Bombs dropped in the ward of: Oval
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Oval:
- 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:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Oval
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Contributed originally by 2nd Air Division Memorial Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Jenny Christian of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in conjunction with BBC Radio Norfolk on behalf of Frank L Scott and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was eighteen, going on nineteen, when the storm clouds of war started to gather. Life was good ; a happy home, loving and devoted parents and family, sound job prospects and a variety of interesting hobbies and out-door pursuits. All this adding up to an enjoyable and hopefully peaceful future. Life was indeed worth living!
My dreams were shattered on that morning in early September 1939 when the sirens sounded throughout the land warning 'Englanders' of an immediate air attack when the suspected might of the German Luftwaffe would rain down upon us.
Most people that could, and were able, ran for cover long before the mournful wail of the penetrating sound of the air-raid sirens had faded away.
My family consisting of Mother and Father, two sisters, three younger brothers and an elderly Grandfather took to our heels and made for the conveniently placed 'Anderson' shelter dug into the back garden. I can't remember the exact measurements of that particular type, but I do know that to house nine adults for any length of time, as it eventually did for several months to come, has to be experienced to be believed. Not only was it very uncomfortable in such a confined space but there was always a fear of the unknown horrors of bombing raids.
Within the shelter, there was the cheerful chatter to keep up our spirits but outside there was an uncanny silence which was broken some time later by the ALL CLEAR signal. A sound we got to love and hear. Nothing happened that particular day and we remained unscathed.
The sound of that very first warning at about 11 o'clock on Sunday 3rd September 1939 will long remain in the memories of many folk, the elderly and not so young, and was a discord we all learnt to live with and to rejoice endlessly to the welcome sound of the ALL CLEAR.
This situation continued for many months with warnings of imminent raids which came to nothing. So began the 'phoney war' as it became to be known. Because of the continuous interruptions caused daily when enemy aircraft were unable to penetrate the air defences, spotters were placed on rooftops of factories, offices, power stations etc., to warn workers only when there were signs of impending danger.
Unfortunately, this was rather short lived and many large towns and cities suffered badly when the German High Command decided to step up and concentrate on a more devastating and annihilating blow, in particular to the civilian population.
My personal experience of this period of time was when taking a girlfriend to a cinema in Elephant and Castle area of London and to be informed by the Manager of the cinema that a heavy bombing raid was taking place in the dock area of the East End. Not that that had much significance to a couple in the back row, who continued there until the bombing got worse and the Manager informed those remaining that the cinema was about to close.
Most people that were able to went underground that evening and it wasn't until the ALL CLEAR sounded in the early morning at daylight that they came out again and went about their business.
Living not far from this area, my first thoughts were for my family and I wished to check on their welfare as soon as possible. Because of the ferocity of the raid, there was much local damage and fires were raging everywhere, accounting for endless lengths of firemans' hosepipes to be trampled over in search of public transport which, by that time, was non-existent. Having escorted my girlfriend home which, unfortunately, was in the opposite direction to the one I would have wished to get me home quickly, but eventually I made it and found them safe and sound. A block of flats nearby had taken a direct hit during the raid.
This signalled the beginning of endless night after night bombing raids on London and 'Wailing Willie' would sound without fail at dusk about the time that mother would be putting the finishing touches to the picnic basket that the family trundled to the garden air-raid shelter. Not too often, but some nights for a change of scenery, or further company, we would go to a communal shelter but must admit that we all felt most secure at 'ours'.
So, life went on, come what may, raids or no raids. All went of to work the next morning trusting and hoping that our work place would still be there. Battered or not, running repairs would be performed and it would be 'business as usual'.
My father, being in the newspaper distribution trade and a night worker would clamber out of the shelter in the early hours but would return occasionally during the night to see that all was well. He would also drop in the morning papers which were often read beneath the glow of the searchlight beams raking the darkened sky in search of enemy aircraft. An additional item on one particular raid was when a nearby gasometer near the Oval cricket ground was hit and a whole cascade of aluminium flakes came drifting down in the light of the search light beams.
