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Blitz over Plumstead and districts

(War letter, 1940)

This is a letter written by Iris Hanaford to her late friend, Cissie Wild, during the terrible London Blitz of 1940. Iris then lived in Conway Road and worked in Fenchurch Street in Central London during those traumatic times. Iris went on to serve in the WAAF. Cissie was serving in the Women's Land Army.

After Cissie's death a number of years ago, her daughter found the letter and sent a copy of it to Iris. Iris, now Mrs Iris Gildon, lives in Bexhill on Sea.

Dear Cissie,

Thank you very much for your letter and once more I must say I am sorry for not having written for such a long time. Our day now is more or less just an existence. We hardly have time to get up and off go the sirens. If you are lucky enough to still be here when the “all clear” goes you endeavour to proceed to work. You get there or sometimes nearly get there, and off go the sirens again. So down to the cellars you go to spend an hour or however long it is, knitting or reading and in general getting a sore seat. When you emerge and get to the office, there is no post in, and either Mr J. or Mr S. have not arrived, so there is nothing to do until they come. On Monday Mr S. had the key to the safe and as he did not come in there was nothing we could do. After that to be on the safe side Mr J. took it. Then they messed up his line to London and he didn't arrive until midday. We usually have a lunch time raid, in fact if it doesn't come we think something is up. Then we usually get an afternoon one about 3 or 4 o'clock. That makes it hard to get home. The other day we had one at twenty to four and this went on until about ten to five. We got back to the office and did the post and were just going down in the lift when the siren went again. After that we managed to get home. When one gets home there is time to have something to eat, have a wash and as soon as darkness begins to fall, off we go again for the whole of the night, that is until 5.30, 5.45 or 6 o'clock. From the foregoing you will gather why I haven't written.

So far today we have been lucky, it is eleven and up to now we have heard no sirens. I think we will hear it soon as planes are buzzing about now. I have just been out to see if I can see any but it is too cloudy and as the sun is rather bright they are probably making use of that.

Last Saturday when they dropped the bomb in Galloson Road they dropped them in Mineral Street too, and what an ear splitting row they made. Fortunately, Dad was in the garden watching and he saw the bombs released and he came in and told us to get under the table or somewhere. As we have a bed downstairs Hilda and I got under that. Then we just had to lay and listen to it whistling through the air until it landed and the house shook and the noise hurt our ears. Ever so many houses had their windows blown out and slates blown off too, but so far all we have is a pane of glass cracked in our French Windows. Since then the gunfire has been so heavy that it has shaken a lot of the ceilings down. Not in our house, but in some of the houses along the road.

Well I am now writing this in Mrs Earle's shelter, she has got hers up indoors. As you will gather by me taking shelter, the sirens have gone and although planes are thundering around overhead nothing has happened yet. I have been caught down at Hilda's twice during an all night raid. Those shelters are O.K. for an hour of two but eight or nine hours is too much. Well the guns are going it now, but so far we haven't heard any bombs drop.

We had some excitement the Saturday before last. A Messerschmitt 109 (hope that spelt right) was brought down in Ann Street. A Spitfire was after it and a dog fight went on overhead ? then down it came making a horrible row. One wing came off and sailed just over our house. Dad thought it would land in the road but it just cleared the houses on the other side of the road and landed in a garden in Hector Street. The rest of the plane crashed in the gardens of two houses. It caught fire so that it was not much to look at. The cockpit buried itself about 3ft in the ground so we were told by a fireman when we went to see it. We could only see the ends of the propeller as it was buried. There was a yellow dragon with red claws painted on the little bit of the cockpit that we could see. The rest of the plane was such a mess you couldn't tell what was what. The people started a Spitfire Fund and let people in to see it ? they collected about £96. There was a fund started to see the wing too, but that was only left there for a day, so they didn't get so much.

A train was bombed on the line behind Reidhaven Road and messed up the railway so that trains only ran from Charlton. Then next day (Tuesday) trains ran down to Plumstead at night. On Wednesday trains only ran from Charlton. After sundry and several raids throughout the day trains ceased to run anywhere and all services were suspended from London Bridge. So at 5.30 on Wednesday (incidentally our time is now whatever time we get there in the morning until 4 in the afternoon ? air raids permitting). On Wednesday air raids did not permit and I was stuck outside London Bridge with a notice saying “All services suspended, passengers must make their own way” staring me in the face. After a few minutes I bumped into Fisher and we decided to try and get home some way or the other together. We tried Tooley Street way but there were no trams running. So many roads are roped off because of time bombs that even trams, buses and cars can't go properly along their usual route. We then decided to try buses to Elephant & Castle but the queues for these were so long we would have stood there all night. The buses that were coming were too full to stop for more so we had to walk to the Elephant & Castle. Then there were no buses that we could get on, they weren't stopping and there were no trams either. Then we met Eileen R. and she came with us. We decided to walk at least part of the way, but when we had walked a little way we saw a C.W.S.* cattle van and as lots of other vans were giving people a lift, and as this van already had two men on it, Fisher asked the driver where he was going. Luckily he was going to Woolwich, so we jumped in. It was very clean inside with just straw on the floor and railings all round the top. Anyway we got to Woolwich and then we turned out covered in straw and trailed up the road to the trams and eventually we got home.

