- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Wartime memories of John Greener
- Location of story:
- New Cross in London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 October 2004
This story was submitted to the Peoples War web site by Hertfordshire Libraries working in partnership with the Dacorum Heritage Trust on behalf of the author, John Greener. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
Air Raid Precaution Units were made up of volunteers with various skills that could be used to recover people from the effects of aerial bombardment, and to give them emergency care until the rescue service could reach them. Such skills which they provided were for example; First Aid; Building and Demolition trades.
It was due to the skills of demolition workers that my Mother's life was saved when our house was demolished by a Rocket in 1944. My family home was at No. 90 Shardloes Road, New Cross. I was serving in the army in Burma at the time
and I remember my Commanding Officer asking me if I wanted to return home. I declined his offer because, having told me that my mother was safe and well, albeit in hospital, I realised that there was nothing I could do to improve her
circumstances if I were to return home. Thankfully, my Mother made a full recovery from her injuries.
Other important jobs to be done in the ARP control point were: Warden Control; Administration; Clerical and Typing work; and very important, Tea making.
There was always a welcoming cup of hot tea waiting for us when we returned to the control point. Each incident had to be recorded with Date, Time and Place. Every person rescued alive and those who were dead had to have their details recorded. Sometimes it was not easy to recognise the dead.
The control point I was attached to was set up in a local builders yard which belonged to Mick McManus, a well known middle weight wrestling champion,
Another important arm of the ARP were Cycle Messengers who with their detailed knowledge of the local district were able to deliver messages to other units. They were able to guide Rescue Services to those needing immediate aid. Their knowledge of the district and the quickest way to contact the Fire and Ambulance services; Hospitals and Doctors Surgeries, proved invaluable when telephone lines were destroyed.
Each London Borough had its own teams of ARP Control points who monitored the fall of bombs and the location of demolished properties so that they could direct the Rescue Services to places where people were known to have taken shelter when the Sirens sounded.
When war was declared at 11.00am on Sunday 3rd September 1939 I joined the ARP and became a Cycle Messenger, much to the consternation of my mother, who thought that I would be much safer at home taking shelter under the kitchen table. But I felt much safer out of the house where I could find my own shelter when the bombs were dropping.
My mother had a job with the local Money Lender as Receptionist, Clerk and Tea maker. She worked in a very pleasant office and enjoyed her work. My Step-Father worked for Southern Railway at Angerstein Works, Woolwich where he was a Semi-Skilled machine operator.
The pattern of my daily life soon fell into a regular routine. I would return home from work at 5.30. have my dinner then go to night school from seven until nine, and then be ready to set off to my local ARP control point to report for duty when the air raid Sirens sounded.
If it was a quiet night I would go off to meet my friends where we would spend the evening in the local Pub or some one's house. I remember with fondness my friends who were a pretty diverse bunch but we had a lot of fun together. Most of them are now dead, unfortunately. In particular I remember my two closest friends who were like me, an only child, so we had something in common. They were, George Nix and Ken Mullins both accomplished musicians. George played Piano and Ken played Saxophone and Clarinet. They formed the basis of a band which played at local functions, I
cannot play any instrument, much to my regret, so I became their agent, getting Gigs and buying their sheet music. We also recruited a Base Guitarist to our group, he had a hunch back due to deformity in his spine I cannot remember his name but I do remember him as an extrovert, a fine musician, with a great sense of humour,
When Harry Roy and his band visited the New Cross Empire he invited people from the audience to go on stage and conduct his band in a comedy sketch. Our friend took up the challenge, the result was hilarious with the musicians playing in different timing to the conductor. I never saw him after this, unfortunately, he was killed in a car accident while I was in the army. But, I shall never forget that night.
I became friendly with a Drummer, Eric Saunders, who had two sisters, Dorothy and Joyce. Their mother thought that Dorothy and I might develop a close relationship but I was not aware of her feelings toward me, and in any event, I would not consider a relationship during war time. The Saunders owned a Sweet and Tobacconist shop in Brockley and this became the focus for our social activities.
The shop had a large cellar, which we cleared out and decorated so we had premises for a club. Friday night was music night when we would join thousands of other listeners to the wireless for our weekly session of dancing to Victor Sylvester and his orchestra. Through the wireless he taught us the basic steps of Ballroom dancing. Each week there would be a different step in the dancing repertoire. He received many letters from people who wanted a particular dance, mostly Latin American, which was very popular at the time. He gave us many hours of pleasure.
Mr Saunders was a professional violinist and became a great help in setting up our club. He introduced us to the music of Stephane Grappelli, probably the greatest Swing and Jazz violinist of our time. It was here that we organised our activities and played out our parodies to mimic the times.
