Bombs dropped in the borough of: Bromley
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Bromley:
- 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 Bromley
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Torbay Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Paul Trainer of Torbay Library Services on behalf of Benita Cumming, the daughter of Ben Cumming, and has been added to the site with her permission. Ms Cumming fully understands the site's Terms and Conditions.
On that fateful day in September of 1939, which fell on a Sunday, I heard on the radio that Britain had declared war on Germany, as that country had invaded Poland, and our country had a treaty with Poland to come to her aid. It came to my mind when I heard this that now was the opportunity for me to break away from the humdrum existence I was leading at that time and enlist to get away from it - providing the conflict lasted long enough for me to participate (the general opinion at the time was that it would be over by Christmas).
The next day in the local newspaper was an advert for young men, at least 5 foot 11 inches tall, who were wanted as recruits for the Brigade of Guards, and right away I thought, "That's for me!" The first opportunity I had, I was off to the Recruiting Office in Torquay and got signed on. I was given a railway warrant to get me to Exeter, where I went to the Army Barracks there, had a medical examination, passed and got accepted for the Grenadier Guards. I hadn't said anything at home about what I was going to do and when I got back that evening and told them the news, they were very proud of me but also very worried about what was going to happen to me.
I hung around for a few days saying my goodbyes, whilst I waited for a railway warrant to take me to London and Chelsea Barracks, the Guards Depot to where I had to report. My mates said I was crazy, but they all wished me well, and then I was off. It was late at night when I finally arrived at the Depot and was given a meal and put in a room with other new recruits, some of whom were to remain comrades with me for the next five or six years. It was all a very strange experience for me; the farthest I had ever been previously was a school trip to Swindon to view the Railway Sheds!
We did not see anything of the world outside for a couple of months as before being allowed out, recruits had to be able to walk properly as becomes a Guardsman. My Army pay was 14 shillings (70p) a week, of which I made my Mother an allowance of five shillings (25p) a week. After a few days we were issued with a pair of hobnailed boots and a khaki uniform with brass buttons, and on our legs from knee to ankle we wore puttees (strips of cloth). It was the same kind of uniform that troops who fought in the First World War wore. We did not get proper battle-dress until much later. I had to take a lot of stick from my new comrades because as I came from the West Country, they called me a Swede Basher and said that I had straw sticking in my hair.
The next few months were spent drilling and marching on the barrack square and being toughened up in the gymnasium, until we were considered to be fit and efficient enough to be changed from recruits to Guardsmen. We were then put on what was referred to as Public Duties - that is, going on guard at St. James' palace and Buckingham Palace. We also had to do guard on the bridges over the Thames as the I.R.A. were attempting to blow them up.
In early 1940, in the period known as the "phoney war", the Russians invaded Finland. Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, had the crazy idea of sending an expeditionary force to go to the aid of the Finns. I was sent on embarkation leave prior to joining that force but fortunately the plan was scrapped; it would have been catastrophic if it had been allowed to
go ahead. However, I had gone on leave carrying all my equipment, including a rifle and ammunition. It was my first leave since joining up and the situation had changed a lot since I left home; Joan had left to join the N.A.A.F.I. and my parents could not keep up the mortgage payments on their house at Danvers Road. They had applied for and been granted a house, 23 Starpitten Grove, on the Watcombe Council estate. It was a nice little house, newly built in a cul-de-sac but miles from Torquay town. Sometime after I learnt that Father had been drafted away somewhere in the country, helping in the work of constructing an Army camp. Mother was left on her own and she had to take in some evacuees from the East End of London, two or three boys I think, and I gather they were a right bunch of hooligans. My sister Mary, or "Blossom" as she was known, came to live with her, which made life a little easier for Mum.
The early spring saw the invasion of Belgium by the Germans, and British troops were rushed to the border of France and Belgium to try to stem them, but they were brushed aside and had to retreat, eventually to be evacuated from Dunkirk. The Luftwaffe began their bombing campaign and the Battle of Britain had commenced; the fear in this country was that the German army was about to mount an invasion as barges had been spotted moored at ports on the French coast across the English Channel. There was also the possibility that parachutists would be dropped in great numbers on strategic targets. My mob was the holding Battalion and we were stationed in London for the defence of that city and we were put on alert to counter the dropping of any airborne troops.
One duty was being taken by military transport to various Police stations in the Metropolitan area and two Guardsmen would ride in the Police cars when they went out on patrol, so that there would have been a quick armed response to anyone dropping from the sky. Then, the company I belonged to were sent to possibly defend the peninsula at Greenwich, the location now of the Millennium Dome. In 1940 there was a vast complex there owned by the South Metropolitan Gas Co, where it was reputed they made everything from Poison Gas to Epsom Salts. That in itself was unimportant, but the site itself was important, as whoever was in control there would control the traffic on the River Thames. The area around there was being very heavily bombed. One of our duties during the raids was, if incendiary fell on to the Gasometers, we had to clamber up and place sandbags over them, which was a pretty hairy experience.
After a spell there my company were drafted to Wakefield in Yorkshire, to join as reinforcements to the Third Battalion which had been badly mauled in France, and was in the process of being reformed. We were put into Civvy Billets, which was a great treat after being in barracks in London, having a decent bed to sleep in and home cooking; it did not last very long as the Battalion moved to the East Coast of Lincolnshire and Norfolk where we bivouacked, dug trenches and prepared positions to prevent the landing of enemy troops if they attempted the expected invasion. However, Hitler called off operation "Sea Lion", as it was codenamed, and we were ordered to stand down. There were stories at the time that some invasion barges had tried to land an invasion force somewhere along the East Coast and oil had been poured on to the sea and had been set alight. Rumour had it that burnt corpses had been washed ashore, but I never saw any myself.
We then had another change of duty. We were sent to where the aerodromes of the fighter planes operated from (viz: Biggin Hill and Henley) as the Battle of Britain raged on; the Germans had a ploy of following returning aircraft and shooting up the runway. An ingenious means of defence was sunken pillboxes which by the use of hydraulics rose from the ground and could be used to engage any incoming enemy. Eventually, the R.A.F. formed their own Defence Regiment and we went off to the Home Counties, mainly Surrey, to resume battle training. One location was Lingfield in Surrey where we were billeted in what was formerly racing stables, which was an ideal billet on the grounds that one was able, when off duty, to slip in and out surreptitiously without being caught.
