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
theres 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 wifes 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
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
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
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
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 "Thats grandmothers
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 giants 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.
6:00am. During this time, somewhere between
Scotland and Leicester, my wifes 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
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
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 60s 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. (Dads Army etc.) All talked about that
night with great reluctance and my wifes 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
By Terence C. Cartwright
1st May 2003