- Contributed by
- West Sussex Library Service
- People in story:
- Marjorie French, David French, Jim French
- Location of story:
- Tulse Hill, London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 January 2005
Written by Billingshurst Library on behalf of Jim French.
My family lived at Lanercost Road, Tulse Hill, a quietish South London suburb between Streatham, Brixton and West Norwood. At home were my mother, myself (aged 14 and attending the South London Emergency secondary School at Alleyn's, Dulwich) and my brother David, aged five. My father was away in the army, a minor cog in the Enigma-decoding operation at Bletchley Park. It was summer 1944.
In one of our front rooms we had a Morrison shelter, a heavy iron contraption with a flat top, under which we slept. It was a few weeks after the Doodlebug offensive was launched that Lanercost road was hit. You could tell from the volume of the whining rocket engine noise at cut-out point when one was going to crash near you. We knew this one was going to be damn close. It was. It crashed in the next-door-but-two garden.
In that garden was an Anderson shelter and five or six people were killed there. In our room all the windows were blown in, but an extremely large wardrobe was toppled against the shelter helping shield us from flying glass but not the smoke and fug. Brother David asked, 'Mummy are we dead?' — as good a tension-breaker as could be expected in the circumstances.
Upstairs in my first floor bedroom that I had quit a few weeks before, half the walls were blown in, and more than a hundred bricks were piled on my bed. Even with my thick skin, I could not have survived that. Our house was 25-33% destroyed. It was eventually restored. No 51 was 67% destroyed and pulled down. Lambeth put up about 16 prefabs on the site, and later the tall flats and other dwellings that are there today.
The night that we were bombed out we kipped down in the house of a policeman friend named Burton, at the bottom of Lanercost Road. My father returned on compassionate leave and the evening after the bomb, he took me to see 'Gone with the Wind' at the Regal Streatham.
Seeking rehousing, my mother joined a queue at Lambeth Housing office in Acre Lane, Brixton. A council official said he was sorry they had run out of requisitioned houses for the time being, but could possibly help if anyone knew of an empty property. My mother had done her homework and advanced to tell the official about No 4 Gubyon Avenue, Herne Hill. We eventually moved in, but many of those other bombed-out people were reluctant to leave the queue for rehousing. Several of them were killed by another doodlebug soon after my mother had left to return home.
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