Bombs dropped in the ward of: Latchmere
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Latchmere:
- High Explosive Bomb
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Latchmere
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by joanstyan (BBC WW2 People's War)
We were utterly exhausted most of the time as we were continually confined to a communal air raid shelter at night, especially during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941. Strangely enough my brother Ken, sister Margaret and I experienced a mixture of fear from the bombs, together with the excitement of being able to stay up each night in the shelter with other families. With our mother we used to take our cheese sandwiches (which always seemed scrumptious) and Smiths crisps containing little blue bags of salt, together with a bottle of Tizer in the shelter and have midnight feasts with the other children which was exciting and alleviated some of the fear. We got very little sleep on our hard bunk beds, but no one did as we were usually woken up by the screaming, wailing air raid siren. We only had candles in the shelter so it was dimly lit and also damp and musty. The boy on the bunk below me, Sidney, complained that I was always dropping lumps of cheese from my sandwiches on to his bunk which he strongly objected to as he loathed cheese. Later in the war, sometimes at night when the air raid siren sounded, neighbours came along and bedded down in our hall. There was one man who always wore his tin helmet and Ken and I could never stop giggling about it. All the poor man was trying to do was to be prepared and to protect himself in an emergency but it was a huge joke to us. One night there was a bomb which exploded very near to us, the blast of which shattered a number of our windows. The heavy fanlight over the hall door became dislodged and was hanging on its side only a few feet from where Ken was sleeping. He had a lucky escape and may well have been glad to wear the man's tin helmet after all!
When the dreaded air raid siren sounded suddenly wafting through the air, screeching out its deafening high and low wailing, warning sounds, we were full of fear and trepidation. Wherever we were, we immediately stopped what we were doing, snatched up our few belongings if they were nearby and dashed to the nearest air raid shelter, wondering if we would ever come out alive. It was a nightmare for my mother having 3 young children to worry about all the time. There were 3 types of air raid shelter. Those which were concrete or brick-built and were outside for the public, the corrugated, galvanised iron Anderson shelter which was partially sunk in people's gardens away from the house, and the Morrison which was like a steel box indoors.
We lived through the London Blitz in 1940 and 1941 and many nights we went through hell with fires blazing and bombs raining down. The sky was continually lit by the glare of the fires, some of which were caused by incendiary bombs which had been extinguished by stirrup pumps. Air raid wardens were equipped with these for such an emergency. Also searchlights illuminated the sky. The wail of the air raid sirens and the drone of enemy aircraft, the bang bang of the anti-aircraft batteries and the shrill whistles blown by the Air raid wardens were deafening. Many people were left homeless and exhausted and often experienced long term shock. They used to pick their way through debris after a raid and had nowhere to go. Dazed families were accommodated in rest centres, in school buildings and church halls all of which were staffed by volunteers. However, despite all the adversity, people relentlessly soldiered on. We were all in it together and helped each other whenever we could. We had one thing in common and that was the will to survive which was all that mattered. Although tea, like almost everything else, was rationed, there were endless cups of tea to soothe shattered nerves.
Bombs continued to rain down, criss-crossing searchlights lit up the sky at night and the anti-aircraft fire was fearsome. Firemen and air raid wardens did what they could to protect the city. Large balloons appeared in the sky which were called barrage balloons. They were elongated, grey shapes like inflated elephants attached to thick wire ropes to trap unwary, low flying enemy aircraft. In 1942, all railings in front of houses and surrounding parks were removed for their metal to be used for ships and tanks. There were strict blackout precautions and windows were taped against damage from splintered glass and, on the ground floor of large buildings, windows and doorways were protected by walls of sandbags. Also, there was no street lighting or friendly lights from windows and we were forced to use torches. There were blackout curfews after dark, which caused many accidents, but the blackout was an air raid precaution and saved many lives. During the long, dark ,winter nights it was an absolute nightmare. We lived very near to Clapham Junction station, a major railway system, which was bombed continuously but despite the desolation it was like a cat and had 9 lives and managed to continue limping along.
Nothing was like the onslaught on London when they repeatedly dropped their tonnage of destruction and bombs fell incessantly resulting in relentless nights and days of terror and hell.
We Londoners bravely responded to the onslaught of London with defiant good humour. 'Jerry' (one of our nicknames for the Germans), 'will never get the last laugh over us.' was our taut reply, and they definitely did not. We were not labelled the 'Bulldog Breed' for nothing. We were in a permanent state of alert and were constantly living under a cloud of violent death but despite the ferocity of the relentless raids we survived even though utter exhaustion clung to us day and night.
