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Bombs on Children
growing up in Grimsby during World War 2
by David Ashton 
Crawley Pensioners Action Group

The first time we were bombed out my little brother was four years old, but, today remembers every detail. I remember when I was four taking a strange letter to my parents which made Mum cry and Dad go to the army. I just did not want to pick up any more letters after that. Dad soldiered and we got bombed. Once we even got strafed. Most of the time we lived in Grimsby on the south bank of the river Humber, but we travelled a lot to friends and relatives and always as a family unit. Growing up during the war shaped the rest of my life. In some ways it hardened me, but, above all it made me realize how important it was to have a family around and how we should look out for one another.
 
Although I would not want my own children to go through what I went through I often think I was lucky to live through such an eventful time which seems a strange contradiction. After the war I was lucky in working for a company that took me all over the world and so was able to work with Germans, Italians and Japanese. It was amazing that the loathing I developed as a child disappeared as I worked with these people. We got along really well and many a night I had a whale of a time in those three countries. On one occasion I had so much to drink that and became almost incapable, but, I was looked after really well and made into an honorary Bavarian by my work colleagues. There is a lesson in that too.
 
As children my brother sister and I saw bodies, limbs, wrecked and burned houses, buses and a bombed cinema. The cinema was destroyed by the same stick of bombs that got us and that helped me pin down the date to June 1943 when I would have been eight years old. We had the only real raid with ?butterfly bombs?. These were anti-personnel bombs that did not explode when they landed but, if anyone touched them or walked near them they would explode with deadly effect. They killed a lot of civilians and that is all they were for. I heard that the government kept it secret how effective these bombs had been in paralyzing our town. They just reported nothing about it at all so the Germans assumed that had not worked so they did not uses them again. These bombs made us hate the enemy, and I thought that they should be exterminated they just seemed to want to kill us all.
 
We had to move constantly, we went to Wales, and Coventry and stayed with both our grandparents too. I went to at least six different schools. Yet, it seemed a time of adventure, and, my brother, sister and I were so well cared for felt like the most lucky and important children in the whole world. However, one night my mother took me to a movie to see a Disney film. The newsreels showed bombing of Coventry where we had relatives and the audience stood up and yelled abuse and threats against the Nazis. They shook their fists and used pretty bad language. I was surprised to hear my mother join in and she stood up shouting terrible threats about what she would do to Hitler. When I joined in she clipped me round the ear and told me not to swear and I was a bit confused. However, in bed I would dream happily of smashing Hitler with a poker if I ever saw him. I was glad no-one seemed to be taking it lying down. We wanted to win.
 
We were always hungry. Grandad gave us fish off his boat. He showed me how to catch eels and flounders on the foreshore. Uncle Joey caught rabbits, I helped kill and skin them. With the other Granddad I collected eggs from his chickens. In Wales, Uncle Idris took me fishing in secret places, and we caught trout we cooked as soon as we got back home. In Coventry, Auntie Rose had a world map on the wall. She stuck flags in it and would tell us how the war was going in Russia and the Far East especially.
 
Back in Grimsby, we had fireworks most nights!  Sometimes we could not get to the shelter and hid under the stairs. I figured that a fleet of bombers was trying to get us and a line of our guns had to stop them. My mother would sob with fright, but, I was never scared because I did not know any better. The house shook, sometimes explosions flashed so brightly they lit up the cupboard under the stairs where we hid. Both Grandparents walked for miles checking up after every raid. After the terrorist bombs in London on July 7th ?05 I had to check up to see if two of our children were OK in London. This made me realize just how bad it must have been for my grandparents in the 1940?s. The Grannies cried every time they found us safe.
 
One day we turned up at school and an incendiary bomb had come through the roof and set the parquet floor on fire but we just had lessons as usual in the very same room.
 
As far as I was concerned those aircraft would never get us, because out in the estuary there were lots of ships blasting away at them. Then they had to get over the coast and the beaches were lined with guns. Then there were the bofors guns out in the streets so despite the noise and the explosions I figured they would never make it but one night they did.
 
