Jump to content


Britain On The Homefront

  • Please log in to reply
43 replies to this topic

#1 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 09 March 2004 - 12:35 PM

Bethnal Green's Underground disater

It was a dark, wet, rainy night - so dark during the black-out that it was like looking through a coal face.

At 8.17pm the air-raid siren sounded and, like every night since the Blitz, up to 7,000 headed for the Tube.

Many knew an air-raid was coming because the radio went dead, often a sure sign.

There were already 500 down in the shelter, lying in iron bunks, listening to the nightly sing-songs.

Three buses set down cinema-goers from the Museum Picture House on Cambridge Heath Road and The Empire on Green Street, now the Roman Road.

They had been showing newsreels of the allied bombing of Berlin. Seconds later, a powerful searchlight lit up the sky, followed by a huge explosion.

There were screams as families threw themselves to the ground. Many child evacuees had returned home, which may have contributed to the building panic - particularly at the sound of what seemed a sinister new bomb.

But the explosion heard was a volley of rockets fired in Hackney's Victoria Park, a two-minute walk away, during top-secret military testing. People on the station steps lost their footing as the crowd behind surged forward.

Pushed by the crush of bodies, a woman carrying a child slipped on the wet stones. A man who tried to steady her, fell to her left. Outside, others unaware of the accident continued to shove.

By 8.32pm, people coming down thought it was the rain which had softened the steps. They were unaware they were treading on tightly-packed bodies.

Police, air-raid wardens and weeping parents began to pull out black-and-blue corpses - some unrecognisable.

They stored bodies in churches after they filled Whitechapel Hospital mortuary, where a cobbler identified the victims from the nails in their shoes.

Nearly all had been crushed within 17 seconds - 84 women, 62 children and 27 men. A further 92 were injured.

For 48 hours prime minister Winston Churchill withheld information on the tragedy in fear of a capital-wide panic - leading Londoners to believe Bethnal Green Tube had been bombed.

The secret inquiry, released when an allied victory was assured, revealed the falling woman had caused a domino effect - sparked by the anti-aircraft rockets.

In just 15 seconds more than 300 bodies were trapped in a stairwell 15x11ft wide - with the cash-strapped council blamed for refusing to install a safety barrier.

from London underground site.


#2 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 09 March 2004 - 12:40 PM

This was not the only loss of life from people cramming into the underground to escape the bombing.

Marble Arch - September 17th 1940
Tube suffered a direct hit. The walls were covered in white tiles that were turned into deadly flying weapons when the bomb blast forced them from the walls at terrifying speeds. Twenty people were killed in the tragedy.

Balham - 14th October 1940
Bomb exploded above the station. The blast went through the road and into the tunnel causing massive destruction, blowing up water mains and sewage pipes and causing flooding in the tunnel. Sixty-eight people lost their lives and many more were injured.

Bank - 11th January 1941
A direct hit on Bank caused the road above the station to collapse on to the shelterers below. The blast wrecked the escalators and blew out the windows of two trains standing in the station. People were injured by collapsing ceiling and by the deadly flying glass from the trains. Fifty six people were killed and sixty-nine injured. The bomb left a crater, 120ft long and 100ft wide.


#3 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 10 March 2004 - 06:21 AM

By janbutlerems

Memories of D-Day 1944

T R W Butler DOB: 11.06.1940

“I don’t know where they came from and I didn’t see them go” - through the eyes of a four year old boy born in Francis Road, Purbrook, near Portsmouth.

One morning I woke to the sound of strange noises outside our house in Francis Road. I was off to see what it was all about, breakfast was unimportant. On reaching the pathway to the front gate I was amazed to see Army vehicles parked outside our house. I went into the road through a gap between these vehicles which were completely covered in camouflage netting, and stood there in complete amazement. On both sides of the road were military vehicles from one end to the other and I later found out that these vehicles were parked in all the nearby streets. There was a smell of oil and petrol and the noises of engines, men talking and laughing and the clinks of metal as things were moved and checked.

I rushed back into the house to tell my mother. After endless questions from me she told me that they had arrived after I had gone to bed the previous evening and they were preparing to go to war.

I went back into the road again, this time with my older sister, Diana and lots of other children from the neighbourhood.

Most of the soldiers were American. They were very friendly and it was not long before we were having meals with them under the camouflage netting. I remember sitting with other children, cross legged, eating a wonderful mince stew which they cooked in a huge tin. The inside of the vehicles were kitted out with every kind of storage container fitted into the sides and all the food and equipment was kept tidy and organised. I don’t know how they spared the food for us but after the rationed war years, the food was wonderful. One day a soldier gave me a boiled sweet from a huge bag, filled with lovely coloured sweets. He later came to my house as he realised that only being small, I might choke on such a large sweet.

One particular morning I had to go the local shop to collect a newspaper for my mother and as I was passing between two large vehicles, one started its engine engulfing me in black exhaust. I was petrified and a soldier who saw my plight took my hand and escorted me to the shop. To my surprise, they took me home, a drive of 400 yards in an American jeep.

I don’t know how log they were there, my sister thinks about two weeks, but our days were filled with wonderful excitement. On leaving the house one morning I noticed the vehicles were no longer outside our house and when I walked into the road I could see that they were all gone, hundreds of different types of army vehicles just disappeared. Where had they gone? I asked everybody.