I didn't have to go in on Thursday as we are going to have a day off a week so that we can get some sleep.

Well the “all clear” has gone now and we are going to have some dinner. Since writing the last sentence I have had my dinner and another air raid. The last one was from 11.45 to 1.00 and the sirens went again at 2.15. There must have been hundreds up there, right overhead. The loudest we have heard with Spitfires chasing all over the place and the noise was deafening and machine guns letting them have it. Anyway we have just heard that one was brought down in the Arsenal. Dad has just come from work and he says one of the men on the roof saw it crash in there. At 3.15 it was all over.

I expect you have heard on the wireless about the new service they are running between Woolwich Ferry and Westminster as all trains have ceased to run. Why I don't know ? I wish I did but I expect it is a time bomb or something like that outside London Bridge somewhere. On Friday I went up with Hilda on the boat. We didn't catch it until 9.30 as we had a warning at 7.30. Anyway we had just started out in the wind and rain when the sirens went off again. Guns were firing all up the river and the journey took two hours. When I got to Tower Pier I walked towards the office and as I almost got there guns started firing and the wardens hauled me in. I stayed in for about an hour and a half and then when it was quiet I crept out and got into our own shelter with Miss Drury. I then had time to talk and eat my lunch and after four hours the “all clear” went. That was the longest day raid we have had. I got into the office, had a wash, did one letter and at ten to three Mr. S. went to catch his bus home. At ten past three Mr. J. was still not in so Fisher and I left and went to Westminster to catch the boat. I had said I would not go home by boat on my own but Fisher said I could go with him. We got there at 3.30, the boat was due at 3.50, the last leaving at 4.30. The boat hadn't come at 4 o'clock and aeroplanes began buzzing overhead again and guns started firing. This went on for about 5 mins and then once more the sirens went. We got the full benefit of the one on New Scotland Yard. After about 20 mins the “all clear” went but no boat came. At 4.30 it was seen coming under Waterloo Bridge and about 4.45 we were ready to set out. I was feeling extremely sick, as I expect you can remember what the Thames ozone is like. It took 2 hours to get to Woolwich again during which time it poured with rain and the wind blew a gale. The river was like a tempest and I was freezing cold by the time I arrived home, so I don't think I shall use that method of travel anymore if I can get a bus over on the Common. I don't like being in the middle of the Thames when there is an air raid on? and they are not going to stop. I would cycle if the traffic was not diverted so much. You can only get to the bottom of Albion Hill now and then there is a diversion you could go to Charlton at the beginning of the week.

One afternoon this week a lone raider got through and very calmly came down and dropped a bomb on the hospital and another on Buckleys Yard. After this had happened the sirens were sounded. Grandad was in the garden watching the plane when it suddenly released the bombs. Anyway the one on Buckleys caused the traffic to be diverted but it was removed after a time ? it was a time bomb. The one on the hospital went into the dining room where all the old men were. The Matron was killed and quite a few of the old men.

Another afternoon they nearly got the Links Stores, but instead the bombs fell in Ennis Road and Tuam Road and also Wernbrook Street. They took the corner right off the Brown School where the A.F.S.* are stationed. They hit Plum Lane School? A.F.S. there too. Slade School ? Barrage Balloon there. Timbercroft Lane ? houses down. During the night Durham Road ? houses down and 5 killed. Basildon Road ? houses down and a great crater in the road. Gas and water mains hit. 8 bombs dropped on that old barn at the bottom of Rochdale Road ? just made craters and blew glass out of a passing tram.

On Saturday they hit the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Wood Street. Thank goodness no one was hurt. One building of Siemens is gutted out and one or two others I believe and their wharf is smashed up. When they set a fire going on last Saturday afternoon in the Arsenal, they also dropped a bomb on the sewer bank of all places and what a smell there was down that way. I won't bother to describe what it was like in the Arsenal as we have heard too many awful stories about it. Still they hit the Cap and Detonator shop in the danger building one night during the week and it was like firework night.

Loader's Margarine factory over the water was hit a week ago and is still burning. Tates sugar factory has been hit twice but still exists. The C.W.S. dairy was hit and we got no milk for two or three days. The office in the Commonwealth Building where you used to work is no more. They managed to save the Grocery Warehouse. Silvertown is nearly down to the ground so most of them have been brought over this way to Conway Road School and other schools. Conway Road School hasn't got a window in it so it must be a bit draughty. Becton Gas Works has been hit so people are evacuated from there.

Lots of buildings are all burnt out in the City and there is a great crater in the road at either end of London Bridge. Our office has survived so far ? the nearest hit was Fenchurch Street Station. Most of the buildings along Fenchurch Street have no windows but fortunately we still have.

I can't think of any more to tell you now as it would take a book to write about all that has happened just round here.

I hope you are feeling better now after your collision with a 20 ton lorry and I trust all the family are alright.

Well, we are going to try and have some tea now as we have just heard some more planes go over. Cheerio now as I am closing my letter. Hope you don't get eye strain wading through it.

Love to all,

(Editor's *) * AFS = Auxiliary Fire Service
*CWS = Co-operative Wholesale Society

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