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War Time Memories of a South London Child
I was born in Mitcham surrey South London in September in the middle of the Battle of Britain, at home under wooden support beams erected by Dad to protect Mum & me.
It wasn’t until June 1944 that South London became the front line with the introduction of the V1 Buzz Bomb, Doodlebug and other unprintable words for this terror weapon. Dad was a postman Driver in Croydon which had the greatest number of hits of V1’s I would be with my Dad most of the time riding with him in his little red Morris MailVan. Mum always said she knew where her boys were, the post was always on time and collected regularly. Dad had the Buzz Bombs down to a fine art, we would keep driving until the phut, phut of the V1 cut , screeching to a stop threw me under the MailVan, woomph we would be showered with dirt , Dad would say “some poor buggers copt it” Sure enough rounding a bend we would swerve in and out of ambulances, Fire engines and damaged houses. Incidentally 15 years later I could not work as a mechanic for fear of getting under a vehicle only lately I put it down to sheltering in 1944 in a Croydon road.
Dad was a Royal Navy veteran of WW1 but carried out ARP duties and Fire Watching for the GPO, sometimes I would accompany him, one Sunday I disappeared from the Post Office, Dad frantically looked high & low for me up and down the street, he happened to glance into a Salvation Army hall with all the cheerful singing and clapping, guess who was down the front joining in with the service.
We were bombed out twice by V1’s we would shelter under the stairs of the house, as there was no time to reach the street shelter once the siren went, which still brings me out in a cold sweat, Once I forgot my Teddy made from an old overcoat after the raid my bed was speared with glass Ted had lost a limb, also his tummy was speared. Another time a landmine unexploded was in our street, we had to go to Grans in the middle of the night, my sister who was older told me later above the roar of bombs and guns I was fast asleep under our home loaded on top of me in my pram, Mum was worried as I might suffocate then above the noise of war a beautiful sound of Singing our little Canary picked this moment to burst into song. Once climbing a local hill to visit my grandparents, a buzz bomb appeared to be coming straight for us, Mum lay on top of me; it came down in a field behind us.
Just before my 4th birthday we were evacuated to TAUNTON Somerset due to the start of the V2 attacks. I remember seeing my first colored GI soldiers who were very kind to us giving us sweets and ice cream. Another time all these aircraft and gliders which I thought had broken down and were being towed, formed up overhead they were off to Arnhem.in Late September 1944.
My wife born in August 1944 was due to be born in Lewisham Hospital, but due to aV1 bomb landing on the High Street on July 28th 1944 her Mum was coached to Oxford where she was born in the University one of the college dining rooms converted into a maternity hospital. Her Mum choose Oxford because her Dad was stationed near there in the RAF, days before she was born he was transferred to Retford Nott’s
During the war I lived just thirty miles to the north east of London just outside Chelmsford, Essex. Despite this we had two evacuees billeted with us. Their names were Danny and Terry, they where brothers and came from Tottenham, north London.
I can vividly remember the Battle of Britain. It seemed to be going on right above our heads. My father was in the AFS at the outbreak of the war but this soon became the NFS. So he was at home quite often. The bigest fire he attended was the oil storage depot at Thameshaven. He was away for three or four nights then. and some of his crew where awarded medals for bravery.
At school I can remember having to go into the shelters whenever the siren sounded. Towards the end of the war came the flying bombs V1 and V2s going over on their way to London. Despite all the danger, I can't remember ever being frightened. My mother on the other hand seemed to be in a permanent state of panic. She could remember the zeppelins bombing the Eastend of London during the first world war. She has only just died at the age of 93. I could go on for ever with stories about the blackout, land girls, prisoners of war, school life, air raid shelters and many other things, but I guess I must stop.
Hitler must have heard of my birth; he chose that day to march into Poland. My first memories of the War, in fact my first memories of anything at all, were of the night that our house in Chelmsford was bombed. It was, I believe, in September 1942 when the bombers aiming for Hoffman's ball bearing works and the Marconi factory dropped a stick of bombs one of which landed on the back doorstep of our house in King Edward Avenue. I recall father telling me that Marconi and Hoffmans were important places, but I didn't understand why.
When the air raid siren went, I can recall being bundled into the Morrison shelter in the downstairs front room of the house with my mother. There was a big bang and I can remember the sounds and feelings of things falling about us. We were pulled out of the rubble by my father and someone else. My father had been at the top of the stairs when the bomb hit and was blown down to land at the front door. On the way, his head hit the arm of a Monk Seat at the foot of the stairs and snapped off the inch thick oak. The damage to the seat can be seen to this day. Father's head survived, relatively undamaged.
I can remember being passed out through the remains of the stained glass window of our front door into the arms of someone with a tin hat and in a dark uniform. There was a body lying in the street and I was later told that the lady who lived next door with her family had been blown out of the front of her house and was killed.
We moved to an uncles' farm at Blackmore for some months until we rented a cottage at Oxney Green, near Writtle. We lived there for about six years and during that time I could always hear the air raid sirens going off in Chelmsford (about 3 miles away) before my father did. He was a Special Constable, having served in the Devonshire Regiment and the Medical Corps in World War 1. I remember often seeing the V1s, or "doodlebugs" flying over us and, on one occasion, running in to tell my mother that the motor had stopped. She did not appreciate my enthusiasm! I remember seeing, but not hearing much of, one or two V2s as they went overhead.
During the winter months, school milk was warmed around the huge fire that stood in the classroom at Writtle School (I've hated warm milk ever since) and I recall the authoritarian Headmaster George Whitehead and his expertise with an old leather slipper. I remember my first orange, it was in a Christmas stocking one year and I didn't know what to do with it.
My father came home one day tickled pink that he'd been able to get hold of half a parachute. My Mother made him some shirts and a blouse for herself out of the white silk. Mother was always making clothes for us out of all sorts of things. She once made me a brown beret which I hated. I put it in my pocket as soon as I was out of sight. She would have been very upset had she known.
If I was still hungry after a meal father said I could have a slice of bread. If I was then still hungry I could have another slice, this time with a scrape of margarine on it. Only if I was still hungry could I have another slice with jam - if there was any to be had. To this day, I still clear my plate as I was taught to during the War. I rarely leave food.
My grandparents lived in Colchester and I can remember visiting them in our old Austin 7 car and seeing all the army vehicles and tanks parked down the middle of the A12 Arterial Road. I didn't see any enemy aircraft wrecks but some of my schoolmates used to carry bits around with them for weeks.
My father "captured" a German parachutist one foggy night - it turned out to be a tarpaulin over a haystack!
Father had a African Grey parrot which survived the bombing of our house, and was found in its squashed cage 4 feet under the rubble and called out "Hello boy!" to my father who found him, but it died a few years later.
We moved back to a rebuilt house in King Edward Avenue in 1948, the year my father bought one of the first Morris Minors. We had crowds of people stood out in the street looking at this new fangled motor.
To Daddy with love.
It seems to me that my childhood memories of WW2 are most vividly tied up with the loss and return of my father. As a pre- war reservist he was recalled for training two months before war was declared in September 1939. I was 10 and my sister was 11 years old. After two home leaves my mother, sister and I saw him off from one of the big London stations for some unknown destination, the train was packed with waving troops as it pulled away.
Almost six years later and after the VE Day celebrations, the three of us went to bring him back home, as I remember from that same station. My sister was then 17 and I 16 years old. All that we experienced on the home front during those six years remain indelible to us who were children, and the things we learned later from my father, (but more even from research after he died) must ensure that WW2 is never forgotten.
My Father, Driver William (Danny) O`Shea, RASC was sent to France with the BEF. On May 24 1940 he was captured during the `last stand` at Calais. He was reported "Missing in Action" for over a year and my mother was about to receive a widow`s pension. During this time we would look through the newspaper columns that would publish names of servicemen `killed in action`
One day I arrived home from school to find a strange letter-form on the mat with foreign writing and what looked like my father`s writing. I opened it to discover it was a letter from my father. My mother had enlisted in `War Work` at a small factory nearby so I ran over to show her the letter. The whole factory cheered at the news.
After this letters began arriving, some with pictures from the prison camps, one signed to my sister and I "From Daddy boy, with Love " This we treasured, and sent a picture of us both by the rose trellis in our garden, signed as above.
During those years my father was in six Stalags ( one a satelite of the dreaded Auschwitz) where the prisoners were sent out to work as `slave labour.
Driver William "Danny" O'Shea after Capture at Calais 24th May 1940.
