Stories of the Blitz

70 years on, surviving witnesses to the Blitz still have their own, very personal stories to tell.

Photo:Aerial view of London during the Blitz

Aerial view of London during the Blitz

Raymond Weeks

The commencement of air raids on Saturday 7 September 1940 marked the beginning of a sustained bombing campaign on London which was to last for 76 consecutive nights.

Len Perry, who was 16 when the war started, has vivid memories of that Saturday afternoon:

I was cycling home to Deptford from Bexley in company with four friends. We had been swimming in Danson Park...planes were passing over us in groups of fifty or more, the whole sky was trembling like a giant thunder storm, it seemed indeed an air armada, it just had to be stared at, a magnificent sight exciting to us teenagers. Already there were blood red reflections on the buildings as we crested the top of Shooters Hill and from there it seemed the whole of the Thames basin and docks were ablaze. For the first time we felt fear ...While gazing at this awesome sight we saw a fighter come tumbling out of the sky...we cycled across Blackheath and there to our amazement was the wreckage of the plane we had seen come down twenty minutes ago.  Already a rope was round it and a policeman standing by who promptly told us to beat it so we grabbed a bit for a souvenir and ran off. Next morning we visited the site with other friends to show them the plane but everything had gone and the site was clear.

The plane that Len witnessed falling out of the sky ‘like a Catherine wheel’, was a Hurricane piloted by Australian Flight Lieutenant  R C Reynell of the Royal Air Force.  A member of 43 Squadron, he bailed out but his shoot failed to open and he fell in the grounds of Greyladies College on Blackheath Hill.  He was 28 years old.

Even if you were fortunate enough to have a working parachute, survival was not guaranteed as reported in the Daily Mirror of Monday 9 September 1940:

"It was sheer, cold-blooded murder," said an East End stevedore, describing how two German planes again machine-gunned the pilot of a Spitfire as he descended by parachute during the first raid on Saturday. "The Spitfire,' he said," was shot down in flames, and the pilot bailed out. As he floated down two German fighters passed and re-passed him, pouring burst after burst of machine-gun fire into him. "We could see the pilot sag in his harness, and then he fell on top of a barrage balloon.  The crew hauled the balloon in, and they got the pilot down.”

Emily and Florence Hunt, who were living in Shooters Hill, South East London have clear memories of that Saturday. Emily Hunt thinks that 7 September 1940 marked a time of change and attitude.

'I had been to theatre with two friends and we were strolling along Whitehall when we heard the drone of planes, looked up, and there were dozens of them in rows and columns. Then the sirens went. It was all so unexpected. No-one was really prepared for such a disaster'

I had been to theatre with two friends and we were strolling along Whitehall when we heard the drone of planes, looked up, and there were dozens of them in rows and columns. Then the sirens went. It was all so unexpected. No-one was really prepared for such a disaster. An air-raid warden forced us to go into a shelter, we did not want to but realised he was in a panic and did as we were told. It was 6 o’ clock when we were released and then there was panic as we all fled on our way to try and find transport home.  The driver and conductor of the 53 bus I boarded were as determined to get home to Plumstead Garage as I was to get to Shooters Hill. The daylight had gone behind a big black cloud and I could smell smoke and burning. All along the Old Kent Road there was evidence of bomb damage – piles of brick dust and rubbish, broken furniture and bedrooms exposed to sight.  Looking back I believe that was the only time I was really frightened. We rejoiced in the victories, were saddened by disasters. We knew we were not being told everything.

Florence Hunt was working overtime that Saturday at Siemen’s factory situated on the riverside at Charlton. 

When the air raid siren sounded at about 4pm, all staff went down to the shelter.  I was in charge of the first aid box as usual. It had a good supply of sal volatile (smelling salts) which came into its own that day.  The foreman risked making a recce. He reported that the one block had been hit, steam pipes had broken, the office was swamped, the clocks had stopped at 4.50 and the sky was black.

It was only when Florence emerged from the shelter that she realised the extent of the damage. She recalls that ‘black smoke covered the whole of Woolwich common’ and that upon arriving home her mother was standing on the street looking for her, having been told the Siemen’s factory was ablaze.

Peggy Durham who was 15 when war was declared, remembers:

The blitz really hotted up. We were bombed night after night, and then came all the incendiary bombs which set all of the factories alight. By this time the Isle of Dogs was surrounded by a ring of fire – you could feel the heat. All the family was terrified. We were tired and dirty and never slept.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 22/11/2011.
Comments about this page

It's terrifying to think of London like this, these stories make it all seem so real. It makes me so proud to be a Londoner, hearing about how brave everyone was.

By Sarah Macri
On 09/05/2012