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Fire Watching in Battersea - A Teenager at War

by CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
People in story: 
Derek Thomas Butcher
Location of story: 
Battersea, London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5107808
Contributed on: 
16 August 2005

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Gwilym Scourfield of the County Heritage Team on behalf of Derek Thomas Butcher and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

Fire Watching In Battersea — A Teenager at War

I was twelve when the war started. We lived in Battersea in Central London. There were plenty of bombs falling around our way. I went out with my dad fire watching. He had to spot the fire and call up help. One day a bomb landed in St Phillip’s Church. It was a phosphorus bomb. Dad acted very quickly, noticing it had fallen behind the organ. I don’t know how he managed it, but he flicked it out with his hand. His hand was badly burned, but it saved the organ and probably the church, too.

We didn’t actually have a bomb on our house, but I had uncles and aunts in Tooting that were bombed out of their house. Some members of the family were killed. One bomb in our street came straight through the roof, missed a boy near an open window and went out of the front of the house, exploding in the middle of the road. Amazingly the house was undamaged, apart from the roof tiles. The blast went out in the opposite direction and destroyed houses on the other side of the street.

We had four children in our house and there wasn’t enough room in our air raid shelter. We used to take turns to go next door. The bombs were terrifying. The Doodlebugs were the worst. If you could hear the familiar sound of their motors you were all right. Once they cut out you just had to pray. There was huge devastation around my home streets; some houses razed right to the ground; others were boarded up within twenty-four hours of the air raid. Adults kept their emotions very much to themselves, though they must have gone through hell. Everyone was in the same boat, so it wasn’t something people talked about. I had two uncles in combat; one was captured at Dunkirk and another survived his truck being blown up in North Africa.

Sometimes when the air raid siren went, I would escort my aunt home in the blackout. It was quite frightening trying to get around in the blacked out streets. One day my brother put a piece of wood through the mangle. It came through the rollers and struck against the wall. As he turned, it tipped the whole cast iron frame forward. It fell on top of him and broke his leg. I was coming home from visiting him in St Thomas’ Hospital one day when the air raid siren went. I pedalled faster, but saw the planes right overhead. I was terrified. The fire station was nearby. I sped into the station, leapt off my bike and dived under the fire engine for safety. I was very glad to hear that particular “All Clear”!

When I was seventeen and a half I did my National Service in the navy. Fortunately the war was just over, but our ship, “H.M.S. Rajah” ( a U.S. Aircraft carrier the British Navy had on Lease and Lend) was still doing ‘war service’ bring home troops from Columbia and Singapore. There were no submarines about, but still plenty of mines left in the seas around big ports.

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