Bombs dropped in the ward of: East Walworth
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in East Walworth:
- High Explosive Bomb
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in East Walworth
Read people's stories relating to this area:
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.
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.
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.
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 1
My name is Reg Yates. I lived in London at Canning Town, London E.16 and Plaistow E.13 during WW2, going to Beckton Road Junior and Rosetta Road Schools except for my periods as an evacuee to Bath during September to Christmas 1939,then Cropredy May 1940 - July 1942.
I then worked at A. Bedwells, Barking Road delivering groceries for the rest of the war.
I'm still alive and kicking! Anyone remember me?
A Community Coming Together
War clouds came and we had to dig a big hole in each garden at least three and a half feet deep, at least six feet wide and roughly eight feet long depending on the size of the family using it, an awesome task. All the neighbours pooled resources and after about two months hard work most houses had a hole and had the Anderson Shelter erected to the supplied instructions. We had to make sure the rear exit worked properly. Two-tier bunk beds 2 x 6 feet one side and one other bunk bed and two chairs were there along with a bucket for the toilet and a bucket of water to drink. We never knew how long we would have to stay in there. During The Blitz we had to stay all night.
The shelters proved to be a godsend as they survived everything except a direct hit. They survived near misses and houses falling on top of them. People came out shaken but alive. They were worth their weight in gold.
There was another shelter built to fix over the kitchen table, steel top and legs for people who could get underneath in an emergency. Safe from falling masonry, it was called a Morrison Shelter after Lord Morrison a Labour Lord at the time.
I started smoking about this time. I could buy five woodbines and a box of matches for two pence, boys will be boys. I also remember going on an errand for my Dad, I had to take a letter to a house in Wanlip Road, Plaistow and she had tiles on the walk up from the gate to front door. She went ballistic because I dared to skate up to her front door. She made me take them off whilst she wrote a note to my Dad saying what a cheeky so and so I was for skating up to her door and that if I came again I would have to walk to teach me a lesson.
There were plenty of rumours about kids having to get evacuated very soon and on 1st September 1939 we were transported to Paddington Station and put on a train to the country.
We all had to say goodbye to our parents at school after they tied a label around our necks with name, date of birth, religion and which school we were from. So just after my eleventh birthday I said goodbye to Beckton Road School for the first time and landed up in the old city of Bath in Somerset.
Evacuated For The First Time
It was only two weeks after my eleventh birthday when we arrived at Bath Junction signal box, and someone said “just the thing for you kids from the smoke, a bloody great bath.” I didn’t realise what he meant until years later!
I was sent to a place called Walcott in Bath, and I was sent to a Mr & Mrs Pierce who to my eyes, were quite old looking. However, they were very nice people and looked after me very well.
They had a middle-aged navvy with whom I shared a bedroom, and our own beds I’m glad to say. I remember him getting dressed for work, hobnail boots, corduroy trousers and he tied about nine inches of car tyres around his kneecaps. He had a walrus moustache and looked a fearsome bloke to look at, but was a gentle chap really.
My two sisters were evacuated to a house just around the corner up a steep hill. Doris was eight years old and Joyce was thirteen and a half. They stayed with nice people who had two girls of their own of about eight to ten years of age. We all went to the local school along with about forty other kids from London.
We all had to sing a hymn ‘For those in peril on the sea.’ Just before Christmas we lost an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, with great loss of life and most of the sailors came from the West Country. The local rag had pages and pages of photos of those lost on the carrier.
Sometime in November 1939 I was playing a game called catch and kiss with some of the locals. This time they went along the road at the top of the hill. On one corner was a grocers shop, which had a wall with big white letters, “we sell Hovis bread”. What I didn’t know at that moment was that the police had very recently made the shopkeeper black it out as it could be seen from an aeroplane.
Running at full pelt, I ran straight into it thinking it was the turning. I was in hospital for three weeks. When I started school again, I could not see the teachers’ writing on the board.
At the end of December our Mum came to Bath to see us, and after saying goodbye to my sisters and all the other kids, she took me back to London so I could have treatment for my eyes. I had damaged my optic nerve and have worn glasses ever since.
Joyce came home in February 1940 when she was fourteen, but Doris stayed there until just before the end of the war in 1945.
