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WW2 - People's War

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Me as Backroom Boffin

by supervi

Contributed by 
supervi
People in story: 
Vi Marriott
Location of story: 
Bristol and London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2631665
Contributed on: 
13 May 2004

At the outbreak of the War I was working at Croydon Aerodrome as a secretary in the Drawing Office for what was then Imperial
Airways, and we were evacuated to Bristol to deal with military instead of civil aircraft.

Bristol was fairly heavily blitzed, but the bombers avoided destroying the University tower which they used as a landmark, and we would watch to see if the planes turned there on the way to Coventry and the industrial Midlands, which meant that apart from a stray bomb and shrapnel fall-out, we were for once in for a reasonably quiet night.

The most spectacular raid was the night the whole of the centre of Bristol went, and the air smelt of mulled ale for the next week, as the brewery was burned to the ground. The most frightening for me was the daylight raid when one of the escorting fighters was shot down and flew the whole length of Whitelaldies Road, emptying his guns, and barely skimming the roof of the house where I lived, to crash on just the other side of the Avon gorge.

In 1941 I returned to London and was drafted into Frank Whittle's section of The Ministry of Aircraft Production, situated at Thames House, Millbank, engaged on research on the new jet engines. We had the first jet squadron to fly out of Manston, Meteors with Goblin engines. They were the only aircraft fast enough to catch the doodle-bugs, which they chased over the Channel and shot down. The Station Commander rang our office every day to say how many they had caught.

Fron the window of the top floor office, we could watch the ones that got away flying along the set path up the Thames. It was rather like Russian roulette, as you waited for the engine to cut out before you ducked. It was preferable to risk coming down with the building rather than going to the basement shelter and chancing the building coming down on you.

The work was very secert, and documents were typed on an old manual typewriter with carbon copies. I had to tear up my used carbon papers into small pieces and put them into special sacks that were periodically removed and burnt. My sense of the ridiculous was enchanted, because these secret sacks came from the ex-German Embassy, and were printed in red and black with the German eagle emblem.

I lived with my family in Northwood Road, Carshalton Beeches, and commuted daily by rail to London. We were sufficiently far from Central London to avoid the concentrated blitz, but near enough to Croydon Aerodome to catch the peripheral raids, and were on the edge of the railway where a very loud mobile anti-aircraft gun was stationed.

One night an incendiary landed in our longish back garden. It failed to ignite, but exploded, shattered all the windows at the back of the house, and smothered my Mum's vegetable patch with thick black oil, which infuriated her more than if the house had gone up in flames. It was impossible for private householders to gert glass, and the windows were duly boarded up.

Not long afterwards two Air-Raid Wardens knocked on our door one night to say that someone was signaling with a light from one of our back windows. My Mum pointed out that the windows were boarded up, and duly took the Wardens upstairs to show them. They departed rather grumpily, only to return an hour or so later to repeat that they had pinpointed the light and it was definitely coming from the top storey of our house. This was the euqivalent of accusing us of being Fifth Columnists.

A further examination of the widows proved that they were quite immoveable and totally blacked out. It was only after some very serious questioning that one of the Wardens went into the garden to watch for the alleged signals, and finally solved the problem. It was full moon and a very windy, cloudy night. The window boards were painted black on the outside, and the moonlight, shining on them, was creating the semblance of a lamp. The clouds blowing across the moon produced the illusion of intermittent flashes.

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Air Raid Precautions Category
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