It was only in later years that I learnt where they went and what they did. Those wonderful men who shared their food with us, many of them not making it back to their families. I and many like me owe them a great debt of gratitude, and I who met them, will not forget them.

Amen to that


#4 Kiwiwriter


    Lord of the Weasels

  • + Paratrooper
  • 7,603 posts

Posted 10 March 2004 - 10:18 AM

I think the Sloane Square station on the Underground was destroyed, as well.

Fascinating pair of posts. I'll need them for my WW2 stuff.

The London Underground is best remembered as being air-raid shelters, but the Central Line's route to my mother's neighborhood in Epping was still unfinished at the time. The tunnels were dug, the stations ready, the tracks and electrical not yet laid. So these tubes were used as underground factories for small parts for aircraft.

London Transport workers paid for two Spitfires, too.

I have more from my 1983 "Golden Jubilee" book about London Transport. I'm a big fan of the Underground, and I'm sorry to hear the Routemaster buses are being retired. They are a symbol of London, just as the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of New York.

#5 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 10 March 2004 - 11:08 AM

I'm a big fan of the Underground

Not many people say that in London David :D
"Sloane Square" [Circle/District, sub-surface]
Direct hit 10pm 12/11/40 demolished a previous reconstruction only completed 27/03/40. Large concrete fragment landed on roof of one car of departing train, injuring 79. Rebuilt post-War

you may find this site quite interesting David

More on the bethnal Green tube disaster

Bethnal Green Underground Station was used as an air raid shelter during the blitz on London. It would not be used to run trains until December 4th 1946, it was still under construction as part of the Eastern Extension of the Central line. The tunnels made the ideal place of safety for many east end families. Deep below ground, out of range of the German bombs. On the date in question, it has now been discovered, The explosions that caused the disaster did not come from bombs dropped by enemy aircraft. So how did these people come to suffer this fate?

Whenever the air raid sirens had sounded in the past the people, who were by now quite used to the raids, generally proceeded in a calm orderly manner. Most had practised and memorised the proceedures and by now, it had become a routine matter to head quickly, but calmly to the nearest shelter. The sound of the sirens normally gave early enough warning of enemy aircraft. Time enough to grab a few essentials and follow the usual drill.

On this particular night, when the sound of the sirens was heard, the east enders did exactly as they had done on previous occassions. As usual, a large number of people headed for the tunnels at Bethnal Green. There were no handrails fitted as yet, and as the crowd descended the long staircase explosions could be heard.
These explosions were not like the ones they had heard in the past. The sound was completely new, and very close.

This new type of sound, and the fact that it seemed to be so close, caused concern among the people and panic began to set in. They tried to rush down the stairs as quickly as possible. Someone on the stairs, thought to be a young woman carrying a baby in her arms, tripped and fell as she neared the bottom. The crowd behind kept on coming, causing others to fall over the woman and child. Hundreds of people were still coming down from the top, unaware of the situation below. The unfortunate ones at the foot of the stairs were crushed under the sheer weight of the people behind. Approximately three hundred bodies were forced into a small stairwell at the bottom. The 173 victims had no chance of escape.

To stop the morale of the Brirish people becoming low, it was decided not to release news of the disaster. There were reports in newspapers, but the location was not mentioned, and the true magnitude was suppressed. It was not until two years later that an enquiry was held and several factors were found to have caused the chaos. Among the main causes was the lack of proper supervision by the Air Raid Police, inadequate lighting (due to the blackout?) the fact that the handrails had not yet been installed, and the lack of any crash barriers. The last two, no doubt, were caused by lack of council funds, and the shortage of metal due to the salvaging for the war effort. It was the largest loss of civilian life of the war.

So what was the cause of the panic? What were the strange new explosions they heard? It has now come to light that it was in fact our own troops. It turns out that in the nearby Victoria Park, new secret anti aircraft weapons were being tested. The loud bangs that the crowd assumed to be a new type of bomb going off were in fact the large guns using recently developed missiles being fired into the sky. This was the reason that the sounds were not recognised.

Posted Image

from http://barryoneoff.c.../html/tube.html


Edited by ham and jam, 10 March 2004 - 11:14 AM.

#6 Kiwiwriter


    Lord of the Weasels

  • + Paratrooper
  • 7,603 posts

Posted 10 March 2004 - 12:22 PM

Bookmarked both pages.

Hey, subway systems always look better when you're not riding them every day.

But my understanding is that Londoners hold the Underground in greater affection than New Yorkers hold their Subway.

#7 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 10 March 2004 - 06:10 PM

I always end up squashed next to someone, usually standing up as the carriages are packed. With smelly breath and BO, Londo buses a'rnt much better.

