Bombs dropped in the ward of: Evelyn
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Evelyn:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
No bombs were registered in this area
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Evelyn
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Mike Hazell (BBC WW2 People's War)
Despite my months of experience I felt like a new girl at school reporting at New Cross. To begin with it was the second biggest tram depot in London - only very slightly smaller than Holloway in north London - and there were no trolleys but far more tram routes: 36, 38, 40, 46, 52, 54, 68, 70, 72 and 74 and several of these routes shed the plough and went on the overhead wires outside the central area and I hadn’t needed to do any pole swinging at all at Wandsworth. The duties started and finished at different times too - the first sign-on at New Cross was 03.19 and the last tram before the night service took over reached the depot about half an hour after midnight.
Although everyone was friendly and helpful the depot was so big that there were more crews on the spare list than on the entire rota at Wandsworth and the depot was older and seemed so vast I got lost several times in the first few days. There were all those new routes to learn, new fare tables with strange stage numbers to memorise and there was more bomb damage too, which meant that landmarks had been removed. Discovering where I was along the routes was so much more difficult. A study of any London Transport fare table will show that the stages are named after well known buildings - mainly public houses and churches, thus acknowledging God and Mammon in more or less equal proportions - and when these buildings were reduced to rubble by bombing I found myself having to ask the passengers where we were even in broad daylight.
Even when new fare tables were printed the same names were duly recorded in the firm belief that every one would be rebuilt. Of course, this did not always happen, a fact that was brought home to me in a very amusing way. While working on the 68 and 70 routes through Deptford High Street I looked in vain for a certain public house known as the White Swan, not only could I not find it but there was no bomb damaged area along the stretch of road where it ought to have been. So, when a passenger asked for the White Swan I kept an eye on him and watched where he alighted. Sure enough it was just where I thought it might be but no White Swan anywhere in sight. Next day I picked up several people at the stop and asked them to show me where the White Swan was, only to be told that it was burnt down at least ten years previously and a small block of flats had been built on the site! For all I know, there is still a White Swan fare stage somewhere in Deptford to this day! Of course, not all passengers referred to the stops by their official names and I noticed that women tended to ask for certain shops while men asked for the nearest pub!
In time, of course, I got to know them all and the names of most of the side streets adjacent to the shops too, but I admitted defeat to one dear old soul who, when approached for her fare, asked, “How much is it?” When I pointed out that I was unable to tell her until she told me where she was going, she promptly replied, “I’m going to the doctor’s, dear. My legs are something chronic.” I patiently listened to her tale of woe, covering several visits to her doctor, the clinic and finally Guys Hospital - and right through an operation, apparently for the removal of varicose veins “such as the surgeon said he’d never seen before in all his born days,” when she suddenly jumped up, thrust tu’pence into my waiting hand, and, soundly telling me off for keeping her talking and nearly making her miss her stop, she tripped off the tram and across the road on her “chronic” legs and away down the street at such a pace I could only assume the surgeon at Guys Hospital had performed a miracle. Occasionally through the years I’ve had several people ask, “How much?” or “Is it still tenpence?” and I think of that old lady every time.
Now that I was working locally and able to work out the duties, I used to tell Gran when I would be going past the house and she would sit at the upstairs window and give me a cheery wave as I went past - till one night a bomb dropped across the road and shattered all the windows for several yards in all directions. The glass was replaced by thick tarred paper boarding which solved our blackout problems for the rest of the war and meant living in artificial light except in the warm weather when we could open them for light and air. Luckily, though, that was the nearest we got to being bombed ourselves and did me one good turn. Of course, we had an Anderson Air Raid Shelter in the back garden but, as it was always two feet deep in water in anything but the height of summer, we all huddled under the stairs when the siren went and the raiders were overhead. The elderly lady who lived on the top floor was very deaf and I used to dash up and bang on her door till I woke her up, then down to tell Gran to hurry up. The family in the basement always used to come to the ground floor too, they were scared of being trapped should the rest of the house collapse. But my Gran was obstinate - she would insist on getting dressed, fully dressed, and when I remonstrated I always got the same reply, “If I’m going to meet my Maker it’s going to be properly dressed, with my stays on.” So I’d wait fuming outside her bedroom (she scorned all offers of help - did I think she was a child or something?) till she emerged, fully dressed, corsets and all. The bomb which demolished several houses across the road exploded within minutes of the alert siren and with no guns to herald its approach and from then on Gran decided her Maker would have to accept her in her night-dress and dressing gown like the rest of us.
Thousands of people spent years sleeping every night in the Underground stations but they had to go there, with bundles of bedding and flasks of tea, quite early in the evening to bag one of the metal bunks which lined every platform - late comers slept on the platform itself or on deck chairs which also had to be carried through the streets or heaved on to a bus or tram. Our nearest Underground was at the Elephant and Castle, about a mile away, and Gran wouldn’t go that far so it was under the stairs for us night after night while the shells went up and the bombs rained down till it seemed we had been spending our nights this way all our lives. We still managed to do our day’s work, spending hours queuing for meagre rations, making do with powdered milk (not too bad), powdered egg (ghastly stuff but we ate it when our one real egg and two ounces of meat a week had been eaten), saving our precious clothing coupons and buying clothing for warmth and durability rather than style and fashion. But we were all in the same boat, united against a common enemy and the kindness and generosity I received from complete strangers made it all worth while.
Of course, the air raids weren’t the only hazards we had to face while working on the trams, the weather could play some nasty tricks too - especially the fog. There was no Clean Air Act in those days and, with factories going full blast twenty four hours a day and people burning everything they could lay their hands on when coal became short, we used to get some awful fogs in London - real pea-soupers, they were. When the driver could no longer see the track in front of the tram he would slide open the door and walk through to the back platform to ask for assistance. Then we would light the flambeaux or torches provided by the Board for just such an emergency. These torches were stout pieces of wood, about three feet long, bound with rags that had been soaked in some flammable substance. The driver would light the rags with a match and the conductor would then walk in front of the tram (or bus) waving the torch to indicate that the track ahead was clear. The old tram would grind and creak along behind at a snail’s pace and the driver and conductor knew they were going to be several hours late finishing that day or night. At least we were free of the air raids in the heavy fogs and that was some small comfort but the cold got to your bones, and your eyes were red-rimmed, straining to see through a mixture of fog and the smoky fumes from the flambeau. It was an eerie sensation, feeling your way through the choking fog and hearing sixteen and a half tons of tram moving close behind.
