Saturday, 29 December 2007

Worcester Park, 1944

I ventured out today in the bright winter sunshine for a gentle amble around Worcester Park, to walk off some of the excesses of the past week - up to the top of Central Road, and into Lindsay Road (opposite the North End Tavern) for a stroll around Cuddington Cemetery. In the far corner of the cemetery are a row graves of civilian war dead of World War 2 - including a family of three - all killed on or shortly after 16th June 1944.

A little web searching unearthed an eyewitness account of the event in Worcester Park, when a V2 'doodlebug' was brought down by ack-ack fire destroying a number of houses in (I believe) Caldbeck Avenue:

"FRIDAY 16TH JUNE 1944 was a day just like any other; it was bright and warm and I was either on holiday from school or it was after school.

Like most of the other houses at our end of the street we had a brick built air raid shelter in the back garden, not too far away from the back door.

It must have been just before 9:30 PM when the siren sounded. The routine was mechanical - get up, dressing gown or a coat and slippers and shoes and off to the shelter. Our house was end of terrace and we would go downstairs out the back door around the side of the house and across the road to our neighbour's shelter. On this occasion, as we went out of the back door my mother said "let's use our shelter, we've cleared it out and it might only be a short raid"


There were five of us; my mother carrying my baby sister of just four months wrapped in a shawl; my father shepherding all of us; my brother and myself. My brother caused a flap by going back into the house to find the cat but my father got him back in the shelter.

As we ranged ourselves across the seats that were across the back of our now tidy shelter we could hear the drone of what turned out to be a V2 or doodlebug. I can see my father now standing in the doorway of the shelter hands against the wall on either side to balance himself and bending his knees as he sank down to maintain his view of the bomb that he could clearly see coming straight for us. He turned and leaped across the shelter and threw himself across us.

I can remember banging my head against the wall, probably the result of my father trying to shield us from the blast, but that was all. The noise must have been tremendous but I didn't hear a thing. The incredible thing was we were alright. My father had a cut on his knee (but not in his trousers!) and I had banged my head, but that was all.

When we collected ourselves we came out of the shelter and round the side of what was left of the house, into the road. The bomb had landed in the middle of the road.

Apparently it had been hit by ack ack fire which had tipped it up so that it hadn't fallen to the ground but had literally dived in creating a massive crater. On both sides of the road was utter devastation; houses closest to the point of impact were just reduced to piles of rubble whilst for those further away it was as if some giant hand had torn the fronts off them and then attempted to gouge out what was inside. Contents of bedrooms were being spewed out into the street as the unsupported floors gradually caved in.


Fires had started from fractured gas mains and the cries of trapped people could be heard some seriously trapped under piles of masonry, others safe but unable to get out from under the stairs - the under stairs cupboard having become an all too popular "shelter".

There was an all pervading smell in the air which remained as one of my most vivid memories - I don't know what it was but I think it may have been stale air that was released when the buildings were destroyed. The houses were fronted by dwarf walls many of which had survived but had been blown over; for some reason I found this amusing.

By now anxious friends and relatives had started to arrive and also the emergency services. We were whisked away. Of our friends and neighbours 10 were killed and over 40 injured - it was not a day just like any other after all.

About a week later, week I watched a funeral in Worcester Park that included a number of little white coffins - they were my friends."

(WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar)