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15 October 2014
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The Nearest I've been to Death

by dorawheeler

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Dora Wheeler, Ted Wheeler, May Deeks, Frank Deeks, Helen Wheeler (Mother in law)
Location of story: 
Walthamstow, London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 February 2005

From Dora Wheeler

I am 92 years old but my memory of the war is still very plain. I joined the A.T.S. in 1942 and married in 1943. My husband, who was called up in 1940 was put in the searchlight site regiment. After training he was sent on home leave. I was invited to stay in London in his parent’s flat at 84 Winns Avenue Walthamstow. This particular night the air raid was very heavy so my sister-in-law, May, and I decided to change into slacks etc. and join the rest of the family in the Anderson shelter in the garden. But before we did I stopped to show May my new suit that I had just bought which was hanging on the back of the bedroom door We could hear the planes getting nearer and had to hurry so there was no time to bring either the dog or the canary in its cage into the shelter.

I must explain this flat was on the corner of the road and backed onto a school. This had a wall around it which extended along our flat’s garden. On the side of the wall the road was being repaired and the men had left a red and green light by the hole. An enemy plane came over and perhaps saw the light and thought it was a station or garage. They dropped one bomb which landed very very close and shook the shelter. Then we heard another one coming down and we were all frozen to our seats. I’m sure I stopped breathing and looked around at us all – my mother in law, sister-in-law, my husband and myself and I could only think “I’ll never see them again” as I waited for the second bomb to drop. It exploded with a huge bang and knocked the shelter sideways jarring my neck.

We waited for the ‘All Clear’ and soon after some neighbours arrived to remove some of the rubble and get us out. All around us was devastation as the flat and 3 others had been completely demolished. The neighbours brought cups of tea and offered us beds for the night. It was wonderful and it helped us to recover from our ordeal. We were glad to have survived but sad to lose our pets. My father–in-law was on a night shift and hadn’t arrived home so my husband decided to go and meet him rather than him coming down the road to see the empty spaces. Unfortunately he took a different route and missed him. It must have been a terrible shock before he realised that we were all OK.

Next morning my husband and his father went back to the site to see what they could salvage. They found a wardrobe on its side and as they lifted it, out popped the dog ‘Peggy’, wagging her tail - rather dirty but otherwise OK. Further on they found the flattened canary cage but miraculously the bird had survived also. They were able to salvage a number of small items but all the furniture was smashed - and of course my new suit was completely destroyed!

Local landlords, Warners, who owned the properties found us a flat and we were able to move in within a week.

We shall never forget that night and often spoke of it to our friends

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Message 1 - Re: The nearest I've been to death

Posted on: 26 February 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Dora

I read your story with great interest and admiration. A splendid contribution from a still sparkling mind.

Kind regards,


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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
London Category
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