A CHILD OF THE BLITZ – TOTTENHAM LONDON

By Jim Hepting

 

The story of one child's experience of the Blitz and finally evacuation during the second World War.

 

My name is Jim. I was one of a family of 13 children, all born between 1923 and 1945. I was born in January 1934 and attended my first infant’s school in 1939. After attending there for a year I began to hear rumours from some of the teachers that we may all be evacuated at some stage, as a direct result of the declaration of war with Germany. Just before I was about to leave the school one afternoon I saw a big lorry drive up to the main gate. There were men on the back of the lorry in uniform, women also. They unloaded a massive silvery looking object into the playground. When we all arrived at school the following morning we were amazed to see a large silver balloon floating above the school. It was our first sight of what we later found out to be a barrage balloon, which was going to be a defence against the German airplanes that were expected to carry out air raids on London.

We all stood gazing at this massive balloon which was going to be a permanent feature in our playground, at least until it was sent soaring high into the sky with its thick wire cables holding it to the ground. It had three half round tail pieces on the back which were keeping it in one place. On the ground it was being controlled by several people, including woman, all in uniform. One day while we were all sitting in the classroom there was an almighty crash on the school roof as the balloon had blown out of control as it was being lowered in a strong wind.

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BARRAGE BALLOON - ACROSS ROOFTOPS OF LONDON

 

We all thought that a bomb had hit the school, as there were tiles and pieces of stonework all falling into the playground. I have never heard such a loud noise. I never felt too safe at all after that incident. The school was, Stamford Hill infant and junior school, Seven Sisters Road, Tottenham, London N15. That incident may well still be on record in the local town hall archives.

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One Monday morning when we were all in the assembly hall, our headmaster, Mr Crabb, informed us all that we may all have to be evacuated to the countryside if it were considered that London would be a main target for the Luftwaffe, The German airforce.

Months passed and there was no sign of German planes. My father had joined up as an Air Raid Warden, and my eldest brother joined up at 17 years of age into the Army. He eventually finished up in the Airborne division. Another brother joined the Merchant Navy. They both looked very smart in their uniforms, and I used to look forward to them coming home on leave. My father's Warden post was not far from our house and my mother used to take him some sandwiches and a jug of tea when he was on duty. I used to go and see him quite regularly. He was always playing cards with his other warden friends.

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Pictured Above: ARP Wardens Post– Original picture Bruce Castle Museum-Tottenham

Everything remained peaceful and quiet for the next few months. It was difficult to believe that we were at war at all. Then, one day, as we all sat at our desks in the school classroom we heard the air raid warning siren begin to wail.
We had heard it before, mainly when they were testing and practising in the event of an air raid.

 

This was for real, we all heard the intermittent drone of the German bombers high overhead on this particular day and the teachers herded us all into a concrete air raid shelter in the corner of the girl's playground. We sat in there and just listened. There seemed to be many bombers in the sky, but our school barrage balloon was not high enough at that stage to do any real harm. I will never forget the noise of those German planes, but fortunately all of their bombs fell pretty wide of our school. We could hear the strange whistle as the bombs screamed earthwards, then there came the explosions in the distance. This went on for approximately half an hour before we heard the sound of the all clear. That raid made me really frightened that day.

On the same night as that we were all indoors keeping ourselves amused listening to a speech by Adolf Hitler, on an old Cossor radio that had a very large battery in the back and an accumulator. I never knew what the accumulator did or what purpose it served. The radio was quite crackly but we all listened to the ranting and raving of this German, who they called the Fuhrer.

 

 

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Pre-War Cossor Radio and Accumulator

 

On this same night the air raid warning sounded again and after about 5 minutes we heard the dreaded drone of the German planes again. This was now about 10 o/clock at night and my mother rushed us all out into the back garden and into an Anderson air raid shelter made of corrugated iron. It was half buried in earth and was right at the back of the garden.
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Anderson Shelters being delivered to households in Tottenham -1939

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Typical Anderson Shelters being erected in Back Gardens

Everybody had them delivered months before the air raids, but we never really expected to have to use them. Being such a big family we couldn't all get in, so the neighbours either side of us lifted some of us over their fences and we stayed in their shelters until the all clear sounded. This night raid was more frightening to me as a child because I hated the dark anyway, and we could not have any form of light on because of the Blackout rules. It was pitch black, cold and wet in our shelter.
Then all of a sudden there was a massive explosion which sounded very near. The ground shook, and you could hear lumps of metal hitting the roofs of the nearby houses. It was shrapnel, fragments of the bombs flying everywhere as they exploded. All of a sudden my old mum started singing, and one of my brothers played the mouth organ, and we finished up a lot more cheerful then. The bombs just kept exploding everywhere, and you could see the sky light up with an orange red glow as the buildings and factories went up in flames. This went on night after night, after the initial daylight raids, so my mum decided that next time a night raid came we would get to the Manor House underground station, as it was safer there.

 

manor_house_sign.jpg (8134 bytes) We arrived there carrying old blankets and sheets and made our way down to the station platform. I will always remember those people already down there, just lying around on makeshift beds. One man was playing a piano accordion and many of them were singing along with him. People of all ages, and all backgrounds all joined in together. I recall lying awake all night wondering if a bomb was going to fall and bury us all alive. That was my biggest fear down the underground. During the day all the kids would be out searching for pieces of shrapnel from the bombs and anti-aircraft shells that were fired at the German planes all throughout the raid. But it was a waste of time because they were too high to hit. Barrage balloons were flying everywhere. The whole sky was covered with them.
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My mother had had now had enough of London and the terrible danger of remaining there during these raids so she finally decided that we would all be evacuated. I was sent to Cornwall, a little village named Goonhavern, where I lived with a very nice family, named Eplett. My mother went with the youngest children to Luton in Bedfordshire. My father stayed in London, as he had a job to do as an air raid warden. In fact we were scattered all over the country. One in Norfolk, another two in South Wales.
In late 1944, just before the war ended I returned to London. While I had been away a V2 rocket had decimated a whole area of the road I lived in, Tewkesbury Rd, Tottenham N15. My mother lost two of her best friends when a flying bomb had fallen on Broadwater Road, Tottenham. It is now the site of the Broadwater Road Estate. As I looked around at the bomb sites all over the place I was glad we had been evacuated from the worst of the Blitz.

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Our own house had every pane of glass smashed out due to the rocket blast, but they had been boarded up until the war damage companies got round to repairing everything. My Dad told me he had slept in the warden's post most nights when it was quiet. When all the family were re-united at the end of the war we all felt like strangers to each other as we had been split up for so long.

I am glad to say we all finished up safe and sound. Ours was a happy story, although it did take us all some time to re-adjust to our virtual slum surroundings after living in more comfortable homes during evacuation.

Jim  Hepting

 

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Background Image - The Blitz by Clive Branson (Tate Gallery)

 

Article prepared from original written by Jim Hepting - March 2018

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