Bombs dropped in the ward of: Tooting
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Tooting:
- 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 Tooting
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Contributed originally by Del Weeks (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was eight years old at the outbreak of WW2. My father worked as a driver for a laundry in Merton and was in the Auxiliary Fire Service part time. Mum started some homework from P.B Cow of Mitcham, cutting out rubber grommets which I used to help in the evenings. It wasn’t long before I was evacuated to Eastbourne with my mother and my one year old sister. I cannot remember too much about that event apart from us all living in one room and my father visiting us occasionally from our flat in Streatham, London. Dad turned up on one visit with a huge cod over his shoulder to help out with the rations.
It wasn’t a very happy time in Eastbourne though. I can remember my mother often being in tears at the conditions we were living in, the three of us huddled together in that one tiny room near the sea. This, together with the shortage of food and mum missing dad coming home in the evenings soon made us return to London.
I stayed with my family in London during what is now known as the Battle of Britain, and watched the daily contrails of the dogfights over Croydon. Days then seemed to be always clear, with warm sunshine and blue skies and with the sound of the planes and gunfire overhead and in the far distance. All very exciting to a lad of ten and his gang members.
I remember helping dad to build the Anderson bomb shelter in the garden. A corrugated iron shelter, half buried in the ground and covered with earth. Dad seeded ours with grass and grew flowers on it and fitted a strong wooden door. It had a concrete floor with a hole in one corner so that the condensation could run away. Also an electric light on a long lead was run from the house to the shelter. I nearly electrocuted myself playing with the lamp on one occasion, it was only my mum's quick reaction that saved me. Mattresses and blankets served as our beds over wooden slats. Later on we had an indoor ‘table’ shelter with wire grills around the sides called the Morrison shelter. Our beds were permanently made up and we slept under this shelter during the blitz.
I was evacuated again to a small picturesque village called Bishops Hull in Somerset just outside of Taunton. All the new evacuee arrivals were ushered into the local village hall to be fostered to local families. I was exceedingly lucky to be fostered together with Charlie G from Tooting in London, a friend I had made on the journey from Paddington. We were billeted with the local builder Mr A and his wife who had a wonderful covered side entrance full of ladders and all sorts of interesting things to explore for kids of our age. I will always remember the hand grenade that was used to keep the back door open and the war games we used to play with it - it was not live of course. We had the occasional rumble of German aircraft at night and once found a live incendiary bomb on the front doorstep which soon had the local Wardens arriving to cover it with sandbags. I believe some planes just dropped their bombs anywhere.
Our days in the village with its cobbled pavements and the smell of fresh bread from the local bakery were always new and exciting. There was so much to do, it was all so new to us as we had never been in the countryside before. Climbing the huge oak tree in the field next to the bakery (it’s still there), go fishing down at the river where there always seemed to be a whirlpool that we were so frightened to go near. Running away from the cows in the field and the local farmer giving us rides on old snowball - a huge, to us, white cow. We once sampled a jug of cider that we found buried in a haystack. Although we searched, we never found it again! Many a time Charlie and I were in trouble at night. We shared a bed and were always laughing and making a noise until we were scolded and told to sleep.
The letter writing was somewhat of a chore in those days as we were always told to write home at least one evening a week.
Our school was just around the corner by an alleyway at the rear of the house. An old fashioned hand pump was in the alleyway. A small school hall that, in retrospect, was possibly a disused chapel. I can’t remember much about the schooling, but I can remember helping to whitewash the walls inside. I am sure I never learned too much there. I was also friends with Jack and Jill, brother and sister who lived next door at the local butchers. The butchers shop is also still there.
Those happy days came to an end when Mrs A, our fostermother, broke her ankle while playing football with us in the street. I was then fostered with somebody new and very soon asked to return home as I was sharing a bedroom with one of the elder sons who I didn’t like.
I came home in time for the blitz on London that was pretty frightening, although really exciting to us youngsters who didn’t realise the dangers. My father was now permanently in the London Fire Brigade or maybe it was the National Fire Service, and I seem to remember he was on duty most nights. He told me of walls collapsing around him in the docklands and of going round with an enamel bucket picking up body parts.
