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I remember it being a lovely sunny Sunday morning on September the 3rd 1939 when at 11am Chamberlain announced that we were in a state of war with Germany. I heard my mother cry out " Oh Sweet Mother of Mercy! My boys! My poor boys" I had just turned 9 years of age and had only just started to get to know my family because I had been born in 1930 when there was no work about and everyone was extremely poor. I became ill and my parents could not afford to pay for any treatment so I ended up in a Sister's of Mercy home for 7 years. As I heard this disturbing news and wondered if I was going to be sent away again but although the government had already started to evacuate children in 1939 my mother to my relief said that no one was giong to take her kids away again.
So frantic digging to house the Anderson shelters began in the South East of London where I lived. My family lived at 218 Neate Street in Camberwell and my mother had got her name down to go on the Eastenders paid holiday in the Kent hopfields and as she put it so bluntly "That old git Hitler isn't going to stop me from earning a bob or two. I am still taking my kids for some country air Hitler or no Hitler" So off we go on the Monday after the declaration of war with our bedding and pots and pans.
We were going for three weeks and while in the hop-fields on the third week a Jerry plane had got through our defences ( if you could call them that ) and decided to use us as target practice. We all dived in to the hop-vines which incidentally had the most terrible acrid smell about them, it was hard to get the smell off your clothes and hands. Luckily for us a Hurricane fighter plane set his sights on to the Jerry and we witnessed a dogfight between them over the fields and the Jerry was shot down. We were all excited and wanted to know the ooutcome of this because we saw the Jerry pilot bail out and his parachute billow out round him. He fell into the adjoining field to where we were and God knows where all the farmhands came from with pitchforks and spades but the Jerry was surrounded and he was going nowhere. He was still trying to crawl out of his parachute.
It was a phoney war to start off with, in fact we were practically doing the same things that we always did with the addition of carrying a gasmask every where we went. That was until after Dunkirk in 1940 and then all hell was let loose. It became a nightly ritual as down the Anderson shelter we went night after night listening to the intermittent sound of the German planes as they throbbed over head. We felt dirty and life seemed pretty hopeless at times but the Cockney humour was still well adjusted and it seemed as though nothing could alter that. I remember when in the September of 1940 how the London docks had been targetted and the East end of London and when we emerged from the shelter our house had had the top storey blown clean off and all that was left was the front room which housed a beautiful black ebony piano. The piano had not been touched believe it or not and it finished up in the cellar of the public house that used to be across the road from us The Hop-pole as it was called. To own a piano in those days was equivalent to having a posh car in the drive today. I will never ever forget that awful morning because with the docks and fires and the oppressive heat that surrounded us as well as bodies of my friends and neighbours lying scattered around it was a living nightmare.
My family was allocated another house along Neate Street that had not been bombed so we moved our belongings what few we had left and moved in to number 168. This one had no room for an Anderson but there was a factory next door that had a big underground cellar which we used every night plus our blankets and flask. By February of 1941 we had lost that house also. I had missed a lot of schooling because my mother did not want me to go far with the daylight raids that we had. My mother had had enough by the end of February and she went to the authorities to get us all evacuated as quickly as possible. A few days later we were on a train heading for a safe haven to house us until this awful war was over. We were spotted by a Jerry plane as we moved out of London and were machine-gunned over and over again until a Spitfire saw him and the last we saw of Jerry was his plane catching fire and spiralling down to earth.
We arrived at Loughborough in Leicestershire at 7-30pm and were taken to the Y.W.C.A. where they gave us a potted meat sandwich that was curling up at the edges and a black cup of tea. Which to us tasted like a four course meal because we were so hungry we could have "ate a monkey with the measles." We were absolutely shattered and then we were sent with various people from the local authorities round the streets knocking on doors asking them if they could accomodate us. I was about 11 years old by this time and to me it was degrading. Having said that my mother and I finished up in a lovely house that was owned by a great couple. But my brother was put with someone who hated the disruption and my brother was glad when he moved from there. The local authorities had turned a disused Chapel in to a school for the Londoners and this housed about 200 children and 2 teachers plus an elderly teacher that had been brought out of retirement. This lady was nearly blind and she took on the infants. The logic in this still baffles me. She managed to see to them all by having two or three older pupils help her out. I was there until I left school and I became the top girl in the school. I passed my 11plus exam to go to grammer school but my parents could not afford the uniform or the clothing coupons for the uniform. I still have my school leaving report.