There were many horrifying experiences but the noise of the VI flying bombs will haunt me forever. This was one of Hitler's secret weapons and was first launched in 1944. It was called a flying bomb, a doodlebug or a buzz bomb. It was essentially a pilotless plane packed with explosives whose rocket engine cut out over the target area so it glided to the ground and exploded. The gliding and cut-out mechanisms used were crude, but a large number still fell on London despite the fact that the RAF bombed some of the launching sites and also shot many down over the English Channel. Their engines made a distinct roaring sound which I shall never forget. One could hear them approaching from a distance and as the droning became louder and louder we were more terrified by the second. It was even more devastating when the noise stopped and there was an uncanny stillness whilst we held our breath. This I can remember so well. We had no option but to sit there helplessly in the shelter and pray whilst waiting for the noise to stop and a deathly silence prevailed. Were we destined to die that night? We were terrified if the engine cut out before it was overhead since that meant the flying bomb would glide and probably hit us. If it stopped directly overhead, we knew we were relatively safe, because it would continue for a couple of miles before crashing to the ground. Finally when it landed with an immense explosion, we all felt a great relief that it wasn't us this time, but a tremendous sadness for the poor victims that were involved.
Eventually the all-clear siren sounded which was a steady tone and the sweetest sound on earth. We were free again and dashed out of the shelter to see who the unfortunate victims were and if we could help them. There was utter chaos verywhere. Houses were completely demolished, others had walls that had collapsed with furniture leaning at bizarre angles from upstairs rooms. Glass was missing from all the windows, and even houses half a mile away from the blast had lost chimneys and tiles. Pavements were littered with tiles, glass and bricks. The slaughter created maximum terror with massive explosions resulting in shrapnel and debris falling all around us. It was pitiful what we repeatedly saw which we will never forget as there were so many sad and sickening sights. We lived near to the mainline railway station of Clapham Junction, a major German target, which was constantly attacked to disrupt the rail transportation system of the country. Ken and his friends spent a lot of time collecting shrapnel from exploded bombs which many boys did including Peter my husband. Ken also gathered wood from bomb-sites to make stilts and carts (to which he added wheels and an orange-box) and chopped some of it up to make little bundles which he sold for firewood.
My brother managed to avoid being hit by a doodle-bug when he couldn't get to a shelter in time after the air raid siren had sounded. He and his friend, who were in the street, saw it coming towards them and suddenly a man grabbed them from behind and flung them down on the pavement behind a wall. There was a tremendous explosion as it landed in the nearby cemetery with debris everywhere, he was terrified. Another time, he was in a swimming pool when the siren sounded and all the swimmers dashed upstairs to safety. There was a terrific explosion and the glass roof shattered and fell directly on to the pool. It was a miracle that they were not still in the pool. The bomb had fallen at the nearby Clapham Junction railway station and one of Ken's friends, who was helping in a local butcher's shop was killed. Ken immediately dashed home as we lived near the station and he was very worried about my mother, but despite the fact that she was in shock, fortunately she wasn't hurt.
My father was serving in the Royal Navy on the guns of HMS Warspite on convoys to Iceland and Russia. He experienced some bitter battles but when he came home on leave to see us in London, he always said that he would sooner be fighting for his country in the Navy than be poor helpless civilians like us just praying that we would be safe and being unable to do little to defend ourselves. All we had was faith and hope.
Unlike the doodle-bugs, the V2 rockets which came afterwards streaked stealthily across the sky without warning. There were no wailing air raid sirens to terrify us and although we were completely unprepared, we were spared the dreaded anticipation of another bombing raid. However, on reflection, it was better to be prepared as we could at least find a nearby air raid shelter for protection. Also when the all-clear siren was sounded we knew that we could probably safely carry on with our lives until the next air raid.
One V2 rocket experience which I can remember vividly was sitting in the local cinema with my friend Rita and like everyone else were completely absorbed in the film. Quite suddenly, a massive V2 rocket fell just behind the cinema and there was a huge blue flash from the screen which collapsed and the entire cinema was shrouded in choking, blinding smoke and debris. As it was a V2 rocket we had no warning and if it had been a few yards nearer, the cinema would have got a direct hit. The noise was deafening and was coupled with the screams from the audience in their shock and panic to escape. We all crowded to the emergency exits which were flung open and we eventually staggered out into the clean, fresh air. We were breathless from the choking smoke and also from blinding fear. Did I hear a voice in the distance calling "Joan", or was I dreaming? Yes, it was my mother's desperate voice screaming "Joan, Joan, where's my Joan." She knew that I had gone to the local cinema, the Granada, and heard the massive explosion. She dashed out of her house immediately and, to her horror, saw the cinema shrouded in smoke. As we lived nearby she didn't have far to run and finally found me amongst the devastation and confusion. The sense of relief was utterly indescribable.
