Noel Park Children in the War for WarGen
The Noel Park Estate
The Noel Park Estate in Wood Green, London, N22, was designed in the late-19th and early 20th-century as a planned community. It consisted of 2,200 model dwellings, designed by Rowland Plumbe. Open countryside to the north of London in the valley of the River Moselle, about half-way between the historic villages of Highgate and Tottenham was built on. Three other developments on the outskirts of London were also built by the Artisans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company (Artisans Company).
Noel Park was one of the earliest garden suburbs in the world, designed to provide affordable housing for working-class families wishing to leave the inner city and every property had a front and rear garden. It was planned to be a self-contained community close enough to railway stations for residents to commute to work. In line with the principles of the Artisans Company’s founder, William Austin, no public-houses were built within the estate, and there are still none today but three or four are available just on its borders.
London expanded rapidly during the early 20th century, and after the area was connected to the London Underground in 1932, Noel Park became completely surrounded by later developments. In 1965, it was incorporated into the newly created London Borough of Haringey (Wood Green, Tottenham and Hornsey), and in 1966 it was bought by the local authority and taken into public ownership.
Although damage was sustained during the Second World War (with at least three major bombing incidents) and some demolition work during the building of Wood Green Shopping City in the 1970s, Noel Park is mainly architecturally intact. In 1982, the majority of the area was granted Conservation Area and Article Four Direction status by the Secretary of State for the Environment, in recognition of its significance in the development of suburban and philanthropic housing and in the history of the modern housing estate.
Noel Park is 6.4 miles (10.3 km) north of Charing Cross, near the centre of the modern London Borough of Haringey, of which it is a ward. The area forms a rough triangle, bordered by the A109 road (Lordship Lane) to the north, A1080 road (Westbury Avenue) to the south-east, and A105 road (Wood Green High Road, formerly part of Green Lanes) to the west.
When building began, the River Moselle, running parallel to Lordship Lane a short distance south of it, was the northern boundary of the area, however, in the 1880s the river was put into a culvert and the land between the river and Lordship Lane built on except for a strip of land to the left of Vincent Road (facing north) which remained open, between the backs of properties in Moselle Avenue and the backs of 19th century villas fronting Lordship Lane, until post-war years. This land had the character of an overgrown orchard fronted by iron railings and had at some time, probably during the war, played host to pigs, earning the soubriquet ‘the pig yard’. It was also home to one or two abandoned lorries. After the Second World War, Noel Park kids used to go ‘scrumping’ there in the summer and played on the abandoned trucks until chased off. The land was later built over with blocks of flats called Vincent Square.
The western boundary was the now defunct Palace Gates Line of the Great Eastern Railway (GER), a short distance to the east of Wood Green High Road. Since the railway was closed in 1964, most of the area between the former railway line and Wood Green High Road has been occupied by the eastern section of a shopping mall , cinema and residential complex known as Wood Green Shopping City.
How these memories came to be written
In 2009 one of our classmates from the 1940s, Ann Abbott (née Chandler), thought it would be a nice idea to organise a reunion of those who attended Noel Park Infants and Primary School between 1945 and 1950 and discussed this with Patricia Lee who, working with Ken Soanes, trawled the internet to search for them. Some of us were still in contact from those far-off days – I had been Ken’s best man in 1958 and he returned the compliment for me in 1964.
However, finding some of the others was not so easy but through groupings of ones or twos who stayed in contact throughout their adult lives the jigsaw gradually started to form and we were able to hold the first reunion in Southgate in 2010 and others followed in 2011, 2012 and the following years. Members of Mr Ken Coulson’s class of 60 years ago were able to meet and enjoy some excellent social events with their partners.
It was at the 2013 lunch that Ann Chandler suggested this project on the basis that we were the last generation to have personal memories of the Second World War and that it would be a good idea that these should be recorded for posterity. Ann, like me, is keen on history.
I volunteered to co-ordinate, edit and produce the final result which in our book expanded from the original concept to include some details of our later lives and what we made of our meagre education.
The Noel Park Estate was a predominantly working class area and I remember a helpful community spirit in my part of the estate, especially during the war and just after. One looks back on those schooldays with a great deal of affection. We remember the teachers’ names and the events that occurred with great clarity and most of our mentors were kind and helpful. Most of the kids were neatly dressed and clean, even though our parents didn’t have much spare cash and we also had the excitement and terror of the war and afterwards the bonus of the bomb sites – we called them ‘bomb dumps’ – to play on.
We really didn’t quite understand the VE celebrations then, but we remember them as something which seemed to make everyone very, very happy.
We hope this collection will make a small but valuable contribution to the collective history of the Second World War.
JUNE ARCHER (HOLLIS)*
ANN CHANDLER (ABBOTT)
PATRICIA LEE (SALTER)
JULIA LYNES (FRANCIS)
ANN PRIMETT (BEAUMONT)
DOREEN WARD (HAYWARD)
* Married name given in brackets
Form 5B 1949: Front row (left to right): Ed Martin, Brian Mangold, David Goldsmith, Tony Witham, —?, Norman Rushbrook ––?, Fred Willis, Terry Heath
Second row (left to right): Alan Myers, John Stock, Tony Baxter, George Smith, Don Salmon, Brian Warren, Barry Field, —?
Third row (left to right): Ann Huggins, Gwen Allen, Pat Lee, Julia Lynes, June Archer, Doreen Ward, Pat Waller, Ann Checkley, —?, Rita Sales
Fourth row (left to right): Mr Coulson, —?, Tony Arney, —?, Doreen Hayward, Ann Chandler, Faith Phillips, Brenda Onslow, Ann Primett, Barry Ball, —?, —?, Mr H J Booker, headmaster
Fifth row (left to right): Frank Benning, Derek Prior, Brian Marsh, James Busby, Brian Hunt, John Hatfield, Terry Collier, David Ramsden, Ken Soanes, Brian Wall, David Pearce (photo Ed Martin)
Our Families, the Estate and the War
I was born in June 1939, three months before the outbreak of the Second World War. We had just moved to Hewitt Avenue on the Noel Park Estate where I eventually went to Noel Park Primary School a few years later. Apart from my Mum and Dad, I had two brothers. My eldest brother, Colin, was 17 years old – three years later he was fighting in Burma as a soldier – my younger brother, Gerald, was only 5 years old at that time.
I was born into a country about to face the prospect of six years of war-torn strife. I have very little memory of the first three years of my life.
My father, Bill, was too old to be called up as he had fought in the First World War at Paschendaele aged 18 years. His contribution to the Second World War was fire watching on local roof tops. One of my earliest memories is being taken by my Mother to the coal cellar (which was a cupboard under the stairs), in our house as the doodlebug droned in the skies above. My mother called ‘Billy’ to my father who was nowhere to be seen: he was playing cards with fellow firewatchers on the roof!
One of my happiest memories was going to Morley Avenue where my cousins lived and, as it would be known today, having a ‘sleepover’, again in the cupboard under the stairs – all six of us! Another treat was dashing around at mid-day to the Civic Centre in Gladstone Avenue for a dinner for one shilling and a Lyons ice cream. We went to visit friends in Plymouth and went to The Hoe every day to the swimming pool and I had my first ice lolly, rhubarb-flavoured and costing 3d!
Earliest memories are of 11 Bury Road, Wood Green, and the last years of the war. I do remember sitting under the kitchen table during air raids, as the coal was kept in the cupboard under the stairs which was the other ‘place of safety’, or sitting in the concrete shelter that had been built in the road outside, opposite our front door. The Anderson shelter in the garden wasn’t popular as it was very damp and difficult to get into. I think we only tried it only once as it was damp, cold and dark if the candle went out. Did anyone use them?
My mother was an ARP warden and I recall her in the tin hat going out to do her bit. My father worked nights in Fleet Street in dispatch and would get a lift home in a delivery van. It had floppy rubber front wings, I don’t know if it was because they hit a lot of things or the shortage of metal. (Fleet Street vans were like that into the 60s, so it must have been to minimise damage during their high speed deliveries.)
In Bury Road at its junction with West Beech Road, which was quite wide, there was a concrete water tank and an air raid shelter in the middle of the road. I remember going into the shelter in my pyjamas as the alternative to under the kitchen table.
A bomb dropped in West Beech Road one night very near where John Hatfield and Frank Benning lived and it took out several houses in West Beech and Bury. I didn’t see anything at the time but I recall my sister saying the neighbours were coming down the road covered in blood. On another occasion my father was sitting in the living room when the window shattered and the glass went straight over his head but he wasn’t touched.
I had two half-sisters, the oldest was in the WRAF and I would wait at the end of the road outside the barbers shop for her to come home on leave. The other sister would take me to school at Noel Park when I was old enough as she went to the senior girls section. I also had two half-brothers one of whom was a pilot throughout the war and was lucky to be one of the few who survived.
Rationing reminds me of buying sliced bread, already buttered (or ‘marged’) from Woolworths and spending the change on sweets for my mother. This wasn’t appreciated as money was very tight. Everyone I’ve mentioned this to does not recall bread and butter (or margarine) being available but I definitely do. And, lastly, the day sweet rationing ended, there were queues at every sweet shop and unofficial limits were put on how much you could have.
I was only a babe in arms when my father went to war. He worked on the railway which was a ‘reserved’ occupation (meaning he was precluded from joining up) but the authorities asked for volunteers to train in the army in case we were invaded and Dad offered his services. He happened to be in a training camp when war was declared and that meant he was automatically in the Army! As I grew up my routine was to say ‘good night’ and kiss the portrait of my father, so he was never a stranger to me. I was aware when he was a prisoner of war taken at one of the battles of Tobruk. On 21 July 1942 my mother received a telegram from the War Office saying that he was posted as missing on 20 June 1942 but she clung to the feeling that he was still alive and she was told to get the Catholic News which listed the names of prisoners of war.
One day she could hardly believe her eyes when she saw Dad’s name was listed. I remember how excitedly we went to the shops to get things for a parcel for him. As well as tins of food and other articles my mother put in a tin-opener and he did receive that first parcel in the camp. The tin-opener was always borrowed by others and he would have to retrieve it. Mum was also able to notify the War Office of his capture.
Every now and again a letter would come from Dad via the Red Cross, his writing was photographically reduced to a postcard size presumably to save on postage and, depending on its contents, my mother would either be tearful or reassured. One day she received a letter from Dad and when I went into my bedroom she was sitting on the bed crying. When I asked ‘Why?’ she handed me a photo of Dad which had been taken by the Red Cross. He was painfully thin and smiling gauntly for the camera. I thought for a moment and told her to turn the photo over and then she wouldn’t see how thin he was and wouldn’t get upset! This remedy was so logical to me as a child.
My mother was also a volunteer in the Red Cross shop on Jolly Butchers Hill and, to raise funds for prisoners of war, I had to memorise a short speech dressed in my nurses outfit. During the interval at the Gaumont Cinema, together with my mother, a lady from the Red Cross, the ladies from the grocers shop in Salisbury Road and their St Bernard dog, we walked onto the stage and I was helped up onto a chair so I could reach the microphone. I can’t remember exactly what I said but I remember mentioning that my Dad was a prisoner of war. A lady was so moved she came up on stage and gave me a ten shilling note which I had to be told to give to the Red Cross lady! It was reported in the local newspaper on 27 January 1945 that the week’s total fund raising for prisoners of war was £430 18s 10d.
As a special treat, my mother and I would go to Shropshire Hall which then was a British Restaurant whose aim I later discovered was to provide one good coupon-free meal each day at a cost of one shilling.
My mother had given up her rations for eggs to keep chickens in our garden at the back of our air-raid shelter so we were only short of eggs when the hens stopped laying. I remember coming home with Mum carrying the chicks chirping in a patterned box. I was so excited. We had one hen which only had one eye and I nicknamed her ‘Nelson’ – she was quite a personality and when the opportunity arose she would hop up our back stairs onto our balcony. At other times a hen would try to flee over the neighbours’ fences only to be recaptured as they were a precious commodity.
On a trip by train to Hertfordshire to see my grandparents the carriage and corridors were occupied both by other passengers and also American troops. One of the soldiers offered me a packet of chewing gum. I looked at my mother for permission and she smiled and nodded, so I accepted shyly thanking him. It was the first time I had tasted a strip of American gum and I quite liked it.
Coming home we were stopped in Salisbury Road by a neighbour who warned my mother: ‘Your flat has been affected by the blast of a bomb. I thought I would tell you so as you don’t get a shock.’ ‘Thank you for warning me’, replied Mum. Thinking the worst, when we arrived at the flat we saw a crack in the front wall. Coming into my mother’s front bedroom we found everything very dusty. ‘Not so bad as I thought’, said Mum, and that was a relief to both of us.
During the war when my friend Judy and I were at school both my mother and Aunty Marge worked as machinists in a small factory at the back of Judy’s flat and wearing their dungarees and turbans they used to climb over the back fence to get there which was a shorter route than walking up Moselle Avenue into Salisbury Road and turning right into Lordship Lane. One day I was off sick from school and went into work with Mum and saw that she was stamping out parts of machinery for the war effort.
I was born on 24 January 1938 at 115a Gladstone Avenue, Wood Green in the county of Middlesex (now part of London). This was opposite the school which I was later to attend – Noel Park School, though as I am a year older than most of the contributors to these memories I went through the school a year ahead of them. We moved in 1940 to 73 Morley Avenue, on the same estate.
During the war, everyone was encouraged to grow their own vegetables and so Dad applied for an allotment. He made himself a wheelbarrow from some old bits of wood with a couple of old pram wheels and off we trundled to Perth Road recreation ground where had a patch of ground and it seems it was rather poor as I don’t remember going again and he later had one at the firm he worked for, Cambridge Instrument Co at Muswell Hill. I went there several times with him. Once he even fitted a cushion to the crossbar of his bike and I travelled in style! My favourite pastime when Dad was on the allotment was to poke around the rubbish tip! Quite often I could find oddments of paper there which we could use for drawing on. Paper was difficult to obtain during the war, so this was a bonus. I think my sister Jenny also found this interesting later.
Being out at night could be quite hazardous. Remember that there were no lights at all in the blackout so when we were out walking, when Jenny was a baby in the pushchair, I had to hold the torch (a very small thin torch for which batteries were almost impossible to obtain) and shine the light down onto the front of the pushchair when we heard someone coming the other way so that they could see and avoid it. It was easier on moonlight nights.
One night as we walking home from Aunty Lena and Uncle George’s home in Princes Avenue, we looked up as a couple of searchlights had picked up a plane overhead. We watched it for a while until it flew off, so we assumed it was one of ours.
Another thing I remember about the wartime was the building of emergency water storage tanks along the side of the roads. They were built of brick and always had on the side of them the sign “EWS”. I used to wonder what had happened to North!
My very first memory as a baby was being wheeled in a pram around the small open space adjacent to Russell Avenue and I clearly remember the ‘Barrage Balloon’ anchored there. This was raised largely at night to prevent aircraft flying low over the estate and, if they did, hopefully we would catch one in the wires. I don’t ever recall one downing a plane!
