Bombs dropped in the ward of: East Ham Central
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in East Ham Central:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in East Ham Central
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by ReggieYates (BBC WW2 People's War)
A Canning Town Evacuee — Part 1
My name is Reg Yates. I lived in London at Canning Town, London E.16 and Plaistow E.13 during WW2, going to Beckton Road Junior and Rosetta Road Schools except for my periods as an evacuee to Bath during September to Christmas 1939,then Cropredy May 1940 - July 1942.
I then worked at A. Bedwells, Barking Road delivering groceries for the rest of the war.
I'm still alive and kicking! Anyone remember me?
A Community Coming Together
War clouds came and we had to dig a big hole in each garden at least three and a half feet deep, at least six feet wide and roughly eight feet long depending on the size of the family using it, an awesome task. All the neighbours pooled resources and after about two months hard work most houses had a hole and had the Anderson Shelter erected to the supplied instructions. We had to make sure the rear exit worked properly. Two-tier bunk beds 2 x 6 feet one side and one other bunk bed and two chairs were there along with a bucket for the toilet and a bucket of water to drink. We never knew how long we would have to stay in there. During The Blitz we had to stay all night.
The shelters proved to be a godsend as they survived everything except a direct hit. They survived near misses and houses falling on top of them. People came out shaken but alive. They were worth their weight in gold.
There was another shelter built to fix over the kitchen table, steel top and legs for people who could get underneath in an emergency. Safe from falling masonry, it was called a Morrison Shelter after Lord Morrison a Labour Lord at the time.
I started smoking about this time. I could buy five woodbines and a box of matches for two pence, boys will be boys. I also remember going on an errand for my Dad, I had to take a letter to a house in Wanlip Road, Plaistow and she had tiles on the walk up from the gate to front door. She went ballistic because I dared to skate up to her front door. She made me take them off whilst she wrote a note to my Dad saying what a cheeky so and so I was for skating up to her door and that if I came again I would have to walk to teach me a lesson.
There were plenty of rumours about kids having to get evacuated very soon and on 1st September 1939 we were transported to Paddington Station and put on a train to the country.
We all had to say goodbye to our parents at school after they tied a label around our necks with name, date of birth, religion and which school we were from. So just after my eleventh birthday I said goodbye to Beckton Road School for the first time and landed up in the old city of Bath in Somerset.
Evacuated For The First Time
It was only two weeks after my eleventh birthday when we arrived at Bath Junction signal box, and someone said “just the thing for you kids from the smoke, a bloody great bath.” I didn’t realise what he meant until years later!
I was sent to a place called Walcott in Bath, and I was sent to a Mr & Mrs Pierce who to my eyes, were quite old looking. However, they were very nice people and looked after me very well.
They had a middle-aged navvy with whom I shared a bedroom, and our own beds I’m glad to say. I remember him getting dressed for work, hobnail boots, corduroy trousers and he tied about nine inches of car tyres around his kneecaps. He had a walrus moustache and looked a fearsome bloke to look at, but was a gentle chap really.
My two sisters were evacuated to a house just around the corner up a steep hill. Doris was eight years old and Joyce was thirteen and a half. They stayed with nice people who had two girls of their own of about eight to ten years of age. We all went to the local school along with about forty other kids from London.
We all had to sing a hymn ‘For those in peril on the sea.’ Just before Christmas we lost an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, with great loss of life and most of the sailors came from the West Country. The local rag had pages and pages of photos of those lost on the carrier.
Sometime in November 1939 I was playing a game called catch and kiss with some of the locals. This time they went along the road at the top of the hill. On one corner was a grocers shop, which had a wall with big white letters, “we sell Hovis bread”. What I didn’t know at that moment was that the police had very recently made the shopkeeper black it out as it could be seen from an aeroplane.
Running at full pelt, I ran straight into it thinking it was the turning. I was in hospital for three weeks. When I started school again, I could not see the teachers’ writing on the board.
At the end of December our Mum came to Bath to see us, and after saying goodbye to my sisters and all the other kids, she took me back to London so I could have treatment for my eyes. I had damaged my optic nerve and have worn glasses ever since.
Joyce came home in February 1940 when she was fourteen, but Doris stayed there until just before the end of the war in 1945.
Christmas and New Year came and went, 1940 began and the war was getting worse. I think rationing was introduced about now and some foods were already becoming scarce. Cigarette cards disappeared from packets to save paper and you couldn’t buy pickles loose in a basket.
A couple of weeks went by and the time came to go back to school. Nothing much changed as most children who got evacuated the previous September were still away, but a few more seemed to come back every weekend.
The Beckton Road School was taken over by The National Fire Service, a first aid post and umpteen other things so they found the kids another school called Rosetta Road (off Freemasons Road) that was built of wood and all on one level after the First World War when all the servicemen came home.
Council workmen had dug some slit trenches just in case of an air raid but they looked useless to me, because if it rained it would be like running into a mud bath.
There was some talk about kids having to leave London again and come May it proved to be true and about seventy of us from this school were sent to Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Later in 1942 Mum and Dad moved to Wigston Road that was the next turning. Most people had moved because of the bombing.
Contributed originally by London Borough of Newham Public (BBC WW2 People's War)
As told by Donald Wharf
The air-raid siren - as chilling as ever - wailed as the daylight was fading. Having had no serious air-raid for ages, I thought that, perhaps, it was 'nothing' but then came the very familiar 'booms', and so we retired to the shelter. Hitler had, obviously, not given up and, much as I'm sure we all thought it, the excitement had not simply passed us by - the war had come back to East Ham. Next, I detected a coarse, raucous sound that was closing surprisingly fast. 'One of their aircraft in trouble', I thought but, just as it seemed to have passed, the engine cut out - and then it happened: the explosion was not far away. Almost at once I could hear it again, that same unforgettable sound which stopped, like the first time, very abruptly - and so, yet another explosion. This didn't end: it continued to happen amidst some formidable gunfire - something that finally caused me to say, "The bombers, they're shooting them down!" Slowly, my father turned round to one side: he was laying full length on a bunk-bed. "If that's the case then they've got some new gunners", he said - or something like that. When, in the end, after several hours we emerged from our Anderson shelter, all the old smells of the 'blitz' were there - then I realised what this could all mean..... Saturday: would I be able to go? The Odeon: was it still there? Then, as if nothing else mattered at all, I started to question my mother which brought a deservedly curt response - "It'll have to be cancelled", she said.
Cancelled it was, but there wasn't a choice as the bombing looked set to continue. After that memorably noisy night, we learned that we hadn't heard aircraft but, what was referred to as, unmanned missiles, technically known as V1s. These were propelled by a strange type of jet engine, which, when it finally cut out, meant that the missile then dived down to earth with its payload - a ton of explosive. More of them came down the following day which my mother said looked rather ominous.
As it turned out, all her fears were proved right when in no more than four or five days, life was resembling the earlier 'blitz'..... but at that point the guns disappeared! This was because they had moved further south to positions in Sussex and Kent, where hitting and shooting the missiles down wouldn't defeat its own purpose. 'Missiles', in fact, was a rarely used word which, very soon after that Thursday, was replaced by 'flying bombs', 'buzz bombs' or 'doodle-bugs' - words that, to us, had some meaning.
One almost instant change that took place, after the guns had moved on, was our air-raid routine during daylight hours: we no longer stayed in the shelter. Shrapnel was, obviously, not coming down so there wasn't a danger from that, and as for the strange-looking flying bombs - they did, in fact, give us some warning. Firstly, their noise told us when they were coming, then, due to them flying so low, we were able to watch their line of approach - but suddenly all would fall silent: that was the point when we just had to guess where the bombs were most likely to land. Sometimes we did have to dive down the shelter but, mostly, we stayed in the garden.
Naturally, after a period of time, it all became very routine with most people choosing to stay indoors during, what we all called, an 'alert'. Usually, however, a look-out was used who would shout in the case of real danger - this, out of school hours, was me for my house and Roy for his house, next door. Actually, the pair of us worked as a team, up on the roof of our shed which hadn't been used as a look-out post since the days of the Battle of Britain.
During the course of July, and then August, parts of East Ham really suffered. We, on the other hand, saw some near misses that still remain etched in my brain but, generally, our stretch of Central Park Road only sustained minor damage. One such 'near miss' came at lunch-time, one day, while I wandered outside in the garden, waiting for something like dried egg and mash that my mother was quietly preparing. Having just come home from school, very hungry, I wasn't a look-out that day! Also, I'd realised, with total surprise, that my father was home for lunch too, so feeling, perhaps, just a little intrigued, I was thinking of asking him 'why?'. This never happened as thoughts such as that were suddenly blown from my mind.
Coming in fast was a flying bomb that I'd, obviously, not been aware of, and flying low, I remember thinking, due to the tone of its engine. Almost at once it careered into view, as I searched for it over the rooftops, blasting its way in a straight line towards me - that was the point when I shouted.....partly, perhaps, to release the tension but also to forewarn my parents. Then, when its engine cut out, right above me, I physically cringed, but I stayed there, knowing that, usually, they dived at an angle but rarely at ninety degrees. This one was different: it flipped itself over then dropped in a vertical dive! Stricken with fear, I just froze like a statue but, after a nasty few moments, two pairs of hands were pushing and pulling me - then, I was down in the shelter, crouching beneath both my mother and father waiting, I thought, for oblivion. Seconds ticked by: perhaps four, perhaps five - "Where is it?", I yelled, "What's happening?" Next came the dull, rather horrible thud..... it was close but at least we'd survived.
As luck would have it - that is for us - the bomb had pulled out of its dive and landed just north of the Barking Road, a three minute walk from our house. This wasn't lucky for West Ham United: the bomb had come down on their ground!
One other quite harrowing image of war from the 'doodle-bug' days of that summer, came on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning while lots of us just sat around. Not having eaten my breakfast by then, I have to admit, I was one. First came a few very distant explosions but then, when we thought they were finished, someone outside shouted, "One's coming over!"..... it missed us but not by a lot. Naturally, everyone rushed to their windows or stood in their tiny front gardens to see where the bomb had eventually come down, but it wasn't that obvious at first. Next, I remember, I noticed that smoke was starting to rise in the sky from somewhere - again - near the Barking Road, though I couldn't be sure from our doorstep. Nobody else actually made a suggestion but some said they thought it was nearer. Half an hour later, the sky was still quiet so, with partial parental approval, I ran to where everything seemed to be happening which was where I'd thought it would be.
