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My childhood memories of wartime in London

by csvdevon

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Joyce Iris Koch
Location of story: 
Downham in Lewisham - London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 January 2006

I grew up on a council estate built in 1927 called a ‘home in the country’

It was built to house soldiers who came back from the war, and as my father served in 1st World War he was given a house on estate
It was a lovely place to grow up - lovely fields - plenty of schools

I was 10 when the war broke out. I remember Mr Chamberlain talking on the wireless. And also the first air raid warning. My father was playing darts with some neighbours at the time - I remember shaking from head to foot I was terrified, father said we’ll be alright he never showed any nerves.

I was terrified when the air raid warning went off. I used to run down the road to my aunts air raid shelter, our shelter was full of water most of the time. I used to run down the road with no shoes or socks on I was so scared

My brother was ready to come out of the army when the war broke out, he’d done 7 years in the regular army and was going to go into the reserves - but he was sent to France - then my mother heard he was missing presumed dead. My sister was doing tailoring work making uniforms for soldiers, sailors and airmen. Quite suddenly out of the blue - I caught diphtheria and was sent to isolation hospital called Hither Green. On the same day my mother heard that my brother was a POW, my brother notified her himself - that was May 1940. Good news and bad news

May 1940 - November 1940

Whilst in hospital I got rid of my nerves of the air raids - you had to stay in bed for three weeks and had to be lifted out. The nurses home was bombed and several nurses were injured. It certainly cured my nerves of air raids and I went home quite a brave girl.

But what I remember from the war was the funny incidents as well

My mother used to put her insurance policies and false teeth in the oven when we went to the air raid shelter. She told my father it was because they cost her five pounds when she got them from Guys Hospital. Father could never work it out as he said who would want her false teeth anyway

Strange thing was one Sunday - when she was cooking Sunday lunch - which had very little meat in it. There was a very strange smell - of course it was my mother’s false teeth - she forgot to take them out when she but the potatoes in. My mother reckoned that they fitted better after that

Then there was Mr Duke our next door neighbour - he was a dispatch rider in the home guard. He was absolutely terrified and spent most of his time down Chesilhurst Caves. We left our fence down and Mr Duke and his family used to use our shelter during air raids. They used to come running across the garden Mr Duke first - it wasn’t women and children first - it was always Mr Duke first - in fact we used to let him go. It felt comfortable having more people in the shelter - we used to sing songs together.

My mum used to have a washing line across the garden and one day during an air raid - Mr Duke ran across the garden and caught his neck on the line and sent him flying. How we laughed and laughed in fact we couldn’t stop laughing - so much so that Mr Duke boxed his sons ears

January 30th 1943

Sandhurst Road School - there was no warning and German planes came from out of nowhere, you could see the swastikas. We didn’t know which way to run - they were machine gunning down the street. We decided to run to the brick air raid shelter at the bottom of the street. There was a policemen on point duty who saw us and pushed us to the ground and stood over us as the machine gunning went down the road

When the planes had gone we ran home and everyone was in our air raid shelter. They hadn’t worried about us because they thought we’d gone down the school shelter - but there had been no warning!

The planes went down and bombed Sandhurst Road School and killed 75 children most of the causalities were in the dining room

I was in the top girls then and a prefect. I went to the funeral at hither green cemetery where there was a mass grave.

I represented school and took a reef down

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