Ethel Leverett (neé Bunn) relives July 1944
The 4th July 1944, a Tuesday, began as usual with Mum getting ready for work (she was a cook with the London Meal Service based in Acre Lane, Brixton) and myself, then aged nine, for another day at school but looking forward to the summer holidays and playing with my friends. There was just Mum and me as two years previously my father, who worked for the Dulwich Estate had collapsed and died from a heart attack on Dulwich Common. He was on his way home after a fire fighting exercise. We loved him so much and missed him so,
When I arrived at our house in Park Hall Road, Mum was already there waiting for me as she needed to return to work and take me with her. Earlier that day a V1 had exploded opposite the restaurant, damaging it and putting it out of action. Temporary premises had been found at the Brixton Synagogue but all the equipment had to be transferred so that the kitchen could be up and running for the next day. I helped Mum and the other ladies carry the boxes from the lorry and stack them away. It was getting quite late by the time we caught the bus home. After some tea we got ready for bed - another night in the Morrison shelter. Pete, our beautiful black and white Persian cat refused to sleep in the shelter, preferring to curl up on top.
It was late at night that I made my way to the kitchen for a drink and whilst standing at the sink heard the sound of a V1 approaching. The engine then cut out and there was silence. I ran as fast as I could across the hall and into the front room and dived for the safety of the shelter. There was no time to fix the wire panel before a massive explosion lifted the Morrison, with us inside, and dropped it into the footings of the house. The blast must have stunned us because the next thing I remember was the choking dust, the overwhelming smell of gas and the crackle of flames. Where the wire frame was missing on Mum’s side the rubble had crashed in, injuring her in the chest and back. The weight of the rubble on my side of the shelter had pushed the frame inwards trapping my legs.
We started to call for help but no answering voice came back. After what seemed hours the sound of digging could be heard and then a voice calling “anyone there?” “Yes” said Mum, “please come through the front door, we’re in the front room”. Of course we weren’t, there was neither front door nor front room. Finally a hole was made and we were lifted through and out into the fresh air. Mum was taken to a waiting ambulance and I was given into the care of Mrs Smith who owned the tobacconist and sweet shop in Park Hall Road.
Later we heard that our lives had been saved by Mr Baker who lived in Acacia Grove (he kept chickens and Mum was registered with him for our eggs). He had said to his wife, “that explosion was close, I’m going to have a look.” When he saw the ruins he called to the rescue party, “There’s a woman and a child under there”. In the confusion no one was looking for us. The fractured gas main had to be kept alight to burn off the gas whilst they dug for us. Three of our neighbours died that night, Margery Brown, who was upstairs in bed, her father and Billy her brother who were both in the kitchen. Billy was getting ready for work, his first job, on the Railway.
Three days later, on Friday 7th July another V1 exploded, destroying the shops on the corner of Croxted Road and some in Park Hall Road. Mrs Smith’s tobacconist’s shop, where I was staying was declared too unsafe to stay in so we moved in with her friend in Alleyn Park. On the Sunday I was taken to Sutton Hospital to visit Mum and Mrs Smith told her that she could no longer look after me as there wasn’t room and that she was taking me to the orphanage. Mum said, “No orphanage!” and promptly discharged herself from hospital to the dismay of the doctor. The ward sister found her some clothes and a pair of shoes and lent her 2/6 for the fare to Dulwich. I can see us now, waiting for the train, Mum looking very pale, and although it was July, the day was cold with drizzly rain and neither of us had a coat. We reached Park Hall Road by early evening and there sitting on the rubble of our house was Pete our cat - dusty, with a cut on his chin and another over an eye. Now we were three.
We walked to the Village to ask Mr George Clout, the Estate’s Bailiff if it would be possible for a couple of his workmen to dig and try and find a tin box containing Mum’s purse, her engagement ring and other papers she would need. Mr Clout said that he would be there next morning and advised us to stay close to the house in case of looting That night Mum and I huddled in the public shelter on the corner of Ildersley Grove. Next day, the workmen arrived and were able to find the box which had been on a shelf in the cupboard under the stairs. They also found a photograph album but nothing else.
A lady who used to feed the cats made homeless by the bombing befriended us and said that there was a small flat vacant in Rosendale Road. Mum applied and was successful and we moved in. It was a semi-basement, rather damp and gloomy and we shared a bath room with another family, but it was a roof over our heads and we weren’t the only ones in the same situation and one made the best of it and life went on. We lived in the hope that when the war was over and the houses were rebuilt in Park Hall Road, we would return, but that was not to be as Mum was informed “families only” - but what were we? We were offered a flat in Dekker Road and moved there in 1949.
I married John in 1955 at St Barnabas Church and had two fine sons who both became police officers. I looked after Mum until she passed away in 1996, just short of her 100th birthday. Pete the Persian, who must have used up most of his nine lives that fearful night lived to the grand old age of nineteen.
The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to World War 11 victims killed in Lordship Lane on Sunday 4th August 2013 at 12 noon (at the junction with Shawbury Road)
In commemoration of those killed by a V1 flying bomb on Saturday 5th August 1944
Walter Ball 61, Annie Bentley 62, Elsie Bull 47, Margaret Bull 16, Ivy Canes 22, Ruby Coates 20, Edward Coates 20, Maggie Greenaway 59, Kathleen Marshall 27, Robert Marshall 2, Stanley Matteson 14, Emily McGregor 82, Beryl Mengell 8, Dorothy Mengell 39, Margaret Rollins 64, Edward Rose 46, Stephen Salter 29, Mabel Sayers 34, Dorothy Shields 38, Adelaide Skinner 46, Walter Sturt 64, Alice Trampleasure 69, Violet Turner 31