More than a few of the local people were standing in groups in the road, helpless of course, and looking dazed but most of them would have been neighbours. Then there were firemen and rescue workers, scrambling about in the rubble, heaving great lumps of it out of their way in a desperate search for survivors. What had been, once, just a quiet little street was a scene of appalling destruction. One house - the house at the end of the terrace - had simply been razed to the ground with only some pieces of outside wall still, temporarily, standing upright. As for the next house, the one next door that was still technically standing, though most of its roof had been blown away and two or three walls had come down. Thankfully, further along down the terrace, the damage grew steadily less.
Suddenly, there was a buzz of excitement as someone was found in the debris then carried, precariously, down to the road and into the back of an ambulance. That seemed, at least, like a glimmer of hope but almost at once there was more - a rescue worker appeared through the dust, stumbling, but carrying a child. As I looked harder it looked like a boy but wrapped in an A.R.P. blanket. Naturally, then, we all tried to close in but the A.R.P. wouldn't let us as more of the victims were being brought out in a street getting ever more crowded. Possibly, I'd been reminded of Ginger as, right at the height of this drama, I found myself feeling unpleasantly hot - then I wanted to leave, very quickly.
On the way home, I decided to stop and to sit on the kerb by the roadside. All that I wanted to do, in fact, was to settle myself and cool down, which seemed to me better than getting home flustered and having my mother ask questions. This, it turned out, was doomed from the start when a voice near me called, "You alright?" then I found myself trying to explain that I was to a deaf and persistent old man, who told me that he would accompany me home - so I just had to get up and run. When, minutes later, I walked through our door, I had as it happened, recovered.
After the huge, airy rooms of 'The Manse' (Port Sunlight, where Donald had been evacuated in August 1944) my house seemed even more tiny. As for the garden - I'd almost forgotten the amount take up by the shelter, covered, that Autumn, in long stalky grass and the seed pods of dozens of marigolds. Little had changed though - at least, near to us - except for the wail of the siren. That had, apparently, been very quiet since the 'doodle-bug' era had ended. What had replaced them, the V2 rockets, were able to fly undetected, making the usual defences useless as well as the old wailing siren.
My first experience of this latest weapon came, not on the day I returned, but during the course of the following morning while I was at home with my mother - playing outside in the garden, in fact, as all of my friends were at school. Suddenly, there was a terrible 'bang' which caused me to jump and turn round, just as my mother appeared in the kitchen; "Sounds like a rocket", she called. Then, looking roughly southwest from our house, I saw what was obviously smoke, billowing up and forming a cloud in the area beyond Boundary Road. Nothing but silence reigned, just for a while, but that was soon broken by bells: fire-engine bells and then ambulance bells - the 'blitz' and V1s yet again!..... What was so different, of course, to all that, was the absence of some sort of warning.
Contributed originally by Billericay Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
In August 1939, aged 13, I was on holiday. There had been much talk of war for over 12 months and we cut our holiday short in order that my parents could attend my half brothers wedding which had been brought forward as he was being called up into the army.
The following week we were called back to school to prepare for evacuation. Each day we attended school as normal taking a suitcase with essential clothes which were checked each morning by our teacher followed by gas mask drill. We then played various indoor games until home time. On Friday 1 September we were told that we were leaving and duly labelled, lined up to march to Upton Park station. I had always been a fussy eater and a very bad riser but the ‘bush telegraph’ had done its job and most of the parents were at the school gate to see us off and call loving messages, mine being ‘Get up first call and eat everything that’s put in front of you.’
Why we didn’t go round the corner to East Ham station I do not know but we marched in crocodile behind the headmistress singing ‘ I have lost the doh of my clarinet, the me, fah etc.’ and caught a train to Ealing Broadway where I believe we should have caught a train to Cornwall. However, we were put on a train for Oxfordshire and told we were off to Kidlington. We soon ate our sandwiches and then settled down to watch the countryside speeding by. Some time later we arrived at Bicester where we were taken to the village hall and given a drink of milk, put on to buses and driven to Kidlington. Another village hall, where we were put into groups and sent round the village to be billeted. By now it was getting quite late but on we trudged stopping at various houses to leave girls at their new homes. At the end of the Banbury Road there were four of us left and we knocked at a door and a very pretty little lady came running round the side and we entered in, and that was how my friend Joan and I met Mrs Maycock. Two other friends were welcomed next door, and after something to eat we had to write a card to our parents with our new address and then met Mr Maycock and a short while later we went to bed. Mr. & Mrs ‘M’ as I called them had only been married for 2 years and in later years I really pitied them having to take in 2 teenagers, mind you, teenagers in those days weren’t anywhere near as stroppy as they are these days.
On the Saturday the teacher in charge of our group came to check that we were ok and then we had little to do. Mrs ‘M’ suggested that we took a walk over to the aerodrome which we did and gazed at the one mechanic, the petrol pump and the [plane.
On Sunday 3rd September we went to visit Mrs Maycock senior who lived by the canal and heard the prime minister declare war. I was somewhat bemused to see Mrs Maycock senior crying at the thought of war.
For a few weeks we shared the senior school with the local children, they going for lessons in the morning and we having the use of the school during the afternoons. This worked quite well as we had games and nature rambles in the morning, but soon afterwards we were given an old zoo house with various barns where the animals had been kept. As this was the other end of the village Mr ‘M’ who was a keen cyclist made me up a bike from spare parts which helped a lot. My parents came for a visit and laid down the ground rules and both Joan and I settled into a routine. Come Christmas I had a new cycle which I must say had better brakes that the other one. Joan decided to go home as there had been no bombing and I moved into the small bedroom. Mrs’M’ began to let the double room to air force personnel for weekends and longer when their wives visited.
Our teachers had been very strict about school uniform but once clothes rationing came into force we were allowed a little latitude. The winters were very cold and I suffered badly from chilblains but there were compensations in that we used to go to ice-skating on Benheim lake, and come the summer we used to go fishing in the river and canal. Our gym mistress used to take us swimming in the river and used to insist we swam in the nude much to the joy of the local boys on the other side of the river. It was freezing. I only went home occasionally when there were lulls in the blitz, my mother had returned to nursing and worked shiftwork. Returning home one night in a heavy raid she was crouched against a wall when something touched her shoulder. Convinced that she was hit by shrapnel she turned round fearfully to find a ginger cat patting her shoulder.
Mr ‘M’ was a bricklayer by trade but all civilian building stopped when war broke out so he got a job at the local bacon factory and used to bring home offcuts which Mrs’M’ made into delicious pies. He was also a very keen gardener and we never lacked fresh vegetables. With the hens which they kept and the odd pig or two they were always busy. I tried my hands at growing vegetables but was not keen on weeding and had quire a few lectures. The school dinners were very small and I suffered badly from hunger, present nutritionists tell us we were better fed in wartime but as a growing girl I dispute this.
The council house where I lived had one cold water tap between four houses and the first one up in winter would boil a kettle of rainwater and pour it over the tap to defrost it. We had a shed in the garden with a bucket for a toilet which was emptied by a collector once a week, and on one memorable occasion the axle broke on the cart and the contents spilt all over the road in the centre of the village.
We had loads of fun and lots of hard work. When we had RAF personnel staying we would play darts in the evening which I enjoyed even though it meant I had to get up early to do my homework. My mother would never have recognised me especially when I got up early on May morning to cycle to Oxford to hear the choir on Magdalen tower.
We regularly attended church and also the cinema in the village especially when Deanna Durbin was on. Mr & Mrs ‘M’ treated me to the pantomime in Oxford and occasionally we went dancing at the aerodrome after Mr ‘M’ became a handyman there. Though I must admit that as a skinny fifteen year old I was hardly ‘Belle of the Ball’.
I was a member of the school guide company and enjoyed getting badges. The Maycock family treated me as one of their own and we have remained friends all our lives, Mrs ‘M’ and some of her family are still alive (2004) Sometimes I would go to Woodstock where Mrs ‘M’s mother managed a sweet shop and I remember sitting in bed with her sister Lilian and Mr ‘M’s sister eating unrationed sweets. My friends and I tried smoking in the blackout but when I was 16 Mr ‘M’ gave us a box of cigarettes and told us it was now legal. We didn’t bother any more!
We had very little German air activity over Kidlington. Once when my parents were visiting a plane came over and my father said it was a german, and everyone laughed until a stick of bombs fell on the aerodrome. The pilot got away because the airman manning one of the guns had hopped over the fence to meet his girl in Oxford. A plane was shot down one Xmas time and one of our RAF friends was guarding it in bitter cold weather so we cycled out with hot soup for him.
Eventually we took our exams and left for home with mixed feelings. Some of the girls couldn’t settle in their foster homes and they opened a very large house where they lived for four years. I had loved being one of a large family but looked forward to my new life at work. I was so lucky to have the billet that I did and Mrs’M’ was paid the princely sum of 7/6 (37 1/2p) for my keep. My mother gave some extras such as blankets and as I said we have always remained friends.
Contributed originally by glemsfordlibrary (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on March 12th, 1925. Actually there were two of us born that day, as I had a twin sister, Eileen. I also had two elder sisters Rose and Hilda and a brother, John. My father John,(called Jack) worked in the Royal Albert Docks as a labourer. Together with my mother, Elizabeth, we all lived in an upstairs flat of a terraced house in Monega Road, Manor Park, East London. My mother used to tell us to say our prayers and ask God for a little house. Our prayers were answered when, in 1931, we were given a new maisonette in Hartshorn Gardens, on a new estate in East Ham. It was like a palace to us, three bedrooms, our own bathroom and garden. We were so happy.
In 1938 our world began to change.My twin-sister and I went to Vicarage Lane School in East Ham. During the summer of that year we had two German Jewish sisters come into our class. Their names were Fannie and Peppie, aged ten and thirteen. The younger one would cry quite a lot. I did not know at the time of the terrible circumstances that had brought them to our country, and that they would probably never see their parents again.
There was talk of war in late summer, and the school began to make arrangements for us children to be evacuated. We had to have a small bag packed with underclothes and little personal things, and were given labels to go on our clothes for identification.