I must have walked miles like this in the two winters I spent in New Cross and several times an incident would occur which would break the monotony. One night we were proceeding through Deptford, near Surrey Docks, not a very select neighbourhood at the best of times. I was a few paces in front of the tram and we had been gliding through the fog like this for about an hour, when suddenly I got a shout from the driver, “Come on back, mate - we’re stuck - dead line.” I turned to retrace my steps and saw - nothing! No tram, no pavement and no sign of people - just thick yellow smoke, the oily flame of the torch in my hand and silence so deep you could cut it with a knife. I feared I had wandered off the track and held the torch nearer the ground to check but no, the rails still gleamed faintly in the flickering flare. Then a rattling chain and the thump of the platform steps dropping reassured me and I knew the driver was descending from the platform and coming to join me. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and walked a couple of steps back, almost colliding with the driver, and now just able to see the faint outline of the tram looming over us - but all the lights were out. “Better light another flare and prop it up the back - we are more likely to be hit from behind than in front,” said my mate. So through the tram we went, torch aloft, and lit a second one which we wedged between tram and buffers, making sure it slanted away from the paintwork. Meanwhile, the driver told me that there was no juice and we would have to wait till the electricity supply came on again before we could continue. “The last time this happened to me was when some idiot driving a lorry mounted the pavement and crashed into a substation,” he said.
Damage to a roadside substation cuts the supply of power to only a small section of road and the usual procedure is to wait till the engineers come along to fix it and send us on our way. But at 10 p.m. and in the thickest fog for years, how long was that likely to be? A friendly shout and measured footsteps heralded the arrival of a policeman, his black mackintosh cape dripping with condensed fog but a wide smile under his helmet. He told us he had been warned to look out for us. The driver had guessed correctly - it was a bus that had crashed into the substation box and rendered our stretch of line dead. “Can’t stop, mate,” he said, “Got to keep the next tram from running too far - they’ve got through on the phone to your chaps so they will get here as soon as they can.” So with that much information we had to be content and returned to the tram.
It might be just slightly warmer inside, we thought, but if it was we hardly noticed. We carefully counted our cigarettes - only five between us to see us through what looked like being a long night but we lit up just the same. We talked about the war, the job and our families and stamped up and down the tram trying to bring the circulation back to frozen feet and numb fingers. Our last passenger got off several stops past and we were beginning to think we were the last people left on earth when a faint call sent us hurrying back to the platform. There stood a man I recognised as one of the regulars who used the tram to travel back and forth to his job in the docks. “The copper just told me you were stuck here,” he said, “I’ve brewed up a pot of tea and stirred the fire up - only live round the corner - come on round and have a warm up.” I felt I could have hugged him but we couldn’t both leave the tram. No vehicle may be left unattended, even in these dire circumstances, so, like a true hero, my driver insisted on me going first. “Don’t worry, love,” said our saviour, “You won’t be all alone with me. I’ve got the old woman up.” And so it was.
The entire family of mother, father and four children lived in one room under appalling conditions. The children curled up in both ends of a single bed and the parents in a camp bed in the opposite corner. What with a kitchen table and chairs, a dresser and wardrobe cupboard and lines of washing across the room there was hardly room to move but all I saw in that first glance was the glow of the fire piled with tarred wooden blocks with flames leaping up the chimney. “Bit of luck, that,” said my escort, “They’ve just finished mending the road outside. Those tar blocks burn a treat, don’t they?” I had to agree. I wouldn’t have cared if he were burning the wooden seats of the tram right then; I was so glad to sit there in the high backed wooden armchair and watch steam rising from my clothes. “Let me pour the girl a cup of tea, Bert,” said my hostess. “Do you fancy a bit of bread and dripping, ducks?” Would I? But what about the rest of the family? A glance around the room told its own story. There wasn’t much money to spare in this household. My four pounds a week wages was probably much more than the breadwinner was getting to keep his family of six and they were offering me what was probably part of their breakfast. But I had no real choice - it was quite obvious that an offer to pay would have deeply offended them and a refusal might have made them believe I thought myself too refined for such humble fare. So down went the doorstep of bread and dripping between sips of hot tea from a slightly chipped enamel mug and it was wonderful. I knew I would have to go soon - I couldn’t forget my driver, still out there in the fog while I was warm and fed, so I got the tea down as soon as I could, but it was hot and Bert and his miss's were chatting away, mostly about their children.
Contributed originally by Harrysgirl (BBC WW2 People's War)
A few years ago I recorded several conversations with my parents about their lives. My mother was the daughter of a stevedore who worked at Surrey Docks. She was 16 when war was declared, and she spent the war years in Deptford, London, with her father and sisters. She is now aged 81. What follows is her account of her experiences during the war, which I transcribed from the tapes.
When the blitz started when we were living in a terraced house in Greenfield St. in Deptford, and we had to have an Anderson Shelter built in the garden. The workmen brought it and they dug the hole and installed the shelter. Half of it was above the ground, but the floor was about four feet below ground. They fitted some benches, which were most uncomfortable, and water seeped in from the ground making it soaking wet most of the time, but we slept down there nearly every night throughout the blitz in 1940-41. At one time we didn’t even wait for the air raid sirens to go off because the raids were nearly every night.
There were an awful lot of houses damaged, and many of those that were not flattened had to be demolished because they were unsafe. When we went up the high street in the morning after a raid there were plenty of shops that had been hit and the big factory where they made parts for fire engines, was destroyed. The Surrey Docks were not far away, and one night they were badly hit. We could see the sky all red from the fires. My brother, Stan, had a friend who was in the auxiliary fire brigade and he got killed that night on the docks. It was very sad - his mother had already lost her other two sons and her husband to tuberculosis. On Blackheath, outside Greenwich Park gates, there used to be a huge hollow where the fair was set up every bank holiday. During the war they filled it right up with the rubble of the buildings that were destroyed, and now that part of the heath is flat.
Most of the raids were after dark. We didn’t always go down the shelters, but it was so tiring if the air raid warning went in the night. We three girls slept in one room downstairs. I was always on the end and I had to go tearing up the stairs to wake my father up and tell him that the alarm had gone, because he was deaf and didn’t hear the siren. Then we’d all go down the shelter. It was horrible to be woken like that night after night, and really tiring. We had a dog at the time and he soon learned what the sirens meant. For daytime raids, as soon as the back door was opened he ran out to be the first one down, and at night he slept there. Sometimes he took his bone down and woke us up gnawing away at it. Then we’d kick him to make him leave the bone alone.
The worst period was during the blitz, which lasted for 6 or 9 months overall. As the Battle of Britain went on the RAF knocked a lot of the bombers out of the sky, and then things were a bit better. On Blackheath there was a huge anti-aircraft gun called Big Bertha, which used to belt out at night, with batteries of searchlights trying to pick out the bombers. The searchlights all over the sky at night were spectacular to watch, until the sirens went: then we ducked down into the shelter. My father was usually the last one down, as he was deaf and stayed outside looking up at the sky, oblivious to the shrapnel falling all around and hitting the shelter roof. We had to shout at him to come down in case he got a lump of it on his head. I suppose quite a few people must have got killed with shrapnel.