Another early memory was walking in Woolworths when the air raid siren went off with the noise of a V1 overhead. As a three-year-old I was very frightened and tried to jump in the pram, tipping it over in the aisle. The assistant then pulled me and my mother under the counter. Luckily for us the bomb went elsewhere.
We had an air-raid shelter built in the back yard. They were damp, offered little protection, but did save the house occupants from a direct hit. When the air-raid warning went off everyone rushed out into the garden to get into the shelter. First one there was always the dog. I wonder how today’s youngsters would cope if they had to spend a winter’s night in a corrugated shed in the garden with no heating, no lights or inside toilets and very damp!
We were allocated an Anderson Shelter which was in effect a large bed with an inch thick steel top. Five children in the house including myself slept under this top every night top to tail! If the house collapsed then the steel top would protect all the people underneath. Luckily we never had to prove this but I do recall waking one night to the dreaded crackle of a V1 which appeared to stop directly overhead. We all froze and waited for the inevitable, but this landed at the bottom of Pelham Road.
Before my father left for active service I recall part of an incendiary bomb landed in our front garden in Gladstone Avenue, adjacent to his prize chrysantheMums. They were not damaged and I recall all the family watching the flames slowly extinguish, only to see a soldier from the Home Guard rushing up and jumping on it, shooting the flames sideways and destroying all the flowers. Thank God I was young and could not understand the words my father called him.
Towards the end of the war, my uncle was stationed at Uxbridge as a dispatch rider. When he managed to get spare time he would ride down Gladstone Avenue sounding his horn. My grandmother would immediately open the front door and he would park his motor-bike in the hall in case any Military Police were around. When all was quiet I would sidle up to the bike and press the horn, usually waking my grandfather who was sleeping prior to working nights on the buses!
Luckily most of us on the Noel Park estate lived to tell the tales. In fact my grandmother moved into 47 Gladstone in 1919 at aged 23 and died their aged 96 having only left London for a trip to Cambridge once in her life. I think back now and realise just how very lucky our generation have been.
My Dad’s family was from Wood Green, a place I had only visited a few times to see my paternal grandparents who lived on Morley Avenue, my paternal grandmother was known to me as ‘Mick’s Nan’, Mick being their dog whom I adored. The Lee family had lived on the Noel Park Estate since shortly after it was first built when my great-grandparents moved there from Islington and, according to the 1901 census, were living at 80 Gladstone Avenue, a big corner house on the corner of Gladstone and Farrant Avenue. At the time it must have seemed to them like moving into the country as the Noel Park Estate had been built on virgin farmland and was still surrounded by fields, which is rather hard to imagine today. My great grandfather remained living at No 80 until his death in 1942.
Dad decided that we should move to the Noel Park Estate until he could afford to buy a house. We were assigned a small downstairs flat on Gladstone Avenue, the very same street where my great-grandparents had lived. It was a bit of a shock moving into a small flat when I had been used to houses, however, I soon got used to it, but did hate leaving behind Bounds Green, my school and my friends.
Noel Park seemed so crowded at first with all the terraces and small back gardens but once I had started Junior School and started to make friends it soon became home. At least I didn’t have to walk so far to school as Noel Park Junior School was just up the road on Gladstone Avenue. Coincidentally, I recently found out that all my Lee ancestors had gone to Noel Park School including my father. So it was like coming back to my roots!
I was born three months before the outbreak of war in September 1939 at 57 Middle Lane, Hornsey. On 7 September the National Registration Act came into force and my father was one of the first to be called up, this entailed my mother and me to leave our own home and move in with my grandparents who lived a short distance away on Mountview Road overlooking Alexandra Palace. We stayed here until a stray bomb hit our house, luckily we were safe in the Anderson shelter in the back garden but it meant yet another move before I was two years old to my uncle and aunt’s home at Torrington Gardens in Bounds Green.
I can remember good times here and hardly even noticed that there was a war on. Memories of horse-drawn milk carts and my grandfather running out afterwards to collect any manure that the horse had deposited in the road so that he could keep his beloved garden well fertilised. I can still remember my mother’s extreme embarrassment each time, as for me, I thought it was hilarious collecting such a thing.
I adored my maternal grandfather, who refused to be called grandpa, he suggested Uncle which I couldn’t pronounce so ended up being forever known as ‘Nunky’. Nunky had been to college and was an avid reader. He had volumes of British history, Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. Consequently when Nunky was around he would read me stories from these books rather than Andersen’s Fairy Tales (I still have these books today, much loved but now old and fading).
We also had an Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden into which we were all rushed in the event of a siren blaring out in the night. One night we had a near miss when a window was blown in with the glass falling all over my bed – luckily I wasn’t in it or I wouldn’t be writing this. Other than that incident I can’t remember the bombs falling, maybe it was because my mother and I spent half of the time in the country living with relatives on a farm in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, and other relatives in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
The Martins came from Faversham in Kent where my ancestors had been oyster dredgers and shoemakers. My great-grandparents, were living in Lewisham when my grandfather was born in 1880. My great grandfather, a carpenter, deserted his family so, at the age of 4, my grandfather and his brother were sent to the Home for Little Boys at South Darenth in Kent while his mother went into service in Tunbridge Wells, which was her home town. My grandfather was in the home until he was 14 and then he was sent to work at an upholstery shop in the West End. Other jobs followed as a messenger boy until he learnt to drive a horse and cart and worked for the Great Northern Railway, lodging in Wood Green. On marriage to my grandmother in 1906 they managed to get a flat at 97 Gladstone Avenue on the Estate and soon after moved to 13 Darwin Road where my grandfather lived until his death in 1965. My paternal grandmother died in 1924, so I never knew her.
My father, the second child of the marriage was born in 1911 and grew up in Noel Park and lived on the estate for most of his life. The Salvation Army was strong in Wood Green and my paternal grandmother was a member and my aunt was a life-long Salvationist. My father learnt to play the trombone with the Salvation Army and on leaving school at 14 worked for a while on the LNER as a porter before enlisting in the regular army as a bandsman in the mounted band of the 4/7th Dragoon Guards, playing a trombone on a horse! He went to India but his army career came to an end when an infection picked up there made him deaf in one ear. Returning to Wood Green he joined the Wood Green Excelsior Silver Prize Band conducted by his tutor from the Salvation Army, Mr Dollin. In the trombone section was another recently discharged regular soldier and they became friends and he introduced my Dad to his sister and they subsequently married, so I’m here courtesy of a brass band trombone section.
I was born in June 1939 when my parents were living at 31 Park Ridings, Wood Green. They moved shortly after to Eldon Road, off Lordship Lane, where I had whooping cough during the severe winter of 1939/40. But soon after my grandfather must have helped them to move to 14 Moselle Avenue on the estate, which is the first home I can remember.
During the war my father, as a telephone engineer, had a reserved occupation but would have been unfit because of his deafness had he been called up. However, having had many narrow escapes when restoring telephone services after and during bombing and wiring up new airfields, this was not enough for him, so he joined the Home Guard as a motor bike dispatch rider. One day I shall always remember was when he arrived on his motor bike at 14 Moselle, complete with helmet and respirator, which made him look like something out of a 50s sci-fi comic. My maternal grandmother opened the door, let out a scream, and was convinced that the Germans had landed.
My grandDad’s house at 13 Darwin Road had suffered some blast damage so we went to help. Everything was very dusty and bits of plaster, brick, glass and wood had been loaded into cane baskets for removal. Dad helped with the sweeping and I was equipped with an adult tin helmet, just in case anything else fell down, but only the helmet did – over my eyes!