During my father`s absence a lot had happened on the home front which he learned on his return. His parents home in London where he was raised had been bombed while they slept in the Underground to the extent they had to be rehoused. His youngest sister had died aged 19 from TB due to the crowded sleepng conditionsin the underground.
During most of the war we three slept in our Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden as we lived in a London suburb. Towards the end of the war we felt secure enough to move back to our upstairs bedrooms. The V2 rockets had begun and in the wee hours one morning we were hit by one. My sister and I were wokened by the ceiling collapsing on us. My mother`s room at the front had all the windows blown in, the roof lost most of the tiles and we could see the night sky. We couldn`t get downstairs until help came to remove the front door which had been blown on the stairway and the hall wall had to be rebuilt. Soldiers from a nearby army camp came the next day to board up the empty window frames and remove front rooms furniture which had been badly damaged. As a consequence we had to reluctantly return to the damp, cramped, musty Anderson shelter.
As the war was eventually drawing to a close the Russians advanced towards the POW Stalags in Poland where my father was in 1945. The Germans marched the POW`S (On the infamous Death March") on foot or in cattle trucks down into Germany where wmy father was liberated at Mooseburg by Gen. George Patton. We heard nothing of his liberation or whereabouts until a policeman arrived at our house to inform us we must meet and bring him home from the same London station we had seen him off. This was two months after his liberation and two months after VE DAY.
June Benedict, aged 16 on my father`s return in 1945
Our first Christmas together As a family in 1945 is recalled as a very happy one. It was shared with two German POW`S stationed near our home as Dad said he "remembered how bad it was being confined in Stalags over Christmas "!
I was born at the end of August 1936 The most unforgettable memory of the second world war was the telegram Boy coming with the news of my only brother's death in the Invasion of Sicily. I was six years old at the time and as no one else was at home I went next door to get our neighbour as Mum had let out a tremendous wail of grief and I didn't know what to do. This tragic event coming barely three months after the death of my eldest sister from T.B. was overwhelming. Dad was injured badly in the Great War yet despite injuries tried to work and was a sergeant in the Home Guard. I remember peeping under the curtains when his men were doing an exercise in our street, when was supposed to be asleep.
One morning he came off H.G. duty and found Mum and I pinned under an iron bedstead caused by an air raid. During the war our back door was blown off three times by bomb blast and Mum was once caught badly across her back by it, she also cut her arm badly when she slipped getting into our Anderson shelter during a raid. Prior to the war I was told later our Dad when working on Hornchurch airfield had seen Japanese pilots in training.
When my sister was ill in hospital with T.B. she and other patients were moved from Harold Wood hospital to St. Margaret's Hospital at Epping to make room for people injured in the blitz. Many years later I found that my husband Norman and his mother Winnie were among them following the destruction of their home at Waltham stow by a phosphorus bomb. The temporary huts/wards they used were still in use in recent years when I attended for treatment.
My uncle and Aunt came south from Sunderland to escape the raids there but only stayed one night because they thought things were worse in the south. When the air raid warning sounded Mum took down the heavy brass candlesticks from the mantel shelf and picked up a torch and the Fox's glacier mints tin that held all our ration books, and other vital paperwork and shepherded us in to the Anderson shelter. Before we had a shelter we used the public one on the corner of our street -the very corner where pre-war Mum and the older children of my family had watched the Duke and Duchess of York pass by on a visit to our new showpiece housing estate. Being close to a large public house the smell within was unforgettable. Once we had our own shelter in the garden we spent many a sunny day inside it singing songs from 6penny songbook - we had our own British bands and singers and whenever the war is mentioned it always U.S. music that is used and that was only predominant at the end of the war.
I was evacuated three times first aged three with Mum and some neighbours with young children to share a cottage on the East coast-we saw the first lifeboat rescue of the war on the Sept 10th 1939 as us children were having our first taste of seaside behind the barbed wire. Soon home again as it was safer, further from the action and Mum had to care for Dad because his souvenirs of the first war were a missing area of thigh, results of being blinded and gassed and a piece of hard tack biscuit as issued in the trenches, oh mustn't forget his 2 per cent pension and care from University College Hospital, London for the rest of his shortened life. Like most people he expected heavy bombing as practised in Spain earlier and took the crossbar out of the dining table to make a temporary shelter for me and my dolls at bedtime before shelters arrived.
The second time I was evacuated I went to a Wiltshire village to live on a farm with four adults I was four and started school there and walked the long way there to and fro alone. On Saturdays my nearest sister in age who lived with a young couple came to play and I cried bitterly when she had to go home again. When Mum visited and found me with impetigo I was soon home again. Intermittently I went to the local home school an when the siren went we went into the cloakrooms and sat one behind the other by the wash basins until it was over.
For my third evacuation I was billeted with the sister nearest in age with an elderly couple who had never had children overall they were very good to us but would keep our good clothes for best and of course they were outgrown before outworn which especially in a time of shortages was wasteful. Every lunchtime when we came home for midday meal We had our hair combed looking for nits. We were not allowed to read the newspapers, we took the accumulator to be recharged for the wireless they had. On Fridays we went to the public baths and took our clean clothes in a parcel to be return with our dirty laundry.
The silk works where the man worked was producing red, white and blue bunting for weeks before peace came so we knew it was nearly over. As soon as V.E. day was officially announced a local girl called Una skipped down the street followed by other children singing Unconditional Surrender over and over. The streets were soon decorated and a party held. Later we were taken for a week to Blackpool our first holiday in a favourite Wakes week resort. Then home to a depleted family and soon Dad died also.
Ten years later when I married I left the house over a plank laid across a hole that mysteriously appeared and been checked by a bomb disposal team.
Early in the war I was evacuated for a short while to Great Dunmow in Essex where behind the thatched cottage where I lodged with my mother one could see quite clearly the raids on London, When I returned from Great Dunmow I also recall watching part of the Battle of Britain from the back garden in Hale End Road Walthamstow, the bombers, spitfires and other fighter planes of ours and seeing parachutes fall. I saw Silvertown ablaze from the top floor as well. We were made homeless in 1943 by a firebomb which burned both mother and I with phosphorous. We were treated at Harold Wood hospital where sick patients had been moved further out to make room for casualties from the air raids.
In the summer of 1944 I was eleven years old and living back in Walthamstow, now we sheltered in a Morrison shelter in the front room of a neighbour which made me apprehensive of being inside after our previous experience of enemy action. The first VI came down on Bethnal Green and was attributed to a blown gas main. I heard my father saying that he and the other locals knew that this was untrue. I knew the truth when I saw the flying bombs.
The most I saw in a twenty four hour period was between six and nine, I watched them chased by fighter 'planes and turned over Walthamstow, and got used to them. The hollyhocks were out in the garden of the requisitioned house we had been allocated in Belle Vue Road, so it was still summer when we heard a VI coming and almost immediately the engine 'cutout' and my father told us to lie flat on the grass in case of blast, I thought at the time that if it came that close it wouldn't matter where we were as it would get us anyway. It landed in Upper Walthamstow not far from Wood Street railway station, In another night attack one landed on a gasometer in Enfleld and could be seen from Upper Watthamstow, the gas ignited and illuminated the surrounding area over a great distance. It was said that these 'Doodlebugs' wereflndng there targets better than the German bombers were. Although we did take shelter at night if we heard these things coming we would go and look to have a chance of guessing where it might land, on you or not.
The noise these VI 's made was like a loud rude raspberry, during the day they looked like an aeroplane with a drain pipe on its back, one I recall had light coloured wings and fuselage with a red nose cone, and by night there was a large spurting yellow flame from the tail acompanied by the raspberry noise. Most people called them 'Doodlebugs', one did a 90 degree dive from the horizontal onto the ACE A Works offices in Fulbourne Road, Walthamstow. Some said it was a target because of the secret work being carried out there at the factory, radar perhaps, anyway something had upset the gyro compass of that flying bomb.
The V1's were better in that you could hear or see them and the noise they made gave people time to take cover. I have seem VI 's come to earth and explode on built up areas where the blast, injuries and following silence was awful and followed by the dust settling on everything. The Vll 's could neither be seen nor heard although some claimed they had seen them as a streak in the sky before coming to earth. There landing was characterised by a double detonation. I was going for dinner at school three to four miles distant when from the top floor we heard and saw an explosion close to where we were then living in Belle Vue Road, as a Vll landed on a built up area of housing. I left school and ran all the way home to discover that a large sliver of wood from the front doorframe had narrowly missed mother as it was blasted down the passage.
