Memories of Ely in Wartime
by Valerie Lofts
When the bombing was heavy at home in Morden on the edge of London, my parents arranged for my grandmother to take myself, my younger brother, my cousin and her mother to stay in Ely with grandma’s sister Laurie Stockbridge and her sister in law, Kate Wood. Laurie was nearly blind so these two ladies shared a house in Fieldside. Many years ago, Laurie and her husband had run the Club Hotel in Ely Market Place - Kate still kept a small shop at 37 Fore Hill, (now demolished).
Kate’s shop was a haberdashers - she sold haberdashery, bric-a-brac, hats and eggs! It was a real treasure-trove for us children; she had many friends who used to “pop in”.
These two ladies made us very welcome, and gave us a large double bed to share (2 Adults and 3 children). We used to lie in bed at night and watch the planes land at Waterbeach Aerodrome - they were flying very low with lights on as they went over.
Grandma and Auntie Doris took us out for many walks around Ely and we have many memories of Cherry Hill (rolling down it as many children still do), climbing on the canon on the Cathedral Green, running down by the river. Visiting Tom Wood, who had an orchard behind the Market Square - fruit trees with blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes underneath. Therefore, despite rationing food was never short.
Kate still had milk delivered from a churn on a small handcart. Milk was measured in a metal measure and poured into a china jug that you had to take into the road and wait for it to be filled. Ely was very peaceful, despite their being a war on, I suppose the adults noticed the shortages far more than we did as children.
Living on the edge of London/Surrey, we suffered quite a lot of bombings around us, but luckily no direct hits. As a child, I spent many nights in our air-raid shelter, a brick one in the garden. It was quite cold in the winter so we had a paraffin heater and hot water bottles, and a thermos flask filled with hot drinks in case we were woken up in the night. My mother did a great job feeding us; we never went hungry even though food was rationed. She had a collection of Wartime recipes that the Ministry of Food printed in the newspapers. Dried egg powder was used when eggs were short; food was very precious and never wasted. On the corner of our road was a metal bin, all our leftover food was collected and used to feed the pigs - it made a good swill when boiled.
I can remember collecting rose hips and the Food Office sending them away to make rose-hip syrup which was nutritious for babies. Recently, in a newspaper article it said that despite rationing the wartime diet was healthier than most peoples is now. Does this make you stop and think!
My War Time Experiences
By Ethel Waddelow Taylor
At the beginning of the Second World War, I was aged 19, and living in Wakefield, Yorkshire. I joined the ARP (Air Raid Precautions), as a First Aid Worker. At any hour of the night, I had to report to the Depot every time the air raid warnings sounded. I went on my bike with a dimmed light because of the black out restrictions. Sometimes I stayed at the Depot all night manning the telephone for air raid warnings. On one occasion, we had a call out to a house, which had been hit by a bomb, and it turned out to be the home of one of the men who attended. His two children had been killed.
In January 1942, I enlisted for the ATS. As I was not in a reserved occupation, I could have been conscripted anyway and the next intake included conscripts. My army record does not include anything as exciting as fighting in the trenches or going on bombing raids. My experience was less dramatic but may give another view of the war.
I did my training at York and was issued with my uniform at the QM Stores. The uniform was a good fit but the pullover was very much over sized and the Khaki director style bloomers were voluminous. I returned to the stores to ask for a smaller size of the large items but was told they could only make an exchange if clothes were worn out.
Our first experience of drill was beside our beds in the barracks but as it was not fit to have it out of doors because of the icy surface. I was posted to London and we were taken through London in a freezing open bus to our billet in a grand five-storey house just off Gloucester Road. They dropped everybody off at all points round London and I had to endure the cold all the way as I was the last off.
I was employed as a clerk in the Admin department of LAA Records in the Ministries, London, near the Tower of London. We traveled between Gloucester Road and Aldgate every day with a workman’s ticket for sixpence which was half price and available only before eight o’clock. We were half an hour too early for the office so we went into a little cafe opposite and spent the sixpence we’d saved on the fare, on a cup of coffee.
The blitz was over when I got to London, but I had a taste of enemy action when we arrived one morning to find all the windows of our fifth floor office had been blown out and papers scattered everywhere.