On 5 May 1942 my 21-year-old mother died. I was just three years, four months and eight days old. Following that tragic event, with my younger brother and sister fostered out, and my father in the RAF, I was moved from 213 Moselle Avenue to 51 Moselle Avenue to live with my paternal grandparents. Coincidentally a future school friend and Noel Parker, Fred Willis, moved into 213. From that day on I remember a lot of comings and goings among adults wearing a variety of uniforms. The adult conversations were mainly of the war and wartime rationing.
One day in early Spring 1945: I am nearly 6 years old and the war is still going on. I went outside to see my pet rabbit but the hutch is empty! No rabbit was there and so Freddie is not very happy. I tell my grandDad that the rabbit is missing. ‘Oh dear’, says GranDad, ‘Some bad man must have taken him. We will tell the policeman, who lives two doors away.’ That weekend we had a lovely dinner.
When I was 21, talking to my Mum Ethel about the war, she told me about the rabbit: ‘We were starving and the rabbit had to go! You enjoyed that dinner, but we could barely eat it as we were so upset.’ Apparently I had eaten most of it. To be 21 before finding out about my rabbit: what a great shock!
Friday, 1 September 1939 was the start of a four-day period of evacuation of children, with some of their teachers and a few parents, to rural areas from vulnerable cities or other places that were likely to be targets for enemy bombers. In the 1930s, it was believed that ‘the bomber would always get through’. Nearly 3 million people were evacuated in those four days. At this point in the war, our peer group were babes in arms or toddlers and many are the stories, told to us by our parents, of journeys in which we took part but are unable to remember. In my own case a tortuous and very long train journey from Euston to relatives in Burnley in Lancashire, in 1940, during which my father had to dispose of nappies out of the window because of the lack of other facilities.
Some children were lucky enough to go with at least one parent or grandparent, others had to go accompanied only by siblings and were fostered out in the community rather than living with relatives.
The evacuation memories which follow are not in any chronological order and cover the later stages of the war when we could understand and remember what was going on around us. ED MARTIN
Henlow, Beds and South Wales
My younger brother, Gerald, used to rush out after any bombing finished and collect shrapnel in the road as souvenirs so he was evacuated to Henlow in Bedfordshire, which might just as well have been China as we had little knowledge where it was and no transport, so we did not see him for a while! My mother was born in South Wales and soon after my arrival it was suggested she should take me to her old home for safety but, after three weeks, we returned and she took her chances with the bombing. JUNE ARCHER
During the bombing I was evacuated with my Mum to a so-called ‘aunt and uncle’ in Bolton, Lancs, leaving Dad at home. I started school in Bolton aged 4½, eventually returning to Morley Avenue in 1945 aged about 5¼ and started at Noel Park School. ANN HUGGINS
Arlesey, Beds and St Albans, Herts
During the war my mother and I spent half of the time in the country living with relatives on a farm in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, and with other relatives in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
In Arlesey one hardly knew a war was going on, although one bomb did demolish a beautiful old thatched cottage opposite the church but it didn’t really register in my mind (and today the thatched cottage still remains, beautifully renovated to its original state and probably worth a million or more!)
Life on the farm was far from the reality of life in London, many happy hours were spent having picnics on top of the haystacks with my cousins, Chrissie and Molly, getting up before dawn to collect mushrooms in the fields and real organic eggs hidden amongst the hay by the happy totally free range hens, some of which we ate (the eggs I mean) and some of which were put in the enormous incubator where we could watch the little fluffy yellow chicks hatch and grow. There was also the excitement (and fear) of my first effort at milking a cow and having the cream from the milk that I collected served on strawberries for tea, and the eggs and mushrooms for breakfast. These were the days before mechanised milking machines were installed.
This was a real old-fashioned farm, my uncle had cows, pigs, chickens all housed in the backyard in various barns, and fields of barley, hay and wheat. And in one barn was a real treat, a swing hanging from the rafters over which we had fights. My uncle also had horses to draw some of the old-fashioned machinery which we loved to ride on when harvest time came around. Everybody rode horses so my uncle decided to teach me and I can remember the terror of being lifted on to what seemed like a giant horse (thinking about it now, it was actually only a small pony). I accidentally kicked it on its side and caused it to start galloping rather than trotting. Unfortunately the saddle wasn’t properly fixed and, as the pony ran around the field, the saddle started slipping with me in it and I ended up hanging upside down under the pony’s belly. Rescue came in the form of my uncle who managed to stop the horse and get me off safely, but the lesson didn’t stop there, he fixed the saddle and made me get on again as he said if I didn’t I would never get over the fright and never want to ride a horse again. So I did what I was told (for a change) as I wanted to be able to ride with my cousins, and the lesson ended successfully.
Every Sunday we would go to visit our great aunt and uncle over in Henlow, this was quite a long but exciting walk because we used to cut through the grounds of Henlow Grange (now a very expensive health spa). The Grange at that time was derelict and empty so we would climb in the windows and explore, hoping, and at the same time fearing, that we might come into contact with ghosts. The place was massive with an enormous staircase but we didn’t dare go upstairs, preferring to stay close to easy exits. The walk through the grounds was scary, too. It was a tiny path between fields with cows on one side and a bull on the other with a small fence separating us, plus the added problem of a multitude of tiny frogs everywhere, so we would be seen running and jumping over them screaming our heads off until we finally arrived, a couple of hours later, at Henlow Green, just as the church bells rang out, and we knew tea would be waiting for us.
We would spend a few months in Arlesey and then a few more months each year in St Albans with more cousins, here we would go for long walks in the woods collecting blackberries to eat and rose hips to sell to the local chemist, and if they weren’t in season we would take old newspapers to the fish and chip shop and empty bottles to the off-licence – early lessons in financial awareness. Of course this was in the days when children could walk on country lanes and in lonely woods without fear of paedophiles or other crazies, a time when we were allowed to call ourselves English rather than British.
Later on during the war I eventually had to go to infants school, my first school was just over the road from the farm in Arlesey, an ancient little building with a minstrels gallery running above the assembly hall and a field in the back to play in, my cousins were a year or two older than me but we were all in the same class as the school was so small. The one at St Albans wasn’t much bigger and that was more like a big wooden barn, and here we had a concreted playground, not so nice as the field at Arlesey, falling down meant grazed knees and elbows, but there was an added advantage in that we had swings to play on. Unfortunately at St Albans I humiliated my mother twice, first by coming home with my navy knickers falling down (broken elastic) and secondly coming home with my cousin both with nits in our hair – my mother thought that was the biggest disgrace ever and people would think that she had a dirty daughter! I don’t think they realised back then that nits only live in clean hair.
Another time when I disgraced myself was in the lake at St Albans Abbey, my two cousins and I were trying to catch tadpoles with not much luck. I leant over the side too far and fell in, instead of dog paddling to the bank, somehow I managed to dog paddle further out into the middle of the lake screaming my head off (I couldn’t swim – still can’t), and my poor cousin Geoffrey had to jump in and rescue me. We had to walk home like two drowned rats, and my other cousin Dina thought it was hilarious.