To carry on as usual
By Carol Whelan

In the months leading up to WW2 , I and my friends were all "16 going on 17 and beginning to enjoy life. The adults were worried but we were not too concerned. We'd heard the tales of the Great War and most of them that were told to us were amusing rather than worrying, but we really didn't know what to expect. One day I may have been feeling a little more thoughtful about what would happen and in a quiet chat with my mother I said, "What happens during a war Mum? What do we have to do?" She reassuringly said, "Well, life goes on pretty much as usual, you just carry on with your job". So I thought that's all right then. How wrong can you be?
September 3rd came and within 4 hours of Chamberlain's famous speech, all had changed.
My Aunt, with heavily pregnant cousin whose baby was due that very day, had hired a taxi from London to stay with us in Maidenhead. My Father, being a carpenter, hurriedly made them a bed and squeezed it into my room; so now in a tiny three-bedroomed house we had six people to sleep. A week later, the expected one arrived so a cot was also fitted into my room. I now shared with two adults and one baby. We didn't mind, they would have done the same for us.
In the first few weeks we had numerous relations coming down to see if we could find room for them. Dad took them around to other relations and settled them where he could. He further solved the problem by clearing out the rear of the furniture shop where we lived. We found the storage space made a presentable sized room with fireplace. This was given over to Aunty, Cousin and baby giving us more room (mine) to take in others for a temporary stay. There were so many who were grateful for a few days away from the bombs, for a bath and a few good nights sleep.
Mum was half right, I was carrying on with my usual work but there wasn't much room for relaxing in the evenings. My friends and I still met up, managing to find the odd Social or Dance. We were only just beginning to discover what life was about. The war had not really started yet. It was as if both sides were saying "You first", "No, you first".
Meanwhile, we were having fun. New men in uniform moving in to the area, more social evenings, we were enjoying ourselves. Then sometime in May the boys coming in to town were not quite as fresh-faced or bright-eyed. We were hearing words like Dunkirk, Little Ships. Then the true horror of war hit us. Elsie and I were cycling around the country lanes one evening in June discussing what we could do.
Everyone expected the enemy to follow hard on the heels of the B.E.F. She and I were seventeen. We were both dark-haired, not the Aryan type, so would we be sent to Germany to the Labour Camps or to houses as comforts for the troops? These were the tales we had been told. There were two other options - to somehow find a guerrilla group operating in the neighbourhood or to commit suicide. All this we discussed in all seriousness, though it seems a little melodramatic now, but we were not going to give in. I think we grew up somewhat that night. We never had to come to a decision, suddenly it was all unnecessary. The enemy changed direction, for which we were truly thankful. To have to make a choice like that at seventeen is not an ideal situation. We began to take war more seriously then.
We lived in a countryside suburban town by the Thames so our lives were very much easy going. We had a smallholding so our food was plentiful. We kept ducks, chickens and pigs so we and our neighbours ate comparatively well. When a pig was slaughtered a percentage was kept by the Ministry of food. Various pieces were given to those who had been saving scraps to help feed the pigs, but we never knew what it was like to go hungry.
Gradually, after the fire of London, the Blitz, London had its good days, just the occasional bomb which gave us a chance to go to the West End for a film or see a show. It must have been a terrible time for all parents whether their families were in the Services or not. No mobile phones to keep in touch then!
Conscription came in for women then, either War Work, or Services. When my group came I opted for factory work, making gliders. I was given the job but nobody told me which Labour Exchange to go to for my cards. I went to the nearest to where I lived and all they had on their books was work as a bus conductress. I thought I had to take that, which I did, resentfully. Gliders for the Services would have been important work. Running buses to and from work for the workers was acceptable, but taking women and their poodles into town and listening to them complaining about not being able to get petrol for their cars or servants for their housework did not make me feel I was doing my bit for the war effort.
Inevitably our group became engaged or married in due course. My fiancée's mother and brother were still evacuated in Somerset, his father was working in south London, and he, having been bombed out twice would spend his nights in Chiselhurst Caves. After the second bombing my fiancée, who was home on a few days leave, and I went to see he was all right. This journey involved travelling from Berkshire to somewhere near Lewisham, not an area I was familiar with. As soon as the afternoon began to darken, off Dad would go to the caves so we started to make our way home. Bombing at the time was a bit sporadic; it was better to be as near home as possible. We decided to go by Underground rather than bus but just before reaching London Bridge the train came to a halt. It seemed there was an air raid and trains were not allowed to go under the river at that time for obvious reasons. Well, I am claustrophobic at the best of times but in a packed out train with no air conditioning working, I couldn't stay there. We struggled out of the train, along the track and climbed over the people who were settling down for the night. Children were already in their bunks, this was a way of life for them. The platform and stairs were very soon packed. I couldn't stay despite the possible danger of bombing from above. I pushed against the crowds that were pushing their way down. Finally my man and I stood out in the fresh air. Foolhardy perhaps, but it gave me one of the most unforgettable sights of my life. It was a full "Bomber's Moon" shining on the river like a silver ribbon. It was breathtaking, not another soul on London Bridge, just we two. We stood there transfixed for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, then slowly as if hypnotised we strolled across the bridge watching the river. We had decided we would go wound the corner and catch the bus. Then we heard in the distance, the thrumming of planes. We hastened our pace but the bombs were intended for elsewhere, and to our relief a bus was there waiting. But that time on the bridge was a scene I will never forget, just as if the whole of London belonged to us two. I sight I had never seen before and never will again.

