over the rubble of bricks and splintered wood that once was our home. None of it means a thing. It could have been anybody’s home, anywhere. We walk away. Away from Digby Road. I never even look back. I can’t. The heavy lead weight inside of me sees to that.

Just a few days before, one of the van drivers where Dad works had handed him a piece of paper. On it was written the name and address of one of Dad’s distant cousins. Someone he hadn’t seen for years. May Pelling. She had spotted the driver delivering in her High Street and had asked if he happened to know George Houser. “Of course — everyone knows good old George!”. So she scribbles down her address, asks him to give it to him and tell him that if ever he needs help in these terrible times, to contact her. That piece of paper was in his wallet, in the shelter, the night before. One of the few things we still had to our name. The address is 102 Osidge Lane, Southgate.
What are we doing here? Why here? Where is here? It’s certainly not Isleworth - but might just as well be. The tube station we got off said ’Southgate’. Yet Dad said this is North London. Or should it be North of London? Because, going by the map of the tube line in the carriage, which I’ve been studying, Southgate is only two stops from the end of the line. It’s just about falling off the edge of London altogether! And why ‘Piccadilly Line’? This is about as far from Piccadilly as the North Pole. Perhaps that’s the reason why we’ve come. No signs of bombs here. Come to that, not much of the war at all. Not country, not town. Not a place to be evacuated to, or from. Everything new. And clean. And tidy. Ornamental trees, laden with red berries, their leaves turning gold, line the pavements. A garden in front of every house. With a gate, a path, a lawn, and flowers. Everything staked, labelled, trimmed. Nothing out of place. Except us. I’ve still got my pyjama trousers tucked into my socks. The girls are wearing raincoats and headscarves. Dad has a muffler where his clean white collar usually is. Mum’s got on her old winter coat, the one she never goes out in. And carries a tied up bundle of bits and pieces we had in the shelter. Now and again I notice people giving us a sideways glance, then looking quickly away in case you might catch their eye. Are they shocked? embarrassed? shy, even? No one seems at all interested in asking if they can help this gaggle of strangers in a strange land. Not even the road sweeper when Dad asks him the way to Osidge Lane.

The door opens. A woman’s face. Dark eyes, dark hair, rosy cheeks. Her smile checked in mid air at the sight of us on her doorstep. Intake of breath. Eyes widen with shock. Her simple words brimming with concern. “George! Nell! What’s the matter?” Mum says:” We’ve just lost everything we had” An answer hardly audible through the choking sob in her throat. Biting her lip to keep back the tears. It was the first time I’d ever seen my mother cry.

We are immediately swept inside on a wave of compassion. Kind words, helping hands, sympathy, hot food and cups of tea. Aunt May lives here with her husband, Uncle Ernie and their ten-year-old daughter, Pam. And two single ladies sheltering from the blitz. Five people in a small three-bedroom house. Now the five of us turn up, unannounced, out of the blue. With nothing but our ration books and what we are wearing. Taken in and cared for by people I’d never even seen before.
In every way Osidge Lane is different from Digby Road. Yet it is just like coming home. We are safe. They are family. For this is a Houser house.

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Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)

In 1939, I was ten years old and lived with my family in a terrace house in Catlin Street, off Rotherhithe New Road, Bermondsey, South London.
I had two older brothers, John and Percy, two younger sisters, Iris and Beryl and a little brother Ron. My mother was expecting another baby in December who was to be my sister Sheila.
During the summer, war-scare was the main topic on the radio and in the newapapers, lots of preparations for Civil Defence were started.
Everyone was issued with a Gas-mask in a cardboard box with a shoulder string. Children under five got a "Mickey-mouse" model in pink rubber with a blue nose-piece and round eye-lenses.
There was a special one for infants, which completely enclosed the baby, and came with a hand-pump for Mum to operate.
It was a time of some excitement for us schoolchildren, clouded a little by fear of the unknown. All I knew about war was what mum and dad had told me about the Great War, when dad was a soldier and mum's family were bombed out in a Zeppelin raid when they lived at New Cross, Deptford.
Of course, things didn't happen all at once, you went to collect your gas-mask when it was your family's turn. Similarly, throughout the summer, gangs of workmen came round erecting Anderson shelters in the back gardens, street by street, a slow process. So the main topics of conversation at school were: "Got your gas-mask yet?" Or perhaps: "They've dug a big hole in our back-garden and are putting the shelter in today." This made one quite a celebrity, with looks of envy from others who were still shelter-less.
It was in the summer holidays when we got our shelter, so I didn't get a chance to gloat. Brother Percy remembers getting timber and plywood off-cuts from the local timber-yard to floor it out, but we were never to use this shelter in an air-raid as we moved to our new home in Galleywall Road before the Blitz started.
On the Wednesday of the week before War was declared in September, us school-children were told to pack our things and bring them with us to school next day as we were going to be evacuated from London. Although John and Percy went to different schools, they were allowed to come with Iris, Beryl and myself in order to keep the family together.
We duly turned up next morning with our little bits of luggage and had a label with our details on it tied to our coat lapels. Some of the kids were a bit quiet and weepy, but most were excited and chattering, speculating about where we were going.
Eventually, we walked in a long crocodile all the way to the back entrance of Bricklayers Arms goods station in Rolls Road. An engine-less train stood beside the wooden platform in the dim light of the goods-shed. We all got in and waited for what seemed an interminable time, then we were ushered out again and marched back to school. Our evacuation had been cancelled and we were sent home again. We never heard the reason why, but I think it must have been something to do with the railway being busy with military traffic.
On Friday the 1st of September, we assembled again at school early in the morning and walked in our procession to South Bermondsey Station, just a short distance away, each wearing a label, gas-mask case on shoulder and carrying a case or bag.
This time it was for real, and there was a special electric train waiting at the station, with plenty of room for all of us, but to the consternation of the big crowd of Mums and Dads who came to see us off, no-one could tell them where we were going, so it was a mystery ride.
The old type train carriages had seperate compartments and no corridor, so there were no toilets. I don't remember there being any problems in my compartment, although I was bursting by the time we arrived at our destination, but I expect there were some red faces in the rest of the train, especially among the younger children.
The journey took for ages, as we were shunted about quite a bit, and by mid-day we were getting hungry.
At last the journey ended and we found ourselves at Worthing, a seaside resort on the Sussex coast
Tired and hungry, we were herded into a hall near the station and seperated into groups, family members together.
Some of us were given a white carrier-bag containing rations, which I believe was meant to be given to the people we were billeted on to tide us over, but following the example of my friends, I dived into mine to see if there were any eatables. All the bag contained was a tin of condensed milk, a tin of corned-beef, a packet of very hard unsweetened plain chocolate that tasted like laxative, and two packets of hard-tack biscuits, which were tasteless and impossible to eat while dry. I think they must have been iron-rations left over from the first World-War.
A Billeting Officer took charge of each group and took us round the streets, knocking at doors until we were all found a billet This was a compulsory process, and some of the Householders didn't take too kindly to having children from London thrust upon them, so there were good Billets and not so good ones.
Some would only take boys or girls, but not both if they only had one spare room, so families were split up.
It was all a big adventure for me, and I wanted to stay with my schoolmate, Terry. We had teamed up on a school holiday earlier in the summer, and were good friends.
My two brothers were put into the same billet, and my sisters together in the house next door. They were all well looked after, but Terry and I were the luckiest
We went to stay with Mr and Mrs L at their house in Ashdown Road, Worthing. They had a teenage son and daughter, and Granny L lived in her own room upstairs.
Auntie Mabel, as we came to know Mrs L, was a lovely person. She treated us as if we were her own, and her Husband and the rest of the family were all good to us.
Auntie Mabel was always cooking and baking, and made sure that we ate plenty. Her Husband, who I will call Uncle L as I forget his first name, was a Builder and Decorator with a sizeable business and had men working for him.
He'd spent most of his life in the Royal Navy, and served on the famous Battleship, HMS Barham, during the first World War when it was in the Battle of Jutland. He had many tales to tell of his sea-faring life, and lots of photographs which enthralled me and made me want to be a sailor when I grew up.
His son, I think his name was Dennis, had only recently left school and started work. He became our special friend, and took us on regular outings to the Cinema, sporting events and the like.
His sister was a couple of years older. I don't remember much about her, except that her name was Edna. She was very pretty and worked at the local Dairy.
Granny L was very old. I believe she must have been in her eighties at the time. She used to wear long dresses, and wore her grey hair in a huge bun on top of her head.
She looked just like one of those ladies seen in old pictures of Victorian scenes.
She was very nice, and reminded me a little of my own Gran back in London.
We immediately hit it off together and became firm friends. She had lots of curios and pictures. Her husband had been a Captain on one of the old Sailing-Ships before the age of steam, and sailed all over the world.
He'd spent a lot of time in the South- Seas, and brought many souvenirs home. I remember some lovely Corals in a glass-case, and a couple of the largest eggs I'd ever seen. Granny L said they were Ostrich eggs, and came from Africa.
The L Family were Chapel-goers, and took us to the Service with them every Sunday evening.
It was quite an experience, being so informal after the strict Church Services we were used to at home.
Auntie Mabel looked rather grand in her Sunday clothes.
She used to wear her best coat and a big hat, which I thought was shaped like an American Stetson with trimmings. These hats were fashionable at the time, and it looked good on Auntie Mabel. She was a nice-looking lady, always smiling and joking.
It was a lovely summer that year, and the weather was fine and sunny when we went to Worthing, so we made the most of it and were on the beach on the morning of Sunday September 3.
We heard that Mr Chamberlain had announced on the radio at eleven o'clock that we were at war with Germany. Not long afterwards, we heard the wail of Air-raid Sirens, then the sound of aircraft engines, but it was one of ours and soon the All-clear sounded.
In the ensuing days and weeks, everything seemed to carry on as normal, the Seafront and beaches were open and without any defences, although this was all to change in the coming months.
The following weekend, it was still warm and sunny, and our little group were walking along the crowded Sea-front, when who should appear in front of us, but my Mother, and Auntie Alice, her younger sister.
They had both been evacuated from London as expectant mothers a few days before. Mum had heard rumours that our school had gone to Worthing, but our letters home hadn't arrived by the time she left, so she wasn't sure.
It was by a lucky chance that they'd come to the same place, and they knew we'd be at the Sea-front sometime if we were here, so they kept a constant look-out.
Mum and Auntie Alice were billeted quite a long way from us, so we only saw them at weekends, but it gave us a feeling of security to know that Mum was around.
However, she only stayed at Worthing for a couple of months or so until the first war-scare died down, although we had to stay on as there were no Schools open in London.
Our education carried on as normal at the local Junior School. One thing that stands out in my mind is that after we'd been there a while we were told by the Class-Mistress to write an essay on the most interesting thing we'd found while at Worthing.
At the weekend before, Dennis had taken us up on the South Downs behind the town to Chanctonbury Ring, a large circular clump of ancient trees on top of a hill.
There were prehistoric remains in the vicinity, and it was dark and eerie under the trees, the ring was reputed to be haunted.
There were quite a few tales going the rounds at school about it, especially the one about what happened to you if you ran round the ring three times, then lay down and closed your eyes.
You were supposed to experience all manner of weird things. On reflection, I think one would have needed to lie down after running round the ring three times. You'd have ran at least a couple of miles!
Needless to say, my essay was about our trip to this place, and I was all-agog to read it out in class when the Mistress randomly selected one of us to do so.
However, she chose Ronnie Bates, another friend of mine who lived just round the corner at home, and I can still see the look of horror on the Mistress's face as Ronnie proceeded to read out his lurid essay about the goings on at the local Slaughterhouse, which was on his way home from school, and seemed to fascinate him.
He often managed to get a peep inside, it was an old-fashioned place, and opened on to the street with just a small yard for the animals going in.
In the run up to Christmas, they formed a choir at school, and I was chosen to be a member. Then we were told that the BBC were organising a children's choral concert to be broadcast from a local theatre just before the Christmas Holidays.
Choirs from all the many London schools evacuated to Sussex taking part.
When the day came, we spent all the morning at the Theatre rehearsing with the BBC Orchestra, and Chorus-Master Leslie Woodgate. He was quite a famous man, well known on the radio, and really good at his job, so he got the best out of us.
Even I felt quite emotional when the concert ended with everyone singing "Jerusalem" acccompanied by the full Orchestra.
What seemed strange to me was the way Mr Woodgate mouthed the words at us as we sang, he looked quite comical conducting at the same time.
There was a sort of Lamp-standard with a naked red bulb on the front of the stage, and when it came on, we were on the air!
The Concert was interspersed with orchestral music and soloists as well as our singing. One item that I particularly recall was a piece by a lady Viola player, accompanied by the orchestra.
I had never heard of the Viola before, I just thought they were all Violins except for Cellos and Double-Basses.
The rich tone of the instrument impressed me very much, although at the time I was dying for the Lady to finish playing so that I could dash out to the toilet.
We were afterwards told that the Concert was a big success, but none of us were able to hear it on the radio. It was a live broadcast, as most radio programmes were in those days.
The weekend after school broke up for the holidays, Dad came down in a friend's car and took us home for Christmas.
I didn't know it when we left, but that was the last time I was to see Auntie Mabel and her family, as we didn't go back to Worthing after the holiday, but stayed at home in Bermondsey.
It was the time of the "phony war". Many evacuees returned to London, as a false sense of security prevailed.
Our parents allowed us to stay at home after much worrying. We heard that our School was re-opening after the holidays, and as I was due to sit for the Scholarship, I'd be able to take it in London.
This exam was the forerunner of today's eleven-plus, and passing it would get me a place at one of the private Grammar-Schools with fees paid by the London County Council.
To my great regret, in all the turmoil of events that followed with the start of the Blitz, and my second evacuation from London to join my new School, I didn't keep up contact with Auntie Mabel and her family. I hope they all survived the war and everything went well for them.
{to be continued}.

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Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)

Home again in Bermondsey after the few months sojourn in Worthing, I saw my new baby sister Sheila for the first time. She'd been born on December 5, and Mum was by then just about allowed to get up.
In those days, Mothers were confined to bed for a couple of weeks after having a baby, and the Midwife would come in every day. In our case, the Midwife was an old friend of my mother.
Her name was Nurse Barnes. She lived locally, and was a familiar figure on her rounds, riding a bicycle with a case on the carrier. She wore a brown uniform with a little round hat, and had attended Mum at all of our births, so Mum must have been one of her best customers.
That Christmas passed happily for us. There were no shortages of anything and no rationing yet.
When we found that our school was re-opening after the holidays, Mum and Dad let us stay at home for good after a bit of persuasion.
I was a bit sad at not seeing Auntie Mabel again, but there's no place like home, and it was getting to be quite an exciting time in London, what with ARP Posts and one-man shelters for the Policemen appearing in the streets. These were cone shaped metal cylinders with a door and had a ring on the top so they could easily be put in position with a crane. They were later replaced with the familiar blue Police-Boxes that are still seen in some places today.
The ends of Railway Arches were bricked over so they could be used as Air-raid Shelters, and large brick Air-raid Shelters with concrete roofs were erected in side streets.
When the bombing started, people with no shelter of their own at home would sleep in these Public Air-raid Shelters every night. Bunks were fitted, and each family claimed their own space.
There was a complete blackout, with no street lamps at night Men painted white lines everywhere, round trees, lamp-posts, kerbstones, and everything that the unwary pedestrian was likely to bump into in the dark.
It got dark early in that first winter of the war, and I always took my torch and hurried if sent on an errand, it was a bit scary in the blackout. I don't know how drivers found their way about, every vehicle had masked headlamps that only showed a small amount of light through, even horses and carts had their oil-lamps masked.
ARP Wardens went about in their Tin-hats and dark blue battledress uniforms, checking for chinks in the Blackout Curtains. They had a lovely time trying out their whistles and wooden gas warning rattles when they held an exercise, which was really deadly serious of course.
The wartime spirit of the Londoner was starting to manifest itself, and people became more friendly and helpful.It was quite an exciting time for us children, we seemed to have more things to do.
With the advent of radio and Stars like Gracie Fields, and Flanagan and Allen singing them, popular songs became all the rage.
Our Headmaster Mr White, assembled the whole school in the Hall on Friday afternoons for a singsong.
He had a screen erected on the stage, and the words were displayed on it from slides.
Miss Gow, my Class-Mistress, played the piano, while we sang such songs as "Run Rabbit Run!" "Underneath the spreading Chestnut Tree," "We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line," and many others.
Of course, we had our own words to some of the songs, and that added to the fun. "The spreading Chestnut Tree" was a song with many verses, and one did actions to the words.
Most of the boys hid their faces as "All her kisses were so sweet" was sung. I used to keep my options open, depending on which girl was sitting near me. Some of the girls in my class were very kiss-able indeed.
One of the improvised verses of this song went as follows:
"Underneath the spreading Chestnut Tree,
Mr Chamberlain said to me
If you want to get your Tin-Hat free,
Join the blinking A.R.P!"
We moved to our new home, a Shop with living accomodation up near the main local shopping area in January 1940.
Up to then, my Dad ran his Egg and Dairy Produce Rounds quite successfully from home, but now, with food rationing in the offing, he needed Shop Premises as the customers would have to come to him.
His rounds had covered the district, from New Cross in one direction to the Bricklayers Arms in the Old Kent Road at Southwark in the other, and it was quite surprising that some of his old Customers from far and wide registered with him, and remained loyal throughout the war, coming all the way to the Shop every week for their Rations.
Dad's Shop was in Galleywall Road, which joined Southwark Park Road at the part which was the main shopping area, lined with Shops and Stalls in the road, and known as the "Blue," after a Pub called the "Blue Anchor" on the corner of Blue Anchor Lane.
It was closer to the River Thames and Surrey Docks than Catlin Street.
The School was only a few yards from the Shop, and behind it was a huge brick building without windows.
In big white-tiled letters on the wall was the name of the firm and the words: "Bermondsey Cold Store," but this was soon covered over with black paint.
This place was a Food-Store. Luckily it was never hit by german bombs all through the war, and only ever suffered minor damage from shrapnel and a dud AA shell.
Soon after we moved in to the Shop, an Anderson Shelter was installed in the back-garden, and this was to become very important to us.
As 1940 progressed, we heard about Dunkirk and all the little Ships that had gone across the Channel to help with the evacuation, among them many of the Pleasure Boats from the Thames, led by Paddle-Steamers such as the Golden Eagle and Royal Eagle, which I believe was sunk.
These Ships used to take hundreds of day-trippers from Tower Pier to Southend and the Kent seaside resorts daily in Peace-time. I had often seen them go by on Saturday mornings when we were at Cherry-Garden Pier, just downstream from Tower Bridge. My friends and I would sometimes play down there on the little sandy beach left on the foreshore when the tide went out.
With the good news of our troops successful return from Dunkirk came the bad news that more and more of our Merchant Ships were being sunk by U-Boats, and essential goods were getting in short supply. So we were issued with Ration-Books, and food rationing started.
This didn't affect our family so much, as there were then nine of us, and big families managed quite well. It must have been hard for people living on their own though. I felt especially sorry for some of the little old ladies who lived near us, two ounces of tea and four ounces of sugar don't go very far when you're on your own.
I'm not sure when it was, but everyone was given a National Identity Number and issued with an Identity Card which had to be produced on demand to a Policeman.
When the National Health Service started after the war, my I.D. Number became my National Health Number, it was on my medical card until a few years ago when everything was computerised, and I still remember it, as I expect most people of my generation can.
Somewhere about the middle of the year, I was sent to Southwark Park School to sit for the Junior County Scholarship.
I wasn't to get the result for quite a long while however, and I was getting used to life in London in Wartime, also getting used to living in the Shop, helping Dad, and learning how to serve Customers.
We could usually tell when there was going to be an Air-Raid warning, as there were Barrage Balloons sited all over London, and they would go up well before the sirens sounded, I suppose they got word when the enemy was approaching.
Silvery-grey in colour, the Balloons were a majestic sight in the sky with their trailing cables, and engendered a feeling of reassurance in us for the protection they gave from Dive-Bombers.
The nearest one to us was sited in the enclosed front gardens of some Almshouses in Asylum Road, just off Old Kent Road.
This Balloon-Site was operated by WAAF girls. They had a covered lorry with a winch on the back, and the Balloon was moored to it.
I went round there a couple of times to have a look through the railings, and was once lucky enough to see the Girls release the moorings, and the Balloon go up very quickly with a roar from the lorry engine, as the winch was unwound.
In Southwark Park, which lay between our Home and Surrey-Docks, there was a big circular field known as the Oval after it's famous name-sake, as cricket was played there in the summer.
It was now filled with Anti-Aircraft Guns which made a deafening sound when they were all firing, and the exploding shells rained shrapnel all around, making a tinkling sound as it hit the rooftops.
The stage was being set for the Battle of Britain and the Blitz on London, although us poor innocents didn't have much of a clue as to what we were in for.
To be continued.

