- Contributed by
- Location of story:
- Carshalton, Surrey
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 August 2005
I still have very vivid recollections of that night in June 1944 when we first experienced flying bombs. I was a thirteen year old living in Carshalton, Surrey at the time and the spectacular events that occurred in the night sky are indelibly etched in my memory. By this stage of the war, we were quite complacent about air raids and few had occurred in recent months. When we were awakened in the night by significant aerial activity, we spent a lot of time at the bedroom window watching these fiery machines streaking across the sky. Something different and mysterious was going on but sleep finally overtook us. At the appropriate time in the morning, I left for school but on arriving, we hurriedly turned back to avoid being sent into the air raid shelters. In fact, the raid was still on and the all-clear had not sounded. Stories of a large number of German planes that had crashed that night were rife. It was 16th June 1944 and announcements made later that day made it clear that we had not been attacked by conventional aircraft but by Hitler’s new secret weapon, the flying bombs (or V1s). The reason for the many so-called crashes became abundantly clear. An obvious reaction to the new threat was that the balloon barrage that had previously been to the north, nearer to London, quietly vanished and reappeared to the south east.
The neighbourhood was very heavily attacked by the flying bombs. Since the alert was virtually continuous throughout the day, most of the time at school was spent in the shelters. Conventional bombing had badly damaged the school a few months earlier and with this new threat, it finally all but closed. I was among those due to take the General School Certificate examination in a year’s time and a scheme was devised whereby work was collected and taken home. The result was a pleasant few weeks at the height of summer that was only interrupted to dive for shelter when the staccato of a flying bomb’s engine spluttered and died.
Life seemed rather an adventure and it was the “rogues” whose aberrant behaviour caused most fear. Normally, the engine would cut out, the machine would continue on its path as it glided to earth where it exploded on impact. One evening, I was returning home on my bicycle from a music lesson when I found myself under the path of a doodlebug. Its engine suddenly cut out and I leapt from my bike and laid face down in the gutter for what seemed an eternity. I was sure it “had my name on it”, but all was silent till finally there was an explosion and black smoke arose from the direction of Sutton, some three miles away. The V1 must have executed a 90º turn. Eyewitnesses in Sutton saw the machine start to dip into Wallington but were filled with horror when it turned and came towards them.
On another occasion, I was at work in a garden when I looked up and saw a flying bomb, almost overhead and coming towards me with its engine stopped. Self-preservation was the over-riding emotion and I dived into an air raid shelter, tearing a stretch of skin from my leg as I went. My heart was pounding but that doodlebug must have glided for miles as it seemed a phenomenal time before a faint distant thud signified that danger had passed. I never found out where it landed.
My most frightening experience occurred one evening when, with my father and brother, we were keeping a look-out for a small boarding school near our home. This was a frequent activity to help while the children were having supper and preparing for bed. The message was passed on that a doodlebug was approaching. Suddenly, without its engine cutting out, it dived at full throttle towards the ground and exploded about a mile away. It was truly an awesome sight.
When the attacks started, Youth Clubs, Scout meetings etc were cancelled but life soon returned to a semblance of normality. However, after a month of V1s, with my brother and a party from school, we were evacuated on 15th July 1944. This is the subject of a separate story. When we returned home at the end of October, the doodlebugs had essentially finished and London was now under attack from the V2 rockets. However, in contrast to the V1s, few V2s fell near our home and they caused relatively little disruption to our lives. There was no warning and once one had heard the V2, then one knew you were OK. The closest I came to the action was early in 1945 whilst hiking with some friends on the North Downs. The sun was shining but thick white frost hung on the trees. The peace was suddenly shattered when a V2 rocket fell in a nearby chalk-pit causing immense surprise but no damage.
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