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MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR 2 - Part 6

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Mervyn Mitton

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One of the strange things that keeps coming to the surface with this article on my early War years - is the comparitive
normalacy that existed with ordinary - day-to day life. Yes, we lived in fear of the bombings and everywhere you went were bombed out or, damaged buildings. Yes, we also had severe rationing and shortages. But ordinary life went on - schools opened, business' were run, shops opened and we found ways to get around.

Just before we moved I developed a serious ear problem - something to do with the mastoid bone. I spent three months in hospital - for something today that would probably have you out in 3 or 4 days. They did not seem to have childrens' wards - at least I was in a general ward . Some civilians - but most were injured servicemen - some still in recuperation from Dunkirk.
You can imagine - I was thoroughly spoilt by everyone - I suppose I reminded them of their children or, brothers. When I was well enough to walk I used to help the nurses take medicines and drinks around. When the airraid sirens went off, those that could walk had to go to the shelters in the basements. Those in beds had to take their chances with the nurses staying.

Newspapers and magazines continued to be published and there was a great public demand for out of the ordinary items.
My Father had a two acre site in Greenwich (on the River Thames) growing fruit trees and bushes. There was great demand for these by mail order - and the Post Office still delivered very quickly. A large Nursery in Greenwich came-up for sale and the Ministry of Food asked him to buy it and produce tomatoes for London. With the loss of the Channel Islands usual supplies were gone and they were a much needed part of a staple diet.

My Father agreed and so he bacame the owner of a five acre (over 2 hectares) market nursery - which consisted of five
enormous greenhouses and many smaller ones. We were on the bombers' path so for the next 4 years he had to battle with special glass allocations to have them repaired after raids. He eventually had a shop built and supplied green grocery to the surrounding areas. I can remember going with him to Covent Garden Market early in the mornings to get supplies. It is now a street market for general goods. We had a Ford 10 cwt van (1/2 ton) and a i ton Old Morris van to move things around - with a minute petrol allowance for the two. Every week the famous old Humber car that Sir Winston Churchill rode-in would come to the nursery for tomatoes for 10 Downing Street. My Father showed me the rear window that was covered in small scratches and almost impossible to see through. The chauffer explained that it was the diamond rings of the Society women who mobbed Churchill whenever he was out

All of the above - and the difficulties of travelling - meant that we had to move closer to Greenwich. Blackheath is probably the most up-market area of London and indeed probably in the UK. It was developed in the mid 19th Century - although it is from when the Railway Station was built-in the early 20th. C. that it became so desireable. From Blackheath to Central London was less then 1/2 an hour - but, even with a horse and carriage it was probably under an hour.

Surrounding the large Heath were the houses and Mordern Road and the adjoining Paragon - a curved matching row built in 1806. were the most sought after. On the corner facing the Paragon is the famous Mordern College - this was built-in the late 17th C as Alm Houses for retired sea captains - although I saw on one stupid estate agents list that it was for retired Turkey farmers !

Mordern Road had been bombed badley - there were at least two - or, more - totally destroyed houses. This had happened in the Blitz and the rubble had been removed to be re-cycled for building material.

When Father was looking for a property he was offered this lovely Victorian house on 4 floors - 29 rooms in total. An elderly titled lady lived there and was desperate to go and live with relatives in the Country. Father made an offer of 1,000
pounds (I think the $ was on par then, so $2,000) and she accepted immediately - no-one was buying, everyone wanted to leave London. It had a large garden divided into two with trees in the middle - the far end was for greenhouses and vegs. and at the far end were the stables and staff housing. I see now that these have been separated and new houses built.



I have found this on the net - I have no idea if it was ours - but, it looks the same. Now days they are all flats. Father had the two top floors made into independent flats to help people who needed accomodation and we lived in the Ground floor and basement. The house was a paradise for a small boy and she had left all the toys in the nursery - so I found myself with a four feet long pond yacht - which I could hardly carry.

Well, in my usual way I seem to have 'rabbited ' on for pages - I do hope my one faithful reader had not become too despondent and jumped off a bridge. Next time - a different view of the War - and I start to grow-up.

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You've got two faithful readers, my mother grew up in Plymouth and went through the blitz there. Her father sent her and her mother to relatives in Fowey, where they were strafed by a messershmidt returning from a raid while they were walking in a field. Her mother took them back to Plymouth as she said the bombing wasn't personally aimed at them, whereas the strafing was !!!

I've tried to get her to write everything down that she can remember, and about her early life, she starts, but then lets it slip over time. But I keep trying.

Keep them coming Mervyn.

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Mervyn,

you have more than one reader and as, at least, the second I find this fascinating stuff. We all know of the bombings, rationing etc. but rarely if ever hear it from one who had to undergo this.

I especially liked your description of your father's fruit and vegetable endeavours. And the spelling is Australian ( insert smile here).

Stuart

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  • I also grew up during the was. I was 13 when war was declared, an only child . I well remember 3 September 1939 and Chamberlain's broadcast, particularly the look of horror on the faces of the adults who I realised later anticipated the great loss of life of WW1. We lived in Bristol and in June 1940 , coming home from a film with a friend as it was her birthday and rationing made a party impossible we passed the newsboys who had placards saying that the Germans had reached the Channel ports. I commented that they could reach Bristol now and sure enough we had our first air raid that night and the bombs dropped before the sirens sounded. We had nightly raids but it was November when the blitzes started and in the first about 12 main streets in the city were completely devastated. I met my husband at College after the war and wrote earlier of him when I first joined the club. Left behind at Dunkirk , then Sandhurst and then The Scinde Horse, Indian Army I fouind the information about Maurice Gilbert written by another member identical to my husband's up to them leaving the Army.My husband joined them tbe in charge of the tanks and I have photos of him there and he was on the NWF in 1942 going on to Syria after about a year. I find this very confusing as Jumbo Preston in a (a letter written to Maurice Gilbert's mother) refers to Gillie which is what my husband was called and he knew Jumbo Preston well. My husband was also known as Tommie but all the places mentioned were where my husband served on the same dates. Also my husband gave up the promotion of Major as he was due to be demobbed. Again identical. I wish someone could clear this up for me. We attended a number of Scinde Horse lunches ;lpost war but no one ever mentioned a Maurice Gilbert

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