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15 October 2014
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Alton, Hampshire at War

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Ernest Edward Shearman, Edward (Ted) Shearman (Father), Percy Aslett (Cousin)
Location of story: 
Alton, Hampshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5091554
Contributed on: 
15 August 2005

At the outbreak of the WW2 I was living at 3 Limekiln Cottages, Wilson Road, Alton, Hampshire, along with my Mother and younger sister, I was aged eleven and three-quarters.

I was actually born in Portsmouth, but my father was a Regular in the Royal Navy and he decided that RH Dockyard, Portsmouth would become a cerain target for the Germans to attack by bombing, that he moved us to Alton to live with my uncle, aunt and family — Mr and Mrs Aslett and family.

My cousin, Percy volunteered to join the RAF at the outbreak of war, he was 20 years old and was accepted for Air Crew and went to Canada to be trained and returned as a Pilot Officer to fly bombers. By this time, my mother had found us a two-up two-down terraced house in Wilson Road, Alton. By this time we were well and truly into blackout and rationing. We all had Identity Cards, Ration Books and Clothing Coupons. I attended Alton Mixed Secondary School at Amery Hill, Alton. We had now been issued with our gas masks, along with its square carrying case. I will always remember the strong rubbery smell. To test for airtightness, our teacher would place a card over the filter — suddenly you couldn’t breathe ....very frightening.

Our house was a hop garden, Mum went hop picking during August 1940/41. This was when we watched the dog fights between our fighters and the German bombers and fighters. The rattle of machine gun fire was loud. During one such battle, one of our Spitfires crashed into a German,and I can still see the distinctive shape of a Spit wing flying down to earth like a leaf.

My Father was serving on the battleship HMS Nelson, he was a Stoker Petty Officer. Mum’s daily worry was whether we would have the Telegram Boy calling. This would have meant bad news as it conveyed to families that a relative had been killed or Lost Missing in Action.. Dad luckily survived the war, but my cousin, Percy Aslett did not. He was 24 years old, in 1943, when his Lancaster was shot down over Holland. We had our share of bombs, not because we were a target, but bombs were dropped by the German airman when they failed to bomb their targets — usually Southampton or Portsmouth. They wanted to jettison and lighten their aircrafts to get away quickly from our fighters. The night their nearest bombs landed to me was 200 yards away. Luckly it fell into soft earth between the council houses, 127 Dittlethatch,and the Hopkiln , which saved our house from the full blast. At the time, Dad was home on leave and he said “Not only are they trying to me at sea, but whilst at home as well”. A bomb, when it’s falling, makes one hell of a noise — a high pitched whistle, followed by a very loud bang.

A quarter of a mile across fields from us had been set up a Searchlight Battery, plus a Lewis machine gun. Whilst the German bombers were flying over ên route to Southampton or Portsmouth — on went the searchlight, it lit up all the area around. We would often see a bomber caught in the beam, along with others, then this attack would open up and often splinters would be heard hitting our roof.

We had one cinema in Alton, and it was open all through the war years. When you had seen a film and left to go home, you went from the interior brightness of the cinema, out into the blacked out town — it was quite normal to walk into lamposts or a pillarbox!

In 1942, aged 14 years, I started work at Courage’s Brewery, Alton. At 16 years I joined the Air Training Corps, to be trained as a Flight Engineer for the RAF. Whilst at the brewery, although only 14 years old we had to do men’s work because those men old enough has been called up for Military Service. In actual fact, most of their workforce were women.

On February 6th 1946, I was called up for National Service, where I served for three years. This account probably reads very sketchy, but to cover everything would fill a small book!

This story has been entered on the site by Elizabeth Legate on behalf of Earnest Shearman, with his permission. Earnest fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

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