Another experience was when I arrived back at the billet to find that a bomb had blasted it. It was absolutely deserted and I could not understand why it was so empty and why there was not anyone to help me clear up, though that seemed an impossible task. It was some time later that I learned that it was forbidden to enter. I think another house was made available.
Later in the war came the doodlebugs, which were pilot less missiles sent over London and their engines cut out before they fell and did their damage. At first we could judge roughly how far away, they would fall after the engine cut out, but then it got a bit tricky and you could not anticipate where they would drop. We were on one occasion sheltering in someone’s garage and one fell quite near. I had the experience of the air being sucked out of my lungs and in a minute or so I was able to breathe freely again, but it was a frightening experience.
We were called back to the billet urgently one day because there had been a fire. We got there to find out that it was only a kitchen curtain, which had caught fire from a gas ring. A more serious fire was in the house in which we lived. I was duty NCO and had to sound reveille. I awoke to the smell of burning and found that the fireplace in the recreation room next to my bedroom was well and truly alight. I awoke everybody and they set about pouring water on to the fire, which was spreading from the fireplace along the floorboards. Later I discovered that the girls on the floor below whose bunks were immediately under the burning fireplace, had stayed in bed covered with their gas capes because the water was dripping on to them.
Our billet in the Gloucester Road area was near to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park where the noise of the ante aircraft guns was very disturbing. We had rout marches in Kensington Gardens and drilled in the square near our billets. I had to an “about turn” command and just as I shouted my loudest, a motor bike roared round the corner. On half of the squad heard, the command but the other half did not hear it for the noise. The result was I had half a squad doing the "about turn" and coming back and the other half going straight on. What does a poor sergeant do?
Now for the family history bit, I always admired the Canadian Red Cross girls going around London. They were always so smart and had such good quality uniforms. I was to find out that my second cousin Edna Gorman was amongst them. My mother had told me that a cousin of my father had emigrated to Canada, with a large family, but she had no details. It was when I found my second cousin Ann Waddelow-Barker that I learned that their families had kept in touch and she had a picture of the family. They were Ernest William and Edith Waddelow with six sons and one daughter, Edna Waddelow with Six sons and one daughter, Edna. Ann had an address and I made contact with them. At that time, we were planning a visit to Canada and Edna and her family was planning to come over here. So we were able to exchange visits. It was then that I learned that Edna had been in London during the war in the services and that she visited Little Downham and district and met relatives. They met so many relatives and had so many cups of tea that Edna said they were tea-logged.
We had a few perks such as free tickets to concerts in the Albert Hall and to theatre shows. We had supplies of cigarettes and chocolate when they were scarce in Civvy Street.
In the office was a young man named Jimmy who was in the Pay Corps at Leicester and attached to LAA Records. He spent hi time trouble shooting. He was always coming to me to sort out his queries. I married Jimmy on the 24th November 1945. Yes his name was really Claud.
I was de-mobbed in the Spring of 1946 and continued working for LAA Records as a civilian.
Some memories of life in Little Downham during WWII
By Ann Waddelow-Barker
This included my first memory at the age of 3 years old, with WWII looming. I was in my pushchair out walking with my parents who were discussing my dad being unable to go into the forces due to him having asthma. And that he was to go to Northumberland to do open cast coal mining, which he carried on during most of his working life.
My father made wooden shutters for our downstairs windows because of the blackout. Life went on much the same in the village except that most of the men went to war leaving the women to keep the home fires burning.
We had to take our gas masks to school each day. At school too, we had to practice going into the air raid shelters at regular intervals, which were very dark scary places for a small girl, especially when we had to wear our gas masks.
I remember having to take a jam jar to school every once in a while. We were given a chocolate powder apparently donated by the Australian people. Our parents welcomed this because we had food rationing.
I remember going to the village grocery shop in the village owned by Mr. Jim Garner, to get our weekly rations. Sugar was weighed up in thick blue paper bags. The cheese was cut on a board with wire to cut the tiny piece we were allowed. Biscuits were weighed out of large square tins. Because of the rationing, Easter eggs were not available, so my grandmother Waddelow made us each and egg. I do not know what ingredients were used, but they tasted a bit like marzipan.