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Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)

I arrived home at Bermondsey from Torquay in 1941 to find that things had changed dramatically.
The Shop-windows were still plate-glass, but all the window-frames of our House were covered in opaque plastic, which only let a little light in.
I was the last one to come home.
My eldest brother John, had left School and was now a GPO Telegram Boy, with blue uniform complete with red piping, Pillbox Hat and red Bicycle.
Percy took his place at the Borough Polytechnic, a Technical School in Southwark, so he was settled.
Iris and Beryl had also come home from Exeter, as they were unhappy there, and were back at the local Junior School, which was open again.
However, the biggest change was in the Shop, and to explain things properly, I must digress a bit.
At the top of Galleywall Road where it joined on to Southwark Park Road was the "John Bull Arch", named after the Pub alongside it.
It was (and still is), a wide brick-built Railway Arch with steel girder framework over the roadway on each side, carrying many of the lines into London-Bridge Station from Kent and the Suburbs.
There were paved foot-tunnels either side of the Roadway.These had been bricked-up at each end, and were used as Air-Raid Shelters.
They were fitted out with bunks, and many of the local people who didn't have a Shelter at home slept there every night.
The Arch suffered a direct hit on Sunday 8 December 1940, and over a hundred people were killed, including most members of a family who lived across the road from our shop.
One of them was a boy about my age, Charlie Harris, who went to my School before the war.
Recently, while doing some research on my Uncle, who was missing in WW1, I found that the War Graves Commission has a Civilian War-Dead Register, and there, sure enough, I found Charlie's Record of Commemoration. To read it made me feel very sad, but it's good to know that Civilian Casualties aren't forgotten altogether.
That Arch was a very unlucky place, apart from more near misses with casualties in the bombing, there were two direct hits on it by V2 Rockets in November 1944. The first one was on a Friday Morning. It demolished most of the Arch and devastated the area. Two Sundays later, when the wreckage had been cleared and a Temporary Bridge put up, another Rocket landed in exactly the same place, so the Workmen were back to square one, and we lost many more Friends and Neighbours in both incidents.
But back to 1941.
Along by the "John Bull" Pub, there was a large Greengrocer's Shop, which also sold a bit of Grocery. It was damaged in the bombing of the Arch, and the Couple who ran it had had enough by then, so they decided to close down and move out of London.
One had to be licensed by the Ministry of Food to sell Foodstuff during the War, and the local Food-Office asked Dad if he was interested in taking over the License, as his was the nearest Food Shop.
Dad was only too pleased to take it, as he was having a thin time of it with the Rationing.
He bought all the Scales and Equipment, so he was now also a Greengrocer, selling fresh Fruit and Vegetables, as well as some Grocery, Eggs and Butter.
This meant an early morning visit to Market for fresh produce every day.
Dad had a friend with a Greengrocery Business a little way away who had a Horse and Cart.
He would pick Dad up very early in the mornings, on his way to the Borough Market, near London Bridge, and drop our stuff off on the way back.
His name was Bill Wood, and he rented a Stable a few streets away from us, with a little Yard for the Cart.
I was home for the Summer Holidays, and of course I wanted to go to Market with them, and help in the Shop to earn some pocket-money.
I enjoyed my trips to the Market, and didn't mind getting up in the small hours. London was so quiet, with hardly any traffic before the Buses started running.
Bill's Horse was a Welsh Cob, Strawberry Roan in colour, named "Girl" or "Gell" as pronounced by Bill, who was a real Cockney of the old order, always immaculate in his tweed suit with Poacher's pockets in the jacket, cap, silk scarf or "choker", and brown boots.
Gell was a very intelligent animal with a mind of her own. Most mornings she was in a hurry to get to Market so that she could get her Nose-bag on, and would get a bit impatient at road-junctions if we had to wait. She knew all the horse-troughs on our route, and would snort and toss her head when we came to a corner near one if she was thirsty. Bill knew the signs and always let her have a drink.
Bill showed me how to hold the reins between my fingers and guide the Horse with one hand, and soon I was able to drive the Cart, under supervision of course.
I would meet Bill at the stable every morning and learned to groom the Horse, harness her up, and hitch her to the Cart, actually with a lot of help from "Gell", who knew exactly what to do, and would hold her head down while I slipped the collar upside-down over her head, then turned it the right way-up on her neck.
She would even back on to the shafts without being told while I held them up, pushed the ends through the slings and fixed the Traces. Soon, I was doing it on my own while Bill "mucked" the stable out and spread fresh wood-chips for the next night's bed.
Bill had trained Gell very well, he had a way with Horses as he was an old Cavalryman.
He never used the whip on her, but would let her know he had it by flicking it gently along her flank if she got the sulks.
I learned a lot about horses from him. He showed me how to look out for ailments and said "Always look after your horse and she'll look after you". When he showed me how to do something and he caught me trying a shortcut, he would say "There's only one way to do a thing Ken, and that's the right way!" I've always remembered that, and it's stood me in good stead.
I suppose it's not generally known, but Horse-food was actually on the ration during the war, at least oats and grains were. Hay-chaff was plentiful, but not much good for a working horse. We used to go to the Corn-chandlers every so often for Gell's
allowance of clover-chaff and oats, which was ample anyway. Every month, Bill was also allowed a bale of Clover, which had a lovely smell and was a treat for Gell. I don't know why, but horse-food was always referred to by the old cockneys as "bait".
Our way to the Borough Market took us across Tower Bridge Road, along Druid Street past the burnt-out roofless shell of St John's Church on the corner, it's slender white Spire with Weather-Vane still intact after being fire-bombed.
The first time I saw the gutted Church, surrounded by wreaths of mist at daybreak, I thought it was still smouldering. It was a very sad sight. The smell of damp, burnt timber that hit the nostrils as we passed was unforgettable.
Our route then led us into Crucifix Lane and St Thomas Street past the bricked-up Arches of the roads underneath London-Bridge Station that lead to Tooley Street.
These Arches were used as Air-Raid Shelters by the Residents of the many Tenement Buildings nearby. They thought they were safe, and used to sleep in them, but around 300 people died when the Stainer Street Arch received a direct hit through the Station at the height of the Blitz.
Later in the War, many more people sheltering in the Joiner Street Arch opposite Guy's Hospital suffered the same fate
It was a bit creepy, and I felt a bit uneasy going past these places in the small hours at first, but gradually got hardened to it and became fatalistic like Dad and Bill.
The "stand" for our Cart was right at the top of St Thomas Street between Guy's Hospital and the Borough High Street junction.
The trader's vehicles were tended by a Cart-Minder, who would direct the Market-Porters to the right vehicle when they brought the goods out on their barrows.
Our Cart-Minder was called "Sailor". He was a quiet old chap. You couldn't see much of him as he wore a stiff-peaked Cap over his forehead, and his face was covered in whiskers and a walrus moustache. He always wore a black oilskin coat down to his ankles, and rubber Wellington boots, perhaps that's why he was called "Sailor".
The Borough Market was a fascinating place to be at in the early morning before dawn. Because of the Blackout, the open-fronted Shops only had a small lamp at the back above the Salesman's desk.
My faourite place was the open Square behind the "Globe" Public-House, backing on to Southwark Cathedral. Here the Growers from the Farms in Kent and Essex had their Pitches, and did business by the light of Oil-Lamps.
There was always a lovely aroma of Apples, Plums and other Fruit round there.
I can still imagine the delicious scent of fresh-picked Worcester-Pearmains and Cox's Pippins even now.
The Growers didn't mind us sampling the wares, and I had many a good feed of fruit before Breakfast.
There was a Cafe in the other open Square known as the "Jubilee" behind the covered Market. Dad and Bill took me there for a snack when they'd done their business. The tea was always good, and the Sausage Sandwiches with Brown Sauce were out of this World.
Then I'd go back and wait on the Cart for the Porters to bring the goods out, and help load it up.
London Bridge and St Thomas Street was a very busy place first thing in the morning.
Swarms of People made their way down Borough High Street from the Railway Station, and many passed us in St Thomas Street on their way to Guy's Hospital.
I'd see a lot of the same faces every morning.
Guy's had already suffered a bit of bomb damage, but was still up and running, as it remained throughout the War.
In 1943, I had occasion to visit a friend who was injured in a road accident and taken in there.
The Wards were shored up with massive timber scaffolding to protect the Patients from roof collapse if there was a hit by a bomb.
I marvelled at this, one never stopped to think of the fact that bed-ridden Patients couldn't go to the Air-Raid Shelter, and there were hundreds of Patients in Guy's Hospital.
By the time the School Holidays came to an end, I was an old hand at looking after the Horse and helping in the Shop.
Luckily for me, Colfe's Grammar School at Lewisham had opened as the South-East London Emergency Grammar School for Boys who were not evacuated, and I was able to prevail upon my Parents to let me stay at home and go there.
I never saw Aunt Flo and her family at Torquay again, but George came round to see me a few times when he was home for the holidays, so I got all the news.
I enjoyed my couple of years at Colfe's, although it was a long Bus journey to Lewisham every morning, and I was usually late, because the Bus service was unreliable with hold-ups for one reason or another.
Because of the fuel shortage, some Buses towed a little trailer behind them carrying a gas-tank, and one of the strangest sights to be seen on the road was the Doctor's Car with a rectangular fabric gas-bag on the roof-rack billowing in the wind.
Things were a bit more free and easy at Colfe's than they'd been at St Olave's, and as we all came from different Schools, Uniforms didn't matter so much.
Some of us who came from a long way off, and needed School-Dinners, used to make our own way to the Convent at the top of Belmont Hill near Blackheath Village where our meal was waiting for us.
On the way up the hill, on the right-hand side of the road, there was a shoulder-height brick wall enclosing some open ground, and you could see over it across the rooftops below to Deptford and Bermondsey beyond.
One bright sunny day in 1942, while walking up Belmont Hill on our way to the Convent, my friends and I heard the sound of Aircraft engines and loud explosions. There hadn't been any Air-Raid Warning, but as we peered over the wall, we actually looked down on two German Planes swooping low and dropping bombs.
It was all so clear in the bright sunlight, like something out of a colour movie.
I could plainly see the khaki, green and yellow camouflage, the black crosses, swastikas, and numbers on the Planes.
I even saw the heads of the two crew-men in the nearest one as it turned after it's dive, with the sunlight flashing on the cockpit glass. Then the bombs exploded and smoke rose from below.
Just then, a shadow fell across us, and we heard loud engine noise as another Plane dived from behind us towards the lower ground, it's Machine-Guns chattering.
We crouched down close to the wall, hearing splinters flying, and as soon as he'd passed over, ran hell for leather up to the Convent.
This must have been the Plane that callously bombed and machine-gunned the School at Catford, close by Lewisham, where children were playing in the Playground at Lunch-time, and many were killed and injured.
I heard afterwards that Jerry had made a hit-and-run attack with Fighter-Bombers. Flying low under our Radar-screen, they caught our defences napping.
This was why there'd been no Air-Raid Warning, and the Barrage-Balloons hadn't gone up.
One of the bombs we saw being dropped landed quite near home. On a road-junction near Surrey Docks, known as the "Red Lion", after the name of a Pub on the corner.
It demolished the Midland Bank, killing the Manager as well as injuring Staff and Customers.
Also killed was the Policeman on Point-Duty at the Junction. He must have been blown to pieces, as only scraps of Uniform were found.
He was a Special Constable, a friendly man, and a familiar figure in the district.
He had a large Hook-Nose, which often had a dew-drop on the end in the Winter. Some people referred to him as "Hooky," and others as "Dew-Drop."
It was very sad that he went like that. If the Warning had sounded, he'd have taken cover.
To be Continued.

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Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)