September 29th, 1938, the Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain, went to Germany to appease Hitler, and at the expense of Czechoslovakia came back waving a piece of paper saying it was 'Peace in Our Time.' Our evacuation plans were all cancelled.
The following year I left school and started work in a wholesale stationer's, P. G. Hicks, of Wakefield Street, East Ham. I had only been at work for two months, when Hitler invaded Poland, and consequently, on September 3rd, England declared war on Germany. Apart from a few air-raid warnings which we presumed were false alarms, things went on as usual. The council gave us an Anderson Shelter, but this lay in the garden for a couple of months, as there was no sense of urgency at that time.
July 10th 1940 was the start of the 'Battle of Britain.' The German air force came over with the intention of getting our 'planes into the sky in the hope they could destroy them. We would be out in the garden some days watching them twisting and turning in combat. Germany lost many planes and their plan did not go as they had hoped.
They decided to concentrate on bombing London. On September 7th, 1940, I went with my mother to buy some groceries. The air-raid alarm sounded, and the shop-keeper advised us to go into the cellar. We were there for three hours, and we did not know then that we were going to experience the first major raid in London. When we came out, there was a terrible smell of smoke. The Royal Albert Docks were on fire all around. We were only two miles from the docks. A direct hit had come down on Woolworth's in the High Street, with many killed, and a jewellery shop was hit with people sheltering in the cellar, and they all drowned as the water mains burst and they could not get out. We all knew then that we were in for it. We were all issued with identity cards. The ships ceased to come into the London docks, so my father went to work for the council, supervising the men who put up the shelters.
My father and my brother had already put up our shelter(or 'dug-out') in 1939, at the bottom of the garden. Everything was fine at first, but when we had a spell of rain we found we were treading in a foot of water. A concrete floor was put in, and bunk beds, and it was made a home from home. People went to work, then when they got home, as soon as it was dark, the raids would start. We then went into the dug-out, until the 'all-clear' sounded in the morning. I would go to work looking all around me on the way, to see what had been hit. At times the roads were cordoned off, as there were time-bombs waiting for the Army to attend to them.
We were issued with gas masks which we carried every day. They were in a cardboard box with a shoulder strap. After a while we looked upon them as fashion accessories and had all sorts of fancy containers. It was a competition, to make sure your friend did not have a better one than you!
My eldest sister, Rose, trained as a V.A.D. nurse (Voluntary Aid Detachment) with the Red Cross before the war. During the war she was a shop assistant in a large departmental store, and at weekends and some evenings she would do shifts in the local hospital. It was a 'Casualty Clearing Station' and many times she would get home and be very upset at the terrible things she saw of the bomb victims. She would join us in the shelter, and when the 'all-clear' went in the morning, went off to work again to do her day job at John Lewis, Upton Park.
In 1940, my sister, Hilda, had a baby boy, Alan. She had been evacuated, but came back to Barking to have her baby at home. Her husband, Frank, was working locally on munitions. There were nights when she was on her own, so my twin sister and I took it in turns to stay with her. One Sunday morning, whilst I was staying with Hilda, my twin, Eileen, arrived from East Ham, crying. That night a family living three doors from us were all killed, the mother and five children. A bomb had come down directly onto the Anderson shelter. The house was still standing with just a crack down it, which seemed to prove a point that night.
Rose was married to Eddie in January, 1941. The church, St. Mary Magdalene in East Ham, had been badly damaged by a bomb a few days before. There were no windows, and only part of the roof. We were freezing in our bridesmaids dresses that day, otherwise everything went well!
My brother John had been called up in 1940, and was serving with the 1st Army, 56th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was away for about five years in all, and saw active service in Algiers, Tunisia, Italy and France.
(JOHN HUDSON'S MEMOIRS ARE ALSO AVAILABLE ON THIS WEBSITE, REFS: A3878760 and A4148633)
We had rationing in 1941, clothes, soap and sweets, and a points system for food. There were queues for various things. We would see a queue and get on the end, even though we did not know what it was for, but it was usually something you were pleased to get!
I used to go to the 'pictures.' While you were in there, if there was an air-raid, they would put an announcement up on the screen. The lights would go up and those wishing to do so could leave. Most people stayed, and when the screen announced the all-clear had sounded, we would all cheer. One night I went with a boyfriend to see a film. As we came out, and were on our way home, the sirens sounded. The anti-aircraft guns started up, and shrapnel was falling all around us. I must say I was scared that night.
The planes came over mostly at night. We knew by the steady droning when they were loaded with bombs. After they were dropped, they had a lighter sound as they went back for more supplies. We stayed in our shelters as we knew another wave would be over. At one period of time, the raids went on for 100 nights non-stop.
'Lord Haw Haw' would broadcast every night from Germany to England, trying to break our morale. We looked upon him as a comedian, and had a laugh with our mates when we went into work the next day. He was the traitor William Joyce, and was hanged after the War.
Our bombers increased their bombing of Germany, consequently the raids over England died down. One morning, I got up and picked up the newspaper from the front doormat. My mother usually asked for the headlines, and when I told her the Germans were 'in catastrophe', she exclaimed: "Oh! My God! Where's that?"
In 1943, I received some call-up papers, which meant I had to go into the forces or a munitions factory. The family firm (Hicks)that I had worked for since I was 14 wrote to have me deferred, as they had lost so many staff. I wanted to go into the Womens Land Army, and in July 1944 the deferment was cancelled. On August 24th I reported to the Womens Land Army in Harlow, Essex.
My twin sister did not receive any call-up papers. She worked for the London Co-operative Society and her firm claimed that their work came under food distribution and all were deferred.
Meanwhile, we had another bit of trouble, as the Germans started to send the flying bombs over, called the V1. They made a terrific noise as they went over. Once they had passed over and the engine shut off, you knew you were safe, as they could not turn back. You just hoped it would come down in a field, but sadly that was not very often the case.
We then had the V2 rocket, which you did not know was coming, until you heard the terrific explosion when it hit the ground.
I enjoyed my life working on the land, staying in a hostel, which was in a mansion, Mark Hall, in Harlow, taken over by the government. We came under the 'War Agriculture Committee' and would go out, about forty girls to a lorry, to be dropped off in groups at various farms. I ached so much after the first day's threshing that I thought I was going to die! There was potato picking, sugar beet 'bashing', hoeing, and many other jobs that we got used to. Then we had the hedging and ditching in the winter.
We had late-night passes, and on occasions the RAF or Americans would send trucks to the hostel and pick us up for their dances at the camps.
I was a 'tractor-driver's mate' for a while, and we would go to farms taking machinery that had been hired, such as ploughs and disc harrows, etc. We would winch them up on our trailer. After a while I had a provisional driving licence, and had my own road tractor, a Ford Ferguson. I felt like I was King of the Road (or Queen!) I then went to Bedfordshire, where I went on a driving course. I was attached to a hostel there, at Hassles Hall, Sandy, and had my own three-ton truck. I was a spare driver for a while then one day I was called upon to take forty girls to work. I had never driven a big truck before on my own! I had a few hair-raising experiences that day, but I managed to get them all back in one piece!
During the potato harvest, workers were in very short supply, so after we had taken the girls to work, we then had to go to various places to collect potato pickers. I went to Cardington RAF Camp, Bedford Prison, and a camp where Yorkshire and Welsh miners lived, who had come to work on the land apparently to get some recuperation from being in the coal mines and having to work extra hours. They would work on the land for two months, and I would work with them all day, mostly potato-picking. I would then take them back to their camp, then go and pick the Land Girls up and take them to their hostel.
The local people and the farmers wondered what had hit them when we swept through the villages! Forty girls, mostly Londoners, singing at the top of their voices, 'old-time' Cockney songs that our parents used to sing, like "I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am" and "My Old Man said Follow the Van."
The war in Europe was drawing to a close in May 1945, and on May 8th was VE Day (Victory in Europe.) A group of us Land Girls went up to London for the celebrations. We managed to get to the gates of Buckingham Palace, shouting: "We want the King!" with thousands of others. Everyone was dancing and singing, it was a great day, and we joined on the longest 'Conga' ever.
The Land Army was still needed, as food was short. Our men were having to carry on the fight with the Japanese, and it finally ended in our victory, in August 1945.
I stayed on for a few more years, and dreaded the thought of working again in a closed atmosphere. The Land Army was finally disbanded, and I settled down to civilian life. I met Bernard again, who was a friend from my school days, and had been stationed in India.
We married and had two children, Pauline in 1956, and Martin in 1961. After living in London for 77 years, we are now living in a bungalow in the village of Glemsford, Suffolk, where we are very happy.
I am proud that I lived in London during the War Years, and I am thankful that we all came through in one piece, but I do not forget those who were not so lucky.
GLADYS LEVINGBIRD (nee HUDSON) DECEMBER 2004
Contributed originally by London Borough of Newham Public (BBC WW2 People's War)
As Told By Alice Burman nee Clarke
I’m trying to put down snippets of memories/information of incidents that happened nearly sixty years ago, so, if some are out of date order, I apologise, for I’m jotting them down as and how I remember them. Hopefully for the benefit of those of you, who come after me.
In 1939, after months of “Will we won’t we be at war?”, things started hotting up, gas masks were fitted, Anderson and Morrison shelters were delivered, (the first was for outdoors, the second inside the home) all in sections to be put up by the man of the house if and when needed. Housewives, albeit on very low incomes, tried to store tin foods etc (in case!). Evacuation plans were being made, I being the youngest, was considered for this, and much to my chagrin, my name was put forward to the education committee, as a prospective evacuee!
Through the summer school holidays we were reporting daily to our schools complete with gas masks (in a little cardboard box) a change of clothes and shoes – some poor youngsters didn’t have any of these. Plus a pack of suitable foodstuffs for the journey, this last had to include a packet of nuts and raisins, which I proceeded to devour on the way to school! Each day they had to be replenished, and I was under mother’s strict instructions not to eat them! This situation continued until Friday Sept 1st, when hundreds of us were (supposedly) being sent off on a ‘trial’ evacuation run, needless to say, what started as an exciting fun journey, was to be our first trip away from home and family. Two days later, whilst in the church, at Warminster, Wiltshire, our destined evacuation area, we were told by the vicar in the eleven o’clock service, that WAR had been declared!
