- Contributed by
- Torbay Libraries
- People in story:
- Donald King
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Paul Trainer of Torbay Library Services on behalf of Donald King and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's Terms and Conditions.
These happenings are included in a wartime manuscript I have put together since the early fifties called Bombs From London. It started with newspaper pages 2 and 3 at the commencement of the war. The manuscript has never been published.
Unlike most children evacuated at the commencement of the Second World War, not so myself. My father refused to let me go. I was to see the school closed and a padlock and chain attached to the school gates. I was thirteen years old - my birthday was the same day as Her Majesty the Queen, then called the Princess Elizabeth.
It was in the month of August 1940 that I took employment in the City of London as an office junior. The firm was called “Messrs Gain, Orr and Brett Ltd” - an export merchant. The address 111-113 Victoria Street, London E4 was less than a quarter of a mile from St Paul’s Cathedral. Each working day I travelled by the District Line, Underground Train Service. For most days of the war, the trains from Upminster to Ealing, Richmond, and the Circle Line carried out a normal service and was only disrupted by the air raids whilst the big London Terminals were heavily bombed. It was on the Monday morning of 13th May 1944, that I joined a train at Upney Station as normal and a notice displayed said that the trains were only going as far as Aldgate East. The station I always alighted at was called Mansion House.
Leaving the station entrance one could see the damage caused by the German raid on the Saturday night before. The fire service had left what looked like miles of hose pipe and one could see the damage caused to a number of buildings. This for me was to commence a walk through Leaden Hall Street. I walked past the Mansion House, Poultney Street, and as far as the Mansion Hall Station (where the Lord Mayor lived). From that point I had to divert, up the street called Cheapside. When I came up to Watlin Street, only yards from St Paul’s Cathedral, I was to see the church called Bow. The church bells lay on the floor, the belfry damaged. I turned into Watlin Street and eventually found myself in Queen Victoria Street only to see the Headquarters of the Salvation Army gutted inside by one oil bomb, as told by the fire officer.
From the export merchant’s office at the end part of the headquarters, on the third floor, looking inside the building one could see the sky. The lift that went up to the fourth floor looked a mess. The two comptometer adding machines, destroyed, lay on the ground floor and so much of the furniture and fittings. We of the export merchants knew that the most up to date records were completely safe in the vaults in the basement - this was done nightly before the office finished work each night.
Stepping back from the doorstep of number 113, and turning left into Mansion House Station, my eyes took in the damage done. I passed the doorway of number 111 and I saw the fire damage to the Hudson Bay Fur Company, next door to the famous Yardley perfumery. On the other side of the street, I was to see damage to the post office and the room of Lyons Restaurant.
Turning myself in the opposite direction towards Blackfriars Bridge Station, I could see still standing, the post office exchange called Faraday House and the building housed the College Heraldry Arms It was after a little while that I noticed a mobile canteen displaying the colours of the Salvation Army and was giving out tea etc. Along the side I met one of the two directors of Gain, Orr and Brett Ltd. Of Mr Brett, I could only think of him with the tears in his eyes, to know the firm was to celebrate its one hundred years service to India and Ceylon in ten years time. At roughly the same time, Mr Sidney the office management arrived on the scene. Mr Sidney quickly scurried away to find transport to collect what records lay in the basement vault.
It was hard to comprehend that days, rather than weeks ago, the Salvation Army had paraded some twenty to thirty mobile canteens outside the main building to be inspected by the Queen Mother, accompanied by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose. From a window of our office on the third floor, I could see the royal family inspect the whole parade. They were seen by me to go into the main doorway, to be taken down to the basement, which was especially made into an air raid shelter to see articles including brass band instruments and portable cooking utensils, and even copies of the Blighty magazine and winter clothing.
Gradually the morning wore on and it was nearly lunch time before Mr Sidney turned up to see Mr Brett and myself and other members of staff arrive. Mr Brett sent them home. I was asked to stay to retrieve the records from the vault as required. Mr Sidney jokingly said “How would you like to ride on a horse cart all the way to Putney?” I was in no position to refuse. Mr Sidney was absolutely worn out. He never said just how many transport firms he had made contact with to obtain even a van or lorry.
This meant I had to take my coat off to scramble all about a whole load of burnt furniture and other materials to clear a way down to the vault. The door opened, I commenced to retrieve the records and lay them on the door step until the horse and cart turned up owned by LLOYDS CARRIERS. It was late in the afternoon that the driver and myself finished loading the cart. In the district of West London we moved out of Queen Victoria Street in the direction of the Thames Embankment without even a wash or cup of tea. In the mess of burnt out materials, I sat comfortably alongside the driver, wondering what these people thought of us as we passed them by. Instead of taking the shortest way to Putney, the driver had to go via Big Ben and up the Whitehall. We went under the Admiralty Arch and down the road to Buckingham Palace and around the Palace to join the Fulham Palace Road. It was well turned six o’ clock in the evening before we arrived at No. 3 Gwendolene Avenue, the home of Mr Brett.
