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Memories of Poole: 1939 - 1944

by John Marsh

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John Marsh
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12 November 2003

When Mr. Chamberlain announced 0n Sept. 3rd. that we were at war with Germany, we were all a bit numb and did not know what to expect. Mum was making blackout curtains and dad cheked the gas mask we had been issued with some time earlier.
My 13th birthday was on 7th., Sept. and Henry Harbin school had just been built, H.P. Smith was to be the headmaster, who was our head at South Road School. H.P. Smith and the senior boys had been at H.H. for a few weeks before getting it ready for the big move, when just before 3rd., Sept. loads of tinned food arrived, corn beef, beans, chocolate bar etc. we were told that evacuees were arriving from London & Southampton, in all about 4000 arrived and we boys had to the food into carrier bags and distribute the the people as they came through.

In June 1940 the evacuation of Dunkirk took [place and I remember going to Poole Quay to see 5 cargo boats loade with soldiers of all nationalities that had escaped from France, these soldiers were all lined up on the quayside and us lads went along collecting post-cards from them to post to their folks to let them know they had arrived back safely.

Nothing very exciting happened for a few months, plenty of warning sirens, but no action, we would all file out of school into the air raid shelters that had been dug in the playing fields. Then one afternoon my sister and I were home alone in East Street when the warning siren went, I stood at the back door looking accross the rooftops, saw a plane flying low, I saw two things fall from it, did not know whether it was parachutes or bombs, did not wait to find out but grabbed my sister and dived in the cupboard under the stairs, they were screaming bombs, a string of six fell across Poole old town, the first fell in the infants school playground that was at the end of our garden, hitting an air raid shelter, luckily it was after school hours and there were no children in the shelter. one man Mr. Landry was killed by the blast of the bomb. My sister and I came out of the cupboard to find all the windows shattered, and dozens of slates off the roof.

On another occassion at about 9.15 am. just getting ready for school we heard machine gun fire, ran out into the garden to see a plane going down with an engine on fire, it crashed into a garage at the end of Herbert Ave., next to Staines shoe shop which is still there to this day.

I left school at 14yrs., went to work for a shipping agent, J.R. Woods, their office was on Ballast Quay as was the Harbour Board yard and Cement Marketing Co. on ajoining New Quay. It was compulsory to have nightly fire watchers on duty and workers and staff all took their turn, on this particular night a german plane was going up and down the harbour firing machine guns, we hid under the railway trucks, it dropped a bomb on a flying boad called 'Maia' , it sank and the watchman on board was killed, a little norwegian ship called the 'Mari' was moored alongside the quay, the two naval gunners on board mounted their lewis gun, and jerry flew by once too often and the manage to shoot him down, some of the survivors were brought to the quay, and a couple of them did not look much older than me.

Meawhile my friends and I had become Fire service messenger boys. On my way to the Hamworthy Fire Station one wednesday night, I went via Poole High Street, a ship chandlers shop opposite the Antelope hotel was ablaze and you could here the windows of the hotel cracking with the heat.As I went over the bridge sailors were evacuating a training ship called the 'Sona' a time bomb had gone stright through her and she sank on top of it, three nights later it exploded blowing the ship to pieces and badly damaging the quay. I finally got to the Hamworthy Fire Station and just down the road Bolsons shipyard was blazing furiously, I was asked to look after 3 pumps onb the quayside near the Shipwrights Arms (not there anymore) so that there would be stronger firemen to handle the hoses, it was a lonely night I didn't see anyone else for about 3 hours.

Onb the night of June 5th.,I was doing my fire watch duty on Ballast quay, with two others, can't rember their names now, when all the ships moved out of the harbour and at about 5am. as far as you looked west or east the sky was full of planes, fighters, bombers, Dakotas towng gliders, every type of plane you could think of,
this continued for the rest of the day.

Sept., 1944 I went into the army, first to the Manchester Regt., and later transferring to the Royal Military Police.

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