Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Doodlebug incident, 20th August 1944.

It was a Sunday and it was raining. My father was at a Home Guard meeting in the hut across Twickenham Road, opposite Ranger’s newsagent’s shop. We were in our Morrison Shelter inside our house. They said that those Doodlebugs would glide for a bit after their engines cut out; this one didn’t. We heard the engine stop and it came straight down.
One poor chap was blown to bits. They hardly recovered anything of him. He was walking past the surface shelter when the bomb landed on it. He was walking home to his house at the head of The Close, from Rangers shop at the end of the road.

The Americans from Bushy Park were the first to get to the scene with their ambulances. They took my sister to hospital. My father was blown off his feet and up the road by the blast. The blast killed all the chickens that we kept in our back garden and our Sunday roast was so peppered with broken glass that we couldn’t eat any of it. That was minor damage, the chimney on our house had come down and through the roof and all the ceilings were down.
One family had a few members killed. One of the sons was an outstanding footballer, and a nephew became a policeman and later retired to Bournemouth; he organised an anniversary memorial service at St. George’s Church, Hanworth and came back for it (2004?).

There was a big house in St. George’s Road; the (auxiliary wartime) fire brigade had it as an HQ. But the bomb in The Close left a family’s 8 children without a roof over their heads and the firemen were cleared out and the house was given to them.

I was evacuated to Seaford after that, it was a family arrangement and I stayed with relatives.

When war broke out the new Chertsey by-pass road was tuned into a lorry park for the army. Us kids used to walk along there and clamber on the vehicles. Some of them had signs hung on then saying ‘No Water’. We couldn’t understand that, but I suppose it meant that they had been drained and were not capable of being driven away without proper preparation.

Kempton Park was a big German Prisoner of War camp. The PoW’s were taken out each day to do agricultural work; Hanworth Smallholdings was regular place that you could see them. They had brightly coloured patches sewn onto their trouser knees and the backs of their jacket to identify them as PoW’s.

I was in Germany once, drinking in a bar, and I got into conversation with this man and he asked me if I knew a place called Kempton Park; I’ll say I did! He’d been a Luftwaffe pilot; he spoke good English and had been to University here before the war. Kempton Park PoW camp is where he ended up. He remembered the Reservoir public house very well. A lot of the Prisoners of War would drink there; it became closely associated with the Germans. He told me that a lot of local girls had been very nice to them. And the farmers and smallholders that they went out to work for every day would pay them pocket money so they could drink a bit in the Reservoir. Quite a few local girls married these PoW’s.

The Germans built themselves a wooden hut near the old Jolly Sailor public house and used it as a chapel; it’s still a Baptist or Methodist church of some kind.

Les told me tragic story of a German Pow who’d made a local girl, of 17-or-so, pregnant and he was keen to do the right thing and marry her. But her father had had a bad time in the First World War and he hated the Germans, so that he wouldn’t hear of it. One day, the German turned up on his doorstep, in Hanworth, with a gun, goodness knows how he’d got hold of it. And he shot the girl’s father dead and then himself, too! The tragedy made the national newspapers and quite a few of the older people will remember it.

I remember that there were no lights in the air raid shelters, they were awful places. The exhaust from the paraffin heaters would blacken your face; you could hardly believe the dirt when you woke up in the morning, after a night in one of those shelters.

There was a searchlight behind the Swan public house on some of Page’s nursery land. I remember that a van arrived with a soldier in it; he was looking for the searchlight and asking the way to it. We boys had been warned about nosey parkers like that and we wouldn’t tell him anything at first. In the end he got out of the van and opened it up and showed us the enormous light bulb that he was delivering to the searchlight unit. Then we decided that it was all right to trust him and we told him where to go.

Park Road had a Home Guard machine gun nest that was intended to cover the open ground at Hanworth Air Park against German paratroopers landing there. You can still see it if you know what to look for. Its remains are on the left, opposite the old Rectory house.

‘Big Bertha’, the anti-aircraft gun stood on Bedfont Recreation Ground.

• West Middlesex Hospital specialised in treating severely injured pilots, shot up during the Battle of Britain. Some of them died and are in war graves just over the wall from the hospital in Isleworth’s Park Road cemetery. I helped to get those forgotten and neglected graves recognised and they are now looked after as official War Graves.

• I’ve heard people say that The Airman public house is haunted by ghostly pilots from World War II. They come and go, sitting at the bar sometimes and then vanishing. People say that they’ve heard their voices too.

• I believe that Freddie Mills, the boxer, got to know The Airman during the war when he was making deliveries for the forces or for General Aircraft, at the Air Park.

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