Thanks to Carol

#8 hooper117


    Foxhole Company

  • + Paratrooper
  • 2,764 posts

Posted 11 March 2004 - 04:10 PM

Oh, jeez Andy, these accounts are great. There's nothing like the words of someone who lost their homes or loved ones in the bombings to bring the war home to us. Now if I could only learn to read these objectively and not start blubbering I'd be okay. But of course I'm gonna keep on reading them. Thank you for posting them. :D


#9 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 12 March 2004 - 04:07 AM

Thanks Sue, im glad they are being read :D, im learning stuff about my own country, that ive not really looked into before.

You may use my story, it might give some insight to other people how civilians cope in England during the war.

Thank you


By NetaSylvester



Blitz – 22nd December 1940

I have a very vivid memory of that time, which I have never forgotten. I was just 6 years old and lived with my parents and my brother in a pub on the corner of Vauxhall Road/Silvester. Street, Liverpool. The Brewery had decided to have an air raid shelter built in the back yard of the pub, but due to shortage of materials for the roof there was a delay in completing it. My parents decided to convert one end of the cellar as an air raid shelter because it had been recently reinforced with iron girders when the Brewery had built a private entrance to the living quarters. The cellar was made quite warm and comfortable, as we would be spending every night down there for the next few weeks.

It was early evening on 22nd December 1940, about 6 o’clock, when the sirens sounded, my parents and my brother and I went down to the cellar. My mother had taken a young woman with a small baby into the cellar with us, because the communal shelters were very cold and damp and had no heating of any kind. The raid started almost as soon as the sirens stopped their eerie wailing. We were lying in our beds, listening to the raid outside. We could hear the planes flying overhead and the occasional burst of machine-gun fire. Bombs whistle as they fell, and we wondered if we were going to be next. The raid seemed to go on forever, when. Suddenly the whole place shook; the bomb had found its mark! I don’t remember feeling scared; I suppose I was too young to think of fear, more bewilderment. I have no idea how long we waited, but after the dust had settled, we could hear the voices of the Air Raid Wardens outside shouting to us, they weren’t too sure if we had had time to get down to the cellar, so were running up what was left of the stairs which was just above us. I suppose in the dark and the confusion, they hadn’t realized that it was pointless - there was nothing left at the top! There was just a large hole where the main part of the house had been. The bed my mother was in had a large brass bedstead, which was lucky for my mother, because as they were going up the stairs, they were pushing the crumbling wall down onto my mother, fortunately the bedstead was holding the wall up long enough for her to get out of the way and into the coal hole nearby, which turned out to be our escape rout

The Air Raid Wardens pulled everyone to safety, my father and I being the last to get out. He wrapped me in an eiderdown and carried me up the street to the school hall, a distance of about a quarter of a mile. It seemed to take ages, as he kept dodging down the area steps outside the houses to avoid shrapnel and being seen in the light from the star shells that were falling. I remember thinking how bright it was for such a dark evening. I could hear machine guns firing. When we finally reached the school my father sat me on my mother’s knee and someone was bandaging my face, I had been hit by shrapnel I still have the scars to this day.

I have thanked God every day of my life, because, if the outside shelter had been completed, the story you have just been told would not have been written. You see, the shelter was completely destroyed! The communal shelter that the young woman and baby were prevented from going to, was also destroyed and many people were killed.


#10 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 12 March 2004 - 11:56 AM

I hope its noticed that in my previous post, I was given permission to use this story.
Ive even quoted what was said to me.


#11 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 20 March 2004 - 06:50 AM

With permission :D
Thanks for your response to my dad's article. He is very pleased to know that people are reading his stories.
Yes please post his article.
The regiment he went on to serve in was the RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance corps) He finished up in Malaya in the Ordnance Beach Detachment of the 7th Indian Army. He was about to be sent on into Japan but this never happened because the atomic bombs were dropped !

Kath ( Stan's daughter)

