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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Wartime Experiences - 1939 - 1945

by cambsaction

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
cambsaction
People in story: 
Peter Muncey
Location of story: 
East End of London, Enderby Leicestershire, Tilford, Farnham Surrey and Sussex
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5497347
Contributed on: 
02 September 2005

(This story was submitted to the People's War site by the People's War team on behalf of Peter Muncey and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Muncey fully understands the sites terms and condidtions).

I was born in 1933, and brought up in the East End of London. We were a very close knit family, and when war was declared my grandparents had already constructed a large Anderson shelter in their back garden, and we tended to spend most nights sleeping in it. But when it rained the river which flowed behind the garden would overflow and flood the shelter to a depth of about two feet. During these periods we would change our nightly sleep-over to the municipal shelter on the nearby Leyton marshes. Each night we would carry our bedding to this damp, overcrowded, smelly structure, then in the morning return to our home and have a sigh of relief to see that it was still there.

After a few months we became more confident, and slept under the staircase. An Ack-Ack gun was mounted at the corner of our street each evening, about 20 years away from us, and did not help sleeping easily. Across the road, in a lorry park behind a factory, a barrage balloon was anchored. One morning I was awoken by a scream from my Mother’s bedroom in the front of the house. We rushed upstairs to find that the balloon had been hit by shrapnel, had semi deflated, and was resting on the window sill! Not something one would expect to see when the black out was taken down.

I was by now at my Primary school which had three interconnecting playgrounds, one of them linked to the others by a concrete staircase. At the bottom of the stairs were the boys outside toilets. On one occasion I was going back up the steps when I slipped and broke my leg — I just thought I had hurt it at the time and struggled back to my classroom. The class teacher immediately took me to the local First Aid Post which had been set up in one of the classroom blocks. There had been a heavy blitz the previous night, and there were still a number of seriously injured people awaiting attention, so I was handed over to the Porter, and he slapped some plaster of paris onto the leg. Sometime later, my Mother wheeled me three miles in a baby’s wheelchair to our local hospital where they reset the bone and plastered it up again.

By this time my parents decided we should leave London, so we were evacuated to Enderby in Leicestershire. The folk who kindly accepted my mother and I into their two bedroom home did their best to make us feel as comfortable as possible, but it was difficult. My Father was working on essential service in London, repairing overhead cables for trolleybuses, only to have them knocked down again by the Luftwaffe the next night. When we had been evacuated for about four months Coventry was bombed, and this was not far from Enderby and we could see and hear the explosions as well as the aircraft passing over. We decided that if they were coming looking for us, we might as well return home to London!

We chose the wrong time to return, for it coincided with the Battle of Britain, and heavy bombing raids. My old Primary School was hit by a “breadbasket” of incendiary bombs, and extensively damaged. I was by now eight years old, and it was thought I could cope with being sent to a boarding school at Tilford, Farnham, Surrey. It was a campus built of timber, housing about 20 in each dormitory. Life was tolerable there, because the staff was very kind yet firm, and there was plenty of room for recreation — I learnt to play many types of games which have proved useful to me throughout my life. But I did miss my family, and the monthly visits by my Mother were very much of note — especially the apple pie she brought each time! I managed three terms there then my pleas were listened to and I returned home.

This time the enemy was “doodle-bugs”. I was an avid footballer, and would play most days on the Leyton Marshes playing fields. They had had trenches dug across them so that planes could not land on them. But there was plenty of room left to play, and if the siren went we would continue playing, listen to the drone of the V1 engine, and if it cut out we would dive into a trench in case it landed near to us.

Eventually I sat my 11 plus exam, and this coincided with rather heavy bombing in the East End. My parents thought I was now old enough to cope with boarding school, and sent me off to a similar establishment as I had previously been to, but this time in Sussex. It was whilst I was here that I experienced the most terrifying moment of the war, and the most exciting!

The procedure for leaving classrooms to make ones way to the underground shelter was that the first person to hear the local air raid siren would ring the huge bell in the quadrangle. Doodle-bugs were quite a normal thing to see in the sky, so we would leave the class room and dawdle towards the shelter, almost waving it goodbye as it continued on its way. However, on this particular day I was nearest the bell, gave it a hearty ring and wandered towards the shelter. I saw the bomb approaching, and when it was a few hundred years away its engine cut I was still some way form the shelter, in open ground, and I saw it coming straight to me. I threw myself to the ground in horror, and expected the worst. Then, out of the blue a Spitfire emerged, put its wing under that of the doodle-bug, and flipped it into the field next door! Loud shouts cane from the neighbouring field, for it held Italian prisoners of war who were potato picking. I have never forgotten the bravery of the Spitfire pilot, and have to thank him for my life.

Shortly after this event I head that I had been successful in my 11 plus and returned home to a new school. I remained at this school for the rest of the war, but not without a little drama. I had just begun to study Homer, and had forgotten to take the book home for my weekend prep. I was rather worried until the doorbell rand and one of my friends gave me the news that “school has been hit by a V2”. I put on my skates and got to school to see the ruins, a sad sight, but what relief.

When the war ended we had such wonderful street parties, and everyone played their part. Let us hope that such a spirit will return to us — perhaps the England Cricket Team has set us on the way!

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