|The wartime memories of Mr Raymond Fry are set out below. His family lived at Kingswood and the events depicted are typical of any part of the local area of the Borough of Reigate and Banstead. His personal account gives a refreshing and detailed insight into conditions during the years of World War Two.|
Written and Illustrated by Raymond Fry
|Aerodromes (Kenley, Croydon, Biggin Hill)|
ARP (Air Raid Precautions)
Air raid shelter at home
Air raid shelter at school (1)
Air raid shelter at school (2)
Air raid shelter Waterhouse Lane
Battle of Britain
Canadian soldiers arrive
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .on guard
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .at Epsom
|'Dig for victory' and other slogans|
Doodlebugs and rockets
Food and clothes rationing
Dunkirk evacuation of troops
Messerschmitt down near Kingswood Church
Radar, a secret weapon
. . . . . .or sound detectors?
. . . . . .in American ships
. . . . . .in fighter aircraft
Tanks and devices for Normandy invasion
My first recollection of impending war must have been late one afternoon in August 1938 when Hitler demanded the transfer of Sudetenland from Czech territory to Germany. After hearing the six o'clock news my mother, my brother Trevor and I all rushed into the garden, grabbed spades and forks and began digging an enormous hole for an air raid shelter. A few weeks later we were returning from our summer holiday in Torquay and Tintagel and as my father drove the Wolseley down West Street, Dorking, we could see the placards of the evening newspapers, saying: 'No War, Chamberlain signs deal with Hitler. Peace in our time.' We let out a colossal sigh of relief. We didn't need to do any more digging for the shelter, at least for the time being.
Then it all began. Hitler demanded the Polish Corridor and Danzig (Gdansk) from Poland, who refused. He made a pact of non-aggression with his arch-enemy, the communist Soviet Union, with a secret protocol permitting Stalin to occupy the eastern part of Poland and much of Eastern Europe. This would keep Stalin friendly while Germany occupied its part of Poland.
.......After that nothing seemed to happen except that night after night the RAF was out over Germany dropping leaflets, not bombs. At home my mother had found the thickest curtains for the blackout and these were lined with very thick material so that no light could penetrate outside. This was another duty of the ARP wardens - a nightly patrol of the roads to make sure no lights were visible. All street lights were permanently turned off, traffic had their lights hooded and dimmed so that only a small patch of road in front could be seen, trains had their windows covered with blinds so that lighting was just sufficient to read by, but at the approach to a station the main light was extinguished leaving just a faint blue light to see the step to the platform. Everyone was told to eat more carrots: it helped you see in the dark.
Food rationing started on 1st January 1940 and was applied at first only to butter, sugar and bacon and every week coupons were torn out by the grocer. Within a year more and more items began to be rationed, including clothes. Children had a larger allowance than adults as they were growing and obviously last year's shirt and shorts would not fit for much longer. As I had to cycle to school my shorts always developed massive holes against the saddle and my mother used to sew in a patch from another old pair or from an old blanket. Every housewife was encouraged to do this and the slogan 'make do and mend' appeared almost everywhere. Another slogan was 'dig for victory'. Every bit of garden space, vacant plots of land and even areas of parks and heath were dug or ploughed for vegetables and cereals. The only foods not rationed throughout the duration were vegetables, apples, plums and pears in season, milk, bread and fish, when available. Many people kept poultry for fresh eggs but powdered egg was available on the ration. Strangely enough, bread was rationed as the war ended. I am sure I never saw a banana for five years.
