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A wartime boyhood in Bedford

by bedfordmuseum

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mr. Michael J. Darlow
Location of story: 
Bedford, Silver Jubilee area
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 January 2006

VE Day street party in Acacia Road, Bedford. Sitting front left - Rene Hartwell, sitting second left - Miss Pack, sitting front right - Joyce Williams sitting second right - Miss Maxey Mrs. Darlow first lady standing on left

Wartime boyhood in Bedford by Mr. Michael J. Darlow

“I remember two bombs landing in quick succession in the back of Mareth Road and Alamein Avenue. We were sitting in a cupboard under the staircase and the house shook. The next day we went along Cardington Road to Dickie Bird’s shop on the corner of Cardington and Eastcotts Roads and saw two big craters being filled in.

In July 1942 I was in the playground of Silver Jubilee School and heard a noise and looked up to see a black aeroplane with black and white crosses going north-west, and I saw two parachutes dropping away from the plane. They hit the old County Theatre and the County Hotel, then the sirens went and we were told to get into the shelter at the school.

A year or two later I was in the playground at the boys’ end, I was looking south-west and there was a Flying Fortress going north to south being buzzed by two Mustangs playing around. One Mustang hit behind the port wing and crashed into it. A great sheet of flame appeared then they started dropping. The rear gunner came out and his parachute didn’t open — a Roman candle. There was no mention of this in the papers.

I went through a phase when I counted aeroplanes and one day the sky was covered with planes from horizon to horizon. I stopped counting at 700; they were going from east to west. I think they were American bombers.

One night my Dad said, ‘Somebody’s getting it tonight!’ There was a glow in the sky and thumping sounds and it was probably Coventry.

Where we lived in Acacia Road, I would go up in our bedroom when there was a lightening strike because if they didn’t get the balloons down quickly enough at Cardington they would explode. Sometimes they got free. They would send a fighter to shoot them down. One got free and bounced around at the back of Moulton Avenue. They camouflaged the balloon sheds to like big apartment blocks.

I remember going up to Cardington between Shortstown and the village to see my uncle who was a M.O.D. Policeman and he used to be on guard at one of the gates. There used to be an ARP Warden.’s post in the school at the corner of Moulton Avenue and Acacia Road. Mr. Barnwell, who lived in Carter’s Close was the ARP Warden.

The Jubilee Park had deep pits about four yards by two yards as anti-glider defences. Then they converted the park into allotments. My Dad had an allotment up there and a De Havilland Rapide came along the hedge and we waved to the pilot and he waved back. I pointed at the tree in front of him and the plane went up on its tail and over the tree. He would have collided with it otherwise! My Dad made me a kite but a policeman told me to take it down — it was illegal to fly them in wartime. At the end of the park, now Canvin Way, was the AR Rescue Post which was turned into the London Road Boys’ Club at the end of the war.

We had two evacuees but they were such a nuisance the first night, totally out of control, that my mother took them back the next day. In London Road, just south of Fenlake Road there is a house that was a Military Police (Red Caps) Post. After the war they build pre-fabs there. They delivered concrete blast bricks and council workers built a brick wall in front of our houses. After the war the same bricks were used around the gardens at St.Peter’s Green and The Embankment. At the London Road end were above ground shelters. They were smelly places and I don’t remember anyone using them.

I remember going to Goldington Road Rugby Ground. We had a famous West Indian in the Air Force, Arthur Wint, a very tall man, racing at an athletics meeting there.

About 1940 there was a family down our road called King. He was a Guardsman, his wife stood on the doorstep waving goodbye. I remember they waved at each other for a long, long time. He was killed after that.

I remember the old railway at St.John’s Station with trains full of troops, Americans, equipment and the wounded who wore light blue uniforms. The track used to go past the Lido at Newnham Road and we used to see them.

Leading up to ‘D-Day’, on the roads outside Bedford, to the south and towards Sandy there were Nissen huts with boxes and stores.

I remember a German POW courting a local girl on the estate. She was bigger than him. People grumbled and she’d take him through the estate very quickly. He wore a darker brown battledress with yellow patches to indicate he was a prisoner. There were POW camps at Clapham and Milton Ernest. An uncle of my mother came to visit on his disembarkation leave. I remember it was deep snow. After that he went missing and later we heard that he was a prisoner of the Italians.

Every Christmas we used to get an orange in our pillow case. They were think-skinned and dry but pretended I liked them because Mother had had to queue and men had risked their lives to bring them.

I remember the cattle market jam-packed with American trucks in the evenings for nights out. I asked an American once, ‘Have you got any gum, chum?’ but he didn’t give me any and I never asked again!”

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