West Ewell War Memories
We are grateful to the family of the late Derek Phillips for their permission to use much of the text and images from the website that was set up and run by him. Derek was very interested in local history and his community and a short biography can be viewed on the introductory page
An air raid warden guards a bomb crater at the Chessington Rd/Green Lanes shops
The following text is derived from verbal accounts I collected in the mid 1990's. I recorded these on cassette tape for later transcription; the prospect of being able to share these recordings on the internet had not occurred to me so I did not ask permission to "broadcast" them. Therefore I trust that surviving relatives of these folk have no objection to the use of recordings now that the technology is now available to share them. As with all memories there may be some contradictions and inaccuracies.
More memories can be found on the BBC web site.
The First Air raid siren sounded at 11.15am 3rd September 1939. Danetree Road school was shut whilst air raid shelters were erected. The worst time for bombings was between August and December 1940. 28th September of that year is recorded as being a very heavy raid with bombs landing locally. During daytime raids, when the school children were in the shelters they were given bits of cloth to fray, possibly as a therapeutic measure. Window were covered with a criss-cross of sticky paper to prevent flying glass.
Air raid supplies Advert
It is widely reported locally that the first Doodle bug of the war fell on West Ewell around 11pm on Thursday 15th June and hit Riverholme Drive. As many as half the houses were destroyed. One report came back that the road was full of lavatory pans. In houses in Belfield ceilings came down and windows were blown out. In Station Avenue, doors were blown open, and there was damage as far away as Cherry Way. On that night the air raid sirens kept sounding all night and throughout the next day. In fact Germany launched its new weapon from Pas-de-Calais on the northern coast of France, on 12th June, 1944. The first ten failed to reach the country but on the following day one landed in Essex; so we can assume that the news of the bomb did not reach West Ewell so residents had no prior knowledge of the new terror.
(extra info from http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWv1.htm
The flying bombs came over all day from the south east, perhaps 3 or four at a time, many landed in Ruxley Lane. Ruxley Lane got hit by a lot of flying bombs and a Warwick twin engined bomber crashed at the top of the road just after the war around 1945/6. It came from the east clipped the top of the garage, took out a lamp post and hit the house opposite. (Tragedy.html
One November a bomb destroyed a row of 8 houses in Station Avenue yet the windows in the maisonette's opposite were not damaged. This bomb may have been one of a string that landed in Northcroft Road allotments, another landed on the road near the maisonettes, damaging all the services so they had no water or gas or electricity. They were rebuilt 18 months after the end of the war. Some residents of the maisonettes used the outside cupboard under the stairs as a shelter using sandbags for protection. There was only one injury, an old man had a bumped head from a collapsing ceiling. Four of the houses (2 blocks) were flattened, the other two had to be pulled down. The same night a bomb landed in Gibraltar Recreation ground. During air raids the trains slowed down in case the track was damaged.
Another stick fell in the allotments behind Northcroft narrowly missing the houses (either September or December). An incendiary burnt down the cottage at the end of Plough Rd by the Park in 1940.
Air Raid Shelter Advert
A mine landed in Lansdowne Road and blew no 47 down. A low flying lone bomber that had been shot up dropped a bomb on Salesians playing fields before crashing somewhere in Worcester Park direction. The railway bridge provided an ideal viewpoint for everyone to inspect the crater.
This recording is of Madge Ford, who lived in one of the maisonettes in Station Avenue during the war and would have been in her late 20's or early thirties at the time. She tells of a bomb landing in the playing field behind her home. (Interview recorded spring 1995)
(Note: Madge suggests that the bomber crashed in Worcester Park. The only record I can find of a plane coming down in Worcester Park is a fighter, not a bomber; and at a different time of day. Therefore I conclude that this detail is an assumption on Madge's behalf.)
Click on link for MP3 audio file
which will play in your default media player. File size: 300K
The following text, from the BBC Peoples War web site gives another account of the same incident.