My uncle lived in the flat above us and worked on the railway as a shunter at Clapham Junction. He kept his bike in the front garden. I was in the Life Boys (a junior sea cadets) at that time and wore the hat with a saucepan lid underneath as protection! One night we were both at the front door seeing all that was going on, he in his tin helmet and me with my saucepan lid. Suddenly among all the noise, there was a loud clang as a big piece of shrapnel went straight through the spokes of his bike. He had to catch a bus to work the next few days until his bike was repaired.
I will always remember that I was up the top of my road in a friends house during one of the daylight raids. It appeared pretty quiet so I decided to go the several hundred yards to my house. I was halfway there when aircraft were heard, so I started running as bombs were whistling down. I managed to get the key, that was hanging from inside of the letterbox on a piece of string, and opened the door, threw myself on the floor of the passageway as I had been told to do in such circumstances, and the front door fell on top of me with the blast. I was unhurt, but the bombs destroyed several houses in the next street.
After the ‘all clears’ had sounded during the daytimes, we used to go out on our scooters shrapnel hunting. You got to be leader of the gang if you found a shell cap, but that was a rarity. The scooters and barrows we made ourselves out of wood collected from bombed sites. The wheels of the scooters were large ball races with a lump of wood hammered through the centre for an axle. The noise they made going along the road and pavements wouldn’t be allowed today. The pram wheels of the barrow or trolleys were also collected from the bombed sites - a great source for what is nowadays called do-it-yourself. There were often big fights over the collected spoils. The barrows had four wheels, a box to sit in, and were steered with a bit of string tied to the front wheels that were on a swivel.
I was then again evacuated. To South Wales this time. A mining village called Pentrebach near Merthyr. It seemed as if the war was far away and over. Us kids had great fun sliding down the slag-heaps on trays and getting covered in coal dust. I used to help the local milkman -Jones the milk of course - on the weekends putting the cardboard caps on the bottles of milk in the dairy. I think I was given tuppence for doing this. I confess here, that I stole rolls of these caps to share with my friends for a game at school where we flicked them up to a wall. The nearest to the wall kept all the other caps. Needless to say I always had plenty of stock!
On Sundays it was a local ‘hobby’ of the men of the village to go ratting. Either down the disused coalmine or the river. The rats were either shot or put in a ‘tram’ (a small wagon for carrying coal from the mine) and dogs were introduced for, what was called sport in those days. If it wasn’t ratting, then it was going up in the hills with friends to pick blueberries for a pie.
Schooling is not a thing I remember while in Wales, I was having too much fun. I do remember coming home from school and sitting down to a plateful of runner beans for dinner several times a week. Probably the reason that I don’t like them now.
As the blitz appeared to be over, I once more returned home to Streatham. The doodlebug raids started soon after. We watched them from the back garden flying past toward the centre of London. On occasion the engine would stop early and it would dive down and black smoke would appear a mile or so away. We were always ready to make a rush for the shelter when they appeared, sometimes with a spitfire chasing it.
I was sitting on the front wall at a friends house a few streets away one late afternoon when there was an almighty bang followed by a rushing roaring sound, and we all looked at each other wondering what it was. We were all used to the bangs during a raid, but there was no raid on at that time. The warnings were getting fewer. It turned out that it was the V2 rocket for which no warning could be given. It was much more powerful than the V1 doodlebug (or flying bomb). The V2 came from the stratosphere and travelled faster than sound. The roaring noise after the explosion was the sound it made coming through the air, a frightening noise. Although many V1s and V2s fell on London and caused a great deal of death and damage, I feel that I was fortunate to live on the outskirts of the City and in the suburbs.
The war in Europe came to an end soon afterwards with much celebration and street parties. Lots of food was found for these in spite of the rationing that went on for several years afterwards. Flags and bunting was brought out, even pianos were on the streets with lots of music and dancing. Soon afterwards, small prefabricated houses began to appear on what we called the bomb-dumps. We used to listen to the interesting stories the nightwatchman could tell of his war, while we were sitting around the fire that he lit in the ‘prefabs’.
