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My Story: WW2 and the London Blitz

My name is Sylvia Christine Morrison nee Partleton; I will be 91 years of age in a few months’ time. I was born in London at 27 Burtop Road in 1929 to Frederick Partleton, who was Clerk of Works at builders H&P Matthews & Son (which is why we had the rarity of our own telephone) and Margurite Eve.

My eldest son, Philip, asked me to recall my life during WW2 and the Blitz as part of his recording of our family tree and history.

These are my recollections of 1939 to 1945.

At this time I lived at 574 Garratt Lane, Earlsfield, London, SW17 with my parents and eight siblings (two sisters and six brothers). No. 574 was a former cafe and had 4 bedrooms, an upgrade on 27 Burtop Road, a 3 bedroomed house which was just around the corner.

My brothers and sisters:

Fred William (1919-2012)
Victor Charles (1921-1921)*
Reg Stanley (1922-2001)
Violet Ethel (1926-2000)
Joan Lilian (1928-2003)
Alfred Charles (1932-2019)
Tom Edward (1933-2016)
Gordon Francis (1936-1938)***
George Gerald (living)
Terence Valentine (living)

* I got confused initially about my brother’s name, I thought it was Nelson but I got that wrong although I am sure my memory serves me well that he had a sister named Marguerite after my mother. I recall my mother telling me that Victor was delivered by her mum-in-law ** because the midwife was late (playing cards apparently) and what she thought was after birth was another delivery but by the time it was realised the baby (girl) had suffocated. Maybe the midwife brushed things under the carpet as there’s only a death certificate for Victor who died within 14 days of birth epidemic Diarrhoea.

** That would be Susan Pirie (1864-1929) who was living with us at the time, she had nowhere else to go so she lived with us and I remember my Mum telling me it was a Godsend as when I was born she could slip me in bed beside Susan and get on with her housework. Although I was three months of age at the time of her death I can take you to Streatham Cemetery and show you where she is buried so we must have visited her grave frequently.

*** Gordon died from Bronchopneumonia and measles aged about 18 months.

The Co-op was opposite, where we bought our rationed meat and Jack Bishop’s off licence was adjacent, Daisy Leopard’s (she had a wooden leg) green grocers, Singleton’s grocery shop owned by Mr McGowan where one of us kids would be sent to buy six penn’orth (2½p) of breakfast sausage, newsagent owned by Tom Plume along the parade and Mr Fox the chimney sweep. One of us would be despatched to Carter’s bakery to buy three fresh baked hot Bloomers for 6d (2½p).

Old Mother Bunce’s sweet shop was opposite our house on the corner of Freshford Street where we used to buy our rationed sweets, 8oz (227g) per month. I worked there for 3 months in 1943 with my friend Joycie King. Babbage’s dentist, between our house and the Leather Bottle pub, Hamptons, the shop where you took your wireless radio accumulator to be recharged. Bert Young’s pie and mash shop was nearby and an occasional treat for us. Kent’s fish and chip shop was opposite Young’s.

I also worked at the Elm Works munitions factory on Garratt Lane. I did some welding.

Garratt Lane runs parallel to the River Wandle in the borough of Wandsworth and links Wandsworth High Street to Tooting Broadway via Earsfield and Summerstown. Our house was in easy walking distance of the Leather Bottle public house at Summers Green and the Corner Pin at Summerstown.

Garratt Lane was served by bus and trolleybus (electrified tram) and I remember the magnificent horse drawn carriages delivering barrels of beer from the Young’s Ram brewery at Wandsworth.

My father served in France during WW1 where he was wounded. He was an underage volunteer. During WW2 he was an air raid warden (ARP) and I recall one occasion when he returned home after an air raid and sat on a chair with his head in hands. I think he was crying.

We were aware that war was coming, everybody thought London was going to be invaded so I, aged 9 years, my brothers and sisters were evacuated to Cranleigh in Surrey in July or August 1939, a few months or so before the actual outbreak of the war. As the war got off to a slow start and being in a ‘lull’ our Dad brought us back to Burtop Road. Later we were evacuated to Chard together with my best friend Eileen Winsbury. We stayed with Jack and Gladys Jennings for six months or more, later we moved to Vine House in Old Street also in Chard where very old ladies, ‘Aunties’Laura and Leah took care of us and Ruby Mason also from Earlsfield. Lionel Long (we called him Carpet Short) was a local boy. ‘Aunties’ nephew, who we didn’t like, was also in residence. I was unhappy being an evacuee and I was glad when our Dad brought us back to our new house at 574 Garratt Lane where we stayed and witnessed the Blitz including V1 and V2 rockets. My sister, Violet, didn’t help my unhappy situation when she used to sing this song:

♫♫ The Little Beggar Boy ♫♫

I am a little beggar boy
I am only six years old
My mother she’s in heaven
For that’s what I’ve been told
I sit beside the window
And hear the organs play
And think of my dear mother
Who is so far away

I had to be reminded that my brothers, Alf, Tom and George were evacuated to Leicester when my mother was sent to Berkshire to have Terry, where they stayed with an old and very religious couple at Oakley Road a turning off Humberstone Main Road, who had a pedal organ in their front room. Meantime, we three sisters remained at 574 Garrett Lane.

