“During the War I did my bit, apart from my job as an instrument maker, I got dragged into the local Dad's Army. Our unit was on Hampstead Heath Fairground, where we had a battery of rocket projectors, called Z battery. It was manned by soldiers in the Army during the day, but gradually it was taken over by the Home Guard every night. We had to turn up there and man it. The projectors each fired two rockets which burst in the sky. There were sixty-four of them and each one fired two four-foot-six inch rockets. We set the fuses and they went off like a normal rocket. A normal anti-aircraft shell, rocket propelled.
That was quite interesting but I got brassed off with it, so I applied for another unit and I was transferred to an Infantry unit at Kentish Town. Having spent a week down at Walton on the Naze, on a course for this rocket thing, I had had to do a load of square bashing and I was quite good at it I suppose. I had order these great big, burly railway men about - engine drivers and shunters, and carriage and wagon men. I was a young man in my early twenties and they were in their late forties and fifties, too old for military service - and I was bossing them about like nobody's business.
My family were living in Gordon House Road and my girl-friend, as she was then, lived at No 1. Behind the garages opposite our house, was a garden. John Lines, the wallpaper factory, built some shelters there for their workers. The factory was doing war-work, but it had been built as a wallpaper factory. There were several wallpaper factories in the area. Shand Kydd were in Highgate Road. John Lines was the modern one, half way between Gospel Oak Station and Highgate Road.
The shelter was just a pipe, like a small concrete sewer pipe, half buried in the ground. It was about as safe as a paper bag, if a bomb dropped on it. We had an air-raid shelter in our garden, but we felt the need for companionship. Anyway, we asked John Lines if we could use their air-raid shelter at night. They agreed so we all went over there.
It was cold and it was wet. We slept on sheets of brown paper, wrapped up in blankets. I used to come home from work and walk up the Highgate Road, because the buses had stopped and the sirens were going, so I walked from Kentish Town Tube. I had no protection. I just carried my little gas mask in a canvas bag. No tin hat until I went into the Home Guard and then I used to carry that around with me. I would get home and my mother would be almost standing on the doorstep. The sirens had gone, the guns were going bang, bang and you could hear the bombs whistling down. "Someone is getting it tonight," we used to say.
She'd be waiting on the doorstep with the bedrolls - bundles of her bedding and mine and a small bag with everything in it - life insurance policies, any valuables, letters, documents, ration books - definitely ration books - and we'd dive across into the shelter. In there was my girl friend, who later became my wife, and her family and all the other people who lived in the road. My father-in-law, as he later came to be, used to stand outside with his next door neighbour. They were chums and they might nip up to the local pub for a quick jar. Anything to get away from the shelter. That shelter was really terrible.
One night it happened. They dropped a bomb in Gordon House Road. Everybody was shaken up and the fire watcher from the factory came into the shelter and he said, "Somebody in the road has got some damage. He didn't say, "It's yours." He said, "Somebody has got some damage."
Slowly we ventured out to see this massive flame. They had dropped a bomb in Gordon House Road, just outside our house, No 11. It wasn't a big bomb, but it was enough. Underneath the road there, along Gordon House Road and Mansfield Road, was a massive gas main. About a 24" cast iron pipe, plus a water main, plus the sewage. Plus the cause of the explosion ignited the gas and the sewage and a great flame shooting sixty feet in the air. No exaggeration! Well above the tops of the houses and nobody could get anywhere near to turn it off.
The front rooms of our house were all blown in and the front door was hanging on one hinge. It was a semi-basement house. Downstairs was our living room, kitchen and scullery, with our bedrooms on the first floor. The basement was awash with water. It wasn't just plain water, it was sewage and it was revolting. And my poor Mum she sat there and she cried. She did cry.
After a while my Dad walked down to the Mansfield Road School which was a special fire station - and said, "Can you come up and pump our house out?" So they pulled their little children's pump up the road and pumped our place out. Although it stank, at least it was something like dry. The place was full of all sorts of horrible muck and we had to get rid of the carpet, which was absolutely sodden. There were stains right up the side of the suite and a tide mark all round the wall.