Contributed originally by archben (BBC WW2 People's War)
After the Easter holiday in 1938 I began my second year at Ensham Central School in Tooting in South London. The need for a bicycle to get to the school from Streatham had given me the opportunity to widen my little world. One of my expeditions the year before had been to find out where the great biplanes of Imperial Airways landed. So I found Croydon Aerodrome, there in front of me was a square brick building that was the terminal and control tower all in one. On top of the tower was a radio mast, which made it look really modern and up to date. I rode my bike up to the side of the building where there was an iron fire escape up to the flat roof, so I climbed up, there being no one about to say no. Once on the roof I could see the whole grass field. The huge biplanes Horatius and Scylla were parked right up to the building and I could see the people working in the control tower. I returned many times. So that when at the end of September I sat by the wireless in our kitchen, listening to the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking on his return from talks with Hitler, I felt part of the event as he was standing just below my roof top position. His words are now history, ‘I believe it is peace in our time’ he said waving a piece of paper. Foolish people have ever since said that he was guilty of appeasing the Dictator, but it was quite clear, even to a thirteen year old schoolboy like me that he had bought us much needed time to prepare our forces. I explained to my Mother just what the scene was like after the broadcast, forgetting that my visits to the aerodrome had been part of my private life. She was not pleased, how dare I go to such a dangerous place. The PM’s message was forgotten.
I began my third year at Ensham after Easter in 1939, during the first term I was elected by my classmates to be their representative in the school elocution competition, they thought that I spoke BBC very well! Preparations for a war went on quietly all around us. At my school our parents were summoned to an ‘important’ meeting about evacuation in the event of war and were asked to say if they agreed that their child should go. My father said no. On his return home he gave no reason for the decision, but I was very grateful. A few weeks later there was a full scale dress rehearsal of the future evacuees. They had to bring all of the things that they would take with them including any smaller brothers and sisters. The inspection took hours with the school playgrounds covered with six hundred excited pupils. We no-goes looked on in amusement.
People busied themselves learning Civil Defence, First Aid, gas masks were distributed, future air raid wardens going from house to house fitting the strange devices. Another group of people went from door to door registering the occupants and issuing identity cards, my card was number AXGB/122/3.
At the end of the term we broke up for the summer holidays. I put away my green school blazer with its gold Viking ship badge and went off for the last golden summer of my childhood.
It was a blazing hot summer and I enjoyed making an outdoor model railway track in the garden of a friend. Near the end of August I was invited to stay with some of my cousins at the seaside bungalow that an Aunt and Uncle had taken for the last month of the summer holidays. I think that the bungalow was in Rustington, anyway it was right on the South sea coast in a lovely little sleepy town. There was a nice sandy beach, a stretch of grass, then a road and on the other side their bungalow. Off I went on the Southern Electric train and the next few days on the beach in the sun were idyllic, time stood still, we had no wireless, no newspapers, but the suddenly a week had passed and it was Friday and my Uncle would be arriving for the weekend. We went over to the beach as usual in the morning, it was to be the last ‘usual’ that we were to experience for many years.
Time for lunch said my cousin Joyce and we gathered up our things and walked back to the road. When we got there we just stood and stared. Parked all along the road were red London buses and they were full of children. We stared at them and they stared at us. We’re being evacuated they shouted. But, we said, evacuation was only supposed to happen if there was a war. There’s going to be a war they shouted back. We ran back to the bungalow to give the news to my Aunt, but of course she knew and had telephoned my Uncle, they had decided that I was to go home. So next morning, Saturday 2nd September 1939, I was put on the train back to Streatham. It was a nice green liveried train of three carriages which stopped at every station before reaching Victoria in London. I got off at Streatham Common station, 10 minutes walk from home. There were only a few people on the train and I was the only passenger that got off. I walked out of the station, it was quite eerie there were no children and the road was strangely quiet. I walked along carrying my small suitcase and didn’t see anyone. I went through the little tunnel under the railway and along the wide path next to the allotments where there would normally have been a dozen children playing, still no one. A few more solitary minutes and I was home to find my Mother rushing about in a state of excitement, this always set the dog rushing about. It may have been quiet outside but it wasn’t at home.
There had been a great deal of advice for householders from the government about air raid precautions or ARP as it soon became commonly known. One suggestion was to apply adhesive paper tape diagonally across all the panes of glass in the windows of your house. This was the basic task of the day in our house and in that of our neighbours. Everyone kept running out of the sticky paper and I was kept busy going up to the shop at the top of the road to keep them supplied. The idea behind taping the glass was to try to prevent pieces of broken glass flying about if a bomb should explode nearby. We also had advice on how to protect ourselves if there should be a poison gas attack. The men of our little group of houses were busy making blanket covered frames to fit the kitchen windows. The idea being that if gas was dropped, someone ran out and drenched the blanket with water, thus keeping the gas out! Looking back I wonder if some of the advice sent out was more to keep people occupied than useful.
