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15 October 2014
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The Doodle Bug Boys

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
John Iles, Fred White
Location of story: 
New Addington, Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Stuart Marshall from Crawley Library and has been added to the website on behalf of John Iles with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

When my parents moved to New Addington in 1938 from a small flat in West Croydon, I was the happiest I’d ever been. The surrounding woods and trees were heaven for a boy of seven. Golden corn fields, poppies and tree-lined roads. Soon I had a pal next door called Fred White to play with as well.
The year later everything started to change, a war began. It was fun to begin with, just a few German aircraft being shot at and Spitfires from nearby Biggin Hill having dogfights above the fields behind us.
Then Dad joined the army and it all changed. The air raids became more frequent and heavy. The German bombers, when attacked by anti-aircraft guns on their way to London, would drop their bombs on us.
At the time my mum, sister and me would hide under the table or the stairs. The windows were blown in and the ceiling would come down quite often. Once our front door blew in and an Air Raid Warden walked in to see if we were okay.
There was a time when we expected to be invaded. My sister thought we were when a single parachute came down. People ran down the road with shovels and weapons but it was just some injured dying young German pilot of about eighteen. Someone gave him a cigarette before they took him away.
When dad came on leave, he dug a hole in the garden and put in our government Anderson Shelter made of corrugated steel. Just before that two houses a few doors away were bombed. We crawled out from under the table with its heavy blankets around it and went to help if we could. Dad was home and assisted but another unexploded bomb in the back garden meant we had to move out of our damaged house while they exploded it.
Us boys collected everything to swap - shrapnel, bullet cases and incendiary bombs (or what as left of them). Dad had one more leave before going to the Eighth Army. During that leave, we were in the Anderson shelter; Mum had to go back to the house even though an air raid had begun. Val, my sister and me were worried about Mum being in the house, especially as a bomb came nearby and blew out windows in again.
After a long time, Mum and Dad came back down to the shelter, but they were not alone. They had a wicker clothes basket with them and in it was our new baby brother, Leslie, born in the front room on the floor during the air raid. Covered in bits of glass, he was the best tonic we had. Poor Mum had a hard time and Dad had to go away and leave us again.
Once I was in Fred’s shelter with him and his family next door. His Dad was still home being a fireman. We squashed in for company and often played monopoly between air raids. This night in particular we saw lots of strange aircraft coming over the woods near Biggin Hill. They had fire coming from the tail and would stop suddenly and then dive into the ground. When they exploded we cheered thinking they had been shot down. Next day in the papers it said: ‘Pilot-less Bombers Attack England’. Freddy White was evacuated after than but Mum wouldn’t let us go.
The ‘Doodlebugs’, as we called them, were the thing that scared me most as they could stop and come down anywhere. The sounded just like the old type motorbike engines. The fuel was in two pressurised giant balls, when it ran out they came down. The nose had one thousand pounds of explosives in them.
I had another friend called Fred who lived further up our road. I played with him the night before he was killed.
Someone decided to put barrage balloons around London to stop the Doodlebugs getting through. A balloon near Fred’s house did stop one and it came down right behind their Anderson Shelter. We all heard the screaming of those still alive in the area where a block of four houses had been destroyed, many of them trapped inside the Morrison Shelters in their homes. Mum looked out at our battered old house and thanked God it was still standing. That was an awful night.
Another Doodlebug with its damned motorbike engine noise approached one night when I was in my regulation few inches of bath water. I was twelve years old. The engine stopped and so did my heart for a split moment. Then I was down in the Anderson Shelter in seconds without a stitch on. Over my shoulder I saw the black shape glide over our rooftop. I felt a mixture of relief fear and sorrow for the poor b******s on the receiving end.
On D-Day, all the men tore trees down from the woods to light bonfires. Massive fires could be seen for miles. Dad came home and had a kitbag full of chocolates and sweets. The rationing still went on. Mum was fantastic. She lay over us during air raids to protect us and made meals from remarkable things.
I could write a book about it but so could many others. I’m seventy-four now. Poor old Fred White died a few years ago. My baby brother, Leslie (65), lives in Worthing and my sister Valerie in Selsdon, not far from our old home. I joined the RAF and had some active service, but that is one of many other stories.

Good luck to the next generation.

Best wishes John Iles.

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