The Air Raid Wardens were very hot on lights, and we dared not have even a streak of light showing through the curtains. Even outside there were no lights: patrolling wardens would shout “Put that fag out” if we so much as struck a match. We were allowed to use torches, but we had to be sure they were directed towards the ground. When we went out it was pitch black at night, all the lights were off and you had to have a torch in the winter.
Despite the bombing and the blackout we still went out in the evening during the war. We went up the West End sometimes on the Underground, where people spent the night if they had no air raid shelter. I first saw “Gone with the Wind" in the West End. If the air raid sirens went off while we were in the cinema the film just carried on -we never left. Strangely enough we weren’t frightened; maybe a bit wary, but not really frightened. Sometimes you could hear the bombs going off outside, but after a while we ignored it, more or less. We had guns from the cowboys going off inside and bombs going off on the outside. A lot of people got killed that way, especially in night clubs, by not leaving during the air raids.
If we were caught in the street during a raid, it was a different matter – we ran for the nearest shelter. We always ran for cover if we were outside. In Deptford High Street there was a bomb shelter under a big shop- Burton’s, a clothing shop. Everyone out in the High Street when the sirens went off ran for that, and stayed down there until the “all clear” sounded. Most of the raids were at night, and in the morning on the way to work we could see what the bombs had done . The did a lot of damage - knocked down buildings, shops and everything, but Burton’s was never knocked down. There were some American troops in the area and they used to help with clearing up the bomb damage. By the time the war ended most streets around Deptford and Lewisham had buildings missing where the bombs had landed. It was amazing really that we came through it all. I’ve heard it said that the people who stayed at home suffered worse that the men who were in the army in some areas. The civilians took the brunt of it all.
Towards the end of the war my Aunt Martha moved to Adolphus Street, and there was an empty house next door and this one had 3 bedrooms. So we packed up our stuff and moved next. Although the war was coming to an end, there were still air raids and the Germans also sent over the “V” weapons, doodlebugs, mostly during the day. There were no warning sirens for those: the buzz would get louder overhead the bombs could be seen going through the air with a flame coming out of the end. The only time we were wary was when the noise stopped . Then we ducked for cover, because when the engine stopped the bomb was going to come down.
Once in Adolphus Street, when I was 19 or 20, I was sitting at home with my father when there was an almighty bang. I got down on the floor and my father got down on top of me to cover me up and we stayed there for a little while. When we got up the windows were all gone and the ceiling was down. There had been a land mine - they used to come down on parachutes - at the bottom of the street and 22 people were killed that night . All the houses round about had lost windows and some had their doors blown off. All our bedroom and living room windows went . We went to see what had happened after the “All Clear” sounded: it was dreadful to see the bodies lined up in the street waiting for the ambulances to take them away. We got off lightly by comparison: we were given dockets to get our sheets and curtains replaced and because the war was still on they came round and boarded over the windows. We had no daylight in the house for a while, until we could get the glass replaced.
I wish I’d kept a ration book. We were rationed to an ounce or two of cheese a week, there was a sweet ration, and a meat ration. It was impossible to buy an egg during the war. I don’t know why- there were plenty of new laid eggs in the shops before the war, and the hens must still have been laying, so I suppose the eggs went to the troops. The rest of us bought egg powder which was mixed with a bit of pepper and salt and milk, and whisked in the frying pan like an omelette. Bread and potatoes weren’t rationed, but everything else was. Almost everything we bought, including clothing, we had to give up coupons, and there were dockets to allow replacement of bedclothes and other things destroyed in the raids. The only new furniture that was made was ”Utility” furniture, which was well made of good wood, but of a very plain and economical design. The manufacturers were not allowed to make anything else. Rationing continued for a long time, even after the war was over. In fact rationing of a few things lasted into the 1950’s.
Contributed originally by waafairforce (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is an extract from a life story that my mum wrote for my brother Richard and myself and ultimately grand and great-grand children to read. She charted her life from her early childhood through to the year 2000 when she lost her beloved husband Norman. The chapter entitled “The War Years” provided us with a fascinating and somewhat frightening view of her life alone in London at the beginning of the war to my parents meeting and the birth of my brother during the war. I was born in 1949 after the war had ended so was not featured in this part of their lives.
As the story begins my mum was just 23 years old. She had moved to London from her home town of Grimsby and was working in the Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square………………………………………
I well remember listening to the radio all alone in my bedsit on that fateful day, 11 am on 3rd September 1939. Shortly afterwards the sirens sounded for the first time. I think most people in London thought it was their last hour. I know I did. I grabbed all my possessions including the photographs of my mother and brother and went into the air raid shelter thinking I would never see them again. Fortunately it was a false alarm and soon the all clear sounded. There was a lull for some time before we all began to return to normal routine.
At Peter Jones department store they formed a fire squad — most of us joined and as a result spent many nights on the roof on duty. The restaurant and lounge were on the floor below so it was not too bad, at least we had plenty to eat, which saved me buying an evening meal. I remember one of the directors was Scottish and he brought along a record player and some recordings of Scottish reels. He taught us the steps and we had great fun learning. At one of the annual balls we were able to give a demonstration. We were all dressed in long evening gowns. It was wonderful, the gowns were part of the show wardrobe and afterwards we were able to buy the gowns. Mine was to become my wedding dress.
However, it was not all fun in those days, but we made the most of it. The bombing had not started but I remember one night looking down from the railings of the roof and seeing the army from the Chelsea Barracks marching off to war. Later I was to see those lads returning from the disaster of Dunkirk. At one point someone got up a little concert party and we toured the sites of the barrage balloons cheering on all the troops.
Things weren’t too bad until the blitz started. I always remember coming home from a visit to my home town of Grimsby one Saturday night. The train was held up for a couple of hours outside Kings Cross Station. When we did eventually get off the train it looked as if the whole of London was ablaze. I was terrified as I made my way back to Victoria. Later my current boyfriend came to pick me up and take me out for a meal. We went to a restaurant where we often went. It was in a basement and I felt quite safe there even though there was an alert on — I could have stayed there all night. Eventually we decided to make a dash for it as I was only about 10 minutes walk away from my flat. As we were walking over the bridge there was a sound like a train on the line below. Suddenly we both realised what the sound was. It was coming from above not below. Fortunately there was a shelter on the bridge. We ran as fast as we could and threw ourselves into it. The bomb landed in front of the restaurant that we had just left. That was my first dice with death. I was to have many more near misses before I left London.
