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Author Topic: Home Life in WW2  (Read 122136 times)

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Offline Lyn L

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2010, 14:01:50 »
Peter,
Somewhere on the forum ( for the life of me I can't find it now ) there's a CWGC list of all the people who were killed and the addresses they were living. Only looked at it last night too,  I think it was an early post , 2008 seems to ring a bell. Shall have to jog my memory a bit more. The names are ALL civilians killed on those dates between 1941 and 1944.

Lyn
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life tryi

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2010, 13:46:15 »
I thought I would try to give an idea of attitudes at the outbreak of war before answering some of Stewie's queries.

When the war started I lived in Chatham Gun Wharf and there was a German Jewish refugee employed as a labourer. He made and fitted the blackout shutters for our bungalow. He must have been reasonably well educated because he could speak reasonable English. My father called him 'Jew Boy' with no sense of disrespect, although he would probably be in trouble for that today. As a 10 year old he was my first contact with people who 'talked funny'.

And that says it all about communication in those days. French people were normal - they had recently been on our side in a war, and anyway you could go to Calais on a day trip. Germans were those horrible bullies that we'd recently been fighting. Apart from that, while we might have learnt of their existence in geography lessons, we (and I mean my mates and family - others may have been more enlightened, but I doubt it) had no idea what sort of people Hungarians, Greeks, Danes, and all the rest of them were. And as for Africans or Chinese - no comment! I don't mean we considered them inferior, but they lived in a different world that we were never likely to meet. Dad was a bit more worldly wise, because he had served in the army in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and India, and anyone who came from a place on the map that was coloured red must be OK because that was the British Empire, although they probably needed a bit of guidance. In fact we had 24th May off from school each year for Empire Day.

So I think that was our general attitude to foreigners; we didn't like or dislike them because as working class people we never met them. It was in that frame of mind that we started WW2.
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2010, 12:43:17 »
Thanks Medway Buoy, you've answered my question from 'Fire Service Heroes' topic:

QUOTE: "While in school one afternoon there was an almighty 'THUMP', and when we came out just after there was a great pall of black smoke overhead. A tug and some oil barges had been blown-up by a mine in the Medway, and some mates and I went to what we called the 'Back Fields', next to Short's, to see a patch of burning oil on the water a bit further up-river. My memory tells me it burnt for several days, but common sense says the tides would have dispersed it.

4th March is not mentioned in Rochester archives, presumably because there was no incident on land. There may well have been in Chatham or Gillingham, of course.
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Medway Buoy

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2010, 11:58:35 »
The results of a working tug picking up a parachute mine just above Shorts factory in 1941 while towing four loaded petrol barges to Aylesford. The incident was in the area where the M2 Motorway Bridge is now.
(Picture and extract taken from my web site.)



 Silverstone

On the night of 4th March 1941 the Medway Towns was under heavy attack by German bombers, one of their targets being the Shorts Aeroplane works in Rochester. It was noted in the log book of an Air Raid Warden that a parachute mine dropped close to the Shorts Aeroplane works but did not
 explode (later to find it had dropped in the River Medway).
On the following day's tide four of Knights tugs passed the spot where the mine dropped towing their craft up river, but the next tug to pass - SILVERSTONE with four oil lighters for Aylesford - took a slightly different course and in doing so picked up the parachute in its propeller dragging the mine up from the river bed and exploding it against the bottom of the tug. The explosion seriously damaged the stern and turned the tug upside down. All tug and barge hands (8) were killed instantly.
JP Knight were engaged by Cory Tank Lighterage to lift the tug and two lighters, this was completed in three weeks. The Silverstone was then put on a strand until a decision on her future could be made. In the meantime JP Knight purchased the Silverstones engine for spares but later found that they were able to refurbish it, which they did and re-engined the Kara with it.
In 194? the Silverstone was was repaired and re-engined with a 480 BHP
 Crossley
1945 acquired by William Cory re-named MERCEDES and remained in service until she was scrapped in 1969.
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More pictures of this incident can be seen at...............
http://riverman.gotdns.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=52

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2010, 09:59:35 »
Now to round off things I've mentioned already before I go on to other things.

Re 'Jim Crows': Factories, the Dockyard and Short's being the ones I know of for certain, posted lookouts so that work could continue during a raid. When, in their judgement there was imminent danger they would sound an alarm. In the case of the Dockyard it was the dockyard hooter; for Short's it was probably bells. Since the alarm was only given at the last minute workers had to take cover where they could. I believe that in some cases there were sandbag shelters actually inside the workshops. I would imagine that on a dark night it would be the 'Judgement of Soloman' for them to decide when to give the alarm.