Having a drink in the local pub one evening, I met a girl named Jessica, and after a few more meetings we began a relationship. I soon found out that she was married to a soldier and I should have ended it, but as it was wartime, one's morals were not as good as they ought to have been, and we spent as much time together as we could. It was wonderful whilst it lasted, but it all came to an end one night when I was with Jessica at her home, and she cried out that her husband and his father were approaching the front door. It transpired that they had found out she was having an affair with a Guardsman and they intended to give me a good going over. I scarpered out the back way and got clear. A couple of days afterwards the Padre of the mans unit came to see me and accused me of breaking up the marriage, and I got reprimanded by the Adjutant and was transferred to the Fifth Battalion, which was stationed in Yorkshire. A sad end to a romantic interlude.
The war had been going on for a couple of years now, and the situation was not looking very good for Britain. Italy, of course, had allied herself to Germany and now the Japanese had entered the conflict against us and the United States. The Japanese were defeating us in the Far East, and in the Middle East the Germans and Italians had us on the run. All the Army who were stationed in Britain could do was to carry on training hard and build up enough strength in manpower and armaments to be able one day to counter-attack the enemy abroad whenever and wherever possible and eventually mount an invasion on the mainland of Europe. Most of the training we did was in the north, over the bleak Yorkshire Moors. At Christmas in 1942, we were at a place called Louth in Lincolnshire, billeted in stables and barns on a farm. Some of my comrades who knew I had been a butcher persuaded me to kill and dress a turkey, which operation I duly carried out using my bayonet. It was a huge bird, about 20-30Ibs, and we boiled it and had it for Christmas dinner. It was not what you would call a gourmet meal!
In 1943 we moved to Scotland to go on manoeuvres in the highlands; at the time of course, we were unaware what our ultimate destination would be. The powers that be were of the opinion that that particular terrain was similar to that found in North Africa, which was where we were destined to invade. The first place we arrived at was Ayr, where we bivouacked on the racecourse there (we seemed to have had an affinity with horses!) From there we were sent on a scheme to the Isle of Arran which lies off the coast of Ayrshire, way across the Island and get picked up on the other side a few days later. It was in the middle of winter, we were split into pairs, were not given any rations and were told to live off the land. The idea of the exercise was how to survive in an hostile environment. My luck was in; on the second night we came across an isolated cottage which was occupied by an elderly couple who were frightened out of their lives when they saw us! But the best thing was, there was a middle aged woman who was staying there; she was the wife of a Naval Officer and apparently, she had come there to get away from Glasgow, which was being heavily bombed. Anyway she took a shine to me and that was that, enough said! I would not have minded staying another month or two there. My mate and I made our way to Brodick on the coast where we were to be picked up. There were some shops there and it did not seem that things were on rations. All commodities were supposed to be rationed in wartime Britain, but I was able to purchase several packets of tea and sugar which I sent home when we got back to Ayr, which was much appreciated by
After a spell in Ayr we then moved to a mining village called Tarbolton, where we went into civvy billets which was a real treat, especially if the man of the house was on night shift! But after that the honeymoon period was over for we poor soldiers, and we were now due for real hardships. We embarked at Ayr on to a ship and steamed via the Sound of Bute to Loch Fyne and dropped anchor at Inveraray, where we stayed on board for several months staging amphibious landings and trekking over the Highlands and training in the art of combat with the Commandos at Fort William. This took place in the most appalling weather conditions - driving rain, snow, freezing nights - and it was worse than anything we were to experience overseas. Eventually we sailed out of the Loch via the River Clyde and disembarked at Perth, where we stayed a while in a carpet factory there, awaiting a Troopship to transport overseas. I went on embarkation leave from there and had a few days at home. My other sister, Joan and the man she married, Alec MacPheat, were both there. He was on war work in the area, at a small factory at St. Marychurch, turning out aluminium parts for aircraft. He had been invalided out of the army which was where Joan met him, when she was working for the N.A.A.F.I. My father was also working at that factory as a cleaner. Bloss and Tony, her son, were also there. Tony, who was just a small child then, can remember me coming home with all my equipment and weaponry. It was the last time I ever saw my mother.
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
The train drew into Hayes station slowly jolted and shuffled to a standstill\ the carriage was so hot that with a feeling of relief I heaved and collected my gear and dumped it on the platform, wondering very much what was coming next. I wished that the little brown eyed man, who was the M.O.T. official, who had met me so efficiently at Waterloo to escort me across the whirl undergrounds; assuring me when the noise was slightly less than usual] that I was' especially lucky to have Miss Gayford as my trainer; was still with me to help me face this marvellous person. A brisk voice behind me asked to carry my kit bag, said its name was Miss Gayford ' Everyone calls me Kit'. That was over. The owner of the voice was slim and extremely vigorous aged about thirty five [this I afterwards found was too generous] black hair, gold earrings, muscular brown arms and legs, which I envied and hoped to emulate as soon as possible, a rosy weather-beaten brown face, long nose and a friendly smile, delightful green eyes. She was dressed in an old red frock with an open neck. We walked across Hayes Bridge to the other side of the ‘Cut’ where the Boats were lying. Oh magic words my inside throbbed violently with excitement and time so to speak stood still. Its a funny thing about Hayes but nearly always I have noticed that the sky seems to be covered with thin white cloud, the sort of cloud that makes a sunny afternoon chilly but still bright and Hayes bridge which is built of white stone, is very wide and seems to pick up the light of the sky and reflect it so that looking westwards it all seems like a river of light, across which if one happens to be there about five in the afternoon, the swarms of cyclists returning home to tea form a dark stream of people flowing against the current of light. Rather like Blake's River of Life. Though perhaps a rather far-fetched comparison.
We dumped my gear on board the motor Battersea and went off to find the food office about ration cards. On the way we met Kay. My first reaction was' My God' and so apparently was hers. Especially as we were to be cabin mates in the motor cabin, by far the smaller of the two cabins. One is apt to wonder what ones mate is going to be like.
Kay was middling height and seemed very blonde - with-a, very brown face, very blue eyes-very wide red mouth - an extremely short cotton print frock and most striking of all exceptionally pure white legs. I couldn’t think how this had happened and remember thinking rather idiotically perhaps she is one of those people that never tan all over. Her voice terrified me, it was sophisticated in the extreme, frightfully efficient and wordy. I sounded completely helpless the moment I opened my mouth and felt it. However when we got back, worse followed Miranda appeared from the butty cabin to put a pie the star in cupboard. She too was fair but not so fair, had long aristocratic features, ice blue eyes that gazed at me with no expression at all. At Kit’s introduction ' ah yes Hallo' and disappeared. Not encouraging. But very much, I thought, what I had expected and remembered Baker's remarks about tough women. Frightfully, frightfully you know with unexpected warmth.