Being in 'Civvy Street' at that time, and in what was considered a reserved occupation with a company of manufacturing chemists, my only contact with the war and ongoing battles in various theatres of war was through the press. It was not until that little brown envelope appropriately marked O.H.M.S. fell through the letter-box did my involvement with the military begin.
"You will report" it began, and so I did to the local Labour exchange when it set the ball rolling with regard to medicals, which arm of the service, date of call up etc. I also remember that my company deducted my pay that day. Something I never forgave them for and therefore had no wish to rejoin them on release from the forces.
Came the day, or rather it very nearly didn't! One of the most frightening and devastating attacks on London came that night. The railway station that I had to report to for transport to camp had been put out of action and I can remember clearly seeing passenger carriages hanging onto the roads from railway bridges. Plan 'B' was immediately put into operation and road transport was made available to take us "rookies" to the next station down the line.
The Military Training Camp on the borders of Salisbury Plain became home for the next six weeks when one went through all the motions of becoming a fighting soldier, with discipline and turn-out being the Order of the Day. Whatever one says about Training Sergeants I think our Squad must have struck lucky because we decided to have a whip round and buy him a parting gift before our leaving camp and being drafted to a searchlight mob. Thus ended basic training in the Royal Artillery.
The next venue was over the border; a searchlight training camp on the West coast of Scotland. Within a very short time and very little action, boredom set in and a Regimental office notice calling for volunteers for Airborne Divisions prompted a few of my mates and I to put our names forward. Knowing the outcome of some of their eventual encounters in later battles I am thankful now that an earlier posting took me to a newly formed Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of which I am justly proud.
Whilst serving with a searchlight Battery Headquarters in Suffolk, apart from the usual flak and hostile fire being an every day occurrence, Cupid's dart took a hand when the A.T.S. became part of the Establishment and a cute little red-head arrived on site. A war-time romance followed but a further posting from that unit took me to another part of the country. As the saying goes "Love will find a way" and it did for we kept in touch until distance and timing took its toll. That was over 50 years ago and through a twist of fate, a news item that appeared in a national newspaper put us in touch again.
My Regiment, the 165 H.A.A. Regt. R.A. with the fully mobile 3.7in gun had many different locations during the build up to D Day but it was fortunate enough to complete its full mobilisation for overseas service in a pleasant area on the outskirts of London. This suited me fine as it was but a short train journey to my home and providing there was no call to duty I would take the opportunity of going A.W.O.L. and dropping in on my folks for a chat and a pint at the local. However, I always made a point of getting back in time for reveille and no one was the wiser. It was also decided about that time that every man in the Regiment should be able to drive a vehicle before proceeding overseas so that was another means of getting up town for a period of time.
Inevitably all good things come to an end and we received our "Marching Orders" to proceed in convoy to the London Docks. The weather at that time was worsening putting all the best laid plans 'on hold'. Although restrictions as regards personnel movements were pretty tight some local leave was allowed. It would have been possible for me to see my folks just once more before heading into the unknown but having said my farewells earlier felt I just couldn't go through that again.
With the enormous numbers of vehicles and military equipment arriving in the marshalling area and a continuous downpour of rain it wasn't long before we were living in a sea of mud and getting a foretaste of things to come.
To idle away the hours whilst awaiting to hear the shout "WE GO", time was spent playing cards (for the last remaining bits of English currency), much idle gossip, and I would suspect thinking about those we were leaving behind. God knows when, or if, we would be seeing them again. By now this island we were about to leave, with its incessant Luftwaffe bombing raids and the arrival of the 'Flying Bomb', had by now become a 'front line' and it was good to be thinking that we were now going to do something about it !!
All preparations were made for the 'off'. Pay Parade and an issue of 200 French francs (invasion style), and then to 'Fall In' again for an issue of the 24hr ration pack (army style), vomit bags and a Mae West (American style). Just time to write a quick farewell letter home before boarding a troopship.
Very soon it was 'anchors away' and I think I must have dozed off about that point for I awoke to find we were hugging the English coast and were about to change course off the Isle of Wight where we joined the great armada of ships of all shapes and sizes.
It wasn't too long before the coastline of the French coast became visible, although I did keep looking over my shoulder for the last glimpse of my homeland. The whole sea-scape by now being filled with an endless procession of vessels carrying their cargos of fighting men, the artillery, tanks, plus all the other essentials to feed the hungry war machine.