After a few months of the tortuous daily Bus journey to Colfes Grammar School at Lewisham, I'd saved enough money to buy myself a new bicycle with the extra pocket money I got from Dad for helping in the shop.
Strictly speaking, it wasn't a new one, as these were unobtainable during the War, but the old boy in our local Cycle-Shop had some good second-hand frames, and he was still able to get Parts, so he made me up a nice Bike, Racing Handlebars, Three-Speed Gears, Dynamo Lighting and all.
I was very proud of my new Bike, and cycled to School every day once I'd got it, saving Mum the Bus-fare and never being late again.
I had a good friend called Sydney who I'd known since we were both small boys. He had a Bike too, and we would go out riding together in the evenings.
One Warm Sunday in the Early Summer, we went out for the day. Our idea was to cycle down the A20 and picnic at Wrotham Hill, A well known Kent beauty spot with views for miles over the Weald.
All went well until we reached the "Bull and Birchwood" Hotel at Farningham, where we found a rope stretched across the road, and a Policeman in attendance. He said that the other side of the rope was a restricted area and we couldn't go any further.
This was 1942, and we had no idea that road travel was restricted. Perhaps there was still a risk of Invasion. I do know that Dover and the other Coastal Towns were under bombardment from heavy Guns across the Channel throughout the War.
Anyway, we turned back and found a Transport Cafe open just outside Sidcup, which seemed to be a meeting place for cyclists.
We spent a pleasant hour there, then got on our bikes, stopping at the Woods on the way to pick some Bluebells to take home, just to prove we'd been to the Country.
In the Woods, we were surprised to meet two girls of our own age who lived near us, and who we knew slightly. They were out for a Cycle ride, and picking Bluebells too, so we all rode home together, showing off to one another, but we never saw the Girls again, I think we were all too young and shy to make any advances.
A while later, Sid suggested that we put our ages up and join the ARP. They wanted part-time Volunteers, he said.
This sounded exciting, but I was a bit apprehensive. I knew that I looked older than my years, but due to School rules, I'd only just started wearing long trousers, and feared that someone who knew my age might recognise me.
Sid told me that his cousin, the same age as us, was a Messenger, and they hadn't checked on his age, so I went along with it. As it turned out, they were glad to have us.
The ARP Post was in the Crypt of the local Church, where I,d gone every week before the war as a member of the Wolf-Cubs.
However, things were pretty quiet, and the ARP got boring after a while, there weren't many Alerts. We never did get our Uniforms, just a Tin-Hat, Service Gas-Mask, an Arm-band and a Badge.
We learnt how to use a Stirrup-Pump and to recognise anti-personnel bombs, that was about it.
In 1943, we heard that the National Fire Service was recruiting Youth Messengers.
This sounded much more exciting, as we thought we might get the chance to ride on a Fire-Engine, also the Uniform was a big attraction.
The NFS had recently been formed by combining the AFS with the Local and County Fire Brigades throughout the Country, making one National Force with a unified Chain of Command from Headquarters at Lambeth.
The nearest Fire-Station that we knew of was the old London Fire Brigade Station in Old Kent Road near "The Dun Cow" Pub, a well-known landmark.
With the ARP now behind us,we rode down there on our Bikes one evening to find out the gen.
The doors were all closed, but there was a large Bell-push on the Side-Door. I plucked up courage and pressed it.
The door was opened by a Firewoman, who seemed friendly enough. She told us that they had no Messengers there, but she'd ring up Divisional HQ to find out how we should go about getting details of the Service.
This Lady, who we got to know quite well when we were posted to the Station, was known as "Nobby", her surname being Clark.
She was one of the Watch-Room Staff who operated the big "Gamel" Set. This was connected to the Street Fire-Alarms, placed at strategic points all over the Station district or "Ground", as it was known. With the info from this or a call by telephone, they would "Ring the Bells down," and direct the Appliances to where they were needed when there was an alarm.
Nobby was also to figure in some dramatic events that took place on the night before the Official VE day in May 1945 when we held our own Victory Celebrations at the Fire-Station. But more of that at the end of my story.
She led us in to a corridor lined with white glazed tiles, and told us to wait, then went through a half-glass door into the Watch-Room on the right.
We saw her speak to another Firewoman with red Flashes on her shoulders, then go to the telephone.
In front of us was another half-glass door, which led into the main garage area of the Station. Through this, we could see two open Fire-Engines. One with ladders, and the other carrying a Fire-Escape with big Cart-wheels.
We knew that the Appliances had once been all red and polished brass, but they were now a matt greenish colour, even the big brass fire-bells, had been painted over.
As we peered through the glass, I spied a shiny steel pole with a red rubber mat on the floor round it over in the corner. The Firemen slid down this from the Rooms above to answer a call. I hardly dared hope that I'd be able to slide down it one day.
Soon Nobby was back. She told us that the Section-Leader who was organising the Youth Messenger Service for the Division was Mr Sims, who was stationed at Dulwich, and we'd have to get in touch with him.
She said he was at Peckham Fire Station, that evening, and we could go and see him there if we wished.
Peckham was only a couple of miles away, so we were away on our bikes, and got there in no time.
From what I remember of it, Peckham Fire Station was a more ornate building than Old Kent Road, and had a larger yard at the back.
Section-Leader Sims was a nice chap, he explained all about the NFS Messenger Service, and told us to report to him at Dulwich the following evening to fill in the forms and join if we still wanted to.
We couldn't wait of course, and although it was a long bike ride, were there bright and early next evening.
The signing-up over without any difficulty about our ages, Mr Sims showed us round the Station, and we spent the evening learning how the country was divided into Fire Areas and Divisions under the NFS, as well as looking over the Appliances.
To our delight, he told us that we'd be posted to Old Kent Road once they'd appointed someone to be I/C Messengers there. However, for the first couple of weeks, our evenings were spent at Dulwich, doing a bit of training, during which time we were kitted out with Uniforms.
To our disappointment, we didn't get the same suit as the Firemen with a double row of silver buttons on the Jacket.
The Messenger's Uniform consisted of a navy-blue Battledress with red Badges and Lanyard, topped by a stiff-peaked Cap with red piping and metal NFS Badge, the same as the Firemen's. We also got a Cape and Leggings for bad weather on our Bikes, and a proper Service Gas-Mask and Tin-Hat with NFS Badge transfer.
I was pleased with it. I could definitely pass for an older Lad now, and it was a cut above what the ARP got.
We were soon told that a Fireman had been appointed in charge of us at Old Kent Road, and we were posted there. After this, I didn't see much of Section-Leader Sims till the end of the War, when we were stood down.
Old Kent Road, or 82, it's former LFB Sstation number, as the old hands still called it,was the HQ Station of the District, or Sub-Division.
It's full designation was 38A3Z, 38 being the Fire Area, A the Division, 3 the Sub-Division, and Z the Station.
The letter Z denoted the Sub-Division HQ, the main Fire Station. It was always first on call, as Life-saving Appliances were kept there.
There were several Sub-Stations in Schools around the Sub-Division, each with it's own Identification Letter, housing Appliances and Staff which could be called upon when needed.
In Charge of us at Old Kent Road was an elderly part-time Fireman, Mr Harland, known as Charlie. He was a decent old Boy who'd spent many years in the Indian Army, and he would often use Indian words when he was talking.
The first thing he showed us was how to slide down the pole from upstairs without burning our fingers.
For the first few weeks, Sid and I were the only Messengers there, and it was a very exciting moment for me to slide down the pole and ride the Pump for the first time when the bells went down.
In his lectures, Charlie emphasised that the first duty of the Fire-Service was to save life, and not fighting fires as we thought.
Everything was geared to this purpose, and once the vehicle carrying life-saving equipment left the Station, another from the next Station in our Division with the gear, would act as back-up and answer the next call on our ground.
This arrangement went right up the chain of Command to Headquarters at Lambeth, where the most modern equipment was kept.
When learning about the chain of command, one thing that struck me as rather odd was the fact that the NFS chief at Lambeth was named Commander Firebrace. With a name like that, he must have been destined for the job. Anyway, Charlie kept a straight face when he told us about him.
We had the old pre-war "Dennis" Fire-Engines at our Station, comprising a Pump, with ladders and equipment, and a Pump-Escape, which carried a mobile Fire-Escape with a long extending ladder.
This could be manhandled into position on it's big Cartwheels.
Both Fire-Engines had open Cabs and big brass bells, which had been painted over.
The Crew rode on the outside of these machines, hanging on to the handrail with one hand as they put on their gear, while the Company Officer stood up in the open cab beside the Driver, lustily ringing the bell.
It was a never to be forgotten experience for me to slide down the pole and ride the Pump in answer to an alarm call, and it always gave me a thrill, but after a while, it became just routine and I took it in my stride, becoming just as fatalistic as the Firemen when our evening activities were interrupted by a false alarm.
It was my job to attend the Company Officer at an incident, and to act as his Messenger. There were no Walkie-Talkies or Mobile Phones in those days, and the public telephones were unreliable, because of Air-Raids, that's why they needed Messengers.
Young as I was, I really took to the Fire-Service, and got on so well, that after a few months, I was promoted to Leading-Messenger, which meant that I had a stripe and helped to train the other Lads.
It didn't make any difference financially though, as we were all unpaid Volunteers.
We were all part-timers, and Rostered to do so many hours a week, but in practice, we went in every night when the raids were on, and sometimes daytimes at weekends.
For the first few months there weren't many Air-Raids, and not many real emergencies.
Usually two or three calls a night, sometimes to a chimney fire or other small domestic incident, but mostly they were false alarms, where vandals broke the glass on the Street-Alarms, pulled the lever and ran. These were logged as "False Alarm Malicious", and were a thorn in the side of the Fire-Service, as every call had to be answered.
Our evenings were good fun sometimes, the Firemen had formed a small Jazz band.
They held a weekly Dance in the Hall at one of the Sub-Stations, which had been a School.
There was also a full-sized Billiard Table in there on which I learnt to play, with one disaster when I caught the table with my cue, and nearly ripped the cloth!
Unfortunately, that School, a nice modern building, was hit by a Doodle-Bug later in the War, and had to be demolished.
Charlie was a droll old chap. He was good at making up nicknames. There was one Messenger who never had any money, and spent his time sponging Cigarettes and free cups of tea off the unwary.
Charlie referred to him as "Washer". When I asked him why, the answer came: "Cos he's always on the Tap".
Another chap named Frankie Sycamore was "Wabash" to all and sundry, after a song in the Rita Hayworth Musical Film that was showing at the time. It contained the words:
"Neath the Sycamores the Candlelights are gleaming, On the banks of the Wabash far away".
Poor old Frankie, he was a bit of a Joker himself.
When he was expecting his Call-up Papers for the Army, he got a bit bomb-happy and made up this song, which he'd sing within earshot of Charlie to the tune of "When this Wicked War is Over":
Don't be angry with me Charlie,
Don't chuck me out the Station Door!
I don't want no more old blarney,
I just want Dorothy Lamour".
Before long, this song was taken up by all of us, and became the Messengers Anthem.
But this little interlude in our lives was just another calm before another storm. Regular air-raids were to start again as the darker evenings came with Autumn and the "Little Blitz" got under way.
To be continued.

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Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)

Sporadic air-raids went on all through 1943, but as Autumn came, bringing the dark evenings with it, the "Little Blitz" started, with plenty of bombs falling in our area and I got my first real experience of NFS work.
There were Air-Raids every night, though never on the scale of 1940/41.
By now, my own School, St. Olave's, had re-opened at Tower Bridge with a skeleton staff of Masters, as about a hundred boys had returned to London.
I was glad to go back to my own school, and I no longer had to cycle all the way to Lewisham every day.
Part of the School Buildings had been taken over by the NFS as a Sub-Station for 37 Fire Area, the one next to ours, so luckily none of the Firemen knew me, and I kept quiet about my evening activities in School. I didn't think the Head would be too pleased if he found out I was an NFS Messenger.
The Air-Raids usually started in the early evening, and were mostly over by midnight.
We had a few nasty incidents in the area, but most of them were just outside our patch. If we were around though, even off-duty. Sid and I would help the Rescue Men if we could, usually forming part of the chain passing baskets of rubble down from the highly skilled diggers doing the rescue, and sometimes helping to get the walking wounded out. They were always in a state of shock, and needed comforting until the Ambulances came.
One particular incident that I can never forget makes me smile to myself and then want to cry.
One night, Sid and I were riding home from the Station. It was quiet, but the Alert was still on, as the All-Clear hadn't sounded yet.
As we neared home, Searchlights criss-crossed in the sky, there was the sound of AA-Guns and Plane engines. Then came a flash and the sound of a large explosion ahead of us towards the river, followed by the sound of receding gunfire and airplane engines. It was probably a solitary plane jettisoning it's bombs and running for home.
We instinctively rode towards the cloud of smoke visible in the moonlight in front of us.
When we got to Jamaica Road, the main road running parallel with the river, we turned towards the part known as Dockhead, on a sharp bend of the main road, just off which Dockhead Fire-Station was located.
Arrived there, we must have been among the first on the scene. There was a big hole in the road cutting off the Tram-Lines, and a loud rushing noise like an Express-Train was coming from it. The Fire-Station a few hundred yards away looked deserted. All the Appliances must have been out on call.
As we approached the crater, I realised that the sound we heard was running water, and when we joined the couple of ARP Men looking down into it, I was amazed to see by the light from the Warden's Lantern, a huge broken water-main with water pouring from it and cascading down through shattered brickwork into a sewer below.
Then we heard a shout: "Help! over here!"
On the far side of the road, right on the bend away from the river, stood an RC Convent. It was a large solid building, with very small windows facing the road, and a statue of Our Lady in a niche on the wall. It didn't look as though it had suffered very much on the outside, but the other side of the road was a different story.
The blast had gone that way, and the buildings on the main road were badly damaged.
A little to the left of the crater as we faced it was Mill Street, lined with Warehouses and Spice Mills, it led down to the River. Facing us was a terrace of small cottages at a right angle to the main road, approached by a paved walk-way. These had taken the full force of the blast, and were almost demolished. This was where the call for help had come from.
We dashed over to find a Warden by the remains of the first cottage.
"Listen!" He said. After a short silence we heard a faint sob come from the debris. Luckily for the person underneath, the blast had pushed the bulk of the wreckage away from her, and she wasn't buried very deeply.
We got to work to free her, moving the debris by hand, piece by piece, as we'd learnt that was the best way. A ceiling joist and some broken floorboards lying across her upper parts had saved her life by getting wedged and supporting the debris above.
When we'd uncovered most of her, we used a large lump of timber as a lever and held the joist up while the Warden gently eased her out.
I looked down on a young woman around eighteen or so. She was wearing a check skirt that was up over her body, showing all her legs. She was covered in dust but definitely alive. Her eyes opened, and she sat up suddenly. A look of consternation crossed her face as she saw three grimy chaps in Tin-Hats looking down on her, and she hurriedly pulled her skirt down over her knees.
I was still holding the timber, and couldn't help smiling at the Girl's first instinct being modesty. I felt embarassed, but was pleased that she seemed alright, although she was obviously in shock.
At that moment we heard the noise of activity behind us as the Rescue Squad and Ambulances arrived.
A couple of Ambulance Girls came up with a Stretcher and Blankets.
They took charge of the Young Lady while we followed the Warden and Rescue Squad to the next Cottage.
The Warden seemed to know who lived in the house, and directed the Rescue Men, who quickly got to work. We mucked in and helped, but I must confess, I wish I hadn't, for there we saw our most sickening sight of the War.
I'd already seen many dead and injured people in the Blitz, and was to see more when the Doodle-Bugs and V2 Rockets started, but nothing like this.
The Rescue Men located someone buried in the wreckage of the House. We formed our chain of baskets, and the debris round them was soon cleared.
To my horror, we'd uncovered a Woman face down over a large bowl There was a tiny Baby in the muddy water, who she must have been bathing. Both of them were dead.
We all went silent. The Rescue Men were hardened to these sights, and carried on to the next job once the Ambulance Girls came, but Sid and I made our excuses and left, I felt sick at heart, and I think Sid felt the same. We hardly said a word to each other all the way home.
I suppose that the people in those houses had thought the raid was over and left their shelter, although by now many just ignored the sirens and got on with their business, fatalistically taking a chance.
The Grand Surrey Canal ran through our district to join the Thames at Surrey Docks Basin, and the NFS had commandeered the house behind a Shop on Canal Bridge, Old Kent Road, as a Sub-Station.
We had a Fire-Barge moored on the Canal outside with four Trailer-Pumps on board.
The Barge was the powered one of a pair of "Monkey Boats" that once used to ply the Canals, carrying Goods. It had a big Thornycroft Marine-Engine.
I used to do a duty there now and again, and got to know Bob, the Leading-Fireman who was in-charge, quite well. His other job was at Barclays Brewery in Southwark.
He allowed me to go there on Sunday mornings when the Crew exercised with the Barge on the Canal.
It was certainly something different from tearing along the road on a Fire-Engine.
One day, I reported there for duty, and found that the Navy had requisitioned the engine from the Barge. I thought they must have been getting desperate, but with hindsight, I expect it was needed in the preparations for D-Day.
Apparently, the orders were that the Crew would tow the Barge along the Tow-path by hand when called out, but Bob, who was ex-Navy, had an idea.
He mounted a Swivel Hose-Nozzle on the Stern of the Barge, and one on the Bow, connecting them to one of the Pumps in the Hold. When the water was turned on at either Nozzle, a powerful jet of water was directed behind the Barge, driving it forward or backward as necessary, and Bob could steer it by using the Swivel.
This worked very well, and the Crew never had to tow the Barge by hand. It must have been the first ever Jet-Propelled Fire-Boat
We had plenty to do for a time in the "Little Blitz". The Germans dropped lots of Containers loaded with Incediary Bombs. These were known as "Molotov Breadbaskets," don't ask me why!
Each one held hundreds of Incendiaries. They were supposed to open and scatter them while dropping, but they didn't always open properly, so the bombs came down in a small area, many still in the Container, and didn't go off.
A lot of them that hit the ground properly didn't go off either, as they were sabotaged by Hitler's Slave-Labourers in the Bomb Factories at risk of death or worse to themselves if caught. Some of the detonators were wedged in off-centre, or otherwise wrongly assembled.
The little white-metal bombs were filled with magnesium powder, they were cone-shaped at the top to take a push-on fin, and had a heavy steel screw-in cap at the bottom containing the detonator, These Magnesium Bombs were wicked little things and burned with a very hot flame. I often came across a circular hole in a Pavement-Stone where one had landed upright, burnt it's way right through the stone and fizzled out in the clay underneath.
To make life a bit more hazardous for the Civil Defence Workers, Jerry had started mixing explosive Anti-Personnel Incendiaries amonst the others. Designed to catch the unwary Fire-Fighter who got too close, they could kill or maim. But were easily recogniseable in their un-detonated state, as they were slightly longer and had an extra band painted yellow.
One of these "Molotov Breadbaskets" came down in the Playground of the Paragon School, off New Kent Road, one evening. It had failed to open properly and was half-full of unexploded Incendiaries.
This School was one of our Sub-Stations, so any small fires round about were quickly dealt with.
While we were up there, Sid and I were hoping to have a look inside the Container, and perhaps get a souvenir or two, but UXB's were the responsibility of the Police, and they wouldn't let us get too near for fear of explosion, so we didn't get much of a look before the Bomb-Disposal People came and took it away.
One other macabre, but slightly humorous incident is worthy of mention.
A large Bomb had fallen close by the Borough Tube Station Booking Hall when it was busy, and there were many casualties. The lifts had crashed to the bottom so the Rescue Men had a nasty job.
On the opposite corner, stood the premises of a large Engineering Company, famous for making screws, and next door, a large Warehouse.
The roof and upper floors of this building had collapsed, but the walls were still standing.
A WVS Mobile Canteen was parked nearby, and we were enjoying a cup of tea with the Rescue Men, who'd stopped for a break, when a Steel-Helmeted Special PC came hurrying up to the Squad-Leader.
"There's bodies under the rubble in there!"
He cried, his face aghast. as he pointed to the warehouse "Hasn't anyone checked it yet?"
The Rescue Man's face broke into a broad smile.
"Keep your hair on!" He said. "There's no people in there, they all went home long before the bombs dropped. There's plenty of dead meat though, what you saw in the rubble were sides of bacon, they were all hanging from hooks in the ceiling. It's a Bacon Warehouse."
The poor old Special didn't know where to put his face. Still, he may have been a stranger to the district, and it was dark and dusty in there.
The "Little Blitz petered out in the Spring of 1944, and Raids became sporadic again.
With rumours of Hitler's Secret-Weapons around, we all awaited the next and final phase of our War, which was to begin in June, a week after D-Day, with the first of them to reach London and fall on Bethnal Green. The germans called it the V1, it was a jet-propelled pilotless flying-Bomb armed with 850kg of high-explosive, nicknamed the "Doodle-Bug".
To be Continued.

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Contributed originally by DOUGLAS ROTHERY (BBC WW2 People's War)

Chapter IV - Royal Encounters
In between the 24hr guard duties, other training continued, be it P.T. Weapon training, Education, First aid and of course Ordinary drill and Fatigues etc., every moment of the day was accounted for.
It wasn't many days after my Bank Guard that I noted with pride and panic, my name down on Daily Details for Buckingham Palace Guard. I was conversant with the procedural drill on arrival at the Palace, the changing, the double sentry drill on the pavement outside the railings of the palace whenever their Majesties were in residence etc., but wasn't so sure of the forming up on the square of my particular guard. I knew that I would have to 'Bloody Well Soon Find Out', so I discreetly watched the next Guard mount from a safe distance, (not allowed to stand and stare). But it didn't give me much confidence, because as soon as the order by the Sergeant Major was given,
'GET Ooooooon Parade'!
all that I could see was a mass of scarlet tunics and Bearskins criss- crossing in quick time trying to get to their respective Guards, St James Palace Guard being the senior followed by the Buckingham Palace Guard then the Waiting Guard, which parades in abeyance to replace those deemed as not suitably turned out by the inspecting officers. I rather despondently crept away not looking forward to my initiation and can only hope I don't have to learn by my mistakes.