However, we did get used to continual reprisals including the V2 rockets, as a familiar scene which we saw, when we walked to school each morning, was distraught residents in utter turmoil clawing at the wreckage of their homes which were destroyed the previous night and clutching their pathetic belongings but at least they were still alive.
Our neighbour, Mrs Greenaway, a quiet lady who had a husband who was on a night-shift at the Tate and Lyle sugar factory at Wandsworth, had a very sad experience. One night when he was at the factory, it was hit by a V2 rocket and everyone was killed. As this was a V2 rocket there was no air raid warning and his wife knew absolutely nothing about this until the next morning when she heard some women talking about it in the queue at the local butchers. They said that Tate and Lyle had had a direct hit in the night and she immediately dashed over there on the bus, a distance of about 2 miles, only to find that it had been completely demolished. She staggered about desperately on the rubble until a policeman came over to her and asked her what she was doing. She explained that she was looking for her husband and was told that tragically there were no survivors. She was so helpless and, in utter shock, blindly found her way home. She must have been completely overwrought which resulted in her immediately gassing herself without even stopping to think about it. Her 12 year old daughter Joan discovered her body on returning home from school that day. Sadly when she left for school in the morning, she thought that both her parents were alive. Poor distraught Joan had no alternative but to go and live with her devastated grandparents. This was one of the many tragic statistics of the war. Another one was when I was at school and my art teacher, Mr Carpenter, went home for lunch one day which he did regularly, only to find that his house had been bombed and his wife and young son had been killed. Such was the misery of war.
Huge crowds sought safety and invaded the London Underground every night having claimed an early pitch in the afternoon. They slept with their clothes on, clutching family documents including their identity cards and personal treasures. The Underground at night was a massive picnic with rows of men, women and children all huddled together eating and drinking tea and soft drinks. The air was always stale and there was often a stench of smoke and brick dust in the air which was frequented by mosquitoes. Apart from this however, my mother strongly objected to sleeping in the Underground for fear of being trapped. In the Underground station at Balham which was a few miles from Clapham Junction, over 600 people were killed and maimed from a bomb and some were suffocated in their panic and struggle to get out.
Although London was continually bombed day and night and all we ever heard was people saying: "Poor old London copped it again last night. ", other large cities suffered too but not so relentlessly. Nevertheless I was a Londoner and was proud of the spirit that pervaded the city day and night. In those dark days people determinedly got on with life despite the continuous doom and gloom. Life was grim and heartbreaking and the hardship was extremely severe. Despite Hitler's obsession to ultimately invade Great Britain which was only 22 miles across the Channel, it didn't materialise. How different our lives would have been today if the Germans had succeeded in invading our island.
There were horrendous battles on land, sea and in the air and our losses were disastrous, but despite the terrible degradation, we triumphed against all the odds. I can remember us all anxiously crowding around our radios each night when we could, to listen to the news bulletins at 9.pm on the BBC Home Service which constantly kept us in touch although, most of the time, the news was unnervingly daunting. Sir Winston Churchill was our great inspiration and we all anxiously awaited his stirring broadcasts to the nation.
Contributed originally by Jean_Jeffries (BBC WW2 People's War)
First thing I remember of September 1939 is being told we must deny any Jewish family connections.
We lived in a fairly large house opposite Clapham Junction, South London. We quickly moved house to one further from the busiest railway junction in London, which was a prime target.
Our first Air Raid Shelter was the London Transport underground tube station. Bunks had been placed along the platforms and each evening, we would arrive with a few possessions and take our place in a two-tier bunk; the only privacy was a blanket suspended from the top bunk. At this time, my father was a fire-fighter so mum was alone in the Tube with two small children. If one wanted the loo, we all had to go, complete with any possessions - teddy bears and dolls! I was very nervous, not of bombs but of some of the weird people who we were living so close to.
