Thursday, December 27, 2012

March 6th 1943. The night the bombs fell.

March 6th 1943. Early in the morning I sat at the edge of the Morrison shelter, the rubble of bricks and plaster pushed aside by my mother so that a cleared area of the flat steel top could receive a plate of eggs and bacon. The gas stove was still working. My father and brother had dusted themselves down and were also ready to eat. I recall some hours before the echoing sound of the voice of an air raid warden crossing the back gardens and crying ‘Are you all OK in there?’ . Across the road thirty terraced houses had been flattened or blasted. Six people had been killed, among whom was Mr. Ireland.  He was a quiet man who talked to me , a boy of ten, gently.  Mrs Spinks led her husband, who had long been blind, amongst the rubble.
In our little terraced house the interior wall between the living room and sitting room had been blown down and only the wooden supports which held the bricks in place remained. A column of bricks lay athwart the fireplace in which a fire still smouldered. The small light fitting, fashioned as a bowl, from marble, was shattered on the floor amongst fragments of plaster. All this was caused by a stick of six bombs dropped by the German planes in an attempt to cut the main A2 road out of London towards the Kent ports.
And what followed? We four went to a rest centre, whilst my parents could sort out some place for us to stay. My brother immediately went to volunteer for the RAF. He left that day. For some time he had been training in the ATC (Air Training Corps). He was a young man with personality difficulties, and remained so throughout life. He detested the Germans, and the Jews and the Americans, or said he did. His Britain, in his mind, was a country of quiet ways and peace and changelessness. He went to fight for that England ‘O peaceful England’. ‘A Merrie England’. A gentle England. An England that in spite of the efforts of our generation, seems to have been destroyed. He was not yet eighteen. I was not yet eleven. In two days the scholarship examination for entry to the grammar schools was due to take place. Whatever the destruction around me I still went to school. At the rest centre we slept in bunks and men were separated from their families. And sometimes the children were separated from their parents. We queued for the meals. I recall the time I was queuing alone and the kind woman server said ‘Would you like two pieces of jam tart?’, and she placed two on my plate. At that moment someone told me to go to my mother. I cannot recall why. When I returned, my plate was still there but it carried only one piece of tart. The disappointment stills stays with me.
I still went to school. This school was Henwick Road Primary in Eltham, south east London. The headmistress was Miss McDonald, who was an angel of kindness. ‘You must sleep in my office.’ A camp bed was made ready and I slept. The examination made little impact on me. I passed.