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15 October 2014
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Incendiaries on St Mary Abbot's Church

by threecountiesaction

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mrs Pauline Burden
Location of story: 
Kensington, London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War Site by Joan Smith for Three Counties Action on behalf of Mrs Pauline Burden, and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was seven years old when the war started. My father, who was a sergeant in the police force, told me that the Germans employed Polish prisoners of war in making incendiary bombs. Some of these bombs were filled with sand, making them relatively harmless, and the police kept some of these in the yard at the police station.

My most vivid memory of the war is hearing about one particular night when incendiary bombs (not filled with sand) dropped on our church, St Mary Abbots, next to Kensington High Street. My father was in the police station at the time. Most of the bombs dropped at the end of the church where the entrance was. The church organist lived very near and he rushed round and started to play in an effort to deflect the flames away from the precious organ. Daddy remembered the dramatic scene of pigeons fluttering around helplessly near the flames which were rising through the roof of the beautiful old church, while the organist played the music of Bach (perhaps ironically a German composer). An American officer came over from the Officers' Club opposite and stood watching in tears. My father too always spoke of this scene with tears in his eyes. I knew the church well because I used to sing in the choir. I remember a Christmas Party given by the Americans for children, with oranges, chocolate and balloons and all the things we couldn't get during the war. The Americans were very generous.

We were bombed out by the second V1 bomb that ever dropped. It hit the maternity wing of St Mary Abbots Hospital and the blast blew out all of our windows and blew the roof off. The hall floor was covered with broken glass, and also my sister's bed. She was lucky to escape with only one cut on her toe. When we looked down the stair-well we thought that the building was on fire - but it was only that the old brass lights had switched themselves on and there were clouds of thick dust from the roof. We went to stay with friends near Olympia in west London. Apparently more ammunition trains passed through Olympia Station than anywhere else in the country, so it wasn't exactly safe. When another bomb dropped Daddy decided we must move.

We went to stay on a farm at Soham in Cambridgeshire for a short time. Our first meal there was of home-made bread, freshly made butter and fresh eggs. We were all ill afterwards because we weren't used to such rich food. Mummy also had to get used to the outside toilet there.

Much later I remember being upset by a visit to a flower festival where I saw flowers being thrown and wasted. It reminded me of how during the war there were so many things you couldn't get - like flowers.

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