"Jerry's up to sumut tonight"

    7:10pm. Nov 19th 1940. The back door opened and in came my father (who had been out trying to buy "under the counter" cigarettes). White faced, breathless and with anxiety in his voice said "Jerries up to sumut tonight – there’s flares all over the place!"

    With the recent bombing of nearby Coventry fresh in our minds the sound of the sirens, which, through familiarity we had grown to ignore, now filled us with apprehension. Our Anderson shelter was uninhabitable. My mother hastily prepared space under the stairs for a shelter. On making a trip to our outside toilet I was amazed to see a red glow growing over the city. Quite spectacular in those "blacked out" days.

    7:20pm. Meanwhile, my grandfather, who lived in Dorothy Road, was busy preparing sandwiches to take to a factory (I think it was Grewcocks in the Highfields area) where he was due to spend the night on fire watch.

    7:30pm. At Grove Road, my wife Doreen (7 years old), her mother, sister Margaret (8 years old), and brother Brian (5 years old), were not sure what to do, their mother had just been discharged from hospital after an operation, was very weak (her father was in the forces). So they decided to remain in the house. My wife’s best friend, Joan (6 years old), who was in the house at that time, was collected by a warden and taken to her home at No.2, a few doors away.

    8:00pm. In Ash Street, my grandmother who had just returned from a visit to see her sister and cousins who lived nearby in Frank Street, decided to go to the Ash Street communal shelter.

    They had not been in the shelter very long before they heard an enormous explosion. A few minutes later, a "clown" (the only way to describe him) of a A.R.P warden, stuck his head through the door and shouted "Frank Street's gone!" Many people in the shelter had friends/relatives who lived in Frank Street, the anxiety and stress this caused must have been horrendous! (Special pamphlets had been issued by the council asking people not to announce or speculate where bombs had fallen to prevent this type of stress and possibly panic in crowded shelters.)

    It was not until the next day my grandmother found that both her twin cousins had died. They were blown down the steps of the cellar, where they were hoping to shelter. Her sister, who remained in the living room, was dug out the next day. She never recovered from the shock & trauma and died sometime later.

    9:00pm. Back at my house we had settled in under the stairs. We had heard German aircraft and bombs falling for some time, they appeared to arrive at 20-30 minute intervals, so we took advantage of this in order to mash tea and visit the toilet, etc.

    10:00pm. Back at Grove Road, things were hotting up! With bombs falling ever closer, my wife (Doreen) insisted they should all go to next doors brick shelter built at the back of the house.

    They managed between them to help their mother to the shelter, which already contained 6 people. They had only been in the shelter for a few minutes when my wife said she suddenly went blind, deaf and felt as if she was suffocating. Time sense was lost, and the next thing she remembers was a burning pain on her forehead. On managing to open her eyes she found that a burning candle had fallen on her forehead but when she tried to move it, she found she was completely trapped by masonry, however, thankfully the candle then went out due to lack of oxygen. How long she remained like this she does not know.

    In the shelter was a young girl, Betty (12 years old), who saw a small opening in the rubble. After moving a few bricks, Brian was pushed through this hole and helped to widen it to allow more air in the shelter, his own recollections are very vague but he does remember the enormous flames & fires caused by fractured gas mains. (He thought the World was on fire!) Eventually, Betty managed to get out and proceeded to extricate some of the occupants. She ran to a warden who was standing near by, but he refused to help and told her to wait for the rescue squads. She ignored this and carried on with her digging and managed to extricate all of the occupants apart from her father who was trapped by the legs. (I understand he was still holding a pint glass of beer!)

    When the rescue squads arrived, some were Polish airmen (my wife remembers she thought they were invading Germans). Their mother was sent to hospital where it was found her operation stitches had burst.

    They were then taken to another shelter where she says it was full of children looking like Victorian chimney sweeps! However, the roof was found to be cracked and they had to abandon this shelter and were directed to a house in Sherrard Street. It was at this point they decided to walk to their grandmothers house. They knew roughly where it was but were not sure (Catherine Street).

    They started their journey through the rubble strewn streets but it was not long before a man in a black car picked them up, and in spite of the fact they first refused to tell him anything because they thought he was a "spy", they managed to drive around the Catherine Street area and he eventually delivered them, but only after Brian piped up with "That’s grandmother’s house" as they drove by!

    12:30pm. Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting (I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant’s footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive! It was as the explosions got nearer I felt my first twinge of fear! Thankfully, they stopped short. They had fallen a short distance away across the Green Lane Road, damaging houses and Wadkins Eng. Factory.

    6:00am. During this time, somewhere between Scotland and Leicester, my wife’s father was on duty as a dispatch rider escorting a convoy to southern England. He quite by chance took this opportunity to break convoy and visit his family. He drove into Vulcan Road and turning into Grove Road was presented with the appalling sight of an enormous crater and a pile of rubble where his home had been. (This shock was also inflicted on both the sister of Betty who had been sheltering in town during the raid who collapsed, and was taken to hospital and her older brother Jack who had also been out).

    
Doreens father was told his family were believed to be dead (they held a memorial service for them at St. Saviours Road infants school in the same belief) and he had to return to his unit to obtain compassionate leave. I understand it took a few days before the family got together again.

    The young friend and her mother died at No.4 (They had gone to keep a blind man company and did not survive). Joan's 16 year old brother Pete who was in No.2 which survived the blast, found them both dead under the rubble. This was shortly after the news that his elder brother had been blown up in a motor torpedo boat and was in hospital, badly injured.

    7:00am. Back to my grandfather, the following morning he awoke to find he was in bed fully dressed and caked in plaster and brickdust. My grandmother said all she could see was bloodshot eyes looking at her from a concrete statue, he could not remember how he got into this state but after a bath decided he should go to work. Much to his puzzlement he could not find his bike! Eventually he decided to make the journey by foot but when he arrived at the factory he found it almost completely destroyed! He never did remember what happened that night, the only recollection he had was standing on the roof of the factory (like Nero) watching the city burn! It would appear that it was then that the bomb struck causing him to fall through 3 floors, and then walked home suffering from shock. He never did find his bike. This upset him the most!

    My wife and family were severely traumatised by the experiences and it was not until the late 60’s did I begin to learn more about the events of that night. They lost all their possessions. The only item which survived the blast was a treadle Singer sewing machine which is still in the family today! Both her and her mother felt ill whenever they heard the sound of sirens on the T.V. (Dad’s Army etc.) All talked about that night with great reluctance and my wife’s lungs never did recover from inhaling brick dust, which left a permanent scar. Betty came through unscathed but suffered a nervous breakdown months later.

    Both the incidents at Grove Road and Frank Street were caused by parachute-mines, destroying 14 houses at each location.



By Terence C. Cartwright
Wigston











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