The exact role of my particular arm of the Royal Artillery was for the Ack-Ack protection of air-fields and consisted of Headquarters and three Batteries, each Battery having two Troops of four 3.7in guns, totalling some 24 guns in all. This role was to change dramatically as we were soon to discover. In the Order of Battle we would not therefore be called into action until a foothold had been successfully gained and position firmly held in NORMANDY.
The first night at sea was spent laying just off the coast at Arromanches (Gold Beach) where some enemy air activity was experienced and a ship moored alongside unfortunately got a H.E. bomb in its hold. Orders came through to disembark and unloading continued until darkness fell. An exercise that had no doubt been overlooked and therefore not covered during previous years of intensive training was actually climbing down the side of a high-sided troopship in order to get aboard, in my case, and American LCT.
This accomplished safely, with every possible chance of falling between both vessels tossing in a heaving sea, there followed a warm "Welcome Aboard" from a young cheerful freshfaced, gum chewing, cigar smoking Yank. I believe I sensed the smell of coffee and do'nuts!!
Making sure that the assigned vehicle for my entry into Normandy and beyond was loaded aboard I settled down, anticipating WHAT, but surveying the panoramic view as we approached the sandy shore by now littered with the remains of the earlier major onslaught.
Undoubtedly one couldn't have been too aware of the incoming and outgoing tides as the water was far too deep at the beach-head and found it necessary to cruise around until late into the evening before it was decided to make for the shore come what may!! By then it was time to join the other members of the regiment's advance party in the Humber staff car which included driver, a radio operator, the C.O. and Adjutant.
Following the dropping of the anchor, the loading ramp was immediately lowered to the accompaniment of the sound of the engines breaking into life. I think at that point the two officers became aware that we were still in 'deep water' for they decided to climb onto to roof of the 'Z' vehicle as it proceeded down the ramp. In spite of seeing the sea water gradually climbing half way up the windscreen the O.Rs feet remained reasonably dry and we made the shore with the aid of the four-wheel drive.
At the first peaceful opportunity it was essential to shed the vehicle of its waterproofing materials and extend the exhaust pipe. The canvas parts of this exercise I decided to keep, as I thought that they would be useful (time permitting) for lining ones fox-hole, which I later found to be ideal.
My ancient tatty looking 1944 diary informs me that I slept in a field and awoke at 05.30hrs to a glorious sunny day, that I washed in a stream,sampled my 24hr ration pack, saw my first dead jerry and that General De Gaulle passed the Assembly Point.
I must admit that without the aid of my diary that I managed to keep throughout the war (something that I could have been very severely reprimanded for had it been known at the time) and the treasured letters that my Mother retained until her dying day, I could not possibly remember all the most intimate details of my soldiering days.
Returning to those early entries, whilst enjoying the pleasure of a quick splash in a neighbouring stream I became aware of some girlish giggling in the adjoining bushes and felt that this was an early indication that the natives were friendly.
We proceeded inland, the Sappers having done their stuff and prepared safe lanes amid endless rows of tape with the deathly skull and crossbones indicating ACHTUNG MINEN, it was decided to set up Regimental H.Q. in the area of Beny-sur-mer.
During a check halt en route I noticed that a small area of corn a few yards into a vast cornfield had been disturbed. Taking a chance and feeling inquisitive I decided to investigate. And there it was the ENEMY, but proved not to be too much of a problem. How long he had been there I do not know. He was lying on his back, his feet heavily bandaged no doubt through endless marching, his Jack Boots placed beside his body. I also notice hurriedly that his ring finger was missing? Someone's Son, someone's Father, someone's brother, someone's liebe; what a ghastly business war is !!
It occurred to me that all my observations of German manhood from the then current movies and other sources gave one the impression that they were a somewhat super human race; six foot tall, blonde and blue-eyed. That is what the Fuhrer had aspired to no doubt but I was rather taken aback to see the first column of German prisoners passing by, some short, fat, bald, spectacled etc. etc. a straggly pathetic bunch, tired, weary but some still with that aggressive look in their eyes, some glad that at least the war and the fighting were over for them.
