Welcome to the Orihuela Costa and District Branch of The Royal British Legion
By Brian Tanner
My parents were both born in 1920, and married in August 1940 and they lived in Battersea, London, SW11. My father joined the RAF as an electrical engineer working on, and repairing, the damaged fighter aircraft returning from raids over Germany. My mother worked in the West End, in a milliners shop.
My grandmother, on my mother's side, owned streets of houses in Battersea which she let out. My parents had a 1st floor flat owned by her, and during the early bombing of London, as pregnant mums were sent out of London to have their babies, I was born on the 26th of August 1941 in the convent at St. Albans in Hertfordshire.
My grandfather was Irish, and liked a pint or 3, and would often win a lot of money betting on the dogs at the White City. He would then buy everyone a drink, much to my grandmothers annoyance, as she was not a betting lady!!
My memories of him are as being 6' 2"tall, shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow, cheese cutter hat on, waistcoat, and a gold chain across the front. He always wore a red spotted hanky around his neck. He also loved to play his mouth organs, which he kept in his waist coat pockets. He was great player, and had some 2 and 3 decker ones.
One day he was teaching me how to play one, and my mother was not amused, as she felt that they were full of germs..... That was the last time I held a mouth organ, but he could really play them well. He always smelt of Nosegay tobacco, funny how some things stay in the long term memory.
He was helping to pull bodies out from the bombed buildings one day, and when he pulled a young baby out of the rubble, with no arms or legs it destroyed him. A lovely man, he would let me select a chicken from his coop in the garden, ring its neck, place it on my lap and I would pull out the feathers. Again, my mother was not amused...
When we returned to London my memories of that time are from an early age.
One particular night the bombing was very bad, and whole streets of houses were demolished. I might have been about 3 years old, and as my mother was breast feeding my younger sister, the whole of the front windows imploded. I ran downstairs to go into the school across the road, as I had been instructed to do by my mother for this eventuality. As I got into the road, and started to run towards the school, bricks and glass were everywhere, I heard a loud pop and stopped and looked up into the sky, and a flying bomb was coming down the road, the engine had expired, and it went straight into the school, and destroyed it. The target was Battersea Power station which was nearby, and was bombed nightly.
Opposite the school was a church which was never damaged?
My mother would never go into air raid shelters; we had one in the back garden, as she did not like to be closed in. We would sit under the table or the stairs when the bombs were dropping.
I believe that it was around this time that I was evacuated to Derby, to stay with my "Uncle Len and Auntie Mabel". My mother saw me safely there and then returned to London.
There were about 7 children in the family, so I had a great time, being the youngest there. They all had funny accents. And the sun always seemed to be shining. When Aunt Mabel cut the bread, she would butter the loaf first and then cut it. I asked why she did it that way round, and she said that the buttered bread soaked up the crumbs so that there was no waste. Funny how things stay in your memory.
It was the first time that I had seen fruit on the trees, and with the rest of the family, we would knock on the neighbours doors to collect any uneaten food, which we would take to the farm nearby, to feed the pigs. I also had my tonsils out there, and a great fuss was made of me. Quite right too....
I eventually returned to London and back to normality.
My father had joined the RAF as an electrical engineer working on repairing the damaged fighter aircraft returning from raids into Croydon airport. One night a depleted flight was coming in to land, and at the rear of them were 3/4 German fighter aircraft, which would shoot down the fighters returning to base, and escape away. Most of these pilots he knew.....
I used to like it when he came home on leave, rifle and kitbag on his back, and I would be at the top of the stairs, and he would yell "jump" and I did. He always caught me!
For many years after, I used to dream and smell the nightly burning and bombing, also of the flying bomb that I saw, and I was unable to let it go.
About 4 years ago, we were visiting family and friends in the UK, and I mentioned to Sylvia that I was having this problem, and would she mind if I went to see if the house was still there. She agreed, and I parked outside the flat that I had lived in.
As I looked up at the lead light windows, the tears started to flow down my face, and I cried like a baby. I could hear and smell my memories of the bombing, but it seemed to do the trick as I only occasionally think about it these days, as I would not want to lose my memories of those times.
My grandmother had an RAF uniform made for me which I was very proud of when we went shopping, with my father and grandfathers medals on.