Gradually the hole in the road got smaller and smaller. Young men were sent by the local authorities to repair it. They'd come into our place on a wet day and my Mother would invite them in to sit by the fire and have their sandwiches. She'd make them a cup of tea. They would be sitting by our fire, drying their wet feet and one of them would say, "Well I shan't be seeing you tomorrow Mum. I've got my calling up papers." So he went off to War and some other poor lad would be roped in to repair this hole in the road. It took months and months to repair. We suffered that and got on with life again. It was just tough that you had copped it.
Some time later we were having the Blitz rather badly and my father was driving his bus right across London. One night when my Dad happened to be home, not working, he said, “I tell you what. We won't go across the road to the shelter. Let's go down to the Mansfield Road School. They've got the Fire Station there. They've got a smashing room where it is all sand-bagged up and safe. And we'll get a cup of tea and have a game of darts and a bit of a social evening. And you can lie on the bunks. There's rows and rows of bunks." It was a shelter of sorts, but I don't remember many people going there. It was for the auxiliary firemen - volunteers, not the regular firemen.
Dad said "Let's go down to the School. It's more interesting down there. Decent beds to lie on instead of lying on the floor", which is fairly logical but I wasn't too keen. We got down as far as the little tunnel part of the railway bridge.
“No," I said. "I'm not going. I'm going back to the original. I want to be with Doris." She was my girl friend. So we all turned round, my sister Jean, my Mum, myself and my Dad coming up behind. We all hung together like lemmings. My Dad wasn't really angry. Just a bit peeved that his bright idea had fallen flat. So we went back to the little shelter behind the factory. We went down about four steps - less than a metre. The rest of the shelter stuck out, with just a thin layer of earth on top of it. You could have dropped a pencil from a great height and it would have gone right through and stuck us in the eye.
We had just got to these few steps when there was an almighty ‘Whoosh!’ The entrance to the shelter was a flap that lifted up as a sort of gate. You lifted it up and it flapped down behind you. The flap flew up in the air. My mother and sister were in front and fortunately my father was behind and he had his bundle of rolled up blankets on his shoulder. The flap landed on the side of his head and the blankets took the complete force of the flap as it came down again. We got swept into the entrance on top of all the other people who were sitting there minding their own business, reading the paper, playing draughts, playing chess - whatever took their fancy. We all got tumbled up one end, piled one on top of the other. Nobody was hurt, just shaken. There was just this one ‘whoosh’ and then the bang, and it was a bang and a half I can tell you.
What the devil was that?" we all said. Everyone composed themselves but were sitting very shaken, very frightened. We knew something serious had happened. People said, “Its this,“ and “Its that”. Don't forget there was still a big hole outside my house, No 11. We had all experienced that.
Then the Air Raid Warden came in. He asked, "Is everybody all right?"
"No we are all right.” OK, but shaken . “ What was that?” and “Where was it?"
"A landmine has dropped on the school. Two killed and some injured."
If I hadn't said, "No. I'm going back to be with Doris," there would have been four more possibly that night. I think it saved my life - all our lives.
The school was absolutely blown out - right through the middle. A landmine, which was as big as a pillar-box, came down in a parachute and blew it all out - all the houses in Mansfield Road, about the Gospel Oak area, and in Oak Village. The window frames were blown out and the tiles stripped off. People were cut by showers of glass. I don’t know if there were casualties in the houses, but there were certainly among the firemen in the school.
Mansfield Road on the bombsight.org website.
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The Bomb Damage on Mansfield Road
Jean, my sister, got married and I got married soon after. As a result Doris, my wife as she had become, went to work in the John Lines wallpaper factory, in Gordon House Road, where we had been sheltering. When we were married and because she was married to me and I was at home, Doris was entitled to take a job locally, providing she did work of national importance. They wanted her to be a porter on the railway station, but she did not want to carry heavy baggage. She said, "I'm a tailoress. What can I do to make army equipment?"
