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Extracts from the diary of Bill Emerson.

Following the bombing of Barnfield Road we were shocked and emotionally damaged and homeless.

BIlly WalesMy life changed quickly and dramatically. For a few days I, and my mother and sister lived in a reception centre for people who had lost their homes and in lots of cases their families. We were sheltered and given new clothing and generally made to feel welcome while hordes of W. V. S. [women's voluntary service] personnel fussed around us. My father at this time was away finding alternative accommodation. We eventually moved into a house in Burrage Road right next to an Anglican Church. My mother joked about being safe, as we were so close to God. Diagonally opposite the house was a petrol station, which was to give us a mighty fireworks display in only a few days time.

Bombing began in earnest and soon there were raids every night. As soon as the sirens sounded my sister and I were put under the dining room table a stout wooden affair which was draped with blankets to protect us from flying glass in the event of a bomb exploding close by. The house didn't last long. Soon after we moved in we were bombed again. This time the Germans were dropping incendiary bombs. Small bombs filled with a phosphorus compound, which caused fires wherever they landed. In our case it was mostly on the church roof and because of the steep pitch of the roof the bombs were sliding off and landing on our house. Mother was outside with a long handled shovel picking them up and placing them on the lawn. Mother was on her own and had to call me to help because the bombs were more numerous than she could contain. I had to help by digging up soil from the garden to smother the burning phosphorus. The petrol station had been hit and was a blazing inferno with petrol pumps exploding spreading flaming petrol into the road and onto the adjoining-houses. The house was badly burned and once again we were back to the reception centre having again lost most of our recently acquired furnishings.

Changes were made quickly and my sister was evacuated with lots of mainly younger children to a safe area in the country far away from the city -and the industrial areas.

She was placed with a couple in the town of Banbury in Oxfordshire where she spent the rest of the war. My father by now had been called up and he soon departed for overseas with the merchant service sailing with the convoys of ships taking troops to Singapore and the far East bringing back food supplies t Britain on the return journey. I was to see my father again only twice in the next five years.

Life at this time was pretty grim. There were no streetlights and cars and bus\u2019s had to use hooded lights showing a minimum of light in a down direction. Pavement edges were painted white to give pedestrians some guide to staying off the roads. All windows had to be blacked out and people using torches were instructed not to shine the light upward for fear of attracting aircraft and bombs. Food was strictly rationed meat sugar butter cheese was allocated at the rate of four ounces per person per week. There was no chocolate or sweets although if one could buy them they were also rationed and like all food products could only be obtained with ration coupons. We were issued with ration books, identity cards gas masks which had to be carried at all times and if you were lucky a tin hat. We had by this time, my mother and me, moved into a brand new house in Coombside just over the border into Kent. This was a rural community plenty of open space fields and even a small wood to play in. The air raids continued on a nightly basis and for weeks we lived underground sleeping in the shelter getting up in the morning to either go to work or in my case to school.

Even though we were now in the country we were in South East England directly in the flight path of German aircraft flying from airfields in France on their way to London and the docks. The Germans had a bad habit of jettisoning their bomb load on their way back to France when they had failed to reach their target which was frequently, and we suffered much indiscriminate bombing which usually cost us rooftiles windows and on one occasion the front door. The house had windows boarded up for months and for several weeks a tarpaulin covering holes in the roof. The watchword in England at this time was “business as usual” we were not going to let the 'jerries' get us down, according to the government propaganda machine. This was not generally the feeling of the people who had taken most of the damage.

The Battle of Britain began in August 1940 almost on my 8th birthday. To give you some idea of the intensity of this battle which took place on many occasion: in the skies over our house, over 1733 German aircraft were shot down as agains' the loss of 375 pilots killed and 358 wounded of the RAF. During the next two months some 915 British aircraft were destroyed. During the daylight raids we usually received sufficient warning to be able to take cover. Still, during this period some 1700 civilians were killed and 3360 seriously wounded. The night attacks killed many more. Some 12,581 civilians lost their lives and 16,965 were seriously injured.

One of our major problems was our proximity to a number of RAF fighter stations To the North West of us we had West Mailing, Biggin Hill, Kenley while to the South East there was Lympne and Hawkinge. These were targets for enemy air strikes both bombers and fighters and neither of these, the Junkers 88 and the messerschmits, were adverse to giving civilian houses, cars and buses a squirt of machine gun fire in passing.

Billy Wales ID CardI noted earlier, August 1940 was my 8th birthday and for a treat my mother decided we would go to town and a film. Mother and I had a favourite place in town Manzes pie shop where we could buy a big bowl of delicious pea soup and a big bread roll. They were also famous for meat pies but conscious of the acute meat shortage mother was always suspicious of pies and other meat products. What we really loved was the glass of warm milk we were able to get with the meal. We went to the Grenada Cinema in Woolwich to see a Shirley Temple film called “The Bluebird”. During the showing of the film the air raid sirens sounded. There was a procedure for evacuating the theatre during emergencies and as we left our seats the first set of bombs hit the building. Immediately the lights went out. Part of the upper floors and the balcony had collapsed trapping people in the back rows and the whole place was full of flying dust and bits of brick. Mother clutched me tight making sure I was safe. We tried to make for the exit and there were some theatre ushers with torches trying to get the patrons out in an orderly manner. Then the second stick of bombs struck. People in the exit tunnels were blown back by the blast and the concussion was ear bursting. More brickwork had fallen and now the fire that had started blocked us. What a mess, but mother never panicked and she never relaxed her hold on me her grasp was so firm that I bore the marks of her fingers for many weeks.