|.......When Trevor, Suzy and I got back home, my mother was standing by the open French doors brushing the carpets; her face was crimson and she was shaking. "It's happened. They're coming. Those horrible Germans have landed in all the Norwegian ports. I thought "good", then the navy will sink all their ships. But in fact it was rather a forlorn hope. The navy arrived some time later when all the ports and airfields had been captured and it was difficult to land our troops to help the Norwegians. We did eventually recapture Narvik and sank a lot of their destroyers. The Norwegians crippled a cruiser, the Blucher, as it entered Oslo Fjord and Fleet Air Arm Skuas sank the Koenigsberg, but it was impossible to halt the German invasion. Strangely enough Churchill's Admiralty had been warned by a Blenheim reconnaissance plane that German ports were unusually busy, but this was apparently never investigated further. Had immediate action been taken, the German shipping might have been intercepted before the landings were made. This disastrous oversight was not made public and it is strange that Neville Chamberlain took full responsibility for the Norwegian fiasco, and the boss of the Admiralty became Prime Minister within a few weeks. Such is politics!|
Then came the next surprise. Before dawn on 10th May, parachutists were dropping onto airfields and defence points along canals in Holland and Belgium, strictly neutral countries, before they knew what was happening. French and British troops moved in to assist but were overwhelmed and cut off by fast moving Panzer armies using tanks and Junkers 87 dive bombers which in a few days reached the Channel coast at Boulogne, isolating the French and British rushing to the aid of the Belgians. Preparations for the mass evacuation from the beaches at Dunkirk were made, the whole operation going under the British codename 'Dynamo'.
|The Battle of Britain|
Things quietened down once more, but only for a few weeks. The summer holidays started, but most of the raids seemed to be on shipping in the English Channel until August, when late one afternoon, cycling back from my grandmother and aunt in Woodland Way, Kingswood, I heard a plane approaching. No siren had sounded but there were big puffs of smoke coming up all around it. It was clearly a German plane and our anti-aircraft guns were shooting at it, but just missing, unfortunately. It was all rather exciting but by the time I reached home to take shelter it had gone.
|.......This was the beginning of the big show! By the middle of August the fighter aerodromes at Croydon, Kenley and Biggin Hill were under heavy attack several times each day and each time there was tremendous noise, masses of black smoke (it must have been Kenley, which was the nearest) and the whine of planes in dogfights, or being shot down. Each time the siren sounded Trevor, my mother and I ran to the shelter area to watch the excitement and run under cover as soon as it got too near. The siren would sometimes sound soon after breakfast and probably again before lunch and before tea. What we had never seen before were the white trails in the sky, from aircraft flying at very high levels. As they zigzagged in and out in dogfights they left amazing patterns. Sometimes a black pattern or line was left, obviously a plane, shot at and burning. I think we once saw a parachute open up. |
.......Once, a spluttering, coughing noise came at us as a plane came near with smoke coming out of the tail. Then my mother saw it, almost bursting into tears and with that red face again, she just managed to say "It's one of ours....." She must have seen the round marking of the RAF: no swastika and crosses of the German planes. "Poor pilot, I hope he's not wounded......" was all she could mange to say before she choked. This must have brought back all the pain of saying goodbye to my father going to France in 1917. He had joined up at the age of 18, become a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was sent to the Arras region.
|.......Every day the raiders went back to France well before dark and there were no raids at night until 7th September when Hitler and Goering made a crucial mistake. On this day the docks of London were attacked and set alight and bombed all night, the fires acting as a beacon to successive waves of bombers. Immediately the fighter aerodromes gained some relief as the main attack went against London day and night and Fighter Command began to regain control of the air during the day.|
.......The climax came on Sunday 15th September. The sirens seemed to be sounding incessantly. At midday the 'all clear' went. The weather was very hot and my father said he was going to have a 'squirt'. This was something he always enjoyed in hot weather. With him totally nude on the lawn we would take hold of the end of the hose and send jets of cold water all over him. Then the obvious happened - the siren went again. "I told you so", said Edith, my mother. "They are not going to give us any peace today. Here's your tunic, whistle and tin hat." The tin hat was like an army helmet but marked 'ARP' for air raid wardens. So, pulling his socks over soaking wet feet covered in grass clippings, grabbing pants and trousers, he was off on his bike again to the ARP shelter/control in Waterhouse Lane.