On the day of my inauguration the Drummer blew the call to warn those who were for guard duty, finishing with a call called "TAPS the words of such known universally throughout the Brigade as "Youve Got A Face Like A Chickens Arse" thus reminding you that you have 20minutes before parade.
One of my chums gave me the once over before I gingerly make my way down the stone stairway trying not to crack the highly polished uppers of my boots, rifle in one hand, kit bag containing cleaning materials etc. suitably labelled for Buck House in the other for it to be taken their by transport. In all of this time, the band has been playing some known and some unknown airs, of which I am in no mood to appreciate. The officers of respective Guards, are patrolling up and down, also the Sergeant Major. Briefly all goes quiet, the next moment pandemonium when the Sergeant Major coming to a halt, bellowed out.
'GET Ooooooon Parade'!
This is it!
My heart misses a beat as I become part of this mass stampede in quick time, also trying to figure out where my guard marker is whilst at the same time trying to protect the precious hours of spit and polish on my size 11's from some other clumsy clots. These problems intermingled with orders being shouted from about half a dozen different W/Officers, I eventually make it.-Phew!- Now steady down.
After the formalities of the dressings, the roll call etc, comes the fixing of bayonets. The right marker marches forward the regulatory paces to give the signals for the fix, another panic sets in 'Thinks' Did I replace the bayonet into its scabbard after giving it its final polish! Its too late to check now. The next moment the order was given (FIX )- Yees"-"Thank Goodness," so far so good. Now for the inspection by the Guard Officer and"his entourage, Company Sergeant Major, Sergeant and Corporal, whatever fault one of them misses the other will pick up, whilst the band plays some lilting music which helps to drown the expletives being afforded to some unfortunate.
We march out to the usual tune on leaving barracks then to a stirring march to which we rightly and so proudly swagger along to, our hearts swelling with pride in the knowledge that we are the envy of the world. Somewhere along the route the guard W/Officer gave the command 'Escort to the colour' and being already briefed on what to do, I double out to the RH side of the road as part of that escort. whereupon on nearing Buckingham Palace we are recalled back into the ranks

.My first Stag [Guard Mount] was outside the front gates of the palace and I felt very proud and privileged yet at the same time extremely apprehensive after a warning from a experienced old sweat not to allow any of the public to stand by your side for photograph sessions as this could find its way not only for publication but also Regimental scrutiny looking for lack of poise or posture etc; also to be alert for the authoritive Regimental spy within passing taxi's, so with this in mind, no sooner had a damsel or anyone else posed themselves by my side for a photo, I would start patrolling [Spoil Sport].

On returning to barracks the next day someone called out that the official photographer was downstairs, so being still in guard uniform I took advantage of this opportunity which I believe cost me 2/6d (12&1/2p) including frame, which my parents were to proudly display.

Back to the varied training, where within a few days I had my first St James Palace Guard, which was fascinating , because the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard is in the courtyard within the palace overlooked by the balcony from which all historical proclamations are made. My patrolling on one of the sentry posts was under an archway, where, over the many years, the tip of the sentries bayonet had cut deep grooves into the stone roof. I bet that could tell a few stories!

My father being an ex soldier of the 4th Queens Own Hussars, gave me the following advice as I was leaving home to join up.
'Never volunteer for anything'.
But when volunteers were requested with the promise of a day off duty if we took part in an experimental inoculation, well, that was too good to miss! Three days later I was allowed out of bed! Never again, the shaking, aching and vomiting, we never found out what it was for but rumour had it that it was an anti malaria experiment. My advice is:
'Never volunteer for anything'.

Went out with the three musketeers, (whom I have already introduced), they
being older serving soldiers were in possession of civilian clothes passes. These could be applied for once you had served 12 months in the battalion, I still had 9months to go, this would then entail buying a suit (I am afraid that my 50/- (2 Pound 50p) one wouldn't pass the required standard on all counts). It must be smart and of a specified design and colour then inspected and approved by the Adjutant, anyway, I wasn't financially embellished at this short period of service to be able spread my limited retainer to cater for such extravagance. After wandering around Hyde Park and Speakers Corner, we decided to quench our thirst in a nearby Public house. The three six footers plus in their civilian clothes and wearing the traditional trilby hats (head gear must be worn), were the first to enter amid a buzz of verbal activity, which immediately ceased until I in uniform went over to join them. It was noticeable that, had there been any nefarious deals taking place, my presence must have assured them that we were not the 'BILL' but just the 'BILL BROWNS.'
I learnt it was common practice on returning to Barracks to bring back a fruit pie for the Guard Commander, this would be discreetly placed near the Tattoo report whilst being marked in, in the hope that this sweetener would be acceptable, especially if you were not quite within the second of the three essential conditions, namely (1) clean (2) sober and (3) properly dressed in uniform- alternately civilian clothes.

Professional jealousy would surface mostly between the Senior Warrant Officers of either Coldstream or Grenadiers regarding Regimental history, if the opportunity should arise. Such came the opportunity, when both battalions happened to be drilling at the same time on their respective halves of the square. R.S.M. Brittian of the Coldstream, (reputed at that time to have the loudest voice in the British army) bellowed out to his men (not as a compliment I may add) that they were drilling like a squad of Grenadiers. This was responded to with equal uncomplimentary fervour from R.S.M. Sheather of the Grenadiers. Apart from this light-hearted bantering, it never showed itself in any other way.

Other than our usual drill or musketry training, a few hours each week were spent on Stretcher Bearing (SB) courses, and the order of dress for this parade was Khaki Service dress and not Canvas Fatigue. On this particular occasion we were informed in the usual manner, i.e. Daily Details, that S.B's would parade at a certain time. After forming up on parade, the unfortunate Sergeant reprimanded us for not being in Canvas Fatigue. It was explained to him that Service dress was the usual uniform for Stretcher Bearers, whereas he had interpreted the S.B. as 'Spud Bashing' [ Potatoe Peeling] a well known term by all, especially the miscreants. (I might add that he wasn't allowed to live that down very easily among his fellow compatriots for quite some time)!

Guard duties were on average two per week, so I was now pretty conversant with the procedures, also the many different sentries orders for each of the various guard posts around the Palaces. One such order, among the many, at the front of Buckingham Palace was to keep prostitutes away from the railings, a task the Police on the gates, knowing the ones that come to ploy their trade, would soon sort out, also the onlookers obstructing your beat whereby a sharp tap on the ankles from a size 11 was the same interpretation in any language!

I was now entitled to a well earned rest, which was granted in the form of 10 days furlough where on arrival home after the customary greetings, the next question invariably would be, 'When do you go back'? This was the last thing you wish to be reminded of.
When it was time to return, I fortunately met another Grenadier Guardsman from my battalion at the railway station, who, although from a different Company we knew each other by sight. He spoke in an educated Oxford accent, smartly dressed in civilian clothes, bowler hat, brigade tie and carried a neatly rolled umbrella. On entering the carriage he rang the service bell and ordered a couple of whiskies which helped to dispel the gloom of departure. He then told me that he had already received 7 days C.B. for impersonating an officer. Apparently he, in his mode of dress, on returning one evening to Barracks was saluted by the sentry believing him to be an officer, and he in response acknowledged it by raising his hat (the normal response from an officer). This didn't go unnoticed by the Sergeant of the Guard, who didn't approve, neither did the Commanding officer. When we were nearing the barrack gate on return, he put the umbrella down his trouser leg and walked into the guardroom with a limp claiming that he had hurt himself whilst on leave, his explanation was accepted. Eventually he was to take up a commission in another Regiment and was subsequently killed in action. (Never volunteer etc. etc.)

Each Friday you could guarantee to having two boiled eggs for tea a ritual carried forward from my Depot days and no doubt from many years before. On this particular Friday, the eggs were unduly hard and black on being shelled, this therefore didn't satisfy most of the recipients who began to vent their anger by letting fly with eggs 'Properly Fired'. Before I had time to take cover the door suddenly opened and the Picquet officer plus escort marched in, thus restoring order. The men on being asked in the usual manner, ' Eeney Compleents'? several dared to respond. The Officer with the Master cook now in attendance seemed to agree there was reason to complain whereby no disciplinary action took place. Hereafter eggs were to be boiled on the day of consumption - only joking!. It was also the custom of having Prunes and Custard for Sunday's luncheon Sweet thus ensuring Regimental regularity!.
Now classed as an old soldier on double sentry duties, meant that I would be responsible for giving my sentry partner the regulatory signals for saluting and patrolling when called for on Palace guards etc. On one such occasion outside Buckingham Palace, at approx. 5am, therefore very light traffic and few pedestrians and no Police on the gates, along came a troop of 'Westminster Cowboys', these were Westminster refuse collectors, so called because they wore wide brimmed hats with the side brim turned up. They were no doubt reporting for work and as they drew level on their horse drawn carts, I signalled to my partner, with the regulatory three taps on the pavement with the butt of my rifle and we gave them the 'Present Arms', you should have seen their faces as they looked about in anticipation of seeing a member of the Royal family entering, you had to be very careful though, you never knew who might be watching.
Most complaints came from old retired officers who would walk past in civilian clothes for the sole purpose of getting a salute, so any civilian wearing a dark suit, bowler hat and carrying a neatly rolled umbrella, you took no chances and would salute giving them the benefit of the doubt. On another occasion a Troop of Household Cavalry were passing by on their way to Horse Guards Parade and I naturally Presented arms, they in response gave the customary eyes right and sounded the Royal salute on the trumpet, I was waiting for the officer to give the eyes front, he in turn was waiting for me to come down from the Present, eventually, as they got further and further away, I thought I had better do something, even if it meant waving goodbye, so I came down from the Present and he then gave eyes front, plus no doubt a few other chosen words, he being in the right. I was expecting to hear a complaint about this on returning to the Guardroom but it was not reported, misdemeanours committed on public duties warranted double punishment.
Later in the week one of my postings was at the rear of the Palace and before doing so the W/O of the guard, stated, 'He didn't want reports of 18ft guardsmen patrolling along by the perimeter wall'. Apparently this phenomenon was reported by a civilian in the street outside about a previous guard, where it was surmised a Guardsman had placed his Bearskin onto his bayonet on the end of his rifle and paraded it along the top of the wall.

For posterity I had better relate a rather amusing incident of Royal character whilst I was on that sentry. My post was near the stone steps leading down to the lawn. I heard children laughing and chasing each other, whence one of them a young girl of about 7 or 8yrs of age ran down the steps onto the gravel path of my beat. On recognising her to be Princess Margaret I Presented arms, she ran back up the steps to her sister giggling, no doubt bemused by the reception, repeated the performance.
whereupon I again Presented arms. I assumed she was about to do it again when I heard a male voice, whom I imagined was a member of the staff , usher them inside.
I heard of a not so Royal incident which occurred on Buck; Guard by a Guardsman Cosbab from our No2 Coy. Apparently during a very humid night, he had left his post and was discovered by the night patrol cooling off his feet in the water of the Victoria Memorial opposite, knowing him and his previous antics, I quite believe it. Although very likeable he was a proper Jekyll & Hyde character with a unpredictable devil may care attitude.
The lining of the street was part of our itinerary, which took place for the reception of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, Prince Michael of Romania, the openings of Parliament etc. etc. On one of these occasions because of the inclement weather, order was given to don capes. It was then revealed how the old sweats managed to square up their capes so precisely, when parts of cigarette packets etc. fluttered suspiciously to the ground. Another wheeze I was to learn was that the back tunic buttons were a tourist souvenir attraction, so it was wise not only to sew them on, but to thread a tape through the back of the buttons to help prevent this activity.

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Contributed originally by Tony Cheney (BBC WW2 People's War)

“A Boy in the Blitz”
In September 1940 I was a boy of eleven, living with my parents in a small terrace house just off the Harrow Road, in NW London. I was evacuated to the country when war broke out, but as nothing seemed to be happening I was brought back home in May 1940. I had won a scholarship to the local Grammar School, and started there at the beginning of September 1940. A lot of our time was spent in a brick air-raid shelter in the playground, as the Battle of Britain was just reaching its climax, and we were having air raids every day and night. But Wednesday, September 18th was a rather special day.....

About 8.30 in the evening the sirens sounded again, a wailing up-and-down note which we were getting familar with. My Mum called out “Tony, put your homework away and go down to the shelter”. It was Wednesday, September 18th 1940, the Battle of Britain was at its height, and the Germans had started to bomb London in a big way, by night as well as by day.
Despite the war, despite the blitz, our maths master, “Big Bill” Bentley, handed out out loads of homework every maths lesson, and I was trying to do mine on the kitchen table in our small terraced house off the Harrow Road, near Kensal Green, in north-west London. I was struggling a bit, as algebra and trigonometry were both very new and strange to me, and to my parents, so they were not able to help at all.
I put my books and things in my satchel, which was hanging up in the hallway, grabbed my little first-aid kit in a tin box that I always took with me to the shelter, put on a coat, as it was beginning to get cold in the evenings, trotted out into the small backyard and down the steps into the Anderson shelter. I could hear my Mum calling to my Dad “I’ve got Derek (my younger brother, who was in bed and asleep) - hurry up , George, and get down to the shelter”. She came bustling out, with Derek in her arms, wrapped up in a blanket.
Already the unsteady drone of German bombers could be heard, and the noise of anti-aircraft guns was getting louder as the bombers came nearer. Searchlights were weaving about in the sky, and the night was lit up by the flashes of exploding anti-aircraft shells. “Don’t stand up there watching, George”, said my Mum, “Come on in, it’s dangerous out there”.
Usually my Dad liked to lean against the Anderson shelter, and watch the scene, whilst he finished off his pipe of tobacco. He had been in the trenches in the first world war, and was quite unmoved by the noise and commotion - and the danger - going on around. But tonight, unusually, he hadn’t lit up his pipe, and came on in when my Mum called to him.
They sat together on the side of one of the lower bunks in the shelter, talking quietly. I sat on the other bunk, and my brother was in the top bunk, still asleep. The noise of the air-raid came nearer, with the whistle, whoosh and bang of the bombs, the fire-engine bells, and the sharp crack of nearby anti-aircraft guns getting louder all the time.
I was sitting on the edge of the bunk, holding a small torch, still thinking of my homework, and of one of the sums I couldn’t do, when, without warning, everything went black. I don’t know how long it lasted, probably only a few seconds, then suddenly the air was full of choking dust, people were shouting and screaming outside the shelter. The candles on a ledge in the shelter had been blown out, but in the light of my torch , through the fog of dust, I could see my Mum looking very white and shaken. My Dad said calmly, “I expect that’s the house gone, a direct hit probably”. There was shouting outside, and the curtain over the entrance to the shelter was pulled aside, a torch shone in, and an air-raid warden shouted “Anyone hurt, you alright in here?” “Yes, alright, but what happened, are we hit” my Dad replied. “A mine over Buller Road, everywhere’s flattened, a lot killed” the warden said, and disappeared. “Go and have a look, George”, my Mum whispered, “but do be careful”.
My Dad pulled himself up through the entrance to the shelter and surveyed the scene. “My God”, I heard him say, “what a mess”. He came back in, and spoke to my Mum. “The house is standing, but the roof’s gone, there’s timber everywhere, there’s lot of buildings down over the back, where Compton Road was”
Just then we heard whistles blowing, people shouting, and the clang of fire-engine bells. A voice shouted “Everybody out, get out of here, a gas-mains busted, there’s going to be a bloody great bang in a moment”. “Such language in front of the children”, my Mum said reprovingly. A warden was standing by the shelter entrance, and helped her up. “You go with Derek, I’ll bring Tony”, she said to my Dad. “Mind how you go, love” the warden said in a friendly voice, “there’s glass everywhere.
I came out of the shelter behind my Mum, and looked at a scene of devastation. The backyard, and the shelter, were covered, criss-cross, with broken roof timbers, bits of wood, tiles, bricks, bits of furniture. The windows of the house were gone. and the back door, ripped open, hung forlornly on one hinge. The tiles were gone from the roof of the house, and a few remaining timbers stuck up blackly against the clouds in the moonlight.
The crash of anti-aircraft guns, and the drone of aircraft engines increased again. “Quick, now, up to Harvist Road School, there’s a rest centre there, where everyone‘s going” said the warden. My Mum and I made our way through our shattered house, and out past the front door, now hanging off its hinges, into the road. I remember vividly the walk through the streets, white with mortar dust from broken buildings, rubble strewn everywhere, broken glass glittering in the light from the searchlights weaving around in the sky, the noise of AA guns, the ringing of fire-engine bells in the distance. We hurried towards the school together, my Mum squeezing us both into a shop doorway as we heard the whistle and whoosh of a bomb coming down, and a heart-stopping explosion not far away. “Quick, to the school”, said my Mum, and we hurried across the road to Harvist Road School. Suddenly I tripped over a lump of brick, and fell on my hands, cutting one of my thumbs on a piece of glass. “Put your hanky round it”, said my Mum, when she saw the blood coming out of my thumb, “there’ll be a first-aid man at the centre”. “I should have brought my first-aid tin” I protested, but already we were across the road, into the playground, and running for the entrance to the shelter.
We pushed open the two doors, and were immediately struck by the light, a babble of excited voices, children crying, the warm smell of people. A lady from the WVS came over, and my Mum said, “He’s cut his hand, can we get it bandaged?” “Come over here and get a cup of tea”, said the lady, “and we’ll get it seen to”.
Then followed getting my hand bandaged, drinking hot tea, trying to sleep on some makeshift beds on the floor. My Dad came in with Derek, and together we huddled on a mattress. More people came in, some went off to find friends, and somewhere to stay for the night. When the all-clear sounded next morning we found we were being moved to another rest centre further out in the suburbs. Several days of confusion followed, and I recollect being moved around, accommodation found for us in an empty house somewhere, my Mum and Dad going back to our house to collect our cat, some furniture and clothes,and other things, although a lot of our belongings - clocks, some clothes, my collection of toy ships, my bike, had been looted
After a few days I went back to school, with a note to say why I had been away. “Ah, Cheney” my form master said, “We heard that your road had been bombed, we thought you were dead!”. And I never did finish that night's piece of homework.

Tony Cheney
October 2004

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Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)

A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 1

My name is Reg Yates. I lived in London at Canning Town, London E.16 and Plaistow E.13 during WW2, going to Beckton Road Junior and Rosetta Road Schools except for my periods as an evacuee to Bath during September to Christmas 1939,then Cropredy May 1940 - July 1942.

I then worked at A. Bedwells, Barking Road delivering groceries for the rest of the war.

I'm still alive and kicking! Anyone remember me?

A Community Coming Together

War clouds came and we had to dig a big hole in each garden at least three and a half feet deep, at least six feet wide and roughly eight feet long depending on the size of the family using it, an awesome task. All the neighbours pooled resources and after about two months hard work most houses had a hole and had the Anderson Shelter erected to the supplied instructions. We had to make sure the rear exit worked properly. Two-tier bunk beds 2 x 6 feet one side and one other bunk bed and two chairs were there along with a bucket for the toilet and a bucket of water to drink. We never knew how long we would have to stay in there. During The Blitz we had to stay all night.

The shelters proved to be a godsend as they survived everything except a direct hit. They survived near misses and houses falling on top of them. People came out shaken but alive. They were worth their weight in gold.

