Bombs dropped in the ward of: Bow West
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Bow West:
- 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:
Memories in Bow West
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Contributed originally by jasstuart (BBC WW2 People's War)
All very romantic. We think of sleep in a comfy bed, with spotless sheets, a plump pillow and a coverlet; or perhaps a Duvet. Forget it! For those who have the mileage and are able to remember the war years, read on. For those that don’t, listen to your Granddad.
We were Territorial Army lads, just returned from our yearly Camp on Beaulieu Heath, in Hampshire.
Under canvas of course and lying on the ‘good earth’, to sleep.
We lads of the 10th Battalion, Tower Hamlet Rifles; gathered together from the East End of London, in the Borough known as ‘The Tower Hamlets’.
We were ‘called up’ on the 1st September 1939. We were fully equipped, therefore we were told to take our rifles home and not to hand them back to the Armoury. We reported for duty the next day, when our ‘call up’ papers arrived by post.
Having said tearful farewells to Mums and Sweethearts; we were marched out of the Drill Hall on Tredegar Road Bow and on to Bow Road, ‘then right wheel’ into Cooper’s Company School.
We were about four hundred yards away from where we started, where our loved ones had just waved us goodbye. We were there for two whole months, sleeping in our army issue of three, ‘horse’ blankets, on the Parquet Floor.
Then we were taken to Swindon, to sleep on the dance floor of the Co-op Hall. We now had three new ‘horse type’ blankets each. They had to be folded with box-like corners and laid out neatly with knife, fork, spoon, housewife and mess-tin. Everything else, stowed away out of sight behind our kit bags.
Our webbing equipment, with bayonet and water bottle attached, spread neatly over the blankets, and army greatcoats, (if you had one), folded as per ‘regulation’, according to the Sergeant. Many of us still had Busmen’s Overcoats! Then a move to another part of the town; there to sleep on the concrete floor of a High Street garage.
Months rolled by, and we were training, training all the time, in the fine arts of a mechanised army, though sadly, we did not yet have our vehicles. We were ‘fit as fiddles’ and ‘straining at the leash’ to have a go at Hitler and his mates. But did we? No, We were sent to guard the Docks and ships on the Thames in the East End of London, and sleeping rough, among sacks of produce like raw coffee beans, along with the rodents who lived there. A few spies were captured, so we were told! We guarded the Dry Docks. Dickey Seewright fell in, fortunately there was still about ten feet of water, but a long drop.
Being in full equipment, helmet, pack, Bayonet and Rifle, plus Ammo Boots, he rolled over and over. Counter balanced, you see? We made Dickey as comfortable as we could on some dry sacking, gave him a good rub down, and then returned to our duties. Between helping the police evict unwelcome people off ships, and patrolling the Docks, we got our heads down, sometimes.
We spent most of 1940 around the Dock-land, sometimes assisting, where we could, with fire fighting.
Now we were under canvas on Hampstead Heath. At least with dry ground to sleep on, in bell-tents that had seen previous wars. And sleep? That was a laugh. Impossible with anti-aircraft guns banging away night and day, close to our Company Line’s, trying to bring down German Bombers.
We were then moved to Dunstable Bedfordshire. At the foot of a hill on Dunstable Downs, a windmill became the home for about twenty-five of us. The rest of A Company, now designated as part of the 10th Battalion the Rifle Brigade: Sixth Armoured Division: were scattered in derelict houses in the neighbourhood. Talk about ‘wherever I lay my head then that’s my home!’
During 1941 we received our vehicles. Now we charged around the country, trying to kid Hitler into thinking that we had more troops than he thought we had, and more Armoured Divisions to call on
We travelled by day and night, North, South, East and West, all over the country; with short rest periods in between, mostly when supplies and petrol were brought up. One spell of about three months, we slept under the July Stands, on the Newmarket racecourse. It was a concrete floor!
The MO’s Surgery was a stable. Most fitting we thought, for to us he seemed more like Vet.
Then we travelled to Scotland; once more under canvas, in bell-tents, leaking at the seams in the pouring ran and Scots Mist, that seemed to go on forever. We were camped by the side of a river, known to overflow its banks. Everywhere was mud. The nearest town was Stewerton in Ayrshire,
Whose people were kind to us, in spite of the mud we took with us on our infrequent visits.
At the camp we were issued with a rubber ground sheet each, which kept the blankets out of the mud;
providing you didn’t roll over in a troubled sleep. Now I was a Corporal with two stripes. Now when you are a rifleman, you have only have to worry about yourself; but as a Section Leader you have seven children to worry about. ‘See that they shave, are fed and watered, kept clean and dry, with untroubled sleep’. That’s a laugh, up to our eyebrows in mud! So we trained and trained. This time as a proper Scout Platoon in our Bren Gun Carriers, the Motor Platoons in their 15 hundred weight vehicles. All very mobile and ready to face the enemy; but the training went on until the day we were ordered to ‘up sticks’ and move out. It was now November 1942.