Miranda was left on the butty, Kay was taken by Kit on the motor. I was given a piece of' Boater's Pie' to fill the increasing gap in my middle. It's very good 'Boater's Pie' either hot or cold and is much like Cornish Pasty made of mince and cold potato. I ate and listened to -them start the engine. Kit's engine was a dream to start, rarely needing more than a couple of turns with the crank before she would slip into gear and burst into a rhythmic powerful throb; it would vibrate through our little cabin, separated from the engineer room by only a thin partition, in a very definite way. Sometimes when we were tired and trying to get a rest at the end of a long day - it could be just hell. But then it was just exciting.
I got my things unpacked into the drawer and top cupboard which were mine, Then had a mighty struggle with my mattress getting it stowed away into the bed locker where Kay already had hers stowed. Hers however was small and blue and mine a mighty stripped thing that fought against imprisonment like a wild thing. I wondered if this had to be done everyday as I supposed it had, just how we were going to cope. I still wonder. The cabins of canal boats are, I think, feats of carpenters’ skill. There is everything one needs for a completely well supplied, if not comfortable existence in a space 'of 8ft by 6ft. The motor cabin is smaller than this, having the extra room taken up by the engine room. The final effect is that from the outside the butty appears to have less space than the motor. You descend from the false step, false because it is taken out to be scrubbed regularly and dried to pure whiteness on the cabin top on to the coal box. A triangular affair which fits under the step, its lid must always be spotless. On ones left is the stove slightly at an angle to give as much space as possible, it has an oven rarely used as such, usually for drying wood There is an open grate on which a lot of cooking is done in winter .It is customary to keep one's primus or oil stove on the left hand corner of the fire for extra cooking. The background to this corner is painted sax blue. The stove should be brilliantly polished. Then come the cupboards. The food cupboard with its arch shaped table forming its door and held at the top so that one lets it down for meals. Below this is a small cupboard in which saucepans may be kept. Adjacent to this one of the large drawers for clothes. Above this the locker for bedding, quite a deep affair, the front of which is at night' let down across the centre space of the cabin supported by the bench on the other side. Forming one of two beds and can if need be be used as a double one. Above the bed are two small lockers for small private possessions and toilet items. At the end of the butty cabin is a door leading into the annexe. A neat little stall place divided from the actual hold by a board partition and tarpaulin sheets. One keeps vegetables/brooms/oilskins in here. It's inclined to be troublesome, if the rain doesn’t get in the coal does and when they both get in together as not infrequently happens one is in for a hell of an afternoon spring-cleaning. '
Emerging once more from the annexe, observe our neat bookshelves and a hook for coats. The side-bed bench is about one and a half feet wide and runs completely down one side of the cabin. The drawer takes up the first half of it. Then comes what is commonly referred to as under the side bed. A large hollow space which one reaches through the top. The kindly carpenters having left several of the planks loose therein are kept shoes and other glory hole items. The far end of this space is partitioned off for the battery. These batteries last about a week giving a very good light. They are charged off the motor so one the advantages of motor cabin life is constant good light. Cups and jugs hang neatly on hooks along the cabin wall also hurricane lamps if one has them. It doesn’t seem to me that the space could be more neatly used. There are in addition a flap for the side bed which is raised at night and rested on the coal box and a wooden plank which goes across the bed space for a small extra seat. Beneath this if one is lucky one has a painted bread tin and somewhere hanging on a hook, its allotted space to cover two small ledges for pan and floor cleaning materials at the door end of the cabin and over the stove a lovely rose covered 'Arnbowl' or hand bowl in which all ones washing is done. The regulation issue for the G.V.C.C. are scarlet, lovely they look when new. But they can never compare in gaiety with the riot of flowers that cover the dark green surface of the hand painted ‘Arnbowl’ with their spotless white interior and the dainty castles painted on their bottoms for display when they are hung up. But this did not occur to me then. The cabins of the training boats were dingy and dark and very well worn. Nothing was very well polished - not that there was much to polish- it was hot and stuffy. So as soon as I could I changed my smart clothes and put on an ancient summer dress that had seen its best days harvesting and emerged on deck. To emerge from a cabin is the only way to describe it, the entrance is steep and narrow and awkward, especially on the motor where one has to avoid the gear handle and the steerer, who wants one out of the way as quickly as possible. The result is a series of bruises about ones shoulders for the first week; after which one becomes agile from necessity. We were on that occasion all set, that is we had our loading orders for London Docks and nothing to collect from the Depot. So in grand we sailed past the Depot, I can't remember anything about Hayes Corner ‘A famous and fateful spot’ then and on for the top of the locks where we were to tie for the night.
The run down to the docks was peaceful as there is no traffic on a Sunday evening. The water is good, one only has to slow down to pass lines of little bobbing pleasure boats that have been bedded down en route or long swaying herds of barges creaking and slamming each other in an elephantine manner; sometimes if badly tied swinging savagely out and snapping at ones heels. A snap from a twenty tonner is no joke. You creep past with a weather eye and scarce a ripple from your bows. "Little Rosie, Gert Winnie or Golden Girl gives a wild lurch, a groan and sinks back to eye you morosely and vengefully.
The evening was warm and lovely, the sunlight golden making kind the endless rows of little suburban houses and tiny gardens. The sweep of the golf links green and rich dotted with sheep and small figures moving slowly across the artificial hillocks in search of pleasure. I looked and looked and breathed the sunlight, felt my hair lift in the breeze and felt utterly indescribably alive, happy and free. The beat of the engine gets into ones blood and makes it race and we were moving too. Kit explained that the butty was short strapped on cross straps for travelling light and that my job was to stand at the long wooden tiller of the butty and if her stern got too near the bank I was to put the tiller in the direction I wanted her to go and swing her away. Easier done than said, thought .I and found out otherwise. Through some of the more gingery and difficult bridges she showed a surprising and alarming tendency to swing in from the motor right in under the curve of the bridge to the danger of life and limb not to mention the chimney and the water can. Both these articles are detachable in times of crisis, frequent in ones early days. One has to do a lot of chimney removing. We chugged steadily rhythmically and easily onward. After a while Kit sent Kay onto the butty and took me along the catwalk of planks laid along the cross beams of the boat which are level-*with the gun whale and therefore suspended about 4ft 9 ins above the bottom of the hold, to the fore end of the butty. The motor slowed down the butty bows slid forward level with her stern counter Kit jumped lightly down followed not so lightly by me.