The butcher called at our house with our weekly joint. I remember mum complaining sometimes that the meat was tough and our butcher being jovial used to say mum had cremated it.
On Market days, mum put me on the first bus to Ely to get in a queue at the butchers to get sausages that were not on ration. My mother came on the next bus. It was very cold standing in the queue, which was very long.
The head teacher at the infants’ school was Miss Knight and one other teacher was Miss Woolnough. They also ran a girls club, on night a week. We made string dishcloths and other small items and then played games. At Christmas, we were taken to a pantomime. We had a summer sale of work to sell our dishcloths etc to pay for it, which was always looked forward to.
In May, we danced the Maypole on the Vicarage lawn. When I went to the top school in the village, the head teachers were Mr. & Mrs. Crabb. My first teacher was Miss Pate - a homely little lady.
Then of course the evacuees came. I became very friendly with a girl who was billeted next door to us. Her name was Joyce Gibbons. I have tried to contact her, unsuccessfully, because I would like to know how her life turned out. She came from Bethnal Green. My grandmother also had an evacuee named Raymond Hadley.
Our family all lived in the village, so we had lots of support from them. We did have some scary times too. When the enemy aeroplanes went over, we were warned by the siren going off, and when the danger had passed a different siren signaled the all clear. Mother got my brothers and me up during the night if the siren went. Once we were walking home from my grandmother’s in the pitch dark - no streetlights or torches could be used - we were nearly home and a bomb was dropped in the fen area of the village. It was a blinding light first - then the explosion. It spun us around and we landed up in a ditch with water. We were terribly frightened.
Most peoples windows were shattered and after this people put crosses of masking tape on their windows. We found out later that the plane was British and had to let a bomb go. The pilot parachuted out and survived. The children all went to the bombsite and gathered some of the glass that some people carved rings with it. The ladies wanted the parachute to make undies. I was nine when the war ended. My mother and Aunts were instrumental in arranging a street party to celebrate the end of the war, and everyone was so happy.
A South Coast Air Raid - 1941
By Stan Langley
Extract from an issue of the Isle of Wight County Press dated 15 March 1941 that describes activities of enemy aircraft in the area, including that which concerns the Wadlow family.
SOUTH COAST AIR RAIDS.
Enemy aircraft were very active over a South Coast area on Sunday night. The incoming machines were subjected to an exceptionally heavy barrage of gunfire…
On Monday night there was another heavy raid on the Portsmouth area, but watchers had the satisfaction of seeing two of the raiders brought down in flames by intense anti-aircraft fire…
On Tuesday night the immunity from casualties referred to above unfortunately ended when a stone-built residence near a South Coast village received a direct hit from a heavy calibre bomb and was completely demolished. An incoming raider was caught in the beams of searchlight for a few moments. It then circled round and dropped four bombs, probably intended for the searchlight post. But one struck the house, in which there were six people, the owner (Mr. D.L. Wadlow), his wife and 10-year-old daughter Pamela, two officers billeted with them, and an officer’s batman. Mrs. Wadlow and her little daughter and one of the officers were killed, the other officer and the batman were injured, and Mr. Wadlow had a miraculous escape. After he recovered from the shock of the explosion he found himself actually under the floor boards, and scrambled out of the ruins of his home with nothing worse than a few scratches. He helped release the injured officer, and then assisted in the search for the victims made by a demolition party and soldiers. The tragedy has cast a gloom over the village, where Mrs. Wadlow’s charming generosity has been deeply appreciated, and profound sympathy is felt with Mr. Wadlow. He and his late wife have been extremely kind to soldiers stationed in the locality. They had provides accommodation for a canteen and given comforts to the local A.R.P. post. Mr. Wadlow is one of the A.R.P. wardens. The family formerly resided at Northlands, Cowes, and Mrs. Wadlow was commandant of the Cowes V.A.D. for a time. Viewing the wreckage of the house, it seems impossible that anyone should have escaped from it alive.”
The probate for Evelyn Wadlow shows that she died on 11th March 1941. She was aged 38 according to GRO indexes and her daughter was aged 12.