Several moves to different locations were made in the ensuing weeks, also being 2nd Army troops, we were at the beck and call of any Corps or AGRA needing support and CAEN had to be taken at all cost.
Being on H.Q. staff one of my 'in the field' roles was to travel with the Staff car into the forward areas and reconnoitre sites prior to the deployment of the heavy artillery. Here I would remain until the last of the units had passed through that check-point with the expectation of being picked up sometime later when the whole procedure would continue again with a type of leap-frogging action.
Following days of constant heavy shelling and later to watch a 1000 bomber raid from the outskirts of that well defended town of Caen it finally fell. Having dug ourselves in and around an orchard in the Giberville area, east of Caen, some late evening mortar fire sadly killed our Second-in-Command (Major Finch) when the shell struck an apple tree under which the officers were playing a game of cards. Here again my diary notes "heavily shelled at 22.00hrs. 2nd i/c killed, Lt. Quartermaster, Padre and Signals Officer wounded." The following day we buried the 2nd i/c and felt the terrific loss to the Regiment. Several years later through the very good services of the War Graves Commission I was able to trace and eventually visit his grave lying in peace in Bayeux cemetery.
Passing through the ruined and by now almost deserted corridor in Caen I stopped to retrieve a slightly charred but intact wall plate bearing the towns name from the still burning rubble. Somehow it had survived the crushing bombardment and would now protect it as a war souvenir. This memento I eventually carried through France, Belgium into Holland and on to the borders of Germany. Here I was lucky in a draw for U.K. leave and returned home to family bringing the wall plate for safe keeping where it continued to survive the continuing London blitz.
Sadly several years later, and happily married, my wife during a dusting session knocked it from its focal point and it broke into several pieces. I could have wept, remembering its passage through time but my good sense of humour saw the funny side of it all. Having put it together again it does have the appearance of having 'been through the wars' but still has a place of honour on my kitchen wall. Have thought over the years that I should perhaps return it to its rightful owner, but just where does one start?
Returning to the ongoing war in Europe it appeared that things were going as well as could be expected on all fronts. There were occasions when having dug a comfortable hole in the ground word would come through "we're moving again". There were no complaints as such if it was felt it brought the end of hostilities a little closer. It became a bit tough when this could happen sometimes three times in one day and with the approach of winter the earth was getting harder all the time.
It was comforting, however, to hear that the Germans were retreating down the Vire-flers road. Again my old diary reveals the path taken by the Regiment from landing in Normandy through the Altegamme on the North bank of the river Elbe, Hamburg. It gives dates and places and highlights the fact that we were forever crossing borders e.g. France into Belgium, Belgium into Holland, Holland back into Belgium, Belgium into Holland, Holland into Germany where we remained.
Its mobility can perhaps be made clearer in an extract from the Regtl. Citation which quotes
"The unit has been deployed almost continuously in the forward areas, and the Headquarters and Batteries have frequently been under shell and mortar fire. During this time the Regiment has not only fought in an A.A. role but has been detailed to other tasks not normally the lot of an A.A. unit. These have included frequent employment in a medium artillery role, action in an anti-tank screen, and the hasty organisation of A.A. personnel into infantry sub-units to repel enemy counter-attacks. All tasks have met with conspicuous success. The unit has responded speedily, cheerfully and efficiently to every demand made on it. The unit is one where morale is very high indeed and which can confidently be given any task".
Following the distinctive role played during the N.W. Europe campaign the Regiment was awarded a Battle Honour and its Commanding Officer a D.S.O.
Depending on the impending battle plan the various Batteries would be assigned to individual tasks i.e.
275/165 Bty u/c Gds. Armd. Div. for grd. shooting.
198/165 Bty deployed in A.A. role def. conc. area.
317/165 Bty deployed in Anti-tank role.
All tasks having been successfully completed would again move as a Regiment under command Guards Armoured Division to support a new attack.
A day to be remembered was the arrival of bread after some 40 days without. I think it only amounted to one slice per man but what a relief after nibbling on hard biscuits for so long. The men to be pitied were those with dentures who automatically soaked it in their tea or cocoa (gunfire) before consuming.