If we were out during the day and a siren sounded, some of the shops would open the trap-door in front of their shop (which was used for deliveries) and we'd scuttle down the ladder. My favourite shop was David Greigs, us kids were spoilt there. I always dawdled outside hoping the siren would sound, never giving a thought to bombs! Then the Government installed the Anderson Shelter for each family. It was sunk into the ground for about 3ft and measured roughly 9ft by 9ft. It had two, two-tier bunks and accommodated our 6 family members with a squeeze. This was luxury after the Tube, but, being below ground level with no ventilation, it was damp and began to smell. Everything went mouldy and I still recognise the smell. I hated the toilet arrangements - a bucket outside for use during a lull, brought inside for use during a raid. During this time, my brother, aged 5, developed asthma and my father T.B., although he was not aware he had it. Dad got his calling-up papers and was turned down on medical grounds, but the examining doctor refused to tell him why or warn him of the Tuberculosis they'd found. I heard my parents worriedly discussing it and I was glad he wouldn't be going to war.
The evacuation of London began. I was ready to go with my gas mask, case and with a label tied to my coat. My brother was too ill to go, so, at the last minute, my mother decided to go also and take him away from London. So we set off for some vague address in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Families in safe areas were ordered to take in evacuees and, in this house, we were resented and made to feel very unwanted. Food, already scarce, was even more so for us. Our mean hostess fed her own family well with the rations intended for us. Within a month we had left and it was years before I ate a Bakewell tart or admitted Derbyshire was beautiful!
Next, we reached an old farm cottage in Bampton, Oxfordshire. Our landlady was a Mrs Tanner, a warm-hearted person who made us welcome with a full meal and a blazing fire - what a difference!
Mrs Tanner was the wife of the local Thatcher. They kept livestock for their own food, as country people did then. Despite being Cockneys, we had come from an immaculate home with electricity, hot water, a bathroom and an indoor toilet. We now found ourselves in this warm, well-fed friendly cottage with friendly bed bugs, kids with head lice, a tin bath hanging on the garden wall and a bucket'n'plank loo in the yard. The loo had a lovely picture of "Bubbles", the Pears advert, hanging on its wall - very tasteful.
On Thursdays, all doors and windows were tightly closed whilst we waited the coming of the Dung men; two gentlemen wearing leather aprons emptied everyone's buckets into their cart. What a job!
My brother was very much worse, skinny and weak with breathing difficulties. He spent time in hospital and mum stayed with him. Mrs Tanner treated me like yet another grandchild and I soon settled happily into my new way of life. Mum asked her if she would take me to the town, a bus ride away, to get new shoes and some clothes. Off we went on what was literally a shop-lifting spree. I was both frightened and excited and sworn to secrecy. Mrs T. kept the money and the coupons and mum was thrilled to have got so many bargains. I never told her! But, when I wore my new shoes or my finery, I always dreaded someone asking me questions. I laid awake at night rehearsing my answers. I was never tempted to try it myself. When I see Travellers, kids, I often think "that was me once". After a year of my idea of heaven, mum decided to return to London to see if the hospitals there could help little Eddie. We got back just in time for The Battle of Britain; I'm glad they waited for us. I was so homesick for Bampton that I even contemplated running away to try to go back. Although I settled down, I still think of Bampton as my home and, after 63 years, I still go back for holidays. Just one year made such an impression on me. It was so carefree and I enjoyed some of the jobs with the animals.
During the time we were away, my dad had carried on with his job and Fire-fighting in London. Our home had gone, so we stayed with an Aunt until we got somewhere to live. Empty houses were requisitioned by the Authorities, who then allocated them to those who needed them. My parents applied for a house, explaining that Eddie needed to be near a hospital, but they were told that, as the father was not in the forces, they did not qualify for accommodation. They were heartbroken as a doctor had informed them that, without a decent home, Eddie would not live long. My father insisted on volunteering for any of the forces, but was once again declared unfit. Eventually, after mum worried them every day, we were given two rooms in a small terraced house, sharing a toilet with another family. There was no bathroom and we were made to feel almost like traitors with frequent remarks directed at my dad. Even at school the teachers singled us out with "anyone who's father is not in the forces will not be getting this" - this could be milk or some other treat we regarded as a luxury. One teacher was so obsessed that today she would be considered mentally unbalanced. A project she gave us 10year olds was to devise tortures for Hitler or any German unlucky enough to survive a plane crash. I cheated and copied one from a book.
