Bombs dropped in the ward of: Bethnal Green North
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Bethnal Green North:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Bethnal Green North
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by kenyaines (BBC WW2 People's War)
Sporadic air-raids went on all through 1943, but as Autumn came, bringing the dark evenings with it, the "Little Blitz" started, with plenty of bombs falling in our area and I got my first real experience of NFS work.
There were Air-Raids every night, though never on the scale of 1940/41.
By now, my own School, St. Olave's, had re-opened at Tower Bridge with a skeleton staff of Masters, as about a hundred boys had returned to London.
I was glad to go back to my own school, and I no longer had to cycle all the way to Lewisham every day.
Part of the School Buildings had been taken over by the NFS as a Sub-Station for 37 Fire Area, the one next to ours, so luckily none of the Firemen knew me, and I kept quiet about my evening activities in School. I didn't think the Head would be too pleased if he found out I was an NFS Messenger.
The Air-Raids usually started in the early evening, and were mostly over by midnight.
We had a few nasty incidents in the area, but most of them were just outside our patch. If we were around though, even off-duty. Sid and I would help the Rescue Men if we could, usually forming part of the chain passing baskets of rubble down from the highly skilled diggers doing the rescue, and sometimes helping to get the walking wounded out. They were always in a state of shock, and needed comforting until the Ambulances came.
One particular incident that I can never forget makes me smile to myself and then want to cry.
One night, Sid and I were riding home from the Station. It was quiet, but the Alert was still on, as the All-Clear hadn't sounded yet.
As we neared home, Searchlights criss-crossed in the sky, there was the sound of AA-Guns and Plane engines. Then came a flash and the sound of a large explosion ahead of us towards the river, followed by the sound of receding gunfire and airplane engines. It was probably a solitary plane jettisoning it's bombs and running for home.
We instinctively rode towards the cloud of smoke visible in the moonlight in front of us.
When we got to Jamaica Road, the main road running parallel with the river, we turned towards the part known as Dockhead, on a sharp bend of the main road, just off which Dockhead Fire-Station was located.
Arrived there, we must have been among the first on the scene. There was a big hole in the road cutting off the Tram-Lines, and a loud rushing noise like an Express-Train was coming from it. The Fire-Station a few hundred yards away looked deserted. All the Appliances must have been out on call.
As we approached the crater, I realised that the sound we heard was running water, and when we joined the couple of ARP Men looking down into it, I was amazed to see by the light from the Warden's Lantern, a huge broken water-main with water pouring from it and cascading down through shattered brickwork into a sewer below.
Then we heard a shout: "Help! over here!"
On the far side of the road, right on the bend away from the river, stood an RC Convent. It was a large solid building, with very small windows facing the road, and a statue of Our Lady in a niche on the wall. It didn't look as though it had suffered very much on the outside, but the other side of the road was a different story.
The blast had gone that way, and the buildings on the main road were badly damaged.
A little to the left of the crater as we faced it was Mill Street, lined with Warehouses and Spice Mills, it led down to the River. Facing us was a terrace of small cottages at a right angle to the main road, approached by a paved walk-way. These had taken the full force of the blast, and were almost demolished. This was where the call for help had come from.
We dashed over to find a Warden by the remains of the first cottage.
"Listen!" He said. After a short silence we heard a faint sob come from the debris. Luckily for the person underneath, the blast had pushed the bulk of the wreckage away from her, and she wasn't buried very deeply.
We got to work to free her, moving the debris by hand, piece by piece, as we'd learnt that was the best way. A ceiling joist and some broken floorboards lying across her upper parts had saved her life by getting wedged and supporting the debris above.
When we'd uncovered most of her, we used a large lump of timber as a lever and held the joist up while the Warden gently eased her out.
I looked down on a young woman around eighteen or so. She was wearing a check skirt that was up over her body, showing all her legs. She was covered in dust but definitely alive. Her eyes opened, and she sat up suddenly. A look of consternation crossed her face as she saw three grimy chaps in Tin-Hats looking down on her, and she hurriedly pulled her skirt down over her knees.
I was still holding the timber, and couldn't help smiling at the Girl's first instinct being modesty. I felt embarassed, but was pleased that she seemed alright, although she was obviously in shock.
At that moment we heard the noise of activity behind us as the Rescue Squad and Ambulances arrived.
A couple of Ambulance Girls came up with a Stretcher and Blankets.
They took charge of the Young Lady while we followed the Warden and Rescue Squad to the next Cottage.
The Warden seemed to know who lived in the house, and directed the Rescue Men, who quickly got to work. We mucked in and helped, but I must confess, I wish I hadn't, for there we saw our most sickening sight of the War.
I'd already seen many dead and injured people in the Blitz, and was to see more when the Doodle-Bugs and V2 Rockets started, but nothing like this.
The Rescue Men located someone buried in the wreckage of the House. We formed our chain of baskets, and the debris round them was soon cleared.
To my horror, we'd uncovered a Woman face down over a large bowl There was a tiny Baby in the muddy water, who she must have been bathing. Both of them were dead.
We all went silent. The Rescue Men were hardened to these sights, and carried on to the next job once the Ambulance Girls came, but Sid and I made our excuses and left, I felt sick at heart, and I think Sid felt the same. We hardly said a word to each other all the way home.
