The Leicester Blitz and the G.I.'s.
The war for me started before September 3rd 1939. I lived in Hart Road Leicester and attended Charnwood Street school where all children were issued with gas masks in their cardboard boxes. At some stage before war started we were visited by police and ARP people who were demonstrating how to fit them correctly. We even went through a smoke filled chamber to check.
When war was declared on Sunday 3rd we quite expected the skies to be filled with bombers within hours. On that afternoon I took a bus ride with my mother to visit my grandmother's grave and of course we took our gas masks. My most vivid memory of that afternoon was being laughed at by a bunch of kids because we had our gas masks. I was just 10 at the time.
When we got home, we learned that my elder brother had volunteered for the RAF and my other brother joined Dad's Army the Home Guard, I think they were originally the LDV, Local Defence Volunteers. There was much activity making blackouts for windows and forming ARP units. Buckets of sand and water and stirrup pumps were placed at various points in the road and a couple of ladders strategically placed in entries between houses with my dad painting signs for the walls to mark where they could be found. For a 10 year old, war was an exciting prospect but nothing seemed to be happening, apart from rationing and helping to gather scrap metal, life went on as normal in Leicester.
Following the bombing of London early in 1940 there was an influx of evacuees to the area. The children who came to Charnwood Street school were difficult to understand and I have no doubt they had as many problems in reverse.
My next vivid memory was of the time of Dunkirk when within hours of reaching these shores, many thousands of soldiers of all nationalities were to be marched from the Midland Station to Victoria Park. Field kitchens were in place but no shelter of any sort. No-one seemed to have any equipment, nor, I am sure, did they have the energy or will to offer resistance if Jerry had pushed on across the Channel. My Mother organised the people in the street to make sandwiches to help feed them and it was my duty to take them to the park with a couple of other kids where they were soon snapped up.
At that time, came the first casualty in Hart Road. I remember an account of a Marine Commando by the name of Gordon Collins, who could not get a place on a boat so decided to swim home. He got within a couple of miles of the coast when he was picked up, having been in the water for about 30 hours. He died a few days later.
War came with a vengeance on the night of 19/20 November 1940 when a cluster of incendiary bombs on Freeman, Hardy and Willis factory caused a huge beacon to present a target. I was under the stairs in the pantry with my mother. My dad kept popping in to check we were OK, he was with the other men in the road doing ARP duty. There was a huge explosion as the Grove Road land mine hit, we were covered in dust from the stairs and the whole house shook. My dad came rushing in to see if we were OK and said that a huge bomb on a parachute was seen to be falling directly on us but veered off at the last second and landed in Vulcan Road. He then dashed off to help.
After the all clear, I hopped over the dividing wall into the entry to the houses of Vulcan Road that backed onto ours and saw the dreadful destruction and confusion that was the lower end of Grove Road. My dad saw me and gave me a whack and sent me home. It was a few days before I got near the scene again. I have heard a tale that the parachute snagged the steeple of St Saviour's Church then rolled down the Grove Road hill before exploding, I don't suppose anyone will ever know the truth of it. My mother had a friend in Grove Road who's house was destroyed, fortunately she was working and the house was empty apart from a large persian cat which was crushed by falling rubble. Looking at the hits of that night it would appear that the major target was the railway line and the bridges of Vulcan Road, Nedham Street, Kent Street and Swain Street. If so, they were pretty close.
My Mother worked at home as a 'Turner In' and one of my jobs was to go to a shoe factory and return finished work and collect more a couple of times a week. On one such trip I was in the vicinity of East Park Road when the sirens went and bombs started falling nearby. No idea of the date but I was probably about 13 or 14 then, I dashed to the only place I knew, Brewins bakery in Rolleston Street. They took me in and we sheltered in a basement area. After the all clear, I was sent on my way by Mrs Brewin with a little bag of sugar and a bag of cakes. Wonderful in the hard times we were having with rationing.
I remember well the arrival of the yanks, as we saw many of them in Hart Road chasing the pretty girls. Indeed one of the girls, Joan Beard, married one and went away to Washington as a GI bride. I have memories of walking to Evington Lane where airborne troops were in a tent camp and even to Stoughton airfield where I watched huge gliders being towed into the air, released and landing back at the airfield,all part of the build up to D-Day. The skies on those late evenings of double summer time were a mass of aircraft.
The war eventually came to an end and my brother Laurie returned after spending more than five years in India with the RAF. Sadly my other brother Roy who was with the Royal Artillery was killed in Burma in 1944.
By D. Neal