Later War-time Memrories Sawbridgeworth Fire Brigade 1897 - to the early 1970's and beyond.
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<< The War Years Child War Memories - the later war years. (Page last updated: 27/05/2021)

A Molotov Basket..
There was quite a bit of activity from German aircraft as we were very much on the route back to Germany from London - there were very few nights went by that we did not clearly hear the drone of German aircraft. Some of the planes either did not drop all their bombs on their target or were being chased and just dumped their load for speed! We had some landmines around too and a Molotov Basket - this was a landmine with several hundred incendiary bombs inside it apparently. When the landmine exploded the incendiaries were distributed over a large area around. This one was dropped in the bottom end of Pishiobury Park, right at the end of the lane from the bottom of Vantorts Road. The crater was evident for years afterwards as it was never filled in. Another landmine fell by the railway line South of what was Luxfords Nursery and below New House Farm on the Sheering Lower Road. This one went off after a couple of days delay and because we had gone to that cellar again and were told to leave all the house windows wide open it blew one window back against the wall and broke a small piece of glass out of the corner. It was never repaired for years! Had we not opened all the windows though I expect there would have been no glass left at all. Yet another landmine dropped along the riverside beyond Keckseys bridge. This one exploded and emptied the river between locks. My neighbour - seven years older than me - and I went to see and I had a collection of shrapnel for years after.

A Lull before the Storm - Doodlebugs (V1's)

From late 1943 or early 1944 the frequency of raids by German aircraft had diminished and there was a period when it seemed that we were a little freer to move around. My Mother decided that a trip to London on the train was overdue so off we went. Sure enough all was quiet but the bleakness of the journey through the East End of London and into Liverpool Street Station was something else! The sight of all the massive damage and burnt out buildings still remains clearly in my mind. That same night, after returning home, the first Doodlebug arrived in London! From my bedroom window, facing East, there was a good view towards London and although initially the V1's were delivered singularly, eventually, and I suppose in some desperation by the Germans, they were being despatched in groups and I remember my Father getting me to look out of the window to see seven of them all in a line heading into the East End of London. They were very visible at night from the fiery jet exhaust. We experienced several strays in Sawbridgeworth - they were steered by gyroscopes which obviously went astray at times. My Father was at home and although the red warning had gone he was upstairs watching out of the window - my Mother and I were in the Morrison shelter - he suddenly came flying down the stairs and threw himself down by the side of the shelter saying “there’s one coming straight at us”. By this time we could hear it and then “Silence” which meant only one thing... that the jet engine had stopped and it was about to fall! Curiously the silence prevailed and we never did hear the explosion. This was one of the later variety that we had only just heard about - it was one which glided after the engine stopped. A few days later we heard that it had glided as far as Hertford, 15 to 18 miles away to the West. Phew! Some of the night workers where my Father was employed told him afterwards that they saw it and thought it was heading straight into our house, it was so low.

Operation Market Garden

I find it quite difficult to believe now - the freedom that us children seemed to have in those days. My Mother was quite a protective type but I really cannot recall being inhibited in any way in my movements during the war, certainly as I got older anyway! We still wandered off and investigated the various bomb craters etc. hence my knowledge of the Molotov Basket already mentioned. My next door neighbour and I were again at the end of the lane of Springhall Lane off the end of Vantorts Road on a Sunday morning. Suddenly the noise of many aircraft could be heard. As we looked up so we saw that they were Dakotas towing gliders. What a sight this was, there were hundreds it seemed and they just kept coming - we just stood in awe - we learn much later that there were some 2,000 aircraft involved! Obviously what we were witnessing was the assembled planes and gliders from around the country of the force to undertake Operation Market Garden - this was 17 September 1944.

From my bedroom window looking due East, just in the very distance the then Matching Aerodrome was just visible. It was developed just for the war effort by the Americans and in 1943-44 occupied by the American Air Force. Anyway they were training their glider pilots and standing on my bed I could watch - well what I could watch was their attempts at making landings! I don’t think I ever saw one go right head over heels but it must have been close.

There was a sudden very loud explosion...

