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

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