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Bombed Out Twice

By Joan Moakes (nee Graves.)

Joan & Gillian Graves outside their house in Shooters Hill.  Joan was aged about 5 years old at the time.

Joan and her sister Gillian outside their house in Shooters Hill, London. Note the blast-damaged windows. The house was later made uninhabitable by bombing.

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.

In 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.

It 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 not available).

One 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.

Inside 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.

We 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!

After 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 her garden).

In 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.

Meanwhile, 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 safe.

He did survive and Woolwich Council allocated him another house on Shooters 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 poetry group.

The Me who was a child
The siren wails
How nonchalantly I rise from bed
Trek downstairs
Tumble into the Morrison
And fall asleep.
How little I know of fear
The me who was a child
Thinks this is normality.

One night the bomb drops near
Windows shatter, furniture splinters
The front door slides up the hall.
The child yawns and goes back to sleep

Joan Moakes 2005

'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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