For several months it was not possible to get a good nights sleep in London. I passed more and more bombed areas on my way to work each day. Once I felt I must get some sleep, so I went into one of the tube stations with my blanket but I would have been better staying at home. It was awful, so many people laid on the floor all trying to sleep. Then I tried to shelter under one of the big London buildings but I could not sleep due to the awful smell of so many bodies so I picked up my blanket and walked through the black-out back to my flat. Then one night a friend suggested I go home with her for the night. She lived in Ealing — I went and as a result had a good nights sleep. However, a few nights later they were bombed, not a direct hit but it caused a lot of damage.
Another night I went my good friends Jack and Elsie. They had a ground floor flat in Maidavale. I felt quite safe there but even they were bombed a few nights after. The bombing was following me around! It was awful. The top flat was badly damaged and a family with a young girl who lived there was killed. They only found the little girls arm. Jack and Elsie moved out to the country after that.
One Saturday night I was getting ready to go out. I had just got in the bath and there was a terrible screaming noise. That was the start of the raids with screaming bombs. I soon got out of the bath and got dressed. I still went out though. We were getting used to the raids and not going into the shelters much.
Fortunately I missed the buzz bombs. I was fed up with the whole thing and decided to join up before I was called up. I chose the Womens Royal Air Force. For no particular reason — fate must have taken a hand in my destiny. I was on my way to meet my future husband. After nine years at Peter Jones, I handed in my notice, said goodbye to all my friends and was on my way.
FALLING IN LOVE
I went to Gloucester for five weeks training after which I was given a choice of two postings. I chose London and Lincoln. I was sent to Scampton in Linconshire and there at the gate to the base I met him — Norman Gray. I did not realise at the time but after a few days we had a date. He took me out to tea and to the picture house in Lincoln.
We now saw a lot of each other during the next two or three weeks. It was a warm September and in the evenings we would go for lovely country walks. Each week we went to the dance in the gym and danced to the RAF band. We had some great times there and I made two very good friends — Betty and Dorothy. Dorothy was the mothering type and looked after me. We had to sleep off camp in an old country house, which was said to be haunted. It was very cold there and Dorothy always used to go on the early transport from the camp to put the hot water bottle in my bed. Of course Betty and I were always on the late bus.
I think Norman and I both knew from the start that this was the real thing and we would marry. He had told me that he had already been married, that he got married young and that his wife had had a terminal illness and died soon after. So we were both free and we planned to get married as soon as possible.
We were marred on 8th November 1941. We had a nice wedding in Grimsby and my grandfather gave me away. Betty and Dorothy and another friend were there and three pals of Norman’s, his best man was Les Taylor his best friend.
We had a lovely reception at Blundell Park House and stayed the night in the Bridal Suite. We then spent a few days at Quarry Bank meeting Norman’s mother and sister Lily with her husband Jack and baby John. They made me very welcome and we had a pleasant stay. Our leave was soon over and we had to get back to camp.
EXPECTING OUR FIRST CHILD
It wasn’t long before I became pregnant and had to get my discharge from the WRAF. We went to live at my mother’s house in Grimsby. Norman got a living out permit and we found accommodation with a young couple sharing their house in Bealey Road in Old Clee, a little area between Cleethorpes and Grimsby. It was not far from the sea front and near to the Danesbury Nursing Home where my baby was due to be born. From there it was a very nice country walk to my mothers and grandmothers, passing the little Old Clee Church where my baby was later christened.
One morning early, when I was very pregnant suddenly without warning a German plane crossed the coast and started dropping bombs. I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs, flinging myself in the air raid shelter. I was very concerned that my baby was all right however a week or so later on the 17th September 1942 my beautiful little boy (Richard) arrived safe and sound.
After I left Scampton, Norman managed to get a living away pass and we shared a house with a very old widower. Norman used to cycle the 12 miles to Grimsby from the RAF Base.
ANOTHER NEAR MISS
We had another near miss when Richard was about a year old. We were still living with the old widower, he was a keen gardener. He hadn’t got a shelter so we used to go across his garden to the next door neighbours Anderson shelter. The old man stayed at home under the table. He was angry with us for going across his garden and told us we should go round the front of the house but we took no notice which was just as well for one night the German bombers used anti personnel bombs. After the raid was over we had just returned to the house via the garden when there was a terrific explosion outside the front of the house. When we later went up to Richard’s room, we found the window had blown in and Richard’s cot was full of glass. Apparently one of the bombs had failed to go off and a man was walking in the street outside our house and must have kicked the unexploded bomb and it went off, blowing him to pieces. If we had returned by way of the front of the house, it could have been the three of us that was blown to pieces. So our dear little baby had two miracle escapes that night and that was not the end of it. A few days later Norman noticed a peculiar hole in the garden just outside the kitchen window. He got a stick and was poking it down the hole when he suddenly realised what it was — another unexploded bomb. What a shock — We had a to get the army in to detonate it — everyone was evacuated from the area.
Later Norman managed to find us accommodation at a farm house in Tetley which was not far from the aerodrome.
One night Norman was cycling home along a tree lined road where apparently a German airman had just parachuted down and been captured by the police. Another time one of the German planes started to shoot up the base. I was in bed while Norman was being shot at! The Germans favourite trick was to follow our planes back to their bases and then shoot up the runway. One of Norman’s jobs was to light up the runway with the Aldis lamps when our planes returned from their missions. That particular night he dropped the lamp and ran very quickly!!
We were very happy at the farmhouse, the villagers were very friendly and we were taken into their little community. We used to go to the local whist drives when we were able. Once, I remember, we won a huge home made pork pie, it was delicious, we halved it with the farmer and his family. We had plenty of good food there especially home cured bacon. When Norman came back after night duty, he gathered lovely big mushrooms in the fields so we had lovely breakfasts. Richard liked it too with all the animals, he learnt to walk and talk a lot there. I was sad to leave there. When we left we went to keep house for the widower who I had always thought of as a granddad. I had lived with him and his wife when I was very young, before being adopted.
MOVING TO THE MIDLANDS
After the bombing we went on a visit to Norman’s mother’s house in Quarry Bank. He felt I would be safer there. We went back and packed all our things and we stayed all the rest of the war years in Quarry Bank, Staffordshire. Mind you I did wonder one night when I lay in bed and heard all the German bombers going overhead on their way to bomb Coventry. I hated being parted from Norman, but he wrote to me every day to cheer me up. He would come and see us as often as he could usually unexpected. I could always hear his footsteps coming down the entry at the side of the house. He used to come in and grab Richard and throw him in the air. I was always frightened he was going to hit the low ceiling. I was always very unhappy after seeing him off at the station. It was an awfully long lonely walk back in the pitch dark, but I was never frightened.
