Thursday, 29 September 2011

Letter to Mary Platt from Tom Critchley 29.9.1940

37, Lonsdale Drive,
Enfield.

My dear Mary,

Here we are again, still full of beans and with no great excitements to report, that is, none compared with many less fortunate people. The chief thing that worries me is the incendiaries. We had another lot dropped near here on Tuesday night or rather 2.30 on Wednesday morning. We were in bed and wakened by the gun fire when I heard them dropped. I was out of bed & at the door in record time to see them burst out about 200 yards away.
We seem to be in the gun barrage zone & when a plane is anywhere near there is no sleep possible. More and more guns seem to be coming into action. The battery of 4.5's when let off in solo shakes the place, then a big naval gun came along, and that seems as if the house was ready to come down. Last night they brought in a new lot which makes one afraid for the windows. The mobile ones are a minor evil. We go to bed with the intention of sleeping, but every time a plane gets near, we wake up with a row and cannot tell guns from bombs except when a big one shakes the ground, & fortunately that is rarely.
There was a bit of excitement on Monday to Saturday night. Jerry dropped two land mines. One in the Enfield Town Park & one just outside Enfield on Bush Hill Park golf course. The former didn't explode, but the latter did & bust up nearly all the shop windows in Enfield. The one in the park they decided to dismantle on Monday and shut up all the shops & cleared folks out of Enfield town while they did it. Even the telephone exchange was evacuated. The best was nearly 9 feet long and weighed almost a ton. It's a blessing it didn't go off.
On Wednesday night a couple made a mess of Golders Green & wiped out a family of six, among others. The man frequently came to the works at Brimsdown, we knew him well.
Tuesday night we had a good display. One of these landmines was caught in the searchlights as it was coming down by parachute. I heard every gun in the district blazing away, so went to look what it was all about and saw umpteen searchlights on this queer object with shells bursting all around it. But the weirdest was the way the tracer shells seemed to be climbing up the searchlights only to drop off before they reached the top. Hundreds of red and yellow tracer shells went at it. We watched it drift from our neighbourhood out of our gunfire & later heard it explode in the air over Cheshunt district. Except for a few roofs, doors and windows, it did little damage.
The nearest they have been to us is to drop two on successive nights near the tube station.
There has been a lot of activity today with a number of warnings. Once this morning, there was an air battle in the near distance with no warning. This afternoon 49 fighters passed over the works in one huge formation, may they have been lucky!
The most remarkable thing is that the works has escaped so far (touch wood) although they had one last night between us and Ediswan which fell on waste land... we aren't grumbing.
Tom (his son) is still getting a nightly dose, they have had one in the parade ground this week. He doesn't come home at night now, as there is no going out with any safety once the guns start which is now at nights about 8 O'clock.
We used to think Londoners were a soft lot (Tom is from St Helens, Lancashire, Annie from Millon, Cumbria) but if Lancashire stands up to it half as well as London has done, I'll be pleased. I haven't heard a grouse from any one of our 250 men, although, as my foreman said, he might well let his house furnished for what use it is to him. They work 7 to 7 & spend their home time in shelters & are making it their normal life.
The latest story going around is that one night a man who had gone to bed, heard bombs, jumped out of bed in the dark & in his haste didn't notice he put his trousers on back to front. He rushed out of the room and fell downstairs. His wife heared the row and called out " Are you hurt John". John felt himself and then in fear called back "Oh Mary, I've twisted myself something awful"
Yesterday we had a cable from Ronald (his oldest son in Palestine) to say he his "Happy and well", letters are rare and long on the way. The cable took two days to reach us after it was received in London.
Telephones and all means of communication are a mess these days. Our old man (boss) wanted someone the other day during a raid. The telephone girl informed him the person concerned was "spitting on the roof". The bloke of course was spotting to give an internal warning if danger was near. Spotters have and unpleasant job. Our lot blew whistles on Saturday and the men had only just got under cover when the all clear went up. There were a lot of rude remarks, but the spotters were right. They heard a plane & a bomb explode. The weather was dull and as it happened the bomb was a delayed action from some previous raid, but they, of course, weren't to know that. These delayed action things go off at all sorts of odd times & if there is no warning out, no one knows what the bang is.
Saturday
There was a good bag yesterday wasn't there? We saw little of it except gunfire and the noise. Tom phoned to say both the Houses of Parliament & Westminster Abbey had very near misses, the latter having one or two windows damaged.
It was a pitch dark cloudy night last night and we could see some fires south and south west of us, but nothing like the huge ones when they lit up the docks and that district.
I am having the morning off and I have just been to Potters Bar to have some adjustments on the car. They dropped a number the other night and made a bit of a mess. Just as I was getting back again the now familiar noise went forth... the 103rd time this month.
Now, just over half an hour later the all clear is going & Annie has gone to look if any of the returning fighters are doing the victory roll.
Before the warning goes we usually get several squadrons pass over us and see them coming back, sad to say sometimes with some missing.
That's all this time, except to say its time some one invested concentrated extract of sleep: they have done it for beef, milk etc, so why not for sleep?!

