Ruth Turner (Nicholson) Thompson
It was a Saturday and I was a young girl of 8 years helping make up small packets of butter for people’s rations at the Co-op in Lordship Lane where my Mother was employed as a cashier. We heard the air-raid warning and my mother said I was to go with the manager’s wife to the basement cellar of the shop; I begged her to come with us but she said that she had to stay and look after the money.
In the cellar the manager’s wife was showing me a four-leafed clover that she carried for luck in her handbag when there was a horrendous noise, a shaking and the smell of damp musty plaster, some of which was falling on us. Mrs Manager started to cry out and scream “Joseph! my Joseph!” . I remember holding my stunned and shocked companion’s hand and begging her to hurry as I was sure that the building was about to fall on us. My instinct was to escape and I noticed a low exit door with a heavy horizontal iron bar across it. I managed to lift this and grab my screaming companion’s hand and we exited on burning bricks into Shawbury Road.
I stood on the road for some time not knowing what to do or where to go in the chaos all around me. I was taken into an ambulance and checked for any signs of injury, of which there were none. Much later I asked to be taken to Mrs Riley, whose children I knew. She lived with her large family, like us on the Dog Kennel Hill Estate. I was not a welcome guest but I had no other choice. Perhaps my illigitimacy made me an undesirable addition to their household; the same reason that my mother and I were sometimes shunned in the air raid shelters. Nevertheless Mrs Riley, who actually was in no way responsible for me, did her best for me at the time.
I did tell the rescue team at the scene of the explosion that my mother was in the building and that they would recognise her as she always wore a snake type gold bracelet around her right wrist. I think I knew she had died on that day and it was confirmed when somebody (I do not remember who) said that they had found her arm with the bracelet. Not a good thing to tell a bereaved child.
My father was not part of my life and he only visited my mother from time to time. He did turn up for the burial and then he left never to visit me or do anything for me ever again. I went to live with an aunt in Westcott, near Dorking, where I had been evacuated for a short time when very young. She had four children and lived in a two-room flat. In the end it was too much for her and too much for me. I had adored my mother, we were very close, joined at the hip. She looked after me beautifully and I was neat and smart, often in dresses she made for me and so it was no fun sharing with all my scruffy cousins (so, I was a spoilt child?). I asked if I could leave and go to an orphanage!
In no time I was in a children’s home in Merstham; I do not recall the name but they were very kind to all of us war-damaged children. My aunt had kept all my mother’s possessions; I was given nothing to remember her by. I was lucky to be taken in quite soon by a Mr and Mrs Laurie who had a natural born son 18 months younger than me. They were middle class Cambridge graduates living in Reigate and looking for a daughter to adopt. They did adopt me and suddenly I had a brother, Peter, and a new family. I had lessons to lose my cockney accent and speak the King’s English, and after an unsuccessful adventure in farming in Devon, we returned to Reigate where I went to school at Dunottar and became Head Girl. From there I left to become a nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. It was there that I would meet a newly qualified doctor, John Nicholson. We married in 1957 and lived in Court Lane until his death in 1980 at the age of 48. Later I would meet Neil Thompson and become a vicar’s wife, first at Shooters Hill then back to Dulwich to St Stephen’s, South Dulwich, then, moving with the job, to Limpsfield and now at Rochester Cathedral where Neil is Canon Precentor.
Ken Milne recalls the incident in Lordship Lane
I was at the South London Emergency Secondary School (SLESS) located at Alleyn’s School from 1940-45 and lived in Barry Road, East Dulwich. The day of Saturday 5th August 1944 remains one of my most vivid memories of the V1 campaign. That day, a few of us from SLESS met in Dulwich Park, as we often did. Several V1’s had passed over before we decided to go home. We were walking back towards Dulwich Library and had almost reached the park gates when we heard another V1 approaching. The engine stopped and we knew it would be near. We mentally counted twelve seconds - but still nothing. We moved off again, rather puzzled, when suddenly we saw the V1 gliding above the trees, heading towards the library. It passed out of sight, and then, a few seconds later we heard the explosion and saw the dust rising. Somebody said, “It looks like the Lordship Lane area”, and another (I think it was Albert Shields) said, “I’d better get home and see if my Mum’s alright.” In fact we found out several days later that his mum (Dorothy Shields) had been killed in that incident.