Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tom Critchley to his niece Molly Platt 25.10.1940

My dear Mollie,
It's such a rare occurrence to get a letter from you, as we did to-day, I must answer it.
There is nobody I know in London who likes air raids & I am sure if you could have a trip around any district you would feel the same. The guns and noise are not so bad, except now and then, say when four big ones not very far from us all go off together & the four shells burst overhead, although this is a regular & frequent happening, it still makes us jump. You see a plane passes over the guns & the guns are silent so as not to give their position away, then, when the plane has passed them & reached us, there comes a sudden terrific crash like thunder (only more so) that always gives us a start; the noise of the plane is drowned, &, I always hope, won't be resumed, but sad to say it usually goes on as if nothing had happened.
When there is heavy gunfire, then one cannot pick out the bombs, these one can only be sure of when one hears them coming down & believe me that is a most unpleasant sound, especially when one has had a near one. One is never certain how near it will be that's why we take cover under beds or table when we hear one. If they are reasonably loud then they are not more than a quarter of a mile away... we have had at least 30 like that.
In day time we get bombs without gunfire now & then, & strange to say more frequently when the warning hasn't sounded than when it has. Today, at home, when Auntie Annie went to the door to attend to a caller there was a chatter of machine guns overhead.
Last Sunday night we had another bad do, it has to be bad to drive us into the shelter, & that night we didn't get to bed until 12 mid-night and then there wasn't much sleep. While in the shelter we heard 2 bombs falling, one on each side of us, & each fell with a thud; we weren't sure if they were oil bombs or delayed action bombs, so as a precaution opened all our windows. As we guessed, they fell in fields, by the thud, & we heard later that they were large oil bombs.
About 1.15 on Monday morning I woke with a start to the tail end of an explosion & a feeling that somebody or something was trying to push the house over. As I sat up in bed a voice from under the bed said "What was that!"
Auntie Annie had heard, while half asleep, something come down & had rolled out of bed & under it. I put on some clothes in a great hurry, had a look out, but as the house was all right, and I went back to bed.
Since Sunday we have had comparative peace, but a few planes each night & not lots of them like we sometimes get. About half past eight last night we heard two bombs coming down, but didn't dive under the table although we were ready so to do if the sound had increased in volume.
Tonight the kick off is fairly lively, the doors have just been shaking, & planes sound low consequently the gunfire is louder than when they fly high.
Auntie Annie has been to High Barnet today, she says there is quite a lot of damage there as a result of Sunday & Monday night's raids. Lots of the shop windows are smashed & most of the church windows. A son of Ronald and Tom's former French master was killed.
Now I'll tell you how not to deal with an incendiary bomb. We had one through our electrolytic refinery the other night & the fire brigade chief was on it at once with a stirrup pump & bucket of water. He called to one man to bring more water; in the dark, he picked up a bucket of glue & poured that into the bucket, at least he poured half, the rest was congealed. The chief swore at him, so the bloke rushed off, grabbed another bucket & poured that in. This time it was sand & what with glue and sand the pump gave a weirdly fine spray. Meanwhile, another man was assisting, he had a bucket without a bottom, which he was trying to fill. Needless to say the bomb burned itself out, fortunately without doing any damage.
Finally... just like a sermon isn't it?... take my tip & if you get many raids, so long a they are not intense, go to bed and forget them. It's about 1,000 to one any bangs you hear are from gunfire, & noise doesn't hurt. There is plenty of noise going on at the present time & we are comfortably seated by the fire (let me whisper there's a clear way ready for a quick dash under the table if we have to, & when a plane sounds near I have one ear cocked listening for anything dropped).
Now lastly we would love to come & see you at Christmas, but I seriously doubt if we can. I am afraid we must wait for happier days.
May you never hear the rush of a bomb
Love from Auntie Annie & Uncle Tom.
P S Somewhere in our garden is the nose cap of a shell. We heard it come down with a noise like a humming top, but haven't yet located it.

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