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15 October 2014
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Wartime for a child in Lambeth

by LambethGirl

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Contributed by 
LambethGirl
People in story: 
Diane Hazelwood (now Stiff), Nora and Bill Hazelwood, Charlie, Chick, Bill, Alec and John Hazelwood, Nora Culver,
Location of story: 
Kennington, Lambeth, London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A7647087
Contributed on: 
09 December 2005

Me (Diane Hazelwood), Dec 1941, Worcester House, Kennington Road, Lambeth — this picture was sent to my cousin Charley.

Wartime for a child in Lambeth
Diane Stiff (nee Hazlewood)

I was born in St.Thomas’s Hospital on the Lambeth Embankment on 8th May 1938 at a time when London, not to mention the country, was still hoping war was never going to happen and most families got on with normal day to day existence. By the time I was 16 months old the normal life was no more for anyone, certainly not in South London. We lived in a large ground floor flat, 1 Worcester House, Kennington Road, part of the relatively new China Walk estate which encompassed flat names like Wedgwood, Devonport and Coalport. It was within easy reach of the Lambeth Walk, Lambeth Bridge and the Imperial War Museum (the old Bedlam Asylum) and was just over the road through Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (Bedlam Park to us kids).

My five brothers were eventually all called-up into the armed services, only 4 came back. Uniforms became part of the accepted dress for a young child to see without understanding the meaning of them, just always coming and going. I don’t remember ever feeling frightened or scared in any way at any time, I was too young to understand what was going on and by the time I start to have real memories, I just accepted it as what happened. I had a loving family, lots of friends, relatives and neighbours who formed my life; can you live a lifetime in 7 years? I think looking back, that you can - what happened after 1945 is in a different memory bank and the start of a new life.

GranGouldings (qv) memoirs mentions the flats in Kennington Road and Rowlands Dairy being bombed (Sep 1940); Worcester House where we lived was sandwiched between the Dairy and Lambeth Municipal Baths and the area bombed was centred around the stairwell. Our living room and back bedroom wall was strengthened by the wall of the Lambeth Baths, so our back bedroom was considered safer than any shelter and until January 1945 it was constantly used as a refuge and haven when needed.

My Dad, Bill Hazelwood was an ARP warden and after the bombed part of the flats were tidied and boarded up, the flat next to the Dairy became the ARP Warden Headquarters. Laughable incidents abounded in the war and one memory was my Dad trying to clear the fire grate in the warden’s flat - he dislodged some bricks in the chimney and got knocked out by an extremely large and heavily ornamented brass poker, about 3 foot in length, which must have come down from the chimney of the second or third floor flats! Mum had the poker for years and laughed every time she used it.

There was no way my family would have let me be evacuated, so I knew no other life than the black out, the regular air raids that invariably blew our windows out or in, and the losing of all electric lights. The bomb blasts used to blow doors shut and empty wardrobes of clothes; pebbledash light-fittings regularly got blown down onto the bowl of apples on the dining room table, scattering them and everything else all over the floor. I remember the cuts and grazes caused by flying glass, people being brought into the back bedroom covered in dust and plaster and being fussed over with hugs and cups of tea. My Mum, Nora Hazelwood, was a little lady, practical and loving and somehow never let the real horror or what was happening touch me. I remember seeing the bombed houses in Kennington Road opposite us gradually disappear. I vividly recall a man and his dog standing by the lamppost outside our flat being hit by blast, their bodies imploded and swollen, looking as if they had been blown up like balloons. It is only as I got older and realised what I’d seen that my admiration for my protective family and friends increased. We were so regularly caught by blasts, Dad used to say it was because the German bombers misread the bend in the river Thames and thought the Dome on the Imperial War Museum was St. Paul’s Cathedral, I don’t know whether this had any credence but seemed logical at the time.

Memories of neighbours and relatives talking about various bombings, families being moved, hurt and killed seemed to be a normal occurrence. I clearly remember one evening I was dressed up in a cousin’s wedding dress sitting on a small stool with a doll, and listening to a story at Dad’s feet when suddenly WHOOSH! in came the windows and curtains and out blew the fire catching my dress alight. Everything else went black and I remember my Mum in the dark tearing the dress off me and my doll to stop us getting burned and burning her hands. Another time, I remember sitting watching my Dad and Uncle Vic Hanson and their friends taking a break with tea and sandwiches on a small table and the vibration of the bombing making the table walk across the floor! Night times I remember that being woken up and another small child being laid in bed next to me meant that it was another raid, but this happened so often I never worried about it, now you would be worried the children were traumatised after such events; I think the people of London were marvellous, they just coped with everything in their stride.

