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15 October 2014
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Surviving a V2 (and a Tsunami!)

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Ronald S Fowler
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Contributed on: 
13 July 2005

“This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bob Davis from the Burgess Hill Adult Education Centre and has been added to the website on behalf of Ronald Fowler with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions”

It was November 25, 1944. The time, 11.55am

Today being Saturday I was due to play football, we had an away game.

I worked in Charlton in South East London. I was frantic; I had meant to leave work early as I had a good distance to travel. Anyway, I quickly gathered up my papers and bundled them into the safe, grabbed my raincoat, flew out of the building and tore up the road. As I reached the end a bus was going by, I raced after it and jumped on. I sneaked upstairs because the downstairs was packed solid. There was one seat empty.

We got to New Cross Gate Station; I got up from my seat in preparation to get off at the next stop. A V2 Rocket hit a Woolworth store no more than fifty yards from the bus.

I was thrown up the aisle of the bus between the seats smashing my head against a seat leg. I soon became conscious and the debris was still coming down and it was pitch black. All the windows on the bus were gone - the stairs, what was left of them, I was able to slide down. When I got to the bottom, I saw the bus tickets covering the back deck. There was no sign of the conductor nor were there any signs of any of the passengers from either upstairs or downstairs. I later learned that the bus has been “spun like a top” and that the paint had all been stripped off the outside of the bus by the intense blast.

I heard a good old Cockney voice call out “Look, we’ve got a live one ‘ere, mate. I was a mess; apart from the head wound which felt like a squashed melon, I had a multitude of cuts, up my nose, in my ears, in the corners of my eyes and all other place North, East, South and West. Anyway, they put me on a stretcher and then into a one-ton lorry. The journey over the rubble with my head banging on the floor of the lorry on my way to the hospital was an experience that I never want to repeat.

I was only 18 at the time and my wounds soon healed. The word trauma had not even been invented and I finished up with many of them.

This V2 Rocket incident was the worst of its kind in the war. The official number of deaths was quoted as 178. Hospital staff told me it was twice that number and of course like me there were hundreds more injured. Women had been queuing up at Woolworth’s for saucepans and children were lined up at another store for ice cream. Remember, it was Saturday lunchtime.

It was reported that I was the only person to get off that bus alive. All the others had been sucked out of the window by the blast and centrifugal force occasioned by the bus being spun around and around. Being out of my seat and being thrown up the aisle between the seats saved my life.

You see, miracles do happen. Today, I am just past 80 (going on 49). I now live in Sri Lanka. On December 26, 2004 I was celebrating my 80th birthday at my home. For the past 22 years I have been away in a popular seaside resort for Christmas and New Year. The Guest House where I stay was decimated, as was the restaurant where I normally have breakfast. I would have been in one of the buildings when the tsunami hit. Was this my second miracle?

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