I Iived at number 17 Railway Terrace all through the war. It was a long, terraced street of houses with a back alley behind them ‘Mac’ had a sweet shop in the terrace and lived over his little shop.
My grandmother moved into the terrace around 1900 and even then the houses were deemed to be ‘unfit for the habitation’. But they weren’t knocked down until the early 1960s! My grandmother had hurricane lamps for lighting when she first lived there. There was no gas lighting in the terrace until the 1930’s.
The privy was a shed and a bucket in the garden and soil collectors came every few days with a horse and a cart. Just before the war sewer drainage into a septic tank on waste ground beside the terrace was put in. My father drove the lorry that took away the earth from the pit that septic tank was dug into.
He often said that if it wasn’t for him there would be no toilets in the terrace - he was exaggerating a wee bit, he did that! The septic tank that served the terrace had to be pumped out every week.
Anderson Shelters were brought to Railway Terrace in the summer of 1939. They had to be dug into a trench in the garden and you bolted the pre-fabricated iron sheets together. My father got some railway sleepers and had them cut short so he could lay them across an extended shelter-trench to roof it. This meant that our shelter was a bit bigger than and not as cramped as some.
My younger brother was a baby then. I wasn’t much help with the digging, I was too young and mostly got in the way.
I was packed off to school at Southville in the early autumn of 1939, probably because my mother was tired of the mischief I got into at home and I was just then old enough to go. But war broke out just then. I remember that on the day war broke out there was false alarm and we all rushed to take cover from the air-raid that never came!
Every night, through the autumn and winter of 1939 - 40, we would sleep in that air raid shelter. My grandmother always made us cocoa and my uncle was a farm worker who grew potatoes and he’d bring us potatoes to cook in their jackets. But, although I can look back on it with some nostalgia, I wouldn’t like to have to do it again. The shelter was dusty and cold and always damp-damp concrete has a smell all of its own.
An incendiary bomb fell on Mac’s shop in the terrace. It didn’t do all that much damage, but it was enough to make him give up the shop – he was getting on by then. The shop was boarded up after that, but. We didn’t find any left over sweets; but we made a bit of a den of the place.
We were in the shelter in our garden when there was a great thump! Debris from a damaged German bomber had landed on the roof of the shelter. A large piece of broken metal was lying there and some mangled hydraulic piping attached to it.
Planes flew right over us going to and from the airfield in Hanworth Park, where Spitfires were repaired. I saw one from our garden. It was obviously in trouble, coming into land. Its propeller fell off and came down in the garden of number 12, next door to us. It was a twin bladed propeller and it half buried itself in the soft earth of the garden!
I heard that the plane was being flown by the Air Park Test Pilot – Tim “Timber” Woods and that he’d glided it into the park after the propeller had broken off it. He took care to enquire whether anyone had been hurt as a result of the accident-no one was.
Two incendiary bombs went straight through the scullery roof of No 16 one night. And she slept right through the whole palaver. One of my uncle’s was at home on leave at the time and he kicked her door in and put the bombs out, she never woke!
My aunt lived at number 13 in the Terrace and I would go along the back alley every night, to fetch her to our shelter. She hated walking down the narrow alley in the dark. There was a full moon one night and that upset her even more than the darkness! She was convinced that we could be seen by pilots of the German bombers-they must have had eyes like hawks, to believe her ideas on the subject! She insisted on crawling along the back alley to our gate on her hands and knees! And she was most upset that I wouldn’t do the same-she was reaching out and trying to cuff me! She was scolding me and telling me to get down on my knees behind her! I got cuffed a lot in those days, I didn’t mind!
Number 20 had a big garden. A bomb slit a tree in the garden one night, but half the tree survived and was still in leaf after the war. Anyway, that bomb never did go off and was reported as a UXB.
They came and looked for it in her garden so that it could be made safe; but they couldn’t find it! We speculated about it hitting the tree and re-bounding off in another direction. We looked all around but it was no where to be found; whether it had managed to bury itself on soft earth I don’t know. For all I know that bomb might still be there to this day!