I think it was New Year's Eve 1940/41 when there was a heavy fire raid on London. I particularly remember the night because my father had invited 2 ATS girls from his place of work to spend the evening with us. The fires were big enough to cause a red glow in the sky that we could see from Rochester, and were made worse by the City of London being mostly unoccupied at night so that fires could start without being seen. Also the attack was timed to coincide with low tide so that the fire brigade had difficulty in getting water from the river. As a result a system of compulsory fire watching was introduced, whereby businesses had to arrange for an overnight watch to be kept, and residential streets had to have a firewatch rota that I imagine it was organised by the ARP Warden. Whoever was on duty had to keep a lookout during a raid.

I mentioned in an earlier Reply that we were the target one night. Dad, granddad and an uncle were in the local pub and the siren had just gone when from the noise of aircraft it was obvious they were not just passing over. Mum and I were in the cellar when there was clattering noise like machine gun fire, followed by yelling from the street. We went out to find incendiary bombs everywhere; there was one in the back garden that mum put a sandbag on (part of the firewatch scheme required every house to have one). I was calling to her to come away because a proportion of the bombs had an explosive charge to deter that. The roof of the builder's offices a few doors away was alight and the customers from the Morden arms tackled it. With hundreds of incendiaries all over Rochester the fire brigade was only concerned with bigger things. Normally the incendiaries would have been followed by HE bombs, but something must have gone wrong (or right, depending on which side you were on!) because that didn't happen.
There was an unexploded bomb behind the Foresters Arms pub, and if that had gone off I wouldn't have been putting posts about my dad being landlord there in 'Disappearing Pubs' topic - it would have disappeared there and then!

I've tried to identify the date from the Rochester archives and all the entries for 1941 are:
January
10th: Incendiary bombs Rochester. Houses slightly damaged.
February
21st: HE Borstal. Sea wall damaged.
April
8th: Parachute mines Rochester. Houses demolished and damaged. Shop in Short Bros damaged. 12 fatal, 94 injured. Incendiary bombs Strood.
19th: HE Rochester. 2 houses demolished, gas main burst. 4 fatal. Incendiary bombs Rochester, ARP HQ, houses, store house Fort Clarence, all damaged by fire.
August
6th: HE Rochester. Houses damaged. 4 injured.

I think the most likely date was 10th January.
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Chatham_Girl85

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2010, 20:19:34 »
i look forward to your stories about the doodlebugs :)

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2010, 17:31:18 »
Hi Stewie,

I need to marshal my thoughts regarding your request, so will come back to that later. In the meantime, here are a few more thoughts about my earlier posts.

Houses with cellars didn't get Anderson shelters, it being considered safe enough to shore up the cellar and shelter there (with the whole weight of the house above you!!). Later in the war they introduced Morrison shelters mainly for dwellings that didn't have cellars, or a garden for an Anderson. The Morrison was made of steel and was the size of a dining table, which it replaced in the living room, the idea being that you ate off the top of it and slept underneath it. To give some protection from debris coming in from the sides, they were closed-off by steel mesh screens. You got into bed, and then raised the screen behind you, but I don't know exactly how it was fixed.

I mentioned in my opening post about standing in the garden talking to neighbours, and two 'flashes' of memory come back to me: Watching the twinkle of AA shell bursts away to the north, over the Thames Estuary, as they followed an E/A along. I can never watch a firework display now without it reminding me of that. Then there was one advantage of the blackout that you don't get today - no lights! The result was the astonishing display of stars you could see. If you haven't already done it, get to some completely dark place on a clear moonless night; I think you will only gaze in wonder at the sight of the sky.

We kidded ourselves that we could tell 'ours' from 'theirs' by the sound. It's true that German pilots often ran their engines at slightly different speeds to give a 'woom-woom' sound, supposedly to confuse our sound-locators, but since these were obsolete there seemed no point to it. A British plane with de-synchronised engines made the same noise anyway. There was a government propaganda campaign at some stage, called 'Famous Last Words', the most memorable one being "It's OK, it's one of ours"!

I mentioned the gun flashes and the noise. Anyone who has seen that 3.7in AA gun outside Fort Amherst would be astonished at how much light and noise such a small thing could generate. The gun flash could be seen by an enemy pilot, who would have a few second to 'jink' before the shell reached him. Later in the war a flashless propellant was developed to prevent this and, boy, did it make us jump without the warning flash!

