The Dulwich Society is to unveil a commemorative plaque to World War II victims of Court Lane on Sunday 6th January 2013 at 12 noon (at the junction of Court Lane and Dovercourt Road)

In commemoration of those killed there by a V2 rocket on 6th January 1945


A childhood in Dulwich during the bombing
by Corinne Wakefield

We asked former local resident Corinne Wakefield to recall life in Dulwich during World War ΙΙ. She has been able to provide such a graphic account partly from her own memories and also by using the her mother’s wartime diaries. 

When the war started in September 1939 I was eleven years old and living at 69 Dovercourt Road, Dulwich with my parents Dora and Stanley Ashmore.  My aunt and uncle lived next door at number 67 and we were a close family unit. 

My school, James Allen’s Girls’ School was evacuated and I had the chance to go with them, but it had been decided that, in the event of war, I would take up the opportunity of a private evacuation with one of my school friends Dorothy whose father worked for a city underwriters, where his boss had offered a home to any children of his employees.  I was invited to go as her friend.  Off we went to their home in the village of Underriver in Kent.  It was a beautiful old house set in extensive grounds and  thought to have been built about 1400.  Our hosts were kindness itself and we were soon on ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ terms.  We led a much more luxurious life than we were used to at home, as there was a large staff at that time before they all went off to various war jobs and the services.  By an amazing coincidence JAGS had moved to share Walthamstow Hall School in Sevenoaks, four miles away, so we were able to continue attending, sharing mornings or afternoons with the other school.  We were driven there and back by a chauffeur.  Unlike what was to come there were no shortages then and we really had a lovely time.  I kept in touch with the family for many years afterwards.

We stayed at Underriver till March 1940 by which time JAGS had reopened in Dulwich where it was to remain throughout the war, so we returned.  The school attendance was greatly reduced, but we all carried on as usual and things were quiet until August when the air raids really started and we had them on and off all the time.  An air raid shelter for our family had been built next door at my aunt and uncle’s house, and took the form of a blast wall built outside their hall window.  We started sleeping there, my parents and I in a row on the floor.   Uncle and auntie slept in the cupboard under the stairs and as the noise of gunfire increased, so did uncle’s snores.  The gunfire was terribly noisy coming from the gun battery on Dulwich Common, as were the sounds of falling bombs and explosions, and the sky was lit up by search lights.

Saturday 7 September saw the worst air raid so far. There was a loud explosion at noon and the London docks were badly hit with many killed and injured.  Peckham also received many hits.  It was a terrible night and we slept late the next day catching up on sleep.  We heard that a large number of German planes had been shot down.  Another very bad night again on the ninth and we all slept in our clothes.  The air raid shelter in Albrighton Road was hit with twenty nine killed and Dulwich Library received a hit and also Barry Road

During the day we all continued with everyday life, my mother making pastry, doing housework etc. at home during raids and dashing out to get the family shopping during the ‘all clear’.  Baths were taken whenever possible during the day instead of at bedtime.  School went on as usual, but sometimes a raid would keep me at home all day, or alternatively we would be kept at school.  During raids lessons continued in the basement shelter.  We were required to have a tin of ‘iron rations’, kept there at all times in case we were detained by a raid.   Sometimes we were caught by one on the way to or from school and had to lie down in the road at the whistle of an approaching bomb. Later in September JAGS received a fire bomb which caused a lot of damage and on arriving at school next day we were sent home for a week.  When we returned to school there was a big mess and we were down to ten girls in my class.  About a month later the basement there was flooded with rain coming in through the temporary roof and we were sent home again for several days.

 My father, who was a scientist, worked at the Government Laboratory near the Law Courts in the Strand and often found the journey there and back very difficult.  He had to take whatever public transport was available and sometimes had to walk quite long distances, getting home very tired.  As well as public transport there was sometimes disruption in the post, telephone and electricity supply and we would have to use candles.  There were raids on and off all the time now but we continued going to the cinema, to church, and for bike rides in the park during the ‘all clears’.  Petrol rationing began in September 1939 but we retained the use of our car till June 1942 when all private cars had to be laid up for the duration.  After that we got around on bicycles. 

On the night of 24 September 1940 there was a bomb in Woodwarde Road opposite the Library which demolished the Post Office and several shops, and four people were killed.   For us the worst night came on the of 18th October when two landmines exploded, one in Dulwich Park and the other in Court Lane at the junction with  Dovercourt  Road .  We were all asleep when a terrific explosion woke us.  Several houses were demolished and our two were badly damaged.  Our roofs were off, windows and doors blown out and ceilings down.  I went into the kitchen with my aunt where she had a dresser with rows of plates propped up.  All those plates were intact but dangling dangerously over the edge of the shelf.  Together we carefully put them back again.  I shall never forget those plates.  The clearing up began, windows and doors were replaced, roofs mended and houses made secure.  But it was a terrible mess and the whole road looked derelict.  The next day 13 Dovercourt Road was bombed and four people killed.

We couldn’t remain in the house, so the five of us departed to Guildford where we lodged with a widow lady.  Father travelled to London each day by train and  I went to Guildford County School.  I was not happy there, .there was no room for me in the right class and I was put into a higher one.  This was not easy.  The weather was very cold and snowy and then I became ill with measles.  At the end of January my aunt and uncle left for Shrewsbury to where uncle’s office had been evacuated.  It was a sad parting of the ways, and a break - up of the little family unit that had gone through a lot together and provided mutual support.  The three of us were not happy in our temporary accommodation and after due consideration it was decided that we would return to Dulwich, which we did in mid-February.  We were to remain there for the rest of the war.

