- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Eric Nutcher and Norman taylor
- Location of story:
- St. Joseph's Home, Enfield, Middlesex
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 May 2005
From 1938 onward it seemed inevitable that sooner or later Britain and germany would once again be at war. I was one of 150 orphans who were housed in an orphanage in Enfield north london. Prior to the war we had practiced what to do in the event of a german air attack on london. We had been told that when war came the germans would launch a ferocious airial bombardment against london and that they would also drop poisonous gas. To reduce casualties from a gas attack,everyone in britain was issued with a gas mask in a cardboard box. We prcticed regularly how to quickly and effectively wear the gas mask to avoid dying from the effects of inhaling the noxious fumes that would contiminate the air. On september 3rd 1939 the senior boys were summond by mother superior to listen to the prime minister neville chamberlain speak to the nation at 11am. Towards the end of his speech we heard mr chamberlain say that" that we were now in a state of war with germany" Almost immediately fear began to take hold of us, and within minutes of the end of the prime minister,s declaration of war the sirens began their haunting wail across london. St. joseph's home was a large victorian house and beneath the building was a large cellar. The civil defence authorities must have decreed that the cellar was a safe place to shelter 150 boys all under the age of fourteen, plus some sixteen staff. They ignored the fact that there was a large coke boiler that provided hot water and heating for the orphanage. In addition stored close by the boiler was several tons of highly combustable coke. Within twenty or so yards was also stored in an underground tank were millions of gallons of water. This was enfield's domestic and commercial water supply stored by the metropolitan water board. As the sirens wailed we were told to make our way to the cellar to shelter from the expected airial bombardment and to make sure we had our gas masks with us. There were several entrances to the cellar and a number of us that included eric nutcher made our way to the narrow entrance that gave limited access to the cellar via a narror flight of wooden stairs. The stairs did not have a bannister rail. A female member of the staff was standing at the top of the stairs telling the boys to move as quickly as possible into the cellar. To speed the boys along she pushed eric nutcher who then lost his balance and tumbled down the stairs injuring his head and more seriously damaging his gas mask. Why eric was the only boy to have his gas mask in a tin we are unable to remember, eric was the only boy not to have his gas mask in cardbord box. Eric's gas mask was in a cylindical tin and as he fell,the weight of his body crushed the tin, making it impossible to remove the mask without damaging the celluloid visor and the rubber that made it airtight. Eric had to receive first aid for his injuries and if a gas attack had occured he would certainly have perished. The orphanage was run by a roman catholic order of nuns and the terrified boys led by the nuns were reciting the rosary with their gas masks attached to their faces. Mercifully it was a false alarm and after about thirty minutes the all clear sounded. Many of the boys who attended st. joseph's enfield in the 30s and 40s attend our annual reunion,and talk of that sunday in september 1939 when we ran panic stricken to the cellar for shelter from what we believed at the time would be a devating air and gas attack on london. We often wonder if eric nutcher was the first child to be injured in world war 2. Fortunately eric is still with us to tell the tale.
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