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15 October 2014
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Wartime memories from age 7-14

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Bob Last
Location of story: 
Sutton Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 July 2005

Mr. Last has given his permission for his stories to be placed on the BBC People's War website.

During the war I was not evacuated and was living during this time in Stayton Road, Sutton, Surrey.
I was nine years old and with a friend we went to nearby Rose Hill Park which was at that time ploughed up as potato fields - part of Dig for Victory. We asked if we could help pick them and were told what to do. During the morning, we wanted the toilet. I asked one of the men if there was a toilet around. He said, "Go through the building over there and the toilet is at the end". We opened the door and went in; it was quite dark inside, but we could see light at the far end. As we walked we noticed that the building was being used as a temporary mortuary from the previous night's raid. The bodies were covered, but we were quite scared and it made a lasting memory.
During air raids, I slept under the stairs, with my brother in a bunk above me. This was before Anderson shelters were supplied. I was about eight at the time. One night the house shook with a very loud explosion. In the morning, we could smell gas and on looking out, we saw a crater right outside the front door taking up most of the road width. We were told it was a landmine that had not exploded, but the gas main was broken. During the morning we watched as men were held by their feet and lowered into the crater to seal off the gas main. They did not have gas-masks and after a short while they were pulled up and made to walk up and down to recover. If the landmine had gone off, it would have demolished most of our end of Stayton Road and I would not be remembering any of this!
When I was nine, we had an open range in the kitchen with a 3 ft. guard rail that I used to lean on to keep warm. Hot water was produced from this stove in saucepans and kettles. We did not have a bathroom, only a tin bath which was kept hanging up in the yard. One Saturday, I leant against the rail and it tipped forward, tipping me backwards. My hand hit the handle of a saucepan which spilt boiling water over my foot. It was so painful that I tore my shoe and sock off, but the skin came off with it as well. As a result my foot went gangrene. I was not sent to hospital nor did I have any pain killers. The doctor explained to me that I would have to remove the infected area by cutting off tiny bits at a time with scissors. I did this myself, and dressings were supplied by the doctor who came every day. It eventually healed.
At this time, St. Helier's Hospital was as it is now, painted white. It was decided that it ought to be camouflaged, although it had never been a target for bombing. Strange as it seems, shortly after it was camouflaged, the Germans did bomb it, thinking it was some military building! As far as I know, no great damage was caused.
When the V 1 s (Doodlebugs) started coming over, one destroyed our school, Benhilton Juniors, which was at the top of our road. I can remember seeing the Maypole in the rubble and also looking at the underside of the playground which was raised up in the air. We then had lessons in the shelters built under Sutton Green. You could still see the outline of these shelters years later in dry summers. Later on I used to do a paper round and the Doodlebugs often came over in the early mornings. I would hear the engines stop and could hear the swish as it glided down. I would crouch down in a doorway until I heard the explosion and then carry on with my round. Once, whilst doing my round on a bright clear morning, I was looking up at the sky at the very moment that a rocket shaped object came through the clouds and went straight down, exploding some distance away. It could only have been a V2 rocket, which we were told you would never be able to see coming, but I know what I saw and it was a rocket shape and not an aircraft.
Those are my memories of my wartime childhood - not really an unhappy time as we children were resilient and most of the time, if nothing bad happened, we didn't really think about the dangers. In fact, some of the time, not realizing the seriousness of it all, we found it fun.

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