Another VII landed on a lorry carrying Smiths Crisps at the junction of Forest Road and Woodford Road by the Waterworks, blasting the lorry, and surrounding trees. I do not know what happened to the driver or his mate but there were thousands of blue salt packets spread around the area. A trolleybus was standing at the traffic lights about one hundred yards away and had all its windows blown out. The force from the VII 's seemed to take more of a vertical line than lateral which was the opposite of the effect of the VI 's. I felt the VII 's were worse because of the invisibility and silence when coming on targets giving no chance to avoid them.
My grandfather was Vicar of Canewdon, Essex during World War Two. We had some of the Duke of Wellington Regiment living with us in the vicarage. They watched the Thames, North sea and river Crouch from the church tower. Every night we heard our bombers going east and the German planes going to London as we waited in the cellar.
We never heard from any of the regiment again although they left me a teddy bear, which I still have, who's tag says "to Monica from Officers, sergeants , corporals and men of the Duke of Wellington Regiment."
I just want to know if any of the men. Big George, Little George etc survived. I still have not only the teddy bear but two pencil drawings. I was, I now realise, trained as a "runner" my Grandmother took me to every house in the area so that I knew everyone. Even though we had plenty of chickens I was sent to a frends house and was given an egg. On the way home I broke it. I went back and got another. I was blonde, blueyed and very small, who would suspect me. I was also told that whatever happened to our family, never, never speak German. My grandmother was given a cache of emmergency supplies, which of course, we never used. She had a horrible time after the war trying to convince the food office that, as actually had happened, the mice had enjoyed it. Please let me know if any of the regiment survived.
Thank you. Baby Monica.....
A PHASE IN MY LIFE
Mum, Dad, Evelyn, Me & Len. (Taken at Epping Forrest in 1939)
To me as a young boy, of just six and a half years old, it was just another Sunday morning. Little did I know what a difference that day was about to make to my life. At the time I was living with my parents, two brothers and two sisters in the East-End of London. My eldest sister May Susannah, was sixteen, my eldest brother Edwin Alfred, (Son, he was known as this by all the family as Dad called him this having been his first son), was fourteen. He was later known as Ted. My other brother, Leonard Robert, was eight, with my younger sister Evelyn Christine just approaching her fifth birthday. There had been another girl, Lillian Victoria, between Son and Len, but unfortunately she had died at about ten months old. It must have been a terrible experience for Mum and Dad to lose a child. She apparently caught measles which developed into pneumonia.
My sister May.
May was working as a machinist and Son was a messenger boy. This was delivering letters and packets etc. from one company to another. It was a time that children left school at fourteen.
Edwin, (Son) on leave from the navy, with Evelyn & me Albert
My mother, Amy Kate (nee Lewis) was forty six and my father, Alfred Robert, (who suffered ill-health after being gassed during the first world war) was fifty four.
Our home was a terraced, three-storey semi basement house in Lanfranc Road, Bow. Although by today`s standards it would seem very poor, to us it was home. The front basement room, which was where we mostly lived, had a large kitchen-range, that warmed the room and cooked most of our meals, and baked wonderful cakes. It had a trivet and a hot top where a kettle permanently stood giving a continuous supply of boiling water, this was very convenient as the house had only a cold water supply.
In the scullery was a large, but shallow sink with just one cold water tap, also a gas cooker. Standing against the wall was a large dresser on which the crockery was kept. There was also a large cupboard with a concrete shelf and two or three wooden shelves which was the larder. A small wooden box with a door and sides of perforated zinc was the meat safe. As there were not such things as fridge`s or freezers perishable foods were bought daily.
In a corner by the window there was a large brick copper, in which water was heated by a fire beneath it, (any paper, cardboard and wood was used for this as coal was too expensive). This came to the fore on Mondays as it was wash-day, and Saturdays when it was bath-night. With the copper going all day the scullery was full of steam, just like a Turkish bath.
Life was a real drudge for the housewives with washday taking all day. Filling the copper, by bucket, lighting the fire, boiling the washing and scrubbing it on the scrubbing board, using blocks of household soap, and then lifting it out and rinsing it out two or three times in the sink of cold water before putting it through the mangle ready to hang out to dry. If it was a wet day it was hung on lines in the scullery.
They would have thought they were in heaven if they could have had today`s modern appliances.
To do the ironing Mum had to heat the flat iron on the gas stove, she used two irons so that one was getting hot while she was using the other one. She also had to have a cloth to hold round the handle to prevent burning her hands. There also had to be a good stock of pennies to put into the gas meter. No ironing board just a folded blanket and an old sheet on the kitchen table.
The kitchen table was used to prepare all the meals and also to eat them. It was covered with an oilcloth which was easily wiped over to keep clean.
Bath-night was quite an event, particularly in the winter months, when the large metal bath was brought in, filled with hot water beside the nice roaring coal fire. The downfall of bath-night was the weekly dose of Syrup of Figs or Andrews Liver salts. Also the "nit comb" when your hair was combed with the fine tooth comb to ensure that you hadn`t any nits or fleas. The problem for Mum and Dad was now having to empty the bath, not such an easy job as filling it.
Being children we didn`t realise the things that Mum and Dad did for us, as with all children it was just taken for granted.
The copper was also used on the coming of Christmas when Mum made several Christmas puddings and steamed them in the copper.
Christmas time was much different to nowadays. Just one toy each or two if you were lucky, a Christmas sock with an apple, orange, a few nuts and a small bag of sweets. We always had a tree on which was clipped metal sprung candle holders with candles which were lit on Christmas day. The decorations were Chinese lanterns and home made paper chains. Dinner was a real treat with chicken and a bottle of port (no port for the children), Followed by Christmas pudding and custard. There was always a silver threepenny bit or two in the pudding for someone to find.
I think I was five when Len told me that there wasn`t a Father Christmas as he had found our presents. One day when Mum and Dad were out he showed me two tin trolley buses which was one for each of us. (Goodness knows what the present day safety people would say, clockwork wind up toys with metal clips that could be undone and show the works inside, this was how we found how things worked and you would learn to handle them properly. Modern day ideas have gone way over the top). I still don`t think I believed Len, I`m sure Mum and Dad were just looking after them.
On the next floor were two rooms, the "Parlour", which was used mainly for "high days", when we had special visitors. Also one of the children's bedrooms. The top floor had two more bedrooms. All of the bedrooms had a small fire-place, but these were only used if someone was ill. Our coal chute was on the bottom front step and went down to a cupboard in the basement and when the coalman called there was quite a shower of dust into the room from around the cupboard door.
Another regular visitor was the chimney sweep who always called by seven o-clock in the morning. This was an exciting time for us children as we loved to go outside and see the brush come out of the chimney pot. All the house lighting was by gas and oil lamps. Almost daily mum used to whiten the five front steps, weather permitting, and black lead the kitchen range until it gleamed.
Although poor, people had pride. Brasses shone, shoes were polished daily, even if the soles were a bit thin.
We were a proud, patriotic nation, Britain was Great, and Britannia ruled the waves. There was a British Empire that covered the whole globe. Empire Day was celebrated on the 24th May. We would go to school, parade around the playground, waving our Union Jacks, sing a few hymns and then have the day off.
Breakfast was usually cereals or porridge oats. Dinner varied from meat puddings, fish and chips, roasts and home made soups. Tea was jam, meat paste, or cheese sandwiches, and not forgetting the gorgeous toast made by the glowing fire,(the only way to make proper toast) and smothered in lovely beef dripping.
Dad was a keen fish person. He loved his kippers, sprats, shrimps and winkles and also the good old London favourite "jellied eels". Ugh!! It was very off puting to see the eels crawling around the slabs of the fish shop. Quite often he would bring home a bag of mussels from the fish stall, and put them into a saucepan of boiling water. What a noise they used to make.
In the winter months there wasn`t a hot water bottle, just heat up a flat iron on the gas stove and run it over the sheets and jump in to bed quick. One evening when I went to bed, May took the iron upstairs, and I jumped on to the bed just as she was about to" iron it." Result was iron on back of my leg and I still have the scar to prove it.
In really cold winters it was quite the norm to wake up and find thick ice on the inside of the windows, and what lovely patterns it made.
There were some very strange cures when you weren`t well, such taking you for a walk near the gasworks as a cure for whooping cough, a spoon of butter rolled in brown sugar for a sore throat and not forgetting the good old Kaolin Poultice or home made bread poultice to clear up any infections such as boils. I think the heat from them made your body heal quickly as it didn`t want to put up with it a second time. As weird as it may seem these "Remedies" seemed to work. If you went to a doctor it was always a bottle of red medicine tasting of raspberries. As you had to pay for visits to the doctor parents tended not to visit them and just made sure the children were treated.