I suppose that the people in those houses had thought the raid was over and left their shelter, although by now many just ignored the sirens and got on with their business, fatalistically taking a chance.
The Grand Surrey Canal ran through our district to join the Thames at Surrey Docks Basin, and the NFS had commandeered the house behind a Shop on Canal Bridge, Old Kent Road, as a Sub-Station.
We had a Fire-Barge moored on the Canal outside with four Trailer-Pumps on board.
The Barge was the powered one of a pair of "Monkey Boats" that once used to ply the Canals, carrying Goods. It had a big Thornycroft Marine-Engine.
I used to do a duty there now and again, and got to know Bob, the Leading-Fireman who was in-charge, quite well. His other job was at Barclays Brewery in Southwark.
He allowed me to go there on Sunday mornings when the Crew exercised with the Barge on the Canal.
It was certainly something different from tearing along the road on a Fire-Engine.
One day, I reported there for duty, and found that the Navy had requisitioned the engine from the Barge. I thought they must have been getting desperate, but with hindsight, I expect it was needed in the preparations for D-Day.
Apparently, the orders were that the Crew would tow the Barge along the Tow-path by hand when called out, but Bob, who was ex-Navy, had an idea.
He mounted a Swivel Hose-Nozzle on the Stern of the Barge, and one on the Bow, connecting them to one of the Pumps in the Hold. When the water was turned on at either Nozzle, a powerful jet of water was directed behind the Barge, driving it forward or backward as necessary, and Bob could steer it by using the Swivel.
This worked very well, and the Crew never had to tow the Barge by hand. It must have been the first ever Jet-Propelled Fire-Boat
We had plenty to do for a time in the "Little Blitz". The Germans dropped lots of Containers loaded with Incediary Bombs. These were known as "Molotov Breadbaskets," don't ask me why!
Each one held hundreds of Incendiaries. They were supposed to open and scatter them while dropping, but they didn't always open properly, so the bombs came down in a small area, many still in the Container, and didn't go off.
A lot of them that hit the ground properly didn't go off either, as they were sabotaged by Hitler's Slave-Labourers in the Bomb Factories at risk of death or worse to themselves if caught. Some of the detonators were wedged in off-centre, or otherwise wrongly assembled.
The little white-metal bombs were filled with magnesium powder, they were cone-shaped at the top to take a push-on fin, and had a heavy steel screw-in cap at the bottom containing the detonator, These Magnesium Bombs were wicked little things and burned with a very hot flame. I often came across a circular hole in a Pavement-Stone where one had landed upright, burnt it's way right through the stone and fizzled out in the clay underneath.
To make life a bit more hazardous for the Civil Defence Workers, Jerry had started mixing explosive Anti-Personnel Incendiaries amonst the others. Designed to catch the unwary Fire-Fighter who got too close, they could kill or maim. But were easily recogniseable in their un-detonated state, as they were slightly longer and had an extra band painted yellow.
One of these "Molotov Breadbaskets" came down in the Playground of the Paragon School, off New Kent Road, one evening. It had failed to open properly and was half-full of unexploded Incendiaries.
This School was one of our Sub-Stations, so any small fires round about were quickly dealt with.
While we were up there, Sid and I were hoping to have a look inside the Container, and perhaps get a souvenir or two, but UXB's were the responsibility of the Police, and they wouldn't let us get too near for fear of explosion, so we didn't get much of a look before the Bomb-Disposal People came and took it away.
One other macabre, but slightly humorous incident is worthy of mention.
A large Bomb had fallen close by the Borough Tube Station Booking Hall when it was busy, and there were many casualties. The lifts had crashed to the bottom so the Rescue Men had a nasty job.
On the opposite corner, stood the premises of a large Engineering Company, famous for making screws, and next door, a large Warehouse.
The roof and upper floors of this building had collapsed, but the walls were still standing.
A WVS Mobile Canteen was parked nearby, and we were enjoying a cup of tea with the Rescue Men, who'd stopped for a break, when a Steel-Helmeted Special PC came hurrying up to the Squad-Leader.
"There's bodies under the rubble in there!"
He cried, his face aghast. as he pointed to the warehouse "Hasn't anyone checked it yet?"
The Rescue Man's face broke into a broad smile.
"Keep your hair on!" He said. "There's no people in there, they all went home long before the bombs dropped. There's plenty of dead meat though, what you saw in the rubble were sides of bacon, they were all hanging from hooks in the ceiling. It's a Bacon Warehouse."
The poor old Special didn't know where to put his face. Still, he may have been a stranger to the district, and it was dark and dusty in there.
The "Little Blitz petered out in the Spring of 1944, and Raids became sporadic again.
With rumours of Hitler's Secret-Weapons around, we all awaited the next and final phase of our War, which was to begin in June, a week after D-Day, with the first of them to reach London and fall on Bethnal Green. The germans called it the V1, it was a jet-propelled pilotless flying-Bomb armed with 850kg of high-explosive, nicknamed the "Doodle-Bug".
To be Continued.
Contributed originally by lilianhenbrooks (BBC WW2 People's War)
In August 1935 my mother died of breast cancer. We lived in Dagenham at the time. She left my father, Frederick, my sister, Rose and me, Lilian. After she died we moved to Bethnal Green to be nearer family. My father was working and had found it difficult bringing us girls up by himself.