.......As regular as clockwork the raiders would come every night from 7th September half an hour or so after sunset. For the first few days no guns fired at them: arriving in twos and threes they were seemingly unopposed. My father kept saying to himself, "Why the ------ don't they shoot at them?"
|.......My mother said he was a very, very nice man, partly because she liked the officers' uniform and also because he put his hand in his bag and pulled out some butter saying the army ration was much bigger, you know.|
.......We never discovered whether the objects were sound detectors or secret radar. The Germans were aware we were using radar but they had no idea it had such a long range and that information was being sent instantaneously to Fighter Command Group HQ in Uxbridge who then gave immediate instructions by radio to sector stations and then on to the squadrons in the air to enable them visually find the attacking planes. However the final interception was still dependant on a sighting, which of course by night was a matter of luck even in bright moonlight.
|.......So the night raids continued, with a German plane shot down only very occasionally. Every evening, except one very windy one I think, they came just after dusk. I remember my mother got more and more daring and once, after supper, she was trying to finish a chapter of David Copperfield and she kept saying "I hope Mr Hitler is late tonight: tell him to wait until I've finished this chapter." Barely a page to go and the siren sounded and less than five minutes before the first plane approached and was greeted with a colossal roar from the guns which shook all the windows and floorboards. I was already on my way across the lawn to the shelter, but she stuck it out and followed soon afterwards. We nearly always knew before a raid was due because my father always had the wireless on, and as soon as a raid was perceived the tone was varied up and down and distorted so that raiders could not use radio beams for navigation. This played havoc with music.|
.......London seemed to be the sole target night after night and I remember my father saying "There's talk in the East End that we should make peace with the Germans. I don't know how much longer we can hold out." The small chain of shops run by my father and grandfather called Povey Fry Ltd was suffering. No 20 Red Lion Street, between Holborn and Theobalds Road was burnt down but the safe was recovered from the rubble. The Barbican shop was demolished. Most Londoners were filing down to the tube stations and setting up for the night on the platforms, escalators and even between the lines: they brought mattresses, flasks of soup and drink and sandwiches. There were babies and toddlers too. Most of the schoolchildren had been evacuated to the countryside.
.......It was bearable for a few nights, perhaps even a bit of fun! However, how long could they go on like this and work by day? "It's all right up West. Hardly a building down in Piccadilly Circus, Regents Street...." Then the Cockney George Blake from the Billingsgate branch told my father; "Another miracle has happened. A young girl, very pretty, a wonderful voice, came down and started singing, stepping over people, over mattresses, around deckchairs on the platform, all the popular tunes, smiling. Everybody joined in. It was electric." It must have been Vera Lynn, who was soon on the wireless every day as the 'Forces Sweetheart' and hundreds of records (78s) were produced and she toured the battlefronts in Egypt, raising morale everywhere. It would be interesting to know which tube stations she visited and whether there are any plaques recording her visits and the dates.
.......As the autumn got colder and wetter water started to seep into the shelter and by November we had to retreat into the house and my bed area was the floor under the stairs, which would have possibly been the strongest part of the house, even if it was right beside the electricity and gas meters. My mother and father slept in the hall, which was reinforced with some very thick old timbers, and the the windows had been sandbagged since the start of the war. This was common practice to provide some protection and consisted of a wall of filled sandbags covering a window or entrance area.
.......The raids continued every night until 14th November when something unusual happened. The sirens sounded and the planes did not seem to be going into London but avoiding it. The guns didn't fire at them and they passed over or nearby and disappeared all within perhaps less than half an hour: the all clear sounded and all was quiet for the rest of the night. We learned afterwards Coventry had been attacked and severely damaged. It did give London some relief as after Coventry other cities were attacked.