The stern of the motor - sits down in the water when one is travelling light and her bows rise in comparison. Both boats have a draught of about four foot, nine inches when empty, no draught at all to speak of, so that the difference between loaded and empty boats is incredible. Especially to the steerer who has to see round her cratch when empty. The cratch is the wooden triangle at the bows which is the fore point of the sheeting up framework. Now, I began to wonder about my relationship with boats. Kit told me to sit on the cabin roof and I was terrified to realise that I had to walk round the gun whale which appeared to be about six inches wide and jump onto the cabin roof which has a depth of about three foot from the gun whale. God! I did it in a terrified way and thought eyeing the dark green swirling water slipping between my feet, what is going to happen if I miss it when I jump off. However that could wait, the view became suddenly breathtaking, we had left Suburbia behind and after miles of factories, warehouses and barges, suddenly rounded a long bend, there before us lay two huge gasometers, one camouflaged, one white and dazzling, a long curving white concrete edge of canal before we reached them/beyond which lay London at our feet. All the spires drifting smoke and the immensity of it. In the immediate foreground lay Paddington shunting yards. Someone murmured something about bombs and we looked at those snaking masses of rail, thinking how easily one well placed bomb could have finished them off or heavily disorganised them. Italian prisoners, the first I had seen, waved at us cheerily looking good in the dark green battledress they wear, some more dashing with red tam-o-shanters.
On we went, the warm summer breeze whipping the water into a semblance of those little grey green waves in Botticellis Venus. The clouds golden and warm above the golden haze of the distance it was all an Italian painting, gasometers included. We beat into their shadow and our world went dark-- on a little further, bridges and railways everywhere. Kit said we would soon be in the slum area. Tall buildings blank walls rose on either side of us, cans bobbed in the water and the grass on the banks went dead. The towpath had an evil look about it and the walls turned into houses with blind eyes and balconies that over hung the Cut. The dirt was incredible filthy curtains, filthy windows, carpets hanging over balconies and only odd scrawny scarlet geranium here and there to cheer things up. One old bald headed man with a shiny ruby red face and an incredibly fat belly, attired in his shirtsleeves and very unshaved, gave us a toothy grin. A sudden babble of yells rose from the other side of the Cut where bathing naked in the canal were a large crowd of youths, some swimming vigorously towards us others drying themselves round a large camp fire. I watched them curiously, the ones in the water looking exactly like seals their hair streaming over their faces. Their horse cries making little sense above the noise of the engine. They yelled and whistled until we disappeared, one or two others watched us pass or dived hurriedly into the water.
The canal widened and after a series of wide sprung bridges and a reach of canal far statelier in width than it's surroundings warranted and a particularly filthy stretch of flats known as 'Valentine's Row', we reached Paddington stop. Here, when loaded boats are gauged or tested to find out if their draught is the same as it was when the boats left the docks. When travelling empty you can if you wish collect water, but you have no luck with the office. It's a narrow place through which boats can go breasted up - but in any case one has to creep, as otherwise a tidal wave would submerge the company offices, a nasty jar for them! Just beyond the stop is a wide turn - you creep from under the bridge, swing widely through another narrow bridge and into the tunnel. As it was Sunday there's no need to enquire the 'Tug was coming through'.
On weekdays this is a ritual because every half hour or so a busy little tug collects the light barges going down and takes them through to the top of the locks and brings the loaded ones back up. We whistled through the engines suddenly alarmingly loud and hollow - the air, cold and clammy and the water ink like and slapping violently at the sides. We were out in a few moments - two more bends between towering warehouses; suddenly we were there 'The top of the locks' Camden Lock! We slowed down, Kit released the butty from its shorts straps — handed Miranda the cotton line with which she walked up to the bows climbed round the cratch slipped the noose and was ready to step calmly onto the butty bows as they slid past, do the same to her, the two boats swung together gently.
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
At Appleton where a collection of G.U.C.C. boats. "Beer" said Kit some were loading, others just waiting. Boater youths, brown or red faced, mending ropes, or bailing water, tending to give us quiet looks. The women were chattier, mopping the roofs of their cabins or scrubbing the woodwork. Strong and stocky, most of them with greasy hair, brown skins and brown eyes. Coloured scarves worn three comer ways round their heads, blouses and skirts. None in slacks. The older women in dark clothes, all with aprons and busy. Children in most of the hatches, dirty and scruffy most of them with torn clothes and unwashed faces. But finding ourselves, how difficult it was to keep clean, we decided one could never tell, unless at very close quarters if it was one weeks dirt or merely the accumulation of one day! We went on and on and after about ten hours travelling drew towards the Hayes Depot. The huge silver gasometer marking it with an unmistakable beacon in the evening light. " Breast up, ready to tie before the bridge and then go round to the right" said Kit." All loaded boats tie there on the way up country". Sound your horn very well before the bridge and sweep round, keeping straight in the centre of the Cut till your stern will swing clear of the bridge hole. Then go full ahead and put all your weight on the tiller. Miranda took one of the forty-foot shaft and stood poised on the bows, ready to give an extra heave if there were boats tied on the bend. We crept through, our engine beating gently, our stern swung clear and the engine roared into full acceleration, a fountain of white water burst from her stern, the full seventy foot of our boats pivoted slowly round. Miranda laid down her shaft and seized a rope to tie instead, the watching mechanics and boaters went on with their jobs. "Very nice" said Kit. And we all swelled unintentionally with pride. Because the corner is more than a right angle and only slightly over a boat length in width and for all that the Cut runs straight past the bridge on down to Brentford, there is very little room for untidy parlour tricks. So we tied up and ate our supper we lay next to Rosie someone and her husband a two handed pair of spotless cleanliness and trim beauty (both boats and people); and stern to stern with Dickie Boswell and his wife Lu. They were delightful, full of fun; both short and stocky, he was of Romany stock and looked it with a smiling cheerful face and an endless flow of conversation. Lu was plump and fair of face with pure platinum blonde hair, bleached to a gold not from a bottle, tied roughly back from her shinning rosy cheeks. They had three flaxen haired children - hopelessly dirty and full of beans and all under five. They knew Kit very well and talked across the stern of the two boats while we ate supper sky larking between each other like a couple of kids. Kay, who was feeling unappreciative, went off for her beer. I did some washing, then wrote to the gang, one of whom had sent me a parcel. I stretched myself in the last rays of the sun and eyed my dirty aching limbs. Must wash. But to watch the sunset behind the factory buildings was so much more exciting and to listen to Lu's shrill voice putting the kids to bed, and