I was partially blind and went to the Daniel Street blind school but had always wanted to go to the school round the corner in Wilmot Street. My father was friendly with a lady called Ann and I knew her as Aunt Ann. She would make me tea after school. My father used to take her out a couple of times a week.
In 1939 my father and my friend, Beatty's parents, discussed sending Beatty and me to stay with Beatty's Aunty in Southport. Her surname was Chick. It was just before the start of the war and they thought it would be best for us. We packed up our things and were put on a train to Southport and told to look for the clock when we got to our destination and wait under it, where we would be picked up by Aunty, and we would recognise her because she would be wearing a brooch.
Well we got off the train and waited under the clock, as directed, which seemed to be along time, but we were determined not to move. The porter asked us in a broad Lancashire accent what we were doing. I replied, in my cockney accent, that we had been told to wait under the clock. He seemed satisfied with this and walked off. Eventually Aunty came and colected us and took us home. I went to an ordinary school in Southport then. After 7 months we returned to Bethnal Green.
We were back in London by 1940. I spent the next 2 months going to the school in Wilmot Street because troops were billeted at the blind school as the war had started by this time. This made me feel that I was the same as the other girls and I liked it there.
I was 12 years old and was about to be evacuated for the second time in June 1940. With father being at work all day it was thought best that I should go. Rose was older than me and working up town. Beatty was also older than me and had turned 14 years. She wanted to start work and wouldn't be coming along this time. A programme of evacuation had already started from London schools even though the Blitz had not begun at this time. Eventually though, many people started to return to London prematurely, thinking it was safe, only to be killed when the bombing started.
We all assembled in the school yard for 9.00 a.m. equipped with suitcase, gasmask and a numbered label on the lapel of our coats. Buses took us to King's Cross to await the trains. A few paretns did come to say goodbye and there was plenty of hugs and sobs. It was chaos at King's Cross with children and babies everywhere. Older ones in groups, babies in long prams. Officials everywhere checking numbers etc., but no one would say where we were going. It was rumourned Cornwall but no one was sure.
It was not until we reached Cardiff that we finally, after many questions, were told we were heading for Rhymney, Monmouthshire, S Wales. People didn't travel very much in those days, especially us East Enders, we thought of Wales as being another country. The thought of being so far away from home made even those that had not yet had a weep, cry. A friend of mine who was on the train, Susan Braithwaite. She had seven sisters and when she later got married in Bethnal Green all her sisters were bridesmaids. We kept in contact for a while when I moved to Leeds and then we stopped writing.
On the train also was another girl, called Phyllis, she was Jewish, she was crying and we got together for some comfort. Some of the other children were part of one family. They were saying that they were not going to be split up. Phyllis and I said that we would stick together and try to stay in the same house.
When we arrived at the station of Rhymney we were given hot cocoa drinks and biscuits by the ladies serving from trolleys on the platform and then off we set again. Two buses met us at the station to take us to a school. There we filed through a room where we were weighed, measured, examined for head lice and a spatula put over our tongues with mouths wide open and having to say "Ah"! Then into another classroom to be sorted out for accommodation. It wasn't possible for my new found friend and I to stay in the same house together, there just wasn't room but in the end we did get next door to each other.
At first I stayed with a couple called, Isaac Price and his wife and they lived in a one up one down miners cottage. They had a 16 year old daughter, called Alice. Isaac was on a regular night shift. I slept with Alice and Mrs Price slept in a single bed in an alcove of the bedroom. Before we went to bed for that first day we just had time for a snack. That first day had been a very long day. I laid in bed planning in my head, how I was going to get back to London even if I had to walk as I didn't want to stay in this strange place. People in the village were very kind and helpful and it all got better as the days went on.
The people I was staying with had another daughter who was returning home from service somewhere down South. There would be no room for me in the small house. Mrs Price's brother, Will, who was a widower, was getting married again very soon. It was arranged that I would move in with them straight after the wedding.
I moved in with them and they lived in a two bedroomed end terrace house with a back garden. I had a bedroom to myself and was so well looked after as if I was their own daughter. They had no family and I called them Uncle Will and Aunt Sally. He was a Baptist and she was a Congregationalist. They both carried on going to their respective churches. They went to church 3 times a day on a Sunday.
I used to go to Sunday school in the morning and then again with Aunt Sally and found myself singing in the choir with Aunt Sally. They had such lovely voices. There was also other things that I did at the Chapel during the week so my time was kep occupied.
One memorable Sunday there wasa terrific thunderstorm and we just couldn't leave the house for evening chapel. Hailstones thundered down like mothballs and lightening struck chimneys and roofs. We being the top house of the sloping street just had a couple of inches inside the house but below in the village centre hailstones were up to your waise and the mud washed down from the mountains ruined lots of homes. It was as bas as being bombed.
Saturday was the time to help out with the housework and I got 9d. and taken to the local cinema for the first house performance.
We went to school in a disused chapel and had equipment sent from London. We were separated from the Welsh children because of this and only came in contact with them after school when we met them in the street and played with them. We had been accompanied down to Wales by our own teachers, Mrs Meals and Miss Long. All ages joined in with all the lessons and we had good PE and both sexes played cricket and rounders etc., in the local park. Later our teachers had to go back to London and a Welshman took over. He went into the RAF later on.
When we were first evacuated some women and mothers came with us to Wales but later returned to London with their youngest children leaving the oldest in Wales.It was heard later that some of the families had been killed in the Blitz.
