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The War For One Child (Chapter 1)

by David R. Privett

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
David R. Privett
People in story: 
David Raymond Privett
Location of story: 
Poole, Dorset
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Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 October 2005

The War for One Child (Chapter 1).

My war years as a child were spent entirely in Poole, Dorset.
Outbreak of War
I remember being in the garden of our small rented flat in Upper Parkstone, Poole, Dorset, with my mother and elder brother, on 3rd September, 1939, when my father came into the garden and told my mother that war had been declared. I was just under 6 years old at the time.
Our New House
Shortly after the outbreak of war we moved to a two storey rented house in Oakdale, Poole, Dorset. This house had a wooden staircase with a cupboard under for storage. The garden was very overgrown, and I remember playing in the waist high grass with my brother.
I remember the Battle of Britain period summer/autumn 1940, by the sky being completely crisscrossed with the white vapour trails of the participating aircraft. The majority of the battle over Poole was high up so it was not possible to see detail. There was talk of an RAF pilot being shot down over Poole Harbour and parachuting down onto Brownsea Island. I subsequently found out his name was Bob Doe, who I believe is still alive to this day, (2005). Our local Battle of Britain airfields were RAF Warmwell and RAF Middle Wallop.
A German airman, who baled out of a stricken bomber over Poole, was killed as he plummeted onto a factory roof at Branksome, Poole, because his parachute failed to open.
During the winter of 1940/41 and throughout 1941 we had nightly air raid sirens waking us young boys, to be placed by our parents on bedding in the cupboard under the stairs, but not being able to sleep. My parents sometimes squeezed in as well.
The air raids were characterised by the droning of the German bombers as they passed overhead. There was always a characteristic noise as the engine speeds were not quiet the same and one heard the beating note between them as the engines went in and out of synchronisation.
The Ack Ack guns were firing continuously, making a thunderous noise, as Poole was ringed with guns. The searchlights were swinging backwards and forwards, across the sky to try and illuminate the bombers for the Ack Ack gun aimers.
Later on in the war we received a Morrison Air Raid shelter, which was a large steel prefabricated structure, which was erected in our Dining room in place of the table. It was large enough for four people to get inside.
It was not until long after the war that I realised why we used to get so many German bombers over Poole, this was because the German Radio Guidance beams from Cherbourg in France were directed over us towards the industrial midland cities. We generally got a few bombs that they wished to ditch prior to returning across the channel.
We had some 400 bombs dropped in the Poole harbour area for the whole of the war. Our immediate targets were the Admiralty Navel Cordite factory at Holton Heath, and the Radar research station at Worth Matravers. The nearest bomb to our house was I think a parachute mine about ¼ mile away. It demolished a bungalow, killing the occupants, and a large piece of the bomb metal casing was lodged in a Monkey Tree across the road from the bungalow. This tree was only recently cut down circa 1995, and the metal fragment was still embedded.
I remember whilst visiting the Wimbourne area with my family one day, we saw some British army soldiers taking swimming training and tests in the river. They were in full uniform and their ammunition pouches were weighted with house bricks.
I went to Oakdale School initially, and we had underground air raid shelters across the road which we frequently went to when daytime air raid sirens sounded. It was a series of tunnels in the form of a quadrant with bench slatted wooden seats. We sat in rows facing each other with the dim lights illuminating us and our teachers walking up and down.

Later in the war because of shortage of teachers and school accommodation we were bussed daily to South Road School in Upper Parkstone. I remember room was still short such that the headmaster, a Mr Fry, had his desk in the main corridor. There was a teacher called Mrs Penney who used to travel with us daily to keep an eye on us.

I remember in May 1941 my mother being very upset to receive news of the death of her nephew Kenneth Davies, my cousin, who was a 17 year old Royal Marine bugle boy on the battleship HMS Hood. She was sunk by the German pocket battleship Bismark in the North Atlantic, between Iceland and Greenland, whilst in company with the cruiser Prince of Wales.

Near to our home was an area of heath land called Canford heath, part of Thomas Hardy's Egdon Heath, on which the home guard used to train with live rifle ammunition, mortar bombs, and hand grenades. As boys we used to creep up through the gorse bushes and watch their training although we should not have been there.

The older boys including my brother used to go out on the heath when no one was around to find the exploded ordnance etc. One of my brother's friends, Charlie, who lived in our road, was on his own when he found an unexploded mortar bomb, which went off when he picked it up, killing him. My brother found some live 0.303 rifle ammunition, and he put one round in a vice in Dad's shed, hitting it with hammer and screwdriver. It exploded and he had a brass fragment embedded in his hand which required hospital treatment.

The children used to look for and collect anti-aircraft shell shrapnel after a night raid.

My father, who was a postman, was in the home guard, attached to the general post office (GPO), and he used to have to spend one or two nights a week guarding the local GPO telephone exchange. He had a 0.303 Lee Enfield rifle, which he kept at home. I remember him cycling off in the evening with his uniform on and his rifle slung across his back.

My mothers war work was to enrol as a post women as there was a shortage of staff due to men being called up for the armed services. When my father became a postman in 1939 it was his first real job after 7 years of unemployment in the late twenties and thirties. He was not called up for the armed services during the war, as he had a heart condition due to an earlier childhood illness of rheumatoid arthritis.

The beaches of Sandbanks, Canford Cliffs, Bournemouth, and Shell Bay were not accessible to the public for most of the war. Shell Bay ferries were suspended and it was used for military training grounds. The other beaches were closed, and for the whole of their length steel scaffolding was erected at the waters edge to prevent beach landings by the Germans. I am not sure whether the beaches were mined or not.

The pier at Bournemouth was blown up to prevent its use by the enemy. I remember going to the East Cliff with both my parents and my brother to see the explosion, with parts being thrown high into the sky, and a large gap appearing in the pier.

Poole harbour was a scene of wartime activity, which was fascinating for us children. I remember the "Air Sea Rescue- Walrus Seaplane" constantly taking off from the harbour and returning to its slipway at Sandbanks, hopefully with downed airmen that its crew had rescued. I remember the Coastal Command Sunderland flying boats taking off frequently from Poole harbour along the length of Brownsea Island to get airborne. The Coastal Command slipways for the Sunderland's were at Hamworthy, Poole, and are still to be seen (2005). Later in the war some of the Sunderland's were taken over by BOAC and used to fly VIP's including Winston Churchill to foreign places. The passenger base prior to boarding by launch was at the Parkstone Yacht Club, at Lilliput, Poole. Other things I remember of Poole Harbour was the Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB's), leaving the quay area and going out on patrols in the English channel with their crews in their white polar necked jerseys and sailors hats lining the decks whilst stood to attention. One fascinating thing for me was watching the WAAF barrage balloon teams inflating and sending up barrage balloons on the quay, and retrieving them with their wire tethers and winches. I used to have nightmares of clinging onto a balloon cable after it had broken loose as it ascended with me holding on.

A ship was sunk at the entrance to Poole quay to restrict access, and a further ship held ready at anchor to be sunk to completely block the quay entrance should an invasion take place.

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