At this point I was frightened, angry (at being sent away) and home-sick! As there were not enough schools to accommodate us, we and the local children learned our lessons on a part-time basis, one lot in the morning, the others in the afternoon. Our teachers, also from London, were I suppose doing a really wonderful job, for when we were not actually in the school room we were out on study/field trips, in and around the countryside, and I for one, learned more than I realised at the time.
Meanwhile in London, there was a ‘phoney’ war, nothing was happening in the first few months, and gradually, some parents were fetching their children home.
My brother volunteered for the RAF at 171/4 years old, the earliest that one could volunteer, my father insisted he would NOT be accepted, as he’d had a bad accident at twelve years of age, which had left him with a badly scarred leg and poor eyesight. Dad was to be proved wrong, Stan left his glasses at home, marched into the recruiting office, and was accepted! Admittedly not in the Air Crew, but ground crew! This of course caused quite an argument between our parents, as Mum blamed Dad for thinking he would not get in!
Meanwhile, my sister Doris, a voluntary St. John’s nurse, had joined the Ambulance Brigade, and in the later blitz of East London, had some harrowing experiences, and was, in her own way, one of London’s heroines! One or two of her tales I will relate as I remember them.
I was to stay an evacuee until Spring of 1941, after the terrific and terrifying Blitz had ended in London, in which the East End of London and Docks had been almost devastated, but NOT people! Every bomb dropped made Londoners more determined to defeat Hitler, although bombing was to continue, my parents decided I could come home, as some of the schools had reopened, and they considered I was old enough to cope with life in London.
Returning to my old school, I found it was no longer a ‘girls only’ school, boys were now accepted, obviously due to bombed out schools and fewer teachers.
As soon as I reached fourteen, I left school and obtained an office job at Unilever House, the soap and margarine concern, whose head office was on Blackfriars Bridge. Normally at fourteen, from an elementary school, I would not have been taken on by them, but Grammar School pupils (whom they had previously employed) were leaving school and going straight into the armed forces. So provided one passed their interview, and an entrance exam, you could be employed as a very junior office trainee!
In those days you grew up overnight - one day a school child the next day a worker there were no teenage years! The war continued, bombs still fell and providing you came up from the shelter in the morning, and had the means of having a wash and a meal (the gas, electricity and sometimes the water were cut off due to bombed mains etc) you went off to work!
One of my amusing recollections was that no matter what was falling from the skies at eight o’clock in the morning I was sent off to work – into the City where bombing continued most days but at night if I wished to go to a dance or pictures (yes – those that could still opened) Mother replied, “No you can’t go out there might be a raid!!” not withstanding I’d been working through raids all day, only going into the firm’s shelter (the basement) when we heard the enemy overhead siren.
Dad worked at Beckton Gasworks a place continually bombed but somehow they carried on supplying gas, if only at irregular intervals. Apart from his normal shift work duties, he was a fire-fighter at work, and air raid warden when not at work. I don’t know how he carried on all the hours he did and kept going!
When Doris was not on her set ambulance duty, she went out with Dad around the local streets applying her nursing skills to the injured as and where needed. She overcame a personal fear of fire (having been caught in a factory fire before the war) on many occasions crawling through and under burning and collapsing houses to administer first aid to the victims. Their need was obviously greater than her fear!
Mum somehow managed to keep the home-fire burning. A necessity often as that was the only way at times that a cup of tea, a hot meal, or hot water was available. Food rationing was difficult to cope with but we did. And when a friend or neighbour received the dreaded telegram saying a loved one was killed in action, a couple of spoonfuls of tea; a screw of sugar etc. was sympathetically produced over the fence, in lieu of a few words of condolence, parting with a treasured ‘cuppa’ was more meaningful than words!
Windows were blown out regularly, as was the respective back and front doors in our house for weeks one could just push the front door open and walk in the same for the back door, this was reported to our landlord, and eventually a workman arrived and put a new lock on – the back door only! He hadn’t got the order for the front. So we continued pushing open the front door, but didn’t use the lock at the back as we needed a quick and easy way out to the shelter. This caused many a chuckle at the time.
As windows were not replaced, the window frames were covered in a type of black tarpaulin, which again in every nearby bomb blast was blown out. My granddad had died just before the war when we became proud owners of a secondhand carpet from his house, before this it was lino and a fireside rug. Mum was proud of her carpet, I can see it now – pale green with red roses in the middle and roses round the edge (quite posh!). After many more raids and seeing the black sheeting continually blown out Dad made a decision, “Help me get that carpet up I’m going to cut it up and nail it over the windows, that strong old Adolf won’t blow that out!” So up came the precious carpet duly cut and nailed into place, pink/red roses inside of course. Dad was right, it withstood bomb blasts! My most amusing memory of this was a while later after an air raid that finished earlier than usual (the all clear sounded at about 4am). Doris and I went back to bed to get a little comfortable sleep before the next day’s work when Mum came into the room, stood ruminating at the carpeted windows and said, “If I only had a *!!- so and so hoover, I could clean the *!!- windows!” We lay there laughing at the thought.
All this time, brother Stan was fighting abroad, our letters were written on a special airmail form, which in either direction were somehow by the powers that be, compressed down to a photo like print of about 5x8 inches! News had to be very general as all mail was read by censors and many had large black lines drawn through some paragraphs, so one could only guess at the missing bits. Therefore most of them consisted of, “I’m alright the family is alright, hope you’re alright, cousin so-and-so has a new baby, her husband is away etc. or about what Dad was growing on his allotment, ours was in the local park, alongside the balloon barrage.
I continued working and growing up into a young lady. My particular war effort was writing to various lads from our youth club, and work, when they either volunteered or got called up at 18. This was to be how I met my husband to be, I actually picked out his name, with a pin from a list of lonely service men, wanting pen-pals in a West Ham speedway magazine!
At Unilever we girls (now young ladies working in the book-keeping machine section) were almost a family, and I’m pleased to say, that up until this day, some of us keep contact, and the friendships are as strong as ever, even if they live far across England and one even in Canada! Even managing a couple of get togethers in our retirement.
There were times at work when the electricity was cut off, due to bombing etc and although Unilever had its own emergency generator it could only be on for a few hours at a time so we worked shifts – an unheard of thing for offices in those days, but of course flexi-hours are the norm now. And on many a day, the firm not being able to supply hot drinks etc., allowed us to go over the road to the ABC café to get hot chocolate. If there was no heating we worked in top coats very often, which again on reflection was a laugh, for many of us were still wearing adapted school uniforms let down and out at every seam! A new dress meant not only money which we didn’t have a lot of but clothing coupons as well and was the highlight of everyone’s day!
We shared a lot – lipsticks (which I had to put on after I left the house as mother didn’t approve), powder, perfume and on rare occasions, party dresses! For we, that is everyone, attempted to lead as normal a life as possible, we still celebrated birthdays and Christmas, although gifts were usually homemade and either practical or useful.
Getting to work in my case was getting on a No.15 bus each morning, and if we met a bomb crater on the way the passengers just got off and walked round the hole and picked up another bus on the other side! Coming home it was easier to use the Underground to Aldgate and pick up an empty trolley bus from there, the procedure was the same though.
I can remember looking across London from outside the firm to see empty bomb blasted areas but old St. Paul’s stood proudly amongst the ruins. Funnily enough and perhaps it was because we were young, we were not afraid but I must admit the advent of V1s and 2s were more frightening, they were unmanned craft and did considerable damage.
During the war there was a government department - The Ministry of Food. On behalf of this Ministry, Unilever who owned Stork (the margarine company), would send out leaflets advising people on how to make their rations last. Unilever junior staff could supplement their wages by taking home and addressing a batch of these cookery leaflets which then folded into envelopes. Staff could earn an extra £1 and 10 shillings per 1000 leaflets - or something like that! I must be honest, I didn't read the recipes as I was too busy addressing and folding the envelopes! I do remember one recipe - Woolton Pie - named after the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton. It was horrible - a vegetable and pastry pie.
As I said earlier, my sister Doris and her colleagues in the London Ambulance Service, alongside the firemen and air raid wardens did a tremendous job in the Blitz and after working under terrible pressure and extremely dangerous situations. Many of the men had wives and families evacuated to the country and their pay packets not large to start with had to cover their own costs and pay the expenses of the family living away. But the old East End spirit survived, although living in such difficult circumstances, they remained at their posts and also managed to get a few laughs out of certain droll situations.
One such situation was related by Doris after it had occurred, on one awful night of continuous raids and many casualties she and her driver were picking up pieces of dead bodies, the ambulance was soon filled – they had the unpleasant task of attempting to sort and put together the respective arms, legs and torsos, into body bags, cart them to a hospital (any hospital!) where an overworked doctor was to certify them dead. The necessary documents had to be signed, before relegating them to the mortuary, hurriedly emptying the vehicle, in order to get back to help the living. Eventually a doctor was found who spared the few minutes to put his name to the papers, before returning to attend other casualties, so, off went the ambulance straight to the local morgue, where the vehicle was quickly emptied. They returned to the fray assisting and caring for further casualties, only to find out that the mortuary received a direct hit later that night, and all the bodies, so carefully sorted, had been blown to smithereens, and mixed up once more! Looking back I suppose it was a shock reaction but they laughed helplessly, at the wasted effort. It was good that everyone could laugh, after all there was no counselling then, you were alive, so you carried on. No one had time to think you just did your job to the best of your ability.
Sometimes they had a welcome break from the hell of London raids if a young mother with her newly born baby needed special care, they had the pleasant task of transferring them to a hospital or nursing home situated in a safe area out in the country, even this job was not necessarily easy, for, because of the war and in order to confuse any enemy agents, all sign posts had been taken down, so unless the driver knew his way, they were almost on a mystery tour. Not a sign post in sight and as posters were put up all across the land saying ‘Careless talk costs lives’ local residents were not too ready to be helpful with directions, after all one never knew if the ambulance and its occupants may be Germans! Funny when talked about later but frustrating at the time. Especially as the country folk had a local dialect and the Londoners were mainly Cockneys. Two quite different languages at the time.
