Ron Durban

Photo:Ron Durban was evacuated to Chislehurst Caves after his family was bombed out from their home.

Ron Durban was evacuated to Chislehurst Caves after his family was bombed out from their home.

Sally Levett

Photo:Ron Durban

Ron Durban

Sally Levett

Recollections of evacuation and air raids on the Home Front.

Two brief spells of evacuation

Ron Durban was evacuated from Lewisham in September 1939, one day before the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially he stayed in Kent but returned home during the early stages of the war. When it was declared that France had been invaded by German forces, Ron was evacuated to Somerset but did not enjoy it and returned home as the Battle of Britain and the Blitz began.

Air raids

Ron lived on Blackheath Hill, two floors above the greengrocery which his father owned. Initially the family used the Morrison shelter installed inside the building but having seen the damage caused during raids in the local area, they sheltered beneath a disused railway arch which was used as a public shelter. Ron spent a great deal of time sheltering, particularly after the docks were bombed heavily. The shelter itself was damaged in a raid which occurred at 2 o’clock one afternoon – it was ‘full of dust and dirt and people were screaming and shouting, we all felt that we were choking. Eventually the emergency lights came on we were all in one piece and felt very lucky.’ Unfortunately Ron’s family home and the greengrocery were destroyed during the raid.   

Shelter at Chislehurst Caves

The family sought shelter at Chislehurst Caves along with many others, where they felt very welcome and safe. Their possessions had been lost but they were assigned mattresses to sleep on. Numbers sheltering in the caves increased as the war continued, and accommodation was managed on a voluntary basis by a caretaker. Fortunately Ron’s father gained employment as caretaker of a large house at nearby Old Hill. The family sheltered at the house by day and slept in the caves each night for the remainder of the Blitz. Ron’s father also worked for the council, assisting them in repairing bomb damaged properties. When the war ended the family moved into a rented property in Kidbrooke.

'It was all over in a second'

When Ron was fourteen he began work in the building trade. He recalls how on one occasion, he was cycling to his place of work at Brockley and stopped to watch a lone German aeroplane, which was flying low in order to avoid detection. He saw the bombs falling on Sandhurst Road School – ‘it was all over in a second.’ Despite the devastation which was caused he does not believe that the pilot intentionally targeted the school.

Rockets

Ron also recalls another occasion when a rocket hit the Woolworths store at New Cross Gate – he was working up a ladder when the incident occurred and remembers feeling the impact of the bomb through the ladder, which juddered. After the bomb had landed Ron met a man who was still carrying a pint of beer, and who remarked that he was determined not to lose it illustrating how people retained a sense of humour despite the severity of the situation. Ron can also recall the speed of the rockets, which were so fast that he heard the sound of them after the explosion.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 17/04/2012.

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