by Yolanda "Lola" Richards (nee Matto)


Well, here we are back for the next instalment! Are you still with me? It gets more exciting now! As you can no doubt work out by Higher Mathematics, I was 2 years old when War broke out. (In 1939 in case you've forgotten.) Of course I didn't know much about it at the time, but it was a terrifying experience for all who lived through it.

My Dad as an Air Raid Warden
The Blitz in London

My Dad served as an Air Raid Warden in London at first, and later joined the Army and was sent to India and Burma. My Mum 'kept the home fires burning' as we used to say, and in addition to having a small child and 3 Airedale dogs, she kept chickens and rabbits to augment the food rations. The allowance which was paid to a soldier's wife was very meagre, and in any case the food was just not available, even with Ration Books.

Mum with Baby and Dog
Me and the 3 Dogs

The worst part for people like us were the Air Raids, when German planes would fly over England and drop bombs on strategic targets. My Dad constructed for us an Air Raid shelter in the house, made from a heavy carpentry bench, with sheets of metal encasing the sides.We crawled into the shelter from one end, and had blankets and pillows in there as we often had to hide for quite a while. The only problem was, as soon as the siren sounded, our 3 large Airedales would dash for the shelter and get in before us! They had to be hauled out again by their tails - the only part that was left outside - before we could clamber in ourselves!! (Yes, we let them in after us, as long as they faced out and didn't breathe all over us!)

We would listen to the planes going overhead, and got to know by the sound of them whether they were 'Ours' or 'Theirs'. Then we would hear the 'buzzbombs' going over, and pray that the noise would continue. For when it cut off, that was when the bomb would fall. Even now, when I hear the E.M.O. siren, I get a sinking in my stomach, as it sounds just like the Air Raid sirens used to. You never forget something like that. War is a terrible thing.

I very clearly remember the jumper (sweater!) that my Mum was knitting for me in there. It was a complicated Fair Isle pattern, no doubt chosen to take her mind off the bombs. For light, we had a lantern covered with green baize, and I can still recall the smell of the warm cloth. Of course black-outs were in effect all over the country (so the enemy could not identify places so easily) - so we couldn't have much light, even tucked away in the shelter. As a child I was only aware of feeling safe and protected in our hide-away.

When the All Clear siren sounded, it felt so wonderful! We would all pile out and my Mum would go and put the kettle on to make a cup of tea!! (See, that's where I got it from!) I guess it was part celebration, and part relief at having survived another raid.

However, one night it was different. Shortly after an especially scary raid, my Mum was alarmed by the Bomb Disposal Squad leader pounding on our door and telling us to evacuate the house quickly. Evidently, they knew that one bomb had dropped but had not exploded yet!

My Mum always remembered wrapping me up (- I guess I was about 3 years old then) - and taking me outside to go to a neighbour's house, Mrs. Honour who lived on Woodside Avenue. She recalled that I looked up at the night sky and said "Look at all the stars, Mummy!" and it helped her to get through that terrifying time.

Our house was situated right across the Chess Valley from Bovingdon Aerodrome, and that was a prime target for bombs naturally. A German bomber had dropped a 'stick' of six bombs aimed at Bovingdon, but unfortunately for us, his aim was a little off - and they came across the valley dropping in a line up our side. One was a direct hit on the goat shed at the far end of our property - the poor goat never knew what hit him!

The next one fell in our back lawn - only yards away from where my Mum and I were hiding in our home-made shelter. Not only did it land there, but it turned underground and tunnelled beneath the house......but did not explode! (- obviously, or I wouldn't be here to tell the tale!)

Notice at our Gate
Digging for Bomb

After evacuating us, the Bomb Disposal Squad dug down to defuse and extricate the bomb. I have the greatest admiration for those brave men! We were not allowed back home officially, but my Mum sneaked back to feed the rabbits and chickens, and managed to get some photos of the crew working.

Bomb Squad Around Hole
Crew Having a Cuppa

After the crisis was over she made them all a cup of tea, of course! You can see how our windows were all shattered from the force of the other explosions.

Here I have a picture of me later on, standing beside the defused bomb which was taller than I was!

Mum, Dad, and Me with the Bomb
Shattered Windows