The doodlebugs; V1s, an unmanned aircraft and its follow up, the V2 rocket, were deadly weapons, that Germany sent across to London, many were shot down by our anti-aircraft guns, before reaching their target, but those that did get to London were deadly. The doodle bug as we called them made a heavy droning sound, quite different from airplanes which we had got used to identifying – “That’s one of ours” or “Look out it’s a Jerry” and when the engine stopped so did our breath, for you knew then, that it was coming down somewhere near you. The V2 rocket was a silent enemy, it just arrived no warning, just one heck of an explosion! Our RAF boys did a brilliant job in bombing Permamunde, where our intelligence group found out they were being manufactured. I really don’t think we could have stood much more of them!
I realise I’ve rather glossed over my evacuation period, I suppose the reason for that is, that I wasn’t particularly happy there. Some youngsters were very fortunate and were bilited on the gentry, and had stables, horses etc., to ride on, even if they were expected to clean and feed them as well, those must have been pleasant duties (after getting used to the animals, as most London children had only seen animals behind bars at the zoo, if they’d been lucky!)
Some youngsters were used as unpaid farm labourers before and after school. I myself was an unpaid servant, come baby-sitter for the sister of the lady of the house where I first stayed. Who after a while arranged with the Evacuation Committee, to have me stay permanently with the other household, I found out later that was because she was able to let out my little room to an elderly farm labourer for more money! I disliked the quiet of the countryside (I suppose that’s why I could never live in a quiet locality today, subconsciously it reminds me of then?) but I soon got used to the farm animals, I could easily walk across the fields as short cuts to school (or Church).
We were made to go to Church, the country folk, I found, were avid church goers, even if they only went to talk about Mrs So-and-so’s Hat or her daughter’s goings on etc. I quickly learned if you can’t beat them join them and so joined the church choir and Girl Guides, I became patrol leader of the Scarlet Pimpernels.
I’m afraid it was very much ‘them’ and ‘us’ between Londoners and the local children, and I was so pleased to be brought home. I felt I could stand any of Hitler’s bombs after putting up with living in a ‘safe area’.
Another memory sticks in my mind – Aid to Russia. Throughout the war, socials and dances were held in any school or church hall still standing, in which raffles were held, to aid various groups i.e the Red Cross, Service Men’s Children fund, Widows and Orphans etc. Then when the German Army invaded Russia, the Russian people decided that they would leave nothing behind for the Germans to benefit from, so they started a scorched earth policy and burnt everything in their wake! So we had an ‘Aid to Russia’ week. Before the war Dad had bought Mum a beautiful gold leafed patterned coffee set which was never user for the cups were so small and delicate and certainly wouldn’t have held enough coffee to satisfy the working man or woman. At the start of the war Mum carefully packed it in lots of paper, inside a cardboard box and stored it away safely (our everyday stuff on the kitchen dresser was gradually depleted as each bomb blast shook the crockery down, but we all managed with odds and ends.)
One day in the Aid to Russia week Dad came home and asked where the coffee set was, Mum replied ‘safely put away’ ‘Get it out girl, we can use it for a Raffle prize for Aid to Russia’ was Dad’s reply. The expletives used by Mum were beautiful! – no perishing Russian was going to benefit by her lovely coffee set in a raffle! Eventually he got his way, using the obvious statement, ‘Look my girl we could all be dead tomorrow, what’s a blooming coffee set?’
From then on when we mentioned it, it was always called the aid to Russia set and although he promised to replace it, to my knowledge he never did. Still there were at the time more important things to worry about.
There were two very important Ds during the war – Dunkirk and D-Day. Dunkirk consisted of an armada of small sailing vessels, used to evacuate our soldiers and allies, from the beaches of Dunkirk, if I remember rightly, in 1940. The message went out over the radio asking for anyone who had access to a small craft to report to various stations along the Thames and English coast. Paddle steamers, ferries, and small pleasure craft, with their crews consisting of anyone, of any age (mostly old and/or very young) all civilians! Needless to say hundreds of small boats with a brave but motley crew rallied to the call. Fuel was supplied and they were instructed to congregate at the mouth of the Thames thence given more fuel, food and instructions to sail across the Channel to France. The idea was to get to the beaches (where our larger boats could not get in) and pick up our retreating forces. This was NOT to be classed as a retreat, it was almost turned into a glorious victory when these little ships as they were called went in under German fire ignoring danger to themselves, in many cases being blown up and machine gunned as they picked up as many troops as their particular boat could take, in order to ferry survivors out into the channel, and transfer them to the larger ships waiting there.
Our soldiers, some waiting in line, others assembling out into the water in an attempt to board the small craft were always under fire. Some years later, I was to find out that my future husband’s brother George was one of those very brave men, rescued from the beach at Dunkirk. He’d seen many friends die around him and was to turn against any religion from that time on, as he’d asked a Catholic padre to say a few words over his dying pal, the Padre refused saying, ‘He’s not one of us!’ – the friend was C of E.
George’s first boat was bombed and he got picked up by a second craft only to have the same thing happen! Luck was on his side for the third boat made it, and he was taken out to a larger ship and made it home!
Hundreds and hundreds of wet, cold and weary lads were brought back to England this way, to be met by the Red Cross and WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) with a cuppa and a wad – tea and sandwiches to you!
D-Day was in June 1944, when we and our allies invaded France and Belgium (countries occupied by Germans). For weeks in the run-up to D-Day, troops had been transported across England, in large convoys, making their way to docks and embarkation ports. I remember well standing alongside many local people in Barking Road, East Ham, handing out tea, cigarettes and cakes to the passing lorry loads of men. Don’t ask me where the cigs etc. came from, I guess anyone who had anything edible or drinkable stored away just brought them out and passed them around for us to throw or hand into the lorries!
The cake shop at the top of the street somehow baked buns and cakes and passed them out to us. Many times we were asked, ‘Where is this place love?’ (no sign posts anywhere of course) and on saying ‘east London lads’, the reply was, ‘ God bless East London’. For they had very few stops on their journey and no time for a brew up. I am still trying to work out why it was called D-Day but I have a feeling it was Deliverance Day for the people of Europe.
Looking back I can hear some of the soldiers asking, ‘What shall we do with the cups, thermos flasks etc’ for the convoy was always on the move and we’d reply, ‘Hand ‘em out farther up boys’, they did and somehow they got back to their owners.
I know when we made the D-Day landings it was a nightmare for all concerned, many troops were lost as they hit the beaches, but the majority fought well, and with the aid of allied aircraft overhead, gained ground slowly, this was the beginning of the end of the war!
Life carried on much the same in London, we worked and cheered, when the news on the radio, reported our troops gradually taking back parts of Europe and pushing the Germans back to Berlin!
One of my most upsetting memories was seeing the RAF lads, in hospital blues, with their terribly scarred, burned faces, on leave, but there was a doctor named Archie McIndoe, who was trying out the first skin graft ops, ever done, on these lads, and gradually, their burned faces and noses took on a more normal look, today’s wonderful skin graft operation were only born from these ‘trial and error’ skin surgery.
Mrs A Burman nee Clark
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 on behalf of Christine Franks and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
At the outbreak of the war on September 3 we heard on the radio Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation that we were at war with Germany.
I was at my uncle's parent's home in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, having come over with my auntie and cousin of a year old on a night crossing from Holyhead to Dunlaoghaire. The reason my parents wanted this was because they were Mayor and Mayoress of Dagenham and were going to be extremely busy (my brother was eventually sent off with the Kingsley Hall Nursery School to Gloucestershire). My mother and father wanted to get us away from the London area; a decision Mum really regretted later.
It was my first experience of the countryside and I loved it; at the same time very homesick and frightened I may never see my parents again. I still have the letters I wrote home from Ireland. I was 9 years old. I went to the village Church of England School; Mr Steele being the Headmaster with one class of multi-ages and he as deaf as a post. Some of the lessons were in Gallic, which I couldn't understand at all. The only other English child was a boy from Yorkshire. I didn't learn much.
The scenery was lovely with the Sugar Loaf Mountain in the distance. The smell of the pine trees, the sound of the rooks coming home to roost in the nearby trees and the smell of earth after rain. We did a lot of walking. When my uncle came over he took me to the Scalp where rocks had been brought
down from the Ice age. There was a stream running alongside the road where we picked watercress.
On Sunday mornings Bapa would walk me to church at Kilbride. We picked mushrooms in the field next to the house, collected eggs (some Guinea Fowls). I remember the lovely smell of Barm Brack and Soda bread baking in the Aga. There were trips to Dublin for clothes and shoes and to bray for paddles in the sea and donkey rides on the sand. I would sometimes go to the pictures there with my aunty. One film stands out in my memory; "Love Affair" with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunn.
The following February my father came to take me home as the elderly folks were getting past coping with us all in the house and my education was suffering. Our crossing coming back was awful. The ship kept zig zagging to avoid the mines and my mother had read in the early morning newspapers that a ship just north of us had sunk. She was so relieved to see us. My brother had come home too, because he had been ill in Gloucestershire and was very homesick too.
So I was home for all of the Blitz. My mother started the WVS in Chadwell Heath where we lived. She handed out gas masks, drove a mobile canteen to Oldchurch Hospital to serve the Outpatients, and was involved in the running of the local British Restaurants and the making of clothes at Valance House and distributing them to the 'bombed out'
While I was in Ireland they went to different parts of the country to visit the billets of the evacuees to see if they were well cared for. They visited all the bomb sites in the borough and organised re housing people.
My father had a meeting at the Civic Centre. Mother would not stay in the house, so we all went with him. We'd eat in the Mayor's parlour at the canteen in the basement. There was a games room where I learnt to play table tennis with the noise of gunfire without. One night the control room was hit. I slept through it and asked the next morning what was all the dust flying about! We slept on camp beds in the corridors.
In the garden at home we had an Anderson shelter with a sandbag entrance. We went to bed as usual and if the siren went at night we got up and went down to the shelter. I remember the siren going one Sunday dinnertime when Mum was ready to serve up lamb, new potatoes and peas. After we all got down there she put all the saucepans etc. at the entrance and handed our plates of food back to us. I always admired the way she coped with rations and powdered egg!
Dad was in the ARP and wore a tin helmet. When the doodlebugs droned overhead and then stopped I was scared wondering where the bombs would drop. We had an anti aircraft gun in Whalebone Lane which we called whalebone Winnie; it was deafening.
When Dad went to the station one morning on his way to work in London, he had to lay in the gutter because of machine gun fire.
We went to visit my grandparents in East Ham one day and they showed us the incendiary bomb shells and shrapnel which had fallen the night before, in their garden.