Love to you all,
From us both,

Tom

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Letter to Mary Platt from Tom Critchley 20.9.1940 continued

37, Lonsdale Drive, Saturday,

We had a fairly good night until about 4 am when things began to liven up. Something shook the house from top to bottom, whether guns or bombs I don't know. About that time they hit the Enfield small arms & blew up the gasometer as they are getting nearer to the works (Johnson Matthey)
You cannot speak to anyone, who has not had something near to them...
One of our directors has had to evacuate for a time bomb & has had several houses down near to him.
A clerk is also evacuated for a time bomb, but it doesn't matter in his case as his house has no windows & only a part of a roof.
The typist I told you of.
Anning, who takes over from me when I am away had a shell explode outside his house blowing the windows in at the front.
A chemist has a bomb dropped on a garage nearly opposite, he has part of the garage and car in his house of which one room only is inhabitable.
This morning a foreman rolled up late, the house next to his was gutted by an oil bomb last night, or rather early this morning.
It's a beggar isn't it?
Every day one hears that so & so's place has gone; still, I suppose it isn't so bad as was expected it would be; it will be alright some day.
I expect you to write to me each week, if I write to you, so see that you do.
I have given Tom (his youngest son) your and Phoebe's address in case the very unlikely should happen to us. As I told you ours is a fairly safe district as things go & it's tremendous odds on us getting hurt, besides, I expect ere long they will find a counter to the night bombers as they have the day ones. The only time they dare come in daylight is in clouds or rain & then only an odd one who drops his bombs and bolts for home. If folks stick to it, & they look like doing that, I believe Jerry is wacked.
London has got knocked about a bit, some places worse than others, but there is a lot of it & it's going to take years to flatten out everything & when that's done there is still Glasgow eh!
Later
We have just got your letters & are sorry to hear you are getting some attention now. Adolf certainly doesn't seem to understand that his attentions are not received with favour... I never knew such a chap for pushing where he is not wanted.
It's a lovely day here today so he is leaving us alone, he prefers weather like himself... foul, & that is a mild term.
Our record day is 8 warnings & a 15- hour out of 24 warning period.
By the way, take my tip & buy an electric ring for heating. Some folks  I know have been two weeks without gas & it's no joke to light a fire in the morning before you can have hot water. I think a ring is better than a kettle as it can serve more than one purpose. Gas is more vulnerable than current.
It's about 3 weeks since we had a peaceful night & very rarely do we get an all clear before 5 am. As a rule when the warning goes (about 8 these nights) one can reckon on an all night do.
I won't attempt to give you a list of damaged places, but transport is bad as they have made a dead set at railways, which after all is permissible, & they have certainly upset the timetables.
Keep smiling, it won't last for ever,
Love to you all from Annie & Tom
PS a friend of Tom's (his son) a midshipman in the navy is home on leave & says he'll be glad to get back to sea for a bit of peace.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Letter to Mary Platt from Tom Critchley 20.9.1940

