The Wartime Memories of Tony Mitchell

When and where, were you born?

I was born in Bexley, 22/5/1934

Tell me about your parents? What did they do?

My father was a London policeman, as was my mother before her marriage in 1933.

Did your father serve in the First World War?

No, but my mother did, as a VAD and then in the WRAF.

Did you have brothers and sisters?

I am an only child.

Did you have a happy childhood?

Yes.  I attended 6 different schools between 1939 and 1945

What was it like growing up where you did?

Very pleasant

What were your interests as a child? (Flying? Sport? Music?)

I cannot remember anything specific

Can you remember the build-up to war?

Yes, vaguely.

Can you remember the outbreak of war?

Yes, via evacuation out of London area.

Can you recall the Battle of Britain?

Clear memories of BoB

Did any of your family join the Armed Forces?

No.

Did any of your family join the Home Guard?  

No

Did you ever worry about what might happen to you?

Yes.

Tell me about the camaraderie in your community etc?

The spirit of camaraderie was high, especially in the morning after a night’s bombing raids.  It was also noticeable how quickly it disappeared after the war was over.  When we were hit by a V1 and my father was badly injured, while we were at the hospital our home was looted, though.

What were your day-to-day living conditions like?

My home was a three-bedroomed semi-detached inter-war house with a small garden, largely powered by electricity, in Welling, then Kent.  Every larger room had a  coal fire.  Central heating was unthinkable. Windows were blacked out. Shops were five minutes walk away.  There was a good local park, ten minutes away.  Things were very different when I was evacuated with my mother to her home city of Leeds and then her sister’s miner’s cottage in Normanton.  This happened twice, first to escape the Blitz, then the V! and V!!.  My memories are of cobblestones, dark buildings and gas lighting. I would have been attending a variety of schools during this period, ultimately being a pupil at Normanton Grammar School from ’44 – ’45.

Can you describe to me a typical day-in-the-life on the home front?

I do not think there was such a thing as a typical day-in-the-life.  The Blitz was different from the Battle of Britain (looking for shrapnel and anti-radar silver strips), being at home in Welling was different from being evacuated; experiencing the VI and VII attacks was different again.

What was the food like?

I do not remember any problems with the food. We did keep a rabbit which I think finished up on our plates and I was always excited by the special treat of tinned pineapple for my birthday.  Bananas were not available; I do not think.

Did you ever go hungry?

No.

Did you get enough to drink?

Yes

Can you remember any particularly funny incidents?

I was playing on the corrugated iron roof of a shed with another boy when a V2 landed fairly near with a huge bang.  We both fell off the shed, without being hurt.  On a bitter cold winter’s day, I took my aunt’s Yorkshire terrier for a walk.  He went on to the ice on a pond and suddenly it collapsed.  I was terrified because the pond was deep.  He managed to scramble out eventually, much to my relief.  I can remember being in the back garden with my toy machine gun when the Germans hit the docks on the Thames at Woolwich.  The sky glittered with planes, at which I was firing until my Dad hauled me indoors.

Can you remember any particularly tragic incidents?

My Dad being badly hurt when we had a V1 in the back garden.  During the Blitz, about four houses the other side of our neighbour’s house were levelled.  The sites were roughly levelled.  Sometime after everyone began complaining of a rotten smell. When investigated it turned out to have been caused by the remains of one of the residents.

How did you cope with fear?

Prayed.  I have one clear memory of travelling via London Bridge station to Kings Cross in an air raid.  Bombs were falling and anti-aircraft guns were firing so I asked God to look after me; in return I would go to Sunday School.  He did; I didn’t.  I notice that my heart still misses a beat if I hear the air raid siren in a film.  On the first night of the V1 attacks my Dad was on night duty.  My mother and I did not know what was happening as the V1 engines stopped, there was silence, then a huge bang.  We actually left our Anderson shelter in the front room and returned to bed, only to be terrified by a huge bang.  The speed with which we got downstairs and into our shelter remains a mystery.

How did you cope with the loss of friends and colleagues?

I did not lose anyone.

Where were you when the war ended?

In Normanton.

What can you remember about it?

Very little except that I would be going home.  I can remember the crowded train journey.  I think I stood for most of the way and a wooden rifle my Uncle Jack had made for me with a ‘bayonet’ was a dangerous nuisance.

What was the general reaction?

Huge relief.

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Author: shane

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