Another welcome treat was the arrival of the mobile bath and clothing unit in late August '44. It was about that time that I heard a steam whistle indicating that the railroad was back in action.
When the situation allowed a truck would take a party of men to the nearest B and C Unit which consisted of a couple of large marquee tents adjoining. In one you would completely disrobe and proceed along duck-boards to the shower area. Having enjoyed this primitive delight and dried off you would then gather vest, pants, shirt and sox then queue to be sized up by the detailed attendant in charge, to be issued with hopefully something appropriate to ones stature. It didn't always work to ones liking and caused much amusement in the changing tent where swaps occasionally took place.
The unit did however serve its purpose at the time but things became more pleasant when one could retain their own gear and could sometimes get it attended to by a local admirer.
Four moves in as many days took us into Brussels where we were given a rousing reception. Our vehicles were clambered onto from all directions by the thronging crowd, showering us with hugs and kisses, flowers, and a very brief moment to sample a glass or two or wine. No time to stop, unfortunately, and soon to depart with a small recce party en route for Nijmegan. By now things were getting slightly uncomfortable having been attacked from the air during a night in the woods and the main body of the Regiment attacked in the corridor at Veghel.
Here our guns were deployed in an Anti/tank role, field role and CB role. Several troops were provided for attack to recapture the village of Apenhoff. A tiger tank was engaged by one gun and very successful CB and concentrations fired on enemy gun areas and infantry. It was thought that casualties sustained were justified as the attack resulted in the capture of 76 prisoners, one anti-tank gun and a considerable number of enemy dead, mostly to the West of the village where most of our men finished up and where a certain amount of mortar fire was brought down upon them.
The following day the main body of the Regiment arrived in Nijmegan and were deployed in an Ack-Ack role, minus one Troop still in MTB role. It was recorded at the time that on several occasions the guns had been deployed further forward than any other guns in the Second Army and in the case of the bridge over the Escaut Canal at Overpelt it was considered that the fire provided was one of the chief factors in the bridge being captured intact.
It was during a return to Belgium for a break just before Christmas 1944 that we had the good fortune to be billeted for a few days with a wonderful family consisting of Mother and Father, six daughters and two sons. The childrens' ages ranging between possibly eighteen and three. It was the time of celebrating St. Nicholas and homely pleasures had long been forgotten as regards a roof overhead, surrounding walls, and to mix with warm and friendly people. The chance to sit at a dining table on a firm and comfortable chair, food on a plate instead of a dirty old mess-tin were simple things to be appreciated beyond words and all were saddened when it was time to return into the line.
A returning Don, R would often bring little notes written in understandable English but as the lines of communication lengthened so contact diminished.
Some 40 years later, prior to a visit to The Netherlands with a party of Normandy Veterans, I decided to write to the Burgomeister of the small village of Beverst giving him full details of the family and hoping by chance that at least one member of the large family would have survived the war and perhaps was still living in the Limburg area of Belgium.
It was beyond belief that within ten days I had a letter from the very girl, Mariette, who had sent the odd letter to me and to this day still have them in my possession. We had so much to tell each other, on her side that all her sisters were married with children, and that one of her brothers who was three years old during the war was now a priest in Louvain.
As the conducted tour at the time of visiting did not go into the Limburg area of Belgium, it was arranged that a small party from the family circle would travel by minibus and that we would hopefully meet up at a suggested time in the town of Eindhoven in Holland. There was much rejoicing when the timing was spot on and a very brief meeting with an exchange of gifts took place before it was time to clamber back onto the coach.
Over the years when visiting the Continent we meet whenever possible. I have since met all surviving members of the family, visiting their homes and meeting their children. At one of the locations a field a short distance away was pointed out to me where Hitler, a Corporal at the time, had camped during the 1914-18 war.
During one conversation I asked Mariette how the family had fared during the German occupation. She told me that on one occasion a German Officer had knocked on the door requesting the family to accommodate some German troops. The Father replied that he had eight children which he was supporting and had no room for them and luckily they departed. She went on the tell me that when the Germans were pushed out of the village and the English and the Americans moved into the area her Father gladly accepted a few English soldiers to stay, suggesting the family would double up into a couple of rooms. We still find plenty to talk about over the years when corresponding and on meeting up.