In December, 1940, my father died of pneumonia. A letter arrived for Mr & Mrs Price and my Uncle Will had to tell me
the bad news. He told me my father had gone to Jesus. I was in shock and couldn't believe it as I was very upset. I hadn't seen my father all the time I was in Wales, I loved my father. I yelled at him 'there is no Jesus'. I was bit hysterical and he slapped my face to calm me down.
I stayed for a further 6 months in Wales. I was in Rhymney about 18 months in all. My stay in Rhymney on the whole was a happy one and I was very fortunate to have such lovely people looking after me.
During the time I was in Wales my sister, Roase, had met her fiancee. He went through the awful experience of being at Dunkirk. He came from Leeds, West Yorkshire. Rose had met his family and had written to me to tell me about them and how they were willing to take me so that we could be together. They were also willing to look after Queenie, our Yorkshire Terrier. So later on in 1941 Rose took charge of me and came to collect me to take me to Leeds and I had to say farewell to my new found family in Rhymney. I eventually
settled down in Leeds where I made my home and had my own family, this being another story.
Contributed originally by Leicestershire Library Services - Blaby Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Mrs R. Baldwin. She fully understands the the site's terms and conditions.
We were a family of eight children living a simple life in a tied Miner’s house. Like all around us, the quality of life was poor and the five oldest children had left to seek a better life elsewhere.
When father died at the age of 41 I was just nine years old, considered to be quite bright at school, passed all my exams and qualified for a place at Grammar School. I thought I was on my way to better things but the stigma of being poor took a hand in my destiny. I was interviewed by a governing gentleman to assess my acceptability for such an honourable position as a student in a Grammar School. His first question shattered my morale; “what does your Father do”? he is dead Sir I replied, “well that does it then, your mother can not afford to buy you uniform and other things so you can’t go.
Mother was receiving just ten shillings at that time plus three shillings for each of the three girls and that was simply not enough for admission to grammar school. At one time, when there were some shoes for the very poor, the teacher asked “who needs new shoes”, of course I put my hand up only to be told “you can put your hand down, your mother gets a pension. However I did get a pair, some were left over and I went to the Town Hall to collect them. Left school at the age of fourteen and went to work as a Maid; four shillings a week less one shilling for Cap and Apron.
One day, whilst white washing a cellar where loads of apples were stored on shelves, I could not resist it, I stole one and hid it down the leg of my bloomers. Of course it was the largest one I could see and I suffered the rest of the day; what with the damned thing rubbing on my leg and the fear of it falling out the agony was unbearable. However, walking home across the fields and along the canal I decided to eat it. What a shock, one bite was enough, it was a very sour cooker and I threw it into the canal; all that agony and fear for nothing.
Mother had gone to Leicester to visit two of her daughters and I was staying with a married sister; I told her I was not going back to work there, wait till your mother comes home and you will cop it. Mother arrived and of course I shed some tears, not to worry she said, we are going to live in Leicester and I have found a job for you at Corahs.
Having visited Leicester before it was like going back to Utopia for me and I was over the moon. I asked mother if I could have a whole egg to myself there, yes she said, we will be much better off now. Here we could only have a boiled egg between the three of us, that always caused arguments as to whose turn it was to have the middle piece.
So it was, in 1933, that we moved to Leicester. All the furniture was piled on to a flat leaf lorry and off we drove, over sixty miles, to Leicester with Mother sitting in the rocking chair and we three girls tied into a large armchair. Our arrival was an exciting adventure, driving up a large congested area which the driver said was Charles Street. Further on we stopped in Highfields and moved our belongings into rented rooms.
Next morning, the lady next door, who had also moved from (?) and married a Leicester man, took me to the Clock Tower and down Church Gate to my job at Corahs. I had never seen a Factory before and was absolutely paralysed with fear; row upon row of machines all connected together and driver by a belt from the ceiling at the end of each row. If one machine stopped for any reason the whole row stopped, much to the annoyance of the operators who were losing their output. My job, apart from collecting and washing up cups, was to return to the operators defects to be rectified. I was petrified with fear of these old experienced and sometimes miserable machinists, they took their frustrations out on me.
At the end of that first day, the friend took me back to the Clock Tower and left me to find my way home. I had no idea where I was and wandered up and down London Road searching for something I may recognise. I passed the Railway Station a number of times, completely lost and becoming more frightened every minute. All the family were out searching for me and I was eventually found by the next door neighbour; my god what a relief that was. My wage was ten Shillings per week less three Pence stoppages, I kept the nine pence and gave mother the rest.
I worked at Corahs on and off for 17 years living a much improved life as a teenager and adult. At the age of seventeen my friend and I became friendly with two Air Force lads who were later posted to Egypt and we wrote to them frequently. In the meantime I met Harry; although ten years older he was a fantastic dancer and taught me to dance. He had come from London and started an upholstery factory next door to where we lived and manufactured goods for Kingstones in Leicester.
At this time the two Air Force lads returned from Egypt hoping to take up where they had left off, they told us there was going to be a war but it meant very little to us at that time. My Airman, who was a Pilot, had brought me a bracelet from Egypt, I returned it to him in a letter telling him about Harry, he was killed very early in the war.