.......Meanwhile the daylight raids were becoming more and more feeble as it became apparent the 'Battle of Britain' had become a victory. One of the later events of this battle that I can remember took place towards the end of September. The siren sounded and the duty teacher blew the whistle, which meant that we had to take cover immediately in the school shelter. We were down in a minute or two, there was the usual noise, and we were singing our usual songs, 'Ten green bottles ....... My eyes are dim I cannot see, I have not brought my specs with me ...... Why are we waiting?' etc. etc. Mr Grange, the headmaster, used to lead the singing. It was rather like a scout camp sing song with no camp fire. He never attempted any lessons. We were obviously too difficult to control. Around the corner in the next passageway we would sing a slightly different schoolboy version to cause a gigle!
.......Then the 'all clear' sounded. Just as we were walking up the steps into the open air there came that spluttering, coughing noise of an engine, then in seconds we could see a plane through the trees with smoke pouring out of the engine, losing height rapidly. It looked like a Messerschmitt 109, "yes, definitely, I can see the crosses, we've got him all right." It disappeared towards Kingswood. We couldn't wait for the end of the day to find out where it had fallen. We cycled two miles to Burgh Heath but still no sign, so we asked the policeman on duty outside the Sugar Bowl swimming pool and restaurant and he said it flew on another mile and came down by Kingswood Church. It landed, severely burned, singed a wide area of trees around and was now guarded by some soldiers and there were some aeronautical types collecting pieces and examining them, obviously to seek out any innovations in design,. We were not allowed to get near. A good story to relate back at school next day.
.......When we returned to school in early September all the talk was about the aerial battles we had seen over the summer. Invasion was expected towards early or late September; it was all a question of defeating Fighter Command, favourable moon and tides and waiting for calm weather. As soon as invasion started everyone was to be warned by the ringing of church bells, which had been banned for some months. The Home Guard had been formed from old soldiers and young men not yet called up. Tank traps and pillboxes were appearing everywhere, especially near main roads. A deep ditch was cut as a defence line, crossed the main road between Burgh Heath and Banstead, and seemed to be filled with poles and spikes.
.......As September went on it was clear the RAF was still fighting hard and the last weekend of the month we took advantage of the fine autumn weather and went for a picnic. I well remember my mother pouring tea, saying, "If invasion doesn't come in the next few days Hitler will call it off." So we all went to bed listening for the sound of church bells, which never came. What I learned later was that my mother had plans to 'gas oven' Trevor and myself if the Germans arrived, rather than be transported as slave labourers. Just how she intended to hold us in the oven long enough for this job I do not know!
.......The daylight raids faded to nothing in November so it was now clear that the RAF had defeated the Luftwaffe and the Battle of Britain was a victory. The night 'blitz' went on, but as mentioned already after Coventry other major cities were attacked by night giving London some relief for perhaps a week or so at a time.
.......Christmas Day came. No snow, no air raid. After Christmas my father decided to risk a journey to Alton to see relatives. I am not sure how he found the petrol: Povey Fry Ltd's business allowance? Better say no more! Off we went in the car, had a good dinner with Grandpa Fry as head, (he had left North London since the beginning of the blitz), his unmarried sister Aunt Bess, another sister Aunt Chris (Cox), her grandson Robin (aged about two), my father's sisters Kathleen and Marjorie and their respective sons Keith, Howard and Graham: it was quiet a family reunion!
.......By 4pm my mother was pressing my father to get away quickly as she felt in her bones there would be a raid that night. After further persuasion we all managed to get away, my father insisting, "There will be no raid tonight, there has not been one for weeks." "That's exactly what I'm worried about," continued my mother. "We will never get home before dark." And sure enough as we approached Tadworth Court Children's Hospital the sirens were wailing and there were already pockets of incandescent light coming up from Garden Farm. You could see the silhouettes of the cattle against the igniting incendiary bombs scattered across the fields. We rushed into our house: no fire here. In we went, my father rushing off with his stirrup pump to the neighbours' houses. Dr French, I think, had a few to put out. My mother telephoned to see if they were O.K. in Woodland Way where her father William (Bill) and sister Winifred lived. Luckily they were.
