It was a clear night, I was asleep in my bed, my sister was also asleep in her cot, mum was in the big bed. Dad was away in the army training to be a soldier, sometimes I heard mum crying. The last few months she had been trying to get used to the fact that Dad did not come home at night the way he used to. There was always plenty of work to do looking after her three young children. Washing took hours of hard physical work, the poss-stick in the tub in the back yard. But she had never felt so alone before. Her parents lived in the three rooms upstairs with their six younger children, three boys and three girls. She knew better than to ask her mother for help.
Our house was in a short terrace, at one end was a railway line going down to the docks and at the other a road leading down to Hendon Road, the main shopping road through the district. Coxon street was a well-kept street, houses which had once been for the skilled engineers and ship-yard workers were gradually being subdivided to house more unskilled workers. My father rented two rooms and an outhouse on the ground floor, there was a toilet at the bottom of the back yard: beyond the back-door was a back lane. On the opposite side of the street lived grandmother’s sister and her family. The streets were clean and tidy, up the bank a short walk away was the Mowbray Park with a duck pond, grassy banks and tall trees, space to run about safely.
The time was May 1943, in the early hours of a clear moonlit night, the bombers were heard overhead and searchlights lit up the sky, the peculiar whine of the air raid warning sounded. At that dreadful sound grandparents and Mum got up and roused the children, putting coats and shoes on, we all made our way to the air-raid shelter in the back-yard. There were wooden benches to sit on and grandfather stood by the door. Death and destruction fell out of that moonlit sky, the noise swamped everything. We waited in the shelter until everything went quiet and soon we heard the reassuring sound of the All Clear.
The house two doors down was completely demolished and the family killed. An air-raid warden quickly appeared at the back door and looked around carefully, tiles had come off the roof and the chimney looked distinctly wobbly. His voice was loud, it would be dangerous for you to stay here, the he said firmly.
“Please can I pop in for my purse and some clothes?” Mum and grandmother begged him
“Well you’ll have to be very quick, just a couple of minutes.”
We waited in the yard. Mum came back holding the pushchair and a bag full of clothes. My sister got into the pushchair and everyone went into the back lane. My uncle Joe took hold of the handles and pushed Jean along the pavement. The adults were worried were on earth were we going to stay? Grandfather had a married sister who had a couple of spare rooms, he decided we would try there just for a day or two. By this time it was getting light and all together we set off to walk there, with the youngest in the pram. I didn’t feel anxious, I didn’t understand what the destruction of home meant, the people I trusted were all around me, everything would be alright.
Within a few days mum started walking round the nearby streets, searching for uncurtained windows. Sometime was spent down at the Housing Office, my memory tells me that the manager was Mr. Holmes. The queue was positioned up a long staircase, weary mothers and restless children. At long last we were in Mr. Holmes’ office, mother explained our family situation adding that soon I would be starting school. Mr. Holmes searched through his papers and smiled. Here’s something which will suit you, three rooms with a school close by, I’ll give the key and you can go and have a look. Mother smiled a little and we went out to find the place which would be our new home. The house was in a respectable terraced street at one end was a shopping area with a butcher’s, a well equipped grocery store and a chemist shop, on the opposite side of the road was an imposing brick built school. Mother knocked at the front door, a neatly dressed woman opened it, the vacant rooms were upstairs. We all went up the stairs and the woman explained she lived on the ground floor with her son, there were three rooms vacant; the largest one contained a fireplace, there was a small room at the front and a larger room looking out over a backyard but more surprising at the top of a small staircase was a toilet and bathroom. Mother had never before lived in rooms where there was a bath and a wash basin in their own special SMALL ROOM room. Very soon these rooms became our home.