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15 October 2014
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Custom House in the Blitzicon for Recommended story

by Steerpike

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John William Davey
Location of story: 
Custom House, London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 November 2003

This is on behalf of my father as he does not have Internet access.

Some Experience of the London Blitz, 1940

My name is John Davey. I was born on December 27th 1924 in South Moltom Road, Custom House, West Ham, and a couple of miles from the Royal Docks. In September 1940, on the Friday evening of the weekend the docks were first blitzed, I was sitting with my friend in his house. At about 7 p.m. there was a series of explosions and the shattering of glass. We ran into the road and saw at the end a flame that shot into the sky, seeming to light up the whole area. My friend and I and lots of others ran towards the fire.

On the way we passed our old neighbour calmly sweeping the broken glass from the pavement as though this was an everyday thing. We reached the end of the road and saw that the first house or two were demolished and several others damaged. It was then I noticed something lying on the pavement, covered up. I lifted the cover and saw my first ever dead person, an occupant of one of the demolished houses.

My father, who had worked as a stevedore in the docks until he suffered a head injury, played an active part in the rescue operations. It appeared that a couple of bombs had been dropped, the first hitting a gas main in the road behind the house facing the top of our road, the second hitting the houses. The plane was visible circling above the fire; the bombs had missed a nearby factory by about 50 feet.

Another friend, Jackie McCall, normally came home from work at about the time the bombs dropped. He was not seen after that day. His body was never found. A few months later workmen were repairing the roofs and a body was discovered on top of one of the gables. The blast had carried it there from the pavement below and it was assumed to be Jackie.

On the night of November 12th 1940 I was standing in our porch behind my dad and an old neighbour called Mr. Cicanowitz (Dutch and known as “Mister” because we could not pronounce his name) and his dog. It was a still night. Suddenly we heard the drone of a plane that dropped several flares, like a gigantic firework display. I asked my dad whether we should go to an Anderson shelter at another house down the road (our shelter was only brick built). He said, “Yes, we’ll go in a minute”.

The next thing I knew everything went grey and I was falling sideways. Eventually I settled on my side, trapped by the rubble of our demolished house. I was screaming abuse. My dad’s voice from somewhere near said “don’t worry son, they will get you out”. ‘Mister’ just called my dad’s name a few times.

After a while I heard voices above. They heard my shouts and the rescue operation began from then. I could see the stars in the sky through what appeared to be a small gap. I could hear the dog trying to find its way out and shouted up for them to see where it appeared. They saw him, giving them some idea as to where I was. I eventually shouted up to them to lower a torch, which they did, and was able to guide them to me.

The marvellous rescue workers toiled throughout the night. I was finally rescued after eight hours or so. Unfortunately, my dad, aged 41, and ‘Mister’ did not survive. They found a pocket watch on my dad, stopped at 8.45 p.m. My mother and younger brother were evacuated when all this happened. I was sixteen at the time but it still remains in my thoughts.

The bomb was evidently a 2000 pounder that landed just 50-60 feet from the house. I never heard it coming or explode – it is strange but true when they say that you do not hear the one with your name on it and I can vouch for that.

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