Tag Archives: Air Raid Wardens

War and a Lee Street – Taunton Road

Over the years Running Past has looked at the impact of the Blitz and the V-1 and V-2 attacks at the end of World War Two, as well as looking at the preparations that were made ahead of war being declared.  This post takes a slightly different tack, looking at one street and the impact that was felt there – Taunton Road, a street of mainly Victorian terraced houses running from Burnt Ash Road to Manor Lane.

In the main we’ll look at World War Two, but we’ll start with World War One; like virtually every other street there were young men who went to war from Lee but who never returned….

Frank Eugene Gamblin was just 19 when he died on 31 May 1918 in Northern France.  He was the son of Thomas and Edith Gamblin of 50 Taunton Road (at the corner of Hedgley Street).  He was a Private in the Devonshire Regiment.  Frank had been working part time as a ‘Milk Boy’ aged 12 in 1911, still at school and living in Rhyme Road in Lewisham.

Just beyond the school, at 58 Taunton Road, lived William Jupp; he had been born in Lee, although the family have moved to Hove for a while but was in the street by the 1911 census. At that point he was still at school, but just over seven years later, on 24 August 1918, he died near Albert in Northern France, aged just 21, a rifleman in the London Regiment.  His parents, Rachael and William, were still living in Taunton Road.

James Woodnott was a Private in the London Regiment who died at Aubers Ridge on 4 October 1918 in Northern France and was buried close by.  Born in 1886 he was the oldest of the five who died. He had grown up in Dacre Street; by 1909 he had married Fanny, and in 1911 he was working as a carman living in Neuchatel Road in Catford.  They were living at 83 Taunton Road, opposite the park entrance, as war broke out with two children, born in 1913 and 1914.

Another man with links to the street was Alfred Edward (Edwin) Braine. He had a couple of rooms at number 13 before he went to war. Born around 1881, he seems to have lived on the street for much of his life – growing up at 37. He was serving as a Sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery when he died towards the end of on the war on 20 September 1918 and is buried or commemorated at the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. He may well have joined the Army at 18, someone of a similar name (the middle name is listed as Edwin) and age signed up in October 1899 in the same regiment.

Charles Frederick Broad had grown up in Taunton Road, born around 1896 his parents, Rose and Huntley, were living at 84 Taunton Road by 1901.  He was still at school in 1911 but died less than six years later aged just 20 in Belgium on New Year’s Day 1917 where he was buried at Spoilbank Cemetery (pictured below).  He was a Lance Corporal in the London Regiment.  His parents were Huntley Charles Broad and Rose Matilda Broad still of 84 Taunton Road.

Entrance stone for Spoilbank cemetery

Two doors away at 80, was the mother of Ernest E Jackson; he was a Corporal in the Royal Fusiliers and died at Gallipoli on 13 August 1915, aged 22.  He may have no direct contact to Lee other than through her – Mrs Florence Brosinovich, who had married Henry in 1893.  Ernest was almost certainly born Brosinovich.

For reasons that will become clear, we will continue with the group of houses to the west of the park entrance where the Brosinovich and Broad households lived.  Unlike the bigger houses in the streets to the south, that part of Taunton Road hadn’t changed that much between 1911 and the outbreak of World War Two, it was still predominantly single-family homes, mainly housing skilled working-class households, when the 1939 Register was collected.

Florence Brosinovich and some of her family were still at 80, they shared with another couple. 80 was the only shared house in the group, two households with 5 people and all but Florence worked. 

The Broads were still at 84, Charles’ younger brother was working as a local government officer and his father in his 60s was working as a printer.  Their neighbours at 86 were the Buttons where Robert worked as a lorry driver and got the ‘heavy work’ supplement which would have entitled him to larger rations.  On the other side at 82 were three women sharing, including typist Doreen Tew, who would have turned 19 in the autumn of 1939.

Others in the group of houses to the west of the park included Amos and Elizbeth Howick at 70 who were in their 60s, he was a bricklayer and he too would have been entitled to the ‘Heavy Work’ supplement in the rations.  The Wilsons at 74, included paper hanger Henry in his early 50s, his work wouldn’t have got the supplement.

A little further down the street was Hedgley Street School (now Trinity), which is pictured above; there is a separate post on this but just before the 1939 Register was collated most of the children would have been evacuated to Ashford in Kent.  Although given it was another year until the start of the Blitz, many children will have drifted back to Taunton Road and neighbouring streets by the time bombing started.

As the children moved out, the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) service moved in.  Their role has been explored in an earlier post but one of the but several of the Noble family from 49 Lampmead Road were to be based there.  This included Phyllis (later Willmott) and her brother Joe who was injured when school bombed and seriously damaged with the front part largely destroyed in 1941 – the school never re-assembled.

Oddly the Nobles were to move to the house next door to the school (52) which had a yard (now part of the school playground) for Phyllis father’s building business – a trade that would have been kept very busy with repairing local bomb damage.