Due to the seriousness of T.B. all the public transport had signs in them saying "Spitting strictly prohibited". This was an essential thing with T.B, being so contagious.
The floors were either stained boards or lino, and rugs. Tea leaves and a good stiff brush cleaned the rugs, and on hands and knees to scrub the floor, using a bar of Fairy or Sunlight household soap. No such luxury as carpets.
There was a small back garden in which was our toilet (the outside loo). Our toilet paper was squares of newspaper threaded with string and hooked on a nail. When the horses of the brewers dray (there was a pub just along the road) left their deposit Dad was out with a bucket and shovel to collect it as manure for the garden.
Having been trained as a needlewoman, Mum made many of our clothes. It was a time of make do and mend. Anything that had been outgrown was handed down to the next child. What was eventually disposed of went to the rag and bone man, but not before the buttons were cut off for use on any new clothes that Mum made. All socks were darned to give a longer life and many clothes were patched. We still had our Sunday best that was only worn on Sundays and special occasions. For the Coronation of King George VI mum made Len and I a pair of long, light blue, cotton trousers with a narrow red and white stripe the down side of each leg, which we wore with a white shirt. We both looked very smart.
Family group Len, Evelyn, Mum & Albert.
Dad, a painter and decorator by trade, was quite a handy-man and could turn his hand to most things. He did quite a bit of carpentry and making picture frames. He also repaired all the family shoes. What a pity I didn`t inherit his skills.
Not far away was a timber yard and the smell of freshly sawn wood seemed to be a lovely clean smell. We often went there for off-cuts of wood for our fire.
There was also a "tea factory" just around the corner from us and we children loved to pop our heads to see the chests full of tea and smell the lovely fresh tea.
During the winter months we played several games indoors, such as lining chairs behind each other and playing buses, or playing at shops under the kitchen table. Other games we frequently played were "Hunt the Thimble"and "I Spy".
In those days we children could play in the road safely without the worry of traffic. But I did have an accident when I ran out in front of a bike.
All the neighbours were friendly and it was a sociable time. Any one in need of help could always find a neighbour to give a helping hand, whether a bit of shopping required or a new baby arriving, as most babies were born at home in these days.
To us it was a time of very strict family discipline, when children should be seen and not heard. Adults used to swear a little bit but nothing like they do these days and it was virtually unheard of to hear children do it. At least that was the rule in our household. I remember my eldest brother having soap put into his mouth to wash it out when he was heard swearing. A good warning to the rest of us.
Quite regularly Mum and Dad would take us to Victoria Park, which was about a mile away, where we would play, and paddle in the paddling pool. There were also two other lakes, one with rowing boats and the other for enthusiasts to sail model boats and yachts. A new Lido had been built and was very popular with the swimmers.
Dad loved brass bands and we often visited the bandstand and listened to the military bands. Occasionally on a Sunday he would take us for a walk through the park and stop at the pub to have a drink, we children would have a glass of lemonade and a packet of crisps or an arrowroot biscuit.
One day, when I was about four, Son took Len and I to the Tower of London. When it was time to go home Len was playing on the cannons and wouldn`t come with us. Son told him that if he didn`t come we would leave him behind. We walked round a corner and then went back, but Len had disappeared. For a while we searched for him but could not find him. This must have a terrible time for Son, who was only about thirteen, but we eventually had to go home. When we arrived home Len was already there. He had been brought home by a policeman who had given him an orange and a penny. It was such a long time ago I don`t recall the outcome. At this time London was still a major port with many docks and wharves along the Thames. In the autumn and winter months, when "pea - souper " fogs were the norm, the sound of the ships foghorns were very commonplace.
Strange as it may seem there were also some "beaches" along the Thames and people often visited them and children played on the sand.
A regular appearance of the barrel organ in our street provided good entertainment. The barrel organ was like an upright piano on wheels that was played by turning a handle at the end of it. This turned the musical cylinders inside which provided the music. It`s surprising the number tunes they could play.
Our main indoor entertainment was the good old wind-up gramophone, listening to dance bands such as Henry Hall and Harry Roy.
Dad taught us to play draughts and several simple card games.
One of Dad`s elder brothers, Uncle Will, and his wife Aunt Alice, a really great old couple, lived just along the road from us. I liked to visit them as he made home made wine, and I was fascinated to see all the buckets of different kinds of brews, from fruits to dandelion flower heads fermenting. I was never allowed to try them.
A place we often went to was the Roman Road market. The whole road was taken over by market stalls. Many bargains could be found here if you knew where to look. Also in Roman Road was a bakers where we bought our lovely fresh bread. Oven baked, crispy and full of flavour. Far better than the plastic sliced wrapped pap that is now being called bread. If you went late in the day you could buy bread and cakes at half price. Shopping was far more casual than it is now, with only the small grocers, greengrocers and General stores personal service was given. They were more like community centres where you could chat with the shopkeepers and other customers, who were mostly your neighbours anyway. None of the rat race that it is today, racing around a super market trying to jam as much into your trolley as you possibly can.
"Charlies" sweet shop (the children's` favourite shop) was opposite the bakers. One of my favourite types of sweets were "pear- drops" and it was also fun to see "Charlie" break up the slabs of "Palm Toffee" with his toffee hammer.
We belonged to his fireworks club where you paid about a penny a week and the day before Bonfire night you went into the back of his shop and selected your fireworks. You were not allowed to have them before this. We would then join in with our next door neighbours and have a great time together. It was from "Charlies" that Mum had lots of the rubbish to heat the copper. On the approach of "Bonfire Night" we would make a guy, with the help of Mum & Dad, and then take it out on a pram and do "Penny for the Guy".
Back to the main reason of this true tale as I have digressed a little. This Sunday was September 3rd 1939. All the adults seemed disturbed and worried but I did not understand why . Then at eleven o-clock our neighbour called over that Prime Minister Chamberlain had spoken on the radio (we didn`t have one) that war had been declared, and Britain was now at war with Germany once again. This still didn`t mean a lot to me, but over the next few years I would learn quite a bit.
A few years previously we had watched poles being erected for the electric cables for the trolley buses, which replaced the trams, but one had been erected a while after the others, but I did not know that this was for the air-raid siren. This awful sounding thing went off within seconds of the announcement. Luckily it was only a false alarm, but it was a sound that I was to become very familiar with.
Although he was sick and over-age, Dad went to a recruiting office to try to sign on, but he was rejected.
Within a few days a group of workers appeared at our homes and came in to the scullery, erected four posts, attached girders to them and put corrugated iron sheets on the top. This was our air-raid shelter.
Black out was introduced, and that is what it really meant. Every home had to have black out blinds fitted and there must not be the tiniest chink of light showing. All street lights and shop lighting was off and vehicle lights had shields with narrow louvered slits in them to prevent them from being seen from the air. Buses, which were our main form of transport, were fitted with dark blue interior light bulbs and had shading on the windows. Although there was little traffic about compared with today, how drivers coped I shall never know. Try walking out in a lonely country lane on a moonless night to see what it was like. Even hand torches had to be shielded with your fingers. Windows had to have tape criss-crossed over them to help prevent them from shattering to much through bomb blast. Church bells were banned from being rung as they were to be used as a warning of invasion.
Life seemed to carry on more or less as usual for me (but certainly not for Mum). We were not allowed to go to the "sea-side" (that was our annual day trip to Southend gone by the board). We also couldn`t buy many sweets because everything was being rationed. All the Mum`s had a hard struggle to feed and clothe their families, as ration coupons were needed to buy almost everything. Ration books were issued to everyone and the coupons had to be handed over when you made your purchase. To make ends meet, bones were bought from the butchers to boil up and with lots of vegetables added to make soup. Despite all this we survived quite well as we ate lots of fresh home grown fruit which gave us a healthy diet. Not a lot of chance of being obese. Even bath water was limited to just six inches deep.
It was at the end of May and the beginning of June 1940 that the Germans had taken over most of France when the evacuation of Dunkirk took place. This quite upset Dad after all he had seen, and been through in France during the first world war. After all, that had supposed to have been the war to end all wars.
My first big shock was not because of the war but the sudden death of my father, in July 1940. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage ( a stroke ) and was interned at Manor Park cemetery. (Years later Len at 23, another heartbreak for Mum, and Evelyn at 41 died of the same thing). Dad was laid out in the parlour until his funeral, which was the normal thing for these days. All people respected dead and on the funeral day curtains were closed, and as the courtage passed people showed there respect by standing and bowing their heads, and men removed their hats. All this even if they didn`t know who`s funeral it was.
