- Contributed by
- Victor Spink
- People in story:
- Victor Spink, Grahame Spink, Rita Spink, Jack Smith, Arthur Bottomly, Mary Botttomly
- Location of story:
- Wimbledon. Riddlesden, Yorks.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 June 2004
In June 1944 we children were blissfully unaware of the V1s which were about to change our lives. The war had been quiet on the home front for some time and I and my friends would play in the deserted side road of Craven Gardens, Wimbledon. I was the youngest at 6 years old. When the shock of the Doodlebugs came later in that month, our school in Trinity Church Infants School in Effra Road was closed until further notice because of the bombardment.
At this point I would like to pay a tribute to the many men and women who ran the organisations responsible for the air raid warning systems. These people have been largely overlooked by history, but their prompt actions saved so many lives by giving us children enough time to run from playing in the streets to our shelters. For 24 hours a day they activated the air raid sirens with the 'alert', and the welcome 'all clear'. We just took it for granted that someone was looking after our welfare.
Some of the Mums in our road went out and did part time jobs, so the arrangement was that the Mums who were home would leave their front doors open so we kids playing in the road could run into the first open door near to where we were playing, and dive under the steel Morrison table shelter in the dining room, dog and all. The mothers who were off work would just naturally look after all of the street's kids who played together.
Those pilotless V1 flying bombs, Buzzbombs, or Doodlebugs as they were known to us, were terror weapons pure and simple. In recent years they have wrongly been called the forerunner of the Cruise missile, however nothing could be further from the truth. In reality they were cheap crude scruffy little weapons developed by the Luftwaffe two years before, and were code named by them, 'Cherrystone'. They certainly gave us the pip!
Their guidance system was a gyro compass and a kilometre counter, with 1,000 kilos of high explosive Amatol in the nose. Their only purpose was to terrify and destroy those they happened to rain down upon. Because they were pilotless and flew low and would crash down complete, they seemed to exude cold hate in a curious way. Even when we eventually got to see one close up in an exhibition on Horse Guards Parade along with other captured enemy hardware, the Buzzbomb radiated a shabby vile intent to kill.
Like me, those who saw or heard them will not have forgotten the experience. A few minutes after the wailing stereophonic 'Alert' warning sirens, we heard a loud droning noise, which got even louder as one of these heartless flying automata roared up from a south easterly direction.
Then, if the deafening pulse engine cut out on the approach there was a heart stopping 7 to 12 second silence. This terrible silence was followed by a huge bang as it exploded just before it hit the ground or on rooftops. Lucky folk like us not too close to the blast just had their windows blown in and ornaments knocked of their mantelpiece. We kept our window curtains closed even on the hottest of summer days which prevented glass from the windows flying into our rooms. If the tone of the droning engine changed as it passed overhead due to the phenomenon of the 'Doppler Effect', then my mother would say to us, 'its all right dears, it's going now'. Even today if I hear just a recording of a Doodlebug I instinctively go into a flight mode and want to move away from the windows.
In the middle of one particular bright morning my mother was a few doors up at No 61 with an old lady called Mrs Adams whom she was comforting because of the frequency of the over flights of V1s. There was hardly any time at all between the 'All Clear' and the next 'Alert' sirens, and this went on for 24 hours a day. This was the period before the ACK ACK guns were moved down en mass to the Kent coast. On this morning the air raid siren was sounding the 'Alert' from the roof of the Police Station in Queens Road. We kids were playing British and Germans in the street, so we ran directly to our doorway but not to inside the house because Mum was not there to call us in.
Then we heard the racket of a V1 coming up from the direction of Mitcham. Four of us still stood on the front door step as the noise got louder and we covered our ears. We watched it as it swiftly appeared over the roof tops on the other side of Craven Gardens, and as it had just passed over our heads my mother came running down the pavement like Mums do on school sports day parents races. She had her skirt lifted up showing her knees and thighs which I had not seen before. She swept us all up into the back room and under our Morrison shelter as the bomb stopped. Her head was under the table with us but her rear poked out in the room as there was not enough room for her as our Alsatian dog had got in under first. The bomb exploded on some houses on Landgrove Road next to the main railway line near to Gap Road Bridge. Our back windows were blown out, and all our family knickknacks fell off the Edwardian fireplace and broke. After she had calmed us down, Mum got some brandy which was kept in a medicine bottle with sticky paper round the cork and took that up to Mrs Adams.