37 Lonsdale Drive,
Enfield

My dear Mary & Co,

As the nightly wail has just gone forth (7.50 pm) I will get your letter off my chest. This week has been quite an eventful one in some ways.  To begin with, Tom's hospital got a knock-out blow at 2.30 am on Monday morning, but fortunately he was sleeping here & got a nasty shock when he saw it next morning. A half-ton bomb caught the building in a glancing blow, demolishing two wards in its fall &, exploding in the road, made a nasty mess of the rest of the structure. The Tate Gallery next door suffered somewhat from the same bomb. Most fortunately nobody except one M.O. was injured. The patients had been evacuated to the basement and were safe, though some had to be dug out the next day.
Tuesday night, Tom's girlfriend's family (Margaret Robinson and her sisters, Joyce and Nancy and their parents, Gertrude and Harold. They lived at 53, Buckingham Avenue, Whetstone, London N 20) had a nasty few minutes with a bomb about 50 yards away.
Wednesday night we had a thrill. A number of bombs were dropped in Enfield, not that we heard them, the gunfire was too loud, but it seemed to me unpleasantly lively in our district, so we patronised the shelter. Despite the noise we were both half asleep about 10.15 pm when both heard a noise like a rushing mighty wind & then slight poppings all over the place. I said to Annie "Incendiaries" & dashed out. Fires seemed all over the place, but fortunately in our gardens mainly. After making sure that we & our neighbours had none & connecting the hose to the tap etc, I had time to look round.
There was one next door but two, & one about five gardens away in our row, & at the back, the next door but one gardens on each side of us had one, & at one of these houses a small boy yelled for "Help!". One, the furthest from us, was left to burn & my word it did give a light, the others were soon put under, one byone with the help of the A.R.P. who came along in a surprisingly short time. Near the back of us a couple of more serious fires got going & the fire brigade was some time getting rid of those. Three houses got messed up. At the same time a whole packet dropped in East Barnet, they had some H. E as well. After we had quietened down a bit, we went to bed. Small incendiaries are not too bad if one can dose them liberally with sand as soon as they fall.
It was estimated that about 400 dropped on that occasion, it sounded like it when they fell.
Perhaps you wonder how folks are sticking it & what they really say... not newspaper talk. We have a typist , a widow with two children, living at Edmonton where there has been an undue number of bombs dropped. I gave her a lift in the car tonight and this is what she told me.
She said she was in her shelter last night with her mother, her young daughter & a neighbour & her neighbour's daughter. They heard a bomb dropping & sat holding tight to each other as they felt sure it would hit them. It dropped in the next garden but one & threw earth and mud (it was raining hard at the time) all over them. Then they heard folks talking, so she went out & saw a "funny" sight & called her neighbour to see it... they both laughed it looked so funny. The house next to hers & the next to that had got no backs & a bit further along the road the shop was on fire from an oil bomb. The A.R.P. came along & told them to clear out to a public shelter as the garden adjoining had a bomb in it. She said the people in the shelter were expecting them & lent them blankets & gave them tea. Later they were allowed to go home as the hole where the bomb was supposed to be was found to be a lump of concrete which had been blown into the air & buried itself in the soil. Altogether they had 11 bombs fairly near that night & it's by no means their only experience & yet that woman talks about it quite calmly & even jokes too. Her road is roped off now for a real time bomb.
Earlier in the week in that same district the folks on a quarter mile radius were evacuated because a land mine had been dropped there. These are Jerry's latest & apparently are huge things dropped by parachute so as not to go deep into the ground. The parachute of this one caught on a house gable most fortunately & was later rendered harmless. Tottenham was not so fortunate, one there caused great havoc laying flat rows of houses, but I hear, with no great loss of life.
Our typist has gone home quite cheerful, she says her house is not so bad, but the stairs are a bit of a mess & one ceiling is down, but there must have been a week spot there! She was in to time this morning too. The only grumbling I hear is that we ought to give back what we are getting instead of bombing only military objectives. There is not the shadow of doubt bombs are being tossed about with one aim & one aim only to terrify the civilians & at present they aren't terrified. (the writing here may be jumpy. When you have a mobile gun at the end of the road & it suddenly starts banging it makes one jump).
... to be continued....