Although there was plenty of information available from the events of the Spanish Civil War and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia it was either ignored or wrongly applied. All the advice given out was based on the havoc wrought by short range dive bombers attacking small towns in Spain from nearby bases. London all 400 square miles of it and a long way from Germany was thankfully rather different. But everyone was happily employed all day and we all went to bed exhausted.
Sunday the 3rd of September was a brilliant day, Mr.Yarnold our next door neighbour, who was a warden of my church, told me that as so many people had gone away and that all of the choir except me had been evacuated, our church had closed and I should now go to the Parish Church, but I didn't on that day as we all just stood around the wireless waiting for news. There had been an announcement by the BBC earlier that the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain would speak to the Nation at noon. When after what seemed like an age, we heard his voice, it was to say that Britain had delivered an ultimatum to Germany at 9am that morning, they were to cease the invasion of Poland by ll.00am, or a state of war would exist between us. His thin quavering voice went on "I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received and that accordingly a state of war now exists between us." Just a year before I had stood in the same place before our wireless and heard him say on arriving back at Croydon Airport from his visit to Hitler, "I believe this is peace in our time." I believed then, and still do that he had worked so that we had the means to defend ourselves. Now here he was declaring war on Germany on behalf of a nation we could not possibly defend. With the knowledge of time it is interesting to note, that Poland was not restored to its pre-invasion boundaries at the end of the war. So the initial object of the hostilities was never achieved.
Within minutes of Chamberlain's words the air raid warning sirens started their stomach churning undulating wail, both our neighbouring families were in our kitchen, the men rushed about getting the antigas blanket screen up over the window and my mother rushed about all over the place blindly, with the other ladies trying to calm her down. Our dog Scamp, ran all over the place bumping into everyone and everything, thankfully the all clear sounded after a little while. We were told later it was a false alert. I walked up the road after all this for some peace and quiet and to get more tape, halfway along the way I stopped abruptly, suppose we loose, no we can not possibly loose I assured myself. I'm glad that I did not know just how close we were to come to loosing and how soon. Monday brought more turmoil, my Mother declared that so much upset had been caused by the dog the day before, that he had to be `put down'. It never occurred to her that it was she who stirred him up and she was adamant. So my poor Father had to take the dog off to the vets. I should write that I am sorry to say that I caused quite a scene. But I'm still not. In the way that young boys', do I loved my dog, I had seen him born, helping his mother when she was uncertain how to break the bag that he was in, we played for hours together once he was grown. I just stayed in my room rejecting all blandishments, doing nothing for several days, until I realised that I could not bring him back, but I made up my mind that `when I grew up' I would not use a pet as a possession.
Once we were at war a transformation took place in daily life. Everyone you met had a brown box hanging from a shoulder on a piece of cord. This held their gas mask. Such was the danger of a poison gas attack, we were told, we were never to be without our gas masks, as such an event, we were solemnly instructed, could happen at any time. The tops of pillar boxes had been coated with a greeny paint, which, so we were told, would turn red if there was poison gas about. Small comfort if you did not live near a post box and as we were used to seeing red tops on pillar boxes not likely to be noticed anyway. Soon the shops were filled with covers of all types and prices to embellish your gas mask box. Later as the boxes and their covers fell apart more sturdy containers were on sale. I acquired a metal cylinder, which was much more practical.
The mask itself was an unpleasant thing, a small metal cylinder that contained the material alleged to filter out the poison gas, to which was attached a thin sheet rubber face mask, within which was a celluloid sheet vision panel. The contraption was held onto your head by a rubber harness. As you breathed in air came through the filter but, when you breathed out it had to be with sufficient puff so as to move the rubber sheet next to your cheeks, away from your face. There was no other air exit. There were also Mickey Mouse gas masks for small children, all enveloping bags with a small air pump, to be worked by their mothers, for babies, ARP Wardens had a stronger version in a canvas sack and soldiers had a totally different arrangement that allegedly allowed running and jumping about. The gas mask industry really excelled itself, quite a feat really when no one was going to use the repulsive things
Cars at first took on a strange appearance, being required to have their front mudguards painted white and have light deflectors on their headlamp's and the reflector's within them painted black, which meant that they were useless. This did not matter because soon there was no petrol to be had. The papers carried long articles on how to lay up your car for the duration of the war. Little did owners know that it was to be at least Seven years before they could again use their cars. Traffic lights had masks that showed a semicircle of light during the day, by nightfall the beat policeman had flipped over the other part of the mask so that during darkness only a small cross of light showed. Very effective, I was amazed how brilliantly they shined out into the overall consuming blackness. A bit pointless really there wasn't any traffic.
