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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Colchester Library
People in story: 
Michael Joseph Gerard
Location of story: 
West Ham, East London
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 July 2004

I was born in 1936 in West Ham Grange Road Canning Town in a house that was shared with my cousins the MacDonalds they lived downstairs my parents John Albert Gerard and Charlotte (Lotte) sister Mary and Brother John, we lived upstairs in I believe three rooms one of which I was born in I can remember my Mother telling me about all seven of my cousins standing at the bottom of the bed the day after she gave birth to me.

At the back of the house was East London cemetery with the recreation ground next door both of which were our playgrounds. My first memory of war was after we had moved a couple of hundred yards down Grange Road into “the buildings” the gardens were to the front of the buildings I believe they were communal gardens maybe fifty feet long running the width of the building when was broke out air raid shelters or “dug outs” were put in these gardens and I can remember standing on top of a dug-out (I would have been about four years old) with a stick or a toy rifle I think it shot corks out with a string attached to it I was shooting at the German planes when suddenly there was an almighty explosion and I either jumped through seer fear or was blown completely off the dug out, the bomb had exploded in Pretoria Road very near the school. It was soon after this we were evacuated to Oxford I believe we only stayed a short while a matter of days I do know on the way home we lost our dog ‘Bob’ the family were distraught I know we arrived back in Canning Town on the back of a lorry I remember sleeping in a hospital this was either on the way back or while were in Oxford, in any case when we did arrive back I know the whole family were pleased and it was just a day or two before we were reunited with our dog Bob he had found his way home God knows how but he had.

In August we all went “Hop Picking” whole families would go cousins, aunts, grans, I remember being in the hop fields in Kent and looking into the sky and seeing dozens of vapor trails where the ‘dog fights’ were taking place, it was from Horsemen den that we were evacuated again because the bombing had increased with the Germans trying to hit the docks but with most bombs going astray and destroying houses it was thought better we did not return. (A boast of the West Ham council if boast is the right word was that West Ham was Britain’s most bombed Borough whether true or not I don’t know).

We were evacuated to Blackpool – the whole lot of us – cousins, and aunt included – staying in boarding houses, one in particular in waterloo Road. I know we were resented – we were rough and ready. We must have been up there about a year. I started school there, I don’t think we were liked much, looking back I suppose I don’t blame them. None of us had been further than Kent and believe me we were not welcomed there either. I know we kids enjoyed our stay in Blackpool. Our mothers were with us. There’s much more I remember and much more that I was told about our stay in Blackpool it would make your hair stand on end. After our “short stay” in Blackpool we all returned to our village of Canning Town and were very glad to!

The bombing had not stopped but the Germans had turned their attention elsewhere. We would still wake up at night to the sound of sirens followed by the noise of bombs and in the morning us kids would go out into the street picking up shrapnel.

Life went on. St Helens had been bombed so we went to Gainsborough Rd School – the school being split into two – our part being renamed St Margaret’s R.C. School. We did have a few rucks with the what we termed Protestants but I think we all got on well together. Out of school most of my mates were non-catholic, we all shared a love for football, cricket (We played in the street as we were not allowed to play any games in Hermit Rd Park) and of course our football team was West Ham United.
Speaking of Hermit Rd Park, we had to wack through there on our way to school (about 2 miles). The park was surrounded by iron railings about 6’ high. I remember the workmen removing the whole lot for the war effort and it was many years after the war before they were replaced by wooden fencing.

I remember the Odeon Cinema in Barking Rd which was bombed twice and the houses surrounding it were also bombed. As kids we would get into the now derelict Odeon and play. It must have been a sumptuous place because inside it had a double row of stone stairs leading to nowhere. In early 1944 West Ham Stadium (Dog track and speedway) was occupied by either Canadian or Americans and as kids we would be out in the Barking Rd asking “Have you got any gum chum?” I remember one time taking a soldier home from a pub we called the Red House (real name Northumberland arms) in Barking Road I don’t know what he expected but all he got was a cup of tea my Mother or aunts never gave him any of their Guinness. It was about this time that the Doodle bugs started coming over and I believe a V1 landed on my aunt Annie’s house in Green Street trapping Len Webb her lodger in there he was rescued and lived I believe for many years. (Aunt Annie was not in she was most probably up the pub).

Thank God all my relations my father included returned from the was, most of them in the Merchant Nave, Royal Navy and Army and I want to Thank all the Mothers who would not leave their children the hanks of strangers and who insisted on being with their children where ever they were evacuated to.

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