Woolwich & Districts
Moakes (nee Graves.)
her sister Gillian outside their house in Shooters Hill, London.
Note the blast-damaged windows. The house was later made uninhabitable
I was 5 years old, the oldest of three
children. We lived with my parents in a modern (1930s) semi-detached
house on Shooters
Hill - high ground above Woolwich Arsenal, where war materials
like shells were made. This was, of course, a major target for
the bombers and the surrounding suburbs were often hit as well.
what would have been the dining room we had a Morrison
Shelter. This was a sort of iron cage with a solid steel
roof at about table level and heavy steel mesh sides to keep
the occupants safe from flying glass etc. Ours had a double-bed
mattress and my younger sister and I were put to bed there every
night. When the siren went my parents picked up my baby brother
and came down to join us in the Morrison. Quite cosy, except
that outside there was the noise of the air raid.
all seemed quite normal to us children. Most houses suffered
some blast damage, for example, ours had several broken windows,
which were mended with a fabric (new glass, presumably, was
night the bomb fell close, destroying some nearby houses. We
were all awake-it was too noisy to sleep. Then there was an
explosion; my mother said, 'Oh dear, there's our poor old house
gone west!' There was a great crashing and tinkling. We heard
the windows shatter, and there were lots of noises as furniture
broke up and doors were blown off.
the Morrison we were unhurt. My parents told us to go back to
sleep, which we did! When it got light my father crawled gingerly
out of the shelter, got a broom and swept up the debris. Then
we were allowed out. My sister and I rushed excitedly to see
what had happened. Most of the furniture was broken up; the
front door had slid down the hall, and was leaning against the
kitchen wall. All the windows had gone. The sideboard contents
were all smashed except, weirdly, two china dolls' heads, which
a lady in his office had given to my father. (These later had
cloth bodies made for them). My parents were left with three
children, no house and very few belongings.
were taken to a 'Rest Centre' (maybe a Church hall or a school)
where for about a week we slept in dormitory accommodation.
I thought it was all rather exciting except for one incident.
I had a homemade black cloth doll named 'Black Jinny' which
had survived the blitz. My mother gave it to a little girl in
the Rest Centre who had been orphaned and I was devastated!
a while (a week or so?) my mother's sister, a nurse, found us
a primitive farm cottage near Bideford in Devon. (She ran a
hostel for children from East London made homeless by the blitz).
My father saw us off from one of the London stations (I don't
know which). I remember a big glass roof with most of the glass
gone, that must have suffered from nearby explosions. Also a
kind lady, who gave us children some cherries (presumably from
Devon, I had just started school when we were bombed out! I
remember reading lessons by candlelight in a big air-raid shelter.
In the Devon cottage my mother would have had to walk over two
miles, pushing the pram to get me to school. So I didn't go.
Eventually a school Inspector called. My mother was teaching
me to read, so having checked us out he agreed that I could
continue to learn at home.
my father, who was a Probation Officer in Lambeth and a member
of the Home guard, slept on a camp bed in his office! Every
couple of months he came down on the train to see his family.
He wrote to my mother regularly but there was no phone of course,
and she never knew until the next letter arrived, if he was
did survive and Woolwich Council allocated him another house
Hill at the end of the war. Compared with some families
we were lucky.
I wrote this poem as part of a University of the Third Age
who was a child
The siren wails
How nonchalantly I rise from bed
Tumble into the Morrison
And fall asleep.
How little I know of fear
The me who was a child
Thinks this is normality.
the bomb drops near
Windows shatter, furniture splinters
The front door slides up the hall.
The child yawns and goes back to sleep
War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by
members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can
be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'