During the Spring, Summer and Autumn months, if the weather was fine, we would walk to Hilly Fields where we played cricket or football. We each had a bicycle and sometimes we would ride to another park for a change of scenery. One of our friends had a Tandem and on long rides such as a trip to Southend I would take the rear seat. Probably half a dozen of us would go off for the day, taking a picnic lunch to eat on Southend Pier, after a play on the beach and a swim in the sea we returned home. There was very little motorised traffic on the roads at that time and we felt no danger in cycling that far. It is not a journey I would fancy doing today. Unlike to-days youngsters we had very little money but we had tremendous fun.
As an alternative to the club we would go for a drink at our local pub 'The Wickham Arms'. Although we were under age for Pub drinking the son of the Publican was a member of our club so his mother, who was the Landlord, allowed us to sit in a corner out of the way of other drinkers and drink our half pint of beer, at that time the most popular drink for young lads was Brown Ale.
In spite of the war, in those early years, we spent many happy hours particularly in the winter, in the warm cosiness of the Wickham Arms planning our future activities.
During the years '40' and '41 at the height of the London Blitz my mother would make up a bed for me under the Dining Room table a large wooden structure which she thought would save me if the roof fell in but I wasn't so sure so when the air raid sirens sounded I would be off to the ARP centre ready for duty. At this time I had my job with TELCON from 9.00am until 5.00pm. Sometimes, if I had been busy during the night I found it difficult to stay awake during the following day so I used to spend my lunch hour in the office toilet where I could have almost an hour's uninterrupted sleep.
The weather played a great part in the level of ARP activity. If it was raining heavily or snowing the Germans stayed at home, which meant we had a night off. So, there was very little activity during the winter months. During the early years of the war, 1940 and 1941 London was heavily bombed day and night with High Explosive and Incendiary bombs, particularly, the docks area on the River Thames.
Fortunately, Greenwich was South East of the city centre where the main London Docks were so we did not suffer as much bombing as they did, but I watched the dog fights between the German and British aircraft as they were played out over southern England during the summer of 1940. This was the Battle of Britain.
As an ARP messenger I had my share of incidents the most common when I fell into a shell hole that I hadn't seen in the dark, sometimes there would be water in the hole and I would finish my duty soaking wet, apart from a few cuts and grazes I didn't suffer any major injury.
From my house or the factory I could see the fires from the blazing docks which cast a pall of smoke over the river. I remember the first day of the London blitz it was 7th of September 1940. A date ingrained in the memory of anyone who lived in London at that time. The closest and biggest single tragedy that I remember was when a High Explosive bomb dropped on Woolworth's store in New Cross Road, over a hundred people were killed, this became the largest single incidence locally, of the war.
I served in the ARP until I was sixteen years old when I realised there was a much bigger job for me. However, at such an impressionable age the sights and sounds of those far off days have made sure that I never forget what the people of London went through to ensure that Britain will never give in to tyranny.
THE HOME GUARD
I had reached the age where I felt that I should be doing more for the war effort, so I joined the Home Guard. A unit had been formed at the Telcon Works at Greenwich. Because, geographically, we were in the county of Kent our parent Regiment was The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment. Our Commanding Officer was one of our own factory managers who had ended his service in the First World War with the rank of Major, so he was naturally, given command of our unit. Unfortunately, I cannot remember his name, but I do remember him to be a very kindly gentleman whether at work or on parade.
When the Home Guard was first formed it was known as the LDV(Local Defence Volunteers). The only defence we had at the time were wooden dummy rifles, we were taught basic military skills such as marching and rifle drill, self defence and fire drill. We paraded once a week for training. Our duties were guarding the rear of the Works because of its easy approach from the river, and the threat of invasion made us particularly vulnerable.
We also did our share of Fire Watching and putting out Incendiary Bombs. I remember the visit to the Works by HRH The Duke of Kent which took place the day following a night aerial attack on the factory in which a bomb destroyed the high frequency furnaces. Fortunately the night shift had been cancelled so nobody was injured. The Factory was working again within twenty four hours although the employees suffered considerable discomfort through exposure to the weather until the roof was repaired.
Production in the Works was often disrupted due to daylight air raids. When the Siren sounded we used to leave our offices and machines and gather in a part of the Works which was deemed safest for the employees. There were other parts of the Works that had been made as safe as possible so that we didn't all congregate in the same area.
Air raids offered an opportunity to take a break from our work, to rest and relax as much as possible. It was at such times that I learned to play Bridge, which I found to be an absorbing card game. Although the Works were on the German flight path to the London Docks I don't ever remember the Works being bombed during daylight hours. The German bombers made for the docks and the city a couple of miles up river from Greenwich. My service with Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company came to an end at the beginning of January 1942 when I left to join the Army.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.