Back to Bounds Green and here I had two friends, both boys, Keith and Robin. One lived opposite and the other lived next door, both the same age as me. We terrorised the neighbours with games like knock-down ginger and were continually being told off by our parents when neighbours complained, so we would be good for a few days before starting again. We would dig holes (there was a grassy knoll surrounded by bushes and a big chestnut tree in the middle of the road – gone now though) and bake potatoes, and we would have competitions with the plentiful chestnuts all around us that had fallen onto the ground. We also were lucky enough to have big horse chestnut trees in the road which guaranteed a good stock of conkers, so conker contests were big favourites back in those halcyon days before ‘ElfandSafety’ took over the land. PATRICIA LEE
Ickleford, Herts and Worcester
In March 1940 my sister Jennifer was born and as this was the time of the Battle of Britain followed by the Blitz, Mum, Jen and I were evacuated down to the village of Ickleford, near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. We stayed with a little old lady, Mrs Baines, in a cottage in Turnpike Lane. I can only remember the red-tiled floor of the hallway in which the little old white-haired lady played trains with me. Yes, even at that young age! I also remember Mum telling me that when she took me out in my pram and I saw a bridge or other railway item we had to stand and wait until a train had gone by.
I also have a vague memory of being put into a trap that the local milkman (Mr Lawman) used for his deliveries – but I don’t know if I went for a ride or not. I do know that there was a large milk churn in it and he ladled it out into a jug at each house. I was told that Dad used to come down on some weekends when he was not on duty on fire-watching or similar. As it was winter and there were of course no lights at all (because of blackout) he had trouble walking from the station in Hitchin, especially when there was a heavy snowfall and he managed to lose himself once or twice. Also, I vaguely remember going down to the blacksmith’s forge with Dad, which I think was down near the railway somewhere (Cadwell Lane?), and watching as the blacksmith shoed a horse. I felt sorry for the horse as he hammered the nails into the hoof! I don’t know when we returned to Wood Green but it was probably in 1941.
Later, Mum, Jenny and I were evacuated to Worcester where we stayed for a short time with Mum’s sister Clara. After this we stayed with the people next door to her in Saunders Street, Worcester, with Mr and Mrs Rawlinson. This was an old detached cottage with orchard garden surrounding it. There were a few chickens around also. We had half of the cottage – kitchen, living room and a couple of bedrooms up a rickety staircase. Lighting was by gas as there was no electricity. We were within walking distance of the River Severn and we had several picnics on its banks, including paddling in the water. At various points along the river there were ferries. These were just a man and a rowing boat who would row you over to the other side for about a penny (1d).
There were a few boys of similar age around and we would go to play in the spinney. Quite often we saw aircraft going over as I think there was an airfield close by. These were towing gliders so I assume it was before the Normandy invasion of 1944, probably the autumn of 1943. Of course there were American troops around and we were supposed to ask them for gum! I don’t think I ever did. One day I remember crawling into the chicken hutch to see what it was like to be inside. It took me a while to get out again! Mr Rawlinson gave me a gun one day – I think he said it was a real gun but without any works inside. I was very proud of this and had it for a few years before losing it over the recreation ground in Wood Green. I started school in Worcester at St Stephen’s Church School, which was about half a mile away, down Northwick Road and across Ombersley Road. An unusual thing about this school was that we were not allowed to run about on the playground as it was very roughly surfaced with gravel. This was very difficult for young children, but necessary. My teacher here was Miss Perceval and I wrote to her after we returned to London. I did go to Noel Park from Morley Avenue before we went to Worcester. Jenny started at nursery school in Worcester, too, for a while and they received a load of gifts from some Americans. The children (or their parents) had to write and thank the senders of these gifts and Jenny (or Mum) had to write to an address in Blue Mountain, Alabama. I was sad to leave here to go back to Wood Green as it seemed always to be summer in Worcester.
Dad came down sometimes but I don’t remember how often. I do know that one weekend he came and we walked along the river bank, past the racecourse into a park and then onto the main road to go back. In the next street (Pinknett Street) to where we were staying was the local fish and chip shop and we sometimes called in there on our way home from town. All in all, we had a good time there. It was always peaceful and quiet, far away from the war, and we enjoyed it – at least we children did. TREVOR CHAPMAN
My earliest memories of the war go back to the day of evacuation. On 3 September 1939 all children under the age of 11 were ordered to report to their school carrying a change of clothes in a small suitcase, together with their gas mask in its cardboard box. My sister, Jean, then aged 5, and I, aged 8, went to Noel Park School in Gladstone Avenue, together with what seemed to be every child from all around. We were loaded on to several double-deck London buses – our parents waving us goodbye. Tears all round. Nobody seemed to know where we were going including the bus driver – he seemed to have very few clues. It was some time before we were able to contact our homes. I had an older brother, Ken, who was evacuated with Trinity School to Hatfield Peverel.
It was very hard on mothers. My own mother had three of us at home one day and none the next, after we were all evacuated. I learned that she later had a nervous breakdown and was quite ill for a time.
We arrived eventually, at Felsted in Essex. Deep country which was like a foreign land to almost every child on that bus! For the villagers the invasion of busloads of cockney children must have been horrific. Felsted was a very nice quiet village which had not seen the like of us before! It was really rural, and completely fixed firmly in country life, undisturbed for years
We got off the bus outside the village hall and we were then selected by unwilling village ladies one at a time, until only my sister and I were left! It seemed as though no one wanted TWO evacuees! They did not have any choice, as the law said that if they had room they had to take an evacuee. Eventually a lady arrived, late, and had to have us, as all the other children had been placed and had gone to their new homes. She was Mrs Price. Jean and I had to eat in the kitchen with the maid, as Mrs Price thought she was a cut above putting up with two town dwellers as her son attended Felsted Public School. This school is still going today (2014), and is apparently one of the leading public schools in the country. Mrs Price did not believe in feeding her guests, and Jean and I were always very hungry. However, Jean and I were soon rebilleted, me to some very kindly folk, and Jean to some not so nice people. Jean later told me that I used to bring an apple to school, for her from very large tree we had in the garden of the house where I was billeted and charge her a penny for it! A penny was worth something in those days. Naturally, I cannot remember the incident at all. Children were quite often moved round to new billets.
A school was started in for us in a local hall under a Miss Brenda Scott, who taught, I think, about 30 pupils of both sexes. She was a Noel Park teacher. She was a very good all-round teacher, and managed to educate me to a place in Trinity County School which I went to on returning to Wood Green in 1942. We went to this school in Felsted, for about two years.
My mother was born in Burnley but during the depression in the 20s and 30s my grandfather, an engineer, moved the family to London to get work. So when the Blitz came Mum and I went to stay with my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Bella, and her husband Uncle Jack Parker, a miner, in a little terraced house in Burnley while Dad, a telephone engineer, stayed on at 14 Moselle Avenue, when he wasn’t away wiring up new airfields. After the Blitz we went home and my brother was born in 1941.
In 1944 we had to return to Burnley, because of the bombing, where I shared a room with my great aunt’s younger son, Ronnie, who had model aeroplanes, all finished in matt black, suspended from the ceiling of his bedroom. Ronnie used to take me out for days in the nice countryside surrounding the town but he didn’t wait for me: I had to keep up as best I could at five years old. Two other cousins, daughters of great aunt Mary, were much kinder and used to take me round with them. Uncle Jack was determined that I should be ‘toughened up’ and made a start by giving me a ‘pudding-basin’ haircut, on a chair in the back yard with hand-operated clippers. He then encouraged me to fight a local boy, Jimmy Bannister, who was bullying me. Inevitably, I lost but I think Uncle Jack was pleased with my performance. My revenge was to name our cockerel at home ‘Jimmy Bannister’. We ate him at Christmas 1945!
I started school at Hargher Clough School (which I called ‘Archer Clough’), a red brick building on the other side of the main Accrington Road and my class teacher was Miss Schofield. I was told that I must not cross the Accrington Road on my own, but there was a very nice sweetshop on the other side where you could get a glass of dandelion and burdock for one old penny . . . I crossed the road and got a great deal of trouble for my glass of d and b.
