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15 October 2014
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A Four-year-old's Memory of Mother's Death: Bombing Raid in Greenford, Middlesex

by raylaw

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People in story: 
Ray Lawlor
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Greenford, Middlesex
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Contributed on: 
02 November 2003

September 30th 1940 was a Monday although I wouldn’t have known that at the time. I was at home with my mum as I was only four years of age and hadn’t yet started school but my two brothers and sister were at the Ravenor School which was a short distance away. I always knew it happened around lunchtime because of the knifes and forks but I couldn’t remember whether it was before or after lunch. I have recently seen the RAF diary for that day – it recorded events at 13:50, so it must have been after lunch. My sister confirms this because she and our brothers were making their way back to school having come home for lunch when the siren sounded. She says they hurried on to use the school’s shelters rather than coming back home.

Everything went black. I have thought about this many times but have never been able to explain it satisfactorily. Was I knocked unconscious (I don’t remember having a sore head afterwards); could it have been caused by a cloud of smoke and dust; or was it simply the shadow of a plane passing across the sun? When it was no longer black I remember I was standing in the dining room facing the French window into the back garden. My mum was lying on the floor at my feet, facing upwards and there were knifes and forks scattered across the floor. I called to her but she didn’t answer. I remember looking to my right, towards the door that opened into the hall and noticed that the ceiling above the door had come down. I could see the wooden laths and was frightened because they looked like the bones of a skeleton. I looked back to my mum and called to her again but she didn't answer and I think I knew she would never answer again.

I remember looking towards the French window and noticing it was open. I remember it being open inwards, which at that time would have had no significance, but I now know these windows invariably open outwards. I ran through into the garden crying and at that moment the man next door came out of his house. I called out to him, ‘My Mummy, my Mummy’ and he said something about coming round to see, and started walking down his garden. Just at that moment two ARP Wardens came along the alleyway at the bottom of the garden. They were dressed in black uniforms and wearing steel helmets – just like the ARP man in ‘Dad’s Army’. They saw me crying and hopped over the back fence and came up the garden. The first one crouched down and took my right arm and I noticed it was bleeding. I said ‘My Mummy’ and the second man said he would check and went into the house through the French window, while the other bandaged my arm and hand. When the warden came out of the house nothing was said but I saw them exchange glances and, although I was only four, I knew.

The first man carried me along the alleyway, through the side roads and out to the Ruislip Road. I remember where we came out the road was slightly curved but it was still possible to see a good distance either way and in both directions, nose to tail, was a line of ambulances – wartime ones painted matt grey with canvas curtains at the back.

I was taken to hospital – apparently it was St Bernard’s in Southall which was being used as an emergency hospital. I remember being put into a bed and being left on my own and crying for my mum. I can remember crying for a long time. I have difficulty getting events in sequence from this point but I remember being carried into another building at night and seeing the outline of the apex against the sky. I recognised that building five years later – it was King Edward’s Hospital in Mattock Lane, Ealing.

One of my brothers has since told me that I was discharged from hospital but had to return when my shrapnel wounds became septic. I don’t remember this but my Discharge Certificate (12/12/40) says I had septic shrapnel wounds but I also remember a doctor using large shears to cut plaster from my arm and seeing dead skin hanging in shreds. I remember staying one or two nights with a lady – possibly an aunt, a few nights at St David’s Home in Ealing where my Dad worked, and then a few weeks with some neighbours who had their Anderson Shelter erected in their lounge and I slept in there with their son of a similar age to myself.

I don’t remember Christmas but sometime in February’41 my Dad took me to Abingdon where I met-up with my brothers and sister who were living in a hostel after being evacuated 5th October. My dad had managed to get them on a trainload of children from Hanwell and they had gone to Abingdon with their gas masks, and name labels tied to their coats. That afternoon my Dad took us to families in the town where we were to be billeted. I was very lucky, I spent the remainder of the war with a childless couple, Mr & Mrs Roberts, who were probably in their early 50’s. They were very kind to me. Mr Roberts worked at the MG factory where they were making tanks.

My dad remarried in 1944 and took me back to Ealing 1945, a few weeks before the war in Europe ended. My eldest brother has since told me that the Roberts’ had asked my dad whether they could adopt me, so my leaving must have been a great wrench for them.

I remember VE Day. I had gone to bed in the evening and my dad woke me up at 9.00pm and told me to get dressed and we walked along the Broadway in Ealing – all the shops had their lights switched on and the Forum Cinema was ablaze with twinkling coloured lights. It was the end of the blackout.

Addendum 1: I don’t remember the siren sounding that lunchtime and always assumed it didn’t, but my eldest brother says he remembers it because he spent most of the afternoon in the shelter at Ravenor School. He believes the reason my mum didn’t take me into our shelter was because it had only just been installed and the concrete base was still wet.

Addendum 2: Extract from RAF Diary for 30/09/40. “Greenford Area: A dive bombing attack was made by six aircraft at 1350 hours when 100 bombs were dropped causing very severe damage which included 400 houses. A sub-station of the Uxbridge Electric Supply Co received a direct hit and there was extensive damage to mains which affected 1,000 small consumers. The casualties so far reported amount to 13 persons killed and 106 injured”.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Greenford bombing.

Posted on: 07 January 2005 by John Chant

I lived in Hanwell during most of the war. Our house was in Greenford Avenue.
I recall that my uncle, aunt and cousin lived in Ruislip Close in Greenford at that time.
During a raid a land mine detonated and destroyed the entire close. How they weren't killed I don't know, but they walked out of their house alive and survived the war.
John Chant.

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