Odd patches of ground all over London, almost overnight, became home to groups of earnest young ladies in WAAF uniforms. They had a Nissen hut to live in, beside which stood a trailer with about Thirty long gas cylinders with an octopus of tubes leading off to the object of their care, a barrage balloon. It sat within a circle of mooring points next to a firmly secured winch. The balloon itself was a smaller but plump version of the ill-fated airships of previous years. Made out of a silver coloured fabric it had built in fins at one end to keep it pointed into the wind. As they rode in place in the sky the wind blew in the rounded nose of the balloon giving the appearance of it having a face. There were hundreds of them over the whole built up area of the Capital and at an unheard command they all rose into the air, up and up until they looked like characterised children’s’ playthings. The object, of course, was to raise a barrier of wires and so force hostile aircraft to fly higher than they wanted to.
More secluded pieces of ground became home to a few anti-aircraft guns or a searchlight whose operators became very skilled at illuminating a marauding bomber. Later I often sneaked up into a freezing bedroom to view the night sky to see if the searchlights had found an aircraft. Their crews were in a very dangerous situation. They were the only people on the ground whose position was exactly defined to the bomb aimers. We were all keyed up for the promised air raids. Each night when I went to bed as I took off my clothes I laid them out carefully so that when the sirens howled I could dress quickly in the dark. I could not put the light on as we had no blackout screens or curtains in the bedrooms, my Mother declared that we could not afford them. We waited and waited but no air raids and everyone slowly fell back to their old routines. The ever vigilant ARP Wardens kept up their patrols of he streets and instead of the street traders cries there was a new one to be heard and obeyed `Put that light out'. The darkness was unbelievable, instead of a glowing sky over London there was just the moon. On moonless nights the blackness seemed to possess you. We soon learned the techniques that blind people use to protect us as we moved about.
Our cosy wireless programmes changed radically. There were no more broadcasts from France or Luxembourg and the BBC woke up from its slumber, no more National and Regional, but Home and Forces. Broadcasting now started at six in the morning and went on to eleven in the evening. Announcers and news readers were no longer anonymous, but named themselves at the start of each pronouncement. This, we were told, was so that the crafty Germans could be recognised if they broadcast imitation BBC programmes and as a great innovation, regional accents began to be heard coming from our loudspeakers.
The summer spread from September into October, I had no school to go to and no friends to play with. Although, fed up with my moaning my Mother had agreed that I could accept an offer from the greengrocers of a dog, a young black and tan terrier named Dusty. I busied myself model making and reading and in sign of a future life, I measured our house and made drawings of it. The middle of October was my fourteenth birthday and I became one of the last generation to be subjected to a strange ritual. Most schoolboys of my day wore a school blazer on top of a grey shirt, grey flannel short trousers, long wrinkled down grey socks and scrubby black shoes. Oh yes and a school tie, a stripy thing of basic colours. But, on your fourteenth birthday and thereafter you wore long grey flannel trousers.
During the first week of October I was taken by my Father to Gamages, a shop in High Holborn that seemed to sell everything. We went upstairs to the men's department, it was completely panelled in mahogany and the atmosphere was like being in church. I was put into and out of several pairs of trousers while my father and the tailor discussed the problem of fitting me, while allowing for my future growth, in sepulchral tones. At last they were satisfied and we carried off the carefully wrapped box containing the important garment. Once home, I had to go through the fitting process again for my Mothers benefit. This all successfully achieved I thought that was it. Not at all, you take those trousers off and hang them up, there are still 10 days before your birthday, on with the shorts! My 14th birthday came and went, I can't remember it at all, so I suppose the change into long trousers came as an anti-climax.
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