Gunfire on St. Helier

... all our windows and mirrors would bounce on the wall..

Photo:Bullet hole in Westminster Road

Bullet hole in Westminster Road

Renee Cromarty

The German bombers used the easily recognisable building of St.Helier Hospital as a guide line towards the factories at Beddington Corner.  Eventually, the authorities attempted to make it less recognisable by camouflaging its bright, white colour with a dirty grey. An ack-ack gun was situated on one of the Council corners on Westminster Road as there was a good line of sight there to the skies above the hospital.  The adjoining house still has bullet holes in its brickwork from when the German pilots retaliated. Does anyone remember the position of other guns on the estate?

The flashes were blinding ..

"The worst thing for us in our little shelter, was the sound of the anti-aircraft gunfire, which we were in the thick of.  These guns made a colossal noise and the flashes were blinding;  we put a cloth up to the shelter door to lessen the glare, and to help keep our the cold.  It became easy to distinguish between the gunfire and bomb explosions; the anti-aircraft guns made a sharp 'pang' sound, and the bombs, apart from the 'shu shu' sound when falling close, landed with a sort of 'balomp' noise causing the ground to vibrate even at quite a distance."  (An extract from Memories of a Morden Lad 1932-1957) by Ronald Read, published by Merton Historical Society - Local History Notes No. 30.  The booklet can be purchased from the society very reasonably.)

Friendly fire

Over by Mitcham Junction Station was a very large army encampment with many guns.  James Jackson, who lived in Peterborough Road, remembers the noise.

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 26/06/2010.
Comments about this page

I was born in 144 Garendon Road in 1932 and moved to 24 Reigate Avenue Christmas 1939. Opposite was the orchard (later allotments) of Rose Hill House (later the AFS/NFS Fire Station). Near the corner by the roundabout were the white concrete, red-window-framed phone kiosk, the blue ("Tardis") Police Box and the air raid siren. If the siren caught you unawares, it was petrifying! Vibrations came through your feet and resonated in your chest; ears went on ringing for several minutes after it had finished its banshee wail! Joy!

There were two quick-firing Bofors guns 200 yards away on on Rosehill roundabout. They made a hell of a noise with their bam-a-bam-bam, sending flashes and blast-waves through the shelter doorway.

By Bill Mallion
On 24/11/2010

Hello Bill, I am surprised that you were not all completely deaf from that siren. I know I was walking past it once when it wound up, I jumped out of my skin. All the sirens in surrounding areas would go off at different times and you got to know after a while which one it was. Where we lived in Glastonbury Rd. we had the railway line running along the back of our garden and at one time there was a gun mounted on a flat back that would cruise up and down and if they fired that near to your house you didn't sleep much.

By Peter Leonard
On 21/03/2011

Us kids used to refer to that one on the railway as a "Naval Gun". It only seemed to fire about every 20 minutes and made a horrendous noise- even from our house a quarter of a mile away, near to Rose Hill roundabout . Rumour was that they removed it, as it shook the railway lines loose! In the lower fields running alongside Rose Hill (Below "The Rockies" and opposite Rose Hill Park West) they installed a searchlight battery, with "sound detectors" (4 dishes mounted on a trailer and pointed at the sky) and a Lewis machine gun for protection. When they switched-on the searchlight, the whole of Reigate Avenue was bathed in light; most disconcerting! Early-on in the war, there was a sandbagged and barbed wired machine gun post actually on the edge of "The Rockies" and pointing towards "The Angel". It was opposite the timber yard (Strowgers?), Beacons sweetshop & tbacconist, the off-licence and a filling station on the corner of Rosehill Avenue and South Suburban Co-op. Just beyond the other end of Rosehill Avenue, on the last little parade of shops before the hospital, they used 2 empty shops for storing great rolls of newsprint. We wriggled through the slatted fence and played amongst them! Just down from that end of Rosehill Avenue, do folks remember Caves, a lovely old shop smelling of sacks of seeds,dried beans, dog biscuits, etc. It also incorporated the Sub Post Office. Down from there were Hearns, MacFisheries, Boots, Sainsburys, McFarlands, Tescos, Pearces, Meyers (later became Gerrards- on the corner facing the roundabout). Opposite Gerrards, I earned myself sixpenny savings stamp by standing on a tree stump outside the (then) "Rose" pub,and reciting the words from a National Savings post- "Come-on chaps, we're all in this together. I'll keep the frontline safe, if you'll stand firm behind me!" My one brief moment of fame! I wonder how many more Snellier Thespians are still around..?!! Scary, but happy days. Bill Mallion