Our shelter was now a reinforced cellar. It was dry and spacious and, during heavy bombing, some of our neighbours joined us and we had what I considered to be jolly times together. Food was in very short supply; although we had ration books, there was not always enough food in the shops. I was sent to queue up, then mum would take over while I queued again at the next shop with food, where we repeated the pattern. I once reached the counter before mum got there; we were waiting for eggs. I got 4 eggs in a paper bag and, as I left the shop, I dropped them. Carefully carrying them back to the counter I told the assistant she had given me cracked eggs. I was shouted at and called a lying, nasty little girl but managed to obtain 4 replacement eggs. I just could not have told my mum I'd broken them.
A neighbour of ours was a fishmonger, poulterer and game merchant. He sometimes had rabbits for sale; they were always skinned and usually in pieces. After bombing raids, there were often cats straying where their home was destroyed, or dogs wandering about the streets. We think our fishmonger solved this problem. I believe most women realised the meat wasn't quite what they wanted but had to have some meat to put in the stew. Luckily we had a vicious wild cat I had taken in and being so spiteful, she lived a long and happy life, occasionally bringing home a piece of fish. How she managed this I don't know. Could it have been bait for a lesser cat?
School was rather a shambles. We had our classes in a shelter, that is 2 or 3 classes at a time; as there was insufficient room for all the children we had mornings or afternoons only. The other class we shared our shelter with always had such interesting lessons! I feel awful about admitting this but the education system was so easy to play truant from. If you didn't turn up they assumed you'd been bombed or sent away to safety. A couple of friends and I used to ignore the danger of air raids and go to the centre of London where we could be sure of meeting American servicemen. We begged for gum or chocolate from them, then had to eat or hide it before going home. At no time did we ever think of how our families would have no idea where we were if we never came back. It's rather frightening really. Our excursions came to an end when, on a very wet day, mum came to meet me from school with an umbrella. After waiting until all the kids had left, she went in to see our teacher who said I had not attended for some time and thought I had gone back to Bampton. Boy, did I get a beating! She was as vicious as my cat but not as lovable.
One night we were in our shelter when a neighbour called us to come out to see the incredible amount of German planes that our boys were shooting down. We stood outside in the street and cheered, linking arms and dancing. The next day we heard on the radio that they had not been shot down but were a new weapon - the Doodle Bug. From then on I understood fear. I don't know what triggered it but I joined the ranks of the old dears who swore they recognised one of ours or one of theirs. I henceforth scrambled to get my pets into the shelter as soon as we heard the siren. My dog soon learnt this and was first down; her hearing being keener than ours, she could hear the siren in the next town before ours. Soon we had Rockets. There was no warning with them. The first one we saw was on a summer's evening when my friends and self were practising the Tango on the street corner. We were singing "Pedro the Fisherman" as a whine came from above our heads, followed by a cloud of dust and then the impact and sound of the explosion. Four screaming dancers rushed for shelter. We knew many of the people who had been killed or injured and it seemed too close to us. It never had been safe but we hadn't noticed it before, now I did, worrying, "where did that one land?" "Is it near dad's shop or near our relations?" I guess I'd grown up but it was so quick. I was twelve, learning to tango and worrying about our family. I decided I would join the Land Army as soon as they would let me; I'd heard one no longer needed parents' permission. This was not anything to do with the war effort. I simply wanted my life back in beloved Bampton. My feelings were mixed when the war ended, no more terrifying Rockets but trapped in London with no chance of getting away until I married!
Contributed originally by john canty (BBC WW2 People's War)
During the second world war friends and I aged six, used to wag off school and go up onto the railway embankment at Clapham Junction, and wait for the Troop trains to pass through. As each train slowed down the Troops would throw out American dimes and gum, plus their food rations. All the Troops did this. one day this train with Americans on board did the usual and threw out again coins food and gum, but this time they dropped down to us these white balloons. We gethered them up and ran back home, one friend Micky was outside his house when his mother came home from shopping and saw what he had in his hand and clipped him round the ear then dragged him indoors. She told our parents, so we all got a clout.(for what) The balloons were blown up Durex. John C.
Contributed originally by Del Weeks (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was eight years old at the outbreak of WW2. My father worked as a driver for a laundry in Merton and was in the Auxiliary Fire Service part time. Mum started some homework from P.B Cow of Mitcham, cutting out rubber grommets which I used to help in the evenings. It wasn’t long before I was evacuated to Eastbourne with my mother and my one year old sister. I cannot remember too much about that event apart from us all living in one room and my father visiting us occasionally from our flat in Streatham, London. Dad turned up on one visit with a huge cod over his shoulder to help out with the rations.