There was another shelter built to fix over the kitchen table, steel top and legs for people who could get underneath in an emergency. Safe from falling masonry, it was called a Morrison Shelter after Lord Morrison a Labour Lord at the time.

I started smoking about this time. I could buy five woodbines and a box of matches for two pence, boys will be boys. I also remember going on an errand for my Dad, I had to take a letter to a house in Wanlip Road, Plaistow and she had tiles on the walk up from the gate to front door. She went ballistic because I dared to skate up to her front door. She made me take them off whilst she wrote a note to my Dad saying what a cheeky so and so I was for skating up to her door and that if I came again I would have to walk to teach me a lesson.

There were plenty of rumours about kids having to get evacuated very soon and on 1st September 1939 we were transported to Paddington Station and put on a train to the country.

We all had to say goodbye to our parents at school after they tied a label around our necks with name, date of birth, religion and which school we were from. So just after my eleventh birthday I said goodbye to Beckton Road School for the first time and landed up in the old city of Bath in Somerset.

Evacuated For The First Time

It was only two weeks after my eleventh birthday when we arrived at Bath Junction signal box, and someone said “just the thing for you kids from the smoke, a bloody great bath.” I didn’t realise what he meant until years later!

I was sent to a place called Walcott in Bath, and I was sent to a Mr & Mrs Pierce who to my eyes, were quite old looking. However, they were very nice people and looked after me very well.

They had a middle-aged navvy with whom I shared a bedroom, and our own beds I’m glad to say. I remember him getting dressed for work, hobnail boots, corduroy trousers and he tied about nine inches of car tyres around his kneecaps. He had a walrus moustache and looked a fearsome bloke to look at, but was a gentle chap really.

My two sisters were evacuated to a house just around the corner up a steep hill. Doris was eight years old and Joyce was thirteen and a half. They stayed with nice people who had two girls of their own of about eight to ten years of age. We all went to the local school along with about forty other kids from London.

We all had to sing a hymn ‘For those in peril on the sea.’ Just before Christmas we lost an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, with great loss of life and most of the sailors came from the West Country. The local rag had pages and pages of photos of those lost on the carrier.

Sometime in November 1939 I was playing a game called catch and kiss with some of the locals. This time they went along the road at the top of the hill. On one corner was a grocers shop, which had a wall with big white letters, “we sell Hovis bread”. What I didn’t know at that moment was that the police had very recently made the shopkeeper black it out as it could be seen from an aeroplane.

Running at full pelt, I ran straight into it thinking it was the turning. I was in hospital for three weeks. When I started school again, I could not see the teachers’ writing on the board.

At the end of December our Mum came to Bath to see us, and after saying goodbye to my sisters and all the other kids, she took me back to London so I could have treatment for my eyes. I had damaged my optic nerve and have worn glasses ever since.

Joyce came home in February 1940 when she was fourteen, but Doris stayed there until just before the end of the war in 1945.

Home Again

Christmas and New Year came and went, 1940 began and the war was getting worse. I think rationing was introduced about now and some foods were already becoming scarce. Cigarette cards disappeared from packets to save paper and you couldn’t buy pickles loose in a basket.

A couple of weeks went by and the time came to go back to school. Nothing much changed as most children who got evacuated the previous September were still away, but a few more seemed to come back every weekend.

The Beckton Road School was taken over by The National Fire Service, a first aid post and umpteen other things so they found the kids another school called Rosetta Road (off Freemasons Road) that was built of wood and all on one level after the First World War when all the servicemen came home.

Council workmen had dug some slit trenches just in case of an air raid but they looked useless to me, because if it rained it would be like running into a mud bath.

There was some talk about kids having to leave London again and come May it proved to be true and about seventy of us from this school were sent to Banbury in Oxfordshire.

Later in 1942 Mum and Dad moved to Wigston Road that was the next turning. Most people had moved because of the bombing.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)

A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 3

Starting Work

Having returned from being an evacuee, on my 14th birthday I started work for a firm called A. Bedwell & Sons who supplied grocery and provisions, delivering to grocery shops around London, Essex and some parts of Kent.

The firm no longer exists as the end of the war saw delivering to shops become outdated with big warehouses springing up who sold to shopkeepers willing to pay for goods as they wanted them in bulk.

I started as a van boy and when I was seventeen, I was officially allowed to drive a one ton van all by myself, and took another van boy on our delivery through Blackwall Tunnel, up the big hill to Blackheath and via Kidbrooke to Crystal Palace, then back via Lydenham and through Blackwall Tunnel again. Quite a nice day’s work, safe and sound. I really enjoyed myself and have never looked back.

We also had to pick up a load from various wharfs, another warehouse and some firms, at the same time looking out for any chance of getting things that were on ration. The war never ended until I was seventeen years old and rationing didn’t cease completely until about 1952, although as time passed things got easier and easier.

One of the vans I drove was an old model T type Ford with large back wheels and the body on top of the chassis, which made it heavy. It was hard to control in wet weather, the engine was so ‘clapped out’ it couldn’t climb a hill to save its life and it used half a gallon of oil every day which used to come out of the radiator cap with hot water, making an awful mess.

Going to one shop in Potters Bar we would fill the van right up to the maximum weight and at a big, long, steep hill we would try to get at least half way where there was a gate that allowed us to turn around and reverse the rest of the way up until just before the top where we turned around in a field and continued to the top facing the right way but smoking and steaming.

We kept complaining about the van and after about three months it would not start, so the garage mechanic said he would take it off the road and strip it down. The next day he called me in the garage to see the state of the engine. The van was eighteen years old so I expected the worst but was still amazed. The inside of the piston bore was red rust and oval instead of round and the valves were burnt so much that the round bit at the top of the valve was half the width they should be. He reckoned the engine had been running on fresh air for years.

He told the boss it would cost more to repair than to buy a new one, which was reluctantly agreed to and so he bought a smaller van which is similar to today’s transit.

The new van climbed the hill in Potters Bar first time, but on the way back I skidded it in the rain and finished side ways in a ditch which I managed to get towed out for a couple of quid. Luckily there was no damage apart from some paint scratches, which the mechanic sorted out for me for a drink. Nobody was any the wiser - I hope!

Another day I was driving a long wheelbase Bedford lorry in Leytonstone and the steering snapped, I hit the kerb and finished in someone’s front garden, lucky again! All this in my first year as a driver, mishap after mishap.

There was another time while I was driving to Romford in monsoon conditions at about ten in the morning, I got as far as The Dukes Head pub in Barking when I saw a trolley bus at a stop on the opposite side of the road and an army three ton lorry coming along behind it to overtake. The army lorry stopped beside the bus leaving me nowhere to go except between the army lorry and a lamp post which I did, but the top of the body and sides of my truck jammed between the lamp post and army lorry with the rest including me continuing down the road for twenty yards. To make matters worse all the goods were now exposed to the elements. It was like a scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie!

Fortunately for me a police car behind the army lorry stopped and the officer told the army driver to stay put, then guided me back under the van’s body. We borrowed some rope from a nearby garage and tied down the body to the floor. After ticking off the army driver for being so stupid he escorted me back to my firm near the Abbey Arms in Plaistow. Another one I got away with!

While I was a van boy and still only sixteen, (you couldn’t legally drive until seventeen) my driver decided to teach me how to drive the van. He put a blindfold on me and made me feel the gears, levers, clutch and gas. Then he revved the engine so I could hear the sound of the engine and feel the clutch ‘bite’, and drove so I would know by the sound of the engine when to change gear. Soon he taught me to drive the van for real on the quiet back roads and eventually let me on the open road.

Every Tuesday while he was courting, he would pick up his girlfriend from work and take her home where he went in for a bit of nookie. I had to wait in the van before we carried on with our deliveries. Her mother always used to make me apple pie and custard, which I ate in the van while waiting. Once he had taught me to drive, he let me take the van on my own (age sixteen) to continue deliveries while he had his nookie.

During Christmas 1945, my mate who was my driver got married to his girlfriend. She lived in Gidea Park, Romford and worked at Romford Steam Laundry (where Romford Police Station is now). The wedding was a big feast and drink up, which lasted right up to the New Year. His dad bought a forty gallon barrel of beer from the Slaters Arms and we pushed it home to his house, where we took his back fence down so we could get it in the garden and lift it on to a stand he had made so we could get the beer easier.

His dad said “nobody goes home until all the grub and beer has all gone”, so we stuffed ourselves silly with all the drivers eating 30lb of cheese, 4 x 7lb of spam, 10lb of butter, a big bag of spuds, many loaves of bread, 10lb of bacon, three dozen eggs, 4lb of tea, a case of evaporated milk and a big bar of Ships chocolate used for making drinks.

I got home on New Year’s Day at teatime stinking like a polecat with a week’s growth of hair on my face. I really enjoyed myself.

Starting back at work I found two new Morris Commercial three-ton lorries and I got one after we all tossed up coins to see who would get them. Lucky me, it was a lovely lorry to drive, pretty fast as well.

Coming back from Chatham the police would chase us every week for speeding, but could not catch us because we were having a cuppa in a wayside café when they caught up with us. Mind you the police in those days had 200cc motorbikes. It was not until later that they had much faster bikes like 500cc Nortons and Triumphs.

It was not long after this incident that I had to go to a South London wharf in Tooley Street to pick up five tons of sultanas. Coming up to Tower Bridge, the bridge was up, so I crept up on the outside of the queue of traffic. In those days there were still a lot of horse and carts around so it was a crawl over the bridge.

Just as I got over the bridge on the east side I saw an old motor coach come out of Royal Mint Street onto Tower Bridge. There was an obelisk there dividing the road for southbound traffic but you could go either side. I stopped dead so the coach could get by and a horse and cart came up on my near side. The coach kept coming and I could see that it was going to hit us if it didn’t pull over a bit, so I told my van boy to quickly get under the dashboard and curl up.

Unfortunately the coach did hit us, right in the radiator and the bonnet flew off into the River Thames. Our engine came back into the cab, the gearbox came up through the floor and five tons of sultanas went all over the cab. Both doors caved in trapping me in the cab right against the steering wheel and the offside front lamp of the coach came through the nearside windscreen, frightening my van boy because he could not move.

Somebody called the police, fire brigade and ambulance. Fortunately they managed to get my van boy out in minutes, but I was stuck for about forty minutes until they cut the steering wheel in half and forced the door out.

Imagine my surprise when I was pulled out, I never even had a scratch. My saviour was a leather belt I wore to keep my trousers up and an old army belt I used to wear around my boiler suit. The steering wheel went flat where it hit my belt and saved me from any injury.

When I got to hospital they could not believe that I didn’t even have a bruise. I was so lucky.

The coach driver had more room than me to get by and needless to say, he was charged for driving without due care and attention.

These are just a few of my memories of WW2. I hope you enjoy them. I am certainly enjoying reading all the stories from other people.

I now live in Devon.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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Contributed originally by nigelquiney (BBC WW2 People's War)

By Nigel Quiney 2003

Having become attuned to the sound, appearance and behaviour of the doodlebugs in 1944, it came like a thunderbolt from the sky when the Germans then launched their jet-propelled rocket bombs later that year over London. There was no warning. You did not see them, and if you did hear them, you had probably had it!
Enough was enough. We had survived the blitz and regular bombing raids. We could put up with the doodlebugs which ponderously moved across the sky until their engines stopped but these V2 rockets which suddenly appeared from nowhere and exploded before you even knew it was coming, scared the hell out of everyone and the reaction was prompt. Oakfield School in West Dulwich where we lived offered an alternative country location from South London and parents were offered their choice. It was all decided with astonishing speed; the country school would be run by Kathleen Livingston, leaving her husband David, the head-master, to look after the original in Dulwich for those whose parents did not wish their children to go. So in January 1945, my brother Tony and I were evacuated from London.
For me the ensuing experience was my first taste of real horror. The war was a perfectly normal everyday thing as far as I was concerned, as were hardships, shortages and rationing. This was the only life I knew and I was a very happy and contented little boy of six years of age, who was very secure in the love and affection bestowed upon him from every quarter. The absolutely last thing I would have wanted was to be taken away from my parents and home, no matter what the danger. But this is exactly what happened.
What a pathetic sight we must have been, that day on Liverpool Street station. We children were all so pale and thin and in the main wearing overlarge clothes handed down by mothers, from siblings and relatives. Not sure of exactly what was going on, I held firmly onto my mother’s hand and clutched my much worn and over-loved pale-blue teddy close to my chest. Children and grown-ups jostled each other, trying to avoid the porters pulling overloaded trolleys piled high with suitcases and large parcels tied with string as we walked along the platform past the waiting train looking for our carriage. Steam hissed through the clouds of belching sulphurous smoke as though a warning of things to come when I panicked and dropped poor teddy, who fell through the smoke and between the platform and the train and onto the railway tracks. It was as though I had dropped my own baby as my wail of horror rose above the general din on that terrible platform that fateful day.
Subconsciously, I must have known or even smelt my expulsion from the warmth of the family nest. Did I hurl teddy between the wheels of the train and the hard shiny steel of the rails as a cri de coeur, an agonised cry for attention to stop the impending nightmare? Maybe, but it did not change the ensuing course of events.
A kindly and sympathetic porter heard my cry and must have seen what happened and stepped forward to explain to my parents. He then crouched down by the edge of the platform and swung his legs by the side of the train until he was standing on the aggregate between the wooden sleepers. Carefully, he lowered himself until he was almost out of our view, as he scrabbled about under the train and then hesitantly and slowly he re-appeared until he was standing upright again and there in his outstretched hand was teddy. What a hero. A veritable champion.
We soon found our compartment and Tony and I and some other assorted older boys, accompanied by Kathleen Livingston from Oakfield School, were ushered into the train. By now, I was clutching teddy as though glued to my side and then we were off.
Slowly the great steel coal-burning monster hauled carriage- loads of vulnerable evacuees out of Liverpool Street Station and gathered speed for the perceived safety of rural Norfolk.
As the train chugged through the countryside that day, it began to dawn on me that the unthinkable was happening. We were being sent away from our family and home. I do not remember if my parents talked to me about what was going to happen. Probably not. I was only six years old and anyway how could I have understood. I would have screamed up a storm, so my guess is that my ten-year-old brother got the explanation and poor little chap, got the job of trying to explain and look after me, his very much younger brother. When you are ten years old, a younger brother of six is like comparing an eighteen year old to a twelve year old. What a bother, and what an embarrassment and what an annoying and unwanted responsibility. But I have to say looking back now, what else could my parents have done?
I do not remember the details of our journey except that we arrived in Norwich, changed trains and chugged back down the line and finally arrived at Eccles Hall somewhere in Norfolk. A beautiful two- storey sixteenth-century dower house facing east, behind which was Snetterton air force base housing the American 96 bomber group.
Not all the boys and girls were evacuated to Eccles Hall. My cousin Michael, for example, stayed on in London for some reason. In all though, about seven or eight small boys shared the junior dormitory and about twenty in the senior one. I was separated from my brother due to his four years of seniority.
Staffing was meagre. Kathleen Livingston was head mistress and also taught English. Miss Westall taught mathematics. She had been the original founder and owner of Oakfield School but had sold to David Livingston and had come out of retirement to help. Miss Wimbolt taught art, and something else which I can no longer remember. She was an extraordinary character. She only wore men’s dark, tailored double-breasted suits with all the accessories. Black brogues, shirt, with turn-back cuffs held together with plain gold cufflinks, and a silk tie. Her dark hair was cut short, and was worn with a side parting and to complete the picture she wore a monocle. She terrified me, not only because she looked like no other woman I had ever seen, but also because I thought that she resembled Hitler. Lawks-a-mercy!
Miss Cayley taught us nature studies and mainly looked after we six-year-olds. She was frail looking, fluffy and kind. I think! In truth I find it hard to picture her, so it must have been so. The villains are always easier to remember.
Which brings me to Florrie Johnson our matron and cook. A tall straight-backed woman of monstrous proportions. She had a big head with course mid-brown, lack-lustre hair pulled back into a heavy bun, small eyes and thick lips. She did not wear make-up. From her double chin down, she just grew and grew. Her shoulders were not that wide, but beneath grew mammoth breasts and from then on she appeared straight all the way down to the hem of her white matron’s cotton coat. Her sturdy thick legs were clad in brown woollen stockings and supported by sensible white nurse’s shoes. She had two children. A boy of about my age named Martin and his older sister Christine. Martin was blonde, slim and very pretty with a real peaches-and-cream complexion. Christine was blonde, fat and spotty.
Lastly came Ivy. She was Florrie Johnson’s little helper, and lived very much in the big woman’s shadow doing, I suspect, all the unpleasant jobs that were heaped upon her, for she was a poor mousy soul.
In the weeks preceding our evacuation, mother had lovingly put together a separate tuck box each for Tony and I. How she had gathered this collection of sweets, fruit, biscuits and cake for us I do not know. I am sure it meant that she and my father went without for weeks. She had also managed to provide some paper and coloured pencils which, along with our tuck boxes and suitcases containing our other few possessions stood along-side us as we waited together with the other pupils outside the imposing front of Eccles Hall.
We were segregated into sexes and then the boys were split up according to their age groups with Mrs Johnson taking charge. She explained that there would be no eating-matter of any description allowed in the dormitories and we were to hand over to her our tuck boxes for safekeeping. Then we were taken off in our groups to the relevant dormitory to unpack and settle in.
Of course, we never did see our tuck-boxes again. The explanation given was that all pupils’ tuck would be pooled and handed out in even proportions favouring nobody. Well, that did not happen. Mrs. Johnson, acting as custodian of the goodies, gave, I strongly suspect, two for every one sweet in favour of her family and in particular her children. We also got the least interesting and most ordinary from what was available. No wonder that Christine was so fat and spotty!
Tony and I felt thoroughly cheated, as did the other pupils. The subterfuge was so obvious and we all schemed that should further tuck come our way we would find places to hide it and not hand it over to Mrs Johnson.