In 1990 Michael Wadlow sent me a note concerning the Will of Donald Leslie which mentions that he owned Bakehouse Cottage & Sunnyside, Yafford, including adjoining land which consisted of combined gardens, derelict bungalow and thatched cottage destroyed by fire in 1941. Also a property called Shirleys Farm. When originally enquiring into the wartime incident, I posted an enquiry on the Rootsweb Isle of Wight mailing list appealing for information. A lady who lived in Birmingham e-mailed me as follows: “I was born and bred on the IOW. I cannot help with research but felt I must write as I remember this family from when I was a child… we would go for walks around the Yafford area and were sometimes invited in to see the big pond with the fish in. I remember a big house and large garden beautifully kept and I can still see it in my mind. I rang my mother as we lived in Shorwell, but she has now moved to another village… She says his wife and daughter were killed through bombing if she remembers correctly. I thought there was a Mrs. Wadlow… did he marry again?” The time period referred to in the e-mail is the 1950’s. Donald Leslie’s second marriage was in 1945. Stan L. Langley.
17 Sep 2005.
War Memories in Wakefield
By Dora Snowden
In starting my memoirs of the war, I remember one day in 1938 on our way to school. Two friends and I were saying what we would do if we got hold of Hitler. As it was a dull, damp day we had our umbrellas with us and we decided we would use them on this German upstart. Maybe there would not have been a war in 1939 if we had used them as we threatened.
Then we came to September the 3rd, 1939 and on that fine Sunday morning, 11 o’clock came and the announcement on Radio to say we were now at war. The first thing that happened was the sirens sounded and a lone Boy Scout was standing at the top of the crescent and another road junction. What he was doing we do not know and how long he stayed I do not remember. After that life continued as normal for some time.
After Dunkirk, I remember going to a local Pub to see and cheer the Hampshire Regiment on parade there, or at least those who had been lucky enough to get off the beaches. They had been brought to Yorkshire because; we were told the Top Brass was afraid that had they gone home, that after the trauma of the retreat they might have deserted. The Officers in charge then found homes when men could not be billeted, we did have a spare bedroom so we had two I cannot remember how long for but I remember seeing the kit they had with them. It was rather rusty on the metal things and it was dusty. However, looking back, I think they had been lucky to get back with so much.
At school we had a few evacuees in our class for a while, but they did not seem have stayed for long. We also had a wooden hut and some soldiers stayed there. We were told we had not to go up there but there was a piece of equipment shrouded in tarpaulin, which looked very much like a searchlight. I always liked to see when we had an air raid that our searchlight was up. Now I think how stupid to have a search light right alongside a school.
We had Air Raid shelters delivered by the council and where there was no man in the house the council sent workmen to dig out the soil and put up the shelter. The only thing was that we had a very deep seem of pure clay. In the winter the shelter filled with water and it did not clear so the council came and emptied all the ones that had this problem and cemented half way up leaving a small area in the floor to allow the water to seep away... if it would. We made it rather cozy in there, Mother had a padded chair and I had a bed on a large packing case. A candle was placed in a plant pot with another as a top and this gave out some heat. After some months, Mother dug up the front lawn and used the turfs to make a barricade across the front of the door way to stop any blasts that may come that way. We fortunately did not have to many bombs in our area, the concentration was for Leeds and Sheffield but we did have some.
One I remember passed right over our shelter and Mother was holding the Shelter door, I could hear the door rattle, she was shaking so much. I tried to console her by saying “don’t worry mum, it has gone over us”. That one had landed in a garden and buried it self under the shelter of that house. The family, who would have been in there had gone to the cinema that evening and because it was winter, it was not found until some weeks later. A metal ring was found at the point of entry and was reported to the A.R.P, and the rest of the bomb was found and made safe. The shell of the bomb was placed in the Bull Ring and people put coins inside for the War Effort.
Another bomb fell on some houses and that ended in some deaths. The sad thing was that one of the men in the rescue party lived in the house damaged, which was very bad luck in that case.