By stanwood

In 1939 I was working in a semi-underground building on a machine where my foot depressed a pedal and punched .303 calibre bullets into blued steel clips which my hands linked together. The end product was a measured ammunition belt ready to feed one of the eight machine guns in the wings of a Hurricane or Spitfire fighter aircraft.
By an ironic twist of fate, and a year later, I stood in a busy London street on the periphery of Shepherds Bush listening to, and watching, those same fighter aircraft spiralling vapour trails and firing their guns at attacking German war planes. I couldn’t help thinking:” I wonder if I filled those machine gun belts?” It was 1940 and I was now seventeen years old. The Battle of Britain soon escalated to the indiscriminate bombing of towns and cities in Britain.
I didn’t know it at that time but I would not return to my previous place of work until many decades later. Then it would be only to see the monstrous crater and mourn some of the victims I once knew who were killed in the terrible explosion at 11.10am on the morning of the 27th November 1944 at Fauld in Staffordshire. Then, thousands of tons of high explosive bombs that had been stored in the excavated caverns of Ford’s Gypsum Mine, blew a gigantic hole out of the hill at Hanbury causing death and devastation.
But I digress and deviate from my situation in 1940. I lived with my family (father, mother and younger brother) in a flat off the Uxbridge Road in Shepherds Bush. On that road, towards Acton, I had found work at a factory that made Aircraft controls.
Up above, in the wide blue yonder, fat, floppy, grey blobs of the Barrage Balloons dotted the London skyline. Sometimes these Blimps, as we called them, would break away from their moorings and dance erractically in the sky, dragging their distructive cables across the rooftops.
At the factory they formed a section L.D.V. an abbreviation for Local Defence Volounteers but better known at that time as Look Duck and Vanish. Later they became the Home Guard.
That autumn of 1940 saw many daylight air raids. When the warning sirens wailed we stopped work in the factory and crossed the busy Uxbridge Road to the shelters. These were the standard type resembling a long concrete tunnel buried half way into the ground with the excavated soil piled up on top. Hard, wooden slatted seats extended the length of those cold, damp musty smelling ovoid walls.
The daylight raids became so frequent the firm decided to employ men as spotters to watch from the roof. The siren was then ignored until the spotters sounded the internal alarm for raiders overhead. Then we could all go to the shelters. The sound of droning aircraft was very clear. Then the anti-aircraft guns stationed in Hyde Park and Wormwood Scrubs would open up forming a ‘Box-Barrage’ (a big square of exploding shells to divert enemy aircraft and perhaps assist our fighters). On one memorable occasion I watched fascinated as a big square was formed by many puffs of smoke from the exploding shells in the clear blue sky.
Well, as you know, what goes up must come down. Some people call it shrapnel but it wasn’t. The large, jagged slivers of metal, some about six inches or more long and maybe an inch wide were the exploding cases of the anti-aircraft shells. In this incident a shower of these shards clanged musically and frightfully on the road and pavement amongst us only to bounce high once more before coming to rest with a reverberant echo. Naturally I picked one up to add to my collection which included a nose cone and later a number of tail fins from incendiary bombs and a durolumin shaft and base of a container used for dropping clusters of incendiary bombs. None of these souvenirs were kept very long.
When the night air raids started, a multitude of searchlights stabbed at the dark sky. Most were white light but a few coloured ones mingled with the illumination all highlighted by the enforced blackout. No anti-aircraft guns were fired, and after several days of obvious inaction people began to ask why. Nobody bothered whether the guns were accurate at night or not, they wanted to feel that we were fighting back. When, without warning, it suddenly came the action was deafening. Every anti-aircraft battery in London seemed to be firing in unison. After that I saw no more searchlights piercing the night sky. There was a new noise to get used to though. It was the shrill screech of falling bombs. The blast of those near ones shook the house and the light bulbs danced erratically on the hanging flex.
Perhaps you’ve seen films of the so-called Blitz with families moving out to their cold and damp Anderson shelters? If so, spare another thought for those people who had no gardens to dig them in. I don’t remember anyone who had a metal in-door Morrison shelter. Queues would form long before dark with shadowy figures clutching bed rolls and personal belongings to enter the cellars of larger buildings. There were, of course, the brick-walled pavement shelters with a thick concrete, flat roof. These were notorious for collapsing like a deck of cards from an adjacent explosion. So, like many others, we made sure the black out devices were in place and just stayed put. When the night raid was really bad the family in the only flat above would join us and we would sit in the hallway. Under the stairs was supposed to be the best place. The hall or passageway from the front door was the nearest we could get. It was almost under the staircase of the upstairs flat.
Most nights the all clear would wail before daylight. The way I walked to work would reveal the tragedies of the night. The acrid smell of burning or the odour of premature demolished buildings would tinge the air. Deep craters in the road, some with ignited gas pipes flaming powerfully like an angry dragon in its lair. Houses reduced to debris. It was pitiful to see baths and lavatories hanging from broken walls and half collapsed floors. Churned up in the shattered bricks and mortar were the possessions of people, who for a while anyway, you wondered how fate had treated them. The cinema on the main road was one day a pile of rubble except for the entrance at the front. Ludicrous in a grotesque sort of way the still standing front wall advertised the film ‘Forty Little Mothers’ starring Eddie Cantor. Sometimes the air raid warning would sound again before I got to work and sometimes we could have a day or two’s respite without the wailing siren. On one such day, as brother and I returned to work at mid-day, a Heinkel bomber flew very very low over Shepherds Bush green and then opened up with its machine gun along the Uxbridge Road. Then, after we got over the shock, the siren on the green wailed its late warning.
But we were lucky really. Apart from a shard of metal smashing the back room’s sash window and an incendiary bomb which crashed through the roof. Yes, we nearly got it hot that night.
With no near explosions we decided to go to bed and catch up with some sleep. Startled, I heard a bang hitting the roof of the flat above us and then the hammering on our front door by one of the older girls from upstairs who was shouting that we were on fire.
When the fire-watchers arrived with their bucket and stirrup-pump they couldn’t get any water. Seemingly, in a panic, the bloke upstairs had turned off the water and the electric supply. Stupid as it may seem now, both brother and I dashed up and down the dark stairs carrying water in pots and pans to fill the fire-watchers bucket. We spilled more water over ourselves in the process. Eventually the fire was extinguished; but not before the bomb had burned its way through our ceiling and into our water logged front room. A burnt out sofa was pushed through a smashed upstairs window onto the pavement below. The horrible smell of burning lasted for days. There were many fires in the city that night but the worst was still to come.
It was Sunday evening and December 1940 had only two days left. Brother and I decided to walk into Acton and go to the pictures. The film was nothing special but it was somewhere different than sitting at home listening to the wireless. Halfway through, and superimposing itself on the mediocre black and white picture, a notice read:-
Not many people left. There wasn’t many in the cinema anyway. We stuck it out for another half an hour then, bored stiff, we decided to walk home.
Once outside in the cool of the night air we got the shock of our lives. The sky towards Shepherds Bush was blood red. We watched in amazement as the crimson sky swirled in what looked like agonized torment to the accompaniment of screaming bombs and the roar of anti-aircraft guns. Overhead, the intermittent drone of enemy aircraft engines seemed to follow us on that long, terrifying walk home. Houses that we had walked past on our way to the cinema had disintegrated into ruins. A long wooden fence beside the pavement we had earlier walked upon was pitted with the jagged holes of bomb fragments. The horrible thought that if we had left the cinema when the warning flashed on the screen we would probably have no legs now, hurried our homeward steps. A row of terraced houses in the street leading off to our right looked completely demolished and the vehicles of the rescue teams stood in silence, waiting.
The air raids continued into the new year of 1941. By March of that year my father's job had transferred him to the North of England. They called it Cumberland in those days. Mother, brother and I were left in London awaiting a letter to say a new home was available. When that day came we saw our furniture and belongings loaded into the van. With insufficient money for train fares, arrangements were made for us to travel north in the back of the van; but not that day. The furniture van was scheduled to set off at first light from a lorry park somewhere in Chiswick. We had to find the place and the only way to do just that was to walk.
As the evening sky darkened to night the wailing siren heralded another raid. That final night in London, as the whine of bombs preceded the house shaking explosions, we made tea from an old kettle and drank our fill out of glass jam-jars.
It was still dark when we left our flat in the very early hours. The raid had ebbed and flowed all night and the guns still blasted their shells into the sky. I think we turned left into Uxbridge Road where luminous strips on the forever darkened lamp post glowed in guiding light through the dreary blackout.
From Goldhawk Road I think our aim was to find the Chiswick High Road. As dawn broke over Chiswick the all-clear sounded. We were more relieved to have located the van and a disgusting and distasteful smelling lavatory than to hear the sound of that long, wailing note we had heard so many times before. The conventional air raids would continue for another couple of months.

