The unveiling of the first of Society’s World War 2 memorial plaques got off to a very satisfactory start in January. On Sunday 6th January, Corinne Wakefield, who survived the V2 explosion which killed seven residents of Court Lane, unveiled the plaque to commemorate those who died. Her graphic account of the war and more particularly the afternoon of 6th January 1945 was published in the Winter edition of this Journal. Dr Kenneth Wolfe, Vice-Chairman of the Society gave a very moving address in front of a considerable gathering of members and residents.
On the Saturday following, 12th January, a second plaque was unveiled at the corner of Lytcott Grove and Melbourne Grove to commemorate the twenty civilians killed in air-raids on 16th September 1940 during the Blitz and on 17th January 1943 in a German retaliation raid for the bombing of Berlin. The plaques were unveiled, and names of those killed were read out by former Playfield Crescent resident Alan Woodfield. Also present, at the invitation of the Society was Major David Dalziel representing the Salvation Army, a reminder of their presence on the morning following the raid when the Salvation Army dispensed mugs of tea and words of comfort to the survivors. Dr Wolfe also ably conducted this unveiling and spoke of those whose life was taken from them by war.
The weather was bitterly cold, which whilst it did not detract from the gathering of a large number of attendees was nevertheless a reminder of the extreme discomfort suffered in January 1943 by those who had already faced the horror of such widespread devastation of their homes and the death of their loved ones.
After the unveiling, Alan Woodfield composed the following poem:
THEN AND NOW
It is a Sunday evening
In a wartime winter
In a residential patch
Of South East Twenty Two.
The air raid siren wails
Search lights sweep the skies
Ack ack guns send up their flak
A bomber’s engine drones
Offloads its deadly cargo-
A landmine on a parachute
Which, hidden in the darkness,
Floats down unseen and silent,
Ominous, and then arrives….
In one dire moment, detonates,
Destroying roads of terraced homes.
Ambulance teams search through the chaos
Pull out bodies from the wreckage.
Next day the papers state the number,
Absorbed by London’s mounting total.
But who were they?
All of seventy years have passed
But now The Dulwich Society
Removes vague anonymity.
Transforming numbers into names.
Almost to the very day
Almost at the very spot
When and where that mine touched earth,
A quiet group assembles
To remember those who died that night.
A neat memorial plaque’s unveiled,
The eleven names read out
Of those found in the ruins-
A needed fitting closure
Of that far off tragic night.
The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to World War II victims of BURBAGE ROAD on Saturday 13th April 2013 at 12 noon (at the junction of Burbage Road and Turney Road)
In commemoration of those killed in an air raid on 17 April 1941
ELIZABETH FEAVER 59, FREDERICK FEAVER 56, JOAN FEAVER 17, RAYMOND FEAVER 18
And those killed by a V1 flying bomb on 22 June 1944.
WALTER BOUTALL 55, HENRY DUCK 63, KATE DUCK 59, BARBARA WILSON 23
Burbage Road’s first serious loss of life was towards the end of the Blitz,on 17th April 1941 when a high explosive bomb exploded on number 9 Burbage Road killing four members of the Feaver family, both Frederick and Elizabeth and their teenage son and daughter, Raymond and Joan.
Just over three years later the road had a further multiple fatality when a V1 Flying bomb exploded on a row of houses between the entrance to the Velodrome and Turney Road..
Eileen Thorn who is a member of the Dulwich Society and was born in Pickwick Road recalls the incident clearly. “My mother and father had decided before the war that our house was not big enough for them and my sister Molly and myself and Father bought number 118 Burbage Road, just around the corner.”
Both Eileen and Molly had joined the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) early in the war and in February 1944 Eileen was stationed at Portsmouth where she was employed in working on the logistics for DDay and the days and weeks afterwards. She recalls watching the landing and assault craft sail out of the harbour. She and her fellow women soldiers attached to the War Office were billeted in a number of old forts along the harbour and she says it was an eerie experience, when, after finishing her shift, which began at 1pm and often finished at 1am, to find her way in the pitch dark back to these forbidding quarters which the ATS shared with the WRENS (Women’s Royal Emergency Naval Service).
Eileen’s mother wrote every week, there were no telephone calls in those wartime days. Around the 23rd June the usual letter arrived but written on the back of the envelope was the message ‘Bombed out and at Auntie Win’s’. Eileen was devastated, only a few days before she had celebrated her 21st birthday by driving to Winchester in a borrowed jeep and enjoyed her first-ever cocktail. Her understanding commanding officer gave her a 24 hour pass to travel up to London and find out what had happened.
Eileen says that when she arrived on a tram at Herne Hill from Waterloo she walked down the opposite side of Burbage Road with her eyes averted. She did not want to look at the devastation wrought on her home and those of her neighbours. “When I got opposite, I looked up. The walls were still standing at 118 but the houses to the left were gone.”