.......In retrospect it is obvious that this raid was the famous 29th December mass raid on the City of London, when most of the area from St Pauls Cathedral to Aldersgate was flattened but miraculously the cathedral was saved. The Germans were using a new technique of concentrating on a small area in a short space of time marked out before by pathfinder crews. In a matter of minutes the area was a furnace and the fire service was out of water and furiously pumping from the Thames, with the tide rapidly ebbing and firemen wading out through mud and slush to find something that resembled water.
.......The following summer I came to London and saw those areas of devastation expecting to see gaunt shapes and ruins, but I was amazed to see how neat and tidy everything had become. All the pavements beside the streets had been bricked up with dwarf walls about four feet high to keep children out, and below these were the remains of basement walls being colonized by an amazing variety of flowers, grasses and bushes, including buddleia, birch and pine already a foot or two high.
.......But why were the cows on Garden Farm attacked that night? My father's theory was that the bombers met the barrage of guns on Streatham and Mitcham Commons and taking evasive action got separated from the mainstream of bombers, failed to regain the direction for London, possibly saw the railway line glistening in the moonlight, thought that was a useful target and missed. In actual fact, during the whole of the night blitz we received very few bombs and I think only a few tiles on our roof were cracked or slipped. It was very different four years later when the Doodlebugs arrived!
......It was now 1941 and the blitz continued. At last we were hearing on the news that one, two, three or even four enemy bombers were shot down the previous night. Apparently the airborne radar in the night fighters was beginning to work. I distinctly recall one April morning when the ground was covered by a myriad of specs of black paper floating down from the sky. Obviously a London paper mill had been hit. The raids continued until 11th May when London was the target and the Houses of Parliament were hit and the Queen's Hall was destroyed just hours after Malcolm Sargent had been conducting a concert. Henry Wood was seen scrambling over the smoking ruins hoping against all reason that the Promenade Concerts could return there one day. But, of course, they had to move to the Albert Hall, where they resumed in 1942.
The Soviet Union is Attacked
After this vicious attack on London everything went eerily quiet. On 22nd June we found out why. Once again before dawn a violent attack was unleashed, this time on Germany's 'ally' the Soviet Union. Airfields and frontier defences were smashed before Stalin knew what had happened. A Soviet supply train was still in transit for Germany at that very moment. Churchill made a speech that Sunday evening promising to do all he could to help the Soviets, but the Germans tore their way through to the outskirts of Moscow by December, until they were overwhelmed by snow, frostbite and frozen diesel.
A World War Now
On 7th December 1941 the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbour. At last we were not alone. But for the next six months it was retreat, retreat and retreat.
|A New School|
At the beginning of September 1942 my mother went to the Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway for an operation and I went to visit her, taking a trolleybus from Finsbury Circus on my own. This was a real experience for me and the acceleration of this type of bus nearly threw me down the stairs.
...... The grim, grey life seemed to go on. However, something was happening; news seemed to be coming through that Rommel was in trouble, abandoning tanks that had run out of fuel. We were back in Tobruk, Benghazi for Christmas, and yes, Agedabia for the New Year. I still thought that this was a third or fourth repeat performance, but no, in January our tanks rolled on towards Tripoli. The Americans and British had landed in Algeria and the German Afrika Korps was withdrawing towards Tunis. German reinforcements were streaming in from Sicily but this was too little too late. The Afrika Korps surrendered in May 1943 with over a quarter of a million prisoners, including many Germans.