We sailed away on the Langibby Castle, sailing down the Clyde on a ship well loaded with troops, tanks, and all kinds of vehicles and equipment for war.
We sailed round and round in the Atlantic for a couple of days, until many other ships joined us to make up the convoy. We rolled around in the rough sea, but I was happy, for I was now a Lance Sergeant, which entitled me to share a cabin and have a bunk. It was heaven to lay where it was comfortable, on a soft surface and without draughts. We made our way steadily towards the Mediterranean and the North African Coast. But not for long, we were passing the twinkling lights of Tangiers, at dead of night, when a ‘U Boat Wolf Pack’ attacked the convoy. We copped a torpedo on the port side bow, making a hole above and below the water line that two double-deck buses could have driven through. Around us, ships were burning and exploding Water tight doors were closed, which gave us the chance to limp into Gibraltar, though the ship as well down at the bows.
At Gibraltar, we transferred on to the Lansteffan, another Castle Line ship. It was already pretty well loaded, though it still made room for a couple of thousand more troops. Our transport would have to catch us up later. We were meant to land at Algiers, it as under constant bombing raids and ‘U Boat’ attacks. The harbour in the Bay was ablaze. We finally landed at Bone; where our temporary abode was a deserted hospital, with arms and legs crammed into dustbins. We lay where we were put; on a cold but beautiful marble floor, with lovely blue tiles up the walls; though not appreciated at the time.
When our vehicles finally arrived, we set off towards the ‘war zone’ to chase the Germans out of Tunisia! Not that easy!
So now as a Lance Sergeant, I commanded three Bren Gun Carriers, three men to each Carrier, including me, as part of the Scout Platoon. As soon as we hit the area, we were in action. Skirmishing by day, foot patrolling by night. No rest, hardly any sleep, no time to use our new can openers. Though our spoons and mouths were ready to sample McConnickies solidified soup; eaten cold, straight from the can, as all our meals were. ‘I mean, come on!’ Do you think the front line Tommy had someone to cook for him? No chance! After a few days we managed to wedge in a bit of eating, a bit of resting here and there, and always a mug of tea at the first chance. Quickly brewed on a cut down petrol can filled with sand and fuelled with petrol. Quickly doused with a handful of sand, and carried, swinging
from the back of the Carrier. ‘Luxury!’
Our rations were packed in ‘three man packs’ to last three men three days. Ideal for a carrier crew.
It was full of assorted tins of food; all very plain and basic, after all there was a war on. Often we would get a tin of fifty fags to share between us, and a slab of dark chocolate sometimes, plus a packet of ‘paving slab hard’ dry biscuits. Of course, if supplies couldn’t get through to us, things had to stretch a little, but petrol was the chief need for the vehicles.
Naturally, we could usually find something to grumble about, but it didn’t do any harm and it gave vent to our frustrations. We were nipping about from one part of the battle zone to another. Being Mechanized Infantry, that was part of our job; filling in gaps, holding the line, patrols, patrols, patrols,
out there in the blue yonder! With so much driving, my driver Dusty Miller, could get very tired, so we took it in turns. With me at the controls, ahead in the dark, just catching the moonlight was a silvery concrete structure, like the model on a wedding cake. It was a bridge over a deep Wadi. That was how it looked as we approached. And then it was behind me. I too had fallen asleep, and dropped off! Just for a moment. Had we gone through that parapet, it would have been a longer drop, and probably out of this world. I didn’t tell the others, it might have worried them, though I doubt it.
Then the rains came. Troops and Vehicles of all kinds were bogged down in the clinging mud.
Wheels couldn’t turn and tracks had no grip. It was the same for Jerry.
On the outskirts of Bou Arada we dug two-man slit trenches, facing across the cold terrain towards the enemy positions at Le Keff. From those trenches, we were expected to rebuff any enemy infantry attack; though in the soaking wet, up to our ankles in mud we had little heart for it.
We splashed across that open ground on foot patrols, at night. Jerry did too, and often sent up Very Lights. We were a patrol of six men, walking on a compass bearing, in the dark. We had ‘hit the deck’
as a light burst above us. We waited for it to burn out. Out of the darkness a figure loomed. “That you Sarge?” he enquired casually. With the safety catch forward on my automatic, how I refrained from squeezing the trigger, I will never know. It was Chinner Halsey, our ‘end man’. His simple explanation
for wandering, was, ‘he just wanted to go to the Lav’. I saved my swearwords until next morning, then I let him have them good and proper! Nights in the slit trenches taught us how to sleep, standing up.
