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I was aged 7 when the war started and lived with my parents in Barnfield Road Plumstead. I was attending Bloomfield Road School and I think my teacher was a Miss Kenny.

Barnfield Road was a long stretch of road with terraced two storied houses, streetlights were gas and every evening a man would ride his bicycle down the road lighting the gas mantle.

The first indication of war came just after Christmas 1939. My mother had taken me shopping in Plumstead High street to grocery shop called "Perks" (I think) when the air raid sirens sounded. I remember my mother crying as did a number of other women. It did not mean much to me at the time.

At the end of Barnfield Road there lived the local greengrocer man. He would make a daily round of the various streets on his horse and cart selling vegetables. He was I recall a likeable man and he would let me ride on the cart with him for the last hundred yards or so of his round. His name was Mr. Alf Maskell. It was from him that I learned the meaning of war and its implications.

In the first months of 1940 a lone German bomber flew low over the area and dropped a land mine on Barnfield Road. The explosion destroyed more than a dozen houses killing many people and damaging many houses that became uninhabitable.

My Dad managed to salvage some household furniture but most of our belongings were lost in the rubble. The AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) covered most of the salvaged goods with tarpaulins for collection later.

As you can imagine schools were closed during air raids and children's education was greatly disrupted.

We moved to a house in Burrage Road right next to a Church and opposite a Petrol Station. A month or so after moving in were again bombed this time the house caught fire and was destroyed taking our salvaged furniture from Barnfield Road with it.

Eventually we moved to Combeside No 6 a nice new house with a big garden and a nice ornamental iron fence at the front of the house. This was later taken by the council along with mothers aluminium saucepans for the war effort.

By this time I was attending Timbercroft School. My teacher was a Mr Rosewarne and I remember a Mr and Mrs Stanley and a Miss Nunn.

My immediate friends at school were, Douggie Hewlett, Jimmie Crabbe, George Gray, Billy Benfield and two delightful girls Violet Bishop and Barbara Potts.

At Combeside my friends were Douggie Brown, Arthur Elsdon, Kenny Tribe, Joan Bowman, Dorothy MacDonald and John Spray whose dad was the local barber with a shop in Swingate Lane next to the fish and chip shop

In her pamphlet The Ascension, Plumstead from Roman Times, Edith Calver writes:

"When war broke out in 1939 preparations were made to evacuate the children, so when raids started these plans were put into practice. All schools were closed. Timbercroft School became a First Aid Post in one school, Auxiliary Fire Station in another, the third was equipped with mattresses to accommodate those folk who were bombed out"

It was about this time that I ran foul of the school authorities. The roof of Timbercroft School was criss crossed with cat walks for fire watching and fire control. It was too exciting to resist and a group of us climbed onto the roof just to explore. We were apprehended and each received 6 of the best on the seat of our pants.

As the school was closed and a number of children were not evacuated Father Cox of the Ascension Church, adjacent to the school, took these into the vicarage where he and his wife Nora ran a temporary school for the under 11s.

It is difficult to explain the emotional strain that these events imposed on both children and parents and indeed our teachers. All suffered some loss which affected their relationsship with us children. Mr Rosewarne lost a son in the Battle of Britain and we were asked to be particularly good and kind to him.

During the lulls in the bombing we attended school and teachers endeavoured to make our daily attendance as normal as possible. We would have our daily bottle of milk and in the afternoon we would be given a large dose of malt and codliver oil. Some of us would have a cooked lunch supplied by the kitchen at the Slade School.

We suffered daily visits from the Germans and at night also which made for very tired children at school the next day. Some of us were in the choir at the Ascension Church and during one week in the spring of 1941 we had 90 funerals. This sounds impossible but you must realise that because whole families were killed together, they were buried together. The Billinghurst were one family of 4 children, parents and grand parents who were killed. The Taylor family were holding a 21st birthday party with about 24 guests, all died in a bombing raid.

Friends missing from school, empty desks it was sad not knowing if a friend had died or had been evacuated.

As one school closed due to damage we were often moved with our teacher to another school. I attended Plum Lane School for several weeks and also the Slade.

Eventually the bombing was so bad that I was evacuated to Builth Wells in Wales. I attended the village school until late 1944 and returned to Plumstead and Timbercroft.

I completed my education at Ancona Road Secondary School.

However, there were lulls in the bombing and life went on. Pupils of Timbercroft did their bit for the war effort in a number of ways. Mr and Mrs Stanley organised the paper salvage effort. We were tasked with collecting from our community, waste paper and old pots and pans. The incentive to do well was a red label issued by our teachers which bore a military rank. We boys strived to advance our rank by pestering neighbours for paper and pans. Most of the class became brigadiers but the girls were not so much involved in this activity. We were told that our tin cans and pots would go to making a spitfire or a hurricane which impressed us boys greatly.

Our other contribution was the school allotment. Go out of the main gate, turn left and walk down Thornhill Avenue to Swingate Lane. Directly opposite was the sports ground. A section of this had been dug up and the pupils planted a variety of vegetables. What became of the fruits of our labour I cannot remember?

As the war progressed the school, apart from the sandbags at all the windows, and the catwalks on the roof, returned to almost a normal routine. There were still raids and by now we were being bothered by V1s, the doodlebugs. These soon became V2s and were frightening because there was no warning of their coming.

As late as 1945 a V2 devastated a dozen or more homes and families in Landstead Road.


Bill Emerson

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