Some of my memories from WW2, which may make you smile!
I was only 3 when it started, so many will know a lot more about it than me, but here are my memories of living in London throughout WW2
Cheers, Eddie Bristow, (born 1936 in Shoreditch, London)
(Email to Charlie, who is my brother Ken’s grandson, living in USA, and he asked about WW2 for a school project)
one of my earliest memories is of September 1939 when I was 3 years old, with me sitting on the front steps of 43 Harman Street, Hoxton, where we lived in Shoreditch, London, and watching the workmen building air raid shelters in the roadway, narrowing the street to virtually single line traffic (but there was little traffic in those days anyway, and nobody that we knew owned a vehicle of any sort).
I had been born 3 years earlier in the front room of the same house, just two days after the King died, and the Prince of Wales had become King Edward VIll. (Edward abdicated in December that same year, so I was named after a failed King!)
There is a picture of the same steps with my elder sister Jennie sitting with our dog Rex. The window of room I was born in is just visible above Jennie’s left shoulder. Anyway, WW2 had been declared, and about 1,000,000 school children had been ‘evacuated’ (moved) to the countryside, to live with complete strangers, to avoid the expected bombing of London. Many children did not return to London till nearly six years later when the war ended, at last. Some however did return earlier when there seemed to be less threat of bombing, merely to find daily and nightly air raid started, and later V1 and V2 rocket attacks.
My elder sister Jennie was evacuated to Norfolk, and three of my brothers, Bob, Don, and Ken were evacuated to Soulbury in Bedfordshire. My younger sister, Hazel, was not born until after the war, and my eldest brother volunteered to join the RAF as a Navigator as soon as he was old enough.
Before I was three I had too many illnesses to mention, including appendicitis, double pneumonia, whooping cough (I still remember that), scarred eardrums, the lot…….so my mother decided to keep me at home in London, having ‘lost’ all her other children to strangers, plus our Dad was soon in the Army (see photo………..also see photo of me in Army uniform, age 7, but that was just for show. Britain was NOT THAT desperate to call-up 7 year olds ha ha).
There were no antibiotics in those days, so I was lucky to survive, I suppose, but I must have been a worry to my Mum at the time, but lived to tell the tale. I still remember after a particular period of whooping cough that I was in bed so long that my legs lost the power to stand, and as my mother took me out of bed I wobbled so much that Mum jokingly called me “Wobbly Bill from Stamford Hill”, which made us all laugh.
Anyway, after September 1939 there was almost a whole year of the ‘Phoney War’ as far as London was concerned, with none of the expected bombing, so some of the children began to be returned to London, just in time for the “Blitz”, day and night bombing for weeks on end, whilst the ‘Few’ greatly outnumbered RAF planes valiantly fought the Luftwaffe over the skies of England in ‘The Battle of Britain’, August to September 1940, then the German Bombers switched to bombing London sometimes daytime but also every night for 56 nights (It was called the “Blitz”).
During the ‘Blitz’ there was only my Mum, her Mum, and me living at 43 Harman Street, Shoreditch, and my Mum decided fatalistically that “If we are going to die, we are going to die” and refused to go to the air raid shelters that I had watched being built in the street, so we slept in our own beds each night.
One night there was a terrific bombing raid and the two parallel streets at the bottom of our tiny back garden, less than ten yards away were blown to pieces, killing hundred of people. Our bedroom windows were shattered, covering us with glass, but we were uninjured. I slept through the lot, but it must have been a terrible time for the adults, who were old enough to worry. However, we still never used the shelters, as our Mum decided her point had been proven.
I remember sometimes seeing planes in the sky fighting it out on my way home from school. This was very dangerous, not being in an air raid shelter, but it sometimes happened, with pieces of shrapnel and hot metal fragments dropping to the ground. When I was 7 or 8 years old I did not realise the dangers, having lived in London since the beginning of ‘hostilities’. We boys used to collect shrapnel and ‘swap’ pieces in the school playground; so finding a hot piece of metal was worth something as a souvenir.
After the RAF won the ‘Battle of Britain’ the war continued, but there was for a while after the “Blitz” less bombing in London, and more children returned to their parents, as wrongly London was assumed to safe again. Jennie returned from Norfolk and Bob, Don, Ken returned from Bedfordshire, after about three years away. That must have been about the time the family photograph was taken, to send to our Dad in the Army, and to Vic in the RAF. (See pic)
I remember the beginning of the war, and I remember the end, but all the rest in between is all a bit of a blur. However WW2 affected our lives immensely, and for years afterwards every conversation began “Before the War” or “During the War” or “After the War”, as our lives had been split into three distinct phases.
Rationing continued till 1953, I never saw a banana till I 1945 when I was nine and the war finally ended, one egg a week was normal, 2 ounces of sweets a week (IF any available), clothes were rationed, meat, flower, bread, bacon, margarine, everything you can imagine were rationed.
We were invited to a cousin’s wedding in 1945 and nobody saw the wedding cake cut, or were given any of it. We found out later the cake was made of cardboard, and merely LOOKED like a real cake.
More later, if I think of anything. I have lots of books on WW2, not that I like war, but our Dad was bomb-blasted on 9 June 1944 (D-Day +3) at Normandy and was invalided out of the army, with shrapnel in his head, which stayed there for the rest of his life, moving sometimes, giving him terrible head aches. However, our Dad had a great interest in WW2, which I guess he passed on to me. I have photographs of his medals, and details of for what each medal was awarded.
