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Monday, 27 March 2017

The Blitz

The Blitz

It’s well to remember that most of these stories take place with the war as a backdrop, and to acknowledge that these war years were not all chocolate bars, trains and Downton Abbey footman.  

It’s hard to forget the BLITZ of 1940 (from the German word Blitzkrieg meaning a violent surprise offensive by massed air forces).  That was the period when Hitler let loose his mighty Luftwaffe over the skies of London.   For sure it was a surprise and it was definitely violent! 

If you really want to know more about this time then a little GOOGLE search will get you all manner of serious and detailed information. My stories will be less detailed and will be merely based on my memories. 

Suffice for me to say that Londoners are a hardy bunch and our family was no exception
It might have been at that time or it could have been later when the government realised that perhaps we needed a little protection from these heavenly handouts!  As a consequence brick shelters were erected on streets.  If you had a grassy patch behind your house you had an Anderson Shelter installed. It was half sunk into the ground and built of curved sheets of steel.  In a nice dry environment these would have been a great idea. See picture! 

England however does not fit that description and being flooded out was a regular occurrence.

If, like us, you had a concrete yard with no grass that could be dug up then you were the happy recipient of a brick surface shelter with a concrete roof.  Flooding was not such an issue for these – the rain ran in one door and out the other.  The main problem with these was the workmanship; bad construction and substandard mortar.  Some of them collapsed without even smelling a bomb!

Now that you've seen the outside here's a peek at the cozy inside:

It may be worth remembering that our particular shelter is featured in a couple of upcoming stories; one that involves LS and a set of dentures, another that shows the happy go lucky play of all three siblings.

As a family we were very happy to have this shelter because it did double, sometimes triple duty.  For Mum it was a storage shed for items that she really did not know what to do with. For LS, LB and LLB it was a playroom both inside and on the roof.  I found it to be a quiet retreat for reading a book. One thing I do remember however is that it was never ever used to shelter us from bombs!  From my recollection the shelter of choice for us children was under the kitchen table!

So to get back to the BLITZ:  Saturday, September 7th 1940 was a typical London day – CLOUDY!   Londoners were nervous and on edge.  France had fallen and the threat of a German invasion hung heavily in the air.

It’s been said that if Hitler had chosen this time to send his troops across the Channel they would have been met by the Home Guard and the ARP!  The Home Guard was a group of older men who were too old to join the army. (They were nicknamed "Dad's Army".  I think there was a BBC television show called this at one time.)
The ARP stood for the Air Raid Patrol.  They had no uniforms but they had helmets for their heads and some other interesting equipment that can be seen HERE. Generally, what they did was to keep looking at the sky to see if enemy planes were coming over.  Their other big job was to run up and down the streets in the evening yelling at people to close the drapes so that no light could be seen from the sky. It’s not difficult to imagine that if these groups had come head to head with Hitler’s Panzer divisions I for one would probably be speaking German today!

But, instead of that, Hitler decided to soften-up the Londoners before parachuting his Panzers.  Between five and six o'clock that Saturday evening, just as my Dad was about to tuck into his sausages and mash, prior to his pint at the local, the sky became black with almost 1000 bombers and fighter airplanes as they flew up the Thames estuary toward London where they dumped bomb after bomb after bomb on the city below.

For 57 consecutive nights, from September 7th until November 2nd 1940 the bombs rained down!  In London 43,000 people were killed, 51,000 seriously injured and 88,000 slightly injured.

Many houses on our street were completely demolished, but our family was very lucky, no one was injured and no one died. But I was scared. 
This occuured in BALHAM - which is on the south side of Thames - close to where we lived.
Every night, like a good little girl I would say my prayers and beg God to kill Hitler.  Each morning I would go outside where I would see scattered all around large and small pieces of shrapnel, (pieces of metal from the bombs that had been dropped) strewn all over the sidewalk. After the fire blitz, when incendiary bombs had been used, there were pieces of charred and burnt objects floating down from the sky. We kids collected the shrapnel and even vied with our friends as to who had the biggest or best looking piece.  Apart from collecting shrapnel the war also influenced the games we played. 

There was no T.V. to watch so a great deal of time was spent outside, running and jumping. But the games that are worth telling about involved imagination and . . . well, I’ll leave it at that. These games will be the subject of an upcoming post.

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