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The Clouds of War: Memories of Childhood in Kent

by Michael Gardner

Contributed by 
Michael Gardner
People in story: 
Michael Gardner
Location of story: 
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 November 2003

I was five years of age at the start of the Second World War. Along with my brother, who was younger than I, we really didn't know what the war was all about. As young children, I guess we knew that we were the good guys and the Germans were the bad guys!

I cannot really say when I first realised we were in a state of war. History identifies the start of the war as far as the people of England were concerned, as the 'phoney war', and inially, very little seemed to happen.

We lived very near to the Calverley Grounds in Tunbridge Wells and one of the first impression that things were going to change was when men arrived with cutting equipment, and cut down the large ornate iron gates which led into the park. This was quickly followed by iron gates and railings in front of houses near to where we lived. The stubs of these can still be seen to this day and the gates of the park have never been replaced!

We lived with my mother and father in a three roomed flat in Grove Hill Road. My father joined the Police as a Special Constable at the outbreak of war as the war intensified, we would often hear him telling my mother about varoius incidents which had, or were taking place around the town. The fact that we were at war rubbed home to us when we were presented with a steel table shelter. This contraption, which to us youngsters seemed huge, was errected in the kitchen, which was our main living area at the time.

The shelter had metal grills along each side which prevented one putting your legs under the table when you sat at it, so it wasn't the most comfortable piece of furniture to use. My parents laid some bedding in the shelter as it semed the greatest threat of aerial attack would be at night. My father always seemed to be on night duty which in some respects made using the shelter easier as it would have been a very tight fit to get us all into it.

Fortunately, air raid shelters had been built in the adjacent Calverley Grounds so providing we had sufficient warning, we were able to vacate the house and head there. The nearest shelter for us to reach, was located just inside the Calverley Grounds at the end of Mountfield Gardens.

I will never forget the first time we all went into this air raid shelter for a 'dummy run'. The lighting in the shelter was by parraffin hurricane lamps which gave off a strong smell and there was always a very damp atmosphere in the shelter. However, after one got used to these things, whenever we needed to use the shelter as a result of the air raid warning siren going off, there was a wonderful friendly air about the place as folk cracked stories to each other and sometimes, went into a sing song which helped to alleviate ones concerns on what was happening outside!

Bench seats ran the whole length of the shelter and duck boards were the flooring throughout so it wasn't particularly comfortable, but it very functional for what it was intended to do . I remember a man who used to come through selling cigarettes from a tray he carried on his chest but as children , we'd have been more interested if he'd had sweets for sale but they were rationed and not available.

There was often a cup of tea to be found but I cannot remember who actually provided it; however, people did often share things like that which was all part of the friendly atmosphere there.

With my father working night shifts, my mother used to get us to bed in the table shelter and insisted that we wear our a raincoats over our pyjamas in case we had to make a run for the shelters in the park. At that time, the Luftwaffe was beginning to concentrate it's bombing campaign on the city of London and it seemed that almost every night, we would hear the drone of the German bombers as they passed overhead on their way towards London and we prayed that they just kept going!

One night however, it being quite late, we heard the sound of approaching aircraft and before we knew what was happening, heard the distinctive noise made as bombs were dropped from the aircraft. Within seconds, there were huge explosions which came from the direction of the Calverley Grounds and we could see the sky light up as the bombs hit their targets, which we later found out to be the bandstand and pavilion in the park!

Later, it was thought that the aircraft involved had not been able to bomb London and was looking for a target of opportunity. From the air, the bandstand and pavilions
probably looked like a factory complex so it was probably considered to be fair game. It was very fortunate that the German crew chose that as the Central Station was actually nearer than our house to the target! In this case, the air raid siren never sounded so we were all very lucky indeed as our house was only about 400 yards away from the point of impact. It was a very frightening experience and made us realise how falable we were.

It made us realise how life must have been very very hard for the people who lived under the Blitz.

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