You don’t want to know that somewhere near ‘Rutland Water’ the half-shaft of the dilapidated van broke with a loud crack followed by a big skid and a stink of burning rubber, or that a year later I received a four shilling postal order (which I still have) and a leaflet which said :- ‘YOU ARE ABOUT TO BECOME A SOLDIER’. That’s another story.

#12 homefront41



  • General
  • 6,762 posts

Posted 20 March 2004 - 02:09 PM

Andy, thanks again. Another stunner. If Kathleen passes on her dad's service stories, we should begin a thread for him in Veterans Stories. She's very lucky to still have him. I look forward to reading more. BK

#13 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 08 April 2004 - 04:44 PM

With permission

Yes of course you can use my story, I,ve so many other storys, tales my father related, he worked for E.N.S.A. and ran the wardrobe department. Most of my stories relate to the sixties, i ran a carnaby street boutique#

Keep in touch... best wishes.. Dan.

A Chocsit Bigsit
By danielBB

.....Like many other families we were brought home far too soon, Londoners thought it was all over, and in their ignorance brought home many evacuees....Only to be confronted with Doodlebugs, and then those ghastly Rockets... I was shipped out again in a great hurry, This time to a Farm near to Trowbridge...My parents had to pay the huge amount of seven pounds a week..{The average wage at the time...approx £10.00.

My new guardians were friendly, god fearing folk...Rationing what rationing? We wanted for nothing...With our own Cattle, Chickens, Country folk soon had a barter system going... We lived very well indeed.. The only paper's delivered, was the Christian Herald, and Farm papers...The radio was turned off after the six o'clock news...And from there on our entertainment, was to answer questions from the Bible...One of my jobs, was to shut up the chicken runs, to keep them safe from the foxes. The Farm was over 200 acres, I vividly remember, running like the wind... Once or twice a week, I went out with the Farmers son shooting rabbits...Most nights we had to churn cream into butter...In fact thinking back, if there was light we worked...I don't think any union would have liked it, for we must have been working a 90 hour week!!..

With the shortage of fuel much of Farming returned to the middle ages!. A Serf from the middle ages, could have joined our team. Haystacks then were very hard work, the hay was cut by hand. Men spent hours making this mess into manageable piles. Heavy low 'Drays', pulled by magnificent powerful Shires, collected the piles, when the stack was about nine feet tall space was left for a man. It was called the Devils Nest. The drays would unload, to the poor devil in his nest. Four men in each 'Dray', and another four on the top spreading the hay. They put me into the 'Devils Nest' I loved it...I was a natural. My other work was milking ten cows.

The funny ending to this tale, the war ended, my parents wanted me home. But my new guardians wouldn't hear of it!!! We will charge you nothing for his keep, was their opening gambit. Then they offered wages. Starting at four pounds per week, and finally £7.00 per week The average wage at the time was still only ten pounds, my keep was included... But home I came.

