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15 October 2014
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A CHILD'S MEMORIES OF THE BLITZ AND ALSO THE PHONEY WAR

by csvdevon

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
THOMAS BURT AND HIS FATHER FRANK BURT
Location of story: 
FINCHLEY, NORTH LONDON
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4291139
Contributed on: 
28 June 2005

I have many memories but the main one centres on the night when my father was badly injured with shrapnel wounds whilst on duty at the Finchley Telephone Exchange, North London.

My father was a Lieutenant in the Home Guard stationed at the Telephone Exchange each evening. On this particular night the bonmbing was very bad in north London, the target was usually the railway line from London out to Mill Hill where large concentrations of the Military were based. When the bombing was at its worst, my mother, sister and I would go up to the Exchange and sleep in the basement which was bomb proof. As we worked our way from home we walked though the high street where bombs had set gas mains on fire and a bus was also on fire with firemen trying to extricate casualties. The noise and fires were mind boggling. Ther were damaged buildings and much broken glass underfoot. When we reached the Exchange we knew something was wrong as my father did not meet us and we discovered he had received shrapnel wounds to his thigh and foot. Apparently he opened the door to let the policeman in when a bomb landed in the road outside and the blast blew them both down a long corridor. My father, who was a small man, was shielded by the policeman's body but he was unscathed and the shrapnel must have bypassed him and caught my father. There was a lot of blood about but I don't think the real facts registered at the time and it was only later that I realised what might have been. It was a very noisy night but it was especially only remarkable for this one personal event. My father survived but together with his first world war wounds it helped to reduce his life span.

On the 3rd September 1939 I was 7 years old and knew nothing. It was a Sunday and after my mother had prepared lunch, my father set out deck chairs in the bay window of our house in Finchley so that we could see what was going to happen next. We had all listened to the wireless and so we knew we were at war. At the top of our road was the entrance to the local Electricity Generating Plant. Into the entrance a policeman appeared equipped with a tray slung round his neck, similar to the ones ice cream sellers used in the cinema. On this tray he had a whistle and a rattle and a klaxon horn and other things including a gas mask. This policeman then, at the top of his voice, demonstrated what each of these devices was for. I do not remember which was which but if the whistle was blown it meant one thing and the rattle another etc, etc. The wailing siren was also heard which denoted an air raid. I do not think anyone was listening to this poor policeman and we just sat there waiting for something to happen but it was many months before anything did. However, as soon as the sirens wailed on this particular day, the neighbours from No 1, ran up to No 3 who had had a brick shelter made, with their Sunday roast presumably expecting the worst in which case the roast joint would not become a casualty.

Whenever the siren went the locally based troops had to leave their base and disperse into the locality. Our house backed on to open space and many of the lorries came there and so our house became a second home for some of these soldiers, very exciting for a lad of 7 or 8. It was the phoney war and until Dunkirk I do not recall much happening. After Dunkirk our local railway got very busy with the returning troops as they were sent to Mill Hill barracks to reorganise.

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