It was while I was at school when the 82 Airborne Division of the American Airforce was stationed at Quorn about two miles from Loughborough and my mother used to like a milk stout in the Lord Nelson when she could afford it and she had a brilliant singing voice. The Yanks used to look for her asking her to sing their favourite songs and always called her Ma Johnson. I often wondered why they seemed to treat her with reverence until one day I heard a Yank say to another " Have you ever heard Ma Johnson sing Toby?" The one called Toby said "I guess I havn't is she good?" the first Yank said "She's great and believe it or not but her first name is Amy". It suddenly dawned on me that they all thought my mother was some relation to the Amy Johnson who had lost her life while ferrying planes to and fro in 1941 over the Thames. Crazy but true.
The Yanks really livened Loughborough up and about a week before D-Day they had permission to use the band-stand on the Queen's Park in Loughborough. It was one of the most memoriable times that I can ever remember because the park was packed with people and a lot of folks thought that it would be like our brass bands, but when that Yankie band started to play all Glen Millers tunes and any tunes to Jitterbug to the Yanks that had just gone to listen grabbed any girl they could and were dancing their hearts out at that impromptu session. It was fantastic and even though I was only 14 years old I have that wonderful memory etched on my mind and will never forget it.
We stayed in Loughborough until 1947 before moving back to London when the London County Council finally allocated us a house. I got married to a Leicestershire chap in 1949 and made the Midlands my home.
APPLES FOR THE AIRMEN
It was a glorious afternoon in late autumn and I had been with my dad to a local farm to collect Kentish apples. Whilst dad chatted to the farmer and loaded the van with apples, I took the opportunity to explore the orchard. I ran around, revelling in the freshness of the country air; leaving a trail in the lush green grass. Alone and surrounded by nature's beauty, I thought how lucky I was to have a father who took me to visit such wonderful places. Dad owned a greengrocer's shop in Tower Hamlets and was visiting a farmer friend to buy apples to store in preparation for sale in the shop at Christmas. I often went with him on such trips; it was an opportunity for us both to fleetingly escape the perils of daily life in " Hellfire Corner ". The date was 18th October 1943. Having loaded the van to capacity, we said farewell to our farmer friend and set off towards Dover.
We progressed along the main road at a steady pace; dad's faithful old Jowet van was in no mind to hurry. The urgent chugging of the little twin cylinder engine was very hypnotic and the smell of the apples intoxicating. We had both enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in good company and were looking forward to rejoining mum in the back room of the little shop for tea. As we chatted enthusiastically about our afternoon at the farm, dad drew my attention to a large aircraft approaching us from the direction of the coast. He had a very keen eye and was no doubt concerned for our safety lest it proved to be an enemy aircraft. We kept a close watch on the aircraft; an activity we had become accustomed to following months of aerial combat in the skies above Dover. I sensed that dad felt uneasy and I knew that we were witnessing something very unusual.
As the plane drew nearer we could see it was a large bomber flying at low altitude trailing black smoke from two of its engines. Our hitherto relaxed afternoon suddenly took on a new and alarming dimension. Soon the aircraft was close enough for us to make out its American Air Force markings and dad, sounding quite relieved, identified it as a Flying Fortress. We continued to follow its progress as the pilot banked the aircraft into a left turn and headed back towards the coast. However, the change of direction proved catastrophic for the fire on board the aircraft. The thick black smoke gave way to vivid orange flames that now swept across both wings. Fearful as to what might happen next we watched and waited. We were not kept in suspense for very long, as unexpectedly the huge aircraft made another complete turn, rapidly lost height and headed straight towards us. Our little van was still chugging steadily along the road, heedless of the drama unfolding in front of us.
Dad was obliged to make a quick decision; should he accelerate and attempt to undershoot the stricken aircraft or brake and pray that we might be spared from being crushed beneath it. Despite a desperate foot set hard against the accelerator, our faithful old van fully laden with the apples was in no mood to go faster. Devoid of choice he forced the brake pedal to the floor, the little van shuddered and we held our breath, bracing ourselves for a close encounter with the rapidly approaching monster. By now down to hedgerow height, the wings of the aircraft were slicing through telegraph poles as if they were made of matchwood. Its undercarriage retracted in preparation for a belly flop landing, the huge bomber finally ceased to be airborne and slammed down onto the roadway directly in front of us.