The war impacted on my education as it did all kids of my age. We attended school in Chard but it wasn’t really an education unless you count learning how to use a gas mask. Even when back at Garratt Lane I attended Waldron Road school together with sister Joan. My class consisted of 12 pupils and we were taught by Mr Moore the PE and art teacher in the staff room. I do not remember learning much.

On 3 September 1939 Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The start of the Blitz which commenced on 7 September 1940 (later became known as ‘Black Saturday’), was the commencement of the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing and ended on 11 May 1941.

London Fire Brigade records show that on ‘Black Saturday’ between 9 and 10 o’clock in the evening six incendiary bombs fell on SW17. The bombs were numbered: 649, 658, 659, 677, 685 and 720.

Addresses and damage was recorded as follows:

96 Longley Road Tooting, SW17 – 15×4 timber and iron store damaged
Garratt Lane, Tooting, Sw17 – 6×4 roof damaged
71 Graveney Road, Tooting SW17 – back rooms 1st floor damaged
Garratt Lane, Tooting SW17 – R.E Gordon Printing shop. Office damaged
900 Garratt Lane, Tooting, SW17 – scullery on 1st floor damaged
56 Rogers Road, Tooting, SW17 – in yard

Around 1,000 bombs were dropped on London that night by 348 German bombers accompanied by over 600 Messerschmitt fighters. During the Blitz one in ten deaths was a child.

We had an Anderson air raid shelter in our garden but it wasn’t big enough and anyway it simply had a corrugated tin roof so we got a steel Morrison shelter (sleeps 8) which was erected in the kitchen. Before this time we would often shelter in basements of the shops, one I particularly recall was the fishmongers opposite the police station and near Waldron Road school just passed the Leather Bottle. One night time us kids were in the Morrison shelter and I heard my Dad shout out ‘if you think that is going to help then you have another thing coming’ – my Mum was on her hands and knees with just her head poked in the shelter. When the air raid siren went off anyone in the vicinity would go down including us kids who might be playing at the top of the road. The London underground (Tooting Broadway was our nearest) was also used as shelters and between 100,000 and 150,000 people might be found in the stations on any given night but we kept to the Morrison shelter in our kitchen or a shop basement.

Garratt Green and Garrett Park both had Royal Artillery (RA) anti-aircraft (“ack-ack”) batteries. Shrapnel would drop in our garden. I remember that sometimes the soldiers would shine their spotlights directly into the bedrooms of young women.

Later, my older sister Joan joined the land army aged 17 and was based in Dereham, Norfolk where she met and married her first husband, Bob Head.

Day to day life still continued of course, we used to play on the side streets – ‘Hop the Charlie Wag’, football, marbles and farthings. If it was raining then we would often play ‘Shoes, Boots, Tips or Nails’ indoors. There was an underground air raid shelter at the top of Burtop Road. When the air raid siren went off anyone in the vicinity would go down including us kids who might be playing at the top of the road.

We used the ‘tea centre’ which we simply called ‘teas’ after school in Garratt Park, tuppence (about 1p), a bit of bread and jam, piece of cake and a cup of tea. A local woman, Mrs Birkett (a money lender) took me, Alf (aka Lebin) and Tom, I don’t know why. Joan chose not to attend. We used to sit on the grass but if it was raining then we had our tea inside a large shed which had a hatch at one end where the tea was served. Later, my younger brothers, George and Terry attended ‘teas’ in an upstairs room at Waldron Road school.

Money – coins and notes were called farthing, ha’penny, penny, thrupenny bit, sixpence (tanner), shilling (bob), two bob bit, half crown, ten bob note, pound note (nicker or quid) and five pound note.

At this time pregnant women were moved out of the capital and in 1941 my youngest brother, Terry, was born in Berkshire. My mother never returned to work at the nearby munitions factory.

We had a tin bath which was stored outside hung on a nail. Every Friday we bathed and had our hair washed. My brothers Lebin and Tom used the public baths at Tooting Broadway. I think it cost 6d and you could have as much hot water as you wanted. Laundry was done in the scullery of 574 Garratt Lane every Monday.

On 20 May 1940 somewhere near St Omer, in northern France my eldest brother Fred was taken prisoner, his vehicle in which he was trying to flee was hit by a shell fired from artillery. This preceded the Siege of Calais (22 – 26 May) and the evacuation at Dunkirk (27 May – 4 June). Together with other POWs he was forced marched 500km to Poland where he had to work in a salt mine. Meanwhile, my mother had received a telegram to say that he was ‘missing in action – presumed killed’. I am not sure how we found out he was still alive but we did, six months later.

