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- BRIAN JONES
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- 04 May 2005
The Author in 1940 complete with gas mask and tin hat
My life in Folkestone during World War Two (as seen through the eyes of a young child )
When the war started I was two and a half and when it finished I was eight and a half. I lived at the foot of the North Downs in Folkestone in the last house on the Canterbury Road. This was next-door to a farm which is now a housing estate and about a mile from Hawkinge Aerodrome at which Hurricane fighter planes used to be based during the war. I used to watch the planes take off and land at Hawkinge. Sadly the Aerodrome is now a housing estate.In my opinion it should have been left as a permanent memorial to those who served there.)
Some of my most vivid memories were those of bombers coming from Germany and going to Germany, both German planes and British planes. These would drone on and on all during the night making an awful noise. . Later on in the War when the Americans had joined the war we used to see them going over towards Germany during the day. These were enormous Flying fortresses and they glinted in the sunlight. There would be many of them flying in formation. It was quite a sight.
There were many Air raids by the Germans and a siren would go off alerting everybody. This siren was down the bottom of the road about 200 yards away and made quite an awful noise that you never forgot. I saw lots of houses bombed out and people made homeless but as a child the significance of this is not realised. There were bomb shelters everywhere and whenever the siren went off people were obliged to go to the nearest one. Many times I had to leave the school class room at Mundella School Folkestone and go to their shelter until the danger was over .
Our house had an Anderson shelter in the garden (this was a small brick shed dug into the ground with earth covering the corrugated tin roof ) and a Morrison shelter (this a was a type of bed made of iron with an iron roof —like an iron box with a bed in it ) indoors to protect us in the event of any bombs hitting the House but they would have been very ineffective in the event of a direct hit. We all had gas masks issued in case there was a gas attack and these were awful to wear.They were very tight and very very difficult to breathe in. You had to carry these around with you at all times for the first few years of the war.
Early in the war contractors called on anybody who had iron railings and iron gates and cut them out. They were used in the war effort and were melted down. We lost a very good fence and gate in this way.
At night during a raid the sky would be lit up with searchlights probing the dark looking for the enemy planes (they looked like lots of white lasers going straight up in the sky ) Occasionally an enemy plane would be caught in the beams and they looked a silver colour. At the same time ack-ack guns would be firing trying to shoot them out of the sky This was very noisy but we were all quite used to it. Every house had to have black curtains to stop the light from going outside which would have attracted the enemy planes. Cars had their headlamps painted out with black paint with just a little hole left in the middle to show the way, again to stop showing the enemy planes where we were. No street lamps were on and you always had to carry a torch if you went out at night to see where you were going. This might seem quite scary nowadays but we were all used to it. Lamp posts were painted with a white band as were car mudguards in an attempt to make them more visible in the dark. Air Raid Wardens (ARP) would patrol the streets at night enforcing the blackout. My grandfather was an ARP warden during the whole of the war. Although there were no lights showing, German pilots would find their way to London by using the Thanet Way (A299) as a guide. This was common practice we are told.
There were always a lot of Barrage Balloons flying. These were put up at strategic points to deter enemy planes. They were on very thick wires which were meant to bring down planes that ran into them. They were mainly looked after by women.
Where I lived was known during the war as Hell Fire Corner. As the Germans were only 21 miles away across the Channel they would send shells over and although we were not the main target for the bombers, if they were unable to unload their bombs over the intended target (say London) they would on returning unload their bombs on to Folkestone or Dover. Also Folkestone was prone to “tip and run” raids fom France by (it was thought) trainee German pilots.There was lots of action in the air during the day especially during the early part the war with frequent dogfights with English fighter planes attacking German fighter planes. I could never understand when I looked up and saw this going on that the planes never seemed to be moving. Once when I was staying with my grandmother in Ernwell Road,Folkestone a dogfight was taking place overhead and cannon shell was getting quite close. I was in a friend's house at the time opposite and we sheltered in the pantry. However the roof of the pantry fell in because of the overhead dogfight and my friend and was slightly hurt. .
Although I saw many houses bombed out, the worst result of bombing in Folkestone that I saw was up near the Central station at the back of Coolinge Road where a whole estate of houses was demolished by a Landmine. I went to see this shortly after and it was quite sad to see people picking amongst the rubble looking for their belongings. On another occasion the Baedekker raids had just taken place in Canterbury which was some 16 miles up the road. My mother and I went on a bus to Canterbury on the same day this had happened to see the damage. It was quite devastating with all or most of the buildings from Marks and Spencer towards Folkestone demolished. There are many pictures showing this in books of Canterbury and it was quite horrific. The whole area was flattened.When you go to Canterbury today you can tell where this was as it has all been redeveloped and the buildings look new. However a lot of lovely old buildings were lost in these raids.
You could look out to sea during the daytime and sometimes see the flashes of the guns firing shells from France at Folkestone and Dover. I found this quite fascinating.The shelling continued regularly throughout the war and did lots of damage.
Towards the end the war the doodlebugs started coming over. These were quite frightening. Their engines were very loud and made a throbbing noise very much like a car with no exhaust. Once the engine stopped it would not be long before the Doodlebug dived down and exploded. I saw many of these flying over Folkestone. It was quite common to see the Spitfires and Hurricanes chasing them trying to tip their wings to send them back from whence they came. Ack Ack guns would also fire at them. Living on the hill I saw many of these chases quite clearly. One of my most spectacular memories was of a doodlebug whose engine had cut out and which was coming up just above the rooftops over my house. I was enthralled and stood in the garden watching what I considered to be a magnificent sight. It was so close and it seemed to be a perfect silver colour (It was of course unpainted steel.) It made a very loud whooshing noise as it went past. My mother was terrified about me being in the garden as she had not realized I was there and came to get me to put me in the shelter. However it sped harmlessly towards Hawkinge and exploded just past Sugarloaf Hill where the present A20 tunnels into the hill at Crete Road. I went up afterwards to collect shrapnel from the place where it exploded. It did no damage.