One of the earliest bombs to hit the street was on 25 September 1940 when an Anderson shelter in the garden of number 1, a small house on the opposite side to Sainsburys, took a direct hit – Charles (who worked at RAF Kidbrooke) and Claire Rivers both died, along with their 7-year-old daughter Sylvia – orphaning several other children.  There were 11 there in October 1939, including five who were redacted presumably children who weren’t evacuated. One of the surviving children, Ruby, ended up in an orphanage but was discovered by a brother were returned to Lewisham on leave and reunited her with other family members.

The deaths at number one weren’t the first from the street during World War Two though.  Sylvia Wickens from number 7 had volunteered to be an ARP Warden, she was based in Lewisham Town Centre and was one of 41 who died at Albion Way on 11 September 1940, when a public shelter took a direct hit. 

Almost four years later another resident of the street died in an attack on Lewisham town centre – Maude Clarke from 85 died in the High Street V-1 attack in July 1944.

Returning to the Taunton Road, the most damaging raid was just before Christmas in 1940, when the section of the street that we covered above in relation to the 1939 Register was hit by a High Explosive bomb on 15 December.  82 probably took a direct hit as there was most damage there, but several other houses were destroyed beyond repair and replaced after the war with council homes.

At 82 there were two deaths – one was the 23-year-old Monica Tew, who was listed as the daughter of H Tew. It may be remembered that Monica’s sister, Doreen was living there in 1939, the Tews may be have been displaced by earlier raids elsewhere.

82 was a shared house by 1940, also there were the Setons whose 7-year-old daughter Elizabeth also perished.  She had probably been originally been evacuated (see above) but had later returned to Lewisham.

Assuming that Florence Brosinovich had remained at 80 in the year since the 1939 Register was collected, she would have been made homeless – it seems that she moved to somewhere in the Reigate, Godstone, Dorking and Epsom area of Surrey where she died before the war was out in 1943.

There were other bombings on the street – lots of incendiary bombs fell around the junction with Wantage Road on 8 December 1940, not obviously causing any significant damage.  At some stage houses closer to the now Sainsburys site were destroyed, although this was either missed when I went through the ARP logs or wasn’t recorded, not every incident was on busy nights. 

At the end of the War, on VE Day there were celebrations of the end of the war, no doubt they were tempered by the deaths and injuries to friends and neighbours.  There was certainly a party on Taunton Road, possibly two.  The photograph above is taken from around the park entrance looking back towards Wantage Road – there is a concrete air raid shelter in the background.  The one below is in the section close to Burnt Ash Road that was redeveloped 20 years or so later. 

Notes & Credits

  • The photograph of Spoilbank Cemetery is via Wikipedia on a Creative Commons
  • Thank you to David Carter for the information about his family who were orphaned in September 1940 link here
  • The photographs of VE parties are from the collection of Lewisham Archives, they are used with permission but remain their copyright
  • The photograph of Hedgely Street School is from a booklet produced by Church of the Good Shepherd, Lee in 1956, p15 – it remains their copyright and was accessed via Lewisham Archives and was used with the permission of both
  • The census and related data comes via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The World War One casualties come from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
  • Most of the detail of the bombing raids come via the ARP Log for Lewisham which is held by Lewisham Archives
  • Thank you to Denise Whibley Baba on Facebook for details of Alfred Edward (Edwin) Braine.

Preparations for World War Two – ARP Wardens, Sirens and Black Outs

As part of the 80th anniversary of World War 2 breaking out, Running Past has been looking at some of the preparations for war on the ‘Home Front.’ So far, this has included Lewisham children being evacuated to Kent then Surrey and the variety of shelters used to one of the key elements try to keep the civilian population safe during air raids. We return now to the Civil Defence services set up to try to keep the civilian population that remained in London and other urban centres as safe as possible from the air attacks that were expected soon after war broke out.  This post looks in particular the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) service.

Like the building of shelters, the roots go back to the interwar period. The ARP Department of the Home Office was set up in 1935 (1),  although appeals for volunteers were not made until 1937 – the approach was based on studying the impact of fascist bombing of Republican areas of Spain and the measures that were employed on the ground there (2). A second appeal for volunteers was made in March 1938 (3).

In the months before war broke out, it was agreed to pay full time ARP personnel £3 per week, although only £2 for women, with recruitment posters stressing the desire for ‘responsible men.’ Later in the year payments for some part time personnel were agreed (4).

Some of the early work that ARP wardens had to contend with was enforcing the blackout that was introduced on 1 September 1939 and lasted until April 1945 (5). Shop windows were darkened from 6:00 pm as were houses – requiring heavy curtains or blankets to ensure that no light escaped. Streets in almost darkness were dangerous with a large increase in injuries – 20% of the population reported as having suffered blackout related injuries in the first 4 months that they were in operation.

Road deaths increased around 40% when compared with pre-war fatalities. Regular readers will recall that a few years earlier Lewisham streets were noted as being some of the most dangerous in London.

Source ebay March 2016

Their control centre was in the basement of the old Town Hall in Catford (above) and, after January 1940, was funded through the rates, a predecessor of Council Tax (6). Every bombing, incendiary and related incident was phoned through to the ARP control centre who effectively acted as an emergency call centre.  They would find out about injuries, deaths, those trapped or missing, any fires that couldn’t be controlled locally (7) and look to send emergency services to assist.  On nights where there was heavy bombardment or large numbers of incendiary devices dropped these were not always available, as we saw with the fire that destroyed the original Church of the Good Shepherd in Lee, below.

