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Experiences Visiting USA in 1940

by johnbrockley

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John Brockley
Location of story: 
England and the USA
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 February 2004

These recolections begin when i was just over 4 years old in Newcastle Underlyme in Staffordshire. Sometime in the summer of 1940, a german aeroplane which came to bomb the Shelton Steel Works in Stoke on Trent, dropped a bomb in the garden of our house, about 15 meters from my bedroom.
I remember 2 things about this. We had an air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden and in the middle of the night i was being carried by my father to the shelter, when suddenly he tripped over a pile of earth, shouting "Good lord, he's dropped one here!"
The next morning, i remeber looking out of my bedroom window to see a large pond and a water fountain from the burst water pipes in the middle of my dad's vegetable patch. (Dig for victory was a slogan of the time)
3 adjacent houses in the next street, were demolished by further bombs, and I believe several people were killed.
During the 1920's, my mother's 2 sisters and brother, emigrated to the USA and settled in Buffalo.
I understand that because of the bombing, they must have invited us to stay with them, in the USA for the duraton of the war.
I recall travelling in a taxi, smelling of leather seats to Liverpool during the night,
When we arrived in Liverpool, I remember seeing many search lights, as the bombs were acctually dropped on the dock yards, where we were about to embark on the RMS Samaria. I am afraid i do not remember anything about the journey to the USA, but my passport shows that we must have left England the last week of September in 1940, and arrived in New York on the 3rd October 1940.
On arrival in Buffalo, my mother was interviewed by the Buffalo News, and this interview was entitled, "lights look good to refugees - English mother and son blink happily in glare here"
'Even though main streets bright lights hurt her eyes, Buffalo probably has had no more enthusiastic visitor in recent times, than Mrs Brockley, unless it be of her 4 year old son John. Their enthusiasm s well as their bedazzeled eyes, stems from the fact that Friday night, the Brockleys arrived at the home of their Buffalo relatives, a sanctuary from weeks of bombing, in England's industrial Midlands.
Accostemed to nightly black outs at home, and on the SS Samaria, which arrived in New York with a caorgo of war refugees, Mrs Brockley smilingly admitted that her eyes weren't in condition to take the glare of Buffalo's electri signs.
Safe from the noisy German bombers, the English woman doesn't think she'll be at all bothered by Bufalo's clattering street cars, or factory whistles, although aeroplanes high over the city, probably will bring involuntary shudders, she indicated.
For weeks Mrs Brockley, her husband a mines superintendant, and her son, have lived in fear of the nightly bombing raids which comenced with a harrowing experience in July.
"During our first raid", she said, "a bomb landed in our garden, just outside the house, dropped by a plane flying low. The same plane dropped a bomb on the homes next door, killing a boy who had just been evacuated from London.
"The experience so unerved us, that we hardly slept for a fortnight, during which there were no bombings. Then just had we had quieted down, the bombing started all over again"
For three months prior to coming to america, Mrs Brockley rarely took her clothes off so speeding up the process of moving to an air raid shelter as soon as the warnings were sounded.
The Brockley's section of the country on a ine between Birmingham and Liverpool, is in an area heavely industrialised, has been subjected to heavy german raids lately, she said, and bombers "somtimes com in waves".
In her town alone, 11 persons have been killed and scores injured, however Mrs Brockley is confident in an ultimate British victory under the splendid leadership of Winston Churchill.
The leadership of former Prime Minister, Nevil Chamberlain, she regards as too timid. The English mother and her son, will reside in Buffalo for the duration of the war, at the home of Mrs Brockley's sister.'
Some of the snippets I remember about Buffalo are the bright lights at night which contrasted so much with the complete black out we had in England.
The snow was so deep in the winter of 1940-41 that my three wheeled tricycle could not get through 3 feet of snow, and the day i fell off my tricycle onto the broken pavements and had to have my chin stiched.
The huge, black, smoky locamotives at the end of my Aunty Elsie's street, pounding along all day and night outside her wonderful wooden, centrally heated house.
The bags of pop corns (which i'd never seen before) and the large tall chromion stools to sit on in the drugs stores, whilst I ate a huge coloured ice cream in a large glass.
Attending Kinder Garden school with American children.
The rides in the park on a sledge, and the visit to see Niagra Falls.
The long hot summer (presumably in 1941), and the tall corn in the fields.
And the glow worms lighting the lawns at night, leading down to the huge lake (Lake Erie).
The above are just som of the things that spring to mind during my stay in the USA.

However i do remember more about leaving the USA in December 1941. I do not know why we returned home at the worst possible time to be crossing the Atlantic, when as i have since learned, that 50% of all the ships crossing from west to east were sunck by U-boats.
I can only presume that as my father did not come with us, (he was prevented from leaving the UK as he worked in the coal mines), my mother thought she should return home to be with him.
I recall getting on this huge silver streamline train, which took us 400 miles from Buffalo to New York, and being amazed by the massive cathedral like station, which was New York Central station. We stayed over night in a hotel, on the 52nd floor, my mother told me, and this would be on dec 6th to dec 7th 1941.
The room we had, apparently overlooked Time Square, and i remeber the bright lights moving around a building which my mother told me was the News in moving lights, which said that Pearl Harbour had been attacked, and the USA gad declared war on Japan.
This was the 7th dec 1941, which is now called "Pearl Harbour Day" in the USA.
We set sail on this day for England. I do not know the name of the ship, except it was of the Union Castle Line, and was normally used on journeys to South Africa, and not suited to the North Atlantis in Winter.
The journey took 17 days. Normally it would have taken 4-5 days. It was tremendouely exciting for a small boy. We had a Life Boat drill every day (i think!) and we had to put on the large, cork, square life jackets, and listen to instructions given by one of the crew as we all stood in rows in a large room.
The sea became so rough, that we were not allowed on deck, and water was coming over the top of the ship, and all night the water ran throught the ceiling into a large tin bath, which sloshed around all night long.
Everyone was sick, except mother and me! We were fine!
All the dining tables were tied to the floor, and the eggs, soup and porridge would shoot off them as the ship rolled dreadfully.
In the lounge, I remember the settees being roped together around the roof supports, and being back to back, they formed a tunnel, which having another boy at one end, and me at the other - it was great for the Dinky Toys (cars and lorries) to go tearing down this tunnel as the ship rolled hopelessly in the huge atlantic gale. This is most clear in my mind to this day.
Gradually the storm abated, and the captain had us all in a large room, and told us it was the worst storm he had ever experienced in his life.
My next recollection is of standing on the ships deck to see the cold grey hills and mountains and the ship made its way up the river Clyde at Glasgow.
My passport is stamped "imigration office, Glasgow 24th dec 1941".
17 days at sea, just to travel 3000 miles. It has not been until recently whilst watchin 'war at sea' on the UK history channel, that I realised that it was because we were in a convoy of ships that it took so long and at that time, over 50% of the convoys were sunk.
It must have been the storms which prevented the U-boats from operating.
My final recolections are of standing on a very cold, dark, Crewe station, waiting for the train to Stoke on Trent, and walking from Etruria station on Christmas morning to knock on our neighbours door at about 07:00 hours. My father stayed next door for the time we were away, and our house was rented out to some London refugees.
My father only told me a few days before he died, aged 87, that everyone assumed that we had been sunk by U-boats as no word of the journey had been received. Presumably due to news blackout.
A letter from my Aunty Emmie dated the 31/12/1941, showing the joy when they realised we had arrived home safely.
The End

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Message 1 - Experiences visiting USA in 1940

Posted on: 19 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear John

A fine contribution and a most unusual story.



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