- Contributed by
- Elizabeth Lister
- People in story:
- John Fordham and family
- Location of story:
- London and South Wales
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 November 2005
I was born just outside Willsden in Woodend Park Road where I lived with my mother. My father did not live with us; he worked as a butcher at the Poulton and Knowles Meat Factory in Southall. He was in a reserved occupation because the factory canned meat for the forces. The factory was next to the Great Western Railway line. My father volunteered for the factory fire service and used to be on fire duty, there being a serious risk that the factory may be hit by bombs because of its proximity to the railway line.
One night we were in bed and the sirens went. Mother woke me up and we left the house and went to the brick built shelter in the road. From inside the shelter we could hear a lot of noise: bombs exploding, anti-aircraft guns firing. I remember crying and being very afraid. At the end of the raid we left the shelter, only to find that there was nothing left of the family home, and more importantly for me I had lost my beautiful train set! An anti-aircraft shell had failed to detonate at height and had blown up in our front doorway.
We were taken to a rest centre, although mother came to the rest centre with me, she had to leave me there as she was a ‘Nippy’ at the Lyons Corner House. She told me to stay with these nice people as she had the people to feed. I stayed at the rest centre and played games and waited for my mother’s return in the evening.
Whilst she had been away my mother had organised accommodation for us both. We went to stay in the Mornington Crescent area of London with a family with two girls, Pam and Lesley both about my age. I didn’t know the family, but they were very kind and my mother and I shared a room in their house. I went to my school and mother to work from there.
The bombing raids continued and we would go to the Anderson shelter in the garden. I became very interested in aeroplanes and could recognise the type of aeroplane from the drone of its engines as it passed overhead. I used to drive my mother mad as I was always making aircraft noises.
One night when we were in the shelter, we heard an aeroplane go over, it went quiet and then suddenly there was an almighty bang — a landmine attached to the end of a parachute had floated down and exploded in Mornington Crescent. The next morning when we emerged from the shelter we looked at the house — roof tiles were off and all the windows had been broken. I asked my mother’s permission to look at the street next around the corner. The power of the explosive in the landmine was unbelievable. The long terrace —Mornington Crescent no longer existed, the whole terrace had been wiped out with heavy loss of life.
The next thing I remember was at the height of the blitz, being evacuated with all my schoolmates from Woodend Park School to Pontymister, 3miles from Newport, South Wales, when I was around 8 or 9 years of age. We left from Paddington Station and I remember my mother on the platform crying, she probably feared she would never see me again.
When the train arrived in South Wales we went by charabanc to Pontymister and I remember a lady in a tweed coat and an old-fashioned hat with children in both hands. She knocked on a door and said,
‘This one is for you’.
I was put with 2 sisters and 2 brothers, all four lived together, one brother worked in the steelworks, the other a policeman, one of the sisters was a teacher and the other Aunt Sissy looked after me. I was given the box room which was very comfortable and although I was on my own, there were other evacuees in the street and I made friends with the Welsh children and we all played in the woods together.
The two brothers would walk out every Sunday with the family’s King Charles spaniel and would take me with them. One Sunday I was surprised, being so far from London, to hear the roar of aircraft at about 500 feet above us. The roar got louder and louder and a German fighter came into view with a Spitfire chasing it. The Spitfire pilot waited until both were past town before shooting the German aircraft down in the mountains. I was not allowed to go and see the shot down plane. I felt very disappointed that I couldn’t go; I would have loved to have seen the wreckage.
One day, for excitement, my English friends and I decided that we would go and play near the railway line. The line served the local steelworks and a small local line going up into the mountains. The train that went up the mountains was known as the ‘Puffing Billy’. We picked up a piece of pig iron that was lying about and wedged it in the points which were open and then stood back to watch. The ‘Puffing Billy’ came along; the points started to move but couldn’t come together as the pig iron was in the way. The train engine got to the points and slid off the rails out of control. Fortunately the carriages did not come off the rails. We were very frightened. It took the railway company a long time to sort the problem out. Although we were never caught, we had been very scared when we realised what we had done and what may have happened.
By now my father had a new young lady and had decided to remarry and I was brought back to Southall where we all lived with my stepmother’s parents in Park Avenue. I was enrolled at the local school, North Road School Southall. My father continued with his work as a butcher and my stepmother worked in the Co-op. When my father and stepmother married we moved to lodgings in Uxbridge Road, but it was in Park Avenue that I was bombed for the third time.
One day the air raid siren sounded and we went to the Anderson shelter. We heard the sound of a Doodlebug coming over as if it were heading for Southall with the engines programmed to run out over the Great Western Railway. We heard the engine suddenly cut out and my step-grandmother threw me to the floor and then she lay on the ground on top of me, to protect me. There was a short silence and then an almighty explosion in the park adjacent to the bottom of the garden. None of us were hurt and after an appropriate time lapse we came out of the shelter to see what the damage had been done. Grandma’s home had been severely damaged and the conservatory had gone with all the roof tiles and windows. Debris was everywhere and inside all the rooms, but we had survived.
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