She found her mother at her aunt’s and was distressed to discover that the family’s cat, Dido had been missing for three days despite her mother searching for it. “That cat will come back” her mother exclaimed. And so it did a few days later when a passer-by delivered Dido, none the worse for wear, to 100 Turney Road. Indeed the charmed life of Dido stretched to an amazing 19 years.
Eileen’s mother and father had been sleeping in a home made shelter added on to the side of the house and garage. It was narrow and uncomfortable but had room for 2 bunks and sleeping chairs. It was almost impossible to squeeze four people in. Visitors names were scratched on the walls, including those of George Brown who lived with his twin sister down the road and were family friends. It was the custom for visitors to the shelter to scratch their names on the wall and George who was the local air raid warden and whose memories of the Blitz were published in ‘The Warden’s Post’ was a regular visitor. Undoubtedly the shelter, however inadequate, saved Eileen’s parents’ lives.
Her mother explained her distress at what had happened after the explosion - “An old fashioned dust cart came along and put all of our furniture in it and took it to an empty house in Farquhar Road where it was stored. We did not expect to see it again. To see your home carried away on the back of a dust cart was heart-breaking”. The repairs to 118 Burbage took 10 months to complete and the family moved back in. To Eileen’s mother’s amazement the furniture was all returned (with the exception of one small table) and was virtually unmarked. The same furniture –sideboard, glass-fronted china cabinet, dining table and matching chairs and an easy chair, continues to grace Eileen’s lounge in Pymers Mead to this day.
At the end of that long day Eileen returned to her unit at Portsmouth. She was not demobbed until 1947 and she spent the closing years after DDay at the War Office in London where she was billeted with five other ATS girls in a rather smart house in Chelsea. Later, when helping her father to restore the croquet lawn in the rear garden (Eileen still plays regularly at The Old College Croquet Club in Gallery Road), countless pieces of shrapnel and debris continued to appear.
Margaret Siddall (née Green) as a child lived at 107 Burbage Road, a house diagonally opposite the site of the explosion. In her book Safe as Houses: Childhood through the Forties she vividly describes the tragedy.
“Goodnight kittens, Goodnight Tigger, I said one evening peeping into their basket. I ran upstairs to get undressed but hardly had reached my room when the stomach-churning siren started up. I was searching in my dressing table and had pulled both drawers out, but the previous winter the wood had swollen and slightly distorted, so the drawers jammed when I hastily tried to push them back. The siren was wailing and already I should be on my way downstairs. With one final tug, I left the drawers half open and hurried down to the shelter.
Mother, Nigel and I huddled at one end, with Father and David squashed at our feet by the entrance. Fluff crawled in to curl up on the blankets before the end panel was clipped on, and we lay there, listening to the threatening sounds we knew so well. As each deep-throated rattle grew louder, I shut my eyes hoping the dreaded engine would pass overhead before it cut out and with every terrifying explosion we tried to estimated where it might be.
Towards early morning I heard a distant clatter becoming persistingly louder and deeper, losing height as it kept on coming. Locked in our own private thoughts, no one spoke. It was so close now it sounded almost overhead. ‘Please keep on going’ I whispered.
But I heard the slight uptilt as the engine cut and with a sudden eerie crack of branches it clipped the oak tree in the allotment at the end of the garden. I buried my head under my pillow as a rush or air swooped down, immediately followed by a reverberating, crashing, glass-shattering roar. As the last rumblings died away something clattered somewhere in the house, and I slowly raised my head.
Peering through the caged side of the shelter, I could see the playroom was intact, no windows were broken; the ceiling was still secure. We were alive. As soon as it was safe to do so, Father unclipped the end panel and climbed out to see what had happened…..the hall was a mess, brightening morning light shone through the space where the front door had been, the once solid door and the inner porch doors now lay in splinters of jagged wood and glass. With great care I climbed over the chaos and made my way, after the others through the open space to the front garden……
I looked beyond the crossroads hardly noticing the group of people standing on the pavement, with wardens coming and going, or the tangle of hose pipes lying in the road. I only saw stark white trees at intervals down the road, as though a heavy covering of snow had just fallen. From the gateway the demolished house was hidden, so I stared, amazed by the dust-covered trees. And the picture stayed with me.
We soon learned that Barbara, the daughter of the house that had received the direct hit, had worked late (she was in the ATS) and being over-tired she had decided to sleep on the settee instead of with her parents in the cramped Anderson shelter in the garden. Barbara had been killed outright; but her parents were rescued.
Also killed in this incident were Major Walter Boutall MC, a World War 1 veteran and a Commanding Officer in the Army Cadet Force, and Kate and Henry Duck, two local church workers.