- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Raymond Porter
- Location of story:
- Northfleet, Gravesend, Kent
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 May 2005
Raymond (holding the apple) and his brother, Graham, helping their father install the air raid shelter in Nelson Road, Northfleet
Transcription of a taped reminiscence session held at Chatham Library, Monday 9 May 2005.
I was born in 1935 so by the time the war started I was 5 years old. The first thing I can remember is going to school with a gas mask over my shoulder my sister said you must never loose your gas mask. The other thing I remember is that we were told that if the siren went when we were on our way to school, and we were nearer school, we should go to school, and if we were nearer home we should go home, so of course no matter where we were we always went home!
At school they had these brick-built air raid shelters and once we were in there they used to give us lessons in the air raid shelter. My wife was taken away from school, she went to Troy Town school, and they only went half a day a week. Her father was a Sargeant Major in the Royal Marines and her mother took her away from school and sent her to Ravenswood Priory. It was a convent school (though she wasn’t Catholic) and they went fulltime.
I lived near Gravesend and we lived a lot in the air raid shelter as they used to come over and bomb Tilbury Docks and of course they missed sometimes. We didn’t have too many bombs around our way, but I remember at the top of the road which was all fields at the top of Nelson Road, they dropped incendiary bombs and luckily most of them landed in the field. When you walk round there now, there are gaps in the rows of houses and you can now see a couple of new houses where they have filled in these gaps.
We used to be in bed some nights and my mother would come in to me and my brother, who was two years older than me, and of course we didn’t want to go down the shelter. There would be an argument and she would grab us to get us down the shelter. We had a double shelter in our back garden, because my mother had four children. My aunt lived next door, and instead of having her own, they issued us with an extension to ours. I remember when we took it out, later after the war, my father decided to take it out of the ground and made it into a shed — a lot of people did this — and he painted it green. I don’t know where he got the green paint from. He was up a ladder painting the top and I was behind him and he came off the ladder, the paint went up in the air and it landed all over me. They cut my hair to get as much of this green paint off as possible and then washed my hair in this paint stripper/turps to get the rest out.
Me and my brother used to sleep in the double bunk. My Mum and Dad had the top two bunks and my Aunt Elsa and Uncle Len were in two of the other bunks. That was 65 and 66 Nelson Road, Northfleet.
I thought the food was quite good then, but you only know what you had. I was only 5 years old, 10 years when it ended, and you only had what was available. Nobody expected anything special; you didn’t get what we now take for granted. It was just basic food. My mother obviously probably had quite a job, but we had what I would call filling food. She used to make big suet puddings; I love suet puddings. We also had loads and loads of vegetables and even now I love green vegetables. All the things that children now don’t like, I like, and that I believe is because of what we lived on then. I used to go along to my Gran’s who lived at 60 Nelson Road, and she would always make stews. And we used to get rabbits, you don’t see rabbits as much now. Some people used to keep chickens in the garden for eggs. I used to have a mate at school and his Mum had quite a lot of chickens and if I went there, his name was Nicholas Alder and he lived in Newmans Road, his mum used to give me an egg to take home. I didn’t get the impression that I was ever really hungry; there were times when you asked for something to eat and there was a slice of bread and there wasn’t any butter, so you only got jam on it. But you accepted it, everybody was doing the same. You didn’t have anything to measure it by. In those days, you could be rich but still not have anything, because there wasn’t anything.
When you went to school, children wore patched things. You always wore short trousers, I was still wearing short trousers up to the age of 13. You used to go into long trousers about the age of 12. You used to have patches in your trousers, loads of children at school would have square patches in the backs of their trousers. I passed for the Tech when I was 13, and they liked you to have the school uniform but it wasn’t compulsory. This was after the war in 1947, but they said at least wear the school badge, so I had to pay 2/6d for a school badge.
What I can remember about VE Day; people were expecting it for some time before. They were expecting the war to end. At the top of the road, there were open fields that were going to be re-developed so with the help of the German Prisoners of War, who were building the new housing estate (New House Lane housing estate), the men cut down an enormous number of trees and built a large wigwam for the VE Day bonfire. They had a big do, I don’t know who organized it, but a lot of us took part in our road and we had races and things like that for the kids. We had a party in the street as best we could and I won six shillings in National Savings Stamps, when I won the boys’ race. I was quite proud of that; it’s the only race I ever won!
