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15 October 2014
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Bombs in Chadwell Heath followed by a country idyll

by cambsaction

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Eileen Ashby (nee Huddlestone)
Location of story: 
Chadwell Heath and Thriplow
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 September 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War website by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Eileen Ashby and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Ashby fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

I was living in Chadwell Health, near Dagenham at the start of the war. When the sirens went off, Dad would come and fetch me from school if he was nearby. Sometimes it would mean dashing off home on the bike whilst the bombs dropping . I can remember sitting on the crossbar of his bike and watching a ‘Russian Breadbasket’ coming down firing its incendiary bombs everywhere.

One day, when we were returning from school, we came under machine gun fire from Germans above. A man was gunned down in front of me and I had to run over his body where he fell. I dived into a hedge and hid there. I remember feeling not so much frightened as numb, as if completely frozen.

At school, if we had to go into the shelter, the teacher would make us sing really loudly to drown out the bombs. I remember our teacher getting us to sing ‘An Apple for the Teacher’.

At home, my aunt’s dog, Peggy, always managed to get to the air raid shelter first and my aunt would run to it with an old dustbin lid on her head! It would be a difficult choice — either you sat up on the hard bench all night, or you sat on the floor with smelly Peggy.

One dreadful day, the chap next door, who was ex-Navy, was called to help dig out children from the Children’s Home on the hill. He didn’t speak for three days after the trauma of digging out limbs and parts of children from the wreckage. Sadly, although the children had been evacuated at the beginning, after a lull in the bombing, many had returned. The home then received a direct hit from the bombs.

The bombing became so bad that we were sent to stay with a great aunt of my father’s in Thriplow. I was about 11 or 12 and my sister, Maureen, was about 4. My mother came to stay too, but she had a job in Cambridge and was away all day.

The aunt was not very nice and would turn my little sister out in all weathers. However, our schoolteacher was very kind and would take my little sister in and let her sit under her desk with a paper and pencil. By the time she was old enough to go to school, she could already read and write! She went on to get a scholarship to the Perse and went on to college.

On my first to Thriplow, I was astounded at the sight of all the crops growing in the fields. I loved the country and didn’t want to go back. I would help out with the horses in the local farms. Eventually, my mother found a place for us to live in Hauxton and we never had to go back.

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