I told of the Percy Street school taking a direct hit, the school was just two street behind our house on Northumberland St. My father decided we should stay in the house and take cover as best we could. This is the story of my family during and after the first night of the blitz.
Northumberland Street was just one of many without air raid shelters. People had to find their own means of protection. Pop and my two brothers sheltered under our heavy wooden kitchen table. Following civil defense instruction pamphlets, they hung blankets around the table to protect against flying glass and debris. My three sisters and I huddled in the cramped coal hole under the stairs. That dreadful night seemed to be unending, explosion after explosion crashing around us, sometimes far away, sometimes right outside our door. Each explosion was followed by a tremendous shock wave blasting heat and debris in its path. We heard breaking glass, and the rumble of walls collapsing while houses trembled and shook. The air was choked with smoke and dust from fires roaring everywhere. The night was filled with a thousand noises we couldn’t identify, buildings slowly caving in, bricks and beams tumbling into the streets. My terrified sisters were sure we would not survive the night. I suffered the least. I was afraid of course, but too young to really understand the danger. Bombs fell on the hapless city all night long. When the last bomber disappeared and the all clear sounded, it was after 5 am. The city had been under attack for more than six hours.
As the first grey streaks of dawn broke over the city, people began crawling from shelters and homes to a scene of devastation. Some families, anxiously struggling but unable to open warped doors, climbed through broken windows to reached the street. Everyone was caked in filth, dust and debris, some wearing pajamas or nightshirts, blankets draped over their shoulders. They stood exhausted and trembling, children crying at their sides. Bewildered, they gazed in disbelief at the sight confronting them. Whole areas where once had stood familiar houses and buildings were now gone. All that remained were piles of smoking wreckage. Everywhere buildings blazed, a pall of smoke hung over the city blackening out the sky. It was difficult to breathe the smoke and dust-laden air. People tied cloths or rags over their noses in an attempt to avoid the smoke. The streets were littered with bricks, bits of concrete, shards of glass and wood splinters. We took stock of our house, or what was left of it. The front door still opened and closed, but no windows had survived. Remnants of torn curtains fluttered in the breeze; dishes, picture frames and ornaments lay smashed on the floor.
Incredibly, our clock, which had been on the mantelpiece, still kept time, ticking in a pile of rubble. Ceilings plaster had fallen in on the kitchen, coating everything in a film of white powdery dust. In the bedrooms daylight flooded through the rafters where few slates remained. We were unable to brew a pot of tea; there was neither gas nor water. As people assessed their damage, news began to filter through from other parts of the city. A passing air raid warden told of a direct hit on the Percy Street shelter, where some 60 souls had died instantly. Pop, concerned about Aunt Cassie and family, decided to go check on them. My eldest brother Tommy volunteered to go with him. As they passed through Dover Street, they came upon Bob Adair’s house. It was wide open, and apparently deserted. Bob was a friend of the family, so they ventured inside looking for some sign of life. On the kitchen table stood a wire container with six eggs. It seemed careless to have left them there they were so scarce. Finding no one home, they continued on to Cassie’s house where they learned that everyone had survived the night okay. On their return journey about 20 minutes later, they passed where Bob Adair’s house should have been. There was nothing left but a pile of rubble. Strangely, in the middle of the wreckage stood the kitchen table, the six eggs still in their container. Pop later learned that a delayed fuse bomb had lodged in the chimney. Air raid wardens had hastily evacuated the house, but neglected to post a warning sign. We have no idea how long after Pop and Tommy left the house the detonation occurred; however, it was surely a very close thing.
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