One morning coming back form the Civic Centre we found a large piece of masonry on the pillow where I would have been sleeping.
Another night while at the Civic Centre the roads next to our home were almost completely flattened. Our house was so badly blasted it had to be pulled down and eventually rebuilt. It was then that I became a weekly boarder at the Ursuline Convent.
The Civic Centre control room was hit as I previously mentioned; the borough Surveyor had been sleeping in a room in the basement. The blast threw him
out and under the bed. Later in dressing gown he went to look at the damage to the building. The little wall around the pond had been broken down. He stepped back to look at the roof and fell into the pond! Fortunately several nurses were on hand and wrapped him in blankets while his clothes dried; how embarrassing!
My summer holidays were spent in Norfolk at my cousin's cottage. Her husband was a P.O.W. in Japanese hands and worked on the Burma railway. She had a little boy, 2 years old. My father thought it would be good for her
and get me away from London again. I loved it with the smell of wood fires, oil lamps, collecting fire wood and lovely home cooking – blackcurrant pies.
While our house was being rebuilt we were given a requisitioned house, bigger than our own, with bigger gardens – I loved it. This time we had a Morrison shelter in the front room where we all slept with our feet sticking out on sofa cushions. I was no longer a weekly boarder then, just a daygirl.
One evening some friends of my parents were having a party for the American soldiers. I was invited and jived to 'In the Mood'. I still love Glenn Miller's music. The memories were as clear as if it were yesterday. We were always looking out for Clark Gable in Brentwood.
We didn't lose anyone in the war. My cousin's husband came home. He was 12 stone and came back 6 stone. The war tore our family apart. I didn't see enough of my father, especially, but on the upside everyone pulled together. It gave us a perspective to value the real things in life; that material things mean very little, its our relationships, love and kindness that matter.
At school when I boarded in we slept in a large concrete shelter under the school hall, the nuns also. When the sirens went we trooped down for lessons where I did my school certificate. The dormitory block was hit one night. We survived thank God to live a good and fulfilling life. My father died at 84, mother 90.
To end on a funny note; my father was walking home in the blackout and bumped into something. He said " Sorry old man" no answer. He thought 'I really have offended him'. He put his hand out only to feel the opening in the pillar-box where you post the letters.
I was awakened by my mother when the siren went in the middle of the night. As I was a long time she came back in the bedroom to ask me what I was doing. I was looking in the wardrobe. "What are you doing?" she said and I replied, "I'm looking for my lunch!!"
Contributed originally by dougsbody (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is a "script" which I use when talking to schoolchidren about my experiences as a small boy during the war. I do this about three times per year for different local schools, when they have World War Two as a history subject. The children are all primary school children hence the rather simplistic language used in the "script". I use it in conjunction with photographs on overhead slides and a collection of wartime artifacts that I have aquired, including some toys.
The Memoirs of a Small Boy during World War Two
I was born in Plaistow, which is on the East Side of London in July 1936
I lived in East Ham at my Grandmother's House together with my Mum and Dad, two aunts, two uncles and my Great Uncle Dave who had fought in the war against the Boers in South Africa and in the first World War. My grandfather died before I was born
Then when I was three years old , Britain went to war with Germany. My father had been a regular soldier in the Royal Horse Artillery and he was called up straight away leaving my mother and me to stay with my Grandmother.
The Government was afraid that there would be bombing in London so they made air raid shelters available for the people who lived there. There were two types, the Morrison Shelter and the Anderson Shelter; both named after the men who designed them. The Morrison Shelter was a metal cage that fitted inside the house usually under the table but the Anderson shelter was put in the garden and was made of big curved sheets of corrugated iron. My Grandmother had an Anderson Shelter and I can remember my uncles digging a big hole in the garden and putting the shelter into it. Then it was covered over with all the soil that they had dug out and my Grandmother grew vegetables and things like lettuces and radishes on it.
My grandmother also kept chickens for their eggs and rabbits. We used to eat the rabbits and the chickens too, if they stopped laying eggs
Another early memory was of the workmen coming down the street that my Grandmother's house was in and cutting down all the iron railings that ran in front of all the houses. They said they needed the steel for the War Effort to make guns and shells and tanks.
Then the government decided that all the children should be evacuated to the so that they wouldn’t be killed when the bombing started.
Evacuation meant that the children were sent off into the Country without their mums and dads, to live with people they had never met before. Sometimes their brothers or sisters went to live in a different house
Some children went to Australia and Canada but most of them went to the country here in England or Wales or Scotland
But not all of the children went on their own. Small children could go with their mothers, so I went with mine. My mother packed our belongings into two suitcases; one for me and one for her and off we went with our Gas Masks over our shoulders to catch the train.
That was how I came to be evacuated to a little village near Dunster, in Somerset with my mother.
When we arrived they took us to a big hall and I was running round the hall and I bumped into a gentleman whose name was Captain Lutteral. He sked, “Whose child is this?” and my mother came and rescued me and he said to her “you can come home with me”. That is how we came to stay in a big house in a little village called Bicknoller, right at the foot of the Quantock Hills with Captain Lutteral and his family.
Captain Lutterall must have been very rich, because he had servants and a cook and a parlour maid. His daughter was called Miss Elizabeth. She was 16 and she had her own pony.
We didn’t stay very long in Somerset because the Germans didn’t bomb London after all so lots of mothers, mine included, took themselves and their children back into London
So we went back to stay with my Grandma and my uncles and aunts, in East Ham. Neither of my uncles were called up to join the Army because they were both in “reserved occupations”. That means that the job that they did was ever so important to the “War Effort”. The youngest one, Tom was a toolmaker making tools that were used to manufacture shells, but at night he was an Ack Ack Gunner.
Anyway, back we went to London and we weren’t there very long before the Germans did start to bomb. We used to sleep down n the shelter every night because of the Air Raids and we had mattresses on the floor. People who didn’t have shelters used to go down into the London Underground and sleep on the Station Platforms.
We also used to go down the shelter in the daytime if the siren sounded.
Fire engines and ambulances didn’t have sirens in those days, they had bells.
Air Raid Wardens wore steel helmets and they used to go round the streets making sure that people didn’t have any lights showing because it would guide the German planes and show them where to bomb. So all the houses had to have blackout curtains made of black material to stop the light coming through the windows. The Wardens would shout, “Put that light out” if they saw anyone with a light showing. If you had a torch it had to have a cover over the bulb.
One day after a very big air raid I remember coming up out of the shelter and all the air was full of smoke and all the sky was red. The Germans had begun what became known as the Blitz, which is short for Blitzkrieg and is German for lightening war. I can still remember the smell of the smoke and the cordite (which was in the bombs) as if it were yesterday
When the Germans began to bomb London my mum took me to live with some friends in a village in Essex called Tiptree.
We lived in a little cottage called Redcot and we had a Morrison Shelter under the table in case the Germans bombed us. By now my Father was at the Army Depot in Collingham in Nottinghamshire because he had come back to England from Dunkirk
The Germans had pushed the British Expeditionary Force back to the English Channel at Dunkirk and lots of very brave people took their little boats across the English Channel to France to rescue the soldiers and bring them home. My dad was lucky; he was one of the soldiers who were rescued.
By this time my father was a Despatch Rider which is a sort of messenger who rides a motor cycle. They were call Don Rs. Don R is short for Despatch Rider
My mum took me to live in Collingham, so that we could be near my Father.
In Collingham we lived with the village postman at first. His name was Mr Harker. Here is a picture of me with Mr Harker. He only had one hand and he used to have a big clip that screwed into the end of his arm and he could put all the letters into it. Sometime he used to take me with him when he went to deliver letters and he would pull up two carrots from the field and wipe them clean and we would eat one each as we walked along the lanes. It was in Collingham that I started school, I was five then.
My dad was sent to North Africa (Tunisia) in November 1942 and we went back to London again to live with my Grandma and my Aunts and Uncles in East Ham. At Christmas my dad sent me a Christmas Card all the way from Tunisia. I’ve still got it. It was printed on special light paper so that it could be flown to England in an aeroplane without being too heavy.
My mum went to work for a factory called Plessey. They made munitions, that is, shells and bullets. The factory was deep down in the ground on an underground railway station. She used to operate some sort of machine making shell cases
I went to Latham Road School, in East Ham. I was only 6 and Barbara, the girl from next door, who was older than me, used to take me to School. We used to walk to the school and on the way we used to collect all the pieces of shrapnel that we could find. We used to put them into a box in the corner of the classroom. Shrapnel were the pieces of shells that had been fired at the German bombers and had fallen back to the ground after they had exploded in the air. They used to be collected from the school and melted down to make more shells. Sometimes we picked up pieces of what was called window. Window was thin strips of silver paper, which were dropped by the German Bombers to confuse our radar.
One night when I was about 7 years old there was an air raid. My Uncle Tom let me stand outside the air raid shelter with him and he put his steel helmet on my head and I was able to see the tracer bullets from the Ack Ack Guns firing up into the sky and the searchlights picking out the German Bombers. There were also lots of Barrage Balloons floating up in the sky on the end of steel wires. This was to make sure that the aeroplanes couldn’t fly low enough to bomb accurately because if they flew too low their wings would hit the cables. The Balloons were full of gas and just floated up when the cables were let out.
On another occasion I was standing in the garden and I saw a V1 which we called Doodlebugs. They were flying bombs powered by a ram jet engine. The engines made a very funny noise and when the engine stopped the bomb crashed and exploded.
We didn’t have television in those days, nor computers, video recorders, tape recorders, music centres or game boys. Most of our toys were second hand because the toy factories were all making shells and bullets and guns or else they were home made. My Uncle Tom made me some tanks and boats out of wood.
We had some comics, like the Beano and Dandy, Film Fun and Radio Fun and we did have what was called “the wireless”.