My Turn to Do Something for the War Effort
When the summer holidays arrived I worked half days on Wingfield Farm, Walton-on-the-Hill, for the summer harvest. For the last week of July we were harvesting oats, The farmer, Mr Shaw, possessed a tractor which towed a cutter and binder throwing out sheaves on the ground which we had to set together to form stooks to be left for three weeks or so to dry out. The oats would be used largely on the farm to be used as cattle feed. Then came the wheat harvest: again we had to form stooks. Weeks later they would be collected, a corn stack erected by the farmer until a threshing machine came round, and the final seed bagged and sold. Combine harvesters, of course, now perform all of this in one operation. When we were not working on wheat and oats there was always hoeing to be done up and down the rows of kale and cabbage to root out the weeds.
At the end of September, Trevor, a friend of his and I took a week's holiday in Tintagel, Cornwall. We hired bicycles and cycled to Port Quin, Port Isaac, Wadebridge, Trebarwith and Boscastle. Going to Cornwall in a steam train with a corridor was an experience for me: I felt like a real explorer travelling around the world. My world had been so small for four years, the longest journey having been the 45 miles to Alton after Christmas 1940. I had once ventured on my bike the full 10 miles to Charlwood, but I must have crossed over into the protected south coast zone, for I was abruptly stopped by a Canadian soldier with a bayonet shouting, "Halt. Who goes there?" Luckily I remembered my drill and replied, shaking and with my heart nearly jumping out of my chest, "Friend." His reply, "Advance friend and be recognised. Still with the bayonet pointed at me I managed to pull my identity card out of my pocket for examination. "Proceed friend and have a nice day."
Back to School
Back at school my friend Simon had joined St John's from Aberdour, and being a bit of a brain was in the class above me. So now I would have someone to cycle home with, which from November would be in the dark all the way, all seven miles. The classrooms were used in the afternoons by St Martin's Girls' School until 4pm, so we did not finish until 6pm. They had been bombed out of Ealing and came in by bus every day. Cycling all the way on my own was sometimes frightening under blackout conditions, especially if it was damp and foggy with no moon, just a small patch of light from the bicycle torch a yard or two in front. The worst night was when I was followed by a strange rustling noise like a cranky old bicycle. I stopped to look behind. There was nothing there but a swirling mist. I shouted, "Who's there?" No reply. By then I was really scared, trying to convince myself there was no such things as ghosts. Eventually the noise grew so loud and seemed to come from above. Then I realised what it was: a line of electricity pylons where the cables touch the metal arms making this eerie noise I had never noticed before. Panic over, but I found myself shaking uncontrollably. Then an uphill ride to the Epsom grandstand and the safety of the Canadian soldiers billeted there.
D Day Landings
Cycling to school across Epsom Downs I had noticed more and more tents arriving right across the racecourse and far beyond. More and more soldiers were arriving. On the new dual carriageway from Leatherhead to Mickleham there were hundreds and hundreds of tanks parked as well as other vehicles that did not resemble tanks, some perhaps looking more like boats with protruding arms and something like rakes on the end.
|.....Details of these defences had been provided by the French Resistance, many of whose members had been set to work constructing them. Detailed notes were passed on at night by fishermen at great risk to Cornish trawlers meeting part way across the Channel. General Montgomery, in charge of Allied D-Day landings on the beaches, scrutinised all this information and ordered his engineers to design devices that would quickly neutralise each type of defence the Germans had contrived. |
.....''Monty's' headquarters from December 1941 to August 1942, when he took command of the 8th army in El Alamein, had been at based at Reigate at the foot of Colley Hill. This was the Southern Command HQ which consisted of caves dug into the soft chalk to house a communications centre intended to counter a German invasion on the south coast. Now the invasion was being launched in the other direction on the beaches of Normandy.
