BOMBING OF THE UNDERGROUND AIR RAID SHELTER LORDSHIP RECREATION GROUND
(KNOWN AS THE REC) DOWNHILLS ENTRANCE - EVENING 19TH SEPTEMBER 1940
TESTIMONY OF FAY BARBARA GRANT (nee SIMMONS)
I was born 20th February 1936. I lived with my parents, David and Gertrude Simmons, and two older brothers (Leslie and Edgar-Eddy) at 62 Downhills Park Road, Tottenham, N17. My parents were longstanding residents of the area, having moved into no. 62 in 1928, and knew many of their neighbours.
When the Shelter was opened in The Rec it was decided that my mother and I would go there to sleep, whereas my father and Eddy would sleep in the cupboard under the stairs of no. 62. I should explain that the cupboard under the stairs was considered the safest place in the house in the event of a direct hit by a bomb. My brother Leslie was already serving in the army in 1940 RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Cops) regiment, and was therefore not living at home.
Each evening my mother and I would go to the Shelter at approximately 6.30pm. My father would visit us around 10.00 at night and bring us a flask of cocoa. He would then return home to sleep and come back to collect us at around 6.30-7.00am the following morning.
The Shelter regulars like us - had their own special spot where they normally slept. When my mother and I arrived at the Shelter on the night 19th September our spot was already occupied by three nuns in black habits; my mother, out of respect for them, did not like to ask them to move so we sat opposite them.
The seating in the Shelter consisted of wooden slatted benches. So that I should not roll over and fall off during the night, my mother, using one of my fathers belts, would wind it under the bench and then between the space of the bench and the wall and then fasten the buckle. She would sit next to me and try to sleep as best she could.
On the night 19th September my father and Eddy were sleeping, as usual , under the stairs at no. 62. They later recalled that the house rocked and they felt the tremor.
After that they went back to sleep.
In the Shelter I was suddenly woken up by my mother screaming and trying frantically to pull me away from the wall but in her panic she could not undo the belt buckle which was holding me strapped to the bench. I was facing the wall which was painted blue and cream. It was split diagonally from top to bottom and was coming towards me.
I do not remember any more of what happened in the Shelter. However, I do remember coming to in an ambulance, hearing sirens and noise, but nothing more until waking up in hospital the following morning. The nurse in charge said I was a very good girl as I had let her wash me. I had been violently sick, I expect from shock. There was another child in the ward, a little boy around three, definitely younger than me and he would not let the nurse wash him. I think he was a survivor of the bombing.
Meanwhile my father had gone to collect us, as usual, in the morning to be confronted with Police, Firemen, Ambulances and to be told there had been a direct hit by a bomb which had lodged in the escape hatch and exploded and they were now digging out the bodies. My fathers reaction to this news can be imagined. He was further told that the survivors had been taken to various hospitals. Men, women and children were taken to different hospitals and he should tour the hospitals in an attempt to locate us.
Father rushed home, collected Eddy and, after visiting several hospitals found my mother in the Prince of Wales. (I always thought she was found in the North Middlesex but, according to Eddy it was certainly the Prince of Wales). Mother was hysterical, screaming, My little girl, my little girl. She was wearing a blue coat and hat, repeatedly. I had, in fact, been wearing a pale blue wool coat with a navy velvet collar and a pale blue matching poke bonnet. This is the outfit I had been sick over. My parents found me in the childrens ward of St. Annes Hospital. I still remember my mother coming into the ward her face scarlet and swollen from crying to three times its normal size.
My mother was so traumatised that she could not go back to no. 62 and for the next four months we lived with my mothers brother, wife and family; they had a large house in Stamford Hill.
Eventually we did return home to face the rest of the War. There was no trauma counselling in those days you just had to get on with it. About twenty five years later my mother began to suffer terrible from psychosomatic illness, directly we suspected, as a result of the bomb in the Shelter. She frequently said she knew people who had lost relatives in the Shelter but I cannot remember names being mentioned. She said the nuns who had been in our spot had been killed but thought only about 9 in all had been killed tragically this was a great underestimate. One thing she was adamant about was that all the bodies had not been recovered, but had been left in situ. She repeated this each time we went past the site.
I remember much of my childhood years, during the war the railings being removed from Downhills Park and all the gates from people's houses. We luckily had a wooden gate so it did not affect us. The old Water Tower up the Road, which was later used by the Home Guard around the balcony at the top from where you could see for miles.
My late mother had no inkling of the number of fatalities. As I have previously mentioned,she always said around 9 yet she was convinced there were bodies not removed and she always maintained this thought. I never placed much credence to this until I read the enclosed article in 'The Times@ Friday 24th July 2009 - but perhaps she was right all along! She also said she knew some of the victims but I cannot recall her mentioning any names.
I have never forgotten what happened and I never will !
Water Tower - Downhills Park Road