It wasn’t a very happy time in Eastbourne though. I can remember my mother often being in tears at the conditions we were living in, the three of us huddled together in that one tiny room near the sea. This, together with the shortage of food and mum missing dad coming home in the evenings soon made us return to London.
I stayed with my family in London during what is now known as the Battle of Britain, and watched the daily contrails of the dogfights over Croydon. Days then seemed to be always clear, with warm sunshine and blue skies and with the sound of the planes and gunfire overhead and in the far distance. All very exciting to a lad of ten and his gang members.
I remember helping dad to build the Anderson bomb shelter in the garden. A corrugated iron shelter, half buried in the ground and covered with earth. Dad seeded ours with grass and grew flowers on it and fitted a strong wooden door. It had a concrete floor with a hole in one corner so that the condensation could run away. Also an electric light on a long lead was run from the house to the shelter. I nearly electrocuted myself playing with the lamp on one occasion, it was only my mum's quick reaction that saved me. Mattresses and blankets served as our beds over wooden slats. Later on we had an indoor ‘table’ shelter with wire grills around the sides called the Morrison shelter. Our beds were permanently made up and we slept under this shelter during the blitz.
I was evacuated again to a small picturesque village called Bishops Hull in Somerset just outside of Taunton. All the new evacuee arrivals were ushered into the local village hall to be fostered to local families. I was exceedingly lucky to be fostered together with Charlie G from Tooting in London, a friend I had made on the journey from Paddington. We were billeted with the local builder Mr A and his wife who had a wonderful covered side entrance full of ladders and all sorts of interesting things to explore for kids of our age. I will always remember the hand grenade that was used to keep the back door open and the war games we used to play with it - it was not live of course. We had the occasional rumble of German aircraft at night and once found a live incendiary bomb on the front doorstep which soon had the local Wardens arriving to cover it with sandbags. I believe some planes just dropped their bombs anywhere.
Our days in the village with its cobbled pavements and the smell of fresh bread from the local bakery were always new and exciting. There was so much to do, it was all so new to us as we had never been in the countryside before. Climbing the huge oak tree in the field next to the bakery (it’s still there), go fishing down at the river where there always seemed to be a whirlpool that we were so frightened to go near. Running away from the cows in the field and the local farmer giving us rides on old snowball - a huge, to us, white cow. We once sampled a jug of cider that we found buried in a haystack. Although we searched, we never found it again! Many a time Charlie and I were in trouble at night. We shared a bed and were always laughing and making a noise until we were scolded and told to sleep.
The letter writing was somewhat of a chore in those days as we were always told to write home at least one evening a week.
Our school was just around the corner by an alleyway at the rear of the house. An old fashioned hand pump was in the alleyway. A small school hall that, in retrospect, was possibly a disused chapel. I can’t remember much about the schooling, but I can remember helping to whitewash the walls inside. I am sure I never learned too much there. I was also friends with Jack and Jill, brother and sister who lived next door at the local butchers. The butchers shop is also still there.
Those happy days came to an end when Mrs A, our fostermother, broke her ankle while playing football with us in the street. I was then fostered with somebody new and very soon asked to return home as I was sharing a bedroom with one of the elder sons who I didn’t like.
I came home in time for the blitz on London that was pretty frightening, although really exciting to us youngsters who didn’t realise the dangers. My father was now permanently in the London Fire Brigade or maybe it was the National Fire Service, and I seem to remember he was on duty most nights. He told me of walls collapsing around him in the docklands and of going round with an enamel bucket picking up body parts.
My uncle lived in the flat above us and worked on the railway as a shunter at Clapham Junction. He kept his bike in the front garden. I was in the Life Boys (a junior sea cadets) at that time and wore the hat with a saucepan lid underneath as protection! One night we were both at the front door seeing all that was going on, he in his tin helmet and me with my saucepan lid. Suddenly among all the noise, there was a loud clang as a big piece of shrapnel went straight through the spokes of his bike. He had to catch a bus to work the next few days until his bike was repaired.
I will always remember that I was up the top of my road in a friends house during one of the daylight raids. It appeared pretty quiet so I decided to go the several hundred yards to my house. I was halfway there when aircraft were heard, so I started running as bombs were whistling down. I managed to get the key, that was hanging from inside of the letterbox on a piece of string, and opened the door, threw myself on the floor of the passageway as I had been told to do in such circumstances, and the front door fell on top of me with the blast. I was unhurt, but the bombs destroyed several houses in the next street.