Doodlebugs and Rockets
Now we thought the war was moving rapidly into its final stage. There was a feeling that things were almost over. Then the next surprise came. We were just going to bed as the siren sounded and, as the familiar sound died away, there came a sound we had never heard before; unlike a normal aeroplane, louder, rougher, pulsating. We looked at each other. Hitler's secret weapon? The newspapers had been saying that Hitler was promising various secret weapons with which to finally destroy us. We immediately decided it was one of these, probably a pilotless aircraft. Trevor said people thought one of these passed over Canterbury a few days ago. My father went out to observe and cycle down to post 48 warden's HQ. Minute by minute the situation became clear as more and more came over; we were definitely under attack by pilotless aircraft. They were coming one at a time and we could see a flame coming from the rear of each, certainly no ordinary aircraft engine. It was, of course, a very crude form of jet engine and these were flying bombs nicknamed 'doodlebugs' or 'buzz bombs'.
|......My brother Trevor was on a few days holiday from Canterbury where he had been drafted down the coalmines. He had volunteered for the RAF, but when his call-up papers had arrived he was, much to his surprise, directed to Chislet colliery near Canterbury as a 'Bevin Boy'. These were young men selected at random to work in the mines instead of going into the armed forces. A shortage of coal was becoming critical and would have affected the production of war weapons. The Minister of Labour, Mr Bevin, therefore devised the scheme to direct part of the call-up of young men to work in the coal mines.|
......Flying bombs launched from France were pointed towards London and had a mechanism which cut out the fuel supply which made the bomb dive downwards after a set distance. They were not very accurate but London was a big target. The defence was to shoot them down before they reached the built up area.
.. ...In the light of this all the barrage balloons that had flown over London for the past five years were moved in the space of two or three days to a long line from Redhill to beyond Sevenoaks. We could see the beginning of the line from Kingswood. The balloons suspended metal cables into which the bombs flew.
|.... .Generally speaking this did not explode the bomb, it did some damage like cutting a wing or damaging the flight mechanism, so the bomb did not reach London but fell underneath the balloons or travelled onwards damaged, possibly with engine failing. This would have accounted for the ones we called 'gliders', which we suffered from so much.|
......An undamaged bomb would cut out its engine about fifteen seconds before diving and hitting its target. Provided you could hear its approach this might give you time to dive under a table, get into a cupboard or something to give you a degree of safety from flying glass. Those that glided in almost silently, just like a light wind, gave you no time and made you more jumpy: you started hearing 'swishes all the time when it really was the wind in the trees.
|.... .Many Doodlebugs were shot down before reaching the line of balloons. London's anti-aircraft guns were moved to the coast between Dover and Hastings and many were shot down into the sea and countryside, and unfortunately into villages as well. Where there were no guns or balloons fighters chased the bombs, and as they closed in from behind, getting nearer and nearer, gave a short burst of machine gun fire then quickly rolled and turned to avoid bits of the wreckage. I never actually saw a bomb explode in mid-air, they all seemed to continue on, damaged. In fact, I believe that all the flying bombs that landed in our locality were damaged, if not they would have flown on to London. In a few weeks I remember three houses were destroyed within half a mile of where we lived. One was in Bears Den, one was a house called Pinehurst in Waterhouse Lane near the junction with the Chase, and the nearest was only about 300 yards away in Furze Grove. This last house was sliced in half, with the bath exposed and bits of plumbing hanging from the bathroom floor.|
... .We had finished supper one evening, raspberries (from the garden) and custard, when I heard the unmistakable throb of a Doodlebug over and above the sound of the promenade concert on the radio. I
|think they might have been playing Beethoven's or Bruch's violin concerto. I shouted, "There's one coming now." My father shot out through the French doors onto the lawn, peering into the sky. "I can't see the ......" he shouted back. We turned the radio down a bit and realised then that the Doodlebug was over the Albert Hall - not over us. Turning the radio up again we got back the sound of the blighter passing on into the distance. At that moment I got the full meaning and strength of the music, which gave an immense power over the evil of the flying bomb, a feeling I have never lost.|
... . Immediately a decision was taken to suspend the Proms in the Albert Hall and continue broadcasting from Bedford. Poor Henry Wood had already attended his last concert. It was also decided to close our school early except for those sitting the school certificate exam in July.
