- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ernest Hartwell
- Location of story:
- Islington, London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 September 2005
This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by Steven Turner of the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Story Gatherer Team on behalf of Mr Ernest Hartwell and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
I was born in 1934. I was five when the war began and we lived in a block of flats in Islington, London, next door to Pentonville Prison. Our air-raid shelter was next to the wall of Pentonville Prison. It was a brick communal shelter and we used to play on top of it. One night I remember an incendiary bomb fell and set fire to the roof of the prison and we could hear the prisoners screaming to be let out. They’d been moved from the top floor to the bottom floor and carried on screaming until the fire was eventually put out. Of all the things I remember I always remembering hearing them screaming, these were hardened men, but in the end they were screaming like little girls.
We were in the shelters most nights and when we went back up into the flats we would look out and see London on fire.
Later in the war, when I was 10-11 I was at my Grandmas with all my cousins. Our parents had gone out drinking in the local pubs. All of a sudden there was a bang and the windows blew in and the front door came off. A V2 had hit nearby. We kids ran outside looking for our parents, as we knew they were in one of the pubs were the V2 had hit. Our Mum found us first and gathered all of us toward her. Someone shone a torch on us and we were all covered in blood, but none of us knew where from. We got taken to hospital and then they found that my Mum had got a nasty gash on her hand. The blood had come from her waving her arms around.
The V2 fell on a crossroads, Mackenzie Road I think, the explosion demolished the pub there, the floors fell into the cellar and I remember it killed a girl I knew, she was only just engaged the Christmas before.
(Ed.The pub was likely to have been The Prince of Wales which was hit by a V2 on Boxing Day 1944. 71 people were killed, 56 seriously injured and 202 slightly wounded. Mr Hartwell feels that the local habit of residents flocking to the pub with a particular whisky available may have added to the numbers).
Mum’s injury was that bad I remember it causing her to drop things for a while afterward. My Dad, who was on anti-aircraft guns, got a posting nearer to home to help Mum. Dad was posted to The Tower of London and I have good memories of going there for dinner with all the guards and drinking out of an army mug.
I used to swap shrapnel for coins. Some of the coins I got were quite old. I had a couple that said 1261 on with a Star of David. I thought they were Jewish. Not long ago I took them to an expert from Cambridgeshire Archaeology Department and he said they were Moroccan. Sadly the Moroccan calendar started about 600 years after ours, so they were 1861 not 1261! The expect asked me if they’d been dug up, I said it was more a case of them being “blown up”!
There were a few things we used to do to keep ourselves occupied. We got live bullets from somewhere and put them in drainpipes, they used to fit the covers up to the end of the cartridge. We’d then hit the ends with a nail making them bang and firing the bullets down into the drain!
We also used to entertain ourselves with “Whips and tops”, marbles and skates. At one stage we used to throw beer bottle tops up against a wall and call “heads or tails”. The winner would keep the top and collect them in a bag. I asked my Gran to get me some and she got a bag full from the pub, so it didn’t matter to me if I won or lost! One day I decided I was going to scramble these tops, so I told the other kids and went up in my flats. I thought it would be funny to drop a few of the tops, let them scramble for them, then I’d tip the whole bag on them. I did this and because of how the tops were they got a few scratches, so I had to stay indoors for a while!
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