It was very strange at first, living in the Midlands. I felt I was in a foreign country, but I soon got used to the way they talked and I made many friends especially at the clinic with Richard every week. Of course I got to know my new sister in law Lily with her little boy John. We always got on very well together and in later years became more like sisters.
During Norman’s time in the RAF he was sent on many courses. At one time I went down to London for a week when he was stationed at Uxbridge. Then another time he was in Loughborough and he got us temporary accommodation near by with a local gamekeeper and his wife — we had some lovely meals there too.
Another time he was sent to Blackpool and again he got us accommodation with an elderly lady in a cottage. We had a few visits into Blackpool — it was during May 1944 so even though we were still at war a few places remained open. We went into Blackpool Tower and listened to the organ but not played by Reginald Dixon at that time. Richard would play on the sands. He was about 18 months old then. On the day I returned with him to Quarry Bank, I got on the train and it was packed with American soldiers all celebrating the fact that we had invaded Normandy - it was ‘D’ Day. They all made a fuss of Richard — I expect many of them were missing their own families.
The next move for Norman was to London and he was stationed near the Albert Hall. He hated being there but it was not for long. The war with Germany ended and he was there outside Buckingham Palace celebrating with all the crowds. From there he was sent to Yorkshire and I was hoping he would soon be sent home, but the war with Japan was still on and one day he came home suddenly and he had to have inoculations ready to be sent out to India. I couldn’t believe it.
We enjoyed his embarkation leave as much as we could. Luckily however, he didn’t go to India and some time later he was demobbed and we had him home again. So for the first time we were able to start our normal married life.
We enjoyed almost 60 years of happy married life until my beloved Norman died aged 84 in October 2000
Contributed originally by J. Betson (BBC WW2 People's War)
My mother died in January 2000, at the age of 88. During the War she and my father and my elder brother, born in 1938, lived in Bexleyheath, which is on the outskirts of South East London, and not far from the rivers Thames and Medway.
Mum said that, at the time of the fall of France and the Dunkirk evacuation, for several days they, in Bexleyheath, could hear the guns all the way from the French coast.
She remembered how, during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, a year when the skies seemed to be permanently clear and blue, she and the other women in her road used to stand on their back steps and watch the “dog fights” going on overhead between the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF and the Luftwaffe fighters.
The women would jeer at the enemy and cheer our lads on enthusiastically, especially when they shot down one of the German planes.
When talking about the War, my mother and brother used to say: “Do you remember next door’s dog?” and they’d laugh. Apparently, they always had advance warning of when the air raid siren was going to go off, because a couple of minutes before, the said dog would come tearing out of next door’s back door, barking wildly in warning, charge along the garden path, and bolt straight down into the shelter. He always got down there before any body else. It used to amuse my brother as a little boy, and he still laughs about it now.
My parents remembered that at some point during the War, a neighbour who had been on duty down by the River told them that a large number of bodies had been washed up. He’d seen them, he said. Other local people had whispered of it too. They said that there had been some kind of disaster but nobody knew what it was, and nobody was allowed to talk about it.
My father was a mechanical engineer, working in the inspection department of Molins Machine Company’s war time premises at Ruxley Corner, Sidcup. Until 1940 he had worked at their normal base in Evelyn Street, Deptford. During the War they made machines for weighing and packing amunition, machinery for loading shells, and other items in the munitions field, so he was in a reserved occupation, and wasn’t called up, despite being only in his thirties.
He said that they had a lot of women working in the factory. He remembered one of them felling a foreman with a shifting spanner, because he’d been rude to her sister.
Dad also said that the employees of the firm voluntarily raised the money to buy a Spitfire for the RAF.
He was in the Home Guard for a while, in 1943 and 1944. One of his “spare time” occupations was driving a munitions truck from Woolwich Arsenal to the anti-aircraft guns at Erith docks
I still have his wartime National Registration Identity Card, issued by the National Registration Office on 15 May 1943. Everybody had to carry identity cards during the War.
His sister worked as a clippy on the buses, and did fire watching at night. Their mother, who also lived in South East London, but a bit further in, was “bombed out” three times during the War. Amazingly, she survived unscathed. They didn’t have a shelter in the garden, as my parents did. I don’t think they had a garden to have a shelter in. They had to make do with getting underneath a big strong table shelter in the kitchen. Dad’s father was a locomotive engineer, and around sixty, so he continued to do that during the War, it being vital to keep the trains running. He’d done similar work in Sheerness dockyard during the First World War.
Mum was hard of hearing from as early as her fifties, and she always blamed it on the deafening and continual noise made by the “Ak-Ak gun at the end of the road”, and also the bombs exploding nearby.
She spoke of barrage balloons overhead. They were there to make things difficult for enemy aircraft.
My parents kept chickens in the back garden, to supplement the meagre egg ration, and of course they grew vegetables in the rest of the garden.
When I was small, I came across a bag of different coloured balls of knitting wool with kinks in it, in the bottom of the wardrobe. Mum said that it had kinks in it because it was left over from the War, and during the War it was very difficult to obtain knitting wool, so if you wanted a new jumper you had to unravel an old one and re-knit it. She said that often people would knit multi-coloured striped garments, combining bits of wool from several different old garments, just to try to introduce a bit of variety to their clothing.
At that time she still had their old gas mask cases too. They were the size of a hand bag, black, the shape of a semi-flattened bucket, with a lid, and a shoulder strap.
Our American cousins offered to have my brother for the duration of the War, but my mother said “No. If we are going to die, we are all going to die together”. So my brother stayed. The American cousins frequently sent my family parcels of things which were unavailable here, to try to make life a bit easier. Both my mother and her sister said that they were very generous, and couldn’t speak too highly of them.
The house opposite my parents’ bungalow received a direct hit one day, and was destroyed, but the people who lived there were all in the shelter in the garden, and survived. The explosion blew out all the windows in my parents place, and the neighbours houses.
On one occasion, my brother, who suffered badly from croop, had been sleeping on the settee in the living room for several nights, because it was warmer in there than in the shelter. The first night he wasn’t on the settee, the tip of a shell came through the roof and landed right on it. If he had still been sleeping there, he would have been killed. We had that shell tip up until 1970, when it disappeared in a move. It was made of thick polished steel, about six inches across, and very heavy. We used it as a door stop.
Mum spoke of a terrifying incident which happened one day when she was out shopping, with my brother strapped in his push chair or pram. A German plane swooped down and chased people along the road, machine-gunning them. She was running, and wanted to dive for cover, but couldn’t get my brother out of his pram because he was strapped in. If she’d stopped to unstrap him, they’d both have been hit by the bullets, so she just had to keep running and pushing the pram. She made it to cover and they both survived.
Another time, my father was on his motor-bike and Mum was in the side car, and they were going along a country road in the Dartford area, when a Nazi plane came along shooting up any body on the road. They both had to jump in to a ditch. My father pointed out the spot to me one day, when I was a child, but I can’t remember its exact location now.