Just light sleep, you understand? Then your knees gave way and conveniently woke you up.
Once the ground was suitable to allow tanks and vehicles to move. We, as a Battalion, found ourselves once again, ‘in the thick of it’. It was at the end of January 1943,that our Platoon Commander lost his life. The Battalion was spread out over a large area and receiving supplies. Lieutenant Toms had just handed out the mail to his Section Leaders. We were walking back to our Carriers, when a lone bomber made a direct hit. We were all thrown about by the impact, and Lt Toms and the Platoon Sergeant, were hit. As often happens ‘in the field of battle’, with myself as senior, I jumped the equivalent of two ranks. Bypassing the rank of Platoon Sergeant and taking on the Platoon Commander’s job.
Not that I expressed my thoughts, though I did think, ‘Aye, aye, an officer on the cheap!’ So, worrying about others increased threefold. Not counting me; now when we got up to full strength, there would be thirty-three children and eleven Bren-Gun Carriers. The Company Commander, would be like a Boss plus a Union Rep, all wrapped up in one man, for me to answer to; similar to the ‘civvy street’ business world. When a supervisor is watched from above, and depended on from below.
So off we went again, nipping in and out, wherever we were needed. Often penetrating German defences, where American tanks could not. We in our low ‘Sardine Cans’, as the Yanks called them; could use the cover of folds in the ground, and Wadis. Backed up by the tanks of 17/21st Lancer and 16/5th, or Lothian and Border Horse in their Heavy Armoured Vehicles. We in our ‘wafer thin’ armour were more suitable for getting in and getting out, quickly. The Lancers came to our aid, when a small patrol of two carriers was testing the underbelly of the German defences near Medjes-el-bab.
It became very ‘hairy’, when Jerry brought up heavy weapons to assist his infantry; and tried to outflank us. We must have been under observation from way back, because a squadron of 17/21st tanks passed on either side of us. We had taken up a ‘hull down’ position on the crest of the hill, and were trying to hold off the advancing enemy. Thankfully we were ordered to withdraw. The infantry in our Motor Platoons, were also called upon to do all kinds of tasks. Like us, in our Scout Platoon ,’They never got bored!’ Opportunity would be a fine thing! They too lived from ‘hand to mouth’. Sleeping when they could, eating when they had the time, and keeping on, keeping on!
On the 7th of April 1943 the 1st Army, which we were part of, met up with the 8th Army, just below and South West of Sfax. Now the combined forces would push towards Tunis. Not easy, for Jerry fought tenaciously. Of course we were kept busy. It was reported that an Italian position still held out, having been bypassed. A Three-Carrier Patrol was sent to check them out. The ground was terrible, one minute sand the next rock and up and down Wadis. Below a slope and entering a cactus belt, a carrier shed a track. Corporal Sid Ferris and I went forward on foot. The remainder set up a defensive position and set to repairing the broken track. A fusillade of rifle fire pinned Sid and I down, followed by rough looking blokes in Burnooses, and firing from the hip. They pinched our boots and made us their prisoners.
At the top of the hill I heard a smart looking fellow in a natty uniform and medals, speak in French.
In my rough French I told him amid many swear words, that we were Anglais. The men on the hill were Goumiers, a formidable and vicious force of Arab soldiers under a French Officer. Our men had to withdraw; the firing missing us was making things difficult for them. Sid and I followed our carrier tracks for several miles in the dark, without weapons to defend us. They had mysteriously disappeared during capture.
I didn’t see the fall of Tunis. A German Mortar Bomb sent me, to the 95th Field Hospital in Algiers. It did me a favour really. Now I had crisp white sheets and pillow and a lady nurse, named Nurse Love. Not that there was much of that about. After about eight weeks, my wound through the biceps had recovered enough for me to rejoin my unit. I could still raise a pint, if one was offered.
The Company Commander sent a truck to pick me up and convey me to our mob, in the Vale Du Mort,
to be driven barmy by mosquito’s. Then we got an order to travel to Carthage, to Guard Winston Churchill and his wife. He was getting over a sickness.
Sad to say, on the way to Carthage on the Mediterranean coast. Corporal Sid Ferris, who was a temporary prisoner, along with me, had an accident. His carrier wandered too close to the edge of a crumbling dirt road in the dark, and turned over into a Wadi. The driver dug his way out with his bare hands. Sid lost his life. I will never forget him.
So after Africa, the next centre of operations was to be Italy. A different country, and a different kind of war. This time, amid foliage and trees where snipers hide and ambush is easier. I expect we’ll soon find out!
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