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15 October 2014
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Incendiaries — and the most frightening night of my life.

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Dorothy May Parker, George William Parker, Clara Matilda Parker, Kenneth George Parker
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31 May 2005

During the winter of 1940/41 there were air raids practically every night from September to May. The warning would sound as soon as dusk fell and continue until daybreak. I was a twenty-year old insurance clerk working in the City and for several weeks the warning sounded before I left work, and the all-clear didn’t sound until after I reached the office the next day.

We soon realised Jerry’s method — one plane would fly over the target area dropping about 1500 incendiaries to light up the target. Some would roll off roofs and flare in the road, some would smash through the tiles and set the buildings alight. The following planes could then see factories, power stations, railways, and so on, to aim at with their high explosives.

At the outbreak of war all able-bodied civilians were taught to use the stirrup-pump, a kind of foot pump. Incendiaries were lit at our feet, and either we could drop a heap of sand on top, or use the stirrup-pump. One foot held it steady, the other pumped, while we directed the stream of water with our hands — not directly on the bomb, which made it explode, but approaching it from the flame, towards its body.

Stirrup-pumps were given to alternate households. We had one, as did the two OAPs next-door-but-one; we each had signs on our gates: ‘Pump Here’.

One night, I think it was about seven o’clock, we heard Jerry overhead, then the scream of incendiaries. Dad switched off the light and moved the blackout aside. About four hundred yards ahead we could see a line of conifers looking as though they were dancing against a sheet of flame. We knew they were in a small park in the grounds of my younger brother Ken’s school.

Dad grabbed his helmet, bucket and the pump, and called to me, “Run to the Davises’, quick!” So I ran across our and our neighbour’s gardens, rang the bell and banged on their door. They gaped at the flaming sight. “Pump, quick!” I said. I grabbed it and the bucket and caught Dad at the gate. I handed it over, and then indoors to wait…

I felt so frightened — not for myself but for Dad, because of course the incendiaries would soon be followed by high explosive bombs. I made myself so small, crouched at the foot of the Morrison shelter in our living room, while Ken studied his homework and Mum knitted, knitted. I wanted to squirm myself into the ground, and prayed that Dad would be safe as the high explosives fell.

It was about an hour later when we heard his key in the door. Most of the incendiaries had fallen in the park and school playing fields. Some houses had been set alight and had been saved by the Auxiliary Fire Service. Some houses had been demolished by the bombs, but no-one had been killed or seriously hurt. They had fallen about a quarter of a mile away from Dad, thank God. Just another night, but the most frightening of my life.

This story was added to the People's War site by Steve Gothard on behalf of Dorothy May Parker, and has been added to the site with her permission. Dorothy fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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