I have a clear memory of my grandfather being there and of him taking me to Burnley Market on a utility bus with no upholstered seats. On arrival, he would buy me a bag of ‘stickjaw’ toffee, probably because he was fed up with my inane chatter – he was a man of very few words. We returned home too soon – the V2s were just starting. When the train arrived at Euston I said ‘ello Dad’ in a broad Lancashire accent, to which he replied: ‘You can cut that lark out as soon as you like.’
Early in the war we were evacuated to somewhere near Stoke-on-Trent. However the food was so bad and although the family who put us up were very pleasant, my mother and aunt could only stand it for a fortnight and eventually decided it was better to take our chances back home with the bombing.
Between March and June 1944 I was evacuated to the village of Fovant, which is about 15 miles west of Salisbury in Wiltshire. My father was stationed nearby with the RAF. He became friendly with a farming family, and they invited my grandmother and me to stay there a while. Wartime rationing – No way! A full English breakfast every day, nice salads with cold meats for lunch, chicken or turkey for dinner, with plenty of beef, lamb, or pork as alternatives. I thought I had been moved to another planet. Fresh milk seemed to arrive by the churn several times a day. I learned to ride a horse, and often went with the farmer on a tractor around his huge fields. Sometimes I would go with him in his car to Salisbury. Petrol rationing did not seem to exist. One day I went for a walk down a country lane when an American army convoy came by. Several soldiers threw packets of chewing gum to me. I had so much it lasted me the rest of the war.
There was talk about sending me to school in Salisbury, however, a letter from my grandfather said it was now quite safe to return to London. So we packed up and took the train back to London: to wartime rationing, and the start of the V1s and V2s descending on us. Oh to be back on the farm!
I can remember sitting on Mum’s lap hearing the sirens. Dad was doing car hire so he was out most evenings. He rushed in one evening saying you could fry eggs on the bonnet of his car. He was coming home from Edmonton (he always came the same way), but that night something told him to use a different route. It was good that he did, as Edmonton was hit with fire bombs. On the way he came, fire bombs were dropping all around him but his usual way was badly bombed.
We had a Morrison shelter in the bedroom with my bed on top. I quite often went to sleep in the bed but woke up in the shelter (I was a deep sleeper). My grandparents had a shelter in their garden so if the siren went while we were there we all went into it.
A bomb dropped in Lymington Avenue – the next street to ours –demolishing two houses at the back of our garden. I am not sure if anyone was killed but the blast blew in all our back windows. We were expecting my auntie from Lowestoft the next day and my mother frantically dyed some old sacking with yellow ‘Dolly Dyes’ to make curtains for our visitor!
Sometime after the air-raids started we were issued with a Morrison shelter. It was erected in our front room which was empty and a billiard table was placed on top as an added safety precaution. Inside mattresses were placed to enable us to sleep inside. I spent many happy hours using it as a playpen with all my dolls and toys. Everything was put to good use! Next door they had an Anderson shelter in the back garden and we, again, spent many hours together making tea and sandwiches in a world of make-believe.
I never remember any fear and all the children played together. My mother and our next door neighbours (who were like an extended family), spent a lot of time rubbing out the ration books which had been already marked when buying groceries and going back to buy more tea and sugar – the grocer, of course, knew but he never sent them to jail! Rationing was hard on families, especially those with young children, and the mention of liver and hearts at the butchers, which were not rationed, would send all the mothers rushing up to join the queue for something for dinner that day. My Dad, fortunately, did not eat sweets so we always had his 4oz! Another trick was for the women to paint panstick makeup onto their legs and draw a pencil line up the back of the leg to look like a seam, as stockings needed clothing coupons.
When I was four years old I contracted Scarlet Fever with complications and was whisked off in an ambulance to Coppets Wood Hospital on the North Circular near Bounds Green. It is a tropical diseases hospital today. They kept me in for nine months, which included spending Christmas in the Women’s Ward. During these months, I never saw my parents due to the war and as they had no transport and visitors were not allowed. When the hospital eventually sent me home, I was not sure who my parents were!
A dog fight and a V1
In 1939 I lived at 175A Moselle Avenue, which was an upstairs flat in between Victorian terrace houses. My best friend, Judy Forrester, with whom I grew up, lived in another upstairs flat at 165A Moselle Avenue and as our balconies, outside our back doors, faced each other we could wave to one another or even shout messages.
One day, before we had an air raid shelter in our divided back garden, the sirens went off and as we were at home having tea with Judy and her mother, Aunt Margery, we took such shelter as we could ducking under our oak table or under our butler sink in the scullery. I thought it was a lark and began running from the table to the sink. ‘Keep still’ shouted my mother and as she was strict I obeyed. We then stayed there until we heard the ‘all clear’ siren.
One bright sunny day the back door was open while I was swinging my legs sitting on the scullery table underneath which was our bath. My mother said: ‘Look a dog-fight’. I got down from the table and looked up into the sky. I saw an RAF plane and a German aircraft swirling around, fighting to the death. I couldn’t make out which was which so I went out onto the balcony for a better view, then my mother started jumping up and down. ‘Who won?’, I asked. ‘We did’ and she beamed with satisfaction.
Later on when we had our air raid shelter the sirens sounded and, as Judy was at my home playing with me, my mother urged us to go to the shelter. Going down the back staircase to the garden, Judy and I got the giggles much to my mother’s exasperation: ‘hurry, hurry’, she urged. Both of us fled to the shelter and then got stuck in the doorway at the same time. Mum pulled us apart and pushed us into the shelter, both of us landing onto a camp bed at the foot of the entrance. Turning round, before my mother pulled the heavy wooden cover across the entrance, I saw the V1 bomb glide past on its way to destruction.
It was a Winter’s night in 1942, there was a bomber’s moon, and the Luftwaffe were droning overhead, though I was not aware of this being only three years of age at the time. Deep in slumber, I could not see the probing fingers of the searchlights and the crash of bombs and incendiaries as the Jerries wrought their havoc. Suddenly, I was awakened by a violent crash as a bomb landed only yards away in Gladstone Avenue. The blast blew in the whole window frame and my bed was showered in glass and plaster from the shattered ceiling. On my pillow was a huge lump of plaster where my head would have been, had I not been curled up in the middle of the bed, then Mum lifted me clear of the débris.
I also remember Mum looking very weary, and this was explained by her having to queue for over an hour to buy me a single banana! ANN HUGGINS
V1s – ‘doodlebugs’
Trying to hit the railway tunnels?
I often wondered why we had so many V1 ‘doodlebugs’ dropping on the Estate. I watched a programme many years ago which said that the Germans were trying to hit the main-line railway tunnels at Wood Green to prevent food and arms being shipped down from the north, but, more importantly, the Alexandra Palace TV mast was experimenting with the first prototypes of Radar and from the top of the mast could see German aircraft approaching on the far side of the channel, giving us a very early warning of impending attacks.
The V1s were designed to cause utmost panic among civilians. They had a dreadful engine crackle and when this stopped no one knew whether the bomb would drop immediately down or glide on in silence for many miles. …..
I can remember sleeping in between my Mum and Dad. The next thing I knew was getting up but not getting dressed and going onto the landing and looking up, just looking at the sky! Apparently we had had a near miss. The houses lower down in Coombe Road were not so lucky: they were hit. We made our way to my grandparents who lived in Morley Avenue and I can remember going down Vincent Road and seeing a searchlight with a plane or doodlebug in its light. The next morning we went back to our house and there was a cordon across the top of the road. My Dad said who we were and we were allowed through to see what the damage had been done. Apart from the hole in the roof, only the french doors had been damaged.
