Tag Archives: Taunton Road

VE Day in Lee and Hither Green

Friday 8 May 2020 sees the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, VE, Day and would have been celebrated both locally and nationally if these were normal times – it was to be one of the themes of the 2020 Hither Green Festival – maybe this will be re-visited later in the year.  We’ll look at what happened that day in 1945 with a local perspective.

After Berlin was surrounded by Allied forces and Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, the end of the war was quite rapid.  A week later, on 7 May 1945 Germany accepted an unconditional surrender of German Forces in most of the areas that they still occupied in the Netherlands and northwest Germany and the surrender came into effect the following day.  A further surrender document was signed with the Russians on 8 May.

Running Past has covered many of the areas of the Home Front in recent months (for the 70th anniversary of war breaking out); the winding down of the Home Front was rapid in early May – public air raid shelters were closed down, as was the air raid warning system and plans were made for the return of evacuee children and mothers by the end of May (1).

Over a million people took to the streets on 8 May in celebration throughout Great Britain to mark the end of the European part of the war.  Many massed in central London, particularly in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace as featured in the video footage (the sound levels are a bit variable, so beware!)

Many celebrated locally though; South Park Crescent (above and below) had been built as part of the Verdant Lane estate in the early 1930s and was the scene of a large party.  No doubt the celebrations were tempered there though by memories of 5 children from there and neighbouring streets who were amongst 38 children and 5 teachers who died at Sandhurst Road School.  There had also been a V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of South Park and Further Green Road less than a year before at 16:48 on 12 July 1944 which injured 15 (3) –  several houses were destroyed and lots damaged – perhaps including the roofs of those pictured below).

In and around Hither Green, there were several other street parties including ones in The Woodlands and neighbouring Blashford Street.

Lee too saw several street parties, mainly in the working class streets.  Taunton Road had seen a lot of damage in the Blitz with several lives lost.  There was a posed picture probably taken close to the park entrance, the road in the background is Wantage Road.

Just around the corner in Brightfield Road (below) there was another street party in the part of the street that was built by John Pound and had originally been called Robertson Street.  As can be seen from the photograph, the party wasn’t  held there until early June 1945. 

Brightfield Road had seen some damage from the V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of Lenham and Lampmead Roads.  In addition, there was Blitz damage to houses close to the bridge over the Quaggy, with several destroyed and several seriously damaged; along with three houses on the southern side of the bend which were damaged beyond repair (3).  The houses destroyed in Brightfield Road were never rebuilt, a new entrance to Manor House Gardens was created in their stead and those damaged beyond repair suffered a similar fate – they were to become an entrance to, what became after the war, Northbrook School and is now Holy Trinity

The street scene is now markedly different – the attractive bank buildings at the end of the street were lost after the war either to Penfold’s or Sainsbury’s expansion – more on the building another day, as there is an interesting story behind it.

While there were dozens of parties, as Lewis Blake noted, ‘for all the public display, it may be assumed that a majority of people stayed quietly at home.’ (4)

In addition to the celebration of the end of hostilities, there will have been a relief that bombing and rocket attacks were over – roads like Springbank, Taunton and Aislibie Roads had been badly affected by the Blitz, with V-1s hitting lots of local streets – including Nightingale Grove, (pictured below) Fernbrook Road, between Springbank and Wellmeadow Roads along with Leahurst Road, and as we’ve mentioned the Lenham/Lampmead junction.

A couple of days after VE Day, Lewisham was visited by the King and Queen who stopped in a packed town centre to survey the damage caused by the V-1 flying bomb from 10 months before (it’s at about 4:10 into the film, which is sadly silent).

Other than the rebuilding which was to continue for the best part of 20 years, the other element of wartime privations that was to linger on for almost another decade was rationing, which didn’t officially end for meat until 1954.

If you have personal or family local VE Day memories, please do post them either in the Facebook thread you reached this post from or in the comments below, if you haven’t commented here before, it may take a few hours for your comment to be approved.  I will hopefully add some of the comments into the main post.