After the ‘all clears’ had sounded during the daytimes, we used to go out on our scooters shrapnel hunting. You got to be leader of the gang if you found a shell cap, but that was a rarity. The scooters and barrows we made ourselves out of wood collected from bombed sites. The wheels of the scooters were large ball races with a lump of wood hammered through the centre for an axle. The noise they made going along the road and pavements wouldn’t be allowed today. The pram wheels of the barrow or trolleys were also collected from the bombed sites - a great source for what is nowadays called do-it-yourself. There were often big fights over the collected spoils. The barrows had four wheels, a box to sit in, and were steered with a bit of string tied to the front wheels that were on a swivel.
I was then again evacuated. To South Wales this time. A mining village called Pentrebach near Merthyr. It seemed as if the war was far away and over. Us kids had great fun sliding down the slag-heaps on trays and getting covered in coal dust. I used to help the local milkman -Jones the milk of course - on the weekends putting the cardboard caps on the bottles of milk in the dairy. I think I was given tuppence for doing this. I confess here, that I stole rolls of these caps to share with my friends for a game at school where we flicked them up to a wall. The nearest to the wall kept all the other caps. Needless to say I always had plenty of stock!
On Sundays it was a local ‘hobby’ of the men of the village to go ratting. Either down the disused coalmine or the river. The rats were either shot or put in a ‘tram’ (a small wagon for carrying coal from the mine) and dogs were introduced for, what was called sport in those days. If it wasn’t ratting, then it was going up in the hills with friends to pick blueberries for a pie.
Schooling is not a thing I remember while in Wales, I was having too much fun. I do remember coming home from school and sitting down to a plateful of runner beans for dinner several times a week. Probably the reason that I don’t like them now.
As the blitz appeared to be over, I once more returned home to Streatham. The doodlebug raids started soon after. We watched them from the back garden flying past toward the centre of London. On occasion the engine would stop early and it would dive down and black smoke would appear a mile or so away. We were always ready to make a rush for the shelter when they appeared, sometimes with a spitfire chasing it.
I was sitting on the front wall at a friends house a few streets away one late afternoon when there was an almighty bang followed by a rushing roaring sound, and we all looked at each other wondering what it was. We were all used to the bangs during a raid, but there was no raid on at that time. The warnings were getting fewer. It turned out that it was the V2 rocket for which no warning could be given. It was much more powerful than the V1 doodlebug (or flying bomb). The V2 came from the stratosphere and travelled faster than sound. The roaring noise after the explosion was the sound it made coming through the air, a frightening noise. Although many V1s and V2s fell on London and caused a great deal of death and damage, I feel that I was fortunate to live on the outskirts of the City and in the suburbs.
The war in Europe came to an end soon afterwards with much celebration and street parties. Lots of food was found for these in spite of the rationing that went on for several years afterwards. Flags and bunting was brought out, even pianos were on the streets with lots of music and dancing. Soon afterwards, small prefabricated houses began to appear on what we called the bomb-dumps. We used to listen to the interesting stories the nightwatchman could tell of his war, while we were sitting around the fire that he lit in the ‘prefabs’.
Contributed originally by joanstyan (BBC WW2 People's War)
Once when I was shopping for my grandma, I bought some soap powder which she wanted and which was rationed. It was a box of Oxydol. The shop assistant forgot to tick off the back page of my grandma's ration book confirming that she had had her soap powder quota for the month. I then went back to the shop and told the assistant of her omission and she immediately rectified it and ticked it off. My grandma thought I was quite mad and said, "You silly girl. If you hadn't taken my ration book back, I could have had an extra box of soap powder." I was upset about this as I was always taught to be honest and thought I was doing the right thing. However, rationing was hard and we were so often deprived that we were all glad of any perks that came our way.
We were only allowed 5 inches of bath water per family once a week so we had to share the same bath water. Also only one toilet roll was allowed per family per week. Coal was almost non-existent and we were officially only allowed 1 gas-ring for cooking dinner.
We were constantly being told to dig for victory and many had allotments and vegetable gardens and there were even plots in town parks and schools including mine. Also Pig Clubs were encouraged and Peter, my husband, was a member of his Hampton Grammar School club. One fateful Sunday when it was his turn to feed the pigs, he discovered, to his horror, that the gate of the pigsty had been left unlocked and all the pigs had fled. After much searching, he finally caught up with them after cycling around the school fields and managed patiently to shepherd them back to the sty. They were actually next to a gate leading on to the road. He was so relieved as he would have been held responsible for their loss. The pigs, when fattened up, were consigned to a butcher for conversion to bacon and pork joints which were sold to the pupils of the school on behalf of their parents.