On Sunday evening there had been no air raid warning and a stick of bombs was dropped along the railway that goes from Wakefield to Ossett. The Target was the Horbury Wagon Works that is now Bombardier Works, making engines but then was making Tanks. In that raid there was a scare, which meant houses by the Park were evacuated, a landmine had been dropped near the park. After quite a while some one realized it was a cement sphere off one of the gateposts.
The war went on but gradually we went into the shelter less and less and I started work a few weeks after D-Day. Then came the celebrations of the end of the war against the Germans and the horror that unfolded after that. The August after that I was at Guide Camp at Beamsley Beacon, Nr. Ilkley, when news started to come through that the Japanese were surrendering. We were to celebrate by building a big bonfire at the top of the Beacon, which was a place where bonfires had been lit to warn of danger in Elizabethan times. The Guides had put candles in jam jars to light the way to the beacon. Three of us went up just before tea, built up the beacon and then lit a small fire to cook our own tea on. It was boiled potatoes and Corned Beef.
After dark, which seemed ages, we saw the procession of candles coming up the hillside; it was quite a sight. Then we got the main bonfire lit and our small fire had a large Billy can of milk to make Cocoa to hand round with biscuits. We had a good crowd who had seen the fire and came to join in the campfire songs. It was a while later we all said our good-byes and went to our tents to sleep with very happy memories and an end to yet another disgraceful period of our history.
War time Memories
By J. A. Beaden
I was fifteen years old at the outbreak of World War II. I was nearing the end of my education at Technical College in South East London and suddenly found that the college was planning to a safer area. Not for me, I decided, and left to take up a job as an instrument maker at a local firm where my father had been employed for many years. When the blitz started my parents and I spent our nights in an Anderson shelter we had built in the garden. Not very comfortable but we survived. I joined the Local Defence Volunteers, which had just started. We had no rifles so drilled carrying broomsticks to which had been tied carving knives.
Shortly afterwards our house was badly damaged by a landmine, which fell nearby. We had nowhere else to go, so inflicted ourselves on my elder sister who was living in Oxford. Here I found employment at Morris Motors at a Civilian Repair Unit where I repaired Spitfires, which had been shot up or crashed landed.
Eventually I was able to join the R.A.F., when I started my training to become aircrew. I badly wanted to become a pilot but with my technical training it was inevitable that I eventually became a Flight Engineer. One of the courses I had to complete was air gunnery and I did this at Bishops Court in Northern Ireland.
At the conclusion of the Air Gunnery Course I thought that at last I should be able to see a bit of action. Not so, I was now posted to Sywell near Northampton where I spent an enjoyable three months flying the Wellington bombers and practicing air navigation, of which I had only slight knowledge, and flight engineering of which I had non on this particular aircraft. Sywell was a repair unit for Wellingtons and the perimeter of the airfield was lined with these aircraft awaiting collection after repair.
One afternoon I was out on the playing field with other trainees, having a game of football. The roar of engines alerted us to another Wellington taking off. This it transpired had been fitted with extra fuel tanks to increase it s range. It also dramatically increased its weight. The Canadian pilot had not allowed for this and his takeoff was not long enough. He was clearly using as a marker, a white Wellington of Coastal Command, which was parked on the perimeter. Unable to gain sufficient height the aircraft’s undercarriage clipped the cabin area of the parked plane and it somersaulted into the ground on the playing field about twenty yards away from me. I do not recollect moving but the next thing I knew I was in amongst the debris searching for survivors. Shortly afterwards I was joined by the others.
The stench of high-octane fuel pouring on to the hot engines is something that still haunts me. Somehow the fuel failed to ignite. I found one crewmember, who was still just alive. He was lying face down, his head half buried in the soft ground. Lying across his back was one of the aircraft’s three blade propellers and a small part of one of the engines. The combined weight of this must have been in the region of three or four hundredweight.
Looking back I still find it extraordinary that I somehow found the strength to lift this weight bodily from him. The adrenaline must have been flowing in vast quantities. The task was made worse by the fact that over the top of us was a ruptured petrol tank from which the high-octane fuel was gushing. To pull him free, I had to craw under this cascade. I was instantly soaked with the fuel. One spark and I should have been incinerated together with the other searchers. The petrol got into my eyes and mouth blinding me and making me gag. Somehow I pulled the injured man out of the debris and away to a safe distance. Leaving him with others who were trying to assist, I went back and eventually found another two members of the crew who I similarly removed.