In early May 2020 we don’t have the potential for street parties, but oddly, despite the lock down, we are probably contacting and seeing more of our neighbours than any of the generations since the end of World War Two. Every Thursday evening with the #ClapforCareWorkers most of our small street come out to clap and bang pots and pans; if we are typical, people often stay out in the street to chat, keeping social distancing, of course.  Neighbours are checking in with each other by phone with shopping bought for those having to stay at home.  Perhaps, for now at least, this is the World War Two type spirit we should embrace and celebrate, the parties will have to wait.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p62
  2. From ARP Logs held at Lewisham Archives
  3. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p119
  4. Blake, op cit p66

Credits and Thanks

  • Thank you to Andy Wakeman and Clive Andrews for allowing the use of their family photographs of the South Park Road party – the photographs remain their families’ copyright;
  • The photgrpahs of Brightfield Road and Taunton Road are part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright;
  • The photograph of the destruction on Nightingale Grove is from the collection of the Imperial War Museum – it is used here on a Non-Commercial Licence

Preparation for World War Two – Going Underground

At the time of the anniversary of evacuation Running Past, started to look at some of the preparations for war on the ‘Home Front’ with Lewisham children being evacuated to Kent then Surrey.  We return now to some of the preparations that were made to try to keep the civilian population that remained in Lewisham as safe as possible from the air attacks that were expected soon after war broke out – looking here at air raid shelters.

In theory, planning had started just after World War 1 with the setting up of the Air Raid Precautions Committee in 1924.  As regular readers of Running Past will recall, there had been devastating air raids during World War 1 on both Glenview Road in Hither Green with a Zeppelin attack (above), and with a Gotha airplane attack on Sydenham Road which also bombed the area around Staplehurst Road and Hither Green Station. However, little progress had been made because of the apparently irreconcilable conflict between the need to send the public underground for shelter from air attack but the need to keep them above ground for in the event of gas attacks.  The latter had been expected as a result of gas attacks during World War 1.

During the Munich Crisis of September 1938 the Government instructed local authorities to start building trench air raid shelters with precast concrete walls which were then covered.  They became a permanent feature in the lead up to war.

There were a series of public shelters in Lewisham High Street under the planted area that ran down most of the market (see above from a couple of decades before World War 2) – they had to cope with day time raids when the town centre would be busy (1). One of these was to be hit by a V-1 flying bomb in July 1944. There were also large public shelters opposite Lewisham Hospital and in the grounds of Robertson’s Golden Shred works on Bromley Road (2).

Running Past covered a couple of the Lee shelters that were located in Manor House Gardens – one in the Ice House, and the other seemingly under the grass almost next to it – the likely outline appeared in the drought of 2018.  A third was under the lawn in front of Manor House Library was mentioned in passing in the Lewisham ARP log (3).

A large one was also constructed in the grounds of Merchant Taylors’ almshouses (above), although it isn’t clear whether this was just for the inhabitants of the almshouses or for wider use.  There is a ‘ghost sign’ on the external wall to the almshouses on the corner of Brandram and Lee High Roads – although it has faded and it isn’t certain whether it is pointing to Manor House Gardens or the almshouses.

Some local streets also had communal shelters too – one is shown at the back of a photograph of a VE Day street party in Taunton Road in Lee.

The public shelters were not bomb-proof and many people were killed in direct hits – this included one on the Albion Way shelter in Lewisham where 41 people died on 11 September 1940.  There was another street air raid shelter in the next road – Mercia Grove.  Memories of which were included on the BBC website around the 50th anniversary of VE Day – which was described

At the bottom of the stairs there were four bays. Each bay had a wooden slatted seat at either side, along its length. …We soon made the shelter comfortable, with rugs for the floor and a paraffin stove for warmth and to boil a kettle. We slept on the floor and on the benches. After a while, bunks were installed. These served as seats during the day when it was a public shelter and at night we were issued shelter tickets and a designated bunk number. .. Soon there was a sink installed and a small portable oven, for which we paid a small rental fee. When the blitz was at its height we went down at 6.30 after the evening meal, until the all clear, or until it was time to get ready to go to work the next day. On the long summer evenings (double British summertime) we played gramophone records in the street and danced to the music, when all was quiet, no Jerry’s above.

