- Contributed by
- People in story:
- RF Jennings
- Location of story:
- London and Somerset
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 December 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War Site by Robin Payne, on behalf of RF Jennings, and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
When Mr Chamberlain declared on 3rd September that ‘this country is now at war with Germany’, I knew what was meant as my father and three of his brothers had served in The Great War. As an eight year old, visions again of trench warfare in Flanders fields would not really involve us at home.
Soon most houses in London were issued with an air raid shelter, called an Anderson, in kit form which we had to assemble in the back garden. It was fun to help dig the hole about 8x6 feet and 5 feet deep, and bolting the corrugated sections together making a good den for us youngsters to play in. This confined space, damp and dark, was too claustrophobic for my parents, and was hardly used, as they preferred the communal underground shelter later dug nearby on Castle Green. We lived in East London at Barking, and as it was a danger area for bombing raids, we children from all the local schools had to be evacuated to safer areas. My lovely teacher Miss Featherstone from Monteagle Junior School was in charge as we headed westwards by train, to an unknown destination. Children were dropped off at various village stations to be accommodated, and I ended up at a village called Clutton in Somerset.
The local billeting officer led us from house to house trying to fit us in where people were willing to have one, two, or three children. I, being an only child, was billeted with a family with three children, rather frightening to me. The eldest was a girl of 14, there was a boy of 12, and the youngest a girl the same age as myself — I was bedded with her. The father was a strict disciplinarian who beat his children with his leather belt when they misbehaved. But evacuees weren’t allowed to be struck, so other punishments were used such as being sent to bed early without a meal, or more frightening, being shut in a cupboard for an hour or so. I was also bullied by the older children, in all making me very unhappy.
With no means of communication, I had to wait until my mother came to visit me before I could reveal to her my ill treatment. There was a big row and she took me away to find a new billet. The village postman, a jolly man, and his wife took me in to live in an end of terrace cottage outside the village. It had no electricity, gas, water or sewage. So it was a really primitive existence, but wonderful nevertheless. They had a son the same age as myself, and we had lots of fun together playing in the hilly countryside along with some new friends, the three children of a local steeplejack. Ironically, just ten minutes away was Bristol that was later blitzed, almost out of the frying pan and into the fire. With a lull in the bombing raids in London, my mother decided to bring me home, but this was a mistake for the raiders returned.
One day when cycling to my new school, an enemy raider began to strafe anything that was moving by machinegun fire, that was the nearest I ever came to being a war casualty. Another raider was skimming over the rooftops trying to escape a following Spitfire. As it passed over my house a bomb was released to lighten its load, but it carried on to explode away from us. The plane was shot down over Barking Marshes and I cycled to see it and get souvenirs, but regretfully the military wouldn’t allow anyone near.
At Barking Park an anti-aircraft battery operated and the shell splinters would fall to the ground smashing roof tiles, windows and sometimes killing people foolish enough not to use the air-raid shelters. Several times I came up to see the searchlights swirling across the night sky catching enemy bombers in their beams. Explosions from the shell bursts around them were thrilling to watch, all rather foolish without any sense of danger from either the splinters or bombs.
Our house was still habitable, though it suffered a lot of bomb damage, which frightened my mother enormously.
She was nearly killed when travelling by bus to the Ford Motor Company at Dagenham on war work. A ‘buzz bomb’ landed nearby and blew the bus over and she suffered cuts and bruises, but fortunately nothing too serious.
My father being too old for military service, had to do Air Raid Precautions (ARP) duties, and Fire Watched on top of buildings in the City of London during the blitz. He was seldom at home for his duties would keep him otherwise occupied.
After D-Day, V1s and V2s began to rain on us just out of the blue. One of the latter killed my history master when gardening; earlier a school pal was killed when his house was hit by a bomb. My mother then decided to escape to the country with me, and we returned to Clutton for a while where she was housekeeper for a local gentleman. We then went to Chilcompton to stay with a lovely lady whose husband was away in the army, and her young daughter.
By now I was thirteen having been shuttled from pillar to post which completely disrupted my education. Ten years exactly after the start of the Second World War, and four years after its end, I was called up for National Service in the army.
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