The sound of crunching metal and splintering wood reached an ear-splitting crescendo, as the bomber grew larger by the second and threatened to engulf us. Suddenly and as if guided by a hidden hand, the huge aircraft swung off the road and skidded to a stop in a field to our right. Stunned by our experience we sat motionless as an eerie silence descended on the crash scene, we were alone and ours was the only vehicle on the road. Thankful and relieved at our survival, dad's thoughts turned to the airmen as he quickly got out of the van and made his way toward the burning plane.
To my great relief some members of the crew started to emerge from the crumpled fuselage before he had time to get close to the plane. The first person to speak to dad was the Captain, he was clearly anxious about our well being. He explained how he had been at the controls and was horrified when he saw our van right in the middle of his emergency landing strip. He was very relieved that we were fine and had escaped injury, but distressed that some of his crew had sought to use their parachutes prematurely. Most of the crew appeared visibly shaken by their ordeal, but were nonetheless quickly rounded up by their Captain and organised into search parties. They set off across the fields in search of their buddies. It was some time before we could resume our journey, the road being littered with uprooted trees, broken telegraph poles and debris from the plane. In the meantime a Red Cross mobile van had arrived and served hot drinks to airmen returning from the search parties. Several airmen had by then discovered the delights of Kentish Cox's Orange Pippins, which dad was happily dispensing from the back of the van. With a huge grin, one of the airmen presented me with a section of the wing incorporating a Plexiglas landing light.
We later learned that one crewman, who had parachuted early as the plane made its initial turn, had landed safely in the rear garden of a house in Stonehall, Lydden. He had been fortunate and benefited from the high altitude of the aircraft as it flew over the village. Sadly three other crewmen who had baled out later as the aircraft regained the high ground were less fortunate and lost their lives, their parachutes having had insufficient time to fully open.
Those were indeed perilous days and I count myself extremely lucky to have survived as a young lad living in Dover during the war years. It is not possible to repay the debt we owe to those intrepid flyers and others like them; we can but admire their courage and heroism whilst reserving a special place for them in memories of those grim and desperate days.
The B17 Flying Fortress was number 42 30374, had been built in 1942 and belonged to the 94th Bomber Group USAAF, stationed at Rougham Airfield, Bury St.Edmunds, Suffolk.
Since submitting my account of the crash landing of an American B-17 at Lydden, near Dover during WW11, I have made contact with a crew member now in his late eighties and living in the U.S.A. The These photos of his downed ship were taken on his box brownie camera minutes after the crash landing in 1943.
The names of the crewmembers of 'Little Sir Echo' were as follows;
- Lt Gerald T Smith Pilot
- George Harper. Waist Gunner.
- Racine Black. Waist Gunner
- J Mc Taggart. Tail Gunner
- Orlo Strubel. Top Turret (second oldest 26 years).
- Rowan Upton. Navigator
- Michael Daioczek. Ball Turret
- Capt R A Stevenson. co-pilot
- J A Mills. Bombardier
- W A Mannie. Waist gunner.
Orlo Strubel lives with his wife in Florida. Now in his late eighties he recalls events of those days with great sadness. He say's, " They had little time to socialise and crew members were often changed. It is really sad to think of the tragic loss of life. It still brings tears" Orlo's wife says " He was one of the lucky ones to return home safely" Orlo maintained his interest in aviation by working in the aircraft industry in the states until his retirement.
Bertram G Danson
Kevin Stevenson, great nephew of the co- pilot R. A. Stevenson, has been in touch. Kevin would would also appreciate any information or stories regarding his great Uncle. He was a Squadron Commander for the 94th bomb group.
I guess I was to young to be scared but old enough to be aware of what was happening. I spent the entire war in Hastings except for a short stint of about six months in Ashburnam just outside of Hastings. That really wasn't a good idea as the farm house that I was in was about a mile from Ashburnam Lodge that housed British high ranking officers and of course the Germans were aware of this. We of course sustained quite a few near misses, fortunately no direct hits.
The closest I came to enemy fire was one early evening walking home from the movies with my brother and two friends across the West Hill. Suddenly out of the north came two Messersmicht aircraft blasting away with cannons, strafing all in sight. Again no one was hit.
I think the most scary time was when we were on holiday with my parents in London when the Germans were sending over the doodle bugs. The sound of the droning engines and then silence was unnerving, all you could do was wait and hope it missed you.