My Grandma had a wireless and it was powered, not by electricity but by a battery called an accumulator. It was a bit like a small car battery, except that it was made of glass and we used to have to take it to a shop to have it charged up. My grandma’s house didn’t have any electricity so the lights were gas lamps and they used to make a soft hissing sound when they were alight . You had to be very careful when you lit them because the gas mantles were very delicate. At night, one of the adults would draw the blackout curtains light the gas lamps and then we would all sit down to listen to the wireless until it was time to go down into the shelter to bed. We did not have any lights in the shelter only torches and candles
We also had a gramophone, which you had to wind up to make it play. The records were quite brittle and would break if you dropped them. One of my uncles played a banjo and another one played the accordion so whenever we had a party we had lots of music
Towards the end of the war, when I was about eight years old, I moved to Birmingham with my mum and we lived with my Father’s parents. We lived opposite Elmdon Aerodrome, which today is called Birmingham Airport
I used to sit on the grassy bank outside my grandparent’s house and watch the Lancaster Bombers take off and land and in the playground at the school that I went to, we had a barrage balloon.
The war ended soon after that, in April 1945.
All over Britain people held victory parties in the streets. I went to London with my mum and we joined in the victory party in my Grandma’s road. Someone brought out a piano and we had tables all down the street and we all sat down to sandwiches and cream cakes and jelly and ice cream. The grown ups drank beer and danced up and down the street to the music of the piano
My Father was demobilised and came home in January 1946 and I have lived in the Midlands ever since.
D.C.J. Morrison 15th May 2002
Contributed originally by Billericay Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was evacuated for the first three years of the war but my parents were living in the east end of London. My father was a ship's plumber in the docks and as soon as the war started my mother went back as a nurse on a first aid post. After a few months the post was closed due to the fact that there were no air raids and mother went to work at the local hospital. She was a fully qualified nurse and had given up nursing when I was born.
I only knew one person who was at Dunkirk, and I remember him making lots of jokes about it when he came to tea after he was rescued. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr Churchill was an inspiration to us all as we listened to his broadcasts on the radio, I never for one moment imagined that we might lose the war.
When the Blitz started, life became very difficult for the eastenders and my parents decided to have an Anderson shelter in the back garden. The bombing was dreadful but I only knew one friend who was killed. She had been my patrol leader in the guides before the war and was sheltering with her mother and brother. During a lull in the bombing her brother went into the house to make a cup of tea and the shelter received a direct hit killing May and injuring her mother, her brother surviving with minor injuries.
Things gradually became worse and many foodstuffs were rationed, the bread was very grey, and long queues formed for anything unrationed, e.g. fish, offal. It was difficult for my mother working and getting unrationed foods but after a while we had a new neighbour move in and she would queue for mother as well as herself. Occasionally we would be allowed an extra ration of dried fruit for special occasions and I can remember having to wash the fruit about 20 times to remove the grit before it could be used.
In 1942 I returned from evacuation and the worst of the Blitz was over so I set about finding employment, not the easiest thing despite having done well in my exams, the trouble being that I didn't want to be evacuated again and many firms were now located in the country. I applied to banks and insurance firms and finally went to the headmistresses association who offered me an interview with an accountant and a solicitor. Having no idea what either of them did I opted for the accountant and was offered a place as a comptometer operator and audit clerk which was a deferred occupation and released a boy for the forces. I first had to train as a comptometer operator and then would go on audit carrying the machine. All for 35/- a week (£1.75)
That winter I also learnt to make blocks of coal with nutty slack because the coal we received on ration was mostly dust.
I would also go shopping in the market in Green Street, Upton Park for material to make clothes, soon learning that if I didn't mention coupons nobody asked for them. I've since learnt how these materials were obtained and occasionally get a twinge of guilt!
My father died in January 1943 and the night before his funeral we had an air raid, Mum snatched up her knitting and we rushed under the stairs leaving insurance money and other valuables on the dining room table.
My father had been ill for a long time from effects of the first world war and although I was very sad to see him go I have to admit that things were easier after his death. There was no health service and my mother had to pay all his Dr's bills and hospital bills out of her salary once the panel money and HSA had run out. When my mother was on duty at nights I would get my father's tea in the morning and my own breakfast of dried egg etc: which was edible as long as you ate it as soon as it was cooked otherwise it was like leather. I could manage dried milk in coffee but it was awful in tea and at work I would drink marmite.
Shortly after the death of my dad my best friend lost her father and that summer we went to Torquay on holiday with my mother. The train was packed with troops and the guard invited us into the guards van where we were able to sit on luggage and from which we emerged covered in smuts from the engine. We had a great time, a small part of the beach was open and we were able to swim. The food was excellent and we had scones with Devon cream for breakfast.
My friend and I both worked for the insurance side of the business when I was not on audit and we girls loved to help the office boys take the ledgers down to the basement where they were put in the safe against bombing. When on audit I would travel all over London and occasionally would go away. I went to some lovely places, The Hotel de Paris in Bray near Maidenhead where Willis Faber were was beautifully situated by the river and you could imagine the rich and famous, including the Prince of Wales staying there. I also went to Derby to Rolls Royce, and stayed in the Midland Hotel realising that wealthy people were able to acquire better food and conditions than we mere mortals. The senior auditors used to go for long walks in the countryside around Derby and once they realised that I would not be a drag they allowed me to join them, and despite the icy conditions I fell in love with the area.
Meantime my mother applied for the position of matron at an old folks home at Cuffley Hertfordshire so we went to live there. It was a lovely old Georgian house at the top of a long hill. I would cycle to the station each morning which took ten minutes and back in the evening which because I had to walk half the way took thirty minutes. We had a swimming pool and tennis courts in the grounds and I had a huge room and a servant to clean my shoes. Every so often they would hold a Red Cross fete which was great fun and to which I donated all my old toys. The only regret I have is that I gave all my cigarette cards and my son now collects them and would have loved them.
One morning in May 1944 I was cycling to the station and became aware of masses of planes overhead. D-Day had arrived. One night shortly afterwards there was an air raid warning and having got the patients into the main sitting room several of us went on to the terrace to watch the bombing over London. We saw a plane dive to the ground and all felt sorry for the pilot little realising that we were watching one of the first doodle bugs.
Within a few weeks we received a call saying that our house had been damaged and my mother went up to East Ham to see the extent of the damage. The bomb had fallen two roads away but the house was ok at the front nearest the bomb except for losing all of its windows. The roof had come off, the wall between the front and living room had collapsed and there was a huge hole in the back of the house. My half sister who had been staying over night was standing at the front door in the pouring rain brushing the muck and rain out as it poured down the stairs.
The emergency services soon effected repairs to make the place reasonably safe. The windows had a sort of frosted glass fitted and mum said, the middle wall was so well fixed she thought that whatever else came down that would last forever.
I was supposed to be going to Scarborough for a week with a friend who lived even nearer to the bomb but while waiting at the station received a message to say that she couldn't come so eventually she spent the week at Tolmers where I was living. The authorities gave you money and clothing coupons if you were bombed and she did quite well all her best clothes had been packed in a suitcase ready for her holiday.
I remember that we walked out of the village to see the Italian prisoners of war. They seemed happy enough and stood by the wire whistling at us.
I was allowed to go dancing at East Ham and stay over night before the bomb providing the girl next door stayed with me and one night a buzz bomb dropped fairly near and we crept to the back door to make sure that her house was still standing having no idea of the damage they inflicted. Sometimes I would go to a film in London with a boyfriend and on one occasion missed my train and ended up getting the last train home arriving at Cuffley at 1am and getting a real rollicking. 'You could have been attacked in the woods by a prisoner of war' but as we all know those sort of things never happen to us!
After 18 months my mother transferred back to East Ham to become matron in charge of the day nurseries, a change which pleased me greatly as I was able to resume all my activities. I studied bookkeeping and accountancy, went to the cinema at least once a week and joined the old school club and dramatic society. Not that I was any great actress, they soon made me secretary. I would spend at least 2 evenings with my mother and knitted myself jumpers and made various items of clothing. I was never bored.
One morning we were shopping in the High Street when the alarm went off and we dashed in to the basement of a butchers. As we went down the stairs we saw a huge rat and decided we'd rather face the bombs and went straight back up again.
At last VE Day came and we had a great celebration. I shall never forget the atmosphere and I didn't even mind that it was my birthday and I received no post.
The blackout protection came off the train windows and it seemed as if we were travelling in a large goldfish bowl.
A few months later VJ Day arrived and I was on holiday at Clacton but although we all celebrated there was not quite the same feeling of relief possibly because things at home with rationing and shortages were even worse. Still, the boys were coming home and life could gradually get back to normal. Best of all we could now stop sleeping in the shelter for as I had reverted to my old ways and wouldn't get up when the siren sounded my mother had fixed two bunk beds together in the Anderson and every night we trooped down the garden to sleep. It was really quite comfortable but boy did my mother snore. I had always attended church and we all went to a Thanksgiving Service, we had been very lucky.
Contributed originally by mikeellismartin (BBC WW2 People's War)
I lived at Plumstead, we were going to have the wedding at Hornchurch, cos we used to go to the church there. I think it was about 7 o’clock. We’d been up all night, down the air-raid shelter all night. The air-raids were on. I think it was about 7 o’clock the all clear went. We got up, my brother came….
Was the air raid shelter big?
It was in our back garden.
Oh, that was the Anderson shelter?
That’s right, at Plumstead.
We had to catch the bus to the ferry, the free ferry over Woolwich, then we had to get the bus to East Ham station and the train from East Ham station to Hornchurch. The whole time we were on the journey we didn’t have a raid. As soon as we got there we had an air-raid. So there was a big cellar under Woody Bay, and … an Anderson shelter in the garden. Some of us went down one, and some of us went down the other. Then we came up. The wedding was at half past two, and we got ready. I think there was another air-raid. No, the air-raid…we got there about ten, no there must have been just one air-raid then, but there had been air-raids all night. We got dressed, and no flowers came. Just before we left for the church the flowers came. They’d been held up because of the air-raids, there was so much damage done in Hornchurch.
We went to the church. We had the reception…we had the service. Being Brethren you had to have a registrar there, the registrar didn’t come, until about half way through the service, and then he came. Of course we had to sign the register. We’d just got back, and the warning went again. So we went down the cellar, half way down the cellar. Three or four of our friends didn’t come because one’s mother had been killed in the raids.
We had a photographer, official photographer, and he was the photographer for one of the Romford local papers. When we came out, when the all clear went…the Hornchurch aerodrome was right near there. There was a megaphone thing, ‘cos there was all black smoke and they’d got Van Den Bergh’s the margarine people. That’s what all the black smoke we could see was. They said “It’s allright it’s the margarine factory that’s gone up.”
