Irene Remembers

A few thoughts on the Blitz

By Joseph Torregrossa

A Few Thoughts on the Blitz by Miss Irene Carter Bem

"I was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service and during the Blitz was stationed firstly at a substation in Airways House, Buckingham Palace Road, and later at A Division HQ at Westminster School.

One of my memories at Airways House was the day a Spitfire was shot down and landed at the junction of Buckingham Palace Road and Pimlico Road and the pilot baled out and landed on the flats the other side of the railway; at the same time the German plane crashed on the shops at the junction of Wilton Road and the police captured the crew (this plane was the Hurricane belonging to Sgt Ray Holmes, who rammed a German Dornier bomber over Victoria. Further details of the Ray Holmes incident can be found on the People pages).

In those days we worked in shifts of 48 hours on duty and 24 hours leave when we could go home.  At Westminster School there was a substation in Great College Street and another in the Choir School.  The Divisional HQ occupied the part of the school in Deans Yard and a surface air raid shelter was built in Little Deans Yard as a control room.

The Civil Defence - service was formed to provide assistance following air raids.

Air Raid Wardens (ARP) - made sure people were aware of the raids in progress and saw people to shelters.

Rescue Services- searched bombed buildings to find casualties

Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) - worked alongside the Fire Service to put out fires and help the rescue services.

Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) - provided refreshments at incidents and helped look after the injured and homeless.

Fire Watchers - These were volunteers who at night helped to protect their place of work or public buildings such as Westminster Abbey and others of national importance. They were provided with sand bags and stirrup pumps which consisted of a large bucket and a hand pump which could extinguish small fires.

The first bombs fell on mainland Britain on 9 May 1940 near Canterbury.  On 8 June 1940 bombs fell in open country near Addington and on 15th August Croydon Airport was first bombed.

On 5 September 1940 the Blitz really began when the oil tanks in Thameshaven were bombed and the glow from these fires could be seen reflected in the windows of the Victoria Coach Station.  On 7 September 1940 a daylight raid began at the London Docks at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and by 6 o’clock the planes had left, only to return two hours later to continue the attack until 4:30 in the morning.

On the night of 29-30 December 1940 large areas of the City of London were burnt out, caused by high explosive bombs and the Germans claimed to have dropped 100,000 incendiaries.  Between 7 September and 2 November 1940 London was bombed on fifty-seven consecutive nights.

The last serious London raid was the night of 10-11 May 1941.  Many buildings, including St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Lambeth Palace, the Temple Church, Lincolns Inn, Grays Inn Chapel, the British Museum, the Law Courts, and the Tower were hit

The Houses of Parliament were hit over a dozen times, the worst incident occurring on 10-11 May 1941, when the House of Commons was destroyed.  This incident I remember well as I was on duty in the Control Room in Deans Yard when we heard a plane overhead.  Then one bomb dropped, the second seemed nearer, and the third, which we thought must be ours, but luckily for us it was across the road.  The next morning we went to see the damage and walked down a corridor and when we reached the end there was a large open space which had been the Commons.

After the air raids were through the V1 self-propelled bombs, which flew a distance and when the engine cut out, dropped out of the sky.  The most serious incident in this part of London was when one fell on the Guards' Chapel, Wellington barracks, when it was packed with people attending the Sunday morning service.  These were used from June to August 1944, then from September 1944- March 1945 there were V2 long range rockets which were fired across the Channel and dropped out of the sky without warning.

The official casualties for Westminster were given as 1,101 killed and 2,495 seriously injured.

Most of this information is from Sir Aylmer Firebrace’s book, Fire Service Memories, and the City of Westminster book, Blitz over Westminster, plus a few of my own memories".

This page was added by Joseph Torregrossa on 18/04/2012.

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