John Gamêt

Recollections of childhood memories of evacuation and life on the Home Front.

Evacuation

John was six years old when he was evacuated to Reigate on 3rd September 1939. He recalls hearing Chamberlain’s announcement that the nation was at war. John, his younger sister and his mother, who was heavily pregnant, travelled to East Croydon station with their belongings and gas masks. There were several hundred families gathered at the station. Many were frightened and crying. Although he and his sister felt the same their mother comforted them. His sister clutched their father’s dressing gown cord for comfort. He did not travel with them but remained at home, maintaining the family farm.

Upon arrival they went to a reception centre. They were among the last to be chosen. Many began to fill mattresses and pillowcases with straw in case they had to sleep at the hall.  Eventually they went to stay with an aunt who lived close to Reigate. They were tired and hungry but soon fell asleep after a hot meal and a bath. The next day they were billeted to a country mansion where they were assigned the attic. They could not put the lights on as there were no curtains and they would get into trouble with the ARP warden. John recalls the gloomy atmosphere in the ‘large’ and ‘gothic’ mansion. They felt miserable and were relieved when John’s granddad arrived to take them home. 

Recollections of air raids

John remembers the day when Croydon airbase was attacked in August 1940. He was at a party, when the ground shook. His mother came to collect him. They walked home and John remembers seeing the smoke rising in the distance and the sound of the Spitfires which travelled overhead in formation. All were shot down. In later years one of John’s friends who had worked at Biggin Hill refused to discuss his traumatic war time memories, despite John’s initial encouragement. Eventually he confided some of the details regarding the aftermath of an attack at the air field. John never asked him to share his memories again. 

John recalls collecting shrapnel. One day on his way home from school he saw clouds of smoke in the air. Although he could not see any aircraft he could hear shrapnel falling. When he picked it up he dropped it immediately as it was hot. It was very fortunate that he was not hit directly. John also found rockets with jagged pieces of metal protruding from them. His father stood outside during raids to watch proceedings. On one occasion they saw an incendiary bomb fall close by. Fortunately it did not explode and his father put it into a bucket of sand. It was used as a doorstop for many years.

Victory celebrations

John recalls the VE Day celebrations in the street where he lived. The fathers and children built a bonfire as high as the lamppost which almost set a nearby tree alight and damaged the tarmac. When similar plans were made for VJ Day a local policeman refused to grant permission which caused an argument. Eventually it was agreed that the fire could be built on waste ground.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 05/04/2012.

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