One early morning soon after this incident, Mum took us down to Faraday Road and we saw that ten houses had been knocked out the night before by a Doodlebug. The road was cordoned off and the heavy squad were at work. This bomb had also seriously damaged the back corner of our school in Effra Road. We kids were fairly cheerful about that. We seemed to have no regard or thought for the casualties who had been pulled out of the flattened houses a few hours before. (The gap is still there). It was not long after this that we were all evacuated from our district to an unknown destination 'up north' which turned out to be Keithley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. That was probably about the morning of the 17th July 1944.
The buses to take us off to Kings Cross were drawn up outside Wimbledon Station main entrance, and they were also parked down the top end of Alexander Road opposite Maynards confectionary and tobacconist shop where my mum worked part time. We were all nervous about being caught out in the open with Doodlebugs about. I suppose there were about 600 of us, and I felt, and still feel that it was the worst day of my life.
We said goodbye to our Mum, my elder brother and I at the barrier of Kings Cross Station in the morning, feeling totally and utterly empty. We did not know how long the journey was going to be, so we ate our jam sandwiches the moment the train pulled out of Kings Cross. When we arrived at Bradford 5 hours later we were tired, and very hungry. After a bus ride we ended up in a school hall in Keithley. Then we had our hair picked over by people who said 'ee ba gum' in a funny accent, and having to sleep in a camp bed with scratchy army blankets and no sheets and feeling homesick was horrid.
The next morning my brother Grahame and I were among the last to be picked by some of the not quite so good folk of Keithley. But after a bad start for a couple of weeks on a Council estate, we were transferred to a lovely billet next to the Leeds and Liverpool canal with Mr & Mrs Arthur Bottomly of Riddlesden for the duration. They already had an adopted daughter called Brenda Spinks, so the lady billeting officer persuaded Mary Bottomly that two more Spinks would not hurt. Being a devout Christian soul she did her duty by us and took Grahame and me in. Arthur Bottomly was as good as a Dad to us, and taught us to fish in the canal using a jam jar on string and bread bait. It was a long time before we stopped wetting the beds though.
Previously I did not want to leave the suburbs of London just as war was hotting up again. I bitterly resented missing the action then as we were relatively well informed. At home my 'Uncle' Jack Smith, who was also our lodger, worked in the 'Citadel' of the Admiralty as an electrical technician maintaining teleprinters. The 'Citadel' is where The Mall joins Horse Guards parade and was highly secret and bombproof. It housed the Admiralty chart room and operations centre, communications and workshops. Three years after the war on a Saturday morning after getting special permission, he took me down on my tenth birthday to his basement workshop via an insignificant little door next to Admiralty Arch. After a security check and sign in, we went down lots of windowless corridors to the workshops repair rooms.
Part of the stuff I was shown on his bench was a strange looking typewriter thing. 'There,' he said, 'tap your name out on those keys, and look, different letters light up in those holes above the keyboard.' Thirty years later I realised that without knowing it I been one of the few children to play for a few minutes with an 'Enigma' cipher machine. It was just part of the junk cluttering Uncle Jack's bench and I was far more interested in a box of clickover counters which went into teleprinters.
My Aunt Gladys was a typist in the pool at the Foreign Office. At teatimes on Sundays she and Jack Smith were able to indicate to us how the war was going from a gossipy Whitehall perspective.
After VE Day in May 1945 there was a Victory street party outside our house which was crowded with us happy returned evacuees back from 'up north' sporting our home cut 'pudding basin' haircuts. The night before on VE Day we had burnt an effigy of Hitler on top of a bonfire round the corner in the middle of the road with the makings from what was left of Mr Bretson's house and shed which had been bombed out on the corner of Craven Gardens in 1940.
It is one of my abiding memories of the war that relations, friends, and neighbours pulled together without reserve. But already the atmosphere was changing and there was a subtle but perceptible differing in the way people treated each other. This change was even more predominate after VJ Day. From then on people were decidedly less likely to help each other out.
Back to our street party, the next afternoon after VE Day we children sat down on builders boards supported on dining room chairs. We were surrounded by mostly Mums who had prepared the tables with Union flag bunting and served us with a moderate fare of thin jam sandwiches sliced from rationed 'national' bread spread with unlabelled margarine. Also on offer in this outdoor feast were plain rock cakes and rich tea biscuits. To drink was tepid lemon squash made from crystals, accompanied by half set jelly, blancmange, and to finish with a few lovely lovely sugared almonds issued from large flat cardboard boxes. The sweets in between layers of tissue paper, a gift from the people of Australia, and oh yes, a sixpenny piece for surviving the war to take home with you, that is if you had a home to go to which had not been bombed out.
Victor Spink, June 2004
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