By Bill Mallion
On 27/03/2011

Hi Bill and Peter..... Thanks for jogging my memory cells re life & times on the estate in the 40's. My family moved from Winchcombe Road to Glastonbury Road in the spring of 1939 to no 304 I was 4 at the time, and lived in the area till 1976 when I moved to Bournemouth. No 304 was opposite Hunstone Road, and had a post box outside and was for some reason in the borough of Sutton & Cheam. Yes I well remember the gun as our house backed on to the railway, the gun was supported by a searchlight in the Reigate Avenue playing fields. We had a brick built shelter where 2/3 families would huddle on bad nights. Bombs fell in Hunstone Road where the blast travelled down the road and our front door was blown in and ceilings came down. There were bombs also in Glastonbury Road and of course the land mine in Love Lane. Peter are you related to Dave Lenoard whose favourite song was Woodman spare that tree.!!! So many memories to recall.....the school shelters...queueing for coke at the gas works. Other names that spring to mind were the Beckwith family Percey Stock who lived opposite the school. I still go up to Sutton mainly to see the football club, and recently took the opportunity to drive pass the school, I could not believe the changes, front gardens gone, with the cherry tree, and neatly trimmed privet hedges, all paved over for cars. No one on their hands and knees polishing the steps with Cardinal red polish.....happy days!!! Fred Knopp 29/03.2011

By Freddie Knopp
On 13/07/2011

thanks bill great story told..i was wondering any war news on or around aultone way, danescourt cresent opposite rose hill pk. junction on rose hill park west. i also found a uxb in a garden in grennell rd suttonwas it a shell from anti gun fire found in 1970s

By philipmaguire
On 13/07/2011

Hello Freddie, I probably knew you when we lived in Glastonbury Rd. but the name doesn't ring a bell. I certainly knew the Beckwith family they lived next door but one. Percy Stock was at school with me (I think). His Dad was the first one in the street to have a car just after the war. I don't know a Dave Leonard but my brother was Ray and both he and I were keen on Phil Harris who sang the woodman song.

By peter leonard
On 24/07/2011

remember Gerrards, all the wools, teacloths,socks, vests etc outside in display boxes for some reason I loved that shop!! oh and the red cardinal steps...remember those!!!

By sue from Wiltshire
On 24/09/2011

I wasn't born until 1941, but from a very early age my mother would sit with me at the back bedroom window and we would look across Poulter Park and Mitcham Common beyond, to watch the searchlights and guns. I am blessed with a very good memory and recall virtually everything from 1943 onwards including the later bombings and of course the V1's and V2's. The sound of the air raid siren thrilled me as a child and is still my favourite sound. In July 1944, the Co-op Milkman had parked his horse beneath the siren in Middleton Road almost where it meets Peterborough Road where I lived. I was walking with mum and a local dog named Gyp was accompanying us back from The Circle. The siren went off above our heads, Gyp shot accros the road squeeling and knocked the postman off his bike and the horse forgot its nosebag and bolted. Galloping up Peterborough with nostrils flaring and the milkman running behind, the horse slewed the Co-op wagon from side to side, flinging bottles and churns onto the road and pavements, flooding everything in frothy white milk, before managing to jump the privets of a house on Selby Green with the milkcart stuck in the flattened bushes. On another occasion, I think earlier that year, mum, gran, my cousin and I were walking across the Rockerty Road to Dublin towards Robertsbridge Road, when a German plane shot up St Helier Hospital. It flew by with two lines of bullets zipping across the green where the running track is now and missing us by just a few feet. What stands out the most though, is not the sound of the guns, but gran standing upright as the plane flew overhead, shouting "You Buggers."

On 18/03/2013

My mum used to tell us about my granddad and the things he got up to. My Mum lived in Rose Hill Avenue and my Nan and Granddad lived in Cartmel gardens. One day Granddad had just left Mums when the siren went off so he took shelter in the door of the Coop on the corner of Rose Hill Ave. A bomb must have dropped quite close by because when the all clear went he came out and every other shop had lost their windows but the Coop stood intact.

By Amanda Campbell
On 28/06/2013

My grandad George Cooper (from Hayfield in Derbyshire) was one of the crew on the listening device /searchlight

By Nye Cooper
On 02/07/2020

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.