Christmas and New Year came and went, 1940 began and the war was getting worse. I think rationing was introduced about now and some foods were already becoming scarce. Cigarette cards disappeared from packets to save paper and you couldn’t buy pickles loose in a basket.
A couple of weeks went by and the time came to go back to school. Nothing much changed as most children who got evacuated the previous September were still away, but a few more seemed to come back every weekend.
The Beckton Road School was taken over by The National Fire Service, a first aid post and umpteen other things so they found the kids another school called Rosetta Road (off Freemasons Road) that was built of wood and all on one level after the First World War when all the servicemen came home.
Council workmen had dug some slit trenches just in case of an air raid but they looked useless to me, because if it rained it would be like running into a mud bath.
There was some talk about kids having to leave London again and come May it proved to be true and about seventy of us from this school were sent to Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Later in 1942 Mum and Dad moved to Wigston Road that was the next turning. Most people had moved because of the bombing.
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 3
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.
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.
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.
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
Contributed originally by BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK (BBC WW2 People's War)
"I'm a cockney born in Kingsbury Road near the Ball's Pond Road in the East End in 1937, so I was like 4, 5 and 6 when all this happened. I went to a Catholic School and during the Blitz when the air-raid sirens went, we'd get under the table and our teacher would say 'now you've got to pray' so we all prayed until the all-clear went.
One morning at 3, my mum's sister cam in and said 'there's a big bomb dropped near the old lady's house - that's what we called my gran - but she said she's all right. We rushed down the road and saw that a bomb had dropped on a school. I'll never forget, there wasn't a window left in none of the houses around. We went into a schoolhouse, the door was wide open, and there was blind man upstairs which they got our early; the whole ceiling had come down on him. We went into the kitchen and there was only about three bits of plaster left. The plaster round the rose on the ceiling was about the only bit left. I asked the blind man if he was okay and he said 'yeah' so I made him a cup of tea. We was lucky because if that bomb had dropped at three o'clock in the afternoon it would have killed all the kids.
I'll never forget this, the front door swung open and a fireman stood there. He said 'Everyone all right?' and one of the women said, well, I can't say what she said, but to the effect of 'that xxxxx Hitler can't kill me!'
We lived off the Ridley Road at the time and during one of the air raids one night, everyone went down the shelters and my dad said to me "Want to watch the airplanes?' My mum said 'That's not a good idea', anyway, he put me on his shoulders and we stood in the doorway and watched the dog-fights overhead. And I tell you, when them German planes got caught in the headlights, they had a hell of a job to get out. Anyway, the morning after these raids, all us kids'd go out collecting shrapnel from the shells, I had a great big box of the stuff.
Was I scared? Only when I was in bed at night and the air-raid warning went. When you're asleep and you suddenly woke, you didn’t' know what was happening so it was pretty frightening. At that age, you didn't know what air raids were all about. Some of the time I slept in the cupboard under the stairs and it felt a bit safer there.
One day, I went round to the corner to my aunt's house and she was sitting by the window when there was an air-raid warning. Inside the window where she was sitting was a table with a statue on it. They told her to come in away from the window. I'll never forget this, there was a bomb blast, the window come in and the statue toppled off the table and onto the floor. If she hadn't have moved, she'd have been covered with flying glass.
My dad didn't go in the army, because he was wanted on the railways. He took me down the dog racing one day at Hackney Wick. This flying bomb - a doodle-bug it was - suddenly appeared over us. You could see every detail of it. We all ran. It went right across the track and dropped in a field somewhere.
One day a landmine dropped near us in Kingsbury Road and didn't go off. A fellow came down from the Bomb Disposal unit, to try to disconnect it and he got killed. Opposite us there was a block of flats and they named it after him - Ketteridge Court.
I was evacuated for a little time, to Kettering, but I don't remember much about it, only that I didn't like it. I'd have to ask my mum about it. She's 100 but still remembers everything.
