- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Norman Frank Thomas
- Location of story:
- Bristol area
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 July 2005
This story has been contirbuted by a csv volunteer on behalf of BBC Radio Bristol
My realisation that that war had been declared came to me at 11.15am on Sunday Sept 3rd 1939.
It was a beautiful September morning as i ran along Bishopworth road to my home at number 142, near Bedminster Down. At 8 years of age I hadn't a care in the world but i suddenly became aware of Chamberlain's voice - " I have to tell you now..." etc, booming out from it seemed, every window in the street.
From then on months seemed to go by without anything hostile happening. However, little did I know that things would dramatically change - and for the worse.
An anderson shelter was set up in the back garden and re-inforced with earths over it roof.
Winters during the war years were very severe with snow on the ground on most nights. With no central heating as we have today, life was diffficult plus we were short of food. It was about 1941 when we experienced a huge night air raid.
The raid was on for 12 hours from 6pm til 6am the next morninig. No sooner had we had we got back in the house at midnight than the warning went again!
This raid was just about hell on earth with bombs dropping everywhere. The raiders were preceeded by pathfinder aircraft. which illuminated the whole area by flares on parachutes which slowly fell to the fround giving a pinkish glow everywhere.
One particular bomb fell nearby and i thought it had "our name on it" as the saying goes. It made neither a scream or a whistle just a massive rush of air and a huge explosion which took all the earth off the shelter roof. There were 5 of us in the shelter and we were all saying our prayers. the bomb landed somewhere at the back of us and i think theere were casualties just up from us...i saw an incendiary bomb burning fiercely on the upstairs window ledge. A hand came out and very bravely knocked it to the ground.
I saw a german bomber speeding away through the smoke clouds after dropping its deadly load.
When we eventually got back in to the house my grandmother rather excitedly told us that all the doors in the house had been blown open by the blast. She had refused to go to the shelter.
There is no doubt that this was a night of terror - much as Hitler had intended.
My fatherhad a job as a security man at Whitchurch airport with B.O.A.C
One night he saw torches being flashed and went to the airport perimeter to investigate. He was overpowered, knocked unconsious and dumped from a vechicle at Dundry but managed to make it home and recovered.
Later in the war we moved to Clifton where BOAC had taken over the Grand Spa Hotel and the disused clifton rocks railway tunnel. It was an ideal shelter and we spent many nights down there.
A Mr and Mrs Austin ( Canadians ) organised impromptu concerts. Mr Austin had a guitar and he soon roped me in to sing " Home on the range" which had several verses, quite an ordeal for a small boy to sing before an "invited" audience!
When a raid was on the tunnel lights dipped 3 times when all clear the lights dipped once.
I went to 2 war time concerts at the Spa...one was by Alfredo Campoli a violinist and the other was by Doris Hare off "on the buses" fame. I remember her singing "All over the Place"
There was no doubt that the rocks railway tunnel was a godsend to us and was impregnable to bombs.
It was a happy episode for us in a grim part of the war.
At Almondsbury school, our headmaster Mr Marsh was very keen on letting us know what was happening on the Russian front and he put it all on the blackboard. We also had a school wireless on quite a lot. A certain Marshall Zhukov cropped up frequently.
When out blackberry picking one day in September I witnessed a vast armada of aircraft towing gliders flying directly over my head at about 10000 feet.
They were flying in echelon and they all had the allied markings of black and white stripes under the wings.
On reaching the river severn they turned on it and flew north. It was an incredible sight for a young boy to witness.
Next to our house at Almondsbury there was a search light unit and i was rather fascinated by it and hung around. However i was warned not to look into the lens or it would blind me!
The cook at the searchlight site, a man called Alex Girgan uased to give me tins of food to give to my mother. He was a very generous Scotsman!
We opened our home to many service men and women at Almondsbury, also some Americans. Most of the service people coming from the Thornbury area where they were based. One night we entertained 17 service personnel. We had them all sign the visitors book - I still have the this book today!
My I end my story with a dedication to serviceman Charles a talented painist who thrilled us with his playing of "Rustle of Spring"
As a footnote i recently paid a visit to the rocks railway at Clifton which brought the memories flooding back!
Also PS when returning from school in clifton one day at about 3.30pm there was a rattle of machine gun fire owing to tall buildings I could not see anything I ran up the road in a panic as I expected bullets in the back. I dived into the nearest doorway till it went quiet.
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