In the afternoon of Saturday August 5th 1944 a V1 Flying Bomb exploded in the Co-operative Stores, Lordship Lane, when it was crowded with weekend shoppers. Twenty seven people were killed and forty two seriously injured. Rescue squads worked for two days and right through the night to recover victims.
It was Bank Holiday Saturday. My Mother, who worked at Beard's leather shop in Lordship Lane, was telling me what I could and could not do: "No, you cannot go to the cinema because I want you to come down to the shop this afternoon to help me bring the shopping home. Your Dad's going to meet us there." My Father had worked at Beard's for years but had been called- up, so my Mother had taken over as manager. He had been given weekend leave from his Army base in Staines.
Later that morning, my Mother phoned to say she had changed her mind. I could go after all, as long as I was at the tram stop at 5.30pm to meet her. I was hugely delighted. I loved going to the pictures but, because of flying bomb attacks had not been allowed to go for ages. So off I sped to my favourite place: the Capitol, Forest Hill. About half-way through the film we were informed that the air-raid siren had sounded. Some people left but I decided to wait until the end of the programme. When I got home I phoned the shop to tell my Mother I was back, but there was no reply. I tried again and again. The 'phone was ringing but no one answered. I assumed my parents had left early, so I ran from home, through Horniman's Gardens to wait at the gates for the No. 85 tram. I waited a long time. There were trams going from Forest Hill to East Dulwich but nothing coming in the opposite direction. Eventually, to my relief, a tram came into sight. The driver told kindly told me that all traffic was being stopped at Dulwich Library as there must have been an "incident" further down the hill. I crossed the road and got the next tram as far as the Library. I was told I could go no further, so explained about my parents. Understanding my predicament and being assured that I was sixteen years old; the sympathetic official let me through.
After so many years it is hard to recall details but it was a time of anxiety and a time of waiting. I sat anxiously waiting, opposite the devastation. I must have given some information. I know I received much kindness. The Salvation Army, who had their Citadel nearby in Shawbury Road, kept their eye on me as they took care of everyone; schoolfriends kept me company from time to time. Eventually I was told by those in charge that as it was getting dark, all that could be done for that day, with regard to rescue, had been done. I would be best for me to go home to get some rest. They would hope to see me the next morning.
I began to walk home through the back streets. I remember turning the corner of Langton Rise, looking up the hill and seeing someone walking towards me. As he got nearer, to my utter joy and overwhelming astonishment I recognised my own father beginning to run towards me. He eventually was able to tell me that his leave had been cancelled and that when we didn't answer the phone, he had spoken to a neighbour who had told him what she and her husband thought had happened. He was able to get compassionate leave at once, and had been to the house and, having found it empty, was now on his way to Lordship Lane.
My dear Father lifted from my shoulders all responsibility of identifying my Mother and of contacting family members. Gradually, together with so many other families whose relatives were killed in the devastation of that flying bomb, we learned to come to terms with our immense loss, and the fact our lives had been spared. One immeasurable blessing for me was the realisation that I needed to commit my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. As a child I had heard of Him at Lordship Lane Baptist Church, on the corner of Goodrich Road, where my parents had taken my brothers and sisters and me there from a very early age.
In 1978 I returned to live in East Dulwich and started to attend St. Barnabas Church in Calton Avenue. I gradually began to get to know members of the congregation. One day, while talking to someone named Ruth, we discovered, to our astonishment, that both our mothers had died in Lordship Lane on 5th August 1944. Ruth's mother had been in Hammett's, the butcher's shop next door to Beard's, the leather shop. I believe Ruth's mother worked there, in which case she and my mother would have known each other.
And now it is July 2005. I have been asked to write my recollections of that life-changing day. I do this with a deep sense of thankfulness to God for all His loving care over the long life he has permitted me, but also with an awareness of the deep tragedy and grief so many are experiencing at this time.