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Wartime Schooldays

by National Army Museum

Contributed by 
National Army Museum
People in story: 
Robin Ollington
Location of story: 
St.Albans and South London
Article ID: 
A3396530
Contributed on: 
11 December 2004

I was born in November 1929 so spent all my childhood and schooldays in wartime conditions.As my family were politically aware I remember seeing the Blackshirts frighteningly on the march,the arrival of Spanish and Jewish refugees and the gradual build up to the declaration.What would actually happen one could only conjecture and this view was coloured byillustrations in magazines and a set of cigarette cards called Air Raid Precautions and an equally uncertain pamphlet was issued by the Govt.With the actual declaration my father became the local Air Raid Warden and I was pressed into service helping to box and pack gasmarks for the neighbourhood as well as spending a hot Sunday sandbagging the ARP Wardens Post that was built iunto the local school grounds.Summer holidays that September were extended by the need to sandbag the school entrances,tape and blackout the many windows and prepare for the arrival of extra pupils in the form of evacuees from Inner London.My father being very keen converted a downstairs room into a shelter,thi he did by placing the sofa and sideboard with a space between them in which we put mattresses onwhich we could sleep,thus if the ceiling collapsed we would be safe within the gap.My mother however was rather a panicker and feared the worst,she equipped the room with everything but the kitchen sink.water,first aid kit,a big tin of biscuits and an inspection light on a cable to reduce the amount of light emitted and possibly seen by the enemy. The phoney war continued for some time and what warnings we had were either false or practices during which much to the annoyance of the Wardens people flocked into the street to gaze skyward to see the enemy who of course never came. HOWEVER....one night the friendly tones of the RAF engines we knew so well changed to an unfamiliar drone we didnt know accompanied by gunfire,in absolute panic my mother seized the light which she was convinced the enemy might see and thrust it into the biscuit tin and closed the lid.In complete darkness we sat and listened to the noise as it grew,SUDDENLY there was terrific bang and the room filled with smoke and fumes,my mother in sheer panic cried out "gas theyre using gas" my father rushed in switched on the light and we discovered that the threat came from a scorched tin of biscuits and a burst light bulb.We returned
to bed only to be awakened as my father rushed in and to the whistling scream of a stick of bombs getting nearer threw himself on top of us.There was huge crash,the house shook and glass broke followed by anb erie silence but we were alive. What had happened was that a small bomb had dropped outside a house nearly opposite and blown the front off like an open dolls house.The owner a spinster schoolteacher was standing in the bay getting bready for bed,as she stood there the dressing table vanished,the light however stayed on she was unhurt but with all her nightdress blown off.Thus like Godiva she had the embarrassment of being carried down a ladder by my father totally naked.....meantime a rather large and elderly couple who had been bombed out in London were in a double bed precariously perched on the edge of the floor unable to move in case the bed tipped down into the rubble,,,again the lights stayed on and people yelled for the to turn them out. Fortunately the Fire Brigade arrived and dealt with thjem and the light.

During the height of the Blitz when the City was burnt I was staying in Norbury and after a very bad night went into the garden to collect shrapnel from the lawn.This one could do by spotting the burnt patches where it had gone in....however this moring the whole garden appearewd to be covered in burnt paper,what had happened was that as the City burnt all the documents were turned into ash rose on the intense heat of the fire and absolutely complete sailed off into the night sky only
descending as the air cooled and settled in gardens,where amazingly they could be read until touched when they turned into ash.

Another thing one would find in the garden after a raid was window this was long strips of paper like material black on one side and metallic on the other which the German aircraft dropped
in vast quantities to confuse RADAR it got caught in the trees and on roofs etc and at first was collected with other souvenirs like shrapnel.parachute material znd nose caps of shells but adfter a while there was so much we got very blase about it and didnt bother. Things like this took over from mundane collecting such as coins and stamps and we often had quite big collections of quite risky things from bullets to oxygen cylinders from aircraft to helmets and dud incendiary bombs. One of these I once put in a vice and sawed in half,scooped out the magnesium and set it alight, what a war!

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