The History Place - Personal Histories

A Girl's Life in London
by Margaret

Section Five of Six

D-Day and 'Our' Doodlebug

One summer day in 1944, our teacher told us that the Allies had landed in France, and the end of the war was in sight. I ran all the way home at dinnertime to tell Mum. She had already heard the news and seemed more cautious than pleased. That night Dad showed me on the map just how much had to be liberated before the Allies even got as far as the German border.

Just over a week later, the sirens and the ack-ack started up again. There were huge explosions day and night, but nothing in the news. Dad was tight-lipped, and stories went around at school about funny planes that crashed and blew up. Finally, the Government admitted that pilotless aircraft - flying bombs - were being launched from sites in Europe, aimed at Central London. Most of them fell short, and so our South London borough was one of the worst hit. The doodlebugs or buzz-bombs, as we called them, had a peculiar sounding noisy engine and a jet of flame so bright it could be seen in daylight streaming from the tail. When the fuel ran out, the engine sputtered and stopped, the craft went into a nose-dive, and about 10 seconds later there was an enormous explosion which caused extensive damage over a wide area.

That week, some of my classmates were re-evacuated, and we did most of our lessons in the shelters. On Saturday, I was at home waiting for dinner, just about in the spot where my little 'shelter' had been during the Blitz, when we heard a buzz-bomb cut out overhead. That meant it wouldn't hit us, but come down somewhere a little farther on. When it exploded, the noise was worse than usual and a section of the wall I was sitting next to blew right in against me.

In that split second I knew the truth. I was a coward! And I didn't care! I burst into tears, ran and clutched Mum's skirt and begged to be evacuated. Dad got mad at me and told me not to be so bloomin' silly, but Mum said quietly that she thought they ought to consider it, as I was nearly 7-years-old, and could go away without her.

We went around the house checking the damage. Most of the window glass had been blown out during the previous week, but now - fortunately, as it turned out! - there wasn't a scrap of glass left. Apart from cracks in the walls and ceilings, there was just the one section of wall blown out, and a large portion of the ceiling in the main bedroom had come down. There was dirt everywhere, soot had come down all the chimneys, and Mum was heartbroken because the gravy from our precious weekend joint was full of mortar. She and Dad moved their mattress downstairs, back to the chimney corner, and arranged for me to sleep next door. Our neighbor on that side was by now an honorary Aunty, and she said I could share her Morrison shelter. I went to school as usual, but, although there were even fewer children in the class now, it wasn't easy to work in the cramped conditions in the shelters, which were really just basement cloakrooms.

Next Saturday morning, I woke up in the Morrison to find the room full of thick dust. I watched as big cracks appeared all over the ceiling and walls, making them look like a huge jig-saw puzzle. Then the whole lot fell in. It must only have taken seconds, but it seemed to happen very slowly, and I didn't hear a sound! No explosion, no falling glass - nothing! After a while, the dust began to clear and Aunty came through the kitchen doorway - the doorway was still there, but the kitchen had disappeared. She said, "Your Mum wants to know if you're alright?" I was choking and coughing from the mortar dust, but I wasn't hurt, so I nodded. Aunty said, "She is alright too, but she wants you to stay in there out of the way and be good!" So there I sat.

I lost all sense of time. I could hear ambulance bells, people calling to each other and moving about in the rubble, and I could see daylight through that kitchen doorway, though the wall blocked my view to the outside. The front of the house had collapsed, but I couldn't see out that way either. I heard the new baby next door crying and someone saying there was something wrong with its eyes. It was a lovely baby, the newest I'd ever seen, so tiny and soft. I shut my eyes tight and wished and wished for the baby to be alright. I got very thirsty, but no-one came anywhere near me for ages.

Then the lady from across the street crawled in from the front with two pieces of bread and margarine and plum jam in case I was hungry. I said I was too thirsty to eat, and she told me there was no water, but she would try to get me some milk. I told her milk made me sick, so she just left the bread and jam and went away. I feel guilty to this day for not eating it when she had gone to so much trouble. I did try, but it just wouldn't go down. Then, even worse, I accidentally put my foot on one piece! So I stopped fidgeting, because I didn't want to get jam on the sheets as well as my foot. I didn't feel 'good' at all, and there was absolutely nothing to be brave about - I didn't have a scratch. I wanted so much to go outside and see exactly what had happened to everything and everyone. I could have crawled out easily, but having been told to stay put, I did, and tried harder to 'be good.'

Then Mum's father appeared and helped me out through the ruined house into the street. It seemed full of light - all of the houses between ours and the main road had collapsed, those on both sides of the main road for the whole block, and the houses at the back of us, and across the road at the back. There was so much sky, in spite of the dust. Our house was still there though it had lost its roof and was sort of sagging. Then I saw a furniture van moving away, and among the things tied on top of it was my precious teddy! I cried then for the first time, and yelled, "I want my Teddy!" Dad was very angry and Mum, who had a bandage on her head, said they had found my Panda and kept that for me, but I didn't want Panda, I wanted Teddy!!

But I was told yet again to 'be good' and to go with Grandpa. So we waited for the bus, then walked from the bus stop to the lovely house with the big garden and Anderson shelter, and Grandma gave me something to drink and some dinner, and she wasn't cross when I couldn't eat it.

The house was soon full of people. As well as us three, Grandma had taken in an elderly couple whose house had been two doors nearer the bomb. Mum and Dad and I had to sleep in the Anderson shelter.

Over the next few days, I began to piece together what had happened from the all the talk that went on. The bomb had exploded in one of the tiny gardens a few houses away and the main force of the blast was away from our house, toward the main road. Only the poor paper-boy was killed. A house fell on him just as he was pushing the paper through the letter-box. The baby had mortar dust in her eyes and was bruised but would be fine. Her mother was injured but expected home from hospital soon, but her landlady, another of my honorary Aunties, was badly injured and would be in hospital for a long time. There were plenty of walking wounded and people suffering from shock, but we didn't know any of them except our immediate neighbors.

The bomb had hit just before 8 a.m. Dad was at work on early turn, and Mum was standing at the sink next to the kitchen window. She was knocked unconscious by falling masonry, and when she came-to, the window frame was draped round her shoulders. Which is why it was fortunate we had no glass left! She said her first thought had been, "How can I climb the fence to see if Margaret's alright?" - the way to the front of the house and the street was completely blocked - but when she went outside, there wasn't a fence in sight! The mattress on which she and Dad had so recently been sleeping was buried under several feet of rubble. If Dad had been on late turn they would have been buried alive.

Dad was on duty at the Broadway and someone told him about the bomb. He jumped on an eastbound tram, pushed the driver aside, drove full pelt to the points near our turning, and then left the startled passengers and crew to their own devices. No doubt when they saw the devastation ahead they needed no explanation.

He and Mum had to contact a storage firm, then salvage all they could from the house before the Civil Defense declared the building unsafe and refused to let them back in. There was also quite a lot of looting. The only way to contact my grandparents was by telegram. So it was past one o'clock when Grandpa finally reached us and I was allowed out of the shelter. No wonder I was thirsty!

Copyright © 1999 by Margaret All Rights Reserved

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