Back we went to a derelict house, the tank had burst, the ceilings were down, it was damp and getting ruined.  We all set to with clearing up the terrible mess and the local builder came and put in a new tank, and repaired the ceilings.  But we were so glad to be home, our spirits, which had been at a low ebb, rose.  I went back to JAGS again, I had lost a lot of education.  The raids continued, some of them very bad, but they were not so frequent.   Fire watching was now taking place, and my parents took their turn at four hour stints during the night. On 13 May there was a heavy raid, the Elephant and Castle area was devastated and we were sad to hear that a JAGS girl, Pauline Jones had been killed. 

By mid-1942 food shortages were getting worse and my mother found feeding the family more difficult.  Meat and many foods were rationed, with small amounts for each person, vegetables and fish were not but the latter was not always available.  When word got round that there was fish in the shop a large queue arrived.  Much time was taken up queuing.  In August that year I went to Laleham Park Agricultural Camp at Shepperton with a party of JAGS girls.  We slept in tents and spent every day potato picking.  I have never worked so hard in my life.  If we wanted a day off the only other option was peeling potatoes for the other hundreds of workers.  We got tremendously hungry and on Saturdays went to the local ABC cafe for an enormous tea.  In the autumn I joined the Girls Training Corps and cycled off to evening meetings wearing a tin hat because of the danger of shrapnel falling.  My father had become a Sector Fire Captain and we had fire exercises at times.  My mother had joined the Women’s’ Voluntary Service (WVS) as an assistant Billeting Officer and helped with the victims of raids at incidents, doing anything she could. During the next few years she went to many incidents and helped in many different ways, always saying how impressed she was with people’s bravery.

On 17 January 1943 there was a sudden raid and a terrific explosion..  Playfield Crescent, Lytcott Grove and Melbourne Grove had been badly hit.  My mother went to help and was shocked, the area was devastated and they were digging people out.  Many people were killed.  Jones and Higgins, the department store in Rye Lane, Peckham had also received a hit.   That summer I gained School Certificate, fortunately there were no raids during the exams, but many while we were studying beforehand.

I left JAGS, and in the autumn of 1943 went to the City of London College in Moorgate, with my friend Mary, also from Dovercourt Road.  We began a year’s secretarial course and travelled from North Dulwich Station to London Bridge.  One day on our return home the London Bridge area was bombed and the Principal of the College telephoned to make sure we had returned home safely.

In June 1944, on my father’s birthday the 13th we had the first flying bomb – Doodlebug V1.  You could hear them coming with a funny chuntering noise which was alright till the engine cut out.  That was the time to take cover.  It was summer and sometimes we stood in the garden watching them till the last minute.  Once it was silent you dashed indoors to the cupboard under the stairs and waited for the explosion.   We once stood in the garden watching the Spitfires overhead and saw them shoot down two V1s.  On the 22nd it was a very bad night and a bomb fell on Burbage Road.  We were sad to know that a friend Barbara Wilson, had been killed.  It was a difficult period; there were so many raids we returned to sleeping on the floor under the blast wall.  In July a bomb in Dulwich Park brought my bedroom ceiling down again and a couple of weeks later Eynella Road received a hit which blew our windows out and damaged the roof.  The WVS Clothing Centre was bombed and Carver Road hit, which badly damaged a friend’s house.  We were away staying with relatives for a week in August and were sad to hear on our return of the bomb on the Co-op in Lordship Lane on the 5th killing 23 people.  This was followed a few days later by a bomb on Milo Road in pouring rain.  Just before we left college Mary and I were queuing up for lunch in Lyons teashop in London Wall when a bomb exploded, damaging the college and causing us all to lie on the floor while glass etc. blew in on us.  College had to close early.  We now had a Morrison shelter put up in our dining room.  It was like a large strengthened metal table you could sleep under, and you could have your dinner on top.  So back we were to sleeping three in a row, this time in the Morrison, which was a bit weird.

In September 1944 we heard sudden explosions.  These were the rockets (V2s) and you didn’t hear them coming, they took you by surprise.  On Saturday 6 January 1945, when we were all looking forward to an end to the war, we were sitting having tea round the fire in our dining room when a V2 rocket fell on the corner of Court Lane and our road.  There was a loud explosion then a roar, the lights went out and the blast caused the fire to be sucked out into the room and then back again, and the windows all blew in.  My boyfriend on leave from the RAF was with us and my mother was holding out to him a glass cake stand with a stem, on which stood the Christmas cake, and when the lights came on again, she was still holding it out but the stem had been sliced off by flying glass.  We were all uninjured, except my boyfriend who had a minor cut, because the glass had blown in sideways.  If we had been in the back of the house we would have been badly cut as the glass came in sharply and was sticking into the sofa.  The house was badly damaged, with the roof and doors off, ceilings down and no windows, but we were all o.k.  Seven people were killed.  We all started clearing up and tried to get straight.  Tarpaulins were supplied to cover the roofs before they could be mended, and ceilings and windows were repaired by workmen from the Council but the rest was up to us.  It took us a long time and the weather was bitterly cold with fog, snow and ice.  We were very cold.  My parents were tired and sad to see their home devastated a second time, but we had a lot to be thankful for.