Mum spoke of the “doodlebugs”, V1 flying bombs which made a buzzing noise and then their engines cut out and they dropped. There was dead silence, then an explosion. She said they were called doodlebugs because they doodled around all over the place, so you couldn’t work out where they were going. They used to have lots of them coming over Bexleyheath. She said that when you heard one buzzing overhead you’d just hold your breath and pray that it kept buzzing until it was clear of you. The RAF fighters used to chase them and try to shoot them and make them explode in mid air, so that they didn’t do so much damage.
After that, towards the end of the War, she said, came the V2 rockets, which were even worse, because they were faster, struck more suddenly and were much more difficult to shoot down. Lots of those passed over, or dropped on the Bexleyheath area as well.
When my parents were demolishing their Anderson shelter at the end of the War, they found a small plain pottery gnome which they had never seen before, about one and a half inches tall, buried in the earth near the entrance. Mum always kept it, because, she half-jokingly said, it must have looked after them during the Blitz — something to do with the old country belief that if you had a goblin living beside your hearth it would keep the house safe.
Contributed originally by Bournemouth Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
I had been at the Brook 2 years by this time, and had taken and passed my first examination. The upset regarding the weekend refusal made me very unhappy so I started looking for another job. Another nurse in my set called Molly O'Shea had gone to work on the First Aid Post and told me the money and off duty were much better. She let me know as soon as there was a vacancy going and when I applied for it I got it. It was so much easier, because I was living at home and Bill could come to see me when he was free. Life in London was pretty grim. Night after night the air raid sirens went off to warn us that enemy aircraft had been sighted. These raiders used to scatter a lot of incendiary bombs. These bombs were about 10 inches long, and filled with inflammatory substances, which caused fires. They were held in the plane in baskets and thrown out. They used to go through rooftops setting houses alight. This lit the way for the bombers that followed. Hundreds of these bombs were scattered over the Docks and along the riverside warehouses. The A.R.P, Wardens spent many a night fighting these fires, many working right through the night. Outside our toilet in the garden was a sort of Pagoda with trelliswork where mother had trained a very pretty Virginia Creeper to cover it. This also gave us a bit of protection from the rain when running out to the toilet. One night we were all in the shelter and an incendiary bomb fell right onto the trellis, which was made of wood, and set it alight. Luckily Mr. Ford, who was a fireman and lived next door, sat it and put the fire out, but it had destroyed the framework and it all had to come down and was never replaced.
Bill was stationed at several gun sites around London, Clapham Common, Bostal Heath, and Dulwich Common. In December 1941 he came home one day and told me he was being posted overseas and asked me if I would wait for him. I said I would not promise, as one never knew in wartime what would happen. He then asked me to marry him, and the following week he got a special licence.
We were married at Greenwich Town Hall. Sid Doze, an army friend of Bill's was our best man. Bill's parents, sister Pat and brother Harry, my mother and my grandmother along with several friends from the First Aid Post were present. Being a Thursday and at such short notice, most friends and relations could not make it. As food was on ration, I made arrangements to have a pub lunch for us all at the Marquis of Granby, New Cross. We were able to get a tram outside the Town Hall. After the ceremony the publican said he would make it near to closing time so that we could stay longer. They put a long table in the saloon bar and laid on a very good meal, and Bill's sister Pat played the piano. Afterwards we made our way home on the No.53 bus calling at Woodha11s, a photographer in Wellington Street, to have photographs taken. On arriving home my mum had prepared a lovely tea. Incidentally the wedding cake was chocolate covered. In the evening when Bill's parents had gone home we went to New Cross Empire to see a show and Vera Lynn was top of the bill.
Later that week Bill was kitted out to go overseas, and at the last minute it was cancelled because Singapore had fallen. That was where he should have gone. My mum made us a nice bed-sitting room in her house. At this particular time Bill was able to get home quite often. Between army gun-sites and home he had to get up very early to be on parade in the morning. In May he was sent to Leeds, a by then I was expecting a baby. I went up to Round Hay, Leeds, for a weekend before he was sent overseas. I was still working at the First Aid Post and did so until two weeks before my baby was born.
The air raids continued so I had to go to Paddock Wood as the British Hospital for mothers and babies had bought a large country mansion there. All the~ mums having their first babies were sent there to get away from the London bombing. I was taken there a couple of days before my baby was due. It was a lovely place with beautiful grounds in the Kent countryside. Nearly all of us were young wives, and most of our husbands were soldiers serving overseas. We, therefore, had quite a lot in common with one another.
It was October, the weather was perfect, when I woke on the 14th I said "my baby's due today" but I had no pains or feeling that it would be on it's way. In the morning I went to pick blackberries, and in the afternoon a crowd of us all walked into the village. On the way back my pains started. There were six of us all very heavy with pregnancy, and they were all laughing and saying I wouldn't make it. We had to pass a fire station and all the firemen started calling out 'would we like a lift?' "Yes please" I said, so six of us arrived back on the fire engine. The time was now 4.30pm. I was hungry and had my tea. William Kenneth, my first baby was born at 7 pm after a good, straightforward delivery. My reason for choosing this name was because I had been friendly with a soldier who was killed at Dunkirk - this was before I met Bill - his name was Kenneth Williams. As William was Bill's name I thought I would give him Kenneth as his second Christian name in memory of this lad. After two weeks I returned home to my mother's house, who let me have two rooms. I was able to look after my baby myself with the help of Dorothy my young sister and my mum.
My brother Bill had met and roamed a North Country lass and had a son ill the July. They lived ill Coventry so we did not see each other very often.
My mother was working in Woolwich Arsenal at this time doing special war work. I used to help in the house and do the shopping etc. We used to have our meals together to save rations, as food was not very plentiful.
We still got a lot of air raids. Sometimes the siren would go m the evening and the all clear the next morning, which meant the whole night spent m the shelter. We made it very comfortable m there, and used to put baby Bill to bed ill there to save disturbing him.
Later the doodlebugs started coming over during the day, and when the baby was 18 months old, I was already an Officer in The British Red Cross at Blackheath. I did odd duties in the evenings so I asked Miss Priday, who was in charge, if there was a nursery anywhere that I could work and have. My son with me, and of course away from London. It was a Monday morning when I asked her, and by the Thursday I was in Bournemouth. "The Knole" was a huge house belonging to Major General Lord Croft. He had let the Red Cross use it for children, otherwise it would have been used for troops and no doubt they would have ruined the teak floors.
