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War Years 1939/1945: Childhood Memories of Colliers Wood and Somerset

by Albert Dunning

Contributed by 
Albert Dunning
People in story: 
Albert Dunning
Location of story: 
Colliers Wood, South West London
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 February 2004

I was three years old when the Second World War was declared on the 3rd September 1939 and living in Fortescue road, Colliers Wood with my parents,grandmother,three brothers and twin sister.

I vaguely remember when the Battle of Britain was on, watching from our Anderson shelter in the garden the dogfights in the sky overhead, between the RAF and the German Luftwaffe. In November 1940 we were evacuated to Somerset. I went with my mother, two elder brothers and twin sister. It was my dad's orders that we get away from London and the bombing. My grandmother stayed behind to take care of dad and my eldest brother Alf. We went by London taxi to Paddington station because the tube was closed due to bombing at Balham.

On arrival we were billited with a Mr & Mrs Gillson in their cottage at Twinnow, a very rural part of Somerset. We could see the railway line from the house and used to wait for the steam trains to come along and wave to the driver and fireman, rather like the railway children of the film. Unfortunately we could not stay there long because there were no schools nearby, so we were moved to the village of Wellow. Here we stayed with a family who did not treat us very well, they already had an evacuee and he was treated like a servant.
We all lived in one room with bare boards, old boxes for chairs and broken plates to eat off, we slept in the loft, five of us in one bed. My mother complained to the billeting officer who then moved us to yet another house in the village. This time we lived in the grounds of a rather grand house, rooms above the old stables and the only lighting from oil lamps, the house was owned by the Hanbury family of Cow & Gate foods.

My mother was employed cleaning the big house. I can remember the lovely garden in which we could freely play. I also remember my mother playing the piano on the lawn one day for the serviceman at a special fete that Miss Hanbury had organised. Miss Hanbury kept goats for fresh milk and I can remember being very frightened of them. Brother Bill was well liked by the village kids, he seemed to be the leader of the gang, brother Jack sang in the church choir. Along with my twin sister Betty we started our first school in the village in 1941. Although my mother loved it where we were staying she wanted to come back home to the rest of the family. In early 1942 she wrote to my father saying that she was bringing us all back home.

When we got back to London the bombing was not so frequent, The Luftwaffe came over mainly at night. We were given a different air raid shelter, a Morrison, and this was set up in our front room. Life took on some sort of a routine; us twins were sent to a school nearby. I remember the teachers were all old, possibly because the younger ones were in the services.
In June 1944 just after the D-Day landings in France the Germans launched an onslaught of flying bombs aimed at destroying London, these bombs were nicknamed Doodlebugs or Buzz bombs. I remember seeing these flying bombs in the sky, flames streaking from their engines. School was severely disrupted, we always seemed to be in the air raid shelters having our lessons. At one stage school was suspended because of the continual bombing.

On July 14th 1944 one of these bombs destroyed our house, luckily we all managed to get in the Morrison shelter in the front room and this saved our lives. The ARP wardens got us out, the house was in ruins. No sooner were we out than another bomb came over and we had to run for cover. Surprisingly only one person was killed, and that was a man working on his allotment behind our house. Our pet cat and rabbit survived the blast.

We were taken to a rest centre at Mitcham Baths where we stayed until the authorities decided what to do with us, that turned out to be evacuation again. We were taken on special buses to a London main line station where we boarded a train to Nottinham. My father stayed behind lodging with a neighbour in the road. He was employed doing salvage work, doing his bit for his county again. During the WW1 he was one of Kitcheners volunteers and fought with the Buffs regiment in the battle of the Somme where he got his 'Blighty Bullet'.
My eldest brother Alf was in the army, my other brother Bill did not come with us as he was working in a factory making components for the war effort.
In Nottingham we stayed in an area called Carlton, about a mile from the city centre, with a Mr & Mrs Wheatcroft.

Although the children in Nottingham were back at school following the summer holidays, we did not start school for quite some time as my mum thought we would be going back home at anytime. We had a great time exploring, new places to visit, especially down by the river Trent with Jack, the Wheatcrofts dog, he followed us everywhere. We were always in the local cinemas, one particular time my mum had to come and find my sister and I, we had watched a film twice through, the film in question was 'Two girls and a Sailor' it was a great favourite and still is today. My sister kept on about going to school so my mum took her one day, they were surprised to see her, they had no trace of us, they thought we had all been killed in the bombing. Well that put paid to our carefree days and we all had to go to school straightaway which wasnt too bad once we got back in the routine. We were put to the top of the class, our London education seeming to be way ahead of Nottingham.

Nottingham like many other places during the war had a lot of serviceman in the area, especially GI's we children would ask them for 'any gum chum'
they were so good to us children, they used to pay for us kids to go into the cinema. The Christmas of 1944 saw my eldest brother Alf come to visit us, he was on embarkation leave before going overseas with the Buff's to fight in the far East. We did not get much in the way of toys that Christmas but I remember being very happy playing with the 303 Rifle that was part of his army kit. I used to long for my bike to play on but that had been put in storage along with my parents home back in London.

We stayed in Nottingham until the war was over in Europe. We came back to London in July 1945 with an extra addition to the family, a puppy dog called Tessie who we adored. The house which my parents owned was destroyed, the council housed us temporarily in an old butchers shop in Colliers Wood High street, it was a horrible place, we all hated living there. Back at school we ended up in the bottom of the class as our educational standard had dropped.
The only nice thing about it was that we were with most of the family again, we also were reunited with our cat Jimmy who had been looked after by a neighbour. I remember we all went back to our old road for the VJ celebrations. Family life didnt settle down again until brother Alf came back from the far East in 1947. They did not rebuild ou house and this broke my mothers heart. The authorities decided that they were going to build a new road there, they paid my parents and neighbours a very small sum of money for the house and land. Eventually the plans were dropped for a new road and ironically they built new houses there during the 1970's.

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Message 1 - War Years 1939/1945

Posted on: 14 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Albert

A very interesting contribution. You were indeed lucky to have survived that direct V1 hit.

Kind regards,


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