Bye for now, Eddie Bristow
Hitler tried hard to kill me and my family. My father was an air raid warden in the war because he was disabled and was excused from being called up. Three times we moved house in Fulham and each house was bombed after we moved! I remember the road on fire after the great incendiary invasion on London when hundreds of these bombs showered down catching most of London on fire. When we finally moved to the end house in Parkville Road SW6, near the end of the war, I remember vividly when we were in the basement, I heard all the bricks falling down hitting the pavement above us and thinking,”This is it he`s got us at last!” We then heard the big blast as the bomb exploded, quite frightening! When the dust settled we were amazed at being alive and seeing daylight on emerging from our coal cellar under the pavement. Witnesses later told us that the nose of a flying bomb ( known as a doodlebug ) hit our chimney stack, knocking it down and turning the bomb upwards and it went on to hit the steeple of a church in the next road and exploded. A very lucky escape!
“I was a baby in the war so cant really remember. The story I had was that during the war pregnant women in Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Deptford were sent out of London for the births of their babies. My mother was sent to Ruskin College, Oxford. She had to go earlier than she should have as she had very high blood pressure.
Ruskin College was part of Oxford University and it was taken over as a hospital and the doctors came from the Radcliffe Hospital Oxford. My father was in the navy so could only get to see my mother when he was on leave. He said it was funny when he went to see her in Oxford as the whole of Oxford was filled with pregnant women. They used to stroll around the town awaiting for their babies births. Whilst my mother was at Ruskin she took part in research by the Government which found out that most of the women, my mother included, had a bad diet. Due to this research the Government of the day gave all pregnant women free vitamins and cod liver oil. I only found out about this about ten years ago when I had a letter from Oxford Health Trust. Apparently after 50 years they had found the records of the London pregnant women in some boxes in a basement of the building they were clearing.
A young women called Rachel Huxley decided to following on the research as part of her degree course. She was doing a study to prove that women who had a bad diet during pregnancy would have children who would inherit bad hearts and diabetes in later life.
I went to Oxford for some tests and I was found to be ok. However, a few of the people who went for these tests were proven to have diabetes. So it could have saved their live. It was very hard for my mother to be in Oxford to have her first child without family around her. The people of Oxford I don’t think were to pleased to be invaded by these London women. They were asked to donate baby clothes etc. However, my mother never asked for anything. I slept in a drawer as a baby. It was quite a common occurrence . When she was coming back to London on the train there were some soldiers in the same compartment and they said “you aren’t taking that little baby back to the bombings are you?”And she said “Where else can I go that is my home.”
My father was in the navy and my mother used to rush to the air raid shelter with me. We lived in Bermondsey. I did contract brain fever which they thought could have been Meningitis and I was in St Olaves Hospital in Bermondsey and nearly died. The doctor said it was because my mother used to have to wake me up and run with me to the air raid shelters but it probably wasn’t that and was something I picked up in the air raid shelter. My father was given leave as I they thought I would die but luckily I pulled through.
They knew my fever had broken (I was in isolation ward) because when my father did visit he threw his navy cap into my cot and I said “Daddy!” as I recognised his navy hat. I used to think everyone was my father if they were in naval uniform! He told of when one day he took me for a walk on Tower Bridge. I looked away for a moment and saw a man in naval uniform walking away in the opposite direction. I really cried as I thought he was leaving me.
As a child I used to have a dream where someone would offer me a beautiful doll and just as it was being put into my hands I would wake up. It wasn’t until I had grown up and was telling my father that he said it was his fault as when he was in the navy my mother said he was away getting me toys. When he was demobbed in 1945 and I was three years of age the first thing I said to him was “Where are my toys?” He didn’t have a thing as he had been in Japan bringing home our prisoners of war. There were no toys for him to bring me back.
My cousin during the war was taken to Devon. Her mother had diabetes and there wasn’t any insulin in Devon and her mother died aged 24. Her father had 24 hours leave from the army to bury his wife and find someone to look after his daughter. My dad wasn’t in the war at the beginning and he was working in Stratford-upon-Avon and my Mother and Aunt went with him to escape the bombings. My uncle who had lost his wife didn’t know where they were staying only that it was Stratford-upon-Avon. Luckily my aunt went out to post a letter and she saw a soldier walking along with a child and recognised her brother.
My cousin was in quite a bad way as her mother had been too ill to care for her. However, my mother went out and bought her some clothes and they fed her up and she soon recovered. My cousin and I didnt have much as children but we would make things to play with. She went to live with my aunt when they returned to London from Stratford. She said the cat knew when the air raids were coming before the siron went off as he used to run to the cellar where they went to hide from the bombings.
After the war I used to look as a child at bombed houses and you could see where the rooms in the house had been and the wallpaper could tell you that the room had been a kitchen or a bedroom. We played on the bomb sites and had lots of freedom. Children would make scooters out of wood and ball bearing wheels and carts out of old orange boxes. However, as I mentioned this was after the war. I hope you get lots of people to tell their stories so it will make a success of your event. I expect most people now have moved out of London and it would be good if they could somehow get the message to tell their stories. Perhaps Genes Reunited or Friends Reunited could put a advert on their site. Just a thought. I wish you every success. I now live in Tunbridge Wells but if I can be of any help just ask.”
“It was early one Saturday morning, Dennis’s Mum always went shopping locally on a Saturday and mostly would go into Woolworths, it was around 9.30am when the explosion was heard, knowing his Mum was there he decided to investigate he was only eight at the time, when he got there it was devastating as the emergency services were laying all the chard bodies out on the pavement, nobody in Woolworths survived the bomb, Dennis can’t quite remember but he believes there were about 300 people in the store at the time, fate is strange, his Mum had decided to go to Lewisham shopping that day, but did not tell anybody.
Dennis has a few memories of the war, one day children were just coming out of school at Catford when the German planes were machine gunning all the children and followed on to Deptford, Dennis was just walking along when a lady grabbed him into the Co-op as the bullets were being fired all along the street.”