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, we were preparing lunch prior to going to Aylestone Boathouse for an afternoon on the river, when a sombre voice on the radio told us we were at War with Germany. My mother had married again 2 years previously and father said Harry and all the men would be called up. At first it was frightening and exciting then nothing seemed to happen and we carried on as normal; it was called the Phoney War and lasted throughout the winter.
We got engaged at Xmas and married on the 15th. June 1940 at Shoreditch Church in the East End. It was a most memorable day and also a troubled day, for there on a news board outside the church it said “Paris Has Fallen”. I walked up the aisle, Harry smiled, I said “Paris has fallen”; the Vicar asked “what did you say” and I repeated it for him. Harry had paid for everything and it was the beginning of a wonderful life for us, regardless of the War.
At that time, although much bombing activity was experienced at Ports along the south coast, London was fairly quiet and Harry’s parents at Bethnal Green had little cause for concern. However, since there were two vacant properties near me, it was considered sensible for them to move up to Leicester and Harry fetched them along with his sister and baby.
We went in his van to load up at Bethnal Green and return; no problem we thought but Hitler had other ideas. It was Saturday 13th. Sept. and we arrived in the middle of the first real air raid of the blitz. There were bombs dropping everywhere with fires all over the place and the planes kept coming over in droves. Having never experienced anything like this before the noise was unbearable and very frightening. When the all clear sounded I could not believe it had happened; almost like it was a dream but the fires told you different. We got out of it quickly, Harry with the van and we by train. During the rest of that month I believe something like 10,000 bombs were dropped on the East End and Bethnal Green had it’s share.
A short time later Harry’s dad returned to London on his own, he was not happy being away from home. Our son Allan was born in Oct. 1941 and Harry was called up for service in the Royal Artillery in Oct. 1942. He had paid an Official money to gain recognition as a reserved occupation but that failed, what a waste of good money. His two brothers who were members of the Territorial Army were called up at the outbreak of War and had worked as printers at a wage of £6.00/ week; I remember saying to my Mum they must be rich because they had Bacon and Eggs and things for their tea.
Having a young family, I never went to work during the war and food was rationed; there was plenty available on the black market, if you had the money. Harry’s father in London was lucky, his next door neighbour worked in the docks and seemed able to get his hands on anything. One day, when we were visiting, he called to say they were off to Brighton and could we use some butter and lard. Of course we said yes expecting a normal small pack; he turned up with a large tub with five or six pounds in it. He even called one day to ask if we needed any meat; in his house there were large joints of it hanging all over the place, all right for some. Working in the docks he could get anything, including Watches, we all had new Watches through him; no matter what you mentioned he could get it.
Where I lived in Highfields there were Baker, Butcher, Bread and Sweet shops. The baker occasionally had cakes and one day I said “can I have a cake”, no he said you have to wait for someone to die, things like butter and lard were very scarce on ration and dried egg was used for many things. With the shortage of meat I often cooked roast vegetables with Yorkshire Pudding and gravy. Waiting in the Butchers one day I noticed him give one Lady a parcel, “what was that I asked” it is just bones for the Doctor’s Dog he said, how lucky that dog was.
We made many trips to London to visit Harry’s parents and on this occasion we attended his brother’s wedding. It was Jan. 1941 and he lived in Canning Town in the much bombed dock area, the ceilings in the house were all held up with planks and beams but it was liveable. As usual there was a lot of noise around us and the men were all standing near the front door which bothered me, I asked what’s up and they answered don’t go out yet. Minutes later they suggested you girls got into the shelter in the garden and out we went; my God I had never seen any thing like it! The sky was completely crisscrossed with searchlights, the noise of guns and bombs was unbearable, and everything seemed to be on fire all around us; it was horrific and all right on top of us.
When we came out from John’s wedding, since there were no Buses, we had to walk through streets partly blocked with debris, hoses, Fire Engines and rivers of water flowing down the gutters, there were no buses to any where. We had to walk all the way back from Bethnal Green and that was a long trek with me pregnant as well.
When Harry was stationed at Watford I sometimes stayed there at the house of his friend Joe who had been his best man. He told us that, on the night of Johns Wedding, his father had been killed at Piccadilly Circus when a bomb went down the stairway and exploded in the station. It was estimated by someone that the total number of high explosive bombs dropped on London during the blitz was between 45’000 and 50’000. Harry’s parents house survived and they came through it without a scratch; how lucky can you be.
Just got back to Leicester and were walking down Nedham Street when I said ”look there is a Factory on fire”; it was Freeman Hardy and Willis. It was suggested we go and have a look and only then realised that Leicester was being bombed. We went to mother in law’s house to see if she was Ok but was not there; it was Spinney Hill park next where an underground shelter was located and there she was perched on a bench. It was not many minutes before the bombs were dropping again and one landed right outside. The blast had buckled the metal door and it could not be opened; we all sat on the wooden benches hardly daring to breath then someone crying said we will never get out and probably die down here. However, a local ARW man came to the rescue and all were soon out once again in the fresh air; my God that was a relief.
An Ambulance was standing on Mere Road, we wondered why and got our answer when my mum tried to go home. She lived near the Post office and there was an unexploded bomb somewhere there; another had dropped on the Cricket Pitch so she came home with me. She was probably grateful for the company, her husband was a prisoner of war somewhere in Germany. My father in law said he probably gave himself up to get out of the war, not a very nice comment to make.