Dickey's backchat from the motor cabin where he was washing with noises like grampus. Further down the lay-by someone was fiddling with their engine the sound rose and faded away repeatedly in the quivering air. The boats bobbed gently as a pair of "Fellows" went down to the docks loaded. Taking the wide sweep of the bend under the bridge easily and confidently. The man on the motor going full ahead to pull his butty round and his stalwart daughter, her hair in curlers, rowing her tiller frantically and making it with apparently perfect judgement. Lu shouted and the girl yelled back resting on her tiller as she disappeared beneath the bridge. "Yes" thought I. "This is the life" and went happily to wash. Later on Dickey played a mandolin to lull the children to sleep and sang in a rich deep voice with Lu's shrill treble joining in occasionally. Kay landed on the roof with a thump and came in a flaming temper. "Christ! What a row - Never get any rest with those people! Ghastly tied stern to stern with anyone - oh God!" Her remarks subsided in bubbles and she washed vigorously, rolling herself up in her blanket after and curling up "Can't stand it - oh Christ! Too hot with the doors shut", Slam! Slam! Went the doors and some vibrant remarks went out into the now quietening summer night. Peace settled gently down and the world went to sleep. I felt disloyal to Kay who I liked but wished Dickey had gone on singing but didn't have long to wish it in. The next day we went north. I felt like the first adventurer. At first everything was silver in the sunshine. Cowley Bridge was just like a painting by Cotman - a little white stone bridge, still reflections, vast tall beeches towering above it -- Cowley Lock is lovely too. On, up the wide stretches of canal, everything misty in the sun. The same routine for locks. We did three locks each. Lock wheeling or getting the locks ready motor and butty. I learnt to take the motor in very gently, always on the right, touch the wall just beyond the gate, going into neutral as one touched; and then as ones boat straightened out reverse then the instant she came to rest or touched the sill forward gear to prevent her slipping out releasing the butty off the towrope just as one goes in. The butty was the same drill with the addition of the towrope. A new and fright some thing controlled entirely from the butty. The length of rope is coiled neatly into the hatches behind one and runs over a stud round which it is twisted; along the length of the boat through "running blocks" to the mast where it passes through a shackle tied to the mast and lies neatly down the side of the sheets when not in use. From there it is seized by the motor and affixed to the stud as the motor goes out of the lock. The rope is held by the butty steerer who pays it out to the required length and then crosses the rope rapidly round the stud and checks it; with a special tie when this is achieved. As one has at the same time to steer, and we were constantly meeting boats coming down, waiting outside the locks to hustle us out" Life was an agony of anxiety! Kit took me lock wheeling on bikes, we tore along a towpath which was narrow and bumpy and seemed to have been chewed by a crocodile. Fishermen, who, as it was Sunday and late summer were beginning to appear in their hundreds, eyed us and our boats with dislike or shouted cheery remarks at us. Kit took very little notice and feeling much like Alice and the Red Queen (except that we were getting somewhere fast), I tore along behind her. One false move and it was the thorn hedge or the Cut. There was no time to be unable to crank those blasted paddles up now and up they went, slowly at first and then more easily. My arms ached and the sun got hotter and hotter. We climbed through the stately Georgian beauty of Casioberry Park and the people got denser and denser, Watford, Cassy Bridge, Iron Bridge - two hellish bends we didn't do too well, Lady Capels, Hunton Bridge and chain, Ricky, Black Lock, Cowley and Denham Deep were past history and might have happened a thousand years ago instead of this morning. The thicker the people, the more furious Kit got and the clumsier we became in our mutual anxiety to do our best. We moved babies off checking stumps-- "Oh! Do you mind -- your little boys- I’ve got to stop this boat!!" "Can you get away from the gates they open inwards you see?" We had to keep kids away from the paddles in case the checking tongue of steel slipped and someone's windless flew to do damage amongst the crowd. Miranda gave a sudden laugh and said "Fantastic isn't it!". Her fisherman's hat on the back of her head and her orange Breton fisherman's jerkin wide at the neck - a pair of grey flannels and sandals. I suddenly realised we did look odd ourselves, our faces streaming, our weird assortment of clothes. Kay became sophisticated and spoke politely to people. Miranda's eyes laughed and her cultured accents cleared little Ernie and Jim more quickly than ever we could. Kay looked like something from Hollywood her red gold hair shinning in the sun - her thin clinging shirt and slacks and graceful figure. I was just hot. We drank deeply between locks, no rest all day, except for five minutes on the roof now and then. Kit lock wheeled for us for necessity demanded a bucket. By night, when we tied up at seven, we were dead. "Fishery" half way to Iring Summit. A lock between a graceful white stone bridge with a Georgian balustrade. A good pub. We washed, Kay went for a drink with Kit - I envied her energy and the pub but I didn't like beer and I vaguely disapproved of women drinking, so I ate, read, ached and went to sleep. I wondered what Miranda did in a vague way but very vaguely. The next day was much the same only by the afternoon we reached "The Cow Roast" and the Summit. A toothless lock keeper like a hen checked us and gauged us and we realised that we'd finished the first upgrade of forty-four locks from London. We went swinging easily on the longer snubber across Tring Summit and having being told at the Cow Roast that we should be "Locked up" at Mathas owing to water shortage - so we tied up at four pm. Kay and I ate enormously and planned great washes. I had mine first and sat on the deck, she splashed and I drew a couple of "Barlows" that had tied up behind us. Lovely they are, much lighter than G.D.C.C. boats in frame with "Bologna" engines. They have, I think the most fascinating beat on the Cut, uneven and exciting with a sort of wild natural rhythm about it! Wow! They are painted very daintily with a white strip round the bows and stern, gay bunches of flowers to end and edge it. On their deck hatch they have a scarlet heart on a white ground and the doors to their cabins are painted traditionally with roses and castles; so are their water cans and Arn bowls. By the type of painting on these articles you can tell where they come from. Whether it be Braunston yards - which favour a dark green ground and roses and castles or Bedworth which have a lighter more orange and yellow flowery style. There is yet another style of painting from Messrs Harvey-Taylor's yard at Leyton Buzzard. I think they are a subsidiary to Nurses at Braunstone and as such not important, although their boats have very nice castles painted on the side of their cabins. Still so have "Fellows". Next day in a cold white mist we went down Mathas. The butty, one checked going into the lock but didn't tie up, it had an irritating thumb string to remember which was attached to a minute steel thumb under the gate and with which one stopped the butty swinging out of the lock with the motor, the moment the gates opened. Irritating because it entailed having to leave it on till the toe rope was picked up and flip it off in time to deal with paying out the towrope! There were fun and games until we learnt how to do it! We had to keep the butty "Up" near the front of the lock and see her "Elum" didn't sink onto the sill. She was then taken back on a string by the motor as soon as the sill became visible, dropped and