There were 48 children from Greenwich and Deptford who had been evacuated. The children were aged between two and seven years. I was to be in charge of the sick children, but most of the time they were all fit and well. Billy, my son, was the youngest at 18 months and there were three others of two years. Billy shared the nursery with them. We had two dormitories, one for the girls and one for the boys. A night nurse would always be on duty while they slept. During the day we had lots of helpers and 'live in' staff. Matron was a woman called Miss Braine; the other nurses were from the Red Cross and St. John's. Teachers came during the morning to teach the older children. The house had beautiful playrooms, and all day various people would call in to see the children.
I had a 6-bedded sick bay and if any of the children were poorly I would take them and look after them until they could return to the other children. I had no serious illnesses while working there, just coughs and colds, etc., and none of them had to be isolated for more than a couple of days. We had children come to us with chicken pox, but by the time more than six had got it, I suggested we didn't isolate them, but let them be treated naturally, unless of course there were complications and within three weeks we were completely clear with no complications what-so-ever. The doctor came in a couple of times a week just to keep a check on them. We had a lovely time in Bournemouth. The troops opened up a small part of the beach by Boscombe Pier, and we were able to take the children to play on the sand. The beach was barb wired and the public were not admitted on it. We would take the children down to the beach on a nice sunny day, also go for walks in Boscombe gardens. We had beautiful lawns in the grounds of the house where we would have picnics.
Most of the large houses and hotels had been taken over by the troops, and of course, when they knew there was a children's nursery nearby they would bring sweets. Most of these troops were American and they also gave u money, which would be put with other funds provided, so we were able to buy the children shoes, overcoats and other items of clothing, which they needed. Each child returned home with a new rig- out. The cooks in the U.S. base opposite the house also made the children large slabs of cake. One day they had a signal to pack up and leave for active service, but before leaving they gave us all their stores of butter, jam, large tins of fruit, tea and sugar. There was so much food given to us that we never wanted for anything, and when I went home for a few days I was given plenty of rations to take with me. I stated in Bournemouth until I heard from Bill. He told me he would be coming home soon as his name had been picked out for early leave, so I returned home before the end of the war to get a place ready for him.
The war was ending and my mother was finishing work in Woolwich Arsenal, so I got work as a district nurse with the Queens District Nurses. I was standing doing my ironing one Sunday evening about 6.30pm. I was alone as mum and George had gone to a whist drive (they had married by this time), when Bill walked in. He had sent me a telegram to say he was on his way, but it didn't come until a couple of hours after his arrival. He looked so well, with a lovely bronze tan. His telegram arrived while he was having a bath in the big bungalow bath in the kitchen (no bathrooms yet).
His war service had taken him to Cape town, India, Ceylon, Egypt, Middle East, Tobruk, Beirut, Lebanon, Damascus, Ismalia, Jordan, Jerusalem and Amman. He had a few weeks leave and did not have to return overseas again. He was stationed at Market Harborough and eventually demobbed.
We moved down the road to No. 18 to rent a large house but I agreed to look after two elderly gentlemen living there. On 9th June 1947 our second son was born and we named him Jack. The house was very large and had a beautiful garden. I gave up work for a while. I found that looking after three men, two children and a large house was as much as I could cope with. I used to entertain a great deal. When Jack was two years old I returned to work at the hospital. I did night work for two nights a week, and my sister Dorothy used to sleep at my house while I worked so that she was with the children until I got home. Bill had to go to work at 7am and did not return until 4.45pm. He worked for The Post Office as a telephone engineer. The pay was not high but the job was good security and it was interesting.
My friend Ursula from Hastings had a son and named him Roger and she eventually moved to Dover, and of course we still keep m touch.
Brother Jim married and had a daughter named Barbara. My sister Dorothy married John MacLean and also had a daughter named Esme. We all had lots of fun with our sons and daughters.
When my sons were older I returned to district nursing. I changed houses with a daughter of one of the elderly gentlemen, she had a council house. That meant that Bill and I were at last m our own home. Billy went to school opposite the house, and Jack went to a nursery while I did my district rounds. I had a cycle with a seat on the back for him to site on and after dropping him off at the nursery I went on my rounds. Eventually I took driving lessons, passed my test and bought a small Standard 8 car. Life was much easier driving to my patients. In wet weather the bicycle was a nightmare, I had a peak cap and the rain would drip off the peak onto my face. At least travelling by car you were warm and dry. I was allowed a petrol allowance, which also helped. Many of my patients were elderly and bed-ridden, and very alone at Christmas time. I would take Billy and Jack m the car with me and they would sing carols to the old folk. Billy had a very good voice, like his Dad, and sang m St. Lukes church choir. Jack's voice was not as good, but he had a cheeky race and the old folk loved him. Sometimes they would slip them a shilling when I wasn't looking and when they got back to the car they would say, "look what the lady gave me mum. "
While Billy was attending choir practice in St. Lukes church one Friday evening, he came home early and said the choirmaster had sent them all home, as they would not sing. They kept hearing a cat crying and told the choirmaster, who would not take any notice of the boys or go to investigate the noise. He swore at them and sent them all home. Billy was so worried that early on Saturday morning he and another boy went back to the church and found the cat trapped in the back of the organ. It was in a terrible state, starved and bedraggled. They took it to the Blue Cross Kennels, which was in Shooters Hill Road, where they were thanked for their efforts. Photographs were taken of them and there was an account of it in the local paper, and it even made the Sunday 'News of the World'. We were sent a small cheque, which we gave to the Blue Cross Kennels. The poor cat didn't survive its ordeal. Incidentally Bill took great delight in telling the choir master hat he thought of him for swearing at the boys in church.
Contributed originally by Grayish (BBC WW2 People's War)
This account of my world war II memories comprises extracts from my autobiography (unpublished) which I have linked with explanatory paragraphs.
The account starts when I was aged 8 living with my Mother, Father and younger brother Ian in Baldwyns Park, Bexley on the edge of Dartford Heath.
One Sunday I was out on my roller skates when my Dad suddenly appeared and took me home. War had been declared and everyone thought we would immediately be subjected to heavy air attack. The sirens sounded but nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for about a year and life went on pretty much as before. They dug up the playground at school and made an air raid shelter and we were all issued with gas masks which we carried everywhere. Dad became an ARP Warden and a battery of heavy anti-aircraft guns was installed on Dartford Heath. After dark a strict blackout was enforced. Dad made plywood shutters for all the windows in the house that prevented any light showing and gave protection against flying glass. Later on an Anderson air raid shelter, named after the then Home Secretary Sir John Anderson, was delivered and installed in the garden. These shelters were assembled from sheets of corrugated iron bolted together and partially buried in a hole excavated for the purpose. The soil dug out of the hole was then piled on top of the shelter which then afforded good protection from everything but a direct hit. When the daylight raids started we would hurry to the shelters, either at home or at school, but later we became inured to the noise of the guns and we would stay out and watch the battles in the sky. Several aircraft were shot down near Baldwyns Park one, a Hurricane, crashed in nearby Joydens Woods and the pilot baled out. We later saw him being taken back to his base in the back of an RAF truck. Many years later we learnt that the pilot was shot down and killed eight days later. Eventually the shelter in the garden filled with water and we had an indoor Morrison shelter named after Herbert Morrison who had taken over as Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security under Winston Churchill. These shelters were made of steel sections bolted together in the form of a large table with a steel sheet forming the top. Wire mesh screens could be clipped to the sides after the occupants had crawled in and a system of steel laths fixed to the sides by springs afforded support to mattresses so that a family of four could spend a reasonably comfortable night.