Monday, 19 September 2011

Tom Critchley to Mary Platt 14.9.1940

37 Lonsdale Drive
Enfieldå

Letters, like many other things, are not delivered in the normal manner these days. We have just received yours of the 11th. I replied to your last letter at once, but it seems to be a long time in reaching you. Anyhow you'll have got it by now.
I think Harry is right, it would be a job to get a phone call through these evenings.
While these excitements are on I had better write you each weekend, but don't get wind up if a letter is a day or two late in arriving.
We are in a fairly safe area, the only danger is from some ass dropping his load too soon and that is a very remote one. Being of a mathematical turn of mind, I have worked out the odds as being about a million to one of our getting a packet and that is negligible, so we can carry on and forget it.
As for the raids themselves, familiarity is beginning to breed contempt; take last night, we lay on the beds partly dressed 10pm to 12.00pm, slept part of the time, then got undressed properly. At various times there was a terrific roar going on through which we couldn't sleep, but in the lulls we dozed off again and from 3.30 to 5.30 the all clear came and we slept soundly.
I thought in the last war I knew what an anti-aircraft barrage was , but it was playing at it compared with what they are putting up now. There is a battery of 4.5's near which nearly deafens one, but there is a monster somewhere in the vicinity (the tale goes it's a naval gun) that shakes the house and the burst reverberates in the sky for nearly half a minute after the discharge... just like a heavy peal of thunder. We don't mind the noise so long as they are giving Jerry a hell of a time. Just before bed last night we sat chatting with Tom and this uproar going on ... with each extra loud uproar one or other said, "give it to 'em!"
Yesterday's day raid... the long four hour one... was in rain & heavy cloud. All we heard was occasional burst of gunfire and a plane or two now and then. As I was at home I took Annie in the car to do her shopping. One cannot let this type of raid interfere with the normal course of life too much. A really heavy do, like some we have seen, is a different matter. I wouldn't like to go out while they are putting up a barrage at night, lots of houses have got missing tiles and there must be heaps of lumps of shell falling all over the place.
We are on the edge of the buildings in this part of London, so I suppose get a heavy barrage here. Anyhow it drops to a large extent after planes pass over us. It's surprising what you can get used to!
Annie is just getting dinner ready (or should I say lunch) She's just interrupted to say the sirens are sure to go, they usually seem to at meal times. We had four meals yesterday and the warning was out for every one. Is it just cussedness?
The other night (Thursday). Tom was on duty at the hospital (fire picket) when a bomb dropped alongside smashing up an ambulance and blowing over two men who were with him. They asked for volunteers to shift the wreck and clear up the petrol. While he was helping, a chunk of shell fell close to him. He has 24 hours on fire duty and 24 off. When off he leaves the hospital at 4.30pm and comes home. As there is usually a raid by 9pm of course he cannot get back, so stays here until 6am and returns then. What a wangle! It's a good bit safer here than at Westminster. We put a mattress down for him in the dining room with the head under the table. The other downstairs room is our bedroom, the windows are stuck up with tape... not paper, then there are lace curtains, the pre-war casement curtains and, over the bay, a heavy curtain, so we feel fairly safe there, or as safe as in our shelter, where you hear too much that is happening.
Don't worry about us, we'll be all right.

Love Tom

P S We've just got a letter from Ronald dated June 17. He asks his mother to go out to him by air... some hopes eh!
What are you going to do with Molly? Has she decided what she wants to do yet?
What do you think of these for air raid warnings?
Thursday Sept 12 9.10 to 5.45 am Friday
Friday September 13 7.30 am to 8.30 am, 9.45 am to 2.00 pm, 3.55 pm to 4.10 pm. 9.00 pm to 5.30 am on Saturday 14th, 11.05 am to 11.20 am... to be continued....

Friday, 16 September 2011

From Tom Critchley to Mary Platt 11.9.1940 continued....

37 Lonsdale Drive, Enfield,

...All that night banging went on & the glow of the fires lit up the sky. We are fairly high up & look over London not altogether an advantage when one sees these fires. They make me feel sad & depressed – a horrible sight & we have had a goodish number now. There's no doubt the effect is exaggerated, but it's not a nice sight.
 (8.45 pm  there go the sirens for tonight's do!)
Sunday night was my worst night. I couldn't sleep & Annie slept practically all night. (we lie partly dressed on beds downstairs) she woke once and said. "That was loud,  the biggest we have had so far, shall we go into the shelter?" "Too late," said I, "he's passed over us", I'll go and see where he is." I went out to look at the search lights & when I got back she was fast asleep with her head under the clothes. As for me I lay listening to planes and bombs & guns all night & now & then went to the door to see more & brighter fires.
I've not slept so badly except for Sunday night. It's only the louder bangs woke me up, but one gets so sleepy only sleep matters. We have slept through 'all clears' & wake in a morning not knowing if the raid was still on. I'll bet Mrs Wilson has had an awful time of it. She little knew what she was in for or she wouldn't have come. London is no place for visitors these days unless they want a thrill.
I am having a week's holiday, if you had been nearer I guess we would have paid you a visit. Today we went out to Berkhamstead Common & got 8 lbs of blackberries & missed two raids on London, but got one directly we got back. While picking we saw a big plane near & then came 3 sickening thuds. Yes, you've guessed, it was Jerry & he started a fire in the district.