picked up by the towrope. The white mist, the pair behind, the fact there was a pair waiting for us at every lock. That bloody thumb string was the final straw. Failure to deal with it at exactly the right moment meant both boats sailed out breasted and in short pounds it was to hard to get them apart in time to get round and in the next lock. The boaters were kindly, most of them knew Kit well and were ready for the strange things her crew might do. The days past rapidly and peacefully enough. We learnt our muscles were getting stronger and life wasn't quite such a rush. Beyond Mathas, the locks stretch on over rich farmland flat on either side - the locks every half mile or so. The harvest was rich that year and I remember lock wheeling, the scent of the corn making the keen air of the heights sweet and gazing enthralled at the golden land, chequered with sheaves that stretched away on either side. An occasional green stretch dotted with black and white cattle to break the monotony. The winding blue ribbon of canal with its white concrete edges broken by tall rustling bunches of reeds. The grey house of a lockkeeper standing over the black and white gates of the lock. Or an occasional warm red brick farmhouse sheltered by haystacks and tall poplars, as the only habitations in sight. Little white bridges, clumps of willows as we came down to Leighton Buzzard and even richer, greener cattle land stretching away to the little red brick town. Silent grey herons that stand rigid, ugly and yet graceful between the reeds. Busy little moorhens bustling like agitated bees in and out of the dark overhanging banks and clucking with irritation at the intrusion of Battersea's vast bulk. Past Harry Taylor’s yards, an untidy jumble of sheds with a boat on the stocks; a few dirty boats haphazardly tied beyond. Round the sharp bends of Leighton, under the bridge with the little straight silver horn sounding shrilly to warn other boats of our coming and people gazing curiously down. Through the Jackdaw pound noted for its bends, bad muddy stretches and blind bridges. Long pounds now with time to check our stores, tidy the cabins and polish our brass-Stoke Hammond-Talbot, Fenny. Fenny with the pub that is every boater’s store where one does all ones shopping- and buys stacks of tinned milk. Water gauging and a revolting man for a lockkeeper. Fenny is quite a place. We spent a night there and I thought of the holiday camp where the College was spending its holiday-harvesting. Somehow the idea didn't fit, although I found out later they were much nearer than I thought, and I regretted it promptly. From Fenny there is a six-hour pound to Stoke Bruene. Seven uphill locks with a lockkeeper who has no teeth-watery blue eyes ~d a soft spot for Kay. Miranda refers to him as "that old horny goat ". An exquisitely pretty village with a pub, a church, poplars, a row of cottages in grey stone. The last lock being tucked inconveniently, as locks go, under a bridge, we stop there and I am told of Sister Mary, who is to tie a finger Miranda has damaged. Her father was a Cut doctor and left a bequest in his will for Mary to look after the boaters which she did to the extent of always being dressed like a Commandant with a white headdress. She was a legend from one end of the Cut to the other. Her efficiency was doubted as Miranda came back from her visit startlingly arrayed in a sling and instructions not to use the hand for three days. "Wait till we are through the tunnel" said with a giggle, as Miranda announced her opinion of “this nonsense".
We set off on a long snubber, Kay on the motor, Miranda and I lying flat on the roof of the butty for my first tunnel-Blisworth-two miles long-just a rabbit hole in the steep green side of the hill. We put on our headlamps and go into the unfathomable darkness slowly, feeling our way down the right hand wall. The air goes damp and cold, the water sloshes and slaps, the walls shine with dampness. Drips hit me on the arms and legs at intervals. The engine makes a terrifying roar and one can hear crashes in the dark and see no motor at all. The crashes cease, an arc of light appears round our bows and curves across the roof. "Keep your bows in the centre and you will always be alright. If you see anything coming keep to the right and go slowly." The stern of the motor was now in being with Kay looking tense and never turning, steering carefully suddenly the engine roared into life and we seemed to fly through the narrow space. Kit remarked that if you tried to keep the butty in the centre it simply didn't and it was difficult to stop oneself over steering in a tunnel. We passed under a great funnel of light leading to the sky, "Look up" commanded Kit and I did.
Contributed originally by delboy (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is a World War Two story not of bravery or battle but of an unbelievable happening during the height of the V1 flying bomb or 'Doodle Bug' attacks on London.
One bright sunny day in July 1944 I was about to leave the fire station where I had been on shift when looking up saw, to my unbelievable horror, the nose of a dreaded V1 very slowly coming into view just above the fire hall. This V1 was no more than 100 feet up and, most unusually, it was gliding without engine power.
I, of course, expected the bomb to land on the road almost where I stood. I had fallen to the pavement trying to make myself as small as possible and I think I was trying to dig a hole in the concrete, but the bomb made its slow and rocky way, skimming the roofs of houses opposite, finally running out of air and landing with a crash on a small house about 100 yards away.
One good thing - the bomb had been so low and had glided some three miles after its engine had cut out, that it didn't have the force which usually accompanied these bombs. The area of devastation was greatly reduced and so only one house was destroyed - even the house opposite the crash was left with its windows intact.
Contributed originally by Canterbury Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Chris Hall for Kent Libraries and Archives and Canterbury City Council Museums on behalf of Shelagh Worsell and added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was just 12 years old when war was declared. It was a depressing time for months prior to the declaration. I felt bewildered and numb and had difficulty understanding why mum and dad were looking so sad. One of my brothers was already in the Merchant Navy and my other brother was signing up in the RAF .My father was politically interested and had the news on all the time. We all had to keep quiet because the sound from our wireless would fade away and then come back again. Within a week or so of the declaration of war the schools arranged evacuation and my parents asked me whether I would like to go (1 think it was to Devon or South Wales). I said I wanted to stay. Dad came up and squeezed my shoulder, I knew he was pleased. Then the Vicar asked if l would join his daughter who was going to a private house in the country somewhere. I wouldn't go.
My school days became one week mornings only and one week afternoons. This way we were able to have as many lessons as could be fitted in due to the shortage of teaching staff ; a lot of them went into the forces. A number of elderly retired teachers were called in to replace them. When the air raid sirens sounded we had to crawl under our single desks. At times we were on the top floor of the building and there was no time to get downstairs. I remember shaking with fear but at the same time giggling. We could see each other under the desks and our navy blue knickers were on display; we couldn't sit under the desks but had to kneel as low as we could. At the end of the school day I felt more secure walking home because mum or dad would usually meet me. Lunchtimes, if the all-clear had sounded, the teachers allowed us home and that was a ten minute run for me. There was fear in the air about you and I ran like the clappers, mum usually meeting me halfway.