It was during one of these night sessions that I had the moment mentioned in my posting in 'Fireservice War Heroes':
QUOTE: "My defining moment of WW2 came one night standing in the garden during an air-raid alert. Some aircraft were going over when there was the 'brrrr' of cannon fire and a moving light appeared in the sky, which burst into flaming pieces as a German plane came down. I was yelling "Hooray, they've got him" when my father, an ex-regular soldier who'd fought in WW1 and not known for his love of Germans, said "Shut up, there's men in that!". Suddenly those flaming pieces said everything about the awfulness of war!

On another occasion we were watching a German plane caught in searchlights, with AA shells bursting all round it, when dad said "poor b*****s"; we were actually pleased that it got away!

A favourite hobby was collecting shell fragments and boasting at school about who had the biggest. I ditched my collection after the war, I wonder if it would have any value now.

When the flying bomb attacks started in 1944 it became a new ball-game, and any complacency we had went out of the window, but I'll leave that for later.
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Offline Stewie

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2010, 10:18:08 »
Peter

I would like to tap in to your memories with respect to 'ordinary' life during the war. I have always been fascinated with the idea of travelling to various periods or events in time. Let us assume that you could travel back to your nominated period but could only observe and not 'interact' at all (perhaps a potential new thread).
I would love to walk the streets of the Medway towns (Chatham) both during 'wartime' and also at the turn of the century because I would like to see what buildings and structures I could recognise. However, I should think that the differing customs and social protocols of the period would make it almost a 'foreign' country.

With respect to the 1940 - 45 conflict I would love to know what the prevailing atmosphere of the time was particularly with the threats of potential invasion in the south east. Was this really ever considered a threat to the public at large? Did you look for German paratroopers dressed as Nuns dropping from the sky? The early period following the fall of France must have been quite worrying.

We see the programmes like 'Dads Army' and even 'Goodnight Sweetheart' that show the normal human traits continuing under these conditions, but also that everyone is bound together in a common cause. Did this community focus really exist? My parents have told me stories of collecting bits of shrapnel after air battles, and my grandmother whilst still alive described watching streams of bombers with the fighters weaving around them passing over. This in itself must have been a spectacle.
Look forward to reading this thread in the coming days.

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2010, 09:41:15 »
Yes, I suppose that's how we tend to cope with life - the nasty things always happen to other people.

But I am writing from the Medway Towns aspect. People from London, Dover, Coventry, Southampton, etc, all seeing more action and damage, may well have different views. Also, the West Coast of Wales, for instance, would have experienced the opposite extreme.

What affected everybody was rationing, and having friends and relatives in the forces and not knowing what was happening to them. It's hard to imagine in these days of instant communication that a letter to/from the Middle East or Burma could take weeks to arrive.


If Britons and Germans could have talked to each other as easily in 1910 as they can in 2010 perhaps they would have realised that the others were not two headed monsters and most of the horrors of the 20th century could have been avoided.
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Offline kyn

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2010, 22:46:09 »
I guess that after a while of nothing happening you get a bit too confident of nothing happening to you.

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2010, 21:22:55 »
Before we go too far I think I'd better correct any impression that we were brave heroes with the guns banging all round us and not caring less.

During the day raids it was mostly hearing planes in the distance and we were aware that the battle was about knocking out our fighters and not aimed at us; the bombing of Short's factory at the airport was a surprise so wasn't a scare till it happened, then the most frightening thing was the deafening noise. Also I think we had great faith in the accuracy of bombing - if you didn't live near a military objective you would be safe (how little we knew!)

Then when the night blitz began on 7th September 1940 it was evident straight away that the target was London and not us. Occasionally there was a local incident (there is a list of incidents in Rochester on the Forum) but otherwise it was mostly hearing a German plane go over now and again. Medway was one of the most heavily defended areas of the country, so I image any enemy aircraft in this area was off course.

Then on 14th November Coventry was blitzed, and we realised that what happened to them could happen to us. So it was stomach churning each night when the sirens went in case it was our turn. I can't remember for sure, but I expect people stopped going out in the evenings except to the local pub where they could get home easily. Even then we realised after a while that if nothing serious had started for about an hour after the sirens then they weren't coming for us.

Later on when the Germans began to attack places like Canterbury, Norwich, Exeter, etc it caused some apprehension - anybody was vulnerable. But then the comfort was that Medway was a defended place, so they would keep away from us.

So, no, we weren't gung-ho heroes sticking two fingers up at the Luftwaffe, just that it rarely occurred to us that we could be the target (although we were one night, but that's another story). I was fortunate that my dad was an ex-soldier who could always think of a reason why it would be the other bloke who would get hit.