In further praise of my old Regiment it is on record that before June '44 was out, a deputation of senior officers visited the unit to learn why, and how, they were usually the first guns in the line to report "READY" and higher formations were calling for their support as a unit.
The Order of March for the operation "Garden", the Northward dash to join up with the Airborne troop was headed (1) Guards Armoured Division, (2) A.A. Group (165 H.A.A. Regt.) leading. This alone should rank a citation for the 3.7in A.A. gun. Second in the Order of March on what must be one of the most daring and spectacular assaults in history.
The 3.7s when used in their field role were fired from positions amongst the infantry and that having no gun shield the layers positions were untenable. During the closing battle for Arnhem they were able to give covering fire throughout the night withdrawal. The 3.7s with their 11 miles range were amongst the very few guns available with sufficient range to cover the flanks of the 1st Airborne at Arnhem, and for a long time there was talk of the unit being permitted to carry the honoured Pegasus on their sleeve.
It was during the withdrawal of the survivors of the Battle of Arnhem, and watching the war-torn paras filing back through Hell's Highway, that I spotted and had a quick chat with a couple of my old mates that had proudly volunteered with me on that fateful day in June '41. In a flash I though "there, but for the grace of God go I". Should I have in fact survived that horrendous and tragic battle, and where are they now I wonder?
Word that hostilities had ceased came through whilst in a little German village called Tesperhude on the North bank of the Elbe, V.E. DAY, the war in Europe had ended. Time to celebrate. All Other Ranks were invited into the Officer's mess where 'issue rum' was being served up in half-pint glasses. This was a complete change to previous issues when, during inclement weather the rum ration would have to be taken in a mug of tea. Pushing all protocol aside it was time to let our hair down and enjoy. It was suggested that a bit of music and song would be in order and the question was asked as to who could play a piano accordion. I gave up the idea of not volunteering on this special occasion and said that I could, having had some professional lessons in my youth.
A search party set off down the street and a 'squeeze box' was produced and promptly placed in position. By then the rum was taking hold and I can remember getting through two verses of "Home on the range" before collapsing over backwards to a cacophony of sound as the bellows extended across my chest. Can't say the C.O. and other Officers were too pleased with the musical performance and I felt the effects of the vapours for a few days following. I made up my mind there and then that I never wished to experience the taste of Nelson's blood ever again, as I also felt about the thought of never wishing to see spam and bully beef, but time is a great healer?
Release from the service being on an 'Age and Service' basis meant that I possibly had another year or so to serve before being discharged. I would have been more than content to remain in the area of Hamburg until my release papers arrived, but unfortunately it was not to be. An urgent War Office posting, I was told, brought me back to England and a spell at Woolwich Barracks which I found most discouraging and ungratifying.
I was to join a newly formed contingent of mostly new recruits about to depart for the Far East, by mid November '45 I was on a troopship bound for Bombay. Christmas 1945 was spent in the Royal Artillery Transit Camp at Deolali where I spent a few weeks before entraining and travelling across India to Calcutta. It wasn't quite the Orient Express for comfort and cuisine, and I can remember being fired upon by rampaging dacoits at one point.
Several more weeks were spent in a transit camp in Calcutta experiencing all the delights of Chowringee and thereabouts – felt quite the pukka sahib at times before word came through that we would be sailing for Rangoon the following day.
Going aboard the S.S 'City of Canterbury' there was the usual rush for hammocks and best positions on deck. Arriving in Rangoon I was happy to receive my first letter from home in seven weeks and was a relief to be sure. I had still not reached journeys end and it was not until mid February 1946 that I joined my intended unit, a Field Regiment, on the borders of Mandalay in Burma.
I was finally homeward bound by the late summer of '46 to enjoy three months overseas leave and a return to civilian life.
Looking back over the years in the forces there were some good times and some exceedingly bad times but having come through it all reasonably fit and healthy I feel the WAR YEARS have shown me the true value of life and that, in retrospect, I feel proud not to have missed this experience of a lifetime.
Written in March 1994.