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A Boy's Excitement During The War

Denis Allen

I was born in the British Home For Mothers and Babies, which I think was between Woolwich and Eltham. The date was 4th November 1934.

My parents, John and Cecilia Bridget Allen, lived at 46 Sutcliffe Road Plumstead. My father worked in the Woolwich Arsenal, I believe somewhere in the Stores Department.

I enjoyed living in Plumstead, playing on Wynn's Common, Bostall Woods and the surrounding areas and, when the war came, I enjoyed it even more. That may sound weird, but I truly believe that many boys at that time also felt the same as I did about the situation.

My closest mates were Harry Capon, John Swanston, Tony Pitcher and a big lad called Peter Thynne, who we were rather wary of because of his size and strength, but he was, I remember, more of a gentle giant.
I attended Timbercroft Lane Infants School and, maybe because of the frequent visits to the air raid shelter, I really enjoyed it. The mixture of learning and the frequent interruptions, listening to the aircraft overhead, kept you in almost constant excitement. Sometimes, on the way home from school, a few of us would wander around looking for bombed buildings to clamber over, but we were often ejected by an official of some kind or other, and told to “Have some respect you little * # * *! s's.”

As the war went on and the visits to the Anderson shelter in the back garden were almost nightly occurrences, so my excitement grew. The camp-like atmosphere of the shelter, cups of hot sweet tea with loads of condensed milk in it, the shelter’s fuggy atmosphere and the odd bacon sandwich, if you were lucky, were far removed from the ordinary, probably humdrum, way of life for us kids whose parents worked hard for a few bob a week. I think more than a few of us became adrenalin junkies, which may have coloured my future life to a certain extent.

We all had our own code of discipline though. For instance, after the war, if we were wandering about Woolwich, usually in small groups, not looking for any trouble, and we heard the cry, “P.C. Brandon’s' around”, we would all straighten up and look innocent until we saw him. When we did see him we would all say, ‘Hello', and he would look at us as he passed and give a slow nod. Not so if we were playing on the fringes of Bostall Woods and heard the words, “The Kelly boys are around”. Because if you heard those words you high tailed it for home! The rumour was that they were six or seven members of an Irish family who were always out and about looking for trouble. I never ever met them and I never met any kids who had seen them, so maybe it was a bit of pure folklore.

When I was fifteen I started work in the Arsenal as an office boy, prior to beginning an apprenticeship.
I could go on for a long time, about joining the R.A.F. for five years, then returning to Abbey Wood, where my parents lived, then working at Ford, then at two power stations and then at a scientific instrument makers, all for fairly short periods of time, before managing to get into aviation again, where my desire for adventure, taking risks and very un-official amounts of flying sated my adventurous side.

I finally retired halfway through my 71st year. I still miss work, but now have a heart condition and arthritis. Not bad for an ordinary little Plumstead oik, who was born with Scoliosis, that was never picked up by Military Medics.

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