So we went and had the reception, and then the siren went again, and we went down again. Then we came up again and I got dressed and Ken had ordered a taxi to take us up to Marylebone. We were going to Chalfont St. Peter for our honeymoon. We went in this taxi, and it was awful because there were water mains out and there was water coming up in the air, and there was gas pipes. You couldn’t go down this road, and you couldn’t go down that road because there were fires and that. In the end, when we got to Marylebone, we got in the coach and the warning went again and the people in the train were saying “It’s been terrible down at High Wycombe, there have been dog-fights down there.” I thought, “Oh, what are we going into!” So we got to Gerard’s Cross, that’s as far as the train goes. Then we got a taxi to Chalfont St. Peter, and it was a friend of Ken’s.
It was his aunt had a greengrocers shop, cos it was only a little village then. He got this lady who she knew, an old lady, had a cottage there. Her husband was in the colony for epileptics. She was on her own so she always used to go to the lady opposite, to her cottage to sleep the night. When we got there she had a meal for us. We had just got into bed, when we heard this…the warning had gone, and I said to Ken “ooh…”. We hadn’t got lights we’d got candles. You know I don’t like the dark, so I said we’ll light the candle. Of course he had to get up and draw the curtains before he could light the candle. As he went to get back we heard this thing coming and he went to get back into bed again and he put his elbow right in my eye. Course we got up then and went downstairs, so we sat on the couch underneath the stairs. This eye came right up, the wedding was on the Saturday, on Sunday…we went to church Sunday morning and the man on the door was Ken’s old Sunday School teacher, and he knew we were a honeymoon couple, and there I was sitting there with this black eye!
I think there were about eight air-raids all together, you know with the night before. If you went down the old Anderson shelter at night and the all clear went, you didn’t bother to get up because you knew the warning was going again so you just stayed down there till the morning.
What about your dress and everything?
Well my aunt made my dress, because it was coupon time. All her friends who worked in the dressmakers gave me coupons. she made their dresses as well. We had a cake, oh the cake didn’t come. It was a three tier cake, I think.. But we didn’t get any official photos because, unfortunately the photographer was killed as he went back on the first one he did after me. But the paper had got his pictures or something, and that picture was put in the window of the shop where the paper was printed. One of our friends saw it there, and that is the only official photo we got.
Do you know which paper it was?
Oh, some Romford something. Romford Times or something.
So where did everybody…did everybody come to the wedding from their homes, or did they stay anywhere or what?
No, my brother got a car down to bring my grandmother, grandfather and aunts. They had a car from Woolwich down there, and then to Hornchurch then took them back afterwards. Of course Joan and Ruth and their mum and dad lived there. His friend’s mum was killed in the morning.
Of course the ladies decorated the hall in the morning with flowers, they went home when the warning went. When Ken got there he had to clear all the flowers away where they’d been doing them and left them.
Quite eventful then?
It was a very eventful day, yes.
When we came back the next week it was the Battle of Britain, and we came home on the Saturday, the seventh of September. No sooner had we got home than the warning went, and we went down and it was a very bad raid, and Ken said to me “Now perhaps you’ll come down.” He wanted me to stay down at Chalfont St. Peter you see. So I said, “Well I want to go and see Gran first.” You couldn’t get letters through, and we hadn’t got a telephone or anything. We tried to get through. We got to East Ham, and we got on the 101 bus to North Woolwich. The siren went, so we all had to get off. Well it hadn’t been going along the main road because that had been bombed earlier in the day. Of course the docks were all alight. We had to go round the back streets. We didn’t know where we were. And we came along, and the shops were all in front of us, at a sort of “T” junction. You could see the fire in the shops, it was all reflected in the windows. We said to a warden “Where are we? Can you tell us where there’s a shelter?” Because they were private houses in the road we were going along. He just said, “I don’t know nothing.” You know he was proper dazed. Anyway we walked a little further and there was this sign outside the house. If you had a shelter and not many people in it you put a notice up. If people were walking by they could come in, and you had to leave your front door open, see? So I went to the front door and said “Can we come in?”
She said “Come in, come in. I’m just making some sandwiches for my lodger. He won’t come downstairs; he will stay in bed in these raids. If you go through to the garden, the children are in there.”
So we went down, and there were three little wee children. I think the eldest must have been about six. They were all tucked up, in their cots, you know? She came down, and she said,
“My lodger won’t come down, and my husband’s working in the docks. I’m ever so worried.”
Well you could hear the bombs dropping and the guns going you know. They’ve got a funny noise the guns, sort of “Whoomph! Whoomph!” sort of thing. Anyway, about five O’clock her husband came home, from the docks and of course she was pleased to see him. And about five O’clock the all clear went. We went to get out, and he said, “No, don’t go out yet. They know to come back and machine-gun people coming out of the shelters you see.”
So we waited for about an hour, and went to go. Then he said “Oh no, you’re not going now, you’re going to have a cup of tea”
Of course, tea and sugar were all rationed. But he would make us have a cup of tea. So I’d got a box of chocolates for Gran and some flowers you see, so I left the chocolates for the children and the flowers to her. But they wouldn’t take any money.
Then when we got to the end of the road there was a church hall, being used as a mortuary. They were full up and there were bodies lying outside, you know. I think it was near Catherine Road, because I think we got the bus from Catherine Road. She told us where we could get the bus, and when the bus did come along, it had been in London all night. Quite a few people were waiting there, and the driver said, “Hornchurch people only, Hornchurch people only!” He said, “I’m not stopping till I get to Hornchurch now.”
We got on the bus and dad went to pay and he said, “Don’t want no money!” So dad got a free ride, oh he was pleased, you know how he liked to get something for free. Then when we got home, Ken said, “Now perhaps you’ll go back?” So I said allright.
So we went to go back and his mum and dad came with the dog, and us. We had a big old spaniel. Joan, dad, mum spaniel, Ken and I. And his mum had used all the rations, put them together and made a steak and kidney pie. It was for Sunday, so we had this steak and kidney pie. When we all went down to Chalfont St. Peter we stood on poor old Mrs Colwell’s doorstep. She was an old lady, and she didn’t know what she was going to do, but anyway we went in, and she’d got one of those old ranges. So we put our steak and kidney pie in the oven. We got somewhere for his mum and dad to stay, and we stayed where we were. Anyway, on the Monday, Ken's mum and dad came back, and Joan had to come back because she worked at Black Nottley Sanitorium, and she was on duty. Monday morning, when Ken went back to work, early in the morning, the firm had been bombed, so he was out of a job. I had to keep him for three months!
Then we found two rooms.
So were you working then?
I had to go to work then didn’t I? Anyway, if you were married you had to go to work, you weren’t called up, but you had to work. If you were not married, then you could be called up for ATS, Land Army or factory work. If you were married, you got your own job near home. I got a job at the “Renown Assurance Company”. It was just along the hill, typist you see. So that was quite good really, I got me money and I got a job and kept him. Three months, that was the 7th September, no, the 9th September, on the Monday. He went in the army on the 5th December. He couldn’t get another job because he was waiting for his call up papers.
Of course, the wedding presents he got from the firm, he hadn’t brought home, they were all gone you see.
Did you enjoy your day?
Oh, I think so. It was a frightening day, you know.
Was it exciting or frightening?
Frightening. You never knew what was going to happen next, you know. The bombs dropped. You could hear them dropping, because they whistled. That’s what makes me so cross with people who love to see these war films on television. They want to live though it, then they wouldn’t like it so much. You just stand there, and anything can happen to you. You were relieved really, when you heard the bang. You felt a bit guilty; you wondered where it was. Specially if you were near home and your friends were all around you. You’d think, “I wonder where that one is, I wonder who’s got it?”
Did you lose many of your friends?
Before I was married, when I used to work at Greenwich, I used to work for British Oxygen Company, at Tunnel Avenue. Two or three of them were killed, you know. Just didn’t come in next morning, then you’d hear. One girl was killed in a shelter; they had a direct hit above. Quite a few were injuries, you know.
Somebody would phone the bosses up and you would get to know.
Winnie, my brother’s wife. A landmine fell on their house and they were dug out. They were injured a bit, but not badly. Yes it was rather a frightening time, you know. You sort of got used to it, a bit blasé, but it was still frightening.
How long were you actually in the thick of it?
Well I went down to Chalfont, it wasn’t so bad down there. The bombing didn’t go on for the whole war. There was a big lull, and then, when June was born, I was in a nursing home. Then the warning went, and then we heard this noise, “Chug,chug.” Just like a motorbike, and all of a sudden it stopped. So we said, “Ooh, they’ve shot that one down” and then there was a bang. They were the first buzz bombs. We didn’t know anything about them before then. It was the first we ever knew of them in this nursing home, in Devonshire Road, four doors down from Woody Bay.
The other lady’s husband was on leave, and he came in, and was laying listening. If they went over you were allright, but if they stopped you ducked, you didn’t know if you were going to kop it. I never had any experience of the V2’s. They fell on London.
But of course Dover got it worst cos they used to shell Dover from France.
My father’s landlady (he was working on a barracks down there) her son was a tramdriver, and he was killed.
Yes, it was rather frightening.
We’d taken the wedding dress and everything over the week before. The day before we helped make the jellies and that, cos we did all the reception. So I went home the night before then Chas took me over.
We never got to see my Gran. After we’d all turned up at Mrs Colwells on the Sunday, on the Wednesday, my brother turned up. He had my Gran and grandad and my aunts cos they just couldn’t stand it any more. Gran hadn’t changed her clothes for three weeks; she’d been down the shelter. They were afraid to get washed, because they had to get undressed. But we got them rooms, then the house was bombed, or at least, Ancona Road was bombed. So they never went back to Ancona Road. It was only rented, and they didn’t go back even after the war. After they left it, my brother and his girlfriend lived there. Gran was terribly upset, it wasn’t done in those days. Eventually they got married, but they didn’t want us to come up for the wedding, I suppose because of the bombs.
Anyway, Gran lived with Ada. Then when the lady down the road moved back to Lee on Sea, they said to gran “Would you like to rent the house?” They didn’t charge her much at all. Then they sold it to Auntie Grace for a very small amount.
Gran had nothing when she left Ancona road, just the clothes she stood up in. And they’d been married 60 years. They brought one or two bits and pieces like Charlie and Gracie.
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