Mother steered me down a corridor at the side of the building and as well as coping with fire intense smoke, broken electric cables hanging down sparking as they came in contact with metal, we were jostled and climbed over by men pushing their way to safety. Not all of the British men were patriotic or helpful and we were to experience many more examples of people who cared little for their fellow man.

By October 1940 the RAF had won the Battle of Britain and we were now subject to sporadic raids day and night designed to break the morale of the civilian population. These were dangerous as no particular target seemed indicated and sometimes we watched from the safety of a doorway a lone low flying bomber just dropping its load over rows of houses.

The Germans had another way of terrorising the public. They saturated areas with anti personnel mines. These were released in batches from bombers and were designed like a sycamore seed with rotor like wings, which allowed the mine to rotate down to earth.

They were named butterfly bombs because of their gay colours and the wings. Every schoolteacher had a large poster depicting the bomb and each child was warned every day of the dangers of touching these things. Even so, there were people killed and injured by picking the things up. Despite the warnings some children brought them to school having found the thing in the hedgerow or in the gutter. The immediate reaction was to clear the school and call the army to come in and collect the bomb. It really made school very exciting but there were many days when schools were closed and education suffered accordingly. When I moved up to high school. “Ancona Senior School for Boys” there were a number of my friends from junior school. I didn't really make friends it was too traumatic. Often there were gaps in the class. Vacant desks, clothes left in lockers, bits and pieces of the owner left on desks. Wondering where they were. Each day we would begin class with a prayer to God, for some reason we believed he was on our side, we prayed for the King and Queen and all our people overseas fighting. Each day the teacher would advise the class that so and so would not be attending as they had died in last nights bombing. Several close friends went this way and each time I vowed not to get too friendly with boys or girls again. Michael Potter, Billy Benefield. George Gray, and on and on.

Dougie Brown had no mother she was killed in an air raid, David Kites father was killed in the RAF, Dorothy Macdonald's mother was killed by a bomb, we had lots of solo parents long before it became fashionable. Don't get fond of anyone because it hurts when you lose him or her.

Nearly all the teachers were retired people whom, because all the young men and women had been called up for military service, had been recalled to teaching. Only a few teachers stand out in my memory. Mr. Rosewarne my teacher through several classes and schools. We had to move schools as one was damaged we were fitted in wherever space was available. Inevitably we were returned to the school of origin when the damage had been cleared. Often we sat in temporary classrooms some without glass in windows. School began at 9 am and finished at 4.30 pm except in the winter when we finished at 4.0 pm. Lunch was 12 to 1 PM and we were provided with a cooked meal. Usually some sort of meat, usually Spam and vegetables this was followed by some pudding either custard tart or an economy plum duff. I particularly appreciated the duff and custard and I retain a liking for it to this day. At play time each afternoon we lined up by classes with our spoons and were given a heaped spoonful of malt extract and vitamin c. Mr. Rosewarne was absent for some days and we had Mr. Stanley as our teacher. Mr. Stanley explained that Mr. Rosewarn's only son an RAF pilot had been killed in action and we were asked to be particularly kind to him if he returned. He did, and remained a strict and unbending teacher for the rest of the time I spent with him. Among other things he took us for singing. He had a fine voice and played our rather by now battered piano and taught us songs. His favourite as I recall was “Dan Cupid has a garden where women are the flowers and lovers laughs and lovers tears are the sunshine and the showers”. There were others but this is the one, which has the most meaning for me

The bombing continued and life carried on. I attended church regularly and was s member of the choir. I was also a member of the church scout group and attended camp on a couple of occasions. I was confirmed in this church, and spent a great deal of time in the vicarage particularly when the school was not open, doing lessons with the other choristers taught by the vicar. The parish history records the following.

The numbers attending services were very good although they could have been
forgiven for staying in bed to catch up on their sleep. We quite often existed
night after night with just two or three hours sleep. Apart from going to work,
every able bodied person had to do something to help the war effort; it could be fire watching, air raid warden, heavy and light rescue, first aid stations or
helping in the hospitals. Southwark Cathedral called for at least four people
from our church to fire watch every Monday evening throughout the year. We are
pleased to report that we always managed to fulfil our commitments. We watched daily the aeroplanes of the RAF and the German Air Force fighting in the sky above our small group of houses. We saw British and German aircraft fall out of the sky in flames. Being outdoors was hazardous because of falling debris. Expended ammunition cases would fall from the aircraft and could and frequently did, inflict injuries upon those foolish enough to wander about during a raid. The other, ever-present danger, was being shot up by German aircraft heading back to France. On two occasions the bus we were travelling in was straffed by a low flying messerschmit and we ended up in the ditch at the side of the road. Everybody out and in the ditch, the bigger children sheltering the younger ones all of us shaken and crying. After the second occasion it was evacuation time again. Just before I left we had a German fighter crash land in our field. The Home Guard was on the scene very quickly to rescue the German pilot from the wrath of the locals. They also mounted guard over the plane to prevent it being pilfered. Next day we were permitted to sit in the cockpit for a few minutes for a donation to the Spitfire fund of sixpence. I have often wondered if the guns of the plane had been unloaded, as the kids were pushing and pulling levers and buttons with great gusto and a burst from the wing mounted machine guns would have been a great surprise.



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