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A Luton Family at War

by threecountiesaction

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
threecountiesaction
People in story: 
Peter Chalkley, Reg Loader.
Location of story: 
Luton, Bedfordshire
Article ID: 
A4690604
Contributed on: 
03 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War Site by Jenna Benson, for Three Counties Action, on behalf of Peter Chalkley, and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

We are Lutonians going back three generations. And as a family of six we were actively engaged in wartime activities. My father for many years, which included the war period, was registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. He was extremely busy during the wartime period, not only with the registration of people that were killed but Luton experienced a very high birth rate. Due to his services, after the war he was awarded the MBE. In addition to his busy workload he was an officer in the home guard in South Luton Platoon, whenever the air raid warning was sounded he would speed from his home in Whitehill Avenue to man the roadblock in Gibraltar Farm on the Luton, Harpenden Road. His Platoon Also assisted in the roundup of the German Parachutist who landed where the present day Farley Hill Estate is.
During the war several church halls were used as canteens for the forces and my mother helped run the one at Union Church in Castle Street.
My elder brother was a bachelor of science and I never found out exactly what he did but he was an Army Captain and based for a long period at the war office. All he told me was he was in the royal signals.
Land Army girls were trained at various farms throughout the country and one of the training farms was at Luton Hoo. My sister joined the Land Army and was sent to Luton Hoo where the head farmer was Reg Loader; I know his name because my sister married him. She spent the rest of the war as a farmer’s wife helping to train Land Army girls.
My younger brother who was six years younger that me was at Luton Grammar School which is now the Sixth Form College. During the war before the advent of mobile phones and very few people had land lines, people sent loads of Christmas cards and the school boys in the senior forms helped to deliver the Christmas mail, he was engaged on this for the last two Christmases of the war.
On the outbreak of war I was eighteen and one month old and I wanted to do something actively exciting and I volunteered for the rescue squad. I was initially rejected for being too young but after a second attempt I was accepted as a part time volunteer attached to the number one full time squad, this was based at the High Ways Depot which is now Power Court. Other squads and fire service were also stationed here and were later dispersed because of the likelihood of bombing to various points around the town.
My squad was moved to round green into an old chapel building on the corner of Turners Road. This meant a long and exciting journey on my pushbike in the blackout (from Whitehill Avenue to Round Green) and I had several near scrapes. The squad did twelve hour shifts which were changed weekly, as I was only part time I reported when the sirens went during the day time. When on night duty we slept at the depot in our clothes on stretchers with one man on the phone for call out.
I was at work in King Street when the sirens sounded as the bombs were falling around Vauxhall motors and Park Street area. I ran to the depot and we were soon called out to attend houses that had been damaged in and around Park Street. After about two hours we were moved to a public house on the corner of Hastings Street and Hibbert Street. There we cleared rubble and found a Grandma with a baby in her arms half way down the cellar steps, they were the first dead persons I had seen.

The second incident was when the warning had gone and on the way to the depot I was cycling round Park Street where the present day roundabout is when a land mine was dropped on the bus depot in Park Street. I didn’t hear anything but landed in the shop window with glass all around me and my bicycle on top. I’d been catapulted about twenty feet by the blast, the amazing thing, I sustained no injuries whatsoever. I continued to the depot but on this occasion our services were not required.
The next incident happened about lunch time and I was at work, I heard the bomb drop and did not go to the depot but went straight to the incident which was the hat factory in Old Bedford road. I helped remove debris to release some persons, I took a rest standing on top of the rubble and in the Luton museum there is a photograph of me just standing there and my boys say ‘that is typical of you doing nothing’.
Shortly after that, I don’t know if it was second sense, I remember removing debris and saw what looked like a dirty ragged doll, I touched and realised it was a human being. I learned later that the young lady had survived.
I attended an incident in the evening and a bomb had dropped on some houses in Avondale road, we understood that a man was missing and we worked until dawn, a gentleman turned up and asked who we were looking for and it turned out to be him.

We now come to May 1941 when I was called up to serve in the Royal Artillery which is a story of its own.

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