Below is one small part of the Lewisham ARP log for the period between Christmas and New Year in 1940, while there had been a lull on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, hundreds of high explosives and incendiary bombs were dropped over the next few days, many around Lee. We’ll explore these attacks in much more detail in later posts.

At the level below the control centre, Individual wardens were based at schools and some purpose built concrete ‘pillboxes’ (8) around the community. They each served a population of 2 to 3,000, typically with a complement of six wardens, mainly part time (9).

One of the ARP posts in Lee was at what was then Hedgley Street School, pictured above (it was later Northbrook and currently Trinity Lewisham School) on the corner of Taunton Road. Running Past has covered the Noble family, who started the war at 49 Lampmead Road, a number of times before, including in relation to 1920’s play and the ‘Sunday Constitutional.’ Several of the family members worked for the ARP – Phyllis was briefly a warden with a navy battledress and steel helmet with a large white ‘W’ on the front (10). Her brother Joe and a cousin, who also lived at 49 Lampmead Road, worked as messengers based at the School – while in theory there were telephone links to Catford, cycle and motor cycle based messengers were used too in case lines came down.

The school was hit while Phyllis’ younger brother, Joe, was working there and partially destroyed. He was to be the only one injured – a bruised ankle from a falling fireplace (11). The ARP post presumably moved to an undamaged part of the evacuated school.

On the ground, the local ARP wardens would deal with whatever was needed, this ranged from providing first aid to those injured in incidents, directing people to shelters and help in getting the dead and injured out of bombed premises, this was both for hits on houses as well as the larger scale destruction of incidents like the attack on Sandhurst Road School in early 1943.

In front of St Stephens Church in Lewisham is a tall metal post with what looks like a pair of speakers attached to the top. It is easy to miss, particularly when the adjacent trees alongside the Quaggy are in leaf. It seems to be Lewisham’s last remaining air raid warning siren – one of around 25 around the then Boroughs of Deptford and Lewisham (12).

Once the warning sounded ARP wardens ensured that residents took cover in one of the air raid shelters; they sounded on over 1200 occasions during the war. Other locations seem to have included a former police station on Catford Hill, Catford Police Station on Bromley Road and Sandhurst Road School. The survival of the Lewisham one probably relates to its location next to the Quaggy and has a residual use as a flood warning siren.

The chilling sound of the air raid warning siren and, at the end, the all clear sound is on the YouTube video.

Finally, it is worth remembering that many ARP wardens lost their lives during the war; across London around 300 perished (13).  Those that died serving their community in Lewisham included (14):

  • Albert Brown (64) of 1 Eliot Hill was Injured at 14 Montpelier Vale on 8 March 1945 in the aftermath of the V-2 attack on Blackheath and died later the same day at Lewisham Hospital (pictured below);
  • Henry Cottell (52) was a Senior Air Raid Warden of 41 Manor Lane Terrace was injured at Lee High Road on 29/12/1940 and died same day at Lewisham Hospital;
  • Barbara Fleming (16) of 20 Farmfield Road in Bellingham was injured on 16/04/1941 at Warden’s Post, Ashgrove Road; died same day at Lewisham Hospital;
  •  Douglas Hardisty (44) ; of 70 Vancouver Road in Forest Hill who was a Captain in the  Home Guard as well as being an ARP Warden was Injured 21 March 1944, at corner of Vancouver Road and Kilmorie Road; he died at Lewisham Hospital;
  • Kenneth Smith (33) of 251 Burnt Ash Hill was injured at Methodist Chapel, Burnt Ash Hill on 13/10/1940 and died same day at Lewisham Hospital; and
  • Marjorie Wickens (19) of 7 Taunton Road died at the Albion Way Shelter on 11 September 1940.


Running Past will return to the fire watchers, the expanded fire service and other elements of the in later posts on World War Two.

Notes

  1. Mike Brown (1999) Put That Light Out! Britain’s Civil Defence Services at War 1939-45 -Stroud, Sutton Publishing p2
  2. ibid p3
  3. ibid p5
  4. ibid p7
  5. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 – 1945 p12
  6. ibid p28
  7. ibid p28
  8. ibid p27
  9. ibid p27
  10. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming Of Age in Wartime – London, Peter Owen, p42
  11. ibid p45
  12. Blake, op cit, p41
  13. ibid p29
  14. These are based on records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

Picture Credits

  • The recruitment poster comes from the collection of the Imperial War Museum and is used on a Non-Commercial Licence.;
  • The photograph of Hedgley Street School & the ruins of the Good Shepherd come from a booklet produced by Church of the Good Shepherd, Lee in 1956, p16 and it used with the church’s permission;
  • The picture of Sandhurst Road School is via The Newsshopper;
  • The postcard of the Town Hall is from eBay in March 2016;
  • The ARP Log is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their consent and remains their copyright;
  • The photograph of Blackheath is of an unknown source, although given its age is probably a government one and would thus be out of copyright; and
  • The ARP helmet is via Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons.