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As the harsh winter of 1940 gave way to Spring, the British Expeditionary Force was Stationed in France, along it's border with Belgium, but as the Forests of the Ardennes was on the flank (considered impassable by Armoured Vehicles) the Border was not Fortified as heavily as the Siegfried Line.
The Germans thought differently and as April turned to May the Germans Invaded Holland and Belgium. The British Army were ready, but due to muddled thinking waited for Belgium to "invite" them to help. When they did advance it was only to be outflanked by the enemy in a "Pincer Movement". Time and time again the troops were ordered to withdraw, being constantly harassed by the Luftwaffe Bombers. The British Army withdrew along roads packed with fleeing Refuges making it impossible to gain the few hours needed to erect a new line of defence.
The French Allies were also retreating towards Paris, so the only way for the British was towards the English Channel. Orders were issued to head for Dunkirk. Soon the Beaches around the small Port of Dunkirk were crowded and a Cockle-shell fleet set out from England ready to Ferry the exhausted troops to larger vessels waiting in the deeper water. The Germans had anticipated the escape rout at Dunkirk and heavily bombed the Jetty and Groin as well as the sloping beaches. Heavy Damage had almost eliminated the Port, but the bombs were not so effective on the soft sandy beaches, and the vast majority of troops were evacuated from the beach. There was no panic as the troops queued for the small vessels who could only carry 5or6 at a time but they stood in the sea - sometimes up to their necks- for hours or even all day to reserve their place in the queue, all the time they were subjected to Dive Bombing and as the Germans got even closer Heavy Artillery Shelling. Some, completely exhausted, collapsed as they waited and silently drowned. At night they retreated to the Dunes to try to snatch a few hours sleep, hungry and exhausted.
I was a 14 year-old Boy Scout and as Friday was Scouts' Night we met and made our way to the Scout Hall. We had heard that the troops were trapped at Dunkirk, but did not relate this fact to the large number of Double-Decker Buses, filled with Troops, that were passing us on the way to Eastville Park in Bristol. So we followed them to the Park entrance where they were headed. The Soldiers were exhausted as they staggered off the Buses, some with Backpacks and very few with the Lee-Enfield Rifle the standard issue to British Troops. A small crowd of onlookers were silently watching this, until my mates' Mother who happened to be there too, said "Come-on let's give them a cheer!"
A Tent City had been erected in the Park and the troops were quickly organised and allocated a space in a tent. We went off to the Scouts meeting and later started home. The Soldiers were streaming out of the Park in search of Fish and Chips or a pint of Beer and were met by civilians and each offered 1 or 2 of the Soldiers the chance of a good bath and a home-cooked meal, which was gratefully accepted.
My Brother-in-Law took two to his home. The Soldiers Uniform and underclothes were filthy and stiff with salt, sand and sweat so the underclothes were trashed and after a good hot bath he gave both a set of his own, until they could be issued with new kit. After a good meal they slept in a spare room and returned to the Eastville Park in the Morning. The weeks that followed saw each man re-equipped and returned to their respective Regiments or Corps.
It was later decided that although the "Front-line" Troops were capable in the use of their weapons and fit enough to withstand hardships, the supporting personnel (Cooks, Storemen, Batmen etc.) were not so well trained and in poor physical condition. All Troops in future were given 6 weeks hard training and were instructed in the use of the standard fire-arms. After training, a large number of the Dunkirk survivors were sent to Egypt, defeating the Italian Troops who had attempted to invade Egypt from Libya, to capture the Suez Canal and seal the shorter sea route to the Middle-East.
In the Years following the same troops also defeated Rommels' Army, invaded Italy and paved the way for the eventual return to Europe, thus proving that the British Army if well trained and well led, is the finest in the World!
During the war I lived in Filton, Bristol about a mile from the Aircraft Factory. I was a schoolgirl when the second world war broke out with a baby sister. My father joined the National Fireservice and my mother went out to work, for the first time in her life, at the Bristol Aircraft Factory. This meant that when I got home from school (we were taken 12 miles by bus to Chipping Sodbury Grammar School) I had to fetch my sister from the minder, light the coal fire and then get the tea ready for when Mum got home from work. I never enjoyed this time. On Saturday I had to 'go up the hill' (about 1/4mile) to queue for various things on and off 'the rations' and I can remember one Saturday, having bought the ration of potatoes loosely wrapped in a sheet of newspaper, the siren went off and I had to run home as quickly as I could dropping the potatoes on the way!
As stated previously, I went to school in Chipping Sodbury, and because that was a rural area it was not felt necessary for the school to have any proper air-raid shelters - should there be an'alert' then we were all allocated a space, sitting on the floor, with our backs to the corridor walls! apparently no consideration was given to the fact that Yate, a mile down the road, had a very small arms/aircraft factory. One afternoon the inevitable happened and Yate was targeted. We children sat on the floor in the corridors for the length of the air raid which meant that we were very late getting home from school, having had to negotiate then bomb damage in Yate on the way home. That evening my mother was home before me and she was absolutely distraught, but as far as I can remember, I had had yet another adventure.
Recalling the shelter, or lack of it, we had, of course, an Anderson shelter in the garden. It was installed one day in our very thick clay soil. There was about 3 ft below garden level and it didn't take very long for water to seep into the clay and make a very glutinous 'floor', so my Dad dug a sump in the corner for the water to drain into but he had no time to make any homely additions before we had the first raid and I can remember to this day the sight of my mother sitting on the top of the step-ladder, set in the mud, nursing my baby sister in a blanket whilst there being no room for Dad and myself, we stood outside and watched.
Mrs Eunice Stride nee Brittan.
My parents moved us to Torquay after a year in the Blitz. In Torquay we lived in a white house on top of a hill and we used to get a lot of "hit and run" raids and were often mistaken for Plymouth. During one such raid we had been bombed and machinegunned and one plane fired into the gasometer which was at Preston just below us. We could look down and see the flames shooting out of it. A figure appeared on top carrying a stirrup pump and tried to put out the fire. Suddenly he was over-come with the heat and fell rolling towards the railings around the gasometer, where he lay for several minutes - we all expected the whole thing to explode. Another figure appeared climbing up the ladder, he was wearing an asbestos suit. Somehow he got the fallen man on his shoulders and carried him down the ladder. I can't remember what happened next because I had to go inside but, amazingly, the gasometer didn't blow up.
Trasport into Torquay was awful at the time, hardly any buses and those that did come were often full. Sometime later my mother was waiting at the bus stop when a man pulled up and offered her a lift - in those days it was safe to take a lift and it was often done. My mother and the driver got talking and it turned out he was the manager of the gas works and he told her in a few days he was going to the Palace to receive the George Cross for saving a man on the gasometer. This was around 1942/43.
The Bath Blitz April 1942
On the evening of 25th April, 1942 at the tender age of 16, I attended a dance at the Avenue Hall (Church Rooms) at Combe Down, Bath. My sister and several of my relations were there also. At about 11 30 pm the organiser said the dance must end as an air raid was taking place on the city of Bath. We left the dance hall and hurried to the home of our cousin, "Wilcox the Baker," at Combe Road, Combe Down, where we sheltered in the basement until the end of the first raid, even there, some two miles from the city centre, the noise was terrifying in its intensity. The raid lasted about 1 hour and we stayed with our cousin for another hour or so before my sister and I decided to walk to our home at 18 Upper Bloomfield Road, Odd Down, as quickly as possible as we knew our parents would be worried.
We were proceeding along Bradford Road between Fox Hill and Entry Hill when the second raid started, from memory I believe it was close to 3 30 am. There were no houses at Fox Hill at that time, just fields belonging to Springfield Farm and we had a clear view over the city towards Lansdown. We could clearly see the huge glow and smoke billowing to the sky from the fires already burning from the first raid. As the raid started the planes came in very low, it seemed almost above our heads and were diving down over the city.
In previous months we had watched the raids on Bristol many times from the top of Rush Hill, where we could clearly see the fires and explosions as they were taking place, but this was a new experience for us, very frightening and very close. We watched, spell bound, for sometime and then as far as I recall we ran all the way home. Our parents were very relieved to see us; they were sheltering in the smallest room in the house which was a coal cellar between the larder and the living room. Being inside the cellar gave us the protection of two walls either side. We had two near misses; one bomb hit Colborne Road close to the Wansdyke Inn about 100 yards away and another hit Ballantyne and Rudds Garage, in Upper Wellsway, again about a 100 yards away. The only damage to our house was a few cracked windows, front door being jammed and the back door being blown open.
Early the following morning I went with my employer (who had a lorry) into Bath, too see if we could help. The damage was horrific, the civil defence and fire brigade were doing everything they could. There were hosepipes everywhere. My clearest memories are of the devastation at the Bear Flat, Oldfield Park and Green Park, and the ruins of the churches also stand out in my memory. St James Church was being used as a mortuary, parties of civil defence workers were combing the buildings looking for survivors and we heard of several success stories during the day where people had been pulled from the wreckage of their homes. Sad stories kept emerging of tragedies where whole families had been killed, and the loss of life of the Civil Defence workers killed by a direct hit on an air raid shelter opposite the Old Scala Cinema in Oldfield Park
We helped a dentist, Mr Butcher, recover some of his equipment from the basement of his property at Green Park where they were also looking for survivors and were then told to clear the area because of the danger of collapsing buildings. I can remember old tramlines sticking out from the ground close to the Midland Station at Green Park. The trams had been taken out of service a couple of years previously, if I remember correctly. My memory of things that happened during the rest of the day is vague, but I remember making several trips to the countryside, taking people in my employer's lorry. Here they found refuge wherever they could in case the bombers returned at night time. We were without gas and water, I cannot remember if the electricity was affected.
I was at home with my family when the bombers returned after midnight on the night of the 26th. If anything the noise seemed louder than ever. Although we had a Morrison shelter in our living room, which served as a table for the duration of the war, my father thought having the two walls either side of us was the safest place in the house. We spent the duration of the raid (about an hour it seemed) in the coal cellar again. There was a smell of burning. This turned out to be soot that had shaken from the chimney (had we been in the Morrison shelter the soot would have covered us), we were lucky that we only had the clearing of this to tend to in the morning.
The next day we again used the lorry to take people to places such as Dunkerton, Combe Hay and Peasedown. Once there they were taken in by the local people, to shelter and rest during following days. Jim Hunt, my employer, at that time had relatives at Trowbridge and we decided to take their offer of shelter during the night of the 27th. We slept on the floor of the Liberal Club in Trowbridge that night and returned home the following day as the bombers had not returned.
After all this time what still amazes me is that with all the loss of life and the devastation that surrounded us, how seemingly quickly things returned to normal. Perhaps it's because of the passing of time and the innocence of youth.
The photo was taken by an American GI in 1944, not long before we were sent back home and this GI was killed on the Normandy beaches during the Omaha Beach Landings. These are some of the lads who feature in my book "Another Kind of Porridge" which details the whole in depth story of our 4 years + that we spent as foster children. We as evacuees came from Plymouth & London and were evacuated to Newquay in Cornwall to be fostered by a Mrs Delbridge at Clevedon Road. She had a total of 26 in all, 18 of whom slept in an attic with 6 of us in one bed, the remainder in camp beds. Perhaps somebody might recognise themselves. I am second from left.
MY TRANSFORMATION FROM A YOUNG BOY TO A YOUNG AIRMAN IN FOUR YEARS.
I left school at the age of 14 years and went to work for Mallets (Ironmongers) in Truro as a sales apprentice and the following year when the war broke out I joined the local A.T.C. with the intention of going into the R.A.F. as an Engine Mechanic. It was whilst I was in Mallets I first saw a fighter plane, it was a Westland Whirlwind, flying quite low too.
An old school-friend of mine also worked in Mallets and one day we were discussing the idea of changing our jobs to earn more money I agreed it was a good idea and decided to start looking around for something more lucrative. Shortly after this my friend told me he was applying for a factory job in Bristol and asked if I would go with him. I mentioned it to my mother who, I remember, was not too happy about it, she pointed out the 'pitfalls' of such a change and told me to think it over before entering into the move.
One Friday afternoon (my half day off) I was home playing my drums alongside the radio when there was a knock at the door I answered it and a fellow asked if Mrs Storey lived here, I confirmed she did and he said he had a piano to deliver. I was taken aback and said that he must have the wrong name and address but checking his delivery note he assured me it was correct, still very puzzled I told him to put it into the lounge.
When Mum came home from work that evening the mystery was solved, yes she had ordered the piano for me in hopes I would change my mind on the thoughts of going to Bristol. Now I know she could ill afford the cash for such an item (even though second-hand) but I guess love for one's children (whatever the age) has no boundary. We had an evacuee staying at our house and at Mums request got me a job where she worked, in a sack factory, the pay was infinitely more than I earned in the shop so I was pleased to accept the position.
Meantime my friend had taken the job in Bristol but within a matter of weeks he had returned home again, and by his own admission, "Fed up and hungry". I was still attending the A.T.C. and whilst still in factory working I applied to join the RAF, I was now 171/2.
I lost no time in 'Having a go' at playing the piano, the first tune I attempted was the Big Band Classic Glen Millers 'In The Mood' I must have driven people crazy but I was determined to crack it come what may.
I later got a job with the NAAFI. My first posting with them was on a Marine Camp at St Just in the Roseland, it was a nice place, all I had to do was serve and keep the place running smoothly. When the NAAFI was closed I would to go into the canteen, which contained a piano, and practice my 'party piece' (In the Mood). The Marines encouraged my attempts to play and before long I could play the whole tune right through. Nothing would stop me now I was swinging!
A nasty incident happened on the camp one night. Some lads were walking up a lane on the approach to the main gate and a Guard standing on duty with an automatic gun, challenged them saying "Stick 'em up", naturally they thought he was kidding and carried on towards the gate. The guard fired a burst at them the first shot hit one of them in the shoulder, spun him around (which saved him from being killed outright) and three other bullets grazed across his midriff.
A short while after this I was asked to report to a NAAfi at the Docks in Falmouth to help out for a month and as it turned out a month was enough I didn't like it there one bit. I was sent to Goonvrea where the NAFFI was situated in a large Mansion, not too far from The Norway Inn on the Falmouth road.
I had made arrangements with my folks to open any mail marked OHMS that came for me and I remember the day I got word of THE LETTER. I had just finished lunch then made my way to a Phone Box nearby and rang Mum. When she informed me that I was to report to Plymouth for initial tests I could barely contain myself, I ran straight back to the NAAFI and told them the news and that I would want to leave immediately. There was no problem there, they wished me well and soon after I left to go home.
Within 3 weeks I was on my way to Plymouth. I passed the Medical and a few other tests but failed on Maths. I was told I did not qualify to become a Mechanic and had two options either join the R.A.F. as an AC2. G.D. or select another Service, I chose the former. I did in fact become a Flt: Mech: about a year later during my tour overseas.
In due course I received a Rail Pass and instructions to report to Penarth (Wales) where I met up with numbers of other 'Sprogs'. We were then herded around the streets until finally we reached our destination it was a sombre looking building - but Hey! I'm in the R.A.F. WHO CARES? After we had got through the Medical checks we were eventually issued with our uniforms (K K eat your heart out) and footwear (definitely not Adidis) etc;
Finally I was given a Railway Warrant for my journey to Blackpool where I was to do my 'Squarebashing' before my FIRST posting to RAF Pocklington in Yorkshire.
Read more about Doug`s RAF Experiences
Happy Birthday Jean On November 24th 1940 it was my Nieces first Birthday, she was the first-born of my elder Sister Ruby and her Husband Roy so we looked on this as a big event. We lived next-door so we could easily pop in for a slice of Birthday cake (homemade of course)but other relations arrived too. At around 6pm we heard the Sirens go, which was quite normal each night but as a lot of the raiders passed over on the way to the Midlands we carried on as usual, my Brother-in-law kept going outside to check on things and he came back in to say "they have dropped Flares over Eastville Park, it looks as if we are in for it." The Anderson Shelter had not been used for some time and we found that due to the Winter rains there was 2-3" of water in it. We then hurriedly found some Bricks and Duck-boards to keep our feet dry. In the meantime Purdown Percy Gunsite close by was in full blast shooting at the 'planes and firing Bofor Incendary shells to try to knock down the Flares that were makind night day as they floated down. The first wave of German Aeroplanes were followed by wave after wave until about 6 a.m. on the 25th. We could see signs of the flames and devastion they caused when some Incendery Bombs fell in the main shopping area of the City,(4 Miles from us) the Buildings were 2 or 3 Stories Brick and Tile construction with Wooden Floors, so once the fires took hold there was no stopping them from burning to the ground the Fire Brigades were overwhelmed. There were High Explosives dropped too but the mass destruction was by Incendairies. My wife to be (12 years later) was stranded in an Air-raid Shelter in the centre of the conflagration and had police escort to a less vunerable shelter in the height of the raid. Bristol lost a large proportion of the large retail shops and the square mile of the retail area was flattened. We will never forget Jeans 1st. Birthday, but we all survived the 6 years of War.
I was a Teenager during the days of the Blitz and so everything was an adventure,even during times of hair-raising incidents I could see the incongruity of the situation. The following is an example:- PUT OUT THAT LIGHT!
We were becoming used to the fact that we were on the receiving-end of Hitlers'wrath for 3 or 4 nights of the weekand and had worked out our own way of coping with the situation.On this occasion as the Bombers droned overhead on their way to or from the Birmingham or Coventry targets, we in Bristol were on high alert, even though we seemed to be on reprieved for that night.
My Father and I were sheltering under the Stairs but had a view of garden through the open backdoor. This was more comfortable than the Anderson Shelter -full of women- and we were also available to combat any Incediary Bombs. Another sucession of raiders began returning and our local Anti-aircraft Battery (Purdown Percy) began to open-up on them. We heard a noise like an Express Train roaring by and we instinctively crouched down, suddenly the field at the back of our house was Lightened-up by a fiery orange light and we dashed-out into the garden to see the flames leaping over the rooftop of our 2 story house.
We dashed through the house neglecting to switch-off the Hallway light and saw the flames leaping above the nearby Gasworks. An air-raid warden was passing by and shouted "Put out that light" oblivious to the fact that you could have read a Newspaper by the light of thousands of cubic feet of gas that was burning like a gigantic Blowtorch from the exploded gasometer. In a few minutes the flames had subsided to a fitfull glow and we resumed our vigil. The bomb that hit the Gasometer was one of a stick of "lucky" bombs left-over from the Midlands Raid and probably surprised the Bomb-Aimer as much as it did us.
The nearest of this stick of bombs to our house was a bomb that buried itself in the backyard of a house 25 yards away without exploding. It took the Bomb Disposal Squad about 2 weeks to recover it to the annoyance of the nearby residents who were unable to use there houses until it was removed.
Jack L. Westcott
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