Ron recalls the destruction of his family home in London during the Blitz
It was October 1940, there had been air raids for what seemed like months but was probably no more than 35 nights. We lived within 2 miles of the City of London and had experienced heavy air raids on most of those nights with significant damage to our neighbourhood. We had adjusted to living in our Anderson shelter, which was quite large because it had to accommodate my parents, us three children, my grandparents and an aunt and uncle. Outside the entrance to the shelter we had a sand-bagged corrugated iron structure in which we had paraffin stove and tea making facilities, we also had electric light. So, apart from the condensation on the walls, we were quite comfortable and felt reasonably secure. Our sense of security was disturbed somewhat when, two weeks previously, the disused stables immediately adjacent to our shelter had been set ablaze by incendiary bombs, forcing us to abandon our sanctuary in the middle of a heavy raid.
All had gone well for us since then, however, and, despite many bombs nearby, it had been possible to sleep most nights. On this particular night the raid had been in progress for about two hours, with the activity coming and going, then, towards midnight, there were some bombs nearby, preceded by the familiar whistle, then there was a tremendous explosion, which was somehow felt more than heard. This was followed by the smell of dust and smoke and a second explosion that was heard more than felt. Debris could be heard raining down all around.
My father was at work so my uncle went outside to investigate. He found the garden unrecognisable, strewn with debris but, somewhat to his surprise and relief, the tall gaunt shape of the house was still there, just visible through a cloud of dust and smoke and illuminated by a light from the far side of the house. His relief was short lived because, as he approached it became obvious that the house was severely damaged. The roof had gone, as had all the doors and windows. He found that the light from the far side of the house was coming from a violent fire. He walked through the house, holding a handkerchief to his face to protect himself from the choking dust, and crunching over fallen plaster, broken glass and splintered wood. Outside there was more smoke and dust, the wide road had disappeared and in its place was a large crater and from the crater a flame was roaring skywards. The bomb had fractured a major gas main and the gas had subsequently ignited, which was almost certainly the cause of the second explosion. Other buildings in the vicinity seemed to be in a similar state but none had actually collapsed.
The air raid was still in progress and the emergency services were beginning to arrive. After ascertaining that there was nothing he could do to help he returned to the shelter to join in the speculation as to the full extent of the damage. In the morning the speculation ended. The house was a total shambles, interior walls had collapsed, broken glass was everywhere, and the sticky tape that had been on the windows was of no use in that situation. Debris was all around, shards of glass had shredded curtains, upholstery and bedding, some had embedded themselves in solid wood and one had gone through a sheet of galvanised steel. If anyone had been inside the house they would have been seriously injured by flying glass if they had not been killed by the blast or other flying debris unless, perhaps, they had taken shelter beneath the staircase, which had remained intact, as so often seemed to happen when most of the rest of a house was destroyed.
Surprisingly the reaction of my parents was calm, there were no tears at the destruction of their home, there was some sense of anger but mostly there was just relief that nobody had been hurt. I found it rather upsetting to see so many familiar things ruined but I also have to admit that I found it all rather exciting, young boys are funny like that. I also felt that I should be allowed to help in the clearing up operation but, to my intense disappointment, we children were deposited with another aunt and uncle in Twickenham whilst my parents set about finding somewhere to live and salvaging what they could from the house. There was some compensation in being at Twickenham, whilst I was there I saw two aerial 'dog fights' and saw one Junkers 88 shot down in flames. The crew baled out and drifted down to land no more than 800yds away. Which was enough to produce an excited "Cor!" from any young boy.
Many houses in London were empty in those days so finding somewhere new to rent was not difficult. Salvaging the furniture and all the contents of the house was difficult, however, and somewhat dangerous. Some of the sections of the floors had collapsed, the glass was a real hazard and my parents still had to suffer some daylight raids whilst they were working. Much of the hard furniture was salvaged since it was usable although mostly badly scarred, most of the soft furnishings, bedding and curtains were ruined. It was a hard time for my parents, especially my mother. Every item of clothing that had been in drawers or cupboards and had survived intact had to be washed. There were no washing machines, driers or central heating. Soap or soap flakes/powder was rationed.
In just over a week we were ensconced in our new home, which was a further two miles from central London and, despite many worrying moments and near misses, we survived the war without suffering any more damage.