Mum had often told Dad off because he used to sing to us children to the tune of "The Campbell`s are Coming " - - "The Germans are coming they are, they are, the Germans are coming they are, we`ll up with our guns and shoot up their bums, the Germans are coming they are, they are". This was not the thing to teach children.
There had been a few stray German aircraft over London, and the R.A.F. had been struggling over the South East endeavouring to keep the Luftwaffe at bay, trying to protect their airfields, and our towns and cities. Winston Churchill`s words "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few" are about truest ever said.
September 7th 1940 saw the first big German air-raid on London, during daylight, when four hundred German aircraft attacked the capital. The East- End was worst hit when the docks were attacked and hundreds of buildings were set alight or blown apart. The glow of the fires could be clearly seen from Bidborough Ridge, near Tunbridge Wells, over thirty miles away. That night the bombers came again, about two hundred and fifty of them, and less than a hundred yards away from us part of Grove Road, that ran at right angles to ours was completely flattened, about twenty houses were totally destroyed. It also severely damaged the "tea factory" mentioned earlier. We lost most of the windows at the front of our house and tomatoes that were sitting on the window ledge to ripen, disappeared never to be seen again.
Many of the bombs that fell were screaming bombs, specially designed to make a high pitched whistle as they fell intending to put the fear of God into everyone. There were also incendiary bombs to create fires.
As Dad had recently died we were sheltering in our next door neighbours house.
My elder brother, Son, now fifteen, went out to help dig for survivors. While we were waiting in the shelter a young boy was brought in, although he was very dirty and had blood on him, thankfully he was only slightly injured. The next day we all felt very proud because King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) came to see the damage. On another occasion I remember waking up on Mum`s lap at about 3.00 am. being dressed as there was an unexploded bomb just around the corner and we were being evacuated for safety. The Germans were now attacking almost every night, so regularly that you could set your clocks by them. All the Civil Defence workers were being really overworked with the Fire services tackling all the fires and other brigades being brought in from the provinces to help. Rescue workers were struggling to find and help survivors in the ruins, and ambulance crews ferrying the injured to hospitals, many of which were damaged by the bombing. Doctors were also at the bomb sites to help give emergency treatment as required. Even after the raid was over and the all-clear sounded the fire-fighting and rescue work continued and was still going on when the next raid began. During the blitz almost 7,000 civilians were killed and around 10,000 injured during September alone. These sustained attacks continued right through into October giving fifty seven days of continuous bombing.
It was during the early part of the blitz that my cousin Eric (Mum`s brother Albert`s son), saw a pilot bail out of his damaged aircraft so he jumped in to their car (the only family that I can recall that had one) and drove towards Goodmayes Park in the hope of capturing his first German. It turned out that the airman was further away than he thought so he was not successful.
As the bombing continued Mum decided to go to the communal shelter, in the basement of my school in Olga Street. This we continued for many weeks, but eventually she thought we would be safer down the "Underground". We tried to do this but were unable to get in as they were full. We went from there to the shelters in Victoria Park. We only spent one night in these, as from the entrance we could see the flashes and hear the sounds of the bombs exploding. There was also the noise of the Ack-ack guns that were in the park firing at the aircraft. The guns were moved about, as were the searchlights, and on more than one occasion we had guns and searchlights in our street. Needless to say the next day we were back at the school.
I can also recall the day that my Mother took my young sister to the dentist (that was in Roman Road just behind our back garden), leaving my brother Len, and I at home. We heard the sound of an aircraft approaching, flying low, and then machine gun fire as he flew firing along the Burdett Road.
It was due to all this, and the guns being brought into our vicinity that Mum decided that we should be evacuated. How this was arranged I do not know. I recall that one day (for some reason, I feel it was a Sunday) our whole family, with the exception of my eldest brother, were at a meeting point, with many other families and children. We all had cases with our luggage and of course the inevitable gas mask. This had to be with us all the time.
We were put on to buses and taken to a railway station (probably Euston). It was from here that we departed for an unknown destination. How long the journey took I don`t know but it seemed a long time. When we arrived we were at Northampton. Many of the local residents took the evacuees into the relative safety of their homes, away from the large cities and industrial areas. Our family was split up and billeted with three different families on a council estate in the Kingsthorpe area.
Most of the houses had large gardens in which they had their "Anderson" shelter. These were erected by digging a large hole in the ground, fitting in the overlapping corrugated iron sheets, and replacing the soil over the top. Many people had tables and chairs in them to create a little comfort. Being outside they were quite damp.
Mum was with Mrs. Rosie Jolley, a widow, and her two daughters, Olive and Doris, at 173, Kingsland Avenue. Doris eventually married a local man, Bert Lorriman, who was in the R.A.F.. They all remained good friends, even after we moved to Kent, and they frequently visited each other after the war was over. Len, Evelyn and myself were billeted with Mr. and Mrs. Middleton and their two children Peter and Joy, at 47, Western Avenue. They were about our age with Peter being the eldest. They also had an elder son serving in the Parachute Regiment. The parents were quite elderly and Mr. Middleton had chest problems also caused by gas in the first world war. He was always coughing and having to use the spittoon that stood in the hearth.
It was here that I first saw electric lights in a house. How nice to just push a switch and have light, so much better than having to light matches or a taper to light the gas.
All five children slept in the same bedroom. Three boys in one bed and the two girls in another. The beds were the normal beds of this era, heavy iron heads and feet with long iron frames that connected the heads to the feet. The head, feet and side bars had clips on them to which narrow metal slats were clipped and woven across the bed to form the base. On this was a horse hair mattress and you were covered with sheets, blankets and a candlewick bedspread. We had competitions doing headstands on the beds against the wall ,to see who could stay up the longest. We were often told off for doing this because our blood would run into our heads. Why is it that adults always want to spoil children`s fun? During the winter we would make slides in the snow and adults would put hot ashes on them and ruin them for us.
Mr. Middleton was quite partial to a glass of beer and we were frequently sent to the pub, with a jug to the "jug and bottle" for his pint. The jug and bottle was a small bar in the pub where you took your own jug or bottle to be filled up. We enjoyed doing this as it usually meant a bottle of lemonade for us, and we could also keep the penny bottle deposit. Soft drink bottles were charged a penny extra to ensure that the bottle was returned.
May stayed with another elderly couple, Mr. & Mrs. Pervical at 53, Western Avenue. She found work again as a machinist. Part of the job was making uniforms for the serviceman. Many of the girls put notes into the pockets and found pen-pals, some even found husbands.
While we were away my eldest brother was staying with my aunt`s Lily and Edie (two of Mum`s sisters) at Seven Kings in London, working as a trainee projectionist at a local cinema. He continued this until he was conscripted into the navy at seventeen years old. He was also doing this work at the services cinema when posted to Freetown, Sierra Leone. During his naval service he was also posted to Simonstown, near Cape Town, South Africa. It was while he was in Freetown he contracted malaria.
Aunt Edie, in her early thirties, became an air-raid warden for the duration of the war. A little lady of only about four foot ten, but must have been of real great stature to brave all the years of the blitz. It was just after this that she developed diabetes. Aunt Lilly died in 1942 (I believe it was of cancer).
Edith Lewis, my Aunt Edie, when she was in the Civil Defence as an air-raid warden during the London blitz.
It was during this time that Battle of the Atlantic was taking place. The German U-Boats (submarines) were sinking hundreds of merchant ships and tankers that were carrying food, oil and other supplies such as war weapons, from the U.S.A. and Canada. Thousands of men lost their lives in the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
Sailing in convoys, with Naval protection, many ships did get through. Two of the food imports were "Spam" and "Dried Egg" . Dried egg was brilliant for omelettes and cake making. "National Dried milk" was also an essential part of our diet. Where were the bananas, oranges and other tropical fruits getting to? All were something that we didn`t see again until the war had been over for several months.
Opposite where we were living were miles of fields and open countryside, apart from the church, and an area of allotments, there were acres for us to play. So different from being surrounded by old buildings and houses as it had been in London.
Mum was a reasonably regular church-goer and we often attended the church. Something that struck me strange was that a boy sat at the side of the organ and appeared to keep bending over sideways. I later found out that he was pushing a lever up and down to pump the organ, as it was worked by air pressure.
Our first winter was a very bad one with lots of snow, about a foot deep at one time, which at times was lots of fun, but not so on the day that I disappeared into a hole in the fields, that I had forgotten was there, and I was completely lost in the snow. I was in trouble for getting my clothes wet.