My grandmother made cocoa for everybody! She made it for the wardens as they were searching for this unexploded bomb! She would make it for the railwaymen on their way to the Marshalling yards, whose trains would be held at the main line signal, along side Railway Terrace, waiting for a path over the down like and into the yards. We knew a lot of the local train crews; they lived in the Southern Estate housing off the Bedfont Lane, which was built for them by the railway in the early 1920s.
While this flap over the UXB went on, we were sent along to Bridge House, where the Council had their offices; we spent the rest of the night there and in the morning we were given a cup of tea and a sandwich for breakfast.
I don’t know how it was they never found it (UXB) the men were there for most of week searching for it. We weren’t out of our homes that long though. They soon concluded that if it hadn’t gone off already it probably wasn’t going to explode at all.
My (other) aunt lived in Denison Road, I used to go down there regularly and play on the swings in the little park there with my cousins. Back in Railway Terrace, at home one night, we heard the terrible whooshing screaming noise that a falling bomb will make and my grandmother shouted “get down! This one’s for us!”
But it wasn’t, it fell a little way off and we guessed that it had fallen near Aunt Phyllis’s house in Lower Feltham. I went along (with some of my family) to see if Aunt Phyllis was all right.
The bomb had fallen in Ellington Road, just along from Denison Road. My cousin had a friend who lived there, one of the children, a girl of six or seven and about my age. I had been playing with her on the swings the night before; we were quite fond of each other. She’d said to me that last time I saw her “would I be coming down the park again tomorrow night?” And I had said that I would. Now she was dead; for that was the night that she was killed by the bomb that fell on her house.
They always did their best to clear the damage and the rubble quickly. Nobody wanted the Germans to have the satisfaction of coming back to photograph scenes of awful destruction. My father was a lorry driver with William Bowyer’s business at St Alban’s Farm, opposite Hounslow Heath.
I rode around with my father in the lorry, clearing rubble from bombs sites in London and dumping it on open ground here and there, where sites for tripping had been authorised.
Some of the rubble was spread for road bedding in one of the first post-war New Towns, near Hatfield.
Bowyers delivered construction material to a Mulberry Harbour building site near Weybridge. They were all Irishmen working on the job in those days, because all our lads were in the forces. My father said to one of them....”Pat” (he called them all Pat, whatever their names might have been) “Pat, what are you working on today?”
We didn’t know about the Mulberry Harbour that was to be floated over to France, in support of the D-Day landing - it was a secret project. ‘Pat’ said to my dad that they were building ‘concrete ships’!
I don’t know whether my dad thought that ’Pat’ was pulling his leg, or whether he was a stereotypical, stupid Irishman who couldn’t be expected to understand what he was doing and just followed instructions! But ‘Pat’ was nearly right......those cast concrete caissons were designed to float and to be towed over to the beach at Arromanches, where they were aligned to form the breakwaters of a harbour for Allied military supplies to be landed.
I remember that one of our own bombers crashed near Iver in 1944 and because we were out that way we went and saw it. There’s an obelisk in the park, there to this day and an annual memorial service to remember the crew. The plane was smashed to bits, with one if its 4 engines broken clean off the wing.
We boys were determined to do our bit, if the Germans invaded us. We were going to stay behind and fight the Germans, alongside our fathers who were in the Home Guard. We needed to be ready so a few of us made catapults and collected a store of small rounded stones from the handy local sources of grave and ballast. But rubber and elastic were in terribly short supply. We turned to crime, all in a good cause! One night I crept outside and stole four pairs of women’s knickers from a local washing line! It was the only source of decent elastic that we could think of! We hid this secret cache of arms in the side of a pit in a nearby field, in case the day ever came that we night need to use them against the enemy. It’s a good thing we never had to do that!
I remember a land mine fell on he marshalling yard and caused good traffic to back-up, at a halt, all over the local railway lines for miles around.
My aunt was called up for War Work at the Depot (RASC Feltham). That was hit by doodlebug one day and there was a big fire.