I saw some weird twin-boom aircraft. They were American P38?s that eventually flew to North Africa.  Shortly after seeing these weird aircraft, a man in a smart uniform stopped me in the street, gave me a heavy bag, ruffled my hair, saying in a funny accent ?give that to your Mom sonny? It was a struggle carrying that bag home. It was full of cans of spam, corned beef, chocolate bars, and canned fruit. That was the first time I had ever met and American and I have liked them ever since that day.
 
Uncle Ron was a boxer and served on a cruiser called HMS Glasgow. He seemed to get around a lot. He went all over the world.  He was a tough guy, but got drunk once and talked about bad things he?d seen on arctic convoys. He told my grandmother that he was upset by pulling dead Germans out of the water. I was just glad that he was doing the pulling out and not being pulled out himself because I worshipped my Uncle Ron.
 
When our house was bombed we were lucky to live, the neighbours, and the rest of the family looked after us really well. The bomb did not hit the house but fell into our very large garden. It was a good job we did not make it out into the shelter because we would have been dead for sure. There was a tremendous noise of rubble pounding down the stairs as we crouched beneath them. We had to get out of the house, but the doors were blocked tight shut with piles of rubble so we had to climb out of the smashed windows. The day before, my mother had got a big bowl of dripping from the butcher and I was very keen to rescue this from the pantry but the bowl was smashed up by a brick that fell upon it through the ceiling. This upset me more than anything else and I was very annoyed when people laughed about it. Once we got out of the house we climbed a wall to get to a neighbour?s house. When atop the wall I heard terrible cries and, turning round I saw glowing houses falling down into the bomb crater with people trapped inside them. Our neighbours were very glad to see us and there was a lot of hugging and kissing then I fell asleep on the floor. Next morning I sneaked out and saw a lot of bodies but I did not tell my mother in case I was told off about sneaking out to dangerous places.  
 
Both of the grannies turned up. One had walked about six or seven miles because no buses were running, They saw the house first and so thought we were goners so there was a lot of crying and hugging again. Then we went to stay with one of the grannies.
 
At my grandparents one night we ran out to the shelter and  saw a burning bomber go down, but, a bomb fell close by, killed many people and our shelter was crushed with us in it. This made Granny cry again so, in the morning I took Uncle Ron?s cut-throat razor and rode his bike to find the crashed bomber in nearby woods. A soldier stopped me, said all the crew were dead and sent me away. He was really nice about it. Outside the town in a village called Stallingborough, a girl said she saw a German plane come down with a crewman tethered to the tail by a trapped parachute so he was twirling around like a toy. No-one felt sorry for him. The girl had thought it was a bomb at first and she was actually relieved to see that it was not. We had no sympathy at all for the other side.
 
We moved to the other grandparents who had made room for us. One morning Granddad came in on an early tide, took off his sea-boots and crept past me as I slept on mattress on the floor. In his bare feet he stepped on my secret pet hedgehog?what a commotion! He was OK about that, and every one laughed like mad.
 
We got another house, but, one night as we dived into our shelter the door was half-open and the 15 watt light bulb shone out. Our shelter was machine-gunned with terrific noise. I broke a tooth when I landed on the floor of the shelter. We found bullets all round the shelter. Over 10 years later my post-war baby-boomer brother found even more bullets in the garden.
 
Later, the sky seemed black with our bombers which took off at night and would circle around the town to build height. There were hundreds of them and, my granddad said that they were very noisy because the engines were working hard to gain height with a heavy load of bombs on board. Once at school a huge flight of Beaufighters roared low over the playground heading out on a shipping strike. There were masses of P51 mustangs too. The sky was always full. My mother told me about ?flying bombs? and that was the only time I thought the other side could win. One night we had an alert which were sure enough the flying bombs and I saw and heard them go by. They had been launched from German aircraft over the North Sea.
 
Throughout the war, with all those caring grown-ups around me I felt totally secure. Maybe they cared for us so well because it is rewarding and comforting to look after others?even pesky little kids like us.
 
It took time to figure that out, but, now I know it works really well.

 

 
 

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