Back home in Hastings one of our favourite past times was sitting on the west hill by the castle watching the RAF either shoot down or turn the doodle bugs around by tipping them with their wings and sending them back.
One perk of the war was that we only had to go to school half days, most of which was spent in an air raid shelter. Also the care packages that we got from the United States.
In 1938, all school children were issued with gas masks. Neville Chamberlain had just returned from Munich with his famous piece of paper. Education at this time called for pupils of 11 years of age to take a entrance examination which would stream them to other more senior schools (Eleven Plus).
I was given the right to a 'free place' in a grammar school if I could pass their entrance examination. So I entered entrance exams for St. Olave's Grammar School - Brockley Grammar School and a school sited in New Cross - Addey and Stanhope Grammar School. The first exam result came through for Addey and Stanhope so my father suggested that I join that school at once as war was looming on the horizon.
Operation Pied Piper was put into effect just days after my entry to the school. One September morning we were herded into buses for the railway station and entrained for our unknown destination. Other members of my family were sent elsewhere. Eldest sister Joan was evacuated to Hastings, two younger sisters sent Hailsham in Sussex and I was on my way to Burwash, Sussex.
Arrived at the destination, wearing our identity labels and carrying our few belongings in knapsacks or fibre suitcases and of course our gas masks in a small cardboard box strung around the neck. We must have looked a scruffy bunch, because the journey of only 60 or so miles had taken a very long time.
We were lined up for inspection by the villagers who selected the child / children of their choice. My first billet was with a family with two sons who tormented me unmercifully. I wasn't allowed to write home without my letter being read by the landlady, however I managed to smuggle a letter to Dad who came to the village and arranged for me to be moved.
The next home was with a very kind couple, Mr and Mrs Booth at the other end of the Burwash village. He was a chauffeur for a lady who lived in a big house at the end of the driveway. They had one son, Ken, aged about 15, who was very friendly to me. In fact the family treated me as a second son. Ken worked as a butcher boy and I would often visit the shop and help at the slaughterhouse.
Mum and Dad came down to see me as often as they could, the school arranged special parent's trips, and they would also send me a shilling each week. They now had their family spread out all over Sussex.
Addey and Stanhope School held the classes in a large mansion in Burwash Common. My lodgings were at the corner of the country lane, which led to the house of the famous writer and poet, Rudyard Kipling. Sadly, with the war going badly for the Allies, Dunkirk, the evacuation of troops from the continent it was decided by the authorities that we should be moved from the South of England and we entrained for a village in South Wales (Garnant). There I stayed until deciding to return to London to live with my mother after my father was called away to Scotland to work in the docks there.
A MOTHER'S STORY - MRS LILIAN ROBERTS - Submitted by her son, John Roberts
At the end of August 1939, we were told to pack suitcases for the children and prepare for their evacuation from London. I had five children. Joan (13) and John (11) the two oldest reported to their schools for the trip into the unknown. I took the younger ones, Eileen (9), Leslie (7) and Margaret (5), to their school. They had name tickets pinned to their coats and carried their boxed gas masks on a string around their necks. There was a long line of buses ready to take them away and the police on duty, told us to turn our backs, so as not to upset the children if we could not hold back the tears. We had no idea where they were to be taken and it was a most dreadful feeling, losing my five children in one day.
A few days later we were told the whereabouts of our children. Joan in Brighton, John in Burwash, Sussex, Eileen, Leslie and Margaret had been taken to Hailsham, Sussex. With the children gone, I felt completely at a loss. Eventually the schools arranged coach trips on Sunday's and we were able to visit the children in their 'foster homes' .
Joan seemed happy in Brighton, but John would turn away from us so that we could not see his tears. He was very unhappy in his first billet and finally told his father about the bullying from two older lads in the family he was lodged with. My husband arranged for him to be moved and he found a warm welcome at his next 'home'. The three youngest were also very unhappy, billeted with a childless couple who did not show them any affection.
The children were made to move again when the Battle of Britain started. Many children ignoring the Government warnings, had returned to London and we were very glad that the children were safe in South Wales when the bombing started in earnest.
Young John was sent to Garnant, a mining village near Ammanford, where he seemed reasonably happy, Eileen went to Abergwili, a small town about 4 miles from Carmarthan, where she was billeted with a wonderful family, Mr & Mrs Dawkins. Leslie was taken to live on a farm in the Welsh hills and Margaret to an isolated house next to the church in a place called Nanty-Couse, where she learned to speak Welsh.