Our indoor time was spent playing board games, cards, bagatelle, I spy and other such children's games. We also listened to the "wireless" with current live bands (not all records as it is nowadays), and the comedy programmes such as Tommy Handley in ITMA (It`s That Man Again). There were singers like Vera Lynn, Ann Shelton and a young Betty Driver (now of Coronation Street fame), and an extremely young Petula Clark. Of course there were records of American stars such as Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and bands such as Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. Not forgetting our own great bands Joe Loss and Geraldo, to name just a couple. But who was this upstart American crooner Frank Sinatra that was appearing on the scene?
We often visited the cinema to watch our favourite cowboys such as Ken Maynard, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry (the singing cowboy). Saturday morning Chums club was great with the serials breaking off at the most exciting time leaving you in suspense wondering if the hero would escape from the awkward situation he was caught in. It seemed ages waiting for next Saturday to know if he made it. (He always did).
No such thing as television. I saw my first T.V. programme in 1951, when I was in the R.A.F. which of course was in black and white.
Our schooling at first took place separately from the local children with one group going for the mornings and the others in the afternoons. It was not long before the evacuees and local children were amalgamated and we were attending all day. Because of the shortage of staff, with many of the men being in the services, we had mainly women teachers. This also created very large classes with as many as forty eight pupils per class.
We sat at double seater desks with lift up lids that contained our books, except the ones that had been handed in for marking. Each desk had an ink well for each pupil and a double groove in which we kept our pencils and pens. (Biro`s had not yet been invented, and when they came on the scene about 1946 we were not allowed to use them because they were not conducive to good writing).
We were taught the three "Rs" and learnt our tables "parrot fashion", and we also had writing lessons, when we were taught to write neatly in copper plate style. Because of the shortage of paper we had to use the covers of our books and also had to write smaller to save paper. We were well past the stage of using an abacus (the very first calculator) and the only known computer was in our heads. Each day we had our regular free bottle of milk. The bottles had much larger necks than these days and had a cardboard stopper with push in centre for the straw to go in. The cardboard tops were saved and cleaned off and oddments of wool wound round them to make pom - poms either to be put on baby`s hats or tied on to their prams.
Very often we went on "nature walks" to help relieve the pressure for class rooms. We liked going on these but our legs ached afterwards because we wore boots that had steel studs in the soles and half steel blakey`s in the heels. This made them last a long time but they weighed a ton. Surely the original hob nailed boot. There was one elderly man teacher who always told us that you don`t need polish to clean your boots as there is always plenty left on the brush.
At games the ladies tried to teach us to play football and cricket, but not very successfully. For some reason or other they seemed to be much better with rounders.
At one time there were two aircraft on show in the market square, which were in aid of collections towards the war effort. One was a Spitfire, the other a Wellington bomber which had been the "star" in the film " One of our Aircraft is Missing."
Summer-time was much better. We spent many hours playing over in the fields and often going further afield to paddle in the river Nene. We loved catching tiddlers and sticklebacks which we often brought back in jam jars and put them in to a large static water tank which was there for the fire brigade in case of fire.
There was also a large recreation ground where we often went to play on the slides, swings and roundabout and also play football, cricket and rounders.
Whips and tops, hoops, hide and seek and marbles were some of the many games that we played and some strange ones that we thought up at the time. We needed vivid imaginations to think up some of the games that we played. Most of our games were played in seasons. If a battered old pram had been discarded we would salvage it and get the axles and wheels and make ourselves a cart. We had lots of fun on these, imagining we were racing on a race track. We also made tin stilts by getting hold of a couple tins, such as cocoa tins, making holes in the side of them and threading string through them and then pulling the tins hard against your feet we would walk about on them. The girls did lots of skipping and the boys often joined in when doing the "high jump". It was easy to play in the streets with virtually no traffic about.
One of the games we played, in the playground at school, was High Jimmy Knacker. This consisted of two teams of five or more, and to play, one boy stood against a wall as the anchor and the rest of his side bent over in a line facing him to form a long leap frog jump. The opposing side then had to leap frog on to boys that were bent over. If the first jumper didn`t leap far enough the remaining jumpers ended on the last two or three which usually caused them to collapse.
Something the girls did was "French Knitting" which was putting four small nails into the end of a wooden cotton reel, threading the wool through the centre of the reel and looping it around the nails and then picking the wool over nails to form stitches. This produced long small tubes of knitting that could eventually be shaped together to make Tea cosy`s.
One day when we were playing soldiers, I ran around a hedge and caught my knee on a barbed wire fence and took a piece out of the side of it almost the width of my knee. This became my " war wound " and I still sometimes kid people that the scar is where I was shot.
Another of our antics was to go into telephone boxes and press button "B" and hope that some money would come out, and it sometimes did. Phone boxes were designed to put your money in and then give the operator your required number. When your connection was made you pressed button "A" to be able to be heard. If you did not connect you pressed button "B" to receive your money back. Sometimes people forgot to do this, hence our little gimmick.
This was also the time of "Dig for Victory" to encourage the nation to help to produce their own food. Many of the men unable to join the services took on allotments (as did some of the wives of men that were away). Most back gardens were also cultivated for food production. This provided your own fresh vegetables and fruit which were always much nicer than you would get from the shops. Many people also kept chicken to supply eggs, and with keeping rabbits helped to supplement their meat ration. We enjoyed planting seeds such as cabbage, peas and beans and reaping the results a few months later. It was easier to do this in the countryside as most gardens were quite large in comparison to the small backyards in the cities. Despite all this people had to queue for all their shopping as it was in such short supply and it took time passing over the ration books to have the coupons taken out.
While we were doing this the bombing continued with London being continually attacked. At the same time the Germans proceeded to bomb our other major cities, such as Bristol, Southampton and Coventry in an endeavour to crush our heavy industries. On many occasions I recall the bombers going overhead on their way to the central midland industrial areas.
To us as children it was very exciting when watching three Tiger Moth trainers, two of them collided and came down near the Bective Road school. Luckily both pilots bailed out safely.
One day Peter found a golf club indoors so off we went to a bank over the fields, with a couple of golf balls. Then it was a competition to see who could hit the balls the furthest. My brother Len ended up standing just behind Peter as he swung back the club and caught Len just above the eye resulting in a cut about two inches long ( leaving a scar that he had for the rest of his life). Goodbye golf club.
As the war pressed on "double summer time" was introduced which made it lighter for much longer in the evenings, to help the farmers with their work and harvesting. This kept it light until nearly midnight and as a result of this we children could not get to sleep.
From the early part of the conflict there were many foreign servicemen in Britain. These included French, Polish, (many of whom served in the Royal Air Force) South African and also Indians who seemed strange to us as they wore turbans, not forage caps. There were also Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians. It seemed that every nationality in the world were here.
In these days all the servicemen were respected. It was considered lucky to touch a sailor`s collar and this was something all us children tried to do. We heard later that to do it would give the sailor bad luck so we stopped doing it as we didn`t want them come to any harm. What a strange thing superstition is.
In 1940 the Japanese extended their fighting in China into more of South East Asia and then began advancing into French Indo China. It was obvious that they wanted control of all S.E. Asia. The pride of the American Fleet was based at Hawaii and the Japanese attacked it at Pearl Harbour on the 7th December 1941, four battleships were destroyed and four seriously damaged. Fortunately their aircraft carriers were at sea. The result of this was that they joined the conflict in Asia and also in Europe.
In the Far East the Japanese advance continued and on Christmas Day Hong Kong was captured and shortly after Singapore fell.
Here at home the battle continued with more air-raids. There was also the dismay of our troops being forced to retreat back across North Africa.
American troops now began arriving in Britain. There were soldiers and airmen, and most of the airmen in the midlands seemed to belong to the Eighth Army Air Corps. They were very popular with the children as we could approach them and ask " Got any gum chum " and they would usually oblige with a stick or two of chewing gum. The girls also loved the Yanks because as the saying goes " they were over paid, over sexed, and over here." This was when "nylons" appeared on the scene, until now as stockings were very scarce the girls used to stain their legs and have a friend paint a darker line all the way down the back of their legs to make a seam, as a seam was all the fashion.
There now seemed to be more G.I.s here than our own forces.
The bombing continued and we were still losing ground in Africa and in the Far East. Although all this was going on, to us at home, it was so far away, and as children it meant very little. We carried on in our own childlike way and enjoyed our life playing as children normally did. Climbing trees, falling over, having quarrels, going for walks and visiting the pictures. If it was an "A"(adult) film we would wait outside and ask an adult to take us in. We liked to see the comedies, such as Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, as it gave us all a good laugh. In the newsreels we would see clips about the war, but it was always the good news that you were shown.
