Wartime on St. Helier

A personal account

By Doreen Clifford (née Martin)

Photo:Happy days at Middleton Road

Happy days at Middleton Road

Doreen Clifford

The day war was declared we were all in the living room listening to the wireless announcement of the outbreak of war. This was followed almost immediately by an air raid warning. My father bundled John and me under the dining table with cushions surrounding us. Everyone believed Hitler would attack immediately, as in Poland, but the all clear sounded and it was a mistaken plane.

I have vivid memories of wartime. There was a gun emplacement at the bottom of the road on Mitcham Common and the noise of the guns was loud and frightening during an air raid along with the sound of planes going into London and returning, sometimes unloading their bombs locally. There was a landmine in Middleton Road which devastated several houses. Of course in the morning on the way to school there was shrapnel to collect, forbidden by grownups, but some boys had large collections. There was sometimes the excitement of seeing ‘dog fights’ overhead between English and German fighter planes.

During night time air-raids, from our upstairs bathroom window, my father would look across towards London and watch the explosions and fires, worrying about the London Docks and trying to work out just where and what was being hit. Meanwhile, the family would all be downstairs, children trying to sleep on the sofa, babies in cots, all joined by our next door neighbour Mrs Aldridge, who was afraid to be alone when her husband was on night work. Olive and Mrs Aldridge would be trembling and upset during the raids and my dear mother was constantly brewing tea for everyone. Grownups often played cards during the air raids; I learned to play whist by watching them! One night during a raid there was a loud knock at the front door and a voice crying “Put that light out.” My father hurried to the door to find Les and another airman friend who were on leave and thought to startle us. They certainly had! Lots of hugs and kisses!

must have been difficult for adults yet I never remember being hungry. We always had a Sunday roast with lots of veg. Dad was famous for the small fine slices he carved. We usually had cold meat and bubble-and-squeak on Monday and often delicious stew with the bone and dumplings on Tuesday. How did Mum stretch the small joint so far? She did our weekly ration shopping at the local shops; the butcher for the meat ration and occasional sausages and Perks for groceries, and dairy goods. Fish was not rationed but was not readily available and the queues were very long to buy it in Sutton. We had home grown vegetables and fruit from the back garden; children could not be fussy eaters!

Dad was out of the house every morning in the dark to get to work, six days a week. Some nights he did his turn ‘fire-watching’ at the bakery. He was a trained St John’s Ambulance first-aider and our neighbours turned to him on many occasions.

I was enrolled as a pupil at Welbeck Road School, close by. There was half day schooling for some time because many teachers and pupils had been evacuated. Sometimes a teacher would visit us at home to inspect the work she had left us. At school we spent time in the shelters when there were daylight air raids; I remember the peculiar ‘shelter’ smell. We worked hard preparing for the examinations for the Scholarship which would enable us to go to Grammar School.

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 19/08/2010.
Comments about this page

I was born in Winchcombe Road at the beginning of 1939. A bomb landed near to our house in 1940 and I am told that with all the debris around in the house, my Nan with whom we were living at the time, shouted to Mum don't come near me I'm caught up in a lot of live wire. Turned out to be her knitting.

By Jean Stacey (Nee Dilly)
On 31/01/2012

Lovely to remember. I too went to Welbeck Road School, but from 1934 to 1936 when I left to be a Boy Messenger and would pass those guns on the Common on my way to the railway station. In those days the school was a boys only establishment.

By Edward Wilkins
On 06/11/2016

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