The launching sites for the Doodlebugs having been overrun by our advancing forces in France and Holland, created a short lull in attacks but this was shattered by the arrival of the more sinister Guided Missiles (V2's). There was rarely a warning of these and it seemed uncanny to say the least that there was just immediate destruction. Sawbridgeworth had just the one experience of these dreaded ‘bombs’ while I was attending my friend’s party just two doors down the road. We had just finished our tea but were still at or around the table - there was a sudden very loud explosion which shook everything around and everyone shot under the table - then ‘nothing’. We somehow knew that this was something strange but it was not until the next day that we heard that it was a V2. It had thankfully exploded before reaching the ground and fairly high still. The main part of my story though is another couple of days afterwards. Another friend lived in Springhall Road in the end house of those that, at the time, backed onto allotments (now retirement type bungalows) between that road and Vantorts Road. We had gone to his house after school and for some reason decided to go into his back garden that backed onto the allotments - the sight that met our eyes was beyond belief. There was a huge metal object three quarters buried in the middle of his Father’s garden. It was about 4' - 5' across and circular with all nuts and bolts all round the periphery. It turned out that this was the rocket engine - if it had hit his house or any others in the row then the damage would have been immense! Not knowing then what it was we just ran like mad to tell my friends Mother and I shot off home. It was several days before the bomb disposal people and others removed it.

A birthday to remember

The only other birthday, mine this time, that I can remember during the war was my 7th (1942). It was a brilliant summers day and it must have been at the height of daylight raids because all I can remember of it was that the siren went 11 times that day! I don’t think it ruined my party as such but obviously was something to remember quite easily. It was something that my parents recalled on numerous birthdays afterwards. As for birthday presents and presents at Christmas I can never remember feeling deprived in any way. My parents seemed to get some things together somehow. I would think it would have been either Christmas 1943 or 1944 that I had a Meccano set. It was second hand and my Father had painted it up - I would imagine that it had been originally new in the early 30's. I had it and played with it for years after and added to it with new items when they became available again. Fortunately, I had been given a basic Hornby clockwork train set at Christmas when I was three, apparently with the acclamation from me of “Oh boy a train”. That too was added to after the war. We also always had a Christmas tree and my Father managed to keep the original Osram lighting set of 16 coloured candle lamps with brown Bakelite lamp holders going all through and even after the war. Paper chains had also been carefully preserved and were embellished here and there with the foil strips that as children we found scattered around, having been dropped by enemy aircraft to confuse the radar. At first I would not pick these up as it had been drummed into me that anything unusual could be dangerous - it was not unusual to hear of unexploded incendiaries or tail fins of these being found and I remember seeing the white phosphorus deposit all around one in the field between Vantorts Road and Springhall Road.

German prisoners of war

Towards the end of the war, I guess from the latter part of 1943 the farm next door had by this time developed and transformed from a general farm of a Ayrshire milking heard to include vegetable growing for the London Market at Spitalfields and locally. At this time German prisoners of war were starting to be brought in to assist with the work. The nearest camp was at Hatfield Heath and the prisoners were transported in each day. They were generally a friendly lot and it was quite evident, even to a small boy, that they were glad to be out of the action. I got quite friendly with some of them and I never felt out of place talking to those that could converse in English - surprisingly a number of them spoke reasonable English. One of them made my Mother a lovely oval wall plaque from a slice of tree branch as a thank you for some fruit from our apple, pear and plum trees in the garden, when in season. The plaque was decorated with carved flowers which were then painted. My Mother was very fond of it and it hung on our stair wall for years, eventually falling apart from woodworm. Another of the prisoners was a good looking and blond Austrian in his very late teens or early 20's - his name was August. He was charming and a very hard worker. After the war he volunteered and asked to stay on for about two years and continue on the farm. Robert Balmer was very pleased as he was so good. He eventually returned to his home area and then returned for a short period again. He corresponded with the farm for several years afterwards.

A very great sense of relief

The war was over at last. There was for me a very great sense of relief because for what seemed the whole of my life experience I had known only the state of war. It seemed quite uncanny that the constant anxiety from day to day was gone. I was lucky really because my parents were able to be around me throughout. Those children who were without a parent or parents and who would never see a parent again, well what must that have been like!

Victory streetlights

As in most towns and villages there were celebrations for the end of the war in Europe and by that time some sense of assuming the war with Japan would not last much longer. I can recall the evening celebrations in Sawbridgeworth only from one thing that sticks in my mind. For the first time that I could remember the street lights were switched on. As well as the lights being on I was fascinated by the manner in which all the moths were attracted to the lights - they had not seen them before either! There was dancing in the street (Knight Street) opposite my school and the music for this was from loudspeakers mounted on the top of one of White’s Garage hire cars - a big black saloon. Happy days? Well yes in some ways but the war time was very much a situation of making the best of a bad period in my life and the peaceful times afterwards were very short lived too. The Cold War brought more and greater fears!

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