The biggest danger most of the time was getting hit by a piece of shell splinter, but you were safe from these if indoors. Shell nose caps were a different matter - these usually stayed in one piece and could easily go through a roof . Now and again there would be an unexploded AA shell, although I don't remember one. Nowadays called 'friendly fire'!
PS: See http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=4665.msg41737#msg41737
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2010, 18:39:26 »
Oh 'eck, looks like I've got myself a full-time job! But thanks for the compliments, folks. I'll try to post memories as they come to mind, or try to answer specific queries. That'll give me an excuse to get out of the washing-up :)

Regarding public shelters - I cannot at the moment remember any. My wife says the one in Jenkins Dale chalk pit was an ARP Warden Post; her dad was a warden based there, and public shelters were often associated with warden posts. I think the problem with unsupervised public shelters was they could be used for other activities than sheltering from air-raids! The Shorts tunnels you mention  I think were for Short's employees, and most factories had their own shelters. There was the 'jim-crow' warning system for factories and I can say a bit more about that if I collect my thoughts and put them in another post later. But if anyone else has information, please chip-in; I never intended that this topic would be solely my own.

So far as personal sheltering is concerned, I have two memories:
On the afternoon of 7th September 1940 I was with my mother in the 'Picture House', a cinema under the Empire Theatre, Chatham, when the 'Air-raid' signal went up on the screen, then the noise of aircraft could be heard even in the cinema, also the crash of guns. When we came out we discovered that it had been the opening of the attack on London and a large formation of bombers had passed over. We had missed one of the most impressive sights of the war!

One evening mum and I were walking along the High Street from the Empire Theatre towards Rochester when the guns opened up and there was the 'clank' of falling shrapnel - time to take cover! The nearest was the pub near Gundulph Road (I'm sure somebody will remember its name). I don't think anybody else worried, and she didn't buy a drink, but for mum it wasn't quite the done thing for a lady to go into a pub alone.

 
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Offline kyn

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2010, 17:10:58 »
As the others have said your posts are very interesting and I do hope there will be many more to come.  Alot of information around is second or third hand and it is very refreshing to hear from someone that remembers how things were.  You have become a very valued member of KHF and I am looking forward to reading more of your posts!

Chatham_Girl85

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2010, 17:05:21 »
you have some great memories peter... i love reading them cos you mention two aspects of history that are my most interest.. ww2 and medway. whenever another memory returns either write them down on the forum. but if you are not at your pc then on paper, then when you are please share them with us.

i have one question, i where were the public shelters in the medway area? i can find no info online, i only can find out about the shorts tunnels through this site.
i have read somewhere that there was one at the bottom of jenkins dale in chatham, near the old chalk pit, and the sir robert peel pub, there are flats on a higher piece of ground to the road and i have a feeling, although not been confirmed, it was under this. if you know where this shelter was id be grateful, and if you can remember of any other public shelters, please do let me no..

many thanks again
Amie, aka ChathamGirl85

Offline peterchall

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Home Life in WW2
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2010, 16:48:19 »
After 3 months membership of KHF I realise that I am possibly one of the few members having personal later-childhood memories of WW2. I was 10 when the war started and lived throughout that time in the Medway Towns and would be happy to share memories with anyone who would like any particular aspect of them. I am thinking of personal recollections of everyday life and the attitudes of the times, etc, rather than facts and figures that can be looked up in archives.

I hope that doesn't sound pushy, but there are several things that I would like to know now and wish that I had asked mum, dad, aunts, and uncles about them while they were still there to ask. But please bear in mind that 70 year old  memories can sometimes be a bit vague.

If there are any other 'oldies' out there who would like to join forces with me, please let me know.

From a few posts I've read since I joined I think there might be some doubts about how we reacted to air-raid alarms, so let's start there. I don't mean that as a criticism, because I'm sure that some of my beliefs about WW1 are not always right.

By and large, life carried on as normal when the sirens went. It's true that schoolchildren went into the shelters, but took their work with them and tried to carry on with lessons, and workers stayed at whatever work they were doing. In the evenings the pubs and cinemas stayed open. In the 'pictures', as we called it (is it still called that today?) the words "Air-raid Warning" were flashed on the screen, but there was no point in leaving because there was normally nowhere to go - there were public street shelters but they were not all that plentiful. During the nights of the 1940/41 blitz we slept in the cellar. By later in the war, when raids were less frequent, we had moved to a house with an Anderson Shelter and generally slept indoors until the sirens went. Then it was a case of getting up and awaiting events. Many an hour was spent in1942/43/44 chatting to neighbours in the garden in the middle of the night, perhaps listening to an aircraft and wondering if it was one of theirs or ours. When things did happen the over-riding memory is of the blinding flash when the AA guns fired, the ear-splitting noise of the guns, and the 'clank, clank' of shell fragments hitting the ground. Then it was time to take cover!
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