Other locations too were used as air raid shelters, including underneath railway arches, such as those in Ladywell which, like its Lee counterparts, had a painted sign showing the way to it which still survives above it.

Below, a probably more permanent one than was possible under the arches in Ladywell is pictured from elsewhere in SE London. There were also railway arch shelters at Plough Bridge (sheltering 40, close to Lewisham Station); Morley Road (95) and Catford Hill (105) (4).

 

Elsewhere in London tube stations were used, but this clearly wasn’t an option in south east London. Initially cellars and basements of larger houses, churches and factories were also used but their use brought with it dangers of collapse of the building above with heavy masonry or machinery coming through from higher floors.   A few buildings built just ahead of World War Two were built with air raid shelters, such as one in East Sheen, covered in the excellent Flickering Lamps blog.

One of the stranger public shelters used by Lee and Hither Green residents involved catching a train to Chislehurst to shelter in the caves; even when London had been free of attacks for a couple of months in July 1941, 2,000 still sheltered there every night (5).

Not all air raid shelters were communal ones, it wasn’t always feasible for people to quickly get to the public ones, so individual household ones were developed – Anderson shelters (below) which were external and the internal Morrison ones.

Anderson shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, who was the Government Minister responsible for air-raid precautions prior to the outbreak of World War II.  They were made from 14 galvanised steel panels bolted together and were 1.8 m high, 2 metres long and 1.4 metres wide, and were buried 1.2 metres deep and then covered with 40 centimetres of soil.  They ‘housed’ six and were issued free to all householders who earned less than £5 a week, which was most people in areas such as Lewisham; those with a higher income were charged £7 for them.  In Lewisham around 23,000 were issued – so about 192,000 could be accommodated (6).

Running Past visited a partially fictional Anderson shelter on the Brockley/New Cross borders when looking at one of the early works of one of Lewisham’s best known authors – David Lodge’s Out of The Shelter.

While they performed well apart from dealing with direct hits, as they were buried in the ground they tended to be cold and damp, not the place to spend lots of consecutive nights – something common at the height of the German Bombing campaign.  The level of waterlogging led some Lewisham families to go back to the original advice and hide under the stairs.

My former next door neighbours  Jack (actually George) and Doris had an Anderson Shelter in their garden which was still dug into its original place by his first wife’s parents; while the soil covering of the roof was removed, they used it as a shed until they died in the late 1990s.  This was not uncommon – while local authorities collected the shelters as scrap many hung on to them, with several memories of playing in them in and around Lewisham into the 1960s.

Morrison Shelters were indoor shelters which, in theory at least, could be used as tables between air raids.  They were named after the Minister of Home Security at the time that they were first issued – Herbert Morrison, who was to become Labour MP for Lewisham South in the 1945 General Election.

Pictured below, they were effectively a cage 2 metres, by 1.2 metres and 0.75 metres high with a steel plate top and mesh sides. They had to be assembled IKEA-like by the household, with tools supplied.  Like the Anderson Shelters, they were provided free to low income households.  Around 500,000 were distributed during the Blitz with a further 100,000 ahead of V-1 attacks.  They were much more effective than the Anderson Shelters in preventing protecting households even withstanding some direct hits.

In posts in the not too distant future we will look at other World War 2 preparations on the Home Front – gas masks, warning sirens, the Women’s Voluntary Services and the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens.

Notes

  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 – 1945 p41
  2. ibid p42
  3. The ARP log for Lewisham is a fragile document that lists (virtually) all the attacks, property by property, raid by raid – we will come back to this in future posts.
  4. Blake op cit p43
  5. ibid p43
  6. ibid p41

 

Picture credits