- Contributed by
- P R Harvey
- People in story:
- P R Harvey
- Location of story:
- Croydon, Surrey
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 July 2005
WARTIME ON THE HOME FRONT
After four years of aerial bombardment, London and the South East of England could hope that the worst was over. The war was now moving in our favour but 1944 brought yet another unexpected and frightening prospect with Germany's deployment of the 'flying bomb'. Known as the V1 it was a winged high explosive device propelled by a crude and very noisy jet engine, launched from points on the French Channel coast and directed towards London. When its fuel ran out it either plunged to the ground or floated silently for some distance before touching down with devastating blast effect. It announced its approach with an unmistakeable rasping noise, but if this gave way to a sudden eerie silence then it was likely to have your name on it. Sometimes this lasted for a matter of a few seconds - or it could be a minute - but then a mighty explosion. These moments of torture were an extremely demoralising experience and prompted ungallant thoughts, if it only keeps going it may kill someone else - not me! In the spirit of wartime Britain they were dismissively called 'doodle bugs'.
Leaving school nearing sixteen, I had two years to fill before joining the Forces — in my case the R A F, being a member of the Air Training Corps. I became a temporary civil servant attached to the Inland Revenue Dept (Collector of Taxes I’m afraid) based in a Croydon office. The more senior and experienced male staff were on military service and our Boss thought (in those days) that it was improper to send the ladies out and about in air raid conditions. So we teenage youths were dispatched to make the calls — despite our very limited experienced.
My pay was a princely twenty five shillings per five and a half day week (£1.25) and Saturday mornings were a favourite time for chasing up the public. P A Y E did not exist then and employers were charged with deducting tax from their workers and then remitting it to the Inland Revenue, many were good at the former but delinquent in the latter!
On a sunny Saturday morning I set off to interview a certain gentleman in an adjoining suburb. We were obviously dependant on public transport and were reimbursed for travelling expenses on production of bus or tram tickets. I caught a bus in central Croydon and was on my way.
On approaching my destination the air was rent by the sound of an approaching doodle bug.
It was coming VERY close. Suddenly there was an agonising silence. Then a massive explosion, shaking the bus. I alighted at the next stop by a parade of local shops. One of the ‘business as usual’ shopkeepers was already out with his broom sweeping great shards of window glass into the gutter. I slowly picked my footing through the debris and turned right into the road I was due to visit. I was met by a billowing cloud of dust and rubble. Saturday morning meant school children could be playing in the street.
My mind was numbed and I strode forward, zombie-like towards the impact. It became clear from the house numbers that my destination had received a direct hit. It flashed into my head that if I had caught the previous bus my corpse would probably now be stretched on the front doorstep with the knocker in my hand. By now the emergency services were arriving — ambulance bells jingling. I felt totally in the way and wretched at the thoughts of being on tax collection business at a time like this. I returned — very shaken — to my office.
My Boss (a large, elderly Scottish gentleman who had served in France during the first world war) was surprised at my early return. I explained!!
“You must remember we’re at war laddie — these things happen”. “I remember the days in the trenches when I had to place the body parts of my friends onto a stretcher to be carried away”. “Take the rest of the day off and I’ll see you on Monday morning”.
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