When it was discovered that he could speak German he was used as a translator which removed him from working in the mine. Fred was very musical and the Red Cross organised a clarinet for him. He was imprisoned at Stalag XX1D at Poznan and remained there until the PoWs were moved out (again being forced march) before the advancing Red Army in 1945. They were marched in horrific weather conditions until being liberated by the Americans and on the route he swapped his clarinet for a loaf of bread.

Upon liberation he and his mates found a vehicle and the Yanks gave them some petrol and they headed off, presumably to British lines.

My brother Reg also served in the army and after the war he returned to Garratt Lane together with his friend, David Morrison, who later became my husband.

One Sunday morning at around 8.30 in 1944 we heard a tremendously loud explosion, it seemed like it was in our garden when in fact it was ¾ mile away. It was a V2 rocket that dropped onto Hazlehurst and Foss Roads in Summerstown. It was where my sister’s best friend, Dolly Flowers, lived. Joan dragged me off in search of her. We arrived to total devastation, people running around, mothers screaming and crying, white helmeted ARP wardens digging in the bricks and rubble. At least thirty five people were killed and over one hundred injured. Dolly wasn’t one of them.

Also in 1944 a V1 “Doodlebug” rocket dropped on the Anglo American Laundry works in Burmester Road, after the war my husband helped to rebuild it and was retained and went on to work there for several years.

Phil Morrison: I received this email in August 2020 from Steve Hooper, Littlehampton.

Hi,

I just wanted to say thank you for your post about the Blitz.

I have been searching for information about the bombing of the Anglo-American Laundry because my grandparents and my Dad lived in Aldren Road. My Nan told me that she was pushing my Dad in his pushchair along Aldren Road when the laundry was hit. The blast knocked her over and my Dad out of his pushchair.

Until I found your post I hadn’t been able to find any record of the bomb, though I thought it was earlier and a bomb, rather than a V1.

Once again, thank you.

We soon learnt to live with rationing which started in early 1940 with petrol, then sugar, butter, tea and bacon until everything was virtually rationed except fruit and vegetables. Even coal was rationed, petrol coupons were issued for essential work travel only. Most large cars were confiscated and converted into vans or ambulances. Everybody had a ration book. Adults had buff coloured ration books, green for pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 5. They had first choice of fruit, a daily pint (473ml) of milk and a double supply of eggs. The blue coloured ration books were for children between 5 to 16 years and they received the full meat ration and ½ pint of milk per day.

My father had an allotment at the bottom of Turtle Road and about half of Garratt Park was turned into allotments – posters of the time, ‘Dig for Victory’ were everywhere encouraging us to dig up our lawns and grow vegetables. Even though the war had ended six years previously, Philip born in 1951, had his own rationing book until it ended on 4 July 1954, I still have it somewhere.

At the outbreak of war Britain was importing most of its cheese, sugar, fruit, cereals and fats plus half of its meat consumption and relied on imported animal feed for its own meat production. It was also the start of German U boats attacking shipping bound for Britain. This together with the shortage of many consumer goods, for example, razor blades, pots and pans, even cigarettes and alcohol spawned the black market. I don’t have any memories of the black market but I was aware of my father buying ‘things’ from a man who called regularly at our house.

Clothing rationing was announced on 1 June 1941. We used to ‘make do and mend’ and make use of ‘hand-me-downs’ – later my friend Eileen and I would make clothes from black-out material. Due to rationing, boys had to wait until they were 12 years old before being allowed to wear long trousers.

The USA remained neutral for the first two years of the war so we had to rely on Canada for vital supplies.

Typical meals during war time at our household:

Sunday: roast brisket, potatoes and Yorkshire puddings
Monday: leftovers
Tuesday: bacon bone and vegetable stew
Wednesday: -ditto-
Thursday: sausage, mash and onions
Friday: 6d worth chips, I am not sure what we had them with
Saturday: bread, butter/margarine or jam (we couldn’t have both) – butter was known as ‘Old Ladies’.

We sometimes had rabbit but I don’t recall having chicken, I don’t know why.

Toast and dripping was had often, the bread being toasted on an open coal fire held with a toasting fork. I remember dried powdered egg which made rubbery scrambled eggs and having porridge for breakfast, my Dad had it with salt but we kids had it with sugar.

I don’t remember being hungry but I am sure the boys were. I was allowed butter on my bread because I only had 1½ slices whereas my brothers would have 5 or 6 slices so they had to make do with margarine.

Overall was I frightened? You bet I was but thankfully we made it.

Phil Morrison: The details of these recollections were collected from my mother over Skype during the 2020 pandemic of Covid-19, some of the detail was corroborated and contributed by her two living younger brothers, Terry* (living in Surrey) and George (living in Australia) together with my own recollections and research.

* Terry has been involved with the compilation of the Partleton family tree for the past 15 years.

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