To end my Tale. About six months after the war was over, an ambulance stopped opposite, outside 'Ralph's' home... And two orderly's helped a tall old man into the house... I was so excited, and later in the day, I ran over to their house. 'Ralph's mother, a happy laughing lady, let me in, strangely not saying a word. I rushed through to the lounge. Only to meet this apparition of a man. Hollow eyed, he stared right through me…no recognition…I just couldn't stop staring…his hands were gnarled skin and bone. I was told later that he weighed barely four stone. Ralph had been a prisoner at the infamous. Outram Death Camp in Singapore since 1942. Much of this time being tortured, held in small metal cages in chains. The warders taking great pleasure in making the prisoners life unbearable. No sleep. He watched his friends, being beheaded, being beaten to death. Prisoners having to dig their own graves, before being murdered. Scurvy and dysentery. Poor Ralph died shortly after this. I've always though that it was so very sad, that his parents had to see him in such a wretched condition, they could have been spared the memory.

So our family had survived the war. My Fathers company had been bombed out in 1941. His job with E.N.S.A was coming to an end. A family decision was made. We moved to Hove, and opened a guest house...But that another story.

#14 ham and jam

ham and jam


  • General
  • 6,956 posts

Posted 12 April 2004 - 07:00 PM

By Frances_E

A little girl growing up in Kent

The teddy bear incident

Family tradition has it that I started the war, although I was only one year old! I was sitting in my pram on the front at Bognor Regis in August 1939. Beside my pram was another pram. The little boy in it was German and our parents were talking together. Apparently the German baby nicked my teddy and I hit him. A month later war was declared! It would be six years, and I would be a grown up seven year old, before I experienced a seaside holiday again.

Living just outside Maidstone in Kent, the War was the environment that formulated my early years, and the experience has influenced my whole life.

During the first war my father had served in Mesopotamia with the Royal Artillery, West Kent Regiment. By 1939 he was married with 3 children, of which I was the youngest. Although he was in a 'reserved occupation' he again enlisted as a volunteer, returning to his old regiment. As my mother said, ". . . . if he hadn't gone back he would have been fighting the war from our sitting room and I would have known all about it!"

A soldier Daddy

As a small child I accepted life as it came. Daddy spent most of the war years on East Coast Command at Gorleston training gunners but he was frequently talked about. My mother spent most evenings writing to him. For my part I kissed his photo goodnight every evening and enjoyed the "bunny" postcards that he sent me at regular intervals. I still have them.

Homeless puppies
For some of the time during those war years I slept in the big double bed with my mother, but when Daddy came home on leave I had to move out, which I thought was unfair, commenting "Why can't he sleep in the other room!" I remember clearly going to the station in Maidstone to meet him when he came on leave, bringing his heavy leather suitcases, and on two occasions a puppy, born in camp and needing a home. The cases made a sort of triangular pen which I peered into while Daddy gave us all hugs. One puppy was returned, because Mummy said she didn't want a dog. It was killed on the road, so she reluctantly she agreed to keep the next puppy, Heinz (because the puppies in the litter were all different). Heinz would be a family member full of character for the next 12 years.

The man in uniform
To a small child the distinctive feature of a soldier father is the uniform - except all soldiers wore uniform! On one occasion while Daddy was on leave we visited the small local zoo. I left go of his hand and ran to see the next animals. I returned to the army uniform and grasped the soldier's hand, but immediately there was a whistle from behind. I'd got the wrong soldier! I had grasped the hand of a surprised soldier making the most of his brief leave with his girl friend.

Sweets out of reach
When Daddy came on leave we always prepared for him with excitement. With my sister, six years older than me, I would visit Miss Twart's sweet shop to use precious tokens to buy some of Daddy's favourite sweets for him, sugared jellies. Sometimes as special customers we would come home with a packet of Smith's Crisps too. But why did Daddy always put his sweets on the high mantelpiece where I couldn't reach them? I thought it was deliberate policy, but years later discovered it was not!

So this man, Daddy, was mostly away from home during my young childhood, but I was frequently reminded that I was a soldier's daughter and I shouldn't cry, which I was very prone to do. I think I would have cried a lot whether or not there had been a war!

The War - a daily fact of life

For me the war experience was all I knew. We lived on the Ashford Road, Bearsted, on the A20 linking London with the coast at Folkestone. My mother had decided against evacuation, much to the concern of her friends and neighbours. Her philosophy was that she wanted to keep things as normal as possible for us all.

So it was that I grew up accepting rationing, blackout, sirens, air raids, cracked and falling ceilings, all clears, the dull drone of planes overhead at night and occasionally, the nippy spitfires which sometimes seemed to almost touch the roof of our semi-detached house. I learned that aeroplanes often fell out of the sky.

Convoys regularly passed the house heading for the coast. My part of the war effort was to stand on the front gate and wave to the soldiers as they passed by. I often ponder the fact that many of those soldiers will not have returned, and wonder how they viewed my childish wave. I had nightmares of being run over by a convoy and crawling under those large dark lorries with their big wheels as they rumbled overhead.

There was a great sense of community in the road and people were frequently coming in and out. I had many unrelated aunts and accepted the fact of the shortage of men around, being more likely to challenge those who were around as to why they were not away at war!

I remember being fitted for my gas mask and being asked by 'Uncle' Norman, our local air raid warden if it fitted snugly. I didn't know but said, "Yes" and for years I had it on my little conscience that perhaps I should have said, "No".

Generally for me life was relaxed; we had a big garden and I was too young to help with the garden chores for which my brother and sister were enlisted. The garden kept us well fed with fruit, vegetable and eggs and the occasional broiled chicken. My friends came to play and sometimes we played in the dugout with it's four bunks, four because Daddy was away.