I remember one other thing at the tea party, somebody had made a lot of chocolate blancmange and I had never seen it. I came back for second helpings and then I was sick. We had a lot of fun and games and dancing in the street. My Gran had a wind-up gramophone and she brought that out with some of the old records. It was fun and we enjoyed ourselves. Later on there was big do put on by the council down in Woodlands Park, and they built an enormous bonfire, biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen , it was like a square block, and we all went there to see it..
The German prisoners of war they used to work at the top of our road, laying the road and cutting it out with bulldozers. They were doing all the labouring. They used to wear British Army battledress with a yellow diamond on the back to show they were POWs. They used to go around the town and to local dances. One local girl married a German POW and they were all talking about it at the time, it was just general gossip, but everyone accepted it and she married him and he stayed in England.
They used to make these toys and basket and they used to sell them to buy extra rations. In fact rationing was worse at the end of the war than it was during the war as we had started feeding Europe. I still have my Mum and Dad’s ration books. I went into the army in 1951 as a boy. When I got my first leave, sweets were still on ration and it was the first time I had enough money to buy the whole of my sweet ration. Because when I was a boy during the war, and you got a ration card for sweets, you couldn’t always get them anyway and I never had mine as I used to sell the sweet coupons to a richer boy. When I came home on holiday after about 6 weeks, I treated all my family with my sweets ration and gave my little sisters loads of sweets. Once in the war, for a short while, my father who worked in the docks (he didn’t go in the war because he was 40 when it started, he was an air raid warden) he got a job in Badgers sweet factory. I think they used to make these sweets for the soldiers, because even when I went in the army if you got a compo pack it had bars of chocolate and these Badgers boiled sweets were packed round it, so I think that’s why they still kept this factory going.
I remember in 1944 in Northfleet, there is a massive white house near Woodlands Park. There were Commandos stationed there waiting for D-Day (I found this out later of course). They had all their equipment in the gardens at the back. It was like their own private house, with an orchard and tennis courts. A beautiful house, now all turned into flats. We boys used to go down there and in the kitchens they had tinned fruit and Libby’s milk, which we never saw. The soldiers would give us a mess tin and we would get in the queue and they would feed us. We used to play on their Bren Gun carriers, which is like a tank without a top on, tracked vehicles. We used to get in these and have a ride and they’d give us a rifle to play with. Marvelous! There wasn’t enough room in the house for all of them. Some people in our streets put up soldiers. About 1944, I was about 9, the Sargeant used to come down the road and blow a whistle and the front doors would open, and the soldiers would come out.
My mother couldn’t put any up as we only had a two up, two down terraced house with no bathroom, she had 5 children by the time the war ended. There were soldiers all around and they used to come up the Side, down towards Seymour Road, was a piece of wasteland and they would form up for parade, have roll call and we would go and watch. Sometimes when they had been out on a route march and they would break off there and sit on the grass.
I had a good childhood. We were offered evacuation, but my mother said I’m not letting my children go. The Thames was a marker for London and so when the Germans came up the River, they would pass over Gravesend. Grown ups used to say that they were too scared to go to London, so they would unload their bombs on Gravesend and then go home. There was the Tollgate gun at the Tollgate, a big anti-aircraft gun. We used to watch it fire, walk up New House Lane and walk to where the Tollgate is now on the A2. We could walk from our place, though the fields. Parents didn’t used to worry about where we went then.
I went to Dover Road School as an infant. Head Mistress was Miss Lloyd. Miss Pearce was the teacher. It had a big open fire with a guard around it. You wanted to sit as close as possible because the rooms weren’t centrally-heated in those days. We had those double desks where two children sat at a desk. We stayed at Dover Road School until you were 11, then you went to Collier Road School
I had a wonderful childhood. It was exciting, not frightening. As a child, we stood outside the air raid shelter because we wanted to watch the dogfights over Gravesend and the vapour trails. Mother and father were doing their nut. I could name all the aeroplanes: Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dornier, Heinkel Bomber, Messhersmidt 109. You could always tell the German planes because they had a different sound to the British planes. In 1944 when they had the doodle bugs, we used to stand and you would see them coming over, pilotless flying bombs. All the time the flame at the back was going, you were laughing, then as soon as the flames stopped, if they were coming towards you, because they would glide down, then everyone would dive into the air raid shelter. We had one land in Swanscombe. My gran’s house was partly destroyed by a flying bomb and she lost most of her belongings. The trouble with them they could come any time of the day or night. I imagine our parents were worried stiff, but as a child its all exciting. Everything is going off around you. That’s why I joined the Army at 16, I thought it was marvelous, I want a bit of this.
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