How does that song go? Reading an article in a brochure made me think back to 1939 when I was just four years old. Growing up was surreal and hearing on the radio Neville Chamberlain making that broadcast that we were at war didn’t at first strike me with fear, that came later. The first few months nothing stirred. There was a lull that gave you false hopes that nothing was going to happen.
This was soon dispelled when concrete shelters were built in everyone’s back garden and tall posts were erected that had funny looking tops and to me it looked like a very large hammer and the wailing noise it emitted scared me to distraction and I hid under the table for comfort where I found my mum on many occasions. All her life my mum hated thunderstorms and in later years she found what she thought was the safest place for her to be in would be the hall next to the front door.
At that time we were living in Kent and we were surrounded by airfields, even though they were some distance away from our part of Kent, but the Luftwaffe must have been under the impression that were a good place to bomb and on one night we had nine raids. It was a tiring time having just spent an hour in the shelter and then climbing back into bed. My mum and I did the first four visits to the shelter and stayed in bed for the rest and we were informed in the morning what a terrible night it had been. Our neighbour told us he had spent all night in the shelter – it wasn’t worth going to bed and it was reported that Biggin Hill had been well and truly clobbered.
Our house had received three direct hits on three separate occasions and the last one caught me out. I was fast asleep and my room and the bottom of the bed were ablaze! Through the fogginess of smoke and heat I awoke gradually realising my situation when a figure appeared and swooped me up in his arms and carried me to relevant safety to the shelter and the fire was put out by the A.R.P. Wardens with their stirrup pumps.
I’ve always been told I could sleep on a clothes line and it was nearly my undoing. Later on I was an injured victim of the war. A bomb went off very close to our house that shook the foundations of both shelter and house and as I had my head leaning on the inside fabric of the shelter somehow did something to the optic nerve of my right eye. Many visits to Moorfields Eye Hospital followed and a successful ending, but I was to wear glasses for the rest of my life – until now after two successful cataract operations on my eyes – I don’t have to wear them!
I think probably the worst moment for us in our road was when a Doodlebug (V1 Flying Bomb) dived into the ground between the houses of our road and the next road completely destroying eight houses, damaging thirty houses in the process. Concrete shelters were hanging precariously over the crater where it had landed. Our house had lost the chimney, roof, the front door and windows, the French windows at the back and the stupid thing of all, none of these could be identified as to what they were! They were just pieces of unrecognisable debris.
Memories from a long time ago!