Me and my family are Pearly Kings and Queens and we do a lot of charity work, entertaining with music and the old cockney songs and that (Phone 020 8556 5971). We are now the biggest 'Pearly' family, made up mostly of the Hitchins (my mum's family name) in Hoxton, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Clapton, Shoredich, Hommerton, Dalston, City of London, Westminster, Victoria, Islington and Stoke Newington. "
Contributed originally by joanstyan (BBC WW2 People's War)
We were utterly exhausted most of the time as we were continually confined to a communal air raid shelter at night, especially during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941. Strangely enough my brother Ken, sister Margaret and I experienced a mixture of fear from the bombs, together with the excitement of being able to stay up each night in the shelter with other families. With our mother we used to take our cheese sandwiches (which always seemed scrumptious) and Smiths crisps containing little blue bags of salt, together with a bottle of Tizer in the shelter and have midnight feasts with the other children which was exciting and alleviated some of the fear. We got very little sleep on our hard bunk beds, but no one did as we were usually woken up by the screaming, wailing air raid siren. We only had candles in the shelter so it was dimly lit and also damp and musty. The boy on the bunk below me, Sidney, complained that I was always dropping lumps of cheese from my sandwiches on to his bunk which he strongly objected to as he loathed cheese. Later in the war, sometimes at night when the air raid siren sounded, neighbours came along and bedded down in our hall. There was one man who always wore his tin helmet and Ken and I could never stop giggling about it. All the poor man was trying to do was to be prepared and to protect himself in an emergency but it was a huge joke to us. One night there was a bomb which exploded very near to us, the blast of which shattered a number of our windows. The heavy fanlight over the hall door became dislodged and was hanging on its side only a few feet from where Ken was sleeping. He had a lucky escape and may well have been glad to wear the man's tin helmet after all!
When the dreaded air raid siren sounded suddenly wafting through the air, screeching out its deafening high and low wailing, warning sounds, we were full of fear and trepidation. Wherever we were, we immediately stopped what we were doing, snatched up our few belongings if they were nearby and dashed to the nearest air raid shelter, wondering if we would ever come out alive. It was a nightmare for my mother having 3 young children to worry about all the time. There were 3 types of air raid shelter. Those which were concrete or brick-built and were outside for the public, the corrugated, galvanised iron Anderson shelter which was partially sunk in people's gardens away from the house, and the Morrison which was like a steel box indoors.
We lived through the London Blitz in 1940 and 1941 and many nights we went through hell with fires blazing and bombs raining down. The sky was continually lit by the glare of the fires, some of which were caused by incendiary bombs which had been extinguished by stirrup pumps. Air raid wardens were equipped with these for such an emergency. Also searchlights illuminated the sky. The wail of the air raid sirens and the drone of enemy aircraft, the bang bang of the anti-aircraft batteries and the shrill whistles blown by the Air raid wardens were deafening. Many people were left homeless and exhausted and often experienced long term shock. They used to pick their way through debris after a raid and had nowhere to go. Dazed families were accommodated in rest centres, in school buildings and church halls all of which were staffed by volunteers. However, despite all the adversity, people relentlessly soldiered on. We were all in it together and helped each other whenever we could. We had one thing in common and that was the will to survive which was all that mattered. Although tea, like almost everything else, was rationed, there were endless cups of tea to soothe shattered nerves.
Bombs continued to rain down, criss-crossing searchlights lit up the sky at night and the anti-aircraft fire was fearsome. Firemen and air raid wardens did what they could to protect the city. Large balloons appeared in the sky which were called barrage balloons. They were elongated, grey shapes like inflated elephants attached to thick wire ropes to trap unwary, low flying enemy aircraft. In 1942, all railings in front of houses and surrounding parks were removed for their metal to be used for ships and tanks. There were strict blackout precautions and windows were taped against damage from splintered glass and, on the ground floor of large buildings, windows and doorways were protected by walls of sandbags. Also, there was no street lighting or friendly lights from windows and we were forced to use torches. There were blackout curfews after dark, which caused many accidents, but the blackout was an air raid precaution and saved many lives. During the long, dark ,winter nights it was an absolute nightmare. We lived very near to Clapham Junction station, a major railway system, which was bombed continuously but despite the desolation it was like a cat and had 9 lives and managed to continue limping along.
Nothing was like the onslaught on London when they repeatedly dropped their tonnage of destruction and bombs fell incessantly resulting in relentless nights and days of terror and hell.