Clothes rationing was difficult and we wore clothes with the 'Utility' symbol sewn inside signifying that they were basic, serviceable and good value, but I must say they looked very drab. Fortunately my mother made our clothes whenever she could. Skirts were shorter and even men's trouser turn-ups were sacrificed to save material.
There were no nylon stockings, only rayon and lisle, and many of the older girls coloured their legs with tan cream or gravy browning and just prayed that it didn't rain. A friend would draw a seam down the back with an eyebrow pencil. The only nylons that were available were on the 'black market' which was illicit trading at an exorbitant price, and also from the Americans, if the girls were lucky!
My mother often used the word 'serviceable' to describe any clothing I had bought, which I hated as it was just another way of saying 'Utility'. She religiously neatly darned our socks and stockings like everyone else did during the war years. One day, much later, in peacetime, she was trying on some shoes in Clapham Junction when the young assistant asked her what was the mark on the heel of her stocking? She had never seen a darn before.
Mum was a fantastic knitter and created many warm garments. We spent a lot of time knitting for the armed forces, I have never knitted so many scarves. However, at my age they were much easier to knit than gloves. We also knitted squares and sewed them together for blankets. Even boys, including Peter and my brother Ken, did their bit.
Friday night was called 'Amami’ night because we washed our hair with a shampoo made by Amami which you can still buy today. This resulted in us staying in as it took a long time to dry, especially if we had long hair as I did, because we had no hair dryers and always had to towel dry it. We never even had hot water until we heated it in kettles or saucepans. 'I'm staying in to wash my hair,' became the standard excuse if we didn't want to go out with a boyfriend.
Bath toiletries and soap were very difficult to obtain. Only coloured bath salts were available, which my mother said were coloured soda crystals so she bought boxes of pure white soda to soften the bath water because it was much cheaper. Yellow 'Sunlight' soap was used for washing clothes by hand as there were no washing machines, let alone dryers, and red 'Lifebuoy' which contained some disinfectant, was our toilet soap. I cherished a little bottle of cheap perfume called 'Evening In Paris' which was in a deep blue bottle and the aroma was quite pungent. I really treasured it and kept it for special occasions, even though I had only bought it from Woolworths. 'Californian Poppy' was also another of my favourites.
We ate basic foods at the British Restaurants which we were told 'nourished the masses'. These restaurants offered simple meals such as minced beef with parsnips, greens and potatoes. Minced meat was sold at the butchers when available, but my mother was always dubious about its content.
Spam from the U.S.A. was in common use to make up for the shortage of fresh meat. We normally ate at home enjoying our mother's nutritious cooking. She was obsessed with making us eat all our vegetables especially our greens. During the war, any leftovers from meals were kept for the next day. We often had 'bubble and squeak', a British term for cooked greens and cooked potatoes mixed and fried up. My mother made this on a Monday if there were any leftovers from our Sunday dinner.
Fruit was almost non-existent except for apples, which were home grown. The saying: 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away,' may well have originated during the war. We never saw bananas or oranges. All children were allocated milk, cod-liver oil and orange juice. We often had to resort to dried milk (sold in blue tins), dried eggs (sold in red tins) and dried potatoes.
My mother tried so hard to keep us children nourished to the extent that she regularly denied herself. Tinned fruit was also rationed as were fish, cereals and biscuits etc. At least home-grown vegetables were encouraged by the 'Dig For Victory' campaign. Rationing began in 1940, including sweets, which was a real blow to us children.
Mum readily exchanged her tea coupons from her ration book for sugar coupons with a neighbour as she was in greater need of sugar than tea with three young children. Butter and bacon were severely rationed and we constantly used margarine, the taste of which revolted me and still does even today. I'm definitely one of the few that can tell Stork from butter!
We were allowed one egg each per fortnight. The rich were hit the same as the poor and, whatever we wanted, we had to queue for. Queue, queue, queue. What patience and stamina we must have had. However, we were so grateful for anything and everything we could get. The standard phrase from the customer to the shop assistant was: 'Is there anything under the counter?' We were only allowed 2 ounces of butter each week so we often had bread and dripping or condensed milk on our bread. The hardships seemed endless.