I was very lucky to have got the
leave at this stage in the war. We all knew that things were
building up to something big and we were going to be very much
part of it and the chance to go home and see the folks before it
began was very welcome. Still, three days wasn't long and I was
determined to make the most of it.
One thing I was intent on doing was
to visit my old mate, Alf Simpson. I hadn't seen him for long
enough; we'd not been together in the war but Ma had written to
tell me he'd been wounded quite badly. He'd been sent back to
England and was now convalescing at home in south London, down
Some would say Alf was lucky and I
suppose he was. Certainly luckier than Charlie Phillips who was
wounded in the same attack and was quickly evacuated to a
Regimental Aid Post. Alf's wounds were bad enough to delay this
happening in his case and it was just as well because the R.A.P
received a direct hit soon afterwards, killing Charlie and all
the other injured men and severely wounding the Medical Officer.
Perhaps Alf was luckier than me and my chums too - God knows what
we might be facing in the weeks ahead.
I hadn't visited Alf's place before
but I had a rough idea of where it was and I took the bus. It was
a miserable day, dull and grey with a persistent light drizzle
I left the bus and started to walk
towards Blenheim Road where Alf's house was. But I soon
discovered that my knowledge of this part of south London wasn't
as good as I'd thought and soon realised I'd got off a couple of
stops too early. I decided to carry on walking the rest of the
way despite the awful weather, just the right kind of day for a
funeral I thought.
As I walked through the grey
streets I was horrified at the extent of bomb damage. We'd heard
about the horrors of the blitz of course but the number of
shattered buildings and the gaps in the terraces of houses came
as a real shock to me.
At last, I arrived at the main
junction where I'd originally intended to leave the bus. I turned
left into Cardigan Street knowing that Blenheim Road was the next
on the left. Less that half a mile to go now. There were more
bombed out properties on the corner of Cardigan and Blenheim but
I was relieved not to be able to make out any more gaps beyond
that point. Number 258 was Alf's house and at last it was looming
up in front of me. It appeared to be in one piece but there was
something not quite right about it; it looked sort of not lived
in somehow. Nonetheless, I walked the few steps up the front path
and knocked hard on the front door. There was no sign of anyone
stirring but I distinctly heard the faint but unmistakable sound
of laughter from within. That laugh was instantly recognisable
too - as Alf's. It must be that he was playing a trick on me, I
thought, it would be just like him. I knocked again, even harder
but now there was only silence and a third attempt was equally
fruitless so I did the time-honoured thing and bent to peer
through the letterbox. At what I saw then, I felt total dismay. I
could make out a door straight ahead at the end of the front
passage but to the right, I could see daylight and had a clear
view out to the back and beyond with masses of rubble and debris
As I rose slowly to my feet, there
was a voice behind me and I turned to see a cloth-capped fellow
who'd stopped, seeing my attempts to raise a response from the
house. "I'm afraid that place is a complete wreck," he said.
"Doesn't look like it at first from the road but it got caught
three nights ago when a doodle-bug* landed in Bishops Road
behind. The houses in Bishops got flattened but this one and the
two on either side copped it too. The back walls collapsed inward
though the roofs and house fronts seem intact, at first sight."
"What about casualties?" I asked him, my voice trembling. He
shook his head solemnly. "All the occupants dead, I'm afraid", he
replied. "Including the old couple at this one. Sad thing is
their son was home on convalescent leave at the time - he'd got
away from the action but Jerry got him like this, with his Mum
and Dad too"
I mumbled some words of
acknowledgement and thanks as, shocked and stunned, I turned
away, slowly retracing my steps head down through the drizzle,
just like a mourner at a funeral.
* Doodlebug was the name
"popularly" used in Britain for the German V1, a pilotless
missile, thousands of which were launched at Southeast England
from June 1944, killing around 6,000 people and injuring many
more, mostly in the south of the capital. The attacks ended
with the capture of the landing sites after D-Day.