We Londoners bravely responded to the onslaught of London with defiant good humour. 'Jerry' (one of our nicknames for the Germans), 'will never get the last laugh over us.' was our taut reply, and they definitely did not. We were not labelled the 'Bulldog Breed' for nothing. We were in a permanent state of alert and were constantly living under a cloud of violent death but despite the ferocity of the relentless raids we survived even though utter exhaustion clung to us day and night.
There were many horrifying experiences but the noise of the VI flying bombs will haunt me forever. This was one of Hitler's secret weapons and was first launched in 1944. It was called a flying bomb, a doodlebug or a buzz bomb. It was essentially a pilotless plane packed with explosives whose rocket engine cut out over the target area so it glided to the ground and exploded. The gliding and cut-out mechanisms used were crude, but a large number still fell on London despite the fact that the RAF bombed some of the launching sites and also shot many down over the English Channel. Their engines made a distinct roaring sound which I shall never forget. One could hear them approaching from a distance and as the droning became louder and louder we were more terrified by the second. It was even more devastating when the noise stopped and there was an uncanny stillness whilst we held our breath. This I can remember so well. We had no option but to sit there helplessly in the shelter and pray whilst waiting for the noise to stop and a deathly silence prevailed. Were we destined to die that night? We were terrified if the engine cut out before it was overhead since that meant the flying bomb would glide and probably hit us. If it stopped directly overhead, we knew we were relatively safe, because it would continue for a couple of miles before crashing to the ground. Finally when it landed with an immense explosion, we all felt a great relief that it wasn't us this time, but a tremendous sadness for the poor victims that were involved.
Eventually the all-clear siren sounded which was a steady tone and the sweetest sound on earth. We were free again and dashed out of the shelter to see who the unfortunate victims were and if we could help them. There was utter chaos verywhere. Houses were completely demolished, others had walls that had collapsed with furniture leaning at bizarre angles from upstairs rooms. Glass was missing from all the windows, and even houses half a mile away from the blast had lost chimneys and tiles. Pavements were littered with tiles, glass and bricks. The slaughter created maximum terror with massive explosions resulting in shrapnel and debris falling all around us. It was pitiful what we repeatedly saw which we will never forget as there were so many sad and sickening sights. We lived near to the mainline railway station of Clapham Junction, a major German target, which was constantly attacked to disrupt the rail transportation system of the country. Ken and his friends spent a lot of time collecting shrapnel from exploded bombs which many boys did including Peter my husband. Ken also gathered wood from bomb-sites to make stilts and carts (to which he added wheels and an orange-box) and chopped some of it up to make little bundles which he sold for firewood.
My brother managed to avoid being hit by a doodle-bug when he couldn't get to a shelter in time after the air raid siren had sounded. He and his friend, who were in the street, saw it coming towards them and suddenly a man grabbed them from behind and flung them down on the pavement behind a wall. There was a tremendous explosion as it landed in the nearby cemetery with debris everywhere, he was terrified. Another time, he was in a swimming pool when the siren sounded and all the swimmers dashed upstairs to safety. There was a terrific explosion and the glass roof shattered and fell directly on to the pool. It was a miracle that they were not still in the pool. The bomb had fallen at the nearby Clapham Junction railway station and one of Ken's friends, who was helping in a local butcher's shop was killed. Ken immediately dashed home as we lived near the station and he was very worried about my mother, but despite the fact that she was in shock, fortunately she wasn't hurt.
My father was serving in the Royal Navy on the guns of HMS Warspite on convoys to Iceland and Russia. He experienced some bitter battles but when he came home on leave to see us in London, he always said that he would sooner be fighting for his country in the Navy than be poor helpless civilians like us just praying that we would be safe and being unable to do little to defend ourselves. All we had was faith and hope.
Unlike the doodle-bugs, the V2 rockets which came afterwards streaked stealthily across the sky without warning. There were no wailing air raid sirens to terrify us and although we were completely unprepared, we were spared the dreaded anticipation of another bombing raid. However, on reflection, it was better to be prepared as we could at least find a nearby air raid shelter for protection. Also when the all-clear siren was sounded we knew that we could probably safely carry on with our lives until the next air raid.