|... . My mother and I caught the Atlantic Coast Express from Waterloo and remained in Tintagel until things quietened down. My friend Simon went to stay with relations in Earsden near Newcastle. Later on Trevor came over from his mine near Canterbury, bringing with him a friend, fellow Bevin Boy, Derek Lowndes. Trevor had broken his wrist and had his forearm in plaster. That didn't stop him taking a dip in Tintagel Cove, holding his arm up as he went under. After Trevor and Derek went back my father came down for a week or so. By then the Americans had broken out of Normandy towards Brittany; Caen had fallen after being destroyed by bombing. By the middle of August the Germans were in full retreat and we thought the days of the Doodlebug were numbered. Eventually we decided to return, catching the train from Camelford mid-morning and arriving in London before 5pm. As we drew near Clapham Junction, the familiar sound I had not heard for six weeks came in above the clickety-clack of the train on the rails and the hiss and puff of the steam engine. Yes, the sirens were wailing, sending a shiver through your body. All this before we had arrived at Waterloo.|
.......The incredible defiance of London and Londoners seemed to come inside the train. Through the grubby windows you could see buildings with tarpaulins on their roofs, houses with no roofs and windows blown in, some boarded up. As we drew into Waterloo the sirens were dying down and the dreadful throb of the Doodlebug was just audible above all the noises in the station. What a welcome back!
.......Although it was scary it gave a wonderful sort of thrill of defiance right through your body. London can take it!
.......The 'all clear' sounded and I can't remember any further disturbances that evening. We looked at our house, which was still there, and amazingly still with only a few slipped tiles. It all seemed to be getting quieter now, with the launching sites in France being captured. August 25th and Paris was liberated after four and a half years of occupation. 'Surely the war will be over before Christmas' were the words on everyone's lips.
. . . At the beginning of September 1944 yet another surprise came. There was a massive explosion in Chiswick, West London, clearly audible in Kingswood late one afternoon. The newspapers reported it as a gas mains explosion. Very few people believed it however. There were more explosions over the next few days. They were saying that whatever it was there was no warning, no noise of its approach, nor anything to see. The newspapers remained silent for weeks. The gas mains explanation was clearly nonsense: it was obviously another of Hitler's secret weapons, this time a rocket travelling through the stratosphere and descending at supersonic speed, hence giving no warning of sound before its arrival. There was absolutely no form of defence against these rockets. We were fortunate none fell near our house, the nearest being just under two miles away, falling in a field, narrowly missing some houses near the railway viaduct over Outwood Lane. It made a very deep crater, probably over twenty feet deep and more than thirty in diameter. Many fell in London, including one at New Cross at the end of November, killing more than one hundred people.
Hitler's Final Offensive
Before I close this account of war experiences I must just record the prank we played at school about this time. The last lesson was in blackout time, the tall ceiling height windows being blacked out by wooden stud and plywood screens held in position with wedges. The was a gale blowing outside and a group of us decided to leave the top vents slightly open before placing the screens in position, all of this being done before the teacher came in. During the lesson we watched the screens being sucked in and out by the force of the wind through the vents. We then decided it was time to pull out the wedges while the teacher paused to look at his notes. Then came the exciting moment: the six foot tall screens wobbled and keeled right over one after the other nearly halfway across the classroom, sending light across the lawn outside. The teacher made a dive for the light switches. "It must have been the wind, sir." Simon, always assiduously correct in the classroom, thought the planning of the event so masterful that he gave it his wholehearted support.
This account of wartime schooldays in Surrey was written and Illustrated by Raymond Fry. It is displayed with his permission on Alan Moore's local history website . If you have any comments to make about it please email Alan. If required your remarks or queries will be forwarded to Raymond.
If you have wartime experiencies or other reminicences in the Redhill Reigate area Alan would be pleased to receive them via the email link above.
|This is one of the pages on Alan Moore's website www.redhill-reigate-history.co.uk|