8.45 pm
Guns blazing away and bigger bangs of bombs... we can see the shells bursting over the East End district... poor East End! Supper ready & it will be news then bed... we go early these days 'cause it's about midnight & 2 am the heaviest attacks seem to take place.

8.55 pm
More and more guns going in to action we can see the flashes & shell bursts both at the front & the back now. May they shoot the blighters down.

Thursday
Tom (Tom and Annie Critchley's youngest son) arrived home at 10 pm last night to sleep here as he has had a very bad time for several nights... their hospital (at Milbank central London) has had a number of very near misses & they have a rotten shelter to go to... he says they hear bombs & falling masonry all night long. He was a bit upset when he got here thinking bombs were falling all round us: I reassured him & explained it was only our local battery of 4 4.5's opening up. Do they make a row? They shake the house when a salvo goes off as  they are only about half a mile away.
At about 11 last night we had a thrill... our battery sent up a salvo & an explosion was heard to follow high in the sky, then a loud shriek & a cheer. One shot down. I was outdoors like a shot but saw nothing. The grocer's boy this morning confirms it was one shot down.
Those guns, until last night had done very little shooting, as had many of London's defenses, but last night every gun fired on every possible occasion, so we had far more row than usual. We tried our shelter, but, as you could hear far more from there than in the house, we went indoors. What a funny gurgling noise incendiary bombs make?
I'm afraid this is full of air raids, but then so is life at present, we seem to have the warning out for about 11 hours out of the 24.
We now and then get a letter from Ronald (Tom and Annie's oldest son was in Palestine), but they are very irregular, although he writes every week by air mail, lots seem to go astray, when he does write it seems to come from a world that knows no war, but is filled by the daily round, the common task. Life for him at the moment seems to run very smoothly & comfortably.
From all accounts we missed a good show yesterday afternoon & weren't exactly sorry. If you haven't heard a mass air battle you cannot imagine the noise in the sky specially the shrieking of fast diving planes.
Well bye bye our love to you all, 
Tom

P S It's now confirmed one shot down near us last night, a piece of wing found in Southgate. About mid-day today came a terrific bang, all the old dames came to their doors & I had to go and tell them that during the night I heard a whistler come down which didn't explode at first. I suppose it went off then. Folks are more cheerful today. The excessive gun fire seems to have acted like a tonic.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Letter, to Mary Platt in Giffnock, Glasgow from Tom Critchley 11.9.1940

37 Lonsdale Drive, Enfield

Dear Mary,

As you see we are all fit and well and still able to write, but like many other people we yawn now and then. We have had an inordinate number of raid warnings, as many as 6 in a day, but it's not so bad as it sounds. We have reached the stage where the sirens wail means very little, 'cause oftener than not we hear and see nothing. Last week the works (Johnson Matthey) only went in shelter for 14 or 15 daytime warnings. I can't count the number of warnings here at meal times have not interrupted the feeding. Three times in one day I was either going to or coming from the works when the wailings started.
The night ones are worse. Sometimes one lies in bed listening to bangs more or less distant, sleeping & waking & the beastly drone of Jerry overhead keep up an intermittent row.
Last Saturday was a nasty do. I'd just got into the bath when the wail went up to the sky. I decided to carry on but noises started which were too near for my liking so I hopped out quick & partly dried & partly dressed, hastened down. There was terrific gun fire & the noise of crashing bombs which soon died down, so, as tea was ready, we went to have tea. Hardly had we sat down when the uproar started again, so out into the garden to see the show... & what a show. The planes were just visible & so were the fires of the East End, We saw one formation of 6 bombers come away from the attack when out of nowhere dropped a Spitfire - then there was 5 & a trail of smoke falling to earth & the white flash of the Spitfire diving clear. We saw a balloon being lowered with a parachutist on top of it & then, when it was all over a Hurricane came & did some marvelous aerobics just by us. I think the pilot was drunk with victory, he did impossible things with that plane.
Of course we are daft to stand outside and watch!