They said, "Oh yes. You can go to John Lines, in Gordon House Road. Do you know where that is?" So she said, "I should think so. I live at number 1."
The factory had been turned over to making army equipment, gaiters, backpacks, side packs and so on. Before she got the job there she was unmarried and had been sent all the way to the Enfield Small Arms factory, which is way beyond Enfield, nearer to Waltham Abbey. So she fell out of bed straight into her job. Lovely.
We lived with my parents in 11 Gordon House Road. Then we moved next door into a couple of rooms and then we moved round to Oak Village. There was Jean, my sister, with one child and another on the way, and Doris with a baby on the way. We hadn't had an air raid for a long time and one night the siren sounded. The planes came over and they gave us stick. They dropped incendiary bombs all over.
My Dad and I were standing by the front door. Bombs were falling and a building round the corner, by the station, was burning fiercely. I said, "Let’s get inside, away from the blast." We stood away from the front door because it had a glass panel. We had seen fire bombs land in the street, on the road and on the roofs of houses and naturally we thought we must have copped a couple. I said to my Dad, "Let's look!"
We rushed round the house. I ran upstairs to my Mother' bedroom and there was this glowing phosphorous, burning away in the bed. The bomb had broken off the side of the bed and almost collapsed it. Only the spring had saved us. The bomb was burning away merrily in the bedclothes and the room was full of feathers from the eiderdown. My mother's bedroom was upstairs at the back, with one of those old fashioned steel springs on the bed and the incendiary bomb was trapped in the wire of the mattress. It was about the size of a large canister of spray paint that you can buy at a DIY shop. Imagine the coloured top. Invert it and that would be a solid piece of steel which was quite weighty, so that instead of staying on the roof, it had penetrated into the house.
It had come through the roof and the ceiling and landed in my Mother's bed. If it had gone right through, Doris, my wife, and my sister Jean were sheltering under the table in the living room below and the table top was about as thick as a card table. It would have landed between them and it would have burst. It would have exploded and covered them in inflammable material. They would certainly have been killed. It was the spring in my Mum's bed that saved their lives.
I said to my Dad, "Quick. I'll go and get the dustbin." I rushed downstairs into the garden, grabbed the metal dustbin, shook the rubbish on the ground and rushed into the house with it. We rolled the bedding up carefully in a bundle, tightly, shoved it in the bin, put the lid on it tight. It couldn't burn because the oxygen was taken away. We shut the lid on it and it suffocated.
Very, very, very dangerous. It could have spat at us at any time. Phosphorous don't just burn you, it burns a hole in you. It would take the skin off your face right through to the back of your neck.
In the meantime, my Mum was wandering up the road in my Dad's old carpet slippers, my wife, heavily pregnant, my sister heavily pregnant and with a baby in her arms, rushed up the road to the top of Oak Village, which was Lamble Street and Elaine Grove, and went into a surface shelter. Four walls of brick, with a concrete top. It was blast proof, but there was no safety if a bomb dropped. It would just have collapsed and flattened you. But we survived. Some of us did.”
The Bombing of Mansfield Road School
“After the bombing, Mansfield Road School, was a dangerous structure, so the building was completely removed and they built a bungalow Junior School, but that was later. Immediately after the War it was a ruin. We had a big bonfire to celebrate the victory. I was in my twenties. The big pair of wooden gates had been taken off their hinges and left to one side. I suppose they thought they might one day rebuild the school. The kids broke up the gates and chucked the pieces on the bonfire.”
“They were box gates. There was a strong wooden framework with tongue and groove boarding on both sides. The frame was made and boxed in to prevent climbing from both sides.
Some boys came up and said, “Look what we have found.”. Inside the box gate they had found a piece of paper saying:- “This is the day when the Germans are supposed to invade us. We are repairing this gate and expecting the parachutists to land, but so far we have not seen any sign of them.”
We were still doing these mundane things in 1940 at the time of Dunkirk, and they had put the note inside the gate as a record.”