When Eileen found where Margaret was living, Mrs Dawkins decided to make a visit. She later gave me a very funny account of that day. The address was 'The Manse' so she made sure that they were dressed suitably to visit, what she thought, was a vicarage. Imagine her astonishment when they arrived to find everything in the place covered with feathers as the woman was plucking chickens.
The house was a complete mess, Margaret was running around in the yard outside in dirty old clothes, playing with her foster brothers. This was no vicarage, so all Mrs Dawkins' efforts to impress were wasted.
I was still living in London with John, my husband, the bombing had increased and I was now 6 months pregnant. John had received orders to report to Greenock in Scotland as the London Docks where he worked as a stevedore were under constant attack. So I went to stay with Margaret in Nanty-Couse and although I hated it, at least my new baby would be safe. Helen, my new daughter was born in Carmarthan Hospital on December 7th 1940, but when I returned to the lodgings in Nanty-Couse, I found that the landlady's children had Chicken Pox.
Once again, Mrs Dawkins came to the rescue, offering me a place to live in Abergwili, until I could find somewhere of my own. I managed to rent two rooms with a Mrs Plummer. and with Eileen just a few hundred yards away, we were more like a family again. Helen was an attractive baby and Mrs Dawkins who acted as godparent bought many clothes for her, they called her 'Dimples' and wanted to adopt her.
Margaret at my insistence had been moved and was living on a farm owned by the brother of Leslie's foster parents. She seemed very happy there, riding a horse to school each day. However a very mature 14 year old 'Liverpudlian ' evacuee came to lodge there. I noticed some very bad bruises on Margaret's back when she was trying on some undergarments that I had made for her. I discovered that every Saturday night, when the foster parents were out, this girl made Margaret sit in a bath of very hot water, then put in her bed, made to sit up in the bed and go to sleep. Every time she moved or threatened to tell of her treatment, she was beaten with a towel holder that the older girl had secreted in her chest of drawers. My complaint to the school, led to the evacuee confessing and she was expelled from the school.
I earned a little money by cleaning the flat of two school teachers, Miss Tinley and Mrs Cato. My husband John would visit as often as he could and he became great friends with Mr Dawkins. We kept in touch with the wonderful Dawkins family for many years until Bill Dawkins died and his wife Violet had a nervous breakdown and we lost touch.
Joan, my eldest daughter came to live with me, until she left school and joined the WAAFS when she reached the age of 18. In September 1941, Eileen was moved to Llanelly. She had won a scholarship to Mary Datchelor School.
In February 1941, I found that I was pregnant again. I returned to the flat in Peckham, South London, taking Helen with me. Son John who was now 14, returned with me, as the bombing had finished, apart from a few sneak attacks - or so we thought.
August 1942, and Eileen was allowed to come home to help me through the pregnancy and on September 16th 1942, son David was born I was now 43 years of age. Eileen returned to her school in Llanelly, John my eldest son, stayed in London to help me look after the two babies, Helen and David. In September 1943, Margaret joined Eileen at Mary Datchelor School. They both stayed with a Mrs Jones, another fine lady who was kind to the Roberts family.
In February 1944, our flat in Peckham suffered a direct hit and was destroyed and members of the family injured. My husband who was still working in Scotland urged me to return to Wales, so on a day in June, I went back to the kind people of South Wales, taking Helen and David with me. John stayed in London assuring me that he could look after himself.
That day as I discovered when I got back to Wales was D-Day, the 6th June 1944.
Just a little snippet - I remember my father telling me that St Clement's Caves were used as air-raid shelters and that his mother used to spend her time whilst there, knitting socks and gloves to send to the troops.
Also, Lord Haw Haw, who used to transmit propaganda via the radio from Germany to England, often used to mention the Memorial clock in Hastings town centre. Apparently he used to say something along the lines of, "Your clock is a little slow and needs fixing, we will do it for you." One day the German bombers nearly did - scoring a hit on the wine merchants where my Dad worked after he left school and blowing out the windows of Plummers and other shops in the close vicinity. However, they did not get the clock.
The Memorial was always a wonderful landmark and was very dear to many people. We were devastated when it was pulled down (under the pretence of it costing too much to fix) and replaced with traffic lights.
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