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 Charlton way.
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 falling.
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 in between.
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.
© Copyright 2016 Elliott John. All rights reserved.