I had just started my second year at Secondary School when I contracted appendicitis. Whilst still in hospital recovering from the operation I further contracted scarlet fever and was transferred to the Brook Hospital at Shooters Hill.
The Brook Hospital at the foot of Shooter's Hill was built in 1896 to accommodate patients with infectious diseases. Separate wards were provided for each disease, scarlet fever, diphtheria, poliomyelitis etc. the wards being spaced well apart and inter-connected by open walkways. Each ward was on two levels, females on the first floor males below, and was situated in its own grounds in which walking patients could exercise. The wards were spacious with some ten beds arranged down each side and the centre area occupied by the nurses' stations, and tables and chairs where those up and about, which was pretty well all of us once the spots had gone, had their meals. There was strict isolation from the outside world and of course no visitors. All outgoing mail was 'baked' to kill any bugs. Dad sent me maths exercises every week which I worked at and sent back for marking. The night time bombing of London was in progress and some of us helped the nurses put up the blackout curtains every night and for this we were allowed to join them for a late supper. There were no air raid shelters, we put our heads under the pillows and hoped for the best. Occasionally we ventured into the garden where we found a pile of earth heaped against the wall which allowed us to hob-nob with the diphtheria patients next door.
My father worked for Molins in Deptford, manufacturers of cigarette making machinery
The manufacture of cigarette making machines was not regarded as an important wartime industry and the government ordered that the Molins workforce be employed on more urgent work. One result of this was the building of a ‘secret’ factory in a disused sand-pit on Dartford Heath where Molins personnel manufactured ‘Very’ pistols, used for firing signal flares, and aircraft cannon. Dad was transferred to this site, just two miles from home, and of course it made a tremendous difference to his journey to work every day. Instead of many changes on public transport he now went by bicycle, although this did not mean he was at home any earlier since large amounts of overtime had to be worked. The factory was designated ‘secret’ but you only had to follow the noise of the cannon being tested, a Hurricane wing was installed for this purpose, to find its location. However it was beautifully camouflaged from the air. I was taken to the top of the sand-pit one day and you just could not see the place even being right on top of it. An enormous net had been draped across to form a false floor to the pit and with a few gorse bushes placed over it the factory was invisible. After the war Molins gave up the factory and Dad had to return to the Deptford site in Evelyn Street.
The Dartford and Crayford area contained many factories engaged on ‘war work’ and various methods of hiding them from enemy air attack were adopted. One of these was the use of smoke screens. The prevailing wind determined that the smoke generators should be sited in our area. These crude paraffin burners were positioned every few yards all along our local roads. They were lit at night and apart from the smell, which was appalling, the spillage of paraffin from the daily refuelling gradually caused a black oily stain to spread all over the pavements and roads. Another consequence of our closeness to an important industrial area was the requirement to show our identity cards when travelling. If we took the bus to Dartford it stopped on the Heath, just by the army camp containing the anti-aircraft guns as it happened, and a policeman checked everyone's card. While we waited we could check the performance of the guns on the nearby notice board which showed the number of enemy aircraft they had shot down.
In 1944 we moved home to a larger house in the same area of Bexley.
We installed our Morrison table air raid shelter in the downstairs bedroom in the new house and when a bad raid appeared imminent we crept inside. This bedroom became to be called the shelter room and retained that name, much to the bemusement of visitors, until my parents moved away in 1958. Sometimes the raiding aircraft dropped a flare, either as a guide to following planes or to illuminate the countryside below in an effort to ascertain their whereabouts. The gunners on the Heath tried to bring these flares down using a small calibre gun firing tracer shells and we sometimes stood on the doorstep to watch. Loud cheers greeted a direct hit and the fact was duly posted on the camp side notice board.
We were fortunate to live on the edge of the main target areas and although a few high explosive and incendiary bombs fell in the vicinity, mostly jettisoned by pilots anxious to head for home, no serious damage was done. The main hazard was falling shrapnel from the explosion of the anti-aircraft shells. Jagged chunks of metal would litter the ground after a raid and the larger pieces, if they hit a roof could easily smash several tiles. Damaged roofs were repaired with any tiles available and these were invariably of a different colour to the originals. Houses wore their multicoloured patched roofs with pride. The shrapnel together with the remains of incendiary bombs were gathered up and most households had a sizeable collection.
One night soon after we moved we realised that the engine noise from aircraft overhead was suddenly stopping and was followed by an enormous bang. The pilot less flying bomb, Hitler’s V1 secret weapon was being used for the first time. These ‘doodle bugs’ as they came to be known were quite indiscriminate. They were launched from sites near the French and Dutch coasts in the general direction of various British cities and the engine timed to cut out when the target was reached. The plane would then glide down and explode on contact. Various defensive measures were taken. We had become used to seeing the hundreds of barrage balloons deployed around London, their tethering cables designed to rip the wing off a low flying aircraft. We were astonished to see that overnight the entire barrage had been removed. They were now deployed along the coast as a first line of defence against the new attack. As we had watched the dogfights of the Battle of Britain from our back garden in Baldwyns Park we could now watch the doodlebugs fly over from the roof of our coalbunker in our new garden. If the engine of an approaching V1 cut out before it reached us we dived for cover. If it passed overhead still running we could watch it in relative safety although some were known to double back on themselves.
In the Summer of 1944 my mother and brother and I spent the summer holidays with my uncle’s family in Rowlands Castle in Hampshire.
Although the raids at home continued and Dad reported that all our back windows had been blown out it was decided that we should return home at the end of the summer. The story is that on the day we returned the first of another of Hitler’s secret weapons, the V2 rocket, fell on London. The V2 was a rocket-propelled ballistic missile with a range of just over 200 miles and a high explosive payload of about a ton. There was no defence against these things, they fell apparently at random, you couldn’t hear them coming until after they had hit the ground and exploded, so we tended as far as possible to ignore them. Ian and I were cycling home one day when we were blown to the ground by the explosion of a nearby V2. It had fallen in soft ground and we were showered by stones and earth but we were unhurt and after brushing ourselves down we continued home.
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