Things I knew were different
While most things just seemed normal to me, there were things that I was told were because of the war; the car parked in the garage that never went out; the lack of bananas and ice cream which I saw in pictures but never experienced; my sister's left off clothes hanging in the wardrobe waiting for me to be big enough to wear. Similarly there was the fairy cycle hanging in the shed till I was big enough to learn to ride it.

My teenage brother and his friends

Our house was very much an open house and among those who regularly were around were my teenage brother and his two friends. I watched them from a safe distance and admired them so much. I remember them storming through the house to the bedroom window to try to get a view of Detling Aerodrome when it was hit, and them imitating Battle of Britain dog fights with appropriate arm movements and noises.

Then there were the strange things they did in the shed. Only later did I understand that they went up onto the Downs and collected anything 'interesting', which they should not have done! On one occasion they brought back an unexploded shell which they proceeded to defuse successfully! But that is another story!

The first doodle bug

I remember the occasion clearly. I was sharing the double bed in the back bedroom with my big sister. It was dark, but the curtains were open. We were not asleep. For some reason my mother came into the bedroom and looked out of the window. She saw a distant light moving across the night sky, but could hear nothing. She called to my brother in a haunting voice, different from her usual confident tone, "John, come and look at this. What is it?" They stood at the window as my sister and I lay still in bed. We listened to their discussion. The siren hadn't gone, what might it be? My brother had heard that the Germans might be developing a new weapon. Perhaps this was it.

We had an aunt staying with us and she was having a bath at the time. "Florrie," my mother called "I would get out of that bath, there's something strange happening our there." "I'm not hurrying my bath for Jerry," was my Aunt's defiant reply, so typical of the war spirit of the time.

In the morning the sighting was confirmed and the war moved into a new phase. We became used to watching doodle bugs pass overhead wondering where they would come down. Another aunt used to come to our house regularly on a Wednesday afternoon when the shop where she worked had early closing. She did jobs for my mother, often cutting the front hedge; I remember her pausing with shears pointing upwards watching the doodle bug pass by; calm yet alert and getting on with life.

But everything could be made fun of and I remember my brother making a doodle bug out of my plasticine, putting a lighted match in the end and throwing it across the kitchen. It hit the tiles and went out!

My mother, the stability of my war years and early childhood

The war meant changes for my mother. My father had been the head of the house and my mother a typical pre war wife. But she definitely had the task of keeping the home fires burning. With a weak heart she had to manage three children aged one to ten at the start of the war, and maintain and cultivate a half an acre garden. While there were times when she struggled and was thankful for the help of relatives and friends, she became a confident and capable woman, as did many others of her generation.

Constancy - her philosophy about the war
She was concerned that we should live as normal lives as possible and should not be woken to go into the shelter if it wasn't necessary. We slept in different parts of the house at different times, because she was concerned that if the house was hit some of us might survive to be there when my father came home from war. She never seemed to doubt that he would. To me as a little girl she always seemed in control and was there for me.

Faith that God was in control
Mummy's Christian faith was a significant fact. She believed in prayer and the power of God to speak into situations. So it was that only twice did she feel we should use the shelter and only on those occasions did bombs fall relatively near to our house. On another occasion a neighbour was looking after us children while she went into Maidstone to do some shopping. She had hardly reached town when she felt a voice saying to her, "Go home." Somewhat amazed she caught the next bus home and discovered that an unexploded bomb had been discovered and the road was being evacuated. Another time, having been told by the doctor that she should rest, she went home and prayed about what seemed an impossible situation. Within minutes her prayer had been answered when a stranger phoned somewhat apologetically to say she had a 'girl' who needed a job for a couple of months and wondered whether with three children my mother could use her.

But to me she was just Mummy, there to comfort or scold and to remind me that I was a soldier's daughter so not to cry!

All change! Learning to live after the war

I have the certificate with the king's signature that was given to all children when victory was celebrated in 1946. I remember being confused at what it meant that the war was over. Wartime conditions which I had accepted as normal changed. I was surprised that ceilings no longer cracked and fell down. And I expected news bulletins to stop. What would there be to report?! Commodities not available during the war gradually reappeared. Eventually I was introduced to bananas and ice cream. I remember my first mouthful of both; a tiny share which was hardly enough to taste.

Daddy home form the war
Most significantly Daddy came home to find his once submissive wife now capable of being fully in control, a situation which caused readjustment for them both. For my brother his army officer father was not always appreciative of the behaviour of his teenage son. My sister as always was submissive and helpful.

But for me, I learned what it was really like to be a soldier's daughter; greatly loved yet not spoilt; disciplined but also encouraged; taken seriously but also kept in my place.

A life moulding experience
World War Two was my war. It influenced me and my generation in many ways; ways which built character, perseverance and hope; ways which focussed on service and mutual support; ways which have made me proud to be British. In today's world, sixty years on, how can children learn these things?

#15 homefront41



  • General
  • 6,762 posts

Posted 12 April 2004 - 07:08 PM

Andy, another stunner. I would love to hear more from Frances E. She has a wonderful spyglass on a long past time and a gifted voice. Thanks again, BK

0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users