My only brother Son, who joined the army when he was only sixteen years old, ( he lied about his age), had served and finished his time in India. When War was declared he was delighted; joined up again straight away and went into the Leicester Tigers. We were having a party after my Sister’s wedding to a man in a reserved occupation in a Coventry Factory. We were all sitting around in the lounge when he made a nasty comment about soldiers running away, Son, who was home on leave jumped up, grabbed him by the throat and hit him straight through the window with the remark “I have just come through Dunkirk for useless buggers like you. Of course my mum was not pleased and told Son to clear off- you are always causing trouble. My mother in law spoke up and said, “
he deserved it for saying that, I have three sons out there fighting and it was an insult to them. What a party that was.
Harry’s mum decided that, if there was going to be more bombing in Leicester, she would not be worse off if she went back to London; her husband had gone back earlier and she missed him. My Sister in law with her baby stayed with me, I stayed at home looking after the children whilst she went to work. It was a convenient arrangement with both our husbands in the Forces; her husband in the RAF in Egypt and my Harry being moved about in England.
Although the odd bomb was dropped, we had no more heavy raids and just carried on with our austere lives grappling with the problems of rationing etc. Of course having such a friend as a Docker in London was a boost to our quality of life but only played a momentary part in the hum-drum pattern of making ends meet.
When Harry had leave, I went to him at his Mum’s house in London. It was more convenient when he was stationed on the outskirts at Watford but, as the invasion of Europe became more probable, he was moved away to the southeast. Of course his letters were censored and he could not tell me when or where but we had an arrangement that, when he knew he was going over, he would put money in the envelope; a £1.00 note arrived one day and I knew he had gone.
The War in Europe seemed to be never ending then Harry suddenly came on three days leave. It was his last day when, in the afternoon, someone opened a window and shouted “you can rest now Soldier the War is over”. Sadly, so was Harry’s leave and he reported back to Barracks hoping for an extension but he was sent back across the Channel; there was still much to be done.
Next day London went mad, streets packed with people all clambering towards Buckingham Palace and we joined them. It was an exciting but frightening event; the crowd were so tightly packed that I was carried a great distance without my feet even touching the ground. But, above it all was relief that my Harry would come home safe and sound in limb. What a blessing that was.
Contributed originally by jasstuart (BBC WW2 People's War)
All very romantic. We think of sleep in a comfy bed, with spotless sheets, a plump pillow and a coverlet; or perhaps a Duvet. Forget it! For those who have the mileage and are able to remember the war years, read on. For those that don’t, listen to your Granddad.
We were Territorial Army lads, just returned from our yearly Camp on Beaulieu Heath, in Hampshire.
Under canvas of course and lying on the ‘good earth’, to sleep.
We lads of the 10th Battalion, Tower Hamlet Rifles; gathered together from the East End of London, in the Borough known as ‘The Tower Hamlets’.
We were ‘called up’ on the 1st September 1939. We were fully equipped, therefore we were told to take our rifles home and not to hand them back to the Armoury. We reported for duty the next day, when our ‘call up’ papers arrived by post.
Having said tearful farewells to Mums and Sweethearts; we were marched out of the Drill Hall on Tredegar Road Bow and on to Bow Road, ‘then right wheel’ into Cooper’s Company School.
We were about four hundred yards away from where we started, where our loved ones had just waved us goodbye. We were there for two whole months, sleeping in our army issue of three, ‘horse’ blankets, on the Parquet Floor.
Then we were taken to Swindon, to sleep on the dance floor of the Co-op Hall. We now had three new ‘horse type’ blankets each. They had to be folded with box-like corners and laid out neatly with knife, fork, spoon, housewife and mess-tin. Everything else, stowed away out of sight behind our kit bags.
Our webbing equipment, with bayonet and water bottle attached, spread neatly over the blankets, and army greatcoats, (if you had one), folded as per ‘regulation’, according to the Sergeant. Many of us still had Busmen’s Overcoats! Then a move to another part of the town; there to sleep on the concrete floor of a High Street garage.
Months rolled by, and we were training, training all the time, in the fine arts of a mechanised army, though sadly, we did not yet have our vehicles. We were ‘fit as fiddles’ and ‘straining at the leash’ to have a go at Hitler and his mates. But did we? No, We were sent to guard the Docks and ships on the Thames in the East End of London, and sleeping rough, among sacks of produce like raw coffee beans, along with the rodents who lived there. A few spies were captured, so we were told! We guarded the Dry Docks. Dickey Seewright fell in, fortunately there was still about ten feet of water, but a long drop.
Being in full equipment, helmet, pack, Bayonet and Rifle, plus Ammo Boots, he rolled over and over. Counter balanced, you see? We made Dickey as comfortable as we could on some dry sacking, gave him a good rub down, and then returned to our duties. Between helping the police evict unwelcome people off ships, and patrolling the Docks, we got our heads down, sometimes.
We spent most of 1940 around the Dock-land, sometimes assisting, where we could, with fire fighting.
Now we were under canvas on Hampstead Heath. At least with dry ground to sleep on, in bell-tents that had seen previous wars. And sleep? That was a laugh. Impossible with anti-aircraft guns banging away night and day, close to our Company Line’s, trying to bring down German Bombers.
We were then moved to Dunstable Bedfordshire. At the foot of a hill on Dunstable Downs, a windmill became the home for about twenty-five of us. The rest of A Company, now designated as part of the 10th Battalion the Rifle Brigade: Sixth Armoured Division: were scattered in derelict houses in the neighbourhood. Talk about ‘wherever I lay my head then that’s my home!’