One night we were all in bed asleep when a flying bomb (V1) came down behind the road next to us and behind the telephone exchange (where I worked in later years). This was on Saturday, 17 June 1944 at one minute past midnight. When I woke up the ceiling was coming down on us. I shouted to my sister to go under the bedclothes. I pulled them up so hard my feet came out the other end! Mum and Dad came into us and told us to keep still as there was glass everywhere. Dad went downstairs and cleared a chair of débris so that we could be brought down and dressed. I remember the dust – in the air, my throat and eyes: everywhere dust and glass fragments. Dad then wrapped me up in a blanket and carried me three roads away to some friends who took us all in for the night. I don’t remember anyone having any more sleep that night! We then went to stay with Mum’s sister Lena and her family, but I don’t know how long we were there. It was a bit tight as they only had a two-bedroom flat for four of them and then the four of us, but people managed to cope at that time. At least we were all alive. I do know that Dad and I came back next day to pick up the cat, Bill. Where he had been the night before I have no idea! We had to put him into an attaché case as there was nothing else we could use. A bit embarrassing really as on the bus he kept miaowing and the bus conductor gave us a funny look until Dad explained. We were later rehomed in a ground-floor flat in Grasmere Avenue, Muswell Hill. It was just the lower floor of a two storey house, but it was better than with relations. I then started school at Rhodes Avenue School – now a junior school. It was quite a nice school situated in its own garden where we had nature walks. We had to go down into the cellar if the siren went, but only a couple of times.
One Saturday afternoon I was shopping with my nan (Mum worked at Bartons drapers in the High Road). We were almost back to my nan’s house when a V1 was over head and the engine stopped. A man on a bike jumped off and pushed Nan and me up against fence by the church to shield us. Moments later theV1 fell. As I lived in Salisbury Road on the corner of Farrant, which was where the bomb dropped, nan left me with my uncle and ran down to my house. My Dad drove for weddings. If he had to wait he came home and dozed on the sofa. Thankfully that afternoon he did not: all our windows had blown in and there was glass everywhere. We had to stay with my grandparents while repairs were done. I was too young to understand fully but I remember crying for my doll.
When we got back to Wood Green the war was still in full flow and bombing was still going on. On one occasion Jean and I had been to the High Road shopping when an air raid warning sounded. We decided to go home, but as we got to down Gladstone Avenue, opposite the church, I heard a buzz-bomb which promptly cut its engine which meant it was about to come down, I hastily pulled my sister down behind a gate pillar. I looked up and saw the bomb almost overhead, the engine had then cut out and the bomb turned on its side and blew up in the second block of Farrant Avenue just below Salisbury Road. My sister and I would have just been turning into Farrant as the bomb blew up. This took place in 1942, but today in 2014 I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the bomb as it curved over and dropped into Farrant Avenue, one block up from Lordship Lane. We immediately went down to where the bomb had exploded, and saw an elderly lady surrounded by débris, standing about where her front room would have been. The ARP van soon arrived, and we were ushered back behind some barriers. All the Estate houses had plaster and lathe ceilings, and bomb blasts caused them to fall down regularly, but I seem to remember that they were always promptly repaired and window glass replaced by the Estate workmen.
Wood Green was a very dreary place during the war. Very few of the shops had much in their windows, but most seemed to keep open. There were of course no sweets.DEREK COLEMAN
Sheltering from the V1s
After the Blitz we returned to London and in 1941 my brother was born and the two of us shared a bedroom at 14 Moselle Avenue where my sibling occupied his nights by jumping up and down in his cot shouting that the ‘guns [he said ‘duns’] were going’, even though I could hear the enormous anti-aircraft barrage quite well for myself!
Aunt Mary in AFS uniform (photo Ed Martin)
When the V1s started we took refuge under the stairs and, as Dad was quite often away, my unmarried aunt, who was in the Auxiliary Fire Service, stayed with us. It did wonders for my standing with the other boys in the street when, looking very glamorous in her AFS uniform, she was dropped off at our house from a gleaming red Dennis fire tender!
We were under the stairs when the V1s came over and, too young to realise the implications, I would give a commentary and get very excited when the engine stopped, shouting ‘It’s stopped; it’s stopped!’, much to the annoyance of Mum and aunt who were probably terrified. I have a clear recollection of standing in the street at night in pyjamas and dressing gown watching the fires burning at the next cross-roads: this was probably the Vincent Road bomb. The fire tenders, some just saloon cars with pumps attached as trailers, were rushing to the scene, to try to quench the fires from hoses snaking across the road from the fire hydrants.
Somehow we were educated at Trinity between air-raid warnings and spent a lot of time in air-raid shelters and eventually I passed Matriculation.
There was not a lot of food to be had, although I cannot remember being ever being hungry. I remember my mother was always in the High Road queuing for whatever was available in the shops.
The cinemas kept going and a trip to the latest release was a special treat. You had to queue for ‘two seats in the 1s 3ds’ (6.5p) and you were shown to your seats by an usherette waving a torch, There was always a demand for seats in the back row!
After the war ended in 1945 it was ages before things returned to some semblance of normality. It was 1949 before we saw any sweets, and we did not see a banana until 1950.
The Gladstone Avenue V2
Perhaps the famous phrase ‘They think it’s all over’ would not have been the one to use with regard to this incident which occurred in February 1945 when a V2 rocket fell on West Beech Road, Pelham Road and Gladstone Avenue, killing 17 people and injuring 68.
My parents must have thought that it was nearly all over which is why I was playing with two other boys in the street on a sunny afternoon. We had a metal milk crate and some rope and were taking it in turns to ride on the crate and to be pulled to the top of Moselle Avenue and then back to my house which was halfway down the avenue – creating a terrible din in the process.
We had been to the top of the road at the junction with Gladstone Avenue and were on our way back when there was an enormous explosion. We turned round to look and the sky had turned black. I rushed in to tell Mum only to discover that the blast, rushing down the gardens between the houses, had blown the living room window in on top of her. She had been sitting by the window sewing. I ran out and found someone to help and mercifully she had only cuts and bruises and shock.
Two blocks of houses in Gladstone Avenue and Pelham Road were completely demolished. My uncle, a merchant seaman on leave, had just left the Gaumont cinema and rushed to help but there was little that could be done.
Quite the worst experience of my life and it could have been the end of it had we turned the crate round later than we did. But we had our revenge on Mr Hitler: six years later we moved into a brand new house in Pelham Road – part of a new development on the V2 bomb site.
Interestingly, as Ed Martin was playing in Moselle Avenue, I was sitting in the front room window of 47 Gladstone Avenue, opposite me was my cousin sitting on my grandmother’s lap, and my sister was running up and down the passageway from the front door to the kitchen at the rear of the house. My mother was getting tea, so I guess the V2 landed around 5pm. My mother kept calling out to my sister to stop running up and down the hallway and come to the kitchen. As the V2 exploded the front inside hall wall collapsed missing my sister, who was obeying mother’s orders for once, by three feet. The window where I was sitting fell inwards covering my grandmother, myself and my cousin, yet amazingly we never had a scratch. The top of the house was severely damaged but the downstairs was saved largely due to the air-raid shelter built down the centre of the road which shielded us from the blast.
Judy and I were in Lordship Lane walking past the shops with Aunty Marge behind us when there was an earth-shattering, gigantic explosion. Aunty Marge immediately grabbed Judy and me and pulled us backwards as the plate glass window in the shop front smashed onto the pavement in front of us. The lady shop assistant came out with a broom and began sweeping up the shards of glass: ‘It keeps happening’, she sighed resignedly. When we got back home, word had got round that the V2 bomb had hit Gladstone Avenue. My mother was in the Post Office in the High Road opposite the top of Gladstone Avenue, She rushed back home to make sure I was all right. Later I was told that a children’s party had been going on in one of the homes and their bodies had never been recovered (I don’t know whether this was true or not).
