Am I dreaming about the newsreel that I had seen earlier in the Picture Palace? Everything is rattling as if a giant is shaking the house. From under the dresser, I can see the kitchen light swinging about like a conker on a piece of string, and strips of the blackout curtains flapping like the washing on the line. There’s a bright flaring light coming through the front window, and bits of glass hanging down on the white tape that I had helped mum to stick on the windows, to stop the glass from flying about.
We have been bombed out, the blast must have gone through our house like a whirlwind, taking everything with it including most of the ceiling. Through the thick dust I can see someone silhouetted against the light of the window they are reaching down under the dresser and pulling the old army coat off me, it is covered with glass and lumps of plaster and bricks from the front wall. It’s my mother, she is saying something, but I can’t hear anything except a loud ringing noise.
As she pulls me out from under the dresser, my head hits the woodwork there is blood everywhere. She drags me into the scullery at the back of the house, there is no time to put any coats or shoes on, she just wants to get us out of the house as quickly as we can.
Mrs O’Keefe and Dennis, our evacuees, are already in the back garden, they had run downstairs from their bedroom and out through the front door—or where the front door had been, it has been blown off its hinges and is wedged up the stairs. Bernard is carrying the baby, and Chris has grabbed Donald from under the shelter, we cut across the bottom of our garden into Mrs Phillips, then round to Mrs Salmons house at the top of Cowley Avenue.
As we come out of Mrs Phillips’ gate, people from the bottom of the road are running past—some still in their night clothes—to see if they can help, there are already some people standing under the big Oak tree on the island in Pyrcroft Road.
Mr Mill’s, the Air Raid Warden is there, his white shirt is red with blood, and he is limping, but is still in charge and keeps everyone back to the bottom of Lasswade Road. I look up the road past our house, it is all lit up, the road is full of rubble, and some big branches from the tree that is outside Eddie Hatchwell’s, are hanging down almost to the ground. There is a lot smoke, and a strong smell of burning, the flames show up the white faces of the people who are looking on from near Mrs Cooling’s house at the other end of the road beyond the burning homes.
The poor people who lived in the houses that are now just a pile of bricks and window frames had no chance, but already their neighbours are scrambling over the rubble, to see if they can help anyone. My heart sinks, I didn’t think it would be like this, even at just eight years old I know that nothing could live in such a burning heap, but a lady is found she is carried out by a man, her hair is soaking wet and hanging down, she is very still, the man lays her down on the pavement next to Mr. Dabneys house, a coat is put under her head, then, she moves her hand up to her hair as if she going to brush it, some ladies rush over to her with another coat, I think she might be alright, then she starts screaming for her baby who is still in the house.
Men and women are pulling the doors and stairs away looking for anyone else, especially for this poor woman’s child.
I was never told if anyone died until very much later when some boys did tell me that a little baby had died and two other people, it was said they were London evacuees, it is all so unfair.
On the other side of the road, Danny Parker’s house has all the beds and furniture hanging out, the front wall of the house has been cut off as if by a knife. Kenny Edwards, who lives near to the Parker’s, is with his Mum. The first thought he and my brother Don have is to start looking for shrapnel, they find a large chunk stuck in the tree, it has a number stamped on it . Kenny says that will makes it very collectable. It is so far into the trunk, that they can’t move it. If it had hit someone, Kenny says it would have gone right through them, I believed him.
All our neighbours are here now, some holding each other, and others, like my Mum were just crying and crying, there is nothing that can be done for our poor friends up the road. The fire engines arrive, and we are told to move away, just as another huge flare of flame shoots up, they say it is the gas main, even I can hear the roar of it above the ringing in my ears.
People are just standing around, not knowing what to do, we all go down Cowley Avenue and stay with our friends till morning. Mrs Phillips, a St John’s Ambulance nurse, puts a plaster on my forehead, although it has already stopped bleeding.
The next morning the council men came to check the damage, they put planks over our front windows and refit the front door and said it would be alright for us to live in the back of the house. Bernard, Iris and Chris moved back in, as did Mrs O’Keefe and Dennis. Some neighbours were not allowed to go back into their houses, not even to collect anything, their homes were so badly damaged they were told the buildings would be likely to fall.
Mum decided to go and stay with our Gran’s, with me and Don till the house was properly put back together, Granny lived in Addlestone about three miles away.
For the life of me I can’t remember much about that day, except that I still had a very large plaster on my head and of the long walk to my Grans house. The worst bit of the journey was helping Mum and my brother, to push the heavy pram with little Sylvia in it and lots of clothes piled on top, over the railway bridge at Hatch Farm. Luckily, Mum knew the area, and we used a little cinder path that ran from the top of the bridge along the railway track to Addlestone Station, right next to Gran’s house. We looked like the refugees that we saw on the newsreel fleeing the Germans, in a way that is what we were.