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Wartime memories

by Gloscat Home Front

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Gloscat Home Front
People in story: 
Barry Peaston
Location of story: 
Chingford London E4
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 August 2005

When war was declared I was four and a half - too old for a mickey mouse style gas mask but young enough for my mother to accompany my evacuation. London buses were used and we traveled poorly directed for eight hours before arriving at Newport Essex some 26 miles from our home in Chingford, London E4. Mrs. Harvey took us to her 3 bedroom home to meet her husband and 3 daughters - all older than me. They made us very welcome and remained life long friends of my Mother.
Home sick after 10 weeks and with no enemy action we returned home for the rest of the war to live with my Father who had an essential reserved occupation.

The Blitz
The first bomb we had was an unexploded incendiary which landed 4 yards from our back door and could have destroyed our house. It was removed and probably taken to the fenced area on Chingford Plains where many unexploded bombs were left.
On 26th September1940 a 1000 kilo high explosive bomb landed at the end of our road, Wellington Avenue, destroying 9 houses and damaging all houses in our road. Day and night raids were frequent and we lost all our windows to various nearby explosions. The glass was replaced with a strong white fabric that gave a certain amount of light. My Father strengthened a small room, as a shelter, where I slept on a bunk. Often with my Granny slept below, when she stayed too have relief from the even worse bombing of the East End. When the noise of the bombs and antiaircraft gunfire- a gun was manned in the cemetery- we would hold hands. How she maintained this with he arm straight up I do not know.
When a spitfire engaged an enemy fighter in a dog fight over our heads I was sent indoors but managed to squeeze past the adults to watch. I can not remember the outcome but no plane crashed near us.
The worst period was when London docks and the City were on fire. One night I stood on Chingford Mount with many people in complete silence watching an endless sweep of flame 8 miles away complete with the silhouette of St. Paul`s Cathedral against the red glow.
The air raids continued throughout the war with a lull of a few weeks before flying bombs started. Also known as V1s or Doodle Bugs or more aptly Buzz Bombs because of the fearful noise and vibration they caused. My mother and I would shelter in the small space under the stairs and the whole house would shake. If they missed us they would pass on over into the Lea valley. Once the engine cut out you knew they would glide an unknown distance before diving and exploding. Once I was fishing on a weir when one went right overhead it then turned off in the direction where my parents were walking, they threw themselves to the ground when it cut out and glided on past them before exploding.
The allies were advancing in Europe to halt the launching of these weapons when the V2 Rockets started with a different psychological effect because there was no warning before an explosion. Just after midnight 18th February 1945 a V2 landed in open gardens at the rear of our house throwing up tons of clay. When I woke up my mother was towering above me because she was standing on heaps of the clay that had burst though our roof. Our window frames, doors and ceilings were smashed to pieces. I was not frightened until the house next door caught fire. Seventeen houses in our road were evacuated but as there was no more accommodation available in rest centres we had to stay where we were with tarpaulins over the roof. We were fed from a mobile canteen by the WVS.
Three weeks later I took my eleven plus examination apparently still very dirty from the bomb because we had little water and other essential services.

All our news came for the newspapers and occasional visits to the cinema. Returning one night through the Ridgeway Park, whilst a raid was on, a piece of shrapnel landed a few yards in front of us. It was still hot and I claimed it for my collection - though later I gave it to a sailor to take it back to his ship to show the sort of experiences we had.
We listened to ITMA (It`s that man again) and other programmes designed to encourage.
On Saturday evening we played billiards on a minute table and had what my father called a “feast”. This was a mars bar divided unequally between the three of us. It was many years before I understood the humour of this name.
We wrote aerograms to people in the services- letters that were photographed and reduced in size to save on transportation. Once we went to central London to see a film, including my aunt, of troops sending messages home from Ceylon
Winston Churchill was an inspiration for people of all ages and his broadcasts were highly significant. Newspaper reports of the King and Queen visiting bombed areas boosted moral.

I attended Melford House School in the Ridgeway Chingford. It was a large house with about 30 pupils. During air raids we would sit in the cellar and try to read. We carried our gas masks in a box on a string- fortunately the only action mine saw was in fighting of a big boy at school. One night a bomb killed four people in a house near the school. The two children were from our school. I remember all the Mothers being in shock and trying to keep the fact from us.
The Old Church was considered a prominent target and so our Sunday School met in a friend`s house.

I was one of a group of about 6 or 8 boys with 2 dogs. One called “Spot” and one answering to the name of “Monty”- his real names were Montgomery, Eisenhower and several others after Generals. We played in our road and the bombed out buildings because they were near home.
Towards the end of the war I was old enough to become a Wolf Cub. We met in one room in the Council yard with 6 cubs sitting on each side of the room and Mrs. Parker the Leader in the middle. What an example she gave in carrying on!

In 1945 I stood in our garden as the aircraft flew overhead to bomb Germany. In formation they filled the sky in every direction and I remember feeling sorry for those they were approaching.
After the war there were Germans, from a local Prisoner of War Camp, in their multi coloured. My friends and I would cycle to Epping Forest and often meet one called Paul, who spoke English. I think our hatred was for Hitler and the other leaders and not for the people.
Winston Churchill was awarded the freedom of Wanstead and Woodford after the war. He came to Bancroft`s School, where I was a pupil, to receive it. I was proud to stand in our quadrangle and cheer him.

Dates and facts taken from “Chingford at War”

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