Every Sunday we attended Eccles church, which was situated at the end of a lane just a short distance from our school. Close by the grounds at the back of Eccles Hall was Snetterton air force base, which was currently being used by the American 96th Bomber Command. Every so often we would see the occasional GI dressed so snazzily in their air-force gear and looking so handsome and strong it felt that they had come from another world. If they spotted us they would always welcome us with a wave and a smile. They almost became god-like in our eyes.
I remember well one morning after we had said our prayers in Eccles Church, sung hymns and fidgeted through the sermon, that upon leaving, a deeply touching event took place. As our straggly line of children walked down the lane back towards Eccles Hall we were suddenly aware of little piles of chocolate bars, sweets and packets of chewing gum lying in our path. The American GI’s had left them there for us, knowing that they would be enormous treats. Of course as soon as we realised that these goodies were meant for us, we scattered like hungry chickens at feeding time, to grab as much as possible. Those GI’s were so kind, it was as though they realised how homesick we were, but of course they too shared our feelings. It is heart wrenching to realise that some of them were only eighteen years old and thousands of miles from home. But over the whole time I was at Eccles, those GI’s were so kind and generous, but always in an anonymous way. They were never around for the thanks and gratitude. However, Mrs Johnson of course spoilt the event. As soon as calm was restored she ordered that all the goodies were to be handed in for redistribution at a later date. We all knew what that meant!

At the rear of Eccles Hall an additional wing had been built in the nineteenth century. This was to be used for the older boys dormitory, and would be where my brother would sleep, but I do not think I was ever allowed inside. My little gaggle of six and seven year olds was housed in a big bedroom at the rear of the original building and my bed immediately faced the door. Outside this door was a landing, with a passage running straight ahead, to the left of which was a big bathroom and at the very end, the lavatory. So began our stay at Eccles Hall.
I was incredibly homesick.
Our lessons in the junior section were simple but not unpleasant. Mostly, they were nature studies with illustrations and names of birds, animals and flowers. There was much to see within the grounds of Eccles Hall and particularly fascinating to me was the flock of peacocks, which nested there. Every so often their screeching reminded us of their presence. Being January it was extremely cold and there was not a lot of activity to see on our walks. The countryside was fairly flat, with the occasional pretty lane winding gently through it, bordered by hedgerow and with fields beyond. There were some copses of trees partly surrounded by wild unkempt bushes and shrubs, intertwined with rambling blackberry and dog roses and bits of honeysuckle and ‘old man’s beard’, all of which made for quite exciting exploration later on.
Kathleen Livingston helped further with our hand writing, spelling and reading. We also had lessons specifically for writing letters home to our parents. These were particularly interesting because most of us started to write in our different childlike ways, of our being so unhappy and could we please come home. However, these letters were clearly not acceptable to teacher and were promptly binned.
We were then instructed to write our letters by copying the text written on the blackboard by teacher! My mother kept these letters and after her death nearly fifty years later, I found them neatly held together by ribbon in a shoebox. Here is an example of what I wrote:-

Dear Mummy and Daddy,
I hope you are both quite well. We are all feeling
very happy this morning because the sun is shining
so brightly. The daffodils are coming out now and
we can see their lovely yellow trumpets. The bees
are on the golden pussy palm getting the sweet nectar
and brushing the yellow pollen on their backs. The
thrushes are singing now on the topmost boughs.
Their singing is sweet. We know a poem called ‘The
Song of the Thrush’.
My love and kisses,
From Nigel

What must they have thought? The spelling and punctuation were perfect and although I quite liked nature studies, were these the thoughts and writing of a six-year old sent away to boarding school? They must have seen through the message with grave misgivings. All the letters are similarly written. Perhaps the most poignant one though, was the first, sent just after we settled in. It reads:-

Dear Mummy and Daddy
We arrived safely at Eccles Hall.
I am quite happy with the children.
With love
From Nigel

Would you believe it? However, nothing could be done to change events and the rhythm of daily life settled in.
Apart from the terrible homesickness, I had problems with one of the regular meals. Every day the menu changed a bit but after a week, was repeated exactly as the week before. Absolutely fine, except for one thing. The food in the main was perfectly edible and some of it was truly delicious. I particularly remember Thursday’s supper and this became my day of downfall. For starters we had baked beans on toast, which I just loved and my plate was clean as a whistle. I think I was introduced to this classic treat at Eccles Hall. Perhaps the beans only came in big catering tins for I have no memory of them at home or indeed at Oakfield School in Dulwich. My downfall came with what followed as a dessert. This was called Bakewell tart and if made with the correct ingredients, was delicious. Sadly, this was wartime, and the necessary ingredients were not available. No doubt Mrs. Johnson or Ivy thought it would be a great treat. It was not!
Instead of finely ground almonds, egg yolks and sugar topped with lemon icing, nestling in a biscuit pastry, what did we get? Breadcrumbs soaked in water, which was heavily flavoured with artificial almond essence, together with a spoonful of powdered egg, poured into a pastry base and baked in the oven with jam on top. I just hated it, as the resulting pasty sticky desert saturated with almond essence had a strong chemical taste which almost withered my tongue but at Eccles Hall you ate everything, come what may.
I took a mouthful, chewed, swallowed and heaved. I swallowed again and managed to keep it down. I began to sweat. I complained to Ivy that I did not like it, but she had had her instructions from Mrs. Johnson. All food had to be eaten and nothing would be wasted. I had to eat it all and that was that. Then bedtime.
Later as I lay in bed with pale-blue teddy protecting my back and a brown monkey glove puppet named ‘Gibber’, a hand-me-down from my brother, clasped to my chest in a cuddle, I threw up. Poor Gibber! I vomited all over him as well as the bedclothes, and guess what was visible for Mrs. Johnson to inspect when she finally arrived on the scene? It was, of course, baked beans!
I was taken to the bathroom and thoroughly washed. Ivy changed the bed linen and I was back in bed and soundly asleep within seconds. The next day Mrs. Johnson advised me that baked beans would now be banned from my diet, as I was obviously allergic to them and the shortfall of food would be made up with an alternative. There was to be no argument and that was to be that.
Poor Gibber. He was boiled in the copper boiler along with the soiled bedclothes. He sort of survived but, my, he did age. His button eyes withdrew into his head and I felt very guilty. It was entirely my fault.
Then came the following Thursday and as decreed I was denied baked beans on toast. I protested strongly but to no avail. Then horror upon horror, I was given a double portion of Bakewell tart. I pleaded with Mrs. Johnson but now it was a battle of wills and she was determined to see that I ate every last crumb. So determined indeed that she stood over me watching in case I tried to secrete a spoonful or two and discard them under the table. Yet again I took a mouthful, chewed, swallowed and heaved. After the third I broke into a sweat. I pleaded with Mrs. Johnson that I felt sick.
“Nonsense,” she said. “You are just playing up because you aren’t fond of pudding and hope to get a double portion of baked beans. Eat it up immediately and I do not want any more of your whining.”
By now I had turned cold as I forced down this chemically flavoured sludge, and then the inevitable happened. I had turned round to beg her to let me stop, when I vomited with a projectile force and threw up on the boy sitting next to me, and all over Mrs. Johnson’s white cotton coat. I stood up terrified at what I had done, with my hands clutching at my mouth, when it happened again. This time sick spewed through my little fingers and onto the dining table. With a deep whimper and gulping sobs, I turned and fled from the room. Every eye was on me.
Luckily, Kathleen Livingston had seen everything and she followed Mrs. Johnson who was following me, so I was saved from matron’s obvious fury and God only knows what retribution which she was going to hand out. The ending to this story is that the following Thursday I was given a double portion of baked beans and I was allowed to go without the Bakewell tart. But Mrs. Johnson did not forgive me and I knew it. She bided her time for her revenge, but it did not come about for many weeks.

The weeks and weeks slipped slowly by towards spring and a new routine took over my life. It was not unpleasant except for my continuing desperate homesickness. However, by now I concluded that Mrs. Johnson was decidedly spooky. Take, for example, bedtime.
We juniors would gather upstairs in the dormitory and undress down to our vest and pants. We would then line up in the corridor outside the bathroom and those with the need would go to the lavatory. However, anyone taking longer than a couple of minutes was in danger of a worrying reaction from Mrs. Johnson. She would demand to know what we were doing and would bang on the door or worse push it open, usually just at the moment when one was leaning forward, bottom off the seat and about to wipe with a small piece of paper torn from a telephone directory. I do not know why this should be so embarrassing but it was. We all do it, but heaven knows what she thought we were doing in there.
At this point I must record a weekly episode, which took place every Sunday and was to do with “inner cleanliness”. I cannot remember the exact timing, but I suppose it must have been just after supper. Being a Sunday there was no homework and we finished our last snack of the day, something like bread and dripping, with a nice hot cup of tea. But it was tea made from Senna pods, which worked extremely efficiently and the end result was a rush upstairs to the toilets and a good and rapid emptying of the bowels. There were times on these Sundays when the supply of torn-up telephone directories ran dry.
Mrs. Johnson knew exactly how to make one feel vulnerable and control was the name of her game. It also did not help the business of emptying one’s bladder and bowels to feel that one was being timed. For the on-looking children, however, it was all very amusing until, of course, it was their own turn.
The bathroom was large and housed a huge tub in which would be a very meagre four to five inches of tepid water. Two boys would then get in the bath together and be soaped down, with Ivy helping Mrs. J. The water soon became rather grey and scummy but in truth we kids did not care and I think the original water was used for all us; eight youngsters per session. We were towelled dry and dressed in our pyjamas and then back to the dormitory where we were allowed about half an hour before lights off. The idea was, I suppose, for us to unwind gently and perhaps read a book.
No way. Kids will be kids and the biggest, strongest or eldest would usually start by hurling his pillow at a lesser and then trying to leap on the victim and in the ensuing struggle, remove his pyjama trousers. Once done, an attempt to hide the trousers added to the fun. What bullies these boys could be. Control freaks in the making.
I remember clearly one episode, after just such an event. My bed was located immediately opposite the dormitory door and because of this it was my job to keep cavey and warn of any possible surprises. Because it was winter and dark the landing was always well lit and the position of the overhead light would produce the shadow of anyone approaching our dormitory. This would be projected against the gap between the door and the floor. From my position in bed it was easy to see.
That evening the unmistakable shadow of Mrs. Johnson approached our door and I gesticulated wildly to advise of her presence, but the wrestling and de-bagging was so intent that my frantic waving was not noticed. I held my breath waiting for a cyclonic Mrs. Johnson to burst into our dormitory. Instead, however, the shadow became larger as though Mrs. J was crouching down to lean against the door.
She must have heard the noise of fighting and squeals of protest as pyjama bottoms were finally removed and the bully of the day leapt off his victim waving his booty. Then, I thought, is she peeping through the keyhole? Again the shadow changed shape and I knew that she now had her ear pressed to the door.
She stayed in that position for several minutes during which calm slowly descended on our dormitory. Pyjama bottoms were found and put back on and finally all the children were back in bed and between the sheets. As the quiet of impending sleep became obvious, the shadow shrank and re-formed into two segments representing her ankles. Mrs. Johnson was back on her feet. I then realised that our Mrs. Johnson not only liked eavesdropping but was a peeping tom as well. I suppose not so terrible really, but ...
A rather more worrying event took place towards the beginning of spring. At the rear of Eccles Hall was a large, well-kept lawn and on both sides were lines of fir trees. These were so large and thick that at the base they had almost joined up. This produced wonderful and exciting spaces for a child to explore and this is precisely what I was doing.
I imagined sheltering there, snug and protected from a violent thunder storm, or creating a hidden nest where I could share tuck with my imaginary friends Mrs. Yonksford’s lad and Mrs. Cronation’s lad who were still my constant companions. It was then that I found an incredibly beautiful feather. I carefully pulled it from the branches where it had been caught and studied it. It was over two feet long, and at the wide end shimmered blues and greens like the butterfly wings that were used in Victorian times under glass for decorative finishes. I held it gently against my side and continued exploring. Then I found another and a little further on, yet another. What a great find I thought, remembering those proud peacocks displaying their splendour. I then backed out of the dense foliage and onto the lawn clutching my three treasured feathers protectively.
“What have you got there?” boomed a voice, which I instantly recognised as belonging to Mrs. Johnson.
“Only some feathers, Mrs. Johnson,” I nervously replied. “I found them in the bushes.”
“That is nonsense, Nigel. I know what you have been up to,” she snapped. “You’re a very naughty boy, pulling feathers from those poor peacocks. Give them to me at once.”
She grabbed my arm and marched me off towards the house. We entered through the back door, climbed up the stairs and continued down a corridor until we reached the front landing.
“Stay here!” she commanded as she opened a door to one of the adjoining private rooms and shortly returned carrying a small wooden chair. This she placed directly in front of the big window centrally positioned over the main door.
“Now take off all your clothes Nigel,” she ordered, “and I mean all of them.”
I did as I had been told and at the same time protesting my innocence but she was having none of it. I folded up my clothes neatly and when I was stark naked she ordered me to stand on the chair in front of the window looking directly over the gravel drive.
“You are to stand upright, with your head held high looking straight ahead until I tell you to stop,” she said in her dictatorial tone.
I stood naked on that chair for about ten minutes, in full view of anyone below who might have looked up, before she relented and let me get down. If anyone had seen me up there, what on earth would they have thought? How would she have explained it all? So it was a punishment for pulling ‘armfuls’ of feathers from the peacocks tail. Big deal. Spooky?
In today’s language, Mrs. Johnson would have been considered a sick ticket!
As I have previously mentioned, bullying existed at Eccles Hall. This is not surprising. Bullying sadly exists everywhere in life and Eccles Hall was no exception. Luckily for me I was not a wimp, but I was one of the youngest and thankfully did have a knack for avoiding the worst of the bullies and their antics most of the time.
However, I was attacked by a rather rough, and older lad one day. I have no idea what started it all but the end result was a fight and my opponent suddenly produced a weapon in the form of a very sharp pencil. This he stabbed at my face, but mercifully a split second before hitting home, I wriggled and the pencil hit me just to the side of my left eye. The sharp lead end snapped off.
I screamed blue murder. Blood gushed, and I was now the centre of attraction. Kathleen Livingston arrived on the scene and I was rushed off to the bathroom. There, my wound was washed carefully and well cleaned with a good painting of tincture of iodine to ensure an antiseptic cleanliness and I screamed even louder as the iodine started to sting.
The wound healed with no problem but the pencil contained indelible lead and the end result was a blue line a quarter of an inch long, looking very much like a tattoo. I was rather proud of it and I have it to this day.
As I write this I remember that tradesmen used these pencils writing out invoices or receipts and many were in the habit of licking the lead point before writing. This produced a darker and permanent imprint on the paper and an amazing effect on their tongues but this was before ballpoint pens were invented which finally rang the death knell for indelible lead pencils. I wonder if their indelibly streaked tongues from 1945 are still marked to this day?

Sometime in March my brother Tony fell ill and it became clear that this was not just a bout of influenza. He was finally moved out of the senior dormitory and put into a small box room by himself. I was not particularly aware of this problem because the senior children did not really mix with us juniors, except for meal times and even then they sat together and separately from us.
Kathleen Livingston was obviously very concerned and ‘phoned my parents advising that she feared the possibility of my brother contracting infantile paralysis, nowadays known as polio. The medical profession had recently isolated this very serious disease and the dangers for young people were known. These were the days prior to anti-biotics being available and for serious illnesses we were given M&B tablets (these initials stood for the manufacturer, May & Baker). Such a puzzling name for a drug, by today’s way of thinking, when scientific-sounding brands are so common.
On hearing this worrying news, my parents made the journey to Eccles Hall. They arrived with one of my father’s cousins, named Eric, bearing a tuck box each for my brother and I. I was overjoyed to see them, literally throwing myself into my mother’s arms and sobbing with relief, somehow believing that they had come to take us back home. Wrong! Big disappointment, but it was wonderful for me to be with them, even for only a few days. We went on trips and even had a picnic on one of the warmer days. I was a very happy bunny. Tony was also clearly on the mend with the dangerous period of his illness over, so the time had come for them to catch the train back to London. I was allowed to see them off and Kathleen Livingston accompanied us to the little station of Eccles. As we waited for the train to arrive, the terrible ache of homesickness slowly spread through me and as the train pulled into the station I clung even more firmly to my mother’s neck.
Now, panic racked my small body as the train finally stopped and a few people stepped down onto the platform. Eric opened the door to a compartment and got onto the train. My mother was weeping as she tried to untangle my arms from around her neck and then I knew for certain that I was going to be left behind.
“No, please no!” I sobbed, burying my head against my mother’s shoulder, my tears streaming down my face and onto the collar of her jacket.
“Don’t go,” I pleaded, looking wildly around me for some saviour.
By now all three grown-ups were also in tears. The train blew its whistle and Kathleen Livingston gently put her arms around my waist and tried to pull me off my mother, but to no avail. I clung on for dear life with my arms still firmly around mother’s neck. At this point, poor father had to force my hands apart and loosening my grip, Kathleen was able to pull me away and into her arms. In no time Eric and my parents were in the carriage, the door shut behind them and with a great belching of smoke and hissing of steam, the train pulled slowly out of the station.
“Mummy, mummy!” I screamed wildly but they were gone.