My dad decided to have an Anderson shelter. A lot of the neighbours thought he was crazy, they mostly chose the Morrison shelters which went indoors. Dad dug a great big pit in the back garden, larger than what was required for the shelter, but dad had ideas! He concreted the base and up the sides. Once the shelter was in place, about four feet in the ground, he covered it with some tarpaulin and then some earth and to crown it he replaced his wonderful marrow plant he had removed to make way for the hole! His next job was a stirrup pump. This was situated in part of the extra piece he had dug out. It was plumbed in and we had to do 500 pumps in the morning and 500 pumps in the afternoon to keep the shelter dry inside. This task was, on occasions, used as a punishment when I did anything wrong. We had an old carpet laid down inside the shelter, dad built four narrow bunks, the top bunks letting down to enable us to sit on the lower ones. It was a tight squeeze in there and I think that is where my claustrophobia started.
We had light and a radio! Also our two cats had a home. The remainder of the extra piece dad had dug was made into two bunks for the cats! And they knew it was for them. At times the puss on top would lean over and put his paw down to see if the other one was there. Our dog had to be chained up outside the back door but he was under an extremely strong workman's bench with blanket and basket, water and a few bones. When I had homework to do I would go into the shelter to do it and then have tea, either in the house or in the shelter, depending on whether the sirens had sounded. At night, anytime after eight o'clock, I soon got into the habit of going to sleep directly the sirens sounded. We all slept in the shelter every night regardless of whether a siren went. To keep warm we had hot water bottles. Looking back I realise it was not easy for mum and dad, they were only in their mid forties and had no privacy together. To this day when I have worries -I sleep.
Dad was out most night’s fire spotting or doing whatever was needed. Mum had to arrange meals to fit in with what was happening. I recall one night dad didn't come home at all. The incendiaries had been falling all night and there were thousands and thousands dropped in our area. Then came the bombs. It was such a bad night. PENGE was the most bombed area for its size during the war. It was early morning when dad arrived home. You can imagine how anxious mum and I were. He told us there was no point in trying to get to school -the main road had been bombed and there was no way across to the other side.
He had arrived home filthy, tired and oh! So sad. I remember crying for him. He had seen so much destruction and had lost a number of friends and their families. He often went in a cafe in Clock House, Beckenham, but early this morning the cafe had been full of workmen having breakfast when a bomb wiped them all out.
Surprise, surprise in 1941, I won a scholarship to a school in Bromley. I was so excited; but dad and mum were constantly worried about the journey, however, they accepted the place I had won. Occasionally the number 227 bus to Bromley had to delay its journey due to either unexploded bombs or the sirens sounding. One of the most fearful things which gave me nightmares for many years were the floating landmines. I was more frightened of them than anything else.
The girls and I had a short walk from the bus stop along Wharton Road in Bromley to the school. Just as we were going through the school gate to cross the playground a German plane flew in low and then made another sweep just as we crossed the playground and deliberately strafed the school with bursts of fire. I don't think anyone was hurt but the Germans knew exactly what they were firing on, their height made the school and us so visible to them.
When things got pretty hairy with raids, my dad opened up the fence between our immediate neighbours and ourselves so that they could join us in our shelter if they wished. They had opted for a Morrison. Another person who joined us in our shelter was a cousin. I recall the strange situation of four females sitting 'in the garden' past midnight, looking at jewellery and laughing our heads off at photographs. Dad and the Mr neighbour were busy elsewhere. Whilst we were in the shelter the heavy thump of bombers were continuously passing overhead on their way to the London Docks. Somehow or other we knew where they were heading. Midway through the war the days seemed to be long and sunny. We watched the dog fights against bright blue cloudless skies and would give great cheers when we saw a German plane smoking and descending fast to earth and then shouts would go up as we saw a parachute. I am writing this as though we took it all in our stride. I suppose in a way we did. The early fear seemed to have subsided and it proves the point that familiarity breeds contempt.
In 1943, I had left school and was working in an engineering office, when the girl I was working with was told to go home. She only lived a street away from me and I went with her. Her mum had been at their front gate saying goodbye to the son who was returning from leave to his RAF station. He was up the road when a V2 exploded. Mum was killed but the boy was o.k. I suppose we became rather blasé about the war; being in the wrong place at the wrong time was something we could not do anything about.
Dreadful, dreadful days when the Doodlebugs arrived.
It had been quiet for a few weeks and mum allowed me to go to the cinema at the end of the road for a matinee showing "Love Story". As I was walking home, still in daylight, I heard sweet melodic whistling coming from behind. The tune was "Cornish Rhapsody" from the film. Quite unconcerned and enjoying the music, I was suddenly pushed in the back and fell to the ground in the gutter with a body on top of me! It was only a few seconds but seemed to be ages and ages before I could move. Then I was gently lifted to my feet and a voice was apologising. It was a young man, a neighbour of ours. He had heard the engine cut out of a Doodlebug (which in my dreamy state) I had not heard. He apologised if he had hurt me but all I felt was tenderness towards him for we both knew the dreadful weapon had landed just a street away. I'll never forget him. I never ever regretted not being evacuated. I was, in a way, proud to have gone through the war with mum and dad (my sister had joined the WRNS early 1941 ). I know mentally for a while I was scarred; today I can not look up into the night sky at the moon, stars or any phenomena which may be there. My nightmares have often brought those dreadful years back, but I know that I grew up to be a stronger person. I have not been able to cry easily. I stopped myself crying, particularly when my brothers and sister had to return from leave to their bases. I didn't cry because I didn't want to upset mum and dad anymore than they were already.
Reminiscences of SHELAGH (PERCIVAL) WORSELL.
Contributed originally by Brian (BBC WW2 People's War)
Chapter 4 — ‘The London Blitz’
At Biggin Hill we were equipped with three inch guns which had been taken off decommissioned naval vessels and modified for land use. They were remarkable for having the most ear-splitting crack when fired which was much more hurtful to the ear than the somewhat duller boom of the 3.7inch guns that we had just become accustomed to and we were not issued with ear mufflers in those days, not even earplugs. Their other characteristic was that they had a maximum ceiling of twenty thousand feet unlike the 3.7s which had a ceiling of a bit over thirty thousand feet. This was to present us with a sense of enormous frustration a few days later when Herman Goering launched the first massive daylight raid on London. There we sat, watching wave after wave of five hundred bombers passing directly over our heads at a height of thirty thousand feet and we were unable to fire a single shot.
The major target for the raid was Surrey Docks, at that time a major port and stacked with masses of imported timber. Biggin Hill is just fifteen miles due south of the docks and it is true to say that it was very nearly possible that night to read a newspaper in the light of the fires left in the wake of the bombing.
I went on a seven day leave from Biggin Hill and whilst at home in Bedford got a telegram telling me that the Battery had moved and that I must report at the end of my leave to Headquarters at Mitcham. I got there in the late afternoon only to find that my Troop were occupying a gunsite, equipped again with 3.7s, in Southwark Park, Bermondsey in the east end of London. The Battery Captain was going over there in the evening and said he would take me in his car. By this time the night raids on London had started in earnest and as it was after dark when we set off we soon became embroiled in the air raid and as we got deeper into the metropolis it became necessary to make several diversions caused by blocked streets from falling buildings. This was my first experience of really being, as it were, ‘under fire’ and the first time I felt really frightened.
