Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Day My Mum and I Nearly Copped It!

World War II was beginning to turn in favour of The Allies by mid-1943. However, the Whitehall cinema and several other buildings in London Road, East Grinstead were hit by a cluster of bombs from a lone German raider on 9 July 1943 and I witnessed the attack at close hand.

I was exactly five and a half years old that day. I had been evacuated with my mother from the east-end of London two years earlier after our home had taken some bomb damage. My father had stayed in London to work and my elder brother had been evacuated with his school to Cambridgeshire. We had a room above a shop in London Road opposite Woolworth’s – part of the site now occupied by W H Smith.

All afternoon I had been nagging my mother to buy me a toy cardboard clock that I had seen earlier in Woollies. It was now almost 5pm and the shop was about to close. Persuaded by her irascible and tearful child she went to buy the toy while I watched from the window. I stared at the entrance to Woolies until my mother emerged a few minutes later. Just as she did so the sound of a low-flying aircraft could be heard coming our way and I saw my mother look up at the plane while running back across London Road to our street-door next to the shop. The sound of the plane became a roar and by the time my mother had mounted the stairs to our room the plane must have been overhead. Just as the bombs started to explode she flew into our room and launched herself at her precious son, knocking him to the floor and covering him with her body. Terrified by the noise and my mother’s strange actions, I was shouting ” It’s nothing Mummy, it’s nothing”. It was several minutes before she allowed me to emerge from underneath her. In 1944 the shop where we had lived opposite Woolworth’s took a direct hit from a ‘flying bomb’. Lightning did strike twice in the same place on that occasion.

Why Hitler wanted to get rid of my mother and I so particularly isn’t clear. However he was thwarted. We had returned to London earlier that year, only to be evacuated again, this time to Leeds, when Hitler began his ‘last-ditch’ flying-bomb campaign. I went to school in a Roman Catholic school and was taught by nuns. The local kids taught me to say "Ee by gum". The end of the war saw us back again in London and we were allocated a council flat in Hackney. My experience of peace-time had begun. 

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