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- People in story:
- Samuel Melnick
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- 17 December 2003
I spent most of the war in London having been brought back from evacuation to Meppershal near Hitchin in early November 1939. The school I used to attend had been evacuated and no school functioned in the building. The LCC had opened a temporary school in the classrooms of the New Synagogue in Stamford Hill and I was duly sent, or rather taken, there. At first it was part-time with some pupils in the morning, others in the afternoon.
The first wartime action I remember was the battle of the River Plate when two Australian and one British cruiser took on the German pocket battleship Prinz Eugun and won. Next came Norway and was followed by invasion of the various European countries. Suddenly came Dunkirk and the evacuation of the B E F from France.
Following the French surrender and with Churchill as Prime Minister "The might of Nazi Germany was trained on Britain." At first the air attacks were on the airfields but one Saturday in early September we (that's the family and neighbours) sat in the garden and watched the first raid on London docks. Plane after plane came in to drop its bombs. We couldn't see the bombs but it was obvious what they were doing. There was some AA fire and we saw the shell bursts but it really was ineffective. After some hours of this a small group of hurricanes came over from the North and attacked the bombers - we saw one plane shot down but couldn't see whose it was. After this the raid ended. The 6 o'clock news that evening reported on the damage done to the docks and the shipping on the river. This type of attack was kept up for over two weeks when the Luftwaffe and R.A.F. threw everything they had at each other after which no further daylight raids took place.
From this time on the raids came at night and the City of London became the prime target. Much of the City was destroyed although other parts of London were also bombed. Incendiary bombs started fires everywhere which guided bombers to their targets. fires also did more damage than H.E's. I slept through most of this in the cellar of our house. The main cellar door had been barricaded with sand bags (filled with earth) so was no escape route should one have been needed: I was also close to the water main into the house.
One night the water supply to the firefighters ran out and they had to stand and watch the city burn. Another bomb which the Germans used was the land-mine. Two of these were carried by a bomber and released together falling by parachute, they contained a very large warhead but sometimes caught up in trees and people were got away before they exploded thus reducing the casualty rate to nearly zero. One of these came down close to the synagogue mentioned above, broke all the windows and brought the ceiling down; the second fell nearby and broke one of our windows. During these night raids one bomb struck a block of flats in Stoke Newington fracturing the water main; few got out and the mass of bodies (some 600 people perished in the flood) was buried in the nearby Abney Park cemetery. One of the survivors of this event was a boy of my own age who came to my school.
With the withdrawal of the German bombers to the east ready for the attack on Russia the regular raids ceased and were replaced by sporadic nuisance raids by which time radar directed the guns and heavy AA gunfire could be heard: one such gun sounded as though it was stationed close to us. On one such raid a "stick" of incendiaries came down on our road, one hitting a house, setting alight the main upstairs front room. Soon a single fire-engine clanged its way to the blaze and quickly dealt with the fire. Another landed on the road and rolled into the gutter where my elder brother dealt with it using a sandbag. Next morning my father fashioned a medal from a piece of cardboard and presented it to him. I am not sure whether it was the same occasion or another but an incendiary started a fire in a back room of a house backing on to us. This time it was a neighbour or rather two or three who spotted the fire, climbed over the fence, and equipped with a stirrup pump and buckets of water extinguished the fire. As they were returning over the fence, occupants of the house came rushing out shouting "thieves, burglars" quite oblivious of the bomb which had struck them.
The next development took place after the Normandy landings, these were pilotless, jet-propelled aircraft known officially as V1s but to all and sundry as buzzbombs or doodlebugs. The newly introdced typhoon fighters were the only aicraft the RAF had which were fast enough to deal with them. The planes would tip them over by near contact with the wing tips thus cutting the fuel supply to the engines. They flew too high for the light AA guns but too low for the heavys, the trajectory of the heavy guns was lowered. About mid-July the guns were moved from London to the coast and during this time a large number got through, one hitting a house a few doors from us. I was asleep (this was about 3 a.m.) in our Morrison shelter (a table-like device made of steel with sleeping accommodation beneath with wire-protective sides). My mother was also under the table but other members of the family were in their normal beds. We all got out as did most of our neighbours but some had to be dug out. The Rescue people were on the scene very quickly. Clearly the house was no longer habitable and dad sought help from where ever he could. To add to the problems a telegram arrived from my younger brother who was with his school in Chatteris that he had been called for an interview next morning and would be arriving that same mid-day. I was packed off to relatives in Cardiff and stayed there for a month. On my return, by which time the council had found us a flat, I spent some time there before joining the Davenant Foundation School at Chatteris.
Life here was more interesting, after about a week I was moved to Ely and commuted daily to school, a bus journey of some twelve miles passing two RAF bomber airfeilds on the way. Often we could see bombers taking off as darkness fell. I was in London for the Christmas holiday and one day when I had been to somewhere in central London a V2 rocket came down on a library near the bus I was on destroying the building and killing a large number of children inside. At half-term of the Spring term I was transferred to Parmiter's School at Bethnal Green and at 7 o'clock of the morning on the last day of that term a V2 rocket, one of the last to hit London, crashed into a block of flats in Vallance Road, Whitechapel causing great loss of life including one member of my class. With the ending of the Easter holiday the loss of our friend was forgotten and soon came the German surrender in May.
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