- Contributed by
- John Burnett
- People in story:
- John Burnett
- Location of story:
- Peckham, S.E. London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 December 2004
I was 12 years old when the war started. I was living with my parents at my grandmother’s shop at No.23 Nunhead Lane, situated opposite Nunhead Bus Garage. It was a newsagents, tobacconist and confectioners under her name of M. Dobby – very well known in the area.
Straight away my younger brother and I were evacuated to my Aunt Florrie in the village of Liphook, Hants. After a few months, because it was fairly quiet, we were brought back home. My school, Wilsons Grammar, had moved away from Camberwell to Ashford in Kent and education became very limited. I was able to attend Alleyns College for a time, together with other schools that had closed.
When the blitz started in September with a big daylight raid on London docks we could see German planes high in the sky. They seemed unstoppable and the fires created went on all through the night, with every sort of fire appliance possible heading east down our road. After that it became night after night of air raids with incendiaries causing fires everywhere. As well as the bombs there was the hazard of steel shrapnel falling as a result of our anti aircraft guns.
We spent many nights in the underground shelter on Peckham Rye, cramped and smelling of urine, in the bus garage opposite, or even under the stairs. A bomb fell in the café next door which resulted in our upstairs living accommodation having to be demolished, the shop becoming a lock up only. We were re-housed in a requisitioned house in Dulwich, where I became a messenger for the A.R.P. service during the evening raids. Then we moved to another house in the Morden area. By this time I was 14 years old and working at Benhams in Wigmore St. W.1. as a trainee junior draughtsman. During 1943 we were able to move back to a house at No.29 Nunhead Lane.
Finally, in June 1944 came D-Day and we thought at last it would soon all be over, but much worse came with the arrival of the flying bomb V1. I think that the next nine months were probably the worst of the war. There were many frightening moments, especially so on the morning of the 5th of August 1944, when a flying bomb fell on a small corset factory at the corner of Nunhead Lane, killing 24 people and injuring 64. It was reported as the worst industrial incident of the bombing. I was outside trying to put up some replacement boarding to our shop window when the noise of the bomb was getting louder. I looked up to see it coming straight down in a power dive. I jumped back inside the doorway (my mother and brother were inside the shop), the ground seemed to be shaking with the noise, there was a horrific explosion and everything went black. Gradually it cleared away to a grey smokiness and we were covered in dust and debris from the blast. We were very shocked but all right, apart from a few scratches etc. I don’t know what would have happened had we all been outside as it only happened a few houses away.
What was left of the shop had to be demolished and my mother carried on serving newspapers and cigarettes from a shed in the front garden of No.29. Living in the South East was worst than anywhere else in the UK and morale was very low. D-Day had come and gone but people were still being injured by flying bombs and rockets.
It was said to be safer in the Army and I was glad to be called up on the 1st March 1945 to serve 3 and a half years in the Royal Engineers, most of them in the H.Q. North Caribbean area.
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