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The Writing on the Rocket

by Glenn Miller Festival 2004

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Contributed by 
Glenn Miller Festival 2004
People in story: 
John Keen
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Contributed on: 
01 September 2004

I was born in 1938 in Hackney. My family moved to North Cheam, probably about the start of the Blitz. I can remember standing by our gate in Cheam and looking towards London. Even that far out, we could see a red glow fill the horizon where the docks were on fire.

Later in the war, it must have been about 1944, we were playing in the street; Henley Avenue in Cheam. It was the rule that when the siren went off, we had to rush home, and once the all clear sounded, we would be straight out to carry on playing. Well, on one occasion we had fled into the shelters, and heard a V1 coming over. The engine stopped, and I stuck my head out of the door of the shelter. My mum dragged me back in, but I had a brief glimpse of the rocket. My memory says I could see writing on the side of it. I heard a woosh as it cleared our roof and hit the neighbouring house behind ours. The mother, boy and girl who lived there were all killed. Mr Prior, the ARP Warden was thrown across the sports field by the blast. I remember him being carried home, looking as though he had been covered in flour. He was back on duty the next night.

One night there was a large explosion nearby. I slept through it, but it blew the windows out in the front of the house, and all the plaster fell off the ceiling. I woke up in bed, covered in plaster. My mother wanted to come and see if I was alright, but my father stopped her. There was so much glass on the floor she would have cut her feet to pieces in the dark. As it turned out he was right to stop her as the loft hatch, which was far more solid in those days than the plywood things you get today, fell down and smashed through the banister. If she had been going past when that went she could well have been killed.

My mum used to talk about “when the war is over”, but having being born in 1938, I had no concept of life without bombs and rations.

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