During 1941 we received our vehicles. Now we charged around the country, trying to kid Hitler into thinking that we had more troops than he thought we had, and more Armoured Divisions to call on
We travelled by day and night, North, South, East and West, all over the country; with short rest periods in between, mostly when supplies and petrol were brought up. One spell of about three months, we slept under the July Stands, on the Newmarket racecourse. It was a concrete floor!
The MO’s Surgery was a stable. Most fitting we thought, for to us he seemed more like Vet.
Then we travelled to Scotland; once more under canvas, in bell-tents, leaking at the seams in the pouring ran and Scots Mist, that seemed to go on forever. We were camped by the side of a river, known to overflow its banks. Everywhere was mud. The nearest town was Stewerton in Ayrshire,
Whose people were kind to us, in spite of the mud we took with us on our infrequent visits.
At the camp we were issued with a rubber ground sheet each, which kept the blankets out of the mud;
providing you didn’t roll over in a troubled sleep. Now I was a Corporal with two stripes. Now when you are a rifleman, you have only have to worry about yourself; but as a Section Leader you have seven children to worry about. ‘See that they shave, are fed and watered, kept clean and dry, with untroubled sleep’. That’s a laugh, up to our eyebrows in mud! So we trained and trained. This time as a proper Scout Platoon in our Bren Gun Carriers, the Motor Platoons in their 15 hundred weight vehicles. All very mobile and ready to face the enemy; but the training went on until the day we were ordered to ‘up sticks’ and move out. It was now November 1942.
We sailed away on the Langibby Castle, sailing down the Clyde on a ship well loaded with troops, tanks, and all kinds of vehicles and equipment for war.
We sailed round and round in the Atlantic for a couple of days, until many other ships joined us to make up the convoy. We rolled around in the rough sea, but I was happy, for I was now a Lance Sergeant, which entitled me to share a cabin and have a bunk. It was heaven to lay where it was comfortable, on a soft surface and without draughts. We made our way steadily towards the Mediterranean and the North African Coast. But not for long, we were passing the twinkling lights of Tangiers, at dead of night, when a ‘U Boat Wolf Pack’ attacked the convoy. We copped a torpedo on the port side bow, making a hole above and below the water line that two double-deck buses could have driven through. Around us, ships were burning and exploding Water tight doors were closed, which gave us the chance to limp into Gibraltar, though the ship as well down at the bows.
At Gibraltar, we transferred on to the Lansteffan, another Castle Line ship. It was already pretty well loaded, though it still made room for a couple of thousand more troops. Our transport would have to catch us up later. We were meant to land at Algiers, it as under constant bombing raids and ‘U Boat’ attacks. The harbour in the Bay was ablaze. We finally landed at Bone; where our temporary abode was a deserted hospital, with arms and legs crammed into dustbins. We lay where we were put; on a cold but beautiful marble floor, with lovely blue tiles up the walls; though not appreciated at the time.
When our vehicles finally arrived, we set off towards the ‘war zone’ to chase the Germans out of Tunisia! Not that easy!
So now as a Lance Sergeant, I commanded three Bren Gun Carriers, three men to each Carrier, including me, as part of the Scout Platoon. As soon as we hit the area, we were in action. Skirmishing by day, foot patrolling by night. No rest, hardly any sleep, no time to use our new can openers. Though our spoons and mouths were ready to sample McConnickies solidified soup; eaten cold, straight from the can, as all our meals were. ‘I mean, come on!’ Do you think the front line Tommy had someone to cook for him? No chance! After a few days we managed to wedge in a bit of eating, a bit of resting here and there, and always a mug of tea at the first chance. Quickly brewed on a cut down petrol can filled with sand and fuelled with petrol. Quickly doused with a handful of sand, and carried, swinging
from the back of the Carrier. ‘Luxury!’
Our rations were packed in ‘three man packs’ to last three men three days. Ideal for a carrier crew.
It was full of assorted tins of food; all very plain and basic, after all there was a war on. Often we would get a tin of fifty fags to share between us, and a slab of dark chocolate sometimes, plus a packet of ‘paving slab hard’ dry biscuits. Of course, if supplies couldn’t get through to us, things had to stretch a little, but petrol was the chief need for the vehicles.
Naturally, we could usually find something to grumble about, but it didn’t do any harm and it gave vent to our frustrations. We were nipping about from one part of the battle zone to another. Being Mechanized Infantry, that was part of our job; filling in gaps, holding the line, patrols, patrols, patrols,
out there in the blue yonder! With so much driving, my driver Dusty Miller, could get very tired, so we took it in turns. With me at the controls, ahead in the dark, just catching the moonlight was a silvery concrete structure, like the model on a wedding cake. It was a bridge over a deep Wadi. That was how it looked as we approached. And then it was behind me. I too had fallen asleep, and dropped off! Just for a moment. Had we gone through that parapet, it would have been a longer drop, and probably out of this world. I didn’t tell the others, it might have worried them, though I doubt it.
Then the rains came. Troops and Vehicles of all kinds were bogged down in the clinging mud.
Wheels couldn’t turn and tracks had no grip. It was the same for Jerry.
