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Winnie's Jim Crows

September 7th - 15th 1940 Plumstead.


Once the Blitz had begun people had to seek the safety of the public shelters during an air raid and there were several raids each day. Lives were greatly disrupted, so a scheme was started by the Daily Sketch to use the children, who weren't at school, to look out for approaching enemy aircraft. Children of varying ages took part. I was nine years old. (School was cancelled in London). We were issued with leaflets which contained silhouettes of the enemy aircraft and I became good at identifying the German planes.

Our house was a two-story house with a skylight looking over the rooftops. I could see all the way down the Thames from Plumstead to the Ford Motor plant with its big chimneys.

My dad worked at Woolwich Arsenal in the 'Danger Buildings', which were full of explosives. It was dangerous even in peacetime.

I had a ladder leading up to the skylight where I kept watch. The enemy planes always came up the river from east to west. Granddad lent me his old binoculars and my father, who was a sergeant in the Home Guard, lent me a tin hat. Granddad also found me a 4.7 inch anti-aircraft shell case and dad made me a wooden tripod to hang it on.

I then had a long metal rod which I placed inside the shell case and when I spotted enemy aircraft I rang it like a bell. It made a very loud noise which made me quite deaf!

All the people in the street would seek refuge in their Anderson shelters in their gardens. This meant they didn't have to stay in their garden shelters for the whole of the raid or go to the public shelters.

I felt very important in my tin hat, binoculars and bell. Once I had rung the bell I had to rush down to the Anderson shelter from three flights up. I was allowed to slide down the banisters of two flights then jump the last six steps. Mum put a mat at the bottom of the stairs and a mattress from one of the camp beds on the floor in front of the open Anderson door so I could throw myself onto it. Once in, she shut the door with a bang.The neighbours fully approved of what I did.

In Parliament, Winston Churchill (our revered Prime Minister) said, "Our country will not be bowed by these terror raids. My young 'Jim Crows' are looking out for enemy aircraft so that the population can carry on working and they will be known as 'Winnie's Jim Crows'."

The Daily Sketch encouraged mums to make armbands with the initials W.J.C. on them for the participating children. The paper also did an article every week about the W.J.C.s. My friend Johnny and I had our photos taken in the roof.

I only did this for two weeks as I was then evacuated to Cornwall, but that's another story related in my book, "One Boy's War", by Peter Walder. IBSN 1900511673

By Peter Walder

'WW2 People's 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'



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