September 1943 I started school, at Reedworth Street (really called Archbishop Sumner’s C of E School). As children we got so used to seeing houses open to the sky and rooms still with pictures hanging on the walls that I can never look at a dolls house now without comparing them. I suppose the hours at school were curtailed quite often and I can remember the regular visits to St. Philip’s church next door for safety (it’s no longer there). Our teachers Miss Patty and Mr Garrod (headmaster) shepherded us back and forth but with no great panic at anytime.

One abiding memory is the night The Union Jack Club and part of Waterloo Station was bombed. My cousin Nora Culver was on warden duty around Westminster Bridge Road, near Lambeth North Tube Station, when a chap in Polish uniform told her he had to get to the Union Jack Club to meet some friends and asked her the way. She told him he couldn’t go down Baylis Road because it’d been hit and suggested he took shelter; anyway she brought him to our home and he kipped in the back room. In the morning after the all clear, breakfast and tea, we sent him on his way … only for him to reappear a couple of hours later to thank Mum and Dad. It transpired that some of his friends had been killed or injured in the bombing of Waterloo that night and he considered that my parents had saved his life. He gave Dad a watch chain, it was silver metal with a little boat attached to it which sailed along the chain as you moved it. It was a great toy for me as a little girl and I passed many hours with my Dad listening to the story.

In 1943, the area of Lambeth Walk and China Walk received many bombing hits. Rows of little streets were demolished. After the war, this area was used in the filming of Passport to Pimlico and I remember as an eleven year old watching a great deal of the activity, thinking of how I and my cousins had played all over the bombed area!

By the time the doodle bugs and rockets started, I suppose I was beginning to understand wartime. My youngest brother John had gone off to the D-Day landings 8th June 1944, with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and been killed on 19th June 1944. He was only 19 years old. He is buried at Banneville-La-Campagne cemetery just outside Caen, France. I loved John dearly, he had been on a short leave before going away and he couldn’t wait to go; I said goodbye before going to school and still remember the horrid feeling I had that day that I would never see him again. Can you feel that at 6 years old? well, I did and I can remember the empty feeling in my stomach when the telegram came and Mum just stood looking out of the kitchen window. I knew what it was and I ran to get a neighbour to take care of her, I’d never saw her cry before (or since) and God knows she had a lot to cry about.

I suppose the incident that really topped the lot was 4 January 1945 when the Lambeth Baths received a direct hit from a V2 rocket; 37 people were killed. Amazingly enough our little back room was not damaged at all but the white tiled wall adjoining it in the square of the flats was leaning at a very peculiar angle. I’d been in bed, was awoken by my Aunt Kit and Mum lifting me out very gingerly because once again the windows had blown in and my bed was full of broken glass! I was cut on the face etc and got taken to relatives along the Kennington Road for the rest of the night. The wall eventually collapsed at about 4o’clock in the morning. I can remember my sister Betty arriving in a near state of collapse, she had been to the Regal Cinema in Kennington Road and on hearing that the flats and baths had ‘caught it’ she had run all the way home, scared to death; I can remember her hugging me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. The Lambeth Baths were no more but the room was still used. That night also saw the end of the Ideal Methodist Mission where I had received many little wartime parcels from America.

Then joy o’ joy!, in 1945 my brother Bill came home from Burma after four years; I’d heard a lot about him but couldn’t remember him. He was all tanned, wearing a ‘bush’ hat, he looked lovely and everyone was so happy to see him. Then my other brothers Charlie and Alec, and then Chick (Henry) all came home; I remember meeting Chick at Waterloo Station. Their friends visited, lots of family parties were held and of course then came VE Day. In the following months there were celebration street parties and I used to do very well at these because they always asked if anyone had a birthday on VE Day, the 8th May, which of course was mine and I got given extra presents! Another life started then but it only takes a sound of a siren, a loud firework or a an old film to rekindle the feeling, so perhaps I was more aware of what was happening than I had previously thought; I still have the greatest admiration for the ordinary Londoners of that time and how they coped with wartime life.

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