In 1942 the good news was becoming more of a reality. After our Eighth Army victory at El Alamein, the Germans were in full retreat back across North Africa . With the Americans joining in the North African campaign it was becoming more successful for the Allies. This would soon lead to the landings in Sicily and Italy.
At home our Bomber Command was now building up, and with the arrival of the Americans the Allies were developing into a powerful attacking force. The Americans began making daylight raids on Germany and the R.A.F. by night. This was when the thousand bomber raids began to take place. We boys watched them flying off in the evening and used to cheer them and try to count them. An impossible task. Little did we realise how many of them were not going to return. We thought that they would just bomb the Germans and come back home. We were far too young to know that so many airmen would be killed, or maimed for life.
My brother Len & Myself (Albert).
It was about this time that we were moved from the Middletons because of Mr. Middleton`s deteriorating health. This move took Len and I to live with the Deerings and Evelyn went with Mum at Mrs. Jolley`s. The Deerings had a son about Len`s age, named Dermot and a young daughter about four.
Opposite their house was a brick built air-raid shelter around which we used to play "cowboys and indians." Beyond the shelter was a cornfield and we used to run into the corn and lay down when playing hide and seek.
Something that struck us as funny was that there were a row of neighbours that ran consecutively named Jays, Starling, Pugh,(pooh), Cowes and Bulls. Mr. Bull kept chicken and ducks in his back garden. He often took me, on a seat on the cross-bar of his bike, to the market, about four miles away, which was always crowded with farmers and smallholders. I liked to see all the sheep, calves and poultry that were for sale. He would often bring home day old chicks, and ducks, in a box behind his saddle. The ducks were funny to watch as they were always put in with a hen as a foster mother and she used to scratch the ground for food but it is not a ducks nature to scratch. He had a large Aylesbury duck that looked just like a swan.
Quite often Mr. Bull`s cat would come in to the Deerings, in fact it was it`s second home, and would sleep in an armchair that stood in the corner. One evening Mr. Deering picked it up and said "Time to go home" and there were two new-born kittens in the chair.
When the school summer holidays arrived Len and some of the older boys went potato picking. I was not old enough, but on Saturdays the farmer would turn a blind eye, and let us younger lads go. We did a five hour shift and it was really hard work as the tractor was round the field and back again almost before you had a chance to pick what he had previously dug up. All this for sixpence an hour, half a crown for the day. (Equal to 12.5 p)
It was round about this time that Mum went to the hospital to become a blood donor and it was discovered that she had a heart problem. She was kept in the hospital for a few days.
This was also about the time that May met a young soldier, Jack Reddish, that came from Manchester, and was based in the Northampton area. She married him in 1946, after he came home from serving in Europe. They settled down in Manchester and had three children, David, Susan and Mark.
As it approached Christmas a few of us children decided to go carol singing. Quite an eerie experience in the dark. We did earn a little cash but not very much. Perhaps it was the sound of our voices. We were certainly not "The Sound of Music" standard.
More and more people were being conscripted into the services including young women. Even Princess Elizabeth (our present Queen ) went into the A.T.S. Many girls joined the "Land Army" and worked in the countryside on the farms. Quite an eye-opener for those from the towns. Others were in the nursing side of the services, such as the Queen Alexander Nursing Corps. These were away from home tending the wounded troops.
We were now moving into 1944 and Germany were now suffering many more defeats. Hitler had attacked Russia and so their forces were now widespread and far overstretched. Advances were being made in Italy, the Russians were now advancing and forcing the enemy back after the siege of Stalingrad. At home the R.A.F. bomber command and the U.S. air force continued to batter the German munitions factories and industrial cities. Including the now famous "Dam Buster" raid which destroyed many factories, and took many lives. We were all anticipating and awaiting the eventual landing and liberating of Europe from Nazi oppression.
Spring came, and on the morning of June 6th, four years after the fall of Dunkirk, D-Day had arrived. The allies had landed in Normandy. Everyone felt the end was in sight. But there was still a long way to go.
We at home thought how great it was, to hear the good news, but it must have been hell on earth for those taking part.
Everyone listened to the radio and saw the newsreels at the cinemas of the allied advance, through France, Belgium and Holland. With the Russians approaching from the east Germany was well on the way to being defeated. The allies did have some setbacks, such as the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans launched a counter attack in the Ardennes and put the Americans into a sudden retreat. There was also the Battle of Arnhem when British paratroopers where dropped well behind the German lines to prevent the destruction of bridges over the Rhine.
Prior to this, on the 13th of June 1944, although the blitz had virtually ended, new German attacks began with the V1 flying bomb. (Nick-named Doodle-bugs.) This was a rocket powered bomb like small aircraft that crashed to earth when the rocket ran out of fuel. The R.A.F. tried to shoot them down, but then found that by knocking their wings with their own aircraft they could turn them back to the sea. Unable to destroy or divert all of them many civilians were killed or injured in the South - East during the next few months. In fact the first V1 to land in London came down in Grove Road and one of those injured was a friend of Mum, Nellie Underwood, her legs were very seriously damaged and she was never able to walk properly again. She eventually moved to Brighton where she lived for the remainder of her life.
The V1s were then replaced by the V2 which were more sophisticated and were the predecessor of the space rocket. These were fired high into the stratosphere and then crashed to earth. Travelling much faster and higher than the V1 it was not possible to shoot them down.
My first encounter with these was in mid December 1944 after Mum had the opportunity to come to Kent, and live in Southborough, which was where her brother Victor lived with his wife Dora and their three children, at 16 Church Road. Joyce his eldest daughter was already married to David Grigsby, Connie was engaged to "Bill" Mann, and they later married in May 1945. The youngest, a son, Victor was still at school. (During the following spring I often helped Uncle Vic. at his allottment opposite Bidborough corner). "Bill" Mann was in the navy and after his demob eventually followed in his father`s footsteps and became a Labour councillor and also a J.P. at Tonbridge. Connie and Bill moved to Christchurch many years later. Joyce and David "Les" settled in Hemel Hempsted where he took a Dental practice until his retirement.
Mum came here at the beginning of December bringing my two sisters with her. A couple of weeks later Len, now 13 and I now 11, were put on a train at Northampton, heading for Euston. It was here that my eldest brother met us and took us on the underground to Charing Cross. It was fortunate that he was home on leave after almost two years abroad. He saw us on board a train for Tonbridge and had to leave us as he had to report back for duty. We had only reached Waterloo when the train was held up for over half an hour because of a rocket attack.
Arriving at Tonbridge late, my eldest sister May and a friend June Chalklin were there to meet us and bring us to Southborough. It was here that we lived in the front room of 28 Prospect Road. There were three families living in the house, the Bourners in the two back rooms and the Miles` family upstairs. Mrs. Miles was a teacher at St. Matthew's School, High Brooms. Len and I slept next door at no. 26 with the Chalklin family. All the young children slept under the "Morrison" table shelter. This was large steel plate affair that must have weighed a ton. There were also mesh steel sides that could be fitted to prevent rubble and the like falling on to you if you had happened to get bombed. There were five of us sleeping in this bed . Len, myself and three of the Chalklin children, Alan, Hazel and Sheila all sleeping under the "table". We lived like this for over six months, until Mum managed to find a top flat at 50 Holden Park Road. This had two bedrooms, dining room, bathroom come kitchen and inside toilet.
When we first arrived May had a job as a temporary " post man " for the Christmas period. I helped her as she was delivering locally. Shortly after this she worked at the Hill View Laundry. Mum also worked at the laundry so that she could make ends meet. We had lost most of our home due to moving and the bombing so Mum was having to make a new home from scratch. Both Mum and May found jobs at Hill View Laundry in Victoria Road, on the common.
Mum also began to make rag dolls for several of the women at the laundry to give as christmas and birthday presents. The two most popular ones were a sailor and a golliwog. She bought the faces in a shop in Tunbridge Wells, and lots of the material from Mrs. Kelvey`s shop in London Road, which was opposite where the fire station is now.
Mr. & Mrs. Chalklin had eight children Jack (who was in Germany in the R.A.F.), his wife May and young son John were living in Cambridgeshire.
Denis who had married his cousin, Doris, lived at Baltic Road, Tonbridge, and had a young son Mervyn. Denis was serving with the Fire brigade. Ray was serving in the Royal West Kent`s and early in 1945 was sent to India and Burma.