Just up the road from me in Crete Road West there was a prisoner-of-war camp for Italian soldiers. (The last time I saw this in recent years it was an animal sanctuary overlooking Folkestone.) These Italian prisoners of war were allowed to go out working during the day and were very friendly and always cheerful. They were very kind to my cousin (who stayed with us during the summer in the War.) and me. One of them carved a crocodile out of wood and gave it to me but it has unfortunately been lost over the years. By way of contrast I saw a German prisoner-of-war camp in Chatham and the German prisoners, who were quite clearly visible behind barbed wire, looked very miserable and unhappy with their lot.
Everything was rationed during the war from food to clothing. Whilst we never had any luxuries such as bananas, oranges or sweets I can never remember going hungry. There was always plenty to eat albeit somewhat repetitive and boring. Fresh eggs, cheese and meat were in very short supply and we had to put up with some rather nasty things such as powdered eggs and Spam which I did not like. However we survived. I do remember towards the end of the war having my meals at lunchtime up on the Bayle in Folkestone, no doubt due to the fact that my mother was out working and the rather monotonous meal always included Pease pudding. I have hated Pease pudding ever since. I'm told I was quite useful for queuing for items that were in short supply My Mother would hear that such items were in the shops and send me down to queue for her. Evidently I was quite good at this as it needed a lot of patience. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t much now!
I can remember getting excited at Christmas time although looking back a Christmas dinner usually consisted, at least towards the end the war, of some old hen that had given up laying and had been killed and prepared for the Christmas festivities. This was rather tough. Christmas time I always had a Rupert Annual and usually something like Tin Soldiers or a set of farm farmyard animals. These were by today's standards very modest presents but at the time we found them quite exciting. There was of course no television and we only listened to the radio a limited amount of time but I was never bored. In the summer I was out from morning til night up on the North Downs playing and exploring. The places I played in are still there and in the main unspoiled. They are Caesar's Camp, Sugarloaf Hill and down beneath both of them Holy Well which was a resting place for pilgrims to Canterbury Cathedral and had been for centuries. Unfortunately recently the foot of the Downs has been completely covered with a concrete jungle known as the Channel Tunnel but that I suppose is the price of progress. Even Sugarloaf Hill has a development of houses on one side of it.However the Tank Traps cut into Sugarloaf Hill and Caesars Camp as part of the defences can still be seen although they are overgrown.
My mother had a thing about walking and every weekend we would catch a bus to some remote part of the countryside and proceed to walk all of the way back. I got to know and most of Kent this way and seemed to spend half of my life walking. I was always asking my mother pleading to know how much further it was and the reply was always the same “ It's just around the corner!”. It did me no harm. On the roads, at certain strategic points, concrete blocks were placed to half close the road as part of the defences. There were no signposts as these had been taken down in case of invasion.
It was the practice during the war wherever there was space in people's houses to billet troops in houses and we had three airmen billeted with us. They worked at the radar station in Capel le Ferne near Folkestone. They were quite cheerful chaps and I got to know them very well. There was however one very sad happening for me. A Canadian soldier was billeted with my grandmother in Ernwell Road for about a week and during this time he became very friendly with me and used to take me out. He was very kind to me and one week after he left I learned that he had been killed in a raid on France. I was VERY upset. I learned later that the raid had been on Dieppe and was quite a famous wartime raid.
At the beginning of the war my father was in the Auxiliary Fire Service and because of this he was not called up until 1940. He then went into the Army and became an ack-ack gunner stationed in Bath and eventually traveling to France. Here he was billeted in Lille for quite a long time. After the war I went to stay with the people he was billeted with for a month. Because of his army service he was away for practically the whole of the war and I only saw him on rare occasions when he came home on leave. This meant that I did not really get to know him until I was nearly nine which was a pity but this happened to a lot of children. Some children’s fathers of course never came home!
We didn't have the any sweets or icecreams at all during the war. I can remember buying Melloids from Boots which were little globules of liquorish and also some others called IMPs. Another sweet substitute was a cough lozenge with a liquorish base. I can't remember what it was called but these are still made and are something like Fishermen's friends. There were of course no chocolates. Towards the end of the war the Americans came over and it was quite common practice and not frowned upon for the children to go up to the American Soldiers with the expression” got any gum chum?” after which a strip of gum would be handed to the begging child and gratefully received. These days however, I can't stand the stuff!
During the run-up to D-Day, (although we did not know it at the time), every country lane and every available space was covered with Army vehicles, tanks and guns. No matter where you were there was Army equipment of one sort or another.Every available field was full of tents with army personnel camping in it. On our walks my mother and I stopped and engaged the troops in conversation many times.They were always friendly. Then of course D-Day happened and they all disappeared.
When V E Day arrived everybody was ecstatic. I as a child failed to see the significance of this event. As a child you have no fear or realisation of what is happening and whilst the war was frightening for the adults it does not have the same fear or significance to a child. The war was still continuing in the Far East and VJ-Day was yet to come but the war there seemed so far away .I had an Uncle (Bert) who was out in Burma.
My father came home from the war and he went back to work for the Folkestone Corporation. His job was at the Folkestone Public Library in Grace Hill as Caretaker and as a result we all moved to from our house in Canterbury Road and went to live in the flat at the library where I stayed until the end of my schooldays and until I did my National Service.
BRIAN JONES 4th May 2005
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