logo - Join me in the 1900s
logo - guest contribution

Various observations on the
London home front in World War Two

YOU ARE HERE: home > war

Here are some things which I recall from 1942-43:

The requisition of garden railings

Huxley Estate, Edmonton, c1942 showing a house number with the St John's 
		ambulance cross painted on the pavement, the iron railings still in position prior 
		to removal for the war effort and the complete absence of cars.

Huxley Estate, Edmonton, c1942 showing a house number with the St John's ambulance cross painted on the pavement. Note the iron railings still in position prior to removal for the war effort and the complete absence of cars. Photo courtesy of John Cole.

All of the front gardens in the street were kept very neat and tidy, with wrought iron railings set atop low brick walls along the front, bounding the pave­ment, usually in front of a privet hedge. In 1943 they were all removed, because steel was needed for the war effort. They were never replaced.

to top of page

House numbers on pavements

During 1942 house numbers were painted on pavements in front of every so-many houses. Presumably this was so that if a row of houses was obliterated they could still be identified. A 'St. John's Ambulance cross' against the number signified a 'first aider'.

to top of page

Fire watching and fire fighting

My father worked at the head office of the Abbey Road Building Society, (later to become Abbey National) at the top end of Baker Street, London. The building had a tower, rather like a bell tower, about five storeys up, and this was the look-out position for the fire watchers, of whom my father was one. He sometimes took me with him, which involved an all night stint looking out over the local area of London, and presumably alerting the authorities as necessary. Imagine watching the London Blitz from that vantage point!

Going without sleep for firewatching

WW2 poster encouraging men to do fire watching and everyone to do fire fighting

My father was employed in an engineering factory working 12 hours shifts 6 days a week, and between shifts he was expected to do fire watching on the factory roof.

Peter Johnson

Where we lived, firewatching shifts lasted the entire night, which meant a full day at work, a full night without sleep and then another full day at work. Firewatching shifts may of course have been shorter in other areas.

comment in a group

Firewatching had to be from a good vantage point which meant being high up and out of doors whatever the weather. My father told the story that he was firewatching on a muddy ridge when he slipped down it and was covered in mud. So he went home to clean up, but once he got there he decided not to bother to go back. Fortunately no-one ever knew because there were no fires that night.

another comment in a group

Firewatching overnight was not just the preserve of men. My mother who was in a reserved occupation had to do fire duty along with the men. I gather that they all huddled together under rather smelly blankets, staying awake at night on the roof of the building where she worked.

Josephine Cock

to top of page

Putting out incendiary bombs

The fire brigade teach residents how to put out incendiary bombs

Every able bodied male had to do fire drill, if only to protect his own house. I can remember my father lying in the street trying to put out a small practice fire with a stirrup pump. He was holding the end of the pipe in one hand and in the other a metal plate with a slit in it to protect his face while another man was pushing and pulling on the pump handle. The pump was standing in a bucket of water. The fire brigade went around the streets teaching groups of residents this fire fighting drill.

Peter Johnson

How to use a stirrup pump

stirup pump thumbnail

Click for a larger more detailed image.

Every household had to be within easy reach of a stirrup pump and buckets. The pump needed several people to work it: one on the pump itself and others to ferry buckets of water to the pump. Pumping was extremely hard work and the person doing it had to keep a foot on the base of the pump to keep it still as he or she pushed down and pulled up.

Neil Cryer

One Sunday morning, I was walking with my father along Fore Street, Edmonton. A stick of incendiary bombs had evidently fallen on the houses and the flats above the shops along the east side of Fore Street (a main road running northwards out of London). These had penetrated the roofs and had landed in the houses. A burning mattress had been heaved out of an upstairs window and had landed on the pavement - a rude awakening!

to top of page

Landmines

A landmine fell on or near the North Middlesex Hospital, and this may have been the one that flattened the Clarke house in Pymmes Villas, but I was really too young to remember. I remember the surviving Clarkes living in Gloucester Road which must have been where they were re-housed.

Butterfly bombs

There were also butterfly bombs. These were small round canisters from which protruded a rod at the end of which were some wings. They were painted in various bright colours so as to look like a child's toy. They did not explode on impact but lay on the ground until some small child picked it up out of curiosity. The result is too evil to think about. We were shown an example of one of these devices at school assembly and there were posters put up to warn people.

Peter Johnson

Main page contributed by John Cole

to top of page