On the outskirts of Bou Arada we dug two-man slit trenches, facing across the cold terrain towards the enemy positions at Le Keff. From those trenches, we were expected to rebuff any enemy infantry attack; though in the soaking wet, up to our ankles in mud we had little heart for it.
We splashed across that open ground on foot patrols, at night. Jerry did too, and often sent up Very Lights. We were a patrol of six men, walking on a compass bearing, in the dark. We had ‘hit the deck’
as a light burst above us. We waited for it to burn out. Out of the darkness a figure loomed. “That you Sarge?” he enquired casually. With the safety catch forward on my automatic, how I refrained from squeezing the trigger, I will never know. It was Chinner Halsey, our ‘end man’. His simple explanation
for wandering, was, ‘he just wanted to go to the Lav’. I saved my swearwords until next morning, then I let him have them good and proper! Nights in the slit trenches taught us how to sleep, standing up.
Just light sleep, you understand? Then your knees gave way and conveniently woke you up.
Once the ground was suitable to allow tanks and vehicles to move. We, as a Battalion, found ourselves once again, ‘in the thick of it’. It was at the end of January 1943,that our Platoon Commander lost his life. The Battalion was spread out over a large area and receiving supplies. Lieutenant Toms had just handed out the mail to his Section Leaders. We were walking back to our Carriers, when a lone bomber made a direct hit. We were all thrown about by the impact, and Lt Toms and the Platoon Sergeant, were hit. As often happens ‘in the field of battle’, with myself as senior, I jumped the equivalent of two ranks. Bypassing the rank of Platoon Sergeant and taking on the Platoon Commander’s job.
Not that I expressed my thoughts, though I did think, ‘Aye, aye, an officer on the cheap!’ So, worrying about others increased threefold. Not counting me; now when we got up to full strength, there would be thirty-three children and eleven Bren-Gun Carriers. The Company Commander, would be like a Boss plus a Union Rep, all wrapped up in one man, for me to answer to; similar to the ‘civvy street’ business world. When a supervisor is watched from above, and depended on from below.
So off we went again, nipping in and out, wherever we were needed. Often penetrating German defences, where American tanks could not. We in our low ‘Sardine Cans’, as the Yanks called them; could use the cover of folds in the ground, and Wadis. Backed up by the tanks of 17/21st Lancer and 16/5th, or Lothian and Border Horse in their Heavy Armoured Vehicles. We in our ‘wafer thin’ armour were more suitable for getting in and getting out, quickly. The Lancers came to our aid, when a small patrol of two carriers was testing the underbelly of the German defences near Medjes-el-bab.
It became very ‘hairy’, when Jerry brought up heavy weapons to assist his infantry; and tried to outflank us. We must have been under observation from way back, because a squadron of 17/21st tanks passed on either side of us. We had taken up a ‘hull down’ position on the crest of the hill, and were trying to hold off the advancing enemy. Thankfully we were ordered to withdraw. The infantry in our Motor Platoons, were also called upon to do all kinds of tasks. Like us, in our Scout Platoon ,’They never got bored!’ Opportunity would be a fine thing! They too lived from ‘hand to mouth’. Sleeping when they could, eating when they had the time, and keeping on, keeping on!
On the 7th of April 1943 the 1st Army, which we were part of, met up with the 8th Army, just below and South West of Sfax. Now the combined forces would push towards Tunis. Not easy, for Jerry fought tenaciously. Of course we were kept busy. It was reported that an Italian position still held out, having been bypassed. A Three-Carrier Patrol was sent to check them out. The ground was terrible, one minute sand the next rock and up and down Wadis. Below a slope and entering a cactus belt, a carrier shed a track. Corporal Sid Ferris and I went forward on foot. The remainder set up a defensive position and set to repairing the broken track. A fusillade of rifle fire pinned Sid and I down, followed by rough looking blokes in Burnooses, and firing from the hip. They pinched our boots and made us their prisoners.
At the top of the hill I heard a smart looking fellow in a natty uniform and medals, speak in French.
In my rough French I told him amid many swear words, that we were Anglais. The men on the hill were Goumiers, a formidable and vicious force of Arab soldiers under a French Officer. Our men had to withdraw; the firing missing us was making things difficult for them. Sid and I followed our carrier tracks for several miles in the dark, without weapons to defend us. They had mysteriously disappeared during capture.
I didn’t see the fall of Tunis. A German Mortar Bomb sent me, to the 95th Field Hospital in Algiers. It did me a favour really. Now I had crisp white sheets and pillow and a lady nurse, named Nurse Love. Not that there was much of that about. After about eight weeks, my wound through the biceps had recovered enough for me to rejoin my unit. I could still raise a pint, if one was offered.
The Company Commander sent a truck to pick me up and convey me to our mob, in the Vale Du Mort,
to be driven barmy by mosquito’s. Then we got an order to travel to Carthage, to Guard Winston Churchill and his wife. He was getting over a sickness.
Sad to say, on the way to Carthage on the Mediterranean coast. Corporal Sid Ferris, who was a temporary prisoner, along with me, had an accident. His carrier wandered too close to the edge of a crumbling dirt road in the dark, and turned over into a Wadi. The driver dug his way out with his bare hands. Sid lost his life. I will never forget him.
So after Africa, the next centre of operations was to be Italy. A different country, and a different kind of war. This time, amid foliage and trees where snipers hide and ambush is easier. I expect we’ll soon find out!