- Contributed by
- People in story:
- William Willis
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- 19 February 2004
Inside the Anderson Shelter in the narrow back garden of 94 Westmoor Street, Charlton SE7 sat my big brother Alan; Alan was 5 years older than me. Sitting between us was our Mum with an arm around each of us. My name is David and I was born two years before the war started. With us in the shelter we had a wind-up gramophone, a pack of needles and two records. One of these was “When Father Papered the Parlour”, now; when I am 66 years of age I can still remember the tune and all the words.
We also had an enamel chamber pot (the jerry) that was used by everyone without embarrassment, and was emptied in the morning into the cold, whitewashed outside lavatory with torn up newspaper tied to a wire hook.
My Mother called urgently, “Bill, Bill, get inside! Now!” My Dad, standing the other side of the grey blanket that served as a door and blackout curtain, replied, “Yeah, all right May, just a minute”. The noise of bombs dropping was loud, and yet above the din I could hear Dad shout, “Blimey, Siemans are copping a packet tonight. There goes the furnace chimney!” By now we could hear the bells as the fire engines came nearer, together with the shriller bells of Ambulances and Dad shouted across to Mr Bowman in the garden next door, “Looks like you’ll have no work tomorrow”. Mr Bowman worked in the furnace room at Siemans factory as a boiler man, and clearly the bombs were smashing everything, and like my Father he too stood outside the shelter in his garden. They were like two schoolboys watching a thunderstorm, both quietly confident that the lightning strikes would miss them, even though the factory where Mr Bowman worked and where my Mother had worked before her marriage was in flames.
My Father stood outside the shelter, seemingly without fear, and called to the neighbours in turn to ask if they were all OK. Dad was home on leave, he had been called up into the Artillery when his small bakers shop in Camberwell had been bombed. Fortunately on that fateful Sunday we had all been staying with my Grandfather in Dulwich. Granddad Willis was a master baker and had several shops scattered across South London, one of which was located a little further down the road from where we now lived with our Nan.
Nan Nicholls did not join us in the shelter; she told us she was too old and was unable to crawl down the brick steps and through the low entrance. When the siren had sounded Dad carried me downstairs. While Mum and Alan ran to the shelter, Dad rushed into Nan’s room to help her with me over his shoulder. Nan slept in the downstairs front room, and when Dad called for her to get up she replied that if Mr Hitler was going to kill her, then he could kill her in her own bed. She was going nowhere, except back to sleep.
Meanwhile in the shelter it was cold and damp. It smelled of mould, mothballs, candle wax and stale food. Mum had made rugs for us to lie on and to make the cold cement floor a little more homely. There was no spare cash to buy carpet or extra bedding, even if we had sufficient coupons. So the rugs were made from old clothing and Hessian sacks. Mum would cut old disused clothing into oblongs, about 1”x 2” each. She would then fold the cloth into a final size of 1” x ½” and then sew them onto the sack, using different colours, textures and patterns to create individual designs. No two were ever quite the same. We had some examples of these in our home for many years after the war.
Eventually, even Dad got tired of my Mothers persistent calling and came into the shelter. He put his big strong arms around us all and the warmth of our bodies and the lateness of the hour soon had us all yawning (anyway I’m sure it wasn’t only me) and we drifted off to sleep, safe for another night.
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