What joy, what bliss, such happiness! Our first term at Eccles Hall had ended and we were going home for an Easter holiday at East Dean, a village in the South Downs a couple of miles from Eastbourne on the south coast. Tony had completely recovered from his illness and the news from the European front about the war was looking to be in our favour. We had had a wonderful time and people enjoyed an enormous sense of optimism highlighted by the fact that in August 1944 the beaches had been cleared of mines and were open to the public. Now, instead of just gazing down over the barbed wire towards the beckoning sea, we were able to cross over that forbidden line and explore. It was truly blissful.
I returned to Eccles Hall with a heavy heart but without the same fear and trepidation of the first journey. I think that by now I knew that my stay was not going to be for very long and that a few weeks or months would see the end of it for good. Certainly by summer we would be back again to beloved East Dean, and endless adventures.
I had by now been introduced to birds-nesting by Michael, my great East Dean chum. I have to say that today I am horrified by even the idea of finding a bird’s nest and stealing an egg or possibly two but Michael was very clear with his rules, which I happily accepted. They were that only two eggs maximum could be taken, one for each of us, but come what may we had to leave at least two eggs in the nest. We also had to remove the eggs in such a way that those remaining were not touched or moved at all. The idea being that our interference would somehow pass un-noticed. Having stolen the eggs we would very carefully pierce each end with a pin and holding it between thumb and forefinger, blow out the contents. This is what was known as blowing an egg. Once empty and dry it could be stored and the start of a collection begun. All this greatly appealed to my hoarding instincts and I still have my egg collection fifty-two years later albeit stored in the loft.
Back at Eccles Hall I now put my newfound knowledge of birds nesting to the test and with a few other children, we set off to see what we could find. I seemed to have gained some confidence since the previous term because I think I was the leader of this little expedition.
So, just like at East Dean, we set off and were soon on our hands and knees tunnelling through scratchy thicket hunting for nests. In these circumstances time stands still as happy hours slide by. At East Dean I never had any sense of time and just waited for my mother to call my name. It is amazing how far her call of “Nigel ...!” could carry. She would stand in the front garden and cup her hands to her mouth and after filling her lungs call, “Ni i g e l l l ...!” She would do this four times but each time changing her direction so that her voice would carry north, south, east and west. She knew I would set off for home immediately, even if it took half-an-hour. In those days there was no traffic and her call only had to compete with bird song or the wind.
But, we were not at East Dean. We were at Eccles Hall and I had found new territory to explore. None of us heard the tea bell and time slid by. I only became aware of how late it was when darkness slowly crept upon us and then, of course, I realised that we were in for trouble.
As the afternoon turned into evening, our teachers became increasingly concerned. Heaven knows what they must have been thinking but they were clearly greatly relieved to see us for by the time we trudged wearily into Eccles Hall it was pitch dark. This however was not the end of the story. We were given a very late tea, sent to bed and told, rather ominously, that the headmaster would deal us later when he arrived in a few days time from London for the weekend.
Time rather dragged in those few days before Mr. Livingston’s arrival. Kathleen Livingston had already told us of the severity of our crime which included the nastiness of birds-nesting as well as the extreme lateness of our return to the school, causing everyone great concern and worry. On Saturday we waited and waited for something to happen. I knew that David Livingston had arrived from London. He had not been struck down with illness, as I had been praying for and looked extremely fit.
Late that afternoon we offending children were called together and once again the severity of our misdeeds was outlined to us. I cannot remember what happened to the others but I was called into Kathleen Livingston’s study where David, her husband, sat looking huge in what was her chair. Again he went over the details before finally standing up. I could not help but be reminded of how big a bear of a man he was. I nervously watched him open a cupboard and gulped as he took out a springy riding crop from within. He then pulled forward a wooden upright chair and told me to drop my trousers. Quietly, he told me to bend over the seat and proceeded to give me what was known in those days as six of the best.
It was very painful and tears fell from my eyes as I pulled up my pants and trousers.
“What do you say, Nigel?” he gently asked of me.
“I am sorry, sir,” I stammered through my tears.
“And what else?” he queried.
“Thank you, sir,” I responded and left the room.


Our expectations were finally rewarded with the first peace on VE day, May 8th, 1945 and at the end of July we left Eccles Hall for good. My delight in packing up my meagre belongings and leaving Eccles Hall was boundless. My whole being surged with happiness. Mother and father collected us from Liverpool Street Station in the Morris and it was like being reborn though now somehow older and wiser. The war was over and the thought of being home again with my lovely family filled me with a terrific excitement. A new life now lay ahead of me, free from bombs, air-raids, fear and destruction.

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Contributed originally by dwakefield (BBC WW2 People's War)

From WW2 I have hundreds of memories. In many cases the adults were distressed but growing up with war, many children accepted much of it as normal. People’s experiences depend so much upon where they were.
Born in February 1936 I have just a few pre-war memories from 1939. One is of a sunny lunchtime in our Walthamstow (London E.17) house, another is of our Anderson air-raid shelter being constructed at the end of the garden (most winters it needed baling as it would get several inches of water in it, being deeper than the adjacent sportsfield ditch).
A great trench was dug by steam shovel across the middle of that neighbouring sports field (and through our local Epping Forest) as defence works. Concrete blocks about a metre cube were prepared where the trenches met the main roads, ready to be moved into position and block the road if we were attacked. For the next 10 years us kids loved to play on/around the blocks and the spoil heaps lining the muddy trenches.

In 1940 my father’s employer moved from Smithfield to Brasted near Sevenoaks (Kent) where I started school. With the call-up of most male teachers, my huge class was for 4~7 and the other class was for 8~11.
While there, I knew of the rationing, so one day while my mother was shopping I picked, then boiled buttercups on the kitchen range hoping to make butter.
My mother went to First Aid classes and I was used as a child subject for bandaging. One spring day we walked up our lane to the top of Toy’s Hill to see the remains of a German plane shot down the previous night.
Our cottage was on a hillside so when the warehouses near to Tower Bridge were badly blitzed one night, we all stood in the garden to see the big red flickering glow.

Quite a few times in 1940 we travelled back to Walthamstow and I particularly remember several times walking from London Bridge station to Liverpool Street station after a previous night’s bombing. On one occasion we were allowed to walk along Gracechurch St. while the buildings on the other side of the street were on fire and the firemen using their hoses. Other times we had longer diversions to avoid fires or buildings in a dangerous state (some remained propped up till the 1950’s).
Platforms carrying pumps were built around the piers of some bridges so as to pump Thames-water into the city via cast iron mains in the gutter or on the pavement (or both). Where the mains were in parallel and pedestrians needed to cross them there were wooden boards across. Branching off the mains were lots of hoses.

When dad had been called-up, mum and I returned to our Walthamstow house There were about 45~50 in my class and my school held about 600 on three floors but the air-raid shelters weren’t ready. If the air-raid sirens went during school hours we would all squeeze into the cloakrooms and onto the staircases to avoid any flying glass from a blast as there were only tiny slit windows there.
My teacher’s mother had gone to the window in the middle of the night to look at the searchlights, but died from lacerations when a bomb fell nearby.
Many buses had blast netting on their windows and some had blackout curtains.
Some double-decker buses had a bag on top containing gas as fuel instead of petrol and others pulled a little trailer for their gas.

When paper became short at school, many of us took our 4 page (1 sheet) newspaper to school and wrote our sums and spelling tests in the margins. The papers were then gathered up and some went to the local fish shop for him to wrap his customers fish in, while the rest was torn into squares and issued by teacher from a cupboard if you needed to use the toilet.
Quite often while in the playground we saw fighter aircraft in dogfights at altitude weaving condensation trails. The alert seemed to go only if there was a risk of bombs.
By 1944 we often saw squadrons of 27 allied bombers heading for Europe. Sometimes 5, 10 or even 20+ squadrons would fly eastwards in succession presumably navigating by the white concrete of our local North Circular Road (A406) and then the Southend Road and the railway to Harwich much as the airliners heading for Heathrow still do (in reverse) in 2003.
(Not built with tarmac as concrete gave employment in the early 1930’s depression.)

There were about 6 phones in our street of 56 houses. One day in 1940 a neighbour came to say my dad had phoned her that he was moving camp and would be at Kings Cross station till 2 pm. Mum got us there in time and found the special train loading about a thousand men. She asked a corporal at the gate and the word was rapidly passed up the platform that AC2 Wakefield’s wife was at the gate and he was allowed to come and speak to us.
In early 1941 we got away from the bombing for a week to see dad in training at Bridlington. I remember Flamborough Head and the passing convoys of colliers and steamers hugging the coast.

In January 1942 the bombing got mum down again so we went for a break to Helston (Cornwall) and took the bus which was full of airmen to Mullion. Mum got plenty of attention as the only woman and I was passed from father to father to briefly sit on their knees as they were missing their own children. Mullion Cove and the Lizard Point featured in many of my school compositions thereafter.
A similar scare later in 1942 took us to Bath unannounced. While mum went to contact dad that we had come and to find overnight accommodation, she told a porter what was happening and left me for a couple of hours with our suitcase (and a luggage label on me) by the water crane on the platform where the London to Bristol trains would stop to refill. Most of the engine crews spoke to me. You wouldn’t leave a 6 year old like that now !

One winters night in 1942 the bombing was worse so mum and I went to the communal shelter at the end of our street. Only families without husbands were there. One lady realised that she had slammed her front door without her keys being in her handbag so, during a lull in the bombing at about 4 am, I ( as the oldest male) and the ladies 2 daughters (all of us under 10) were sent to see whether their back door was unlocked. It wasn’t, but a fanlight was open so the girls pushed me through to get the keys off the sideboard and bring them out via the front door.

As our Anderson shelter was so often wet we mostly sheltered in the small cupboard under our stairs. We could just squeeze in 4. (1930’s houses used substantial timber.)
On rare occasions with daylight raids, passers-by would shelter with us, e.g. our milkman, leaving his handcart outside (he had a struggle to push it up the local hill).
If we went by tube in the evening, then in some central London tube stations you would have perhaps only 3 feet of platform edge to walk on, the rest being occupied by scores of families in sleeping bags or blankets on the platform. Sometimes you had to step over a persons legs or belongings. Some stations had bunks 2 high lining the wall. It was very good-natured. Pushing would have been so dangerous !
If we were caught out in an air raid in the evening I would be fascinated by the searchlights scanning the sky as we walked through the blacked out streets. Even the cars had their headlights covered with only a 4x2 cm slit (and a 1.5 cm shield above).
Sometimes the searchlights would latch onto a German aircraft, then the guns in our neighbouring sports field would fire. One day I had to hand in my collection of shrapnel (supposedly to help the war effort by recycling, but perhaps because of my blisters from the phosphorous on the tracer bullet remnants).
Tilers were often needed in our street because so much shrapnel was falling, breaking the rooftiles and then the rain would get in and damage ceilings, etc..

Around town, bomb damage was common. Perhaps 2 houses in a terrace gone but bits of a bedroom hanging there on an adjoining wall. In one case an upright piano up there on a small piece of bedroom floor. Blast would blow out shop windows so they would be boarded up and they continued to trade, often by a single lamp bulb
Our nearest bomb obliterated the tennis court at the end of the street, so it was turned into an allotment garden. We dug up part of our garden so as to grow vegetables. Our fox terrier had to be put down in 1940 because there was insufficient food and he was upset by the noise of guns and bombs.

Letters from dad meant so much, especially with his sketches of his colleagues. Sometimes he sent a biscuit tin of blackberries, etc. picked from around his camp.

By 1944 convoys of troops and equipment mostly eastbound along our narrow North Circular Road passed almost hourly and some took a rest on the ground allocated for the second carriageway. Local ladies would offer up tea etc. to the lads. I remember seeing a convoy of tanks move off while the lads were pouring their tea, they handed the teapot to another lady up the road who brought it back to it’s owner. With rationing, I don’t know where they got so much tea from. There was so much goodwill, especially to those who were travelling.

The doodlebugs started in 1944, often coming without the air-raid siren sounding. Their chug-chug was alarming but while they chugged they were not falling. The terror was if their motor stopped before they had passed over you, then you waited what seemed ages for the bang. Again, the adults were more worried than us kids.
I only heard two V2’s. Falling from up to 70 miles above they were supersonic, so first you heard the bang and then you heard the approaching scream getting fainter, then you knew that you had survived ! Out one day, one fell a quarter mile away.

Late 1944 we moved to Bretforton in the Vale of Evesham (Worcestershire) and then Badsey village bakery before moving into the servants half of a 14th century manor house that hadn’t been occupied since it held German prisoners of war in 1919. The dark solitary confinement cell was upstairs with the regulations in german. The kitchen was stone flagged and some 40 x 15 feet while the door key was iron and weighed almost a kilo. It was unheated so we lived in the buttery (lined with copper to keep out the mice we were told). Sanitation was a bucket.
3 feet outside the back door was a wooden cover over a 4 foot diameter well.
The farmer in the main house once moved his large table to show dad’s colleagues a large slab that tilted and a tunnel below that went out under the orchard.
The villagers still talked about the one bomb that had fallen in fields 3 miles away a couple of years earlier.
The day we moved there, while my mother looked after my newly born handicapped sister, I was sent 3 miles to the butcher in the next village (past an airfield) with our ration books to sign on with him and bring back some meat to cook. Would you ask an 8 year old these days.

One day in 1944 while walking home from school, I met an American sergeant, the first negro that I had seen. He shared his packet of chips with me while showing me some pictures of his own wife and kids back home in the USA.
At Xmas 1944 many local children were taken by Air Force lorries to a party in Evesham Town Hall where we were given toys (mostly of wood and painted with aircraft dope) made by the servicemen at various local camps.

After D-day I learnt my geography of Europe by putting a map out of the Daily Mail onto the wall and inserting pins joined by wool to show the state of advance as it was reported on the radio. Pathe-News at the cinema supplemented newspaper reports.

I helped pick fruit in a market garden in 1945 and went with the horse and cart to the local single siding alongside the London to Worcester line and helped load the wagon.
On VE-day everybody celebrated, especially the Canadian airmen (who had a giant bonfire of unwanted aircraft bits).
By VJ-day we were back in London. I had attended 7 schools between 1940 and 1945.
Most classes I had been in had over 40 pupils (two had 70+ with the walls folded back) and some classes spanned several years. One school had a lady teacher for the beginners and a man for a huge class of up to school leaving age.
Teachers were mostly women and with the class sizes, were friendly but strict and were backed by parents. A slap, hands on head, stand outside, lines, ruler or cane depending upon the offence. Once I couldn’t hold a spoon at table for 2 days.
Teachers often selected the abler pupils to assist those finding a subject difficult. I was o.k. at reading and arithmetic but useless at crop rotation and recognising plants, i.e. what was taught to 8 year olds varied around the country.

In 1946 my father was demobbed. He found a way into the Mall for us for the Victory Parade. The crowd was thick, but as usual us children were passed to the front (some over peoples heads) and sat in front of the policemen. Afterwards the crowd helped us to rejoin our parents. It was a memorable view of the service contingents and those on the Reviewing Stand including King George VI, Winston Churchill and General Montgomery.
So, as I started out by saying, for a child it was a fascinating time if sometimes scary, but for the adults there was so much worry, fear, suffering and loss of possessions and loved ones. An uncle’s ammunition convoy blew to bits.

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Contributed originally by Grace Fuller (BBC WW2 People's War)

My interview with Nanny, by Grace Fuller aged eight:

Nanny was in Cornwall with her mum and sister when war was declared on the radio [on 3 September 1939]. The farm they were on was the only one with a radio, so everyone came to the farmhouse to hear the news. She can’t remember coming back to London, but presumed they must have gone on the train. Her dad had been called back to London a few days earlier and had driven back to London in the family car. He was a very important man in the Borough of Poplar.

Nanny wasn’t really scared during the war because she grew up with it happening all the time and therefore it was ‘normal’ life for her. The sound of the German bombers going over shook the house and this is a noise she will never forget. There was also an ack-ack gun at the top of her road in Chingford. On the night of either the 28th or 29th of December 1940, Nanny’s dad took her to the top of the road, which was on top of a hill. She stood with her dad on the flat roof of the ARP [Air Raid Precautions] building. At that time you could see right over London, as the only tall building was St Paul’s Cathedral. She was able to see London burning as this was when London was bombed heavily. She can still see the images from that night and believes that her dad woke her up so that she would be able to tell people what she saw.

Nanny wasn’t evacuated because her dad didn’t want either her or her sister to be orphans. She could have gone to Canada to stay with her nanny’s sister, but her parents wouldn’t allow it. She was sent to Yorkshire in 1944 when her mum was expecting her third child. She went and stayed with her auntie and uncle.

Nanny went to school by bus (the number 38). It only cost one old penny. The bus conductor was very kind to nanny and her sister. He always had a Spitfire pin in his lapel. About 30 years later, nanny was on another 38 bus with my mum and my uncles, and the conductor was the same man. He even had the Spitfire pin in his lapel. Nanny reminded him of the two little girls who got on his bus during the war and he remembered them.

The school Nanny went to was the Dominican Convent. It was the only school in Chingford that was open, so girls came from Chingford, Loughton and Woodford. School was often disrupted because when the air raid siren sounded, all the girls had to go down to the cellar, which the nuns had had reinforced with wooden beams.

There were days, particularly when there had been a big night raid, when only a few girls turned up. One day only three girls were in school. One girl, called Maureen, was pulled alive from the rubble of her house. She often used to have fits in class, which nowadays would be called shell shock. Some of the girls in the school did die, but because it was war you got used to knowing people that had lost husbands, sons, mothers and daughters. Nanny still sees her friends from the convent, as they have a reunion every two years.

At home, Nanny’s dad had their hallway lined with steel and heavy boards that could be lowered at night to block the stairs. If a bomb had landed close by they would have been protected. From the beginning of the war to the middle of 1941, everyone slept downstairs, but after Hitler changed to daytime bombing and the bombing of other cities, Nanny and her sister slept upstairs in their own beds.

Nanny’s mum and gran made all their own clothes. One day Nanny ripped a dress and her mum was so angry she made her wear a potato sack for three days. Nanny’s mum also knitted stockings, vests and pants.

Nanny didn’t see any of the planes that went over London, but she heard them. One day she did see the vapour trails made by two fighters as they had a dogfight in the air very high up. She saw one plane falling to the ground, but was lucky enough not to see it land.

One night her dad woke her and her sister up to show them a V1, a flying bomb, also known as a doodlebug. She saw it flying over London with a large flame coming out of the back. Then the flame disappeared and about 20 seconds later she heard the whoomp! as it landed somewhere over Tottenham. The V1s had a hum as they came over so people knew they were coming. The V2s were worse because they were flying rockets and very difficult to hear until you heard the whistle as they fell from the skies. She saw the barrage balloons over London, which were there to stop the German planes. She also had an air raid siren about 500 metres from her house.

Nanny’s dad didn’t go and fight during the war because he was too important to Poplar, one of the old London boroughs. He was the Deputy Borough Engineer of Poplar, which was very heavily bombed in the Blitz because it had the great London Docks where most of the food for England came in by boat. Nanny’s dad used to spend all week at the Town Hall, working by day and fire-watching on the roof at night. He had a camp bed in his office. He used to phone home every evening to say goodnight and phone again in the morning to make sure all was well. Many people died in Poplar and many buildings were destroyed. Many of these houses were the old Victorian slums and after the war Nanny’s dad helped to have new flats and houses built, which were much better.

Nanny never went hungry during the war, but food was in short supply as so much came from other countries by boat and they were sunk by the Germans. People had ration books with coupons for meat, butter, sugar etc, and very little of each was allowed each week. People grew lots of food like potatoes, other vegetables and fruit. Some people kept chickens for eggs and meat.

Space was made in towns for allotments (large rectangles of land which people rented for a few pounds a year) where they could grow extra food. Nanny’s dad had four allotments, two in Poplar and two in Chingford, as well as the garden - so there were always fresh vegetables. Nanny would also pick blackberries in Epping Forest.

Sometimes a boat would arrive with oranges and huge queues would appear to try and get this precious fruit. Nanny once had to queue for oranges (with ration books, as you were only allowed two oranges per person) but after queuing for four hours the person two places ahead of her had the last two. Just before the war, Nanny’s mum stored lots of food like currents, sultanas etc, and because of this she was able to make lots of cakes, biscuits and buns.

