As kids growing up in the fifties, it seemed to us that every conversation began with the phrase 'In the war . . .' We kids would roll our eyes. Of course, we did not really understand that just a few years previously, the war had been the major event in their lives, one they never quite recovered from.
My parents lived in London. Or rather my mother did. My father was doing his bit in the RAF in India. More about him on another occasion. For that reason, my mother, Joan, lived with her in-laws, my grandparents, Bob and Emma, in Walthamstow, London. Never let it be said, but my mother actually hated Emma with a passion. As a result when the sirens went off, she refused to go into the bomb shelter in the garden with them. She spent the bombing raids sitting under the stairs. Night after night the Germans would come, regular as clockwork, saturating London with the bombs. Demoralising? I'll say. 'We didn't get any sleep for days on end,' Mum said. And in the morning it was a matter of seeing which houses had been hit.
Mum worked on the buses as a 'clippie' or conductress, responsible for taking the money and dishing out tickets. Every evening, before the raids started, the red trolley buses would be packed to overflowing with people heading for the underground railway stations. Every morning they would bring them home again, buses packed with people who all 'stank to high heaven' from their night in the shelters, so that she would throw all the windows in the bus open, no matter what the weather.
On the night the Germans 'set the whole of London ablaze' Mum said she had never seen anything like it. All London appeared to be on fire. At that time, the buses left Walthamstow bus depot packed with the usual customers for the underground stations, and she said: 'It was very bad that night. A lot of bmbs. There were three buses, and we were the last one. The bus in the middle got a direct hit.' Everyone on that bus was killed. 'We had to turn back that time,' she said.
On another occasion, having finished her shift, she had two choices, whether to walk home, rather a trek, or to wait for the bus. She was tired, so she decided to wait for the bus. In the queue, as she and several other people waited, they heard the familiar drone of the 'buzz-bombs' as they came over. They were OK when you could still hear the noise, but when they stopped . . . everyone hit the deck, and the bomb flew not twelve feet above them, and hit a warehouse a short distance away. Exactly where Mum would have been if she had walked. They felt the shock in the air from the explosion.
How glad am I that she decided to take the bus that day!