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WAR-TORN PENGE (London S.E. 20)

by malcolm holmes

Contributed by 
malcolm holmes
People in story: 
Percy, Olive, Malcolm, Barry HOLMES
Location of story: 
Penge, London se 20
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 May 2005

Percy Holmes (in Civvies) on 72-Hour Leave, Olive Holmes, Frank Huxley (Brother-in-Law), just arrived on 72-Hour Leave.Back garden, Wordsworth Rd - Air Raid shelter on left.

WAR-TORN PENGE (London S.E. 20)

In May 1945 I was seven, my brother five and there was a VE-day Street Party in Wordsworth Road. Mr Kerry (the off-licence owner) gave each child 2s/6d and we all sang "For he's a jolly good fellow". Ironic, in that we had upset the man many times by kicking a tennis ball against his side wall.
Many houses in the road had been destroyed and all suffered damage. Penge had the doubtful distinction of receiving more 'Doodlebugs' per square yard than any other place in the UK. It was also targeted during the blitz because of the Penge railway tunnel.
I recall the Barrage balloons, sirens and regular trips to the air-raid shelter at the foot of the garden at No.18. One night, the lady from the Flat above us, used our shelter and told my mother that she was hungry. She dashed outside during a raid and grabbed a stick of our rhubarb from the garden.
It was only in later years that I fully perceived what a heroine my mother was. She never betrayed a hint of panic, though things must have been very hard for her. My father was abroad in the RAF and they were an exceptionally devoted couple. Dad was in the RAF Regiment and travelled to many parts of the world. I have photographs of him with his lorry, jeep and motorbike - all with 'Olive' (my mother's name) painted on the vehicle. Although his convoy was once strafed on the Autobahn, he always insisted that his family was far more at risk. He was a patriotic and gutsy man but made it clear that he would have preferred to be with his family during the Blitz.

Queuing was almost a pastime for food and coal. One Christmas, the word went round that apples were for sale at Maple Rd market. I queued for ages and took home a bag of apples about the size of a plum. Meat was, of course rationed and Kennedy's sausages were much sought after. Very long queues waiting for the 10 am delivery van.

Odd things stick in the mind. I recall a young girl selling kisses for sixpence to men working on the bombed site. We waved to soldiers returning from the Front, en route for Victoria. They often threw bars of chocolate and we raced over the bombed site, up the railway embankment to retrieve this luxury. When Dad was demobbed, October 1945, he could not immediately reclaim his job at Twinlocks. For a time, he felled trees at Eden Park and chauffeured for a one-man taxi firm He had to take a driving test - after driving all sorts of vehicles all over Europe for six years !!
If we saw an ambulance, superstition said that you must 'Hold your collar till you see a dog' !?
The local Xmas rhyme was "Old King Wenceslas looked out on a 227, bumped into a 194, now he's up in Heaven"; (Local buses 194, 227, 75 and 12).

I would dearly love to copy any photographs taken at the VE party. Neighbours included Walpole, Rice, Lake Saxby, Homewood, Pink, Sharp, Leigh, Hinton, Kettlety, Scrivens, Venn, King, Lloyd and Mack.
Later, when I attended Beckenham Grammar School in 1947, I experienced a sad illustration of what war does to people. A Dr Liepman taught German and, whenever the hymn 'Glorious Things of thee are spoken' was sung at Assembly (to the chant of the old German National Anthem) the tears shamelessly rolled down his cheeks. He had fled Germany's Nazi persecution.

Malcolm Holmes
Dad (Percy Holmes) was killed in a car crash 1958. Mum (Olive) died 1992.
Brother (Barry) lives at Henley-on-Thames. Brother (Graham) lives at Bexley.

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