I am sure even now Mrs Brett thought I was a coal man when she opened the door with something to eat, a nice cup of tea. I was to arrive home close to nine o’ clock. When I arrived home to Barking, both my parents were really worried as I had no way of telling them what had been doing. Father was getting ready for his night work shift. He was a trained air raid spotter at the Tate & Lyle factory, Silverton. Not seeing him at home before I left for the office, he had spent time with his mate Stevo on the highest building of the factory, watching the air raid taking place and gave help to some of the people arriving home late for breakfast.
One evening, when things were quiet, father took me up to the top of the building and I could see out to the East as far as Southend, and way out in the South direction towards Brighton, and to the London Docks to the north. Lastly in the London direction I had a very clear view of St Paul’s Cathedral and beyond. The two spotters had a very important telephone link to the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) headquarters.
With the business able to carry on from this address, I still had to carry on with my duties as an office boy. The management paid out for my season ticket for the extra journey by underground from Barking to Putney Bridge plus a quarterly bonus. Most afternoons, I had to go by Tube to the Monument Station carrying a briefcase with Bills of Lading, for certification that goods were on board a ship out of Glasgow, Liverpool, or London. This included a visit to obtain certificates of insurance for Lloyds of Lime Street, London, EC3, making use of the Peninsula Oriental Line, the Clan Line, and the Anchor Line, just to name three shipping lines. The signed Bills of Lading, plus insurance were delivered to Lloyds Bank of Grace Church Street. The copies of Bills of Lading went to each importer receiving the goods out in India and Ceylon.
It was on one of these daily visits to the City that an air raid warning went off in the short period of the Doodle Bugs, while I was walking around in the Liverpool Street area. The noise from the Doodle Bugs could be heard for the fewest seconds, and then there was the deadliest silence. As I laid my body to the ground, there was a terrible big bang just around the corner of the street, less than fifty yards away. The Doodle Bug demolished a whole section of the Office to the ground. When I returned to the office, I was classed as a lucky young fellow.
On a separate occasion, a cordon was placed around an area which included Gain, Orr and Brett Ltd on Gwendolene Avenue, where I was working. It was around my lunch time and usually I made time, if it was a nice day, to walk across the Upper Richmond Road to sit beside the River Thames. This time I left the house in the opposite direction. I noticed a hole was made in the road with boarding protruding from it. Just to be nosey, I peered down into the hole, to see two soldiers below trying to diffuse a bomb.
From 1942 to 1944, I joined the 1147 Squadron Air Training Corp, Barking, Essex and during this time I was able to build up my induction, passing the medical and fitness test for entry into the Royal Air Force before my call up and I also joined the Drum and Bugle Band.
It was at breakfast time, when a Doodle Bug fell onto a house near the South East Technical College. It was to end the life of one of our bandsmen. At the time of the air raid warning, he was ordered out of bed by his mother, but refused to make for the air raid shelter. The Doodle Bug made a direct hit on the house. Members of the band were asked to attend the funeral but I was the only person to turn up that afternoon. For me, it was the hardest thing to do as I played the Last Post over his grave.
In August 1944, a broadcast by the Government stated that all volunteers for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy would be transferred to the Army or the Coal Mines. If their national service numbers issued to them ended with a number six they would be called to the mines. Luckily my number ended with a seven.
Three weeks after I received my call up papers, I was sent up to a Liverpool Camp.
With the Second World War coming to is closing phases, this exempted those men with special types of job. I was sent from Liverpool to Bally Kinlar in Northern Island for six weeks Army training. This was followed by twelve weeks battle training at Whalley Barracks near Blackburn, Lancashire.
In the following March, along with many hundred other soldiers we joined a ship out of Tilbury Docks for a Belgium Sea Port. Many went straight into the battle zone, and others to pick up mechanised transport. I was seconded to the Bren Carrier Unit and sent up to Nimegin in Holland. This was following the Air Born Landing to the capture of the Nimegin Bridge. Heavily out numbered by the German Army, all I could see was the gliders used for the air born landing. This was at a time when all personnel not directly engaged with Allied Forces were sent to what was known as Army Holding Reinforcement Units, with soldiers ready more or less for services as Occupying Forces. It was on the 8th May 1945 news of the war in Europe was ended.
Within days thousands of soldiers and other personnel were loaded onto war time aircraft at such airports as Belgium, and each aircraft was flown over the White Cliffs of Dover to English airfields to meet tremendous greetings on landing.
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