Every night the four guns fired something like forty to fifty rounds each at planes illuminated by searchlights and although I don’t recall seeing a single one falling out of the sky as a result of our efforts there can be no doubt that the good effect on the civilian population was very high indeed. The morning after every raid the cockneys surfaced from their air-raid shelters, or from the depths of the London Underground, where they had sheltered from the blitz and spent the next half hour or so sweeping the shrapnel that had fallen from our bursting shells away from their doorsteps. They must have been weary and frightened but were always cheerful and called down all sorts of curses on the Jerries in their own inimitable variety of cockney rhyming slang. So grateful were they to us ‘the gunners in the Park‘, that we received an almost embarrassing supply of gifts, cigarettes, sweets and the odd football, and these were from people who were anything but well-off. It’s somewhat ironic to record that the other Troop of our Battery was in Hyde Park, just across from Park Lane and they bitterly reported that they never got even a packet of fags between them. Moreover, if any one of our gunners went into a pub in Bermondsey he would be asked if he was out of the Park and when he said he was he just could not buy a beer. I learned quickly to have a high regard for the London east ender.
Whilst the civilians were sweeping up the shrapnel it was our job to replenish the guns with ammunition every morning and this was a task in which everybody on the gunsite took part. Fifty rounds a gun meant two-hundred rounds in all from the four guns and each round weighed half a hundredweight which comes to five tons of ammunition to be manhandled to the gunpits. The shells came two to a steel box and were delivered and stacked on the edge of the Park about a hundred yards from the guns, so as not to be too close a hazard, and each morning there was to be seen rows of men, in echelon, marching across the grass with the handle of a shell case in each hand; backwards and forwards until the job was done.
We weren’t on duty every night and as I remember did two nights on and a night off. On our night off we were so tired that all we wanted was sleep and as it was more comfortable in the beds in our huts we preferred to sleep there rather than a night in an air-raid shelter; in fact I don’t think there were any shelters for us. We slept alright despite the noise of the guns and I only recall one near miss from a bomb.
Once a week we were given a twenty-four hour off pass, which meant we could be away from camp for the whole period. At first I elected to go home to Bedford, but a couple of times experiencing the boredom of spending much of the time on a train soon put me off that. Then a friend of mine from Beds Yeomanry days, bought a motorbike for a fiver and offered me a lift home on his pillion. The bike was really old with narrow tyres and we had got no further than Maida Vale when the front wheel got stuck in a tram-line, the back wheel slid to one side and rider and passenger were deposited gently onto the tarmac. Undeterred we remounted and set off again but hadn’t gone far before off we came again. Fortunately there was little traffic in war-time London but nevertheless we decided not to play our luck any more and deposited the bike in a side street yard, and made our way back to camp by tube.
My friend had been saddled with the full name of Lucas Guthery Atterbury; we knew him as Gus, but he had an unfortunate accident which brought his army career to an abrupt end. One night we were both on guard duty together and were sitting in the guard room when a sentry came in having been relieved and proceeded to unload his rifle. This was done by working the bolt of the rifle and when he thought that he had emptied the magazine he closed the bolt and was just about to pull the trigger when Gus noticed that a round had gone ‘up the spout’ He put his hand out and shouted “No!” but too late the rifle fired and Gus took the bullet right across his wrist severing most of the tendons. He was rushed to hospital but lost his hand and was invalided out of the army. I heard that he went to work in the London office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (more recently to merge with Midland Bank to become HSBC). I wonder how many people know that that stands for ‘Hong Kong, Shanghai Banking Corporation’? I lost touch with him after that.
After our motorcycle mishap I gave up trying to get home to Bedford on my days off and spent much of the time wandering around London on foot; I didn’t have the money to do much else and it is surprising how much I learned in this way about our capital city. On these days we did, of course, experience the Blitz as did the civilians and my very nearest ‘near miss’ happened on one such an occasion when I was in a pub just off Jermyn Street and a bomb took out the garage next door. A plate glass window under which I and others were sitting blew in on top of us. We ended up on the floor amongst lots of shattered glass but not a scratch on any of us.
As far as I can remember we were in London for about ten weeks or so and were then told that we were going back to Yorkshire for a rest. This meant another interminable rail journey and this time our progress was halted in Nottinghamshire and we detrained to spend the night in a disused mill in Long Buckby. Hard lying again and we found out in the morning that the reason for the delay was that during the night Sheffield was suffering what turned out to be it’s severest blitz of the War. When we did get to Sheffield it was not for a rest but to take possession of a gunsite in the grounds of a large school. It was a new site and we were to occupy a cluster of newly built wooden huts. This would have been fine were it not for the fact that they were constructed of new timber and as they were unlined it was possible to see daylight through the cracks in the walls. Add to that the fact that there were no beds, the floors were made of corporation paving flags upon which we slept with the customary three blankets and a groundsheet; and it really was very cold. To cap it all the powers that be decided it was time for us to have smallpox vaccination and inoculation against tetanus and typhoid. We were given it all in one arm and I shall never forget the following night lying on the cold, hard floor and feeling so ill.
The Sheffield blitz, whilst not being as severe as that of Coventry a few weeks earlier, nevertheless took out the whole of the central shopping district, the Moor, and when I used to go to Sheffield for meetings in the sixties, some twenty years later, there was still a row of temporary single storied shops. There was a follow up raid a couple of nights after we got settled in but not nearly as bad as the first one.
We went to two Heavy Anti Aircraft practice camps whilst I was in Britain. These were understandably sited on a remote part of the coast so that we fired out to sea and the of the two I visited, the first was on the Isle of Whithorn, almost on the outer extremity of the northern shore of the Solway Firth, and a more desolate spot it is hard to imagine. At least it was then! The other was at Weybourne, near Sheringham on the north coast of East Anglia and I remember this better for two reasons. Firstly it was my first experience of seeing military rockets fired. They were mounted on rails and were at the very experimental stage so that many of them proceeded to turn head over heels almost as soon as they became airborne. They became much more sophisticated but I never saw them fired in anger. The other reason that I remember Weybourne is that it was from there that I went to O.C.T.U. There were two O.C.T.U.s for aspiring anti-aircraft gunners; one at Shrivenham in Wiltshire and the other at Llandrindod Wells in what was then Radnorshire (now Powys), and I was posted to the latter. I won’t dwell on how long it took me to get from the east coast to mid-Wales!