Gordon was working at "Newt" Adam`s farm in Reynold`s Lane and he reached it by a footpath in Speldhurst Road. June was working at Hill View Laundry. Alan, Hazel and Sheila were still at school.
Mr. "Jack" Chalklin was a painter and decorator and his wife Florence, a tubby little lady with a very friendly outlook, was a housewife. The " Chalklin`s" were a very well known family as they had always been Southborough people. Due to the housing problem Mrs. Chalklin took in several lodgers over the years.
Alan showed Len and I around the area and we soon met several friends. One lad Ronnie Acott, that lived next door to us at 30, Prospect Road, was later to become headmaster of Longmead School, Tonbridge. Another lad we met was David Coppard (he was a complete nutter). One day his mother came home to find a horse in the back garden. He had walked it home because he felt sorry for it. Being an only child he was quite spoilt. His parents bought him a violin, but after a while he was fed up with it (probably because he couldn`t play) he put it on the ground and jumped on it. There was also Gordon "Porky" Constable and Ivan "Pie" Theobald. Most of us had nick names, Alan was "Chalky" and I was "Bruno".
Len and Evelyn started at St. Peter`s school on Southborough common. As I had passed my eleven plus Mr. Lynham, the Headmaster advised Mum to take me to Tonbridge County Secondary Modern School for Boys, at Sussex Road, Tonbridge. This is where I stayed until leaving school, at 14, in July 1947. Being taught by headmaster S.A.Fletcher, "Charlie" Chasmar, "Bysh" Barker, Miss Redman (these two eventually married each other), Alan De`Weile and Jack Setterfield, and others whose names I can`t remember.
It was during my first few days here that I climbed ropes in the gym for the first time. I shinned up them quite easily but didn`t know that you lowered yourself hand over hand, I slid down and had some nasty rope burns on my hands.
Being young lads we had to have regular haircuts and this was when I first met Arthur Jarrett. Arthur had a barbers shop at 25, Forge Road. He worked upstairs and his wife had a small grocers shop below. Arthur had apparently been taught as a trainee that "If you can`t speak well of someone then don`t speak at all" and he stuck to this.
There were lots of small corner shops around and they were genial meeting places with good friendly service. Ones that I can recall were Palmer`s, a tobacconist come off licence (later to become Norman Page`s) and Mrs. Streeter`s sweetshop, in Springfield Road, Lambert`s on the corner of Meadow Road and Edward Street, also Mrs. Harman`s sweetshop in Holden Park Road and Reg Clucas at 1&3 Holden Park Road. No. 1 was a grocer`s come sweetshop and no. 3 a greengrocers. There were also many various shops in London Road such as grocers, painter and decorators shops, ironmongers, fresh fish shops, florists, greengrocers, newsagents and coalmerchants.
Spring arrived and all the plants and trees were coming to life, even a few games of cricket were being played on the common. All seemed great with the world, with the allies advancing across Europe and the news of Hitler`s suicide. But then came the news of British troops finding the concentration camp at Belsen. Others were discovered in various parts of Germany and Poland. It was horrendous to see how so many people had been cruelly treated and slaughtered. How such evil atrocities could happen seemed beyond belief.
The Daily Mail published a book of photographs of the terrible sights. May bought a copy of this but over the years it has disappeared
Eventually the allies, with the Russians being the first to reach Berlin, successfully defeated the Germans. A cease fire was signed on May 8th and all hostilities ceased in Europe. This was V.E.Day.
Street parties were held and everyone was so happy and relieved that it was all over. There would be no more bombing or air-raids. The world seemed to be a much happier place.
Street lights were back on, albeit gas lights in all the side streets. Mr. Goddard, the lamplighter went round every evening, with his long pole, to turn them on and again in the morning to turn them off.
Of course it was not the end as the conflict was still going on in the Far East. The British Fourteenth Army ( the Forgotten Army, nicknamed this as they were so far away and not often thought about other than by their relatives), were advancing through Burma. It was now that the world found out about the Japanese using the Commonwealth prisoners of war to build the Burma railway. It was while doing this that thousands of young men died in extremely hot and unhealthy conditions and were literally murdered because they could not cope with the slavery. They had been starved and were completely exhausted. It was nothing for them to be beaten with rifle butts or bayoneted to death by their captors.
The Americans continued winning the war of the Pacific, but the Japanese would not surrender. They had even taken to using Kamikaze pilots. This was the pilots staying in their aircraft and crashing them, loaded with bombs, into the American warships.
The Americans continued to bomb and pound the Japanese mainland bringing massive destruction. The final blows came in August, on Monday 6th when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima killing about 80,000 people and injuring about another 80,000. ( My very good Japanese friend, Toshy, that I met about 25 years ago, was living about 20 miles away on this day, a day that she will never forget.) On Thursday 9th a second one was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. This time the death toll was about 40,000 with about 60,000 injured. This made the Japanese realise that the time was up and agreed to an unconditional surrender. August 15th became V.J Day.
Although the war was officially over it was several more weeks before all the Japanese had surrendered. Celebrations took place world wide, with the knowledge that the servicemen would soon be coming home. It didn`t quite work out like that, as our forces had to remain as "armies of occupation".
Rationing continued, with bread still on ration well into the `50s.
Conscription continued until the mid 1950s, with all young men having to do two years National Service. I was called up in 1951 and served for three years in the R.A.F., two of which were spent in Hong Kong. But that is a different story.
Of the seven of my family that started my story there are just two of us left, May and Myself.
I have written this with the best that I can recall. Some of the facts may be a little out of order, but 60 years is a long time to look back.
Albert Sidney Dungate
Copyright January 2003
A child in Dulwich during the blitz and Kendal during the Buzz bombs
I was four years old when Hitler began to bomb London. I slept in a cellar under 30 Underhill Road and was dispatched there whenever the sirens sounded a warning. I was close to High Wood Barracks where the sound of anti aircraft fire kept me awake during the blitz.
A barrage balloon hung over our garden and after the night raids I would search for shrapnel in the garden. The houses below ours in Melford Road were nearly all damaged by bombs. I was evacuated for short periods to Reigate, Northwood and Halton beside an RAF airdrome.
My father worked in a reserve occupation as an architect at Scotland Yard. He had to keep watch at night and one night was stuck in the lift in the building on the embankment when a mouse ran up his trouser leg. He was released in the morning. An incendiary bomb landed on our front doorstep but bounced harmlessly into the road.
After the blitz there was a quieter patch until the Germans sent over the doodle bugs, the V1s and later the V2s. I was again taken to the cellar but the number of flying bombs falling around us made my parents decide to evacuate me to Kendal in Westmoreland to stay at 8 Castle Crescent with my grandmother and mother. One flying bomb over Dulwich had cut out over our house during the day when I was playing cricket in the garden, I ran for cover and it fell two streets away and killed the occupants of the house it fell on. The headmaster of my prep school, St Dunstan's prep, a Mr Booty, lost his house over a weekend when he fortunately was away. The window beside my desk was blown out by a V2 one morning while I was sitting there. Fortunately the window had no glass but only material after an earlier bomb.
There were a lot of evacuees from London in Kendal when I arrived and they were not popular with the local people who had them billeted on them. In my case it had been arranged by agreement with a Mrs Steel who lived there.
I attended the local school at the age of 8. There was a certain amount of ill feeling towards the London evacuees and one afternoon after school I had stones thrown at me by a group of boys near Castle Crescent. Next term the headmistress was replaced by a younger woman from Ealing who was having nothing of this and cracked down on the local element who caused ill feeling.
My acceptance and the whole change to my life in the lake district came one day when I was playing on my own by the Beck, an open stream in those days, now a culvert, between the church and the Crescent. A mother whose baby boy was in his pram was left on his own near the Beck and she went indoors but forgot to put the brake on. The pram slowly gathered pace and ran at speed into the railings above the Beck tossing the boy over them into the water. Fortunately the Beck was low at this time. I saw this happen but could not reach down to rescue the baby whose name was Michael Stainton but I saw and told the greengrocer nearby who ran over and got him out. His mother came and was full of praise for me and introduced me to her daughter, Adrian who was close to my age. This girl knew the area around Kendal like the back of her hand and she introduced me to all the beauty and wild life of the lake district. We became close friends for the time I was there. When it was time to go back to London a few months later I lost touch with her and often wondered what became of her. The Mayor of Kendal, a Mr Doby, was shown a poem I wrote about Kendal through the eyes of an evacuee and sent it to the local paper who printed it.
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