One V2 rocket experience which I can remember vividly was sitting in the local cinema with my friend Rita and like everyone else were completely absorbed in the film. Quite suddenly, a massive V2 rocket fell just behind the cinema and there was a huge blue flash from the screen which collapsed and the entire cinema was shrouded in choking, blinding smoke and debris. As it was a V2 rocket we had no warning and if it had been a few yards nearer, the cinema would have got a direct hit. The noise was deafening and was coupled with the screams from the audience in their shock and panic to escape. We all crowded to the emergency exits which were flung open and we eventually staggered out into the clean, fresh air. We were breathless from the choking smoke and also from blinding fear. Did I hear a voice in the distance calling "Joan", or was I dreaming? Yes, it was my mother's desperate voice screaming "Joan, Joan, where's my Joan." She knew that I had gone to the local cinema, the Granada, and heard the massive explosion. She dashed out of her house immediately and, to her horror, saw the cinema shrouded in smoke. As we lived nearby she didn't have far to run and finally found me amongst the devastation and confusion. The sense of relief was utterly indescribable.
However, we did get used to continual reprisals including the V2 rockets, as a familiar scene which we saw, when we walked to school each morning, was distraught residents in utter turmoil clawing at the wreckage of their homes which were destroyed the previous night and clutching their pathetic belongings but at least they were still alive.
Our neighbour, Mrs Greenaway, a quiet lady who had a husband who was on a night-shift at the Tate and Lyle sugar factory at Wandsworth, had a very sad experience. One night when he was at the factory, it was hit by a V2 rocket and everyone was killed. As this was a V2 rocket there was no air raid warning and his wife knew absolutely nothing about this until the next morning when she heard some women talking about it in the queue at the local butchers. They said that Tate and Lyle had had a direct hit in the night and she immediately dashed over there on the bus, a distance of about 2 miles, only to find that it had been completely demolished. She staggered about desperately on the rubble until a policeman came over to her and asked her what she was doing. She explained that she was looking for her husband and was told that tragically there were no survivors. She was so helpless and, in utter shock, blindly found her way home. She must have been completely overwrought which resulted in her immediately gassing herself without even stopping to think about it. Her 12 year old daughter Joan discovered her body on returning home from school that day. Sadly when she left for school in the morning, she thought that both her parents were alive. Poor distraught Joan had no alternative but to go and live with her devastated grandparents. This was one of the many tragic statistics of the war. Another one was when I was at school and my art teacher, Mr Carpenter, went home for lunch one day which he did regularly, only to find that his house had been bombed and his wife and young son had been killed. Such was the misery of war.
Huge crowds sought safety and invaded the London Underground every night having claimed an early pitch in the afternoon. They slept with their clothes on, clutching family documents including their identity cards and personal treasures. The Underground at night was a massive picnic with rows of men, women and children all huddled together eating and drinking tea and soft drinks. The air was always stale and there was often a stench of smoke and brick dust in the air which was frequented by mosquitoes. Apart from this however, my mother strongly objected to sleeping in the Underground for fear of being trapped. In the Underground station at Balham which was a few miles from Clapham Junction, over 600 people were killed and maimed from a bomb and some were suffocated in their panic and struggle to get out.
Although London was continually bombed day and night and all we ever heard was people saying: "Poor old London copped it again last night. ", other large cities suffered too but not so relentlessly. Nevertheless I was a Londoner and was proud of the spirit that pervaded the city day and night. In those dark days people determinedly got on with life despite the continuous doom and gloom. Life was grim and heartbreaking and the hardship was extremely severe. Despite Hitler's obsession to ultimately invade Great Britain which was only 22 miles across the Channel, it didn't materialise. How different our lives would have been today if the Germans had succeeded in invading our island.
There were horrendous battles on land, sea and in the air and our losses were disastrous, but despite the terrible degradation, we triumphed against all the odds. I can remember us all anxiously crowding around our radios each night when we could, to listen to the news bulletins at 9.pm on the BBC Home Service which constantly kept us in touch although, most of the time, the news was unnervingly daunting. Sir Winston Churchill was our great inspiration and we all anxiously awaited his stirring broadcasts to the nation.