My main recollections of the skies during the air raids of World War Two are of the searchlights criss-crossing the
night sky. I now know that they were looking for enemy planes, but I'm not
sure that I realised this at the time. I was very young. Yet something of
the fear must have rubbed off because one year the Christmas lights in
London were set up to look light searchlights, and it sent a shudder through
me. I did not return to London that Christmas.
But I digress. The following recollections come from people a few years
older than me who remember the actual war-time skies quite clearly.
The daytime skies during air raids and the Battle of britain
I vividly remember passing days in September 1940 in my grandmother's back garden,
in glorious weather, and watching the aeroplanes weaving, turning and fighting
each other in the sustained air campaign known as the Battle of Britain. I seem
to remember that our planes were silver and the enemy's were black, but that
may have been childhood fantasy. Anyway, ours won - thank God!
Little did I appreciate the stress and strain of the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots in the sky above me, locked in deadly combat with their enemies. It would only be when there was a momentary burst of gunfire from one of the planes that my schoolboy friends and I would leap from our bikes and run. Then we did appreciate something of the terrible danger these great RAF heroes were in. The occasional vapour trail left by a plane in the clear blue skies above our heads, the flash of sunlight from some part of one of the many planes, twisting and turning in and away from one another. It was like some macabre aerial ballet. Quite beautiful, but totally deadly.
The night-time skies during air raids
Ground staff operating a searchlight. Detail from a screen shot
of an old film
Where my family lived in Orpington, Kent, we were on the flight path from Germany to London. Biggin Hill Aerodrome was also nearby. So we were very much affected by air raids. I remember watching with fascination the dogfights between fighter planes in the skies above us, and at night I slept under the stairs - said to be strongest part of a house, with my parents also squeezing in.
Sometimes my father would "take me up" - out of
our Anderson shelter - to
see what was going on. The shelter faced eastwards from Edmonton
towards Chingford across the Lea Valley and its factory estates.
In front of the shelter doors was a blast wall - a thick brick wall designed to do as its name suggests. We often used to stand behind it, watching all of the planes and searchlights in the sky, the 'tracer' bullets and general hubbub. I think that the 'tracer' bullets got their name because they somehow glowed enabling the gunner to see the trajectory and thus trace and refine his aim.
As I was born in 1937, I was still quite young during the worst of the air raids. Even so, I remember, one night my father holding me up to the windows during the
blackout, and everywhere around was a red glow where the bombs had fallen. We were lucky in Hazel Close, where we lived, though, because there was an anti-aircraft battery nearby, so the German aircraft tried to avoid the area.
When a bomb went through the top of one of the
gasometers in the gasworks along Angel Road,
Edmonton, about a mile due east of us. As you can imagine, the flames
shot several hundreds of feet up into the air. The pitch dark of the
blackout was no longer, what with the searchlights and flashes, etc.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.