In case people were not getting all the right vitamins and minerals there was cod liver oil (ugh!) and a horrible thick syrup called Virol. However, even with none of the foods we have today, Nanny was never ill except for mumps, measles and chicken pox. She never had the colds and sniffles people have today.

From the start of the war all households had to have blackout curtains on their windows so no light could be seen by German aeroplanes. This also meant no street lamps were working and traffic lights had shields so that they could not be seen from above. Cars, buses and other vehicles also had to have shields and a cover with just a slit for light on their headlamps. If you went out at night you had to have a torch, which was only allowed to be shone downwards to show you where the kerbs and other hazards were.

Kerbs had white lines drawn on them to reflect the lights of the torch. As nanny was only a little girl she did not go out much at night, but she remembers helping her mum to make sure every window was covered with blackout material. It was lovely when all the lamps came back on at the end of the war. People were very happy and glad the war was over.

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Contributed originally by Sister (BBC WW2 People's War)

I was eight years old at the beginning of the war, and my first memory is of being taken to the local school hall, where the gas masks were being issued. The man gave me a Mickey Mouse one to try which nearly asphyxiated me! These masks were made with two separate eyeholes and a funny red nose to try and make them appeal to young children. It was decided my head was too big for that, and I was issued with a standard black one. I remember feeling horrified that adults could consider killing other people, and I felt so helpless. We had always been told fighting was bad behaviour.
Strange how adults could change their minds.
The first siren went off while I was out playing in the street with my dolls’ pram. I can remember the panic as I tried to pull it up the kerb to go home, the more I pulled the less able I was to budge it. Then my Dad appeared from nowhere, and saved me!
The siren was a false alarm and nothing at all happened. Soon after, my parents thought it safer for my mother, older sister and myself to go and stay with an aunt and uncle in Wallingford, Berks.
After about three weeks as all was quiet we returned home to the London suburb of Harrow Middlesex.
The raids started. The siren wailing up and down made my tummy turn over. Nearby we had Northolt Aerodrome, so the noise of planes taking off became commonplace. We used to count them going out, and count them returning, always hoping it would be the same number…. We had an Anderson shelter in the garden. The lady next door with small children had a Morrison shelter indoors, which was like a big reinforced rabbit hutch. They used the top as a table. Every night after I was in my pyjamas I would be sent down the garden to the shelter, and when no-one was looking, I would get up and go down the back alley to play with my friends. Raids were frequent at this time. Every day the children would go out looking for shrapnel, and the competition was quite keen to find the biggest bit..
My father was working in London on something that he was not allowed to discuss with us. We later found out it was to do with the construction of the amphibious craft used in the invasion. As he was a well-qualified St. John first aider, he was also required to help with rescue work. He was always so tired.
While on his rescue duties, he would sometimes find an unexploded shell, or incendiary bomb, which had to be thrown in the water tanks on the streets. I have an unexploded shell, which he made into a table lighter, having made it safe!
I remember the bomb disposal crews on their lorry having completed a job. Sometimes they would actually sit on the land mine or bomb that they had disarmed. They always received a cheer. - Just, as aircrew would not be charged for admission into our local cinema. Everyone felt they had done more than enough for us. During daytime raids we could often watch the dogfights above us as our planes intercepted the Germans. We could always tell the difference between our aircraft and the German’s even at night. Our planes had a steady hum and the German planes made a pulsating noise.
Our house remained intact, but a nearby house had a landmine suspended inside it. The parachute had caught on the roof, and it was hanging suspended a couple of inches off the floor! We had to evacuate our house while the brave disposal team came and made it safe. They drove off with it on the back of the lorry. I was told the German bombers would take Harrow-on-the Hill church as a landmark
And drop a stick of bombs, hoping to hit Northolt Aerodrome. This meant they passed close to us.

The raids became intense. Our Anderson shelter had flooded, and we had to go to the nearest communal shelter. During the day if the siren sounded on our way to school, we were told to run home if we were nearest to home, or carry on to school if that was the nearest. We had a large underground shelter built on the playing fields at school, and we spent a lot of time sitting on the hard benches around the walls. At home we had decided we were tired of running to air raid shelters at night, so we decided that if the bomb had our name on it, we would get it! We stayed in our own beds.
When I was twelve, I was evacuated to my grandparents in Wales. My mother took me there, and we caught the train from Paddington. Opposite us in the carriage a tired looking lady sat with a baby on her lap. They had no luggage, as they had been bombed out of their home the previous night, whilst they were in the shelter. Her husband was in the army, and she was making her way to the home of relatives.
We arrived at my grandparent’s house. My mother stayed overnight and then went back to Harrow. I found this to be a disconcerting time. Hardly any air raids occurred. There was just the difficulty of fitting into new surroundings. I attended the local school. The local children called us the “Vacuees” and regarded us at first with suspicion. Whist I was there I remember two servicemen returning to the village. They had been prisoners of the Japanese, and looked like walking skeletons. The village held a Benefit Concert for each of them. The concerts were well attended and raised some money to help them recover. I got to know my Welsh relatives, and there were some good times, but there was always the overwhelming homesickness. After nine months things must have quietened in Harrow, or my constant pleas to come home worked. Whatever the reason, I received a letter saying my mother was coming to take me home. Such joy!
We arrived home, and things were quieter. Food was extremely short. I would help my mother to buy the weeks’ groceries for four people and we could carry it home in two bags. If we went to my Aunts’ for tea, we would take our slices of bread and margarine with us. Meat was very short; so on Saturday we would take turns in queuing outside the Butchers’ shop. My mother would queue from six until seven o’clock, my sister from seven until eight and I would do from eight until nine, when the Butcher opened his shop. My mother would reappear at this time and if we were lucky we would have a small piece of meat for Sunday. If we were unlucky, we had to take the ration in Spam. Just very occasionally a neighbour would rush down the road telling everyone she came across that the greengrocers had oranges. We would hurry to the shop and queue hoping that there would still be some left when it was our turn. Usually the allowance was one orange for each child’s ration book. The sweet ration was very small, and we children were encouraged to eat raw carrots instead.
After I returned home from Wales, it wasn’t long before we had the start of the attacks by the V1 and V2 missiles. The V1 was a pilotless aeroplane which carried a large amount of explosives. The engine noise was distinctive, and if you could hear it you were safe, but when the engine cut out, you knew it was on the way down. I was on my way to school, running as the air raid warning had sounded, when suddenly the pavement came up and hit me! A man behind me had been aware of the V1 heading our way and had pushed me to the floor. We were lucky.
Then it was the V2. This silent rocket was unpredictable. No air raid warning, just a huge explosion from nowhere.
The next thing I remember is everywhere being crowded with servicemen of all nationalities. Then of course it was D-Day. The newsreels at the cinema kept us up to date, and also showed us the horrors of camps like Belsen as they were liberated.
The man next door was discharged from the army because of shell shock. I imagine it would be called post-traumatic stress now. He spent all day in his garden, speaking to no one, but gradually he started to communicate again.
VE day came at last, followed by VJ day. We had a street party, I was thirteen years of age and it seemed a long time since I was eight.

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Contributed originally by saucyrita (BBC WW2 People's War)

Rita Savage (nee Atkinson)

A child’s view of the war.

In 1939 I was nine years old and living in Peckham, London S.E.15. It was 3rd September 1939 and I remember sitting on the back steps that led into the garden listening to my mum and dad discuss the advent of the Second World War. My parents had of course lived through the First World War. My dad served in the Army along with his brother and father; they were all in the same regiment I am told. My uncle Ernie was killed in France but my dad and my grandfather both survived.

This particular day as I sat on our back step, dad had switched on the wireless and we heard our then Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain broadcast that we were at war with Germany. A few minutes later we heard the distinctive wail of the air raid siren and I remember thinking that we were all going to die on this the first day of the war. All the tales I had been told about the First World War came back to me and I was terrified. My sister Doris would be about sixteen years of age then and she seemed to take it in her stride. My brother Brian was only about four years of age and too young to understand.

We didn’t have an air raid that day of course, the all clear sounded straightaway. We were simply being prepared for what was to come.

The first few weeks of the war went by and nothing significant happened that I was aware of except all the schools were closed in London where I lived anyway. I suppose all the teachers eligible were called up or they enlisted in our armed forces.

I got over my initial terror and enjoyed the freedom from school which I didn’t like very much anyway.

The next thing that happened was for me a very traumatic one — gas masks! I remember all the family going along to this large building, probably the Town Hall, I can’t remember now and waiting in a queue to be fitted for these horrible looking contraptions. My mother was very worried about my little brother Brian thinking that he would act up and cause a fuss. She didn’t worry about me; I was older and never made a fuss about anything.

Wrong! When it was my turn I did more than make a fuss, when they tried to put the mask over my face I remember becoming hysterical. I couldn’t bear to have my face covered; I have been like this all my life. Claustrophobia is the word of course but I didn’t know that at the time. My brother on the other hand wouldn’t take his off he wanted to keep it on. We were supposed to practice wearing these masks on a regular basis and I would always disappear and go into hiding.

My parents decided to move house at that time, only into the next road. Later on in the war the house we had moved from was flattened taking with it the house next door where some of our friends lived. There were five children in that family and they along with their parents were all killed. The house we had moved into was never bombed and had we known it then of course we could have stayed there throughout the war and gone to our beds to sleep every night and not to the Anderson shelter in the back garden.

The war had been going for about a year by this time with no air raids and the schools were beginning to open their doors once more when the blitz on London started in earnest.

That first air raid was a daytime one, I remember I was playing on the front with my friend and when I heard the siren I immediately ran to my mother who at the time was talking to someone at our front door. She hadn’t heard the siren at first and she was very cross with me for interrupting her, children were indeed seen and not heard in those days. I was forgiven however once my mother realised what was happening. We only just made it to the Anderson in time before we heard the enemy planes overhead and the bombs dropping all around us. My mother was in a state because my sister and my dad were at work. My dad and sister were all right thank goodness but they were both very shaken when they eventually arrived home.

That night the raids started in earnest. We spent every night after that in the Anderson shelter or as I will tell you later in other shelters. We would lie awake at night listening to the noise of the falling bombs and the noise of our ack ack guns and wonder if our house would still be standing in the morning.

My brother and I would lay either side of our mother and cover her ears with our hands. My mother was a complete nervous wreck after a few weeks of this bombardment of our city.

In retrospect I realise she was so afraid for us her children. In later years when I had my own children I would think back to these terrible times and only guess at her agony of mind and her fear for us her three children.

One day the lady next door said they were going away for a little while and as their shelter was a bit more comfortable than ours we could use it if we wanted to. So that evening off we all went with all the paraphernalia that was needed to take down the shelter with us, i.e. flasks of hot drinks, candles, matches, a torch etc, not forgetting the gas masks of course, making our way into next door’s garden and their shelter. When the door was closed we were completely sealed in and it was padded out so the noise wasn’t so horrendous. When we were settled later on and it was time to try to get some sleep dad blew out the candles. Fortunately for us my brother started to cry and complained of tummy ache so dad tried to re-light the candles but they just wouldn’t light. It was a few seconds before my dad realized they wouldn’t light because there was no air coming into the shelter. We got out of there pretty quickly and made our way back to our own shelter. But for Brian, my little brother, we could have all suffocated.

We next tried the cinema at the end of our road — I remember it was called “The Tower” — they had cellars underneath that were opened to the public at night to use as a shelter. We had quite a job to get somewhere to sit. They had these wooden benches covering the floor space and mum tried to make up beds for us children underneath these benches on the floor. We didn’t hear the noise so much but to my mother’s disgust a few of the older men sitting nearby every so often would spit on the floor quite close to where we lay. We were only there one night my mum wouldn’t go back again.

The next night mum dragged us all to the underground railway, the Oval at Kennington, the trains were not running at night and people made up their beds on the platforms. We thought we were early but when we got down there we had to step over bodies trying to find somewhere for ourselves. We had to give up as there was no room and we went back to our own shelter again. We heard later on that just after we had left the Oval a bomb was dropped at the entrance. Our guardian angel must have been watching over us that night.

My parents decided that we children should be evacuated as so many of the children were. Mum sewed our names in all our clothes and off we went to the railway station, I can’t remember which one it was, probably Euston, where daily trains would come in and children were packed in, gas masks around their necks, saying their goodbyes to parents left standing on the platforms. At the last minute mum couldn’t let us go — what a decision for a parent to have to make, not knowing where your child was going and if they would be treated well and looked after properly. This was probably just as well since my mum wanted my older sister to go too in order to keep an eye on us. This would not have worked of course for one she was seventeen and for another when the children got to their destination families were more often than not split up. My mum didn’t know this at the time though. So once again we all went back home.

I remember one morning in particular, we hadn’t been up from the shelter for long from the night before and the wail of the siren started up again. My mum and dad sent us children straight back to the shelter. Incidentally we had a dog called Trixie and as soon as she heard the siren she would make straight for the shelter, she was always in first. Anyway, the raid started almost before the siren had ended and bombs were dropping about us and our sister and parents were trapped in the house, they dived under the kitchen table for some protection. We children and our dog clung together praying that the rest of our family would be safe in the house but we both thought that they would surely die.

By this time my mother was so distraught she begged my father to give up his job so we could all move away from London together as a family. We had endured months of these terrible raids. My father was a milkman with the United Dairies and he would come home from work in a terrible state, collapsing into a chair and burying his face in his hands and really cry, at the same time trying to tell us how he had gone to deliver milk to his customers in the East end of London only to find whole streets wiped out and people he had known for years, laughed with, had cups of tea with, were all killed or made homeless their houses just smouldering rubble.

One night Brian had a very high temperature, he was prone to fits when he was a young child, my mum wouldn’t leave the house for the shelter in case it did him some harm so we all huddled under the stairs for some protection.

Later on that night the air raid warden knocked on all the doors in our road informing us that we had to get out of our homes because it was believed a land mine had been dropped at the end of our road. Mum would not leave, she said that if our number was up, so be it. She was not going to take Brian outside. Fortunately for us it turned out not to be a land mine after all just an unexploded bomb which was eventually defused by the bomb squad.

After this my dad did not need any persuading to leave London, he was ready to go. But where to! My sister Doris had a boyfriend called Ron who had been deferred from the armed forces because he was an electrician and had been sent by his firm to Stoke-on-Trent where he was engaged in electrical work at a munitions factory. He got us rooms in a house in Boughey Road, Shelton where he was also lodging.

The day we actually left our home in London is one I shall never forget because of the trauma and upheaval this move caused us. My mother had a boarder called John living with us and I remember him very clearly. He was always very kind to us children. He was a pharmacist and we thought of him as an adoptive uncle. He promised to take care of our dog and all our belongings until we could send for them. We also had a cat called Tibby and we all loved her very much but she was old and no one else wanted her so we had to say goodbye and sadly dad took her to be put to sleep. We also had a rabbit, pure white she was and so sweet. What a wrench to have to part with her as well, particularly for Brian who was only six at the time and he thought the world of her. We gave the rabbit away to friends who promised faithfully to look after her.

We packed everything we could carry of course and we were finally ready to go. All our neighbours came out to say goodbye and wish us luck with promises to keep an eye on our house and especially the dog. When I think back now, what wonderful neighbours they were, later on in my story they all rallied round and helped John with the removal of our furniture and belongings including Trixie, our dog. Anyway we eventually left and caught a bus taking us to Euston Station to catch the train for Stoke-on-Trent. As the bus moved slowly along Peckham High Street we heard the wail of the siren and the drone overhead of enemy aircraft. All of a sudden we heard an explosion and everything seemed to shake; we later heard that a bomb had been dropped not far behind us, if this had happened a few minutes earlier we would probably have been killed.

We arrived at Euston Station shaken but all in one piece and stood on the platform with our suitcases around our feet waiting for the train to take us out of the misery of living in wartime London which was once our home. The train was late and when it did arrive it was packed mostly with service men. We had to sit on our cases in the corridor of the train and we moved very slowly forward out of London and towards the Midlands. It was a terrible journey, the train kept stopping for no reason that we could see. It seemed to us children that we were on that train for hours. We finally arrived very tired and despondent and set foot for the first time on Stoke Station. We were met by Ron, Doris’s boyfriend. It’s such a long time ago now over sixty years, I cannot remember how we got from the station to Boughey Road, perhaps we walked. Anyway we arrived eventually and found that our landlady was very nice and very welcoming. We had the front bedroom upstairs, it contained a double bed which Brian and I shared with mum and dad and a camp bed at the foot of the double bed for Doris. We were okay with this arrangement since we had all been cramped together in the shelter in London. It was wonderful to be able to go to bed and go to sleep, what bliss! We did of course hear the siren some nights but we ignored it and stayed in bed, after what we had experienced the raids here were mild. There had been bombs dropped here locally before we arrived. The Royal Infirmary was hit and also a house in Richmond Street, Hartshill, I think it was Richmond Street anyway.

My mother, after a lot of tramping about in the Potteries, finally found a house in Princes Road, Hartshill which had not been lived in for ten years. In those days houses were all rented, no one bought a house, unless you were well off anyway. My poor mother had to scrub that house several times before we could move into it because of all the grime that had accumulated over the years. We had no choice really, we had to have this house, no other landlord would rent to us because we were from London and it was believed that Londoners did not stay long in the Potteries it was too quiet for them! Everything was so hard to get in wartime, when we moved in we had no electric or gas, we had to use candles for light and in the kitchen was a black leaded fireplace with an oven at the side which mum had to use until we could get a cooker. We did get an electric cooker eventually but if it had not been for Ron, who also came to live with us, we would not have been able to use it because the electricity board had no one they could send to install it. Ron fixed all our electricity problems, we were very lucky. Getting coal to heat such a large house was a very big problem, we burnt anything we could on that fire and in the evenings we all sat huddled together round it. We couldn’t get curtain material so we had to have black paper up at all the window because of the blackout.

The day when the removal van with all our furniture and best of all our dog eventually arrived was wonderful. The removal man wanted to buy Trixie from us he couldn’t get over how good she had been on the journey, never attempting to run away. She knew he was bringing her to us because she was with all our furniture and belongings in the van. We never went back to London after the war but made our home permanently in Stoke-on-Trent.

I would like to say to all those people in London and other towns who were so cruelly bombed how much I admire them for sticking it out. They were a lot braver than we were.

Written by Rita on 4 December 2003

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

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:

Images in Southwark

See historic images relating to this area:

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