Mum and I went to Wood Green High Road to a grocer’s shop – suddenly there was an enormous bang – a V2 had landed nearby. We were immediately doused in flour as a stack of flour bags ‘exploded’ in front of us!! This bomb also demolished a row of houses at the top of Gladstone Avenue, killing all the residents.
By May 1944 we had moved from 51 Moselle Avenue to 241 Gladstone Avenue. At 241 we had the inside Morrison shelter. No defence against a direct hit, but it did offer some protection against collateral damage. That damage we certainly experienced. It must have been very close to the end of the European war, and when, with my grandmother, I was in the Morrison shelter as we had heard and seen a couple of V1s. However, they must have detonated some distance away, when suddenly there was a tremendous explosion and not only did the window get blown in, the window frame and half the wall was also blown in. Several neighbours helped to dig us out. As James Bond might have said we were shaken but not stirred. It was shortly after that incident that the war with Germany finally came to an end.
I used to go to a little private school run by Miss Hawes at the corner of Gladstone Avenue and Farrant Avenue. Mum met me from the school and we were to go to Goughs sweetshop in Lymington Avenue. As we got to Ashley Crescent, by St Mark’s church a bomb dropped at the top end of Gladstone Avenue. We were blown across the road and we could hear my nan calling our names, as she lived at No 75, opposite the church. The school was damaged by the blast.
The devastation caused by the Gladstone Avenue V2 (Bruce Castle Museum)
So now it was really all over. I think we felt our parents’ relief and happiness. Each street on the Estate had its party and in Moselle Avenue a stage was built and I think there was either a piano or a band, organised by my Dad. There was also a fancy dress competition. At almost six years old I was the ‘mascot’ of my Dad’s brass band, conducted by my uncle, so I had a ready-made outfit of a mini band uniform complete with peaked cap. My brother had to make do with a ‘blackout’ cloak, wooden sword, pyjamas, wellington boots and a fez, as a Russian Cossack.
In addition there were sandwiches and jelly and to cap it all a big bonfire in the middle of the street.
When the war ended our street had a VE party with us children having goodies to eat. Judy and I are seated on the far left facing the camera. (Photo: Ann Chandler)
VE day was a special day with flags strewn across the road. I remember sitting next to Judy at a long table in the middle of the road at the children’s party, with sandwiches, cakes, jelly and blancmanges. Much later in the day I remember Mum and Aunty Marge running the three-legged race round the block with lots of laughter.
But the finale was the street parties on VE Day and the big bonfires in the street in the night – what comradeship we shared and the cornflower blancmange and junket, which were disgusting, mixed with jam sandwiches. We did not mind at all. Not ‘Good Old Days’ but, despite the danger of Mr Hitler, Happy Days!
I celebrated the end of the war with my friends and family in Bounds Green. They had a big party on the Green, everybody contributed and I can remember my grandmother making hundreds of iced cupcakes with violet leaves on top (my grandmother was a cook and housekeeper for a dance school in Crouch End and her cakes were the best ever).
Although I attended the VE Day Celebration at Bounds Green, I also somehow managed to go to the VE Day Celebration on Morley Avenue with my paternal grandparents and remember all the patriotic bunting on the houses and the table down the centre of the road. Everybody was so cheerful and friendly in those days, neighbours knowing each other and ready to help each other out. My grandparents next-door neighbour, Mr Hoather, who was a carpenter, even made me a beautiful dolls house and he barely knew me.
It was also the end of our regular annual journeys between Arlesey and St Albans as life was returning to normal and I was enrolled permanently at Bounds Green Infants School where nearly two years later I was to meet my father for the first time that I could remember.
Opposite our house was a bomb-site. When we moved in there was a huge pile of wood left from the bomb damage although most of the rest of the rubble had been cleared away. The wood gradually disappeared! Soon after we moved in there was a local show put on here to celebrate the end of the war. Several Morrison shelters were pushed together to make a stage and other people had made curtains. Several people from the road then performed the show one evening. There was music, singing and dancing and we all enjoyed it, never having seen anything like it before. I think that there was a bonfire to finish the evening.
The bomb site was also our quickest way to the shops and buses – straight out of the front door, over the road, across the site and into the back door of Woolworths. We missed this a lot when new houses were built here later. It was also a fair-sized open space for playing cricket in the summer. Mind you, the outfield was rather rough, with the odd old doorstep or two lying around! The wicket was chalked onto the back wall of Marks and Spencer. We played all sorts of games on there for a few years. We also had a street party for the children at this time (and also one the year after). We children enjoyed these, but I don’t know where all the food came from as rationing was even worse after the war. It was probably fish paste sandwiches and some sort of home-made cake with home-made lemonade. I just remember that we enjoyed it all. The following year we had a fancy dress competition, too. Dad had managed to find a couple of costumes from somewhere and I went as a schoolteacher and Jenny went as a clown. We did not win! TREVOR CHAPMAN
Return of the Fathers
Ann with her parents (photo: Ann Chandler)
My overriding memory is of the day my Dad came home from the war. My mother had bought two large union jack flags which she hung out of the front bedroom window. My father was so excited that he had sent two telegrams telling us of the times of his arrival. We had waited and waited but he still hadn’t come so, as it was late, my mother told me to go to bed and as soon as he arrived she would wake me. True to her word, I felt a tug on my shoulder and quickly got out of bed we both rushed into the living room and Dad had let himself in as he had kept his own front-door key even when the Germans questioned him over it. He had just plonked himself down in the armchair as he still had his haversack on his back. I quickly jumped onto his knee and Mum and I both started excitedly chatting to him. I remember Dad laughing and saying: ‘Whow, one at a time!’
My father had been assigned to the ‘Fighting Tigers’, the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, in September 1939 and had been involved in the D-Day Landings in 1944 but was not demobilised until the end of 1946. I was at school the day he came home, and my mother decided he should pick me up as a surprise. I was across the road doing somersaults on the railings of the bus stop and he came marching over to me to get me off. I didn’t know who he was and I ran all the way home and locked myself in the lavatory. Eventually I was enticed out and was properly introduced, but it took a while to accept who he was.
My Dad was a total stranger to me when he first came back from the war and it took me a while to get used to him. The second day he was home he wanted to take my Mum out dancing, but I was adamant that she shouldn’t go and turned on the tears, which usually worked like a charm, but on this occasion were to no avail. So I got up and walked over to him with my doll in my hand (one that he had sent me from France) and hit him hard on the knee with it, broke the doll’s head and his knee. He ended up with water on the knee and a limp for a few days – he had managed to get through the war without an injury, and I did what the Germans couldn’t do! PATRICIA LEE
As my father was in a reserved occupation, the returning soldier in our family was my uncle, my mother’s younger brother, who had been a quiet, reserved young man when conscripted into the Royal Artillery and whose war had taken him with the Eighth Army across the desert, El Alamein, Sicily, Italy, Austria, Berlin and finally Palestine. The war affected him badly for the rest of his life and he married in 1947 and lived quietly, having no children, until his death at the age of 92 in 2011, just predeceasing his centenarian wife by a week.
I used to sit on his knee while he told me suitably edited stories of his exploits in a quiet, matter of fact way and showed me some of his souvenirs: a Nazi armband and elaborate black SS dagger. But really he wanted to forget all about it and it was only very late in his life that I was able to persuade him to apply for his medals and these were placed on his coffin at the funeral.