Regrettably however non of them survived. A couple of hours later it was found that an engineer had been working in the cabin of the parked Wellington. He had been severely injured and bled to death while the others were being attended to. Such are the fortunes of war.
J. A. Beaden
King’s Lynn War Story
By Stan Langley
King’s Lynn was not a priority target for the Luftwaffe pilots during the war, they tended to concentrate on the air bases in the vicinity, nevertheless, and the town was on the receiving end of their endeavours from time to time.
In early 1984 the Lynn News & Advertiser published a series of articles with photographs entitled “Red Alert Lynn” which concerned the bombing of King’s Lynn during WWII. The articles were result of research by the late Ray Wilson, at that time Division Librarian for West Norfolk. They generated a great deal of interest and a number of letters from readers describing their experiences and memories of particular incidents were published.
What follows refers to two incidents mentioned in the articles. The first real raid on the town - on 7th October 1940 - when a lone raider dropped four high explosive bombs in the Gaywood district. The second, on Friday 12th June 1942, which was without doubt the worst of the war. A direct hit on the Eagle Hotel just before closing time - the establishment crowded with local residents and servicemen - brought about a death toll of 42. My letter to the newspaper concerning these incidents was considered worthy of publication, and is reproduced below. It attracted a “Humour amid the horror” heading.
“The photograph of schoolboys investigating a bomb crater at Gaywood brought instant recall. I attended Gaywood Park School at that time, and school meals were served on rota system which determined that boys [as apposed to girls] were on ‘Second Dinner Sitting’ that fateful day.
A special instruction was issued to the effect that we were not to leave the school premises to inspect bomb damage and anyone foolhardy enough to ignore this instruction would be sent to the headmaster’s office.
Curiosity won - three of us turned up late for dinner and, of course, the prophecy of the morning came to pass in the afternoon.
I was last in line for ‘Six of the Best’ administered by Mr. H.B. (Truffy) Longman, the last blows may have been delivered with less force than the first, but the numbness was still there next day!
From one of the bomb craters I recovered a peculiar piece of shrapnel (metallic and crystalline) which Mr. Bocking at the museum identified as iron pyrites.
On the night the Eagle was bombed, the Army Cadet Force had paraded at Gaywood Park. At the time the bombs dropped my companion (Les Spinks) and I were standing in the vicinity of the Millfleet bus station office. Les lived in nearby Coronation Square and the speed at which he crossed the road was equivalent at least to that of a Spitfire.
By the time I reached his house, he had reported his well being to his family (by his presence?) and was on his way out again. We quick marched towards the town centre and at the Broad St./Norfolk St. junction I suppose we must have offered our services to someone in authority.
As we were in uniform we were asked to stand guard by the shattered windows of Wilson’s dress shop, as a deterrent to any would-be ‘salvage’ operators. We were eventually relieved of this unexciting duty by other uniformed members of the Cadet Force.
In retrospect I doubt if we could have prevented any really determined lady from extending her wardrobe. Fortunately we were not put to the test.
My father was on fire watch duty that same night at Wm. Lock & Sons’ Broad St. premises. He afterwards told of how he intended to have a quick pint at the Eagle but on discovering how crowded it was, opted to patronize the Flower Pot.
Immediately on arrival at his place of duty he decided to tidy up and clear the ashes from the fireplace. I believe he was actually peering up the flue when the explosions occurred, I am certain that he would have preferred a less drastic and messy method of chimney sweeping.
I would not wish this light-weight account to detract from the suffering and horror associated with the various wartime incidents - I had been in conversation with one of the Eagle victims only a few hours before the event, but that is yet another story.
War Time Rationing
Every member of the family would have a ration book, which gave precise details of the amounts of certain types of food that you were allowed during one week.
In addition, on the 1st June 1941, clothing ration books were issued to every man woman and child. A man’s raincoat would need 16 coupons, a woman’s raincoat was 15 whilst a child’s raincoat was only 11 coupons. Coupons were not needed for second hand clothes.