- Contributed by
- Paul Wakefield
- People in story:
- Mum, Dad, Paul and Ruth Wakefield
- Location of story:
- Putney, South West London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 November 2004
One of my most vivid memories of the war was in September 1944. I lived in Putney, south west London, with my Mother, Father and young sister, who was six months old. I was just over seven at the time. We lived in a fairly large house and across the road from us was a large infant school typical of that part of London in the 40’s.
The day in question must have been a weekday, late afternoon, as my Father, who was in a reserved occupation (he built gliders), was at work. The incident involves a ‘doodle-bug’ the V1 flying bomb. As I am sure with a lot of people by that time, we had got rather complacent when they came over and used to go out into the street or garden and watch them heading towards London instead of rushing into the shelters, wondering who was going to be on the receiving end.
On this particular day (I am not sure of the time but events after showed it must have been late afternoon) we were indoors. I was playing with a wooden Noah’s Ark on the stairs when we heard the familiar throbbing noise the V1 made. We went out into the garden and watched it passing overhead going towards a large block of flats known as The Mansions.
To this day I don’t know what made my Mother say she thought we had better get into the shelter. Mum went indoors to get my sister and my job was to get Mum’s handbag, which contained all the documents one had to have during the war.
I came out first and got into the shelter and walked to the back and turned to face the opening. Mum was just bending down (getting into the shelter) with my sister in her arms when the V1 landed. I vividly remember a very loud explosion and what felt like a giant hand picking me up and throwing me to the back of the shelter; Mum was blown in on top of my sister, luckily not sustaining any injuries other than shock.
What seems to have happened, is that the V1 had for some unknown reason turned almost 180 degrees and headed back. When the engine cut out and it dropped straight down, landing on the boys’ toilets of the school opposite us. The blast ripped through our house and as the shelter door faced our back door it came straight into the shelter even though there was a blast proof wall.
After the noise and dust had settled I stuck my head out of the shelter to see what had happened. My first sight was part of the school on fire and the row of houses opposite the playground and toilets were badly damaged. After the war the houses were demolished and prefabs were built in their place and they stayed there for many years, although I believe they have now gone.
What we didn’t know at the time was there were pupils from the school playing in the playground, and when the V1 cut out the caretaker’s wife, who was in the playground at the time, got the children behind a blast proof wall. Unfortunately she was caught out in the open and suffered bad injuries. I believe she had to have a lot of plastic surgery.
Once my mother felt it was safe to come out of the shelter we went indoors to see the damage, the front door was where the back door once was, and the ceilings had come down, I had a large wooden rocking horse, almost full size; this had been blown over onto my sister’s pram smashing off two of the wheels. There was no sign of my Noahs Ark at all, we never did find it. My father’s uncle had an antiques business in Putney and they sent a lorry to collect us and what else could be salvaged.
My father travelled from Putney to London every day on the District Line from East Putney. On arriving back he used to walk from the station to our house crossing a bridge known as the Woodlands that came out into our road. From the bridge he could see the top of the school buildings. I remember him telling me years later that as he came across the bridge that day he couldn’t see the buildings, just thick pall of smoke hanging over the school. He told us he was rooted to the spot for a few minutes and the relief when he got to our house and saw that we were all OK.
My mother, my sister and myself were evacuated after that to Retford, Nottinghamshire while the house next door to our damaged one was renovated. We moved back (into the next door property) about six months later and lived there for about the next ten years until we moved from London.
Putney was still bombed fairly regularly but nothing, thank goodness, came as close as the V1.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.