"At about this time my father had come home on leave from the RAF and he and I were in the house alone when an air raid began and we stood on the front door step watching the aerial attack on Croydon Airport, which was then an RAF fighter base. The aircraft were merely tiny specks in the sky, weaving intricate patterns with their white vapour trails, which were interspersed with puffs of black smoke from gunfire. One German bomber was chased away from the target and passed over overhead; in its flight it dropped its bombs. One fell exploding on impact in the Salesian Sports field in Old Schools Lane, Ewell, the other fell in Sunnymede Road behind our home in Green Lanes. This bomb remained there unexploded being a delayed action bomb. Being completely unaware of this occurrence, that night when the Germans returned for another raid, we secluded ourselves in the safety of our Anderson shelter at the end of our garden. This was an almost life-threatening mistake because at about half past midnight the delayed action bomb went off and our family were shaken like so many peas in a whistle being blown at full blast. We were not only shaken, but also most definitely stirred. The following morning when we recounted our experience to neighbours they were all wisely saying that the ARP had warned everyone in the neighbourhood not to use Anderson shelters in their gardens. Everyone but us had been informed, how we came to be missed out, we never knew, we only knew that our number had not been called, so it certainly wasn't 5."
David Rich BBC Peoples War
School closed for months because of the buzz bombs which gave children ample time to make use of the playthings that the war provided. King George Rec. was bombed many times and had many bomb craters also many incendiaries fell there. Dantree School had one in the roof and they also fell in Hook arena. Boys would play in the bomb craters and collect shrapnel, swapping bits with friends and building up a collection on the mantelpiece. The fin off an incendiary bomb was a treasured item. There were brick shelters at the entrance to the recreation ground at the end of Plough Rd extension where children used to stand and watch buzz bombs fly over towards Kingston. Possibly aimed for the Decca factory. The ones that landed in West Ewell were probably meant for London. An unexploded shell had to be dealt with in Cherry Way.
Dogfights gave plenty of entertainment during the day. At the beginning of the war shops would close down when the sirens went but later they carried on business. Daytime raids were largely ignored but the night-time raids were treated with more respect. Anti-Aircraft guns were carried on the Horton Light Railway and also along the min line; their blast shattered windows in Chessington Rd. The light railway was often a target and the engine shed was damaged and a length of track destroyed in two separate incidents. Searchlights in West Park were also a target and the Hospitals were a land mark for the navigators finding London and were hit many times, when search lights were taken away the bombing became less intense. Horton Hospital was used as a military Hospital.
There was a ammunition factory in West St. Ewell, there was also a small factory in one of the shops in Chessington Road for sub-contracting light engineering work. They produced parts for aircraft etc. and were staffed mainly by women. There was a wardens post in Plough Road where the Weeks house is now and a public shelter in Bakers field.
The factory unit in Chessington Rd pictured in 2005
Bins were put out in the streets to collect food scraps for pigs. Children would collect bags of acorns for the pigs which they got paid per bushel. Some enterprising gardeners would collect horse dung from the road after delivery carts had been to use on the garden. Most people grew vegetables in both back and front gardens and part of the playing fields were allotments. All Saints Church Hall was requisitioned by the Council for use as a British Restaurant. During the war there was double summer time and the kids and dads would play cricket on the field opposite Cherry Way late into the evening. They mowed and levelled the grass specially.
Various recipes had to be used to make use of the available ingredients, such as vegetable pies and suet mixed with Bovril and whale meat. Other meat would consist mainly of corned beef and the occasional sausage (if you were lucky) or for a treat, offal. 2 oz of cheese butter and tea each and half a pound of sugar. Fruit was in short supply. Food and clothing coupons were often swapped around friends and relatives. British Restaurants would supply off rationed food. There was one at the TA centre and one at the church hall in Fulford Rd. On D Day people in West Ewell could hear the guns firing even from their gardens. On V.E. day flags were hung between houses and people had red white and blue flowers in the garden, everyone came out to the street.
In the 20's shell shocked veterans from the first war lived in Horton Hospital, they were dressed in blue out-fits. They played cricket with the locals and were called the Blue Coats.
Text written by the late Derek Phillips
Boring legal stuff relating to this page
As explained earlier the text and images for this page came from the website run by the late Derek Phillips. To preserve his work and allow ready access to it, it was decided to merge his local history pages into the Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website. Of necessity some minor changes to the text were necessary and the layout has been changed to fit in with the house style of Epsom and Ewell History Explorer but in essence the web page is Derek's.
The family of the Late Derek Phillips makes every effort to ensure that the information on this web page is accurate. However, they cannot accept responsibility for any loss or inconvenience caused by reliance on inaccurate material contained in this site. Links to other sites are provided for your convenience, the Phillips family cannot give endorsement of them. They cannot be responsible for any information contained on other websites.
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