Monday, 24 October 2011

From Margaret Robinson to Tom Critchley's son, undated, (spring 1942)

53 Buckingham Avenue
London N 20

My Dear Tom,

I have not received your letter yet but no doubt it will be awaiting me at the office to-morrow morning. It may have arrived by the late afternoon post which I missed through going to the ARP place at East Finchley. We left the office at 2.30 this afternoon, about 8 of us went, 4 girls and 4 men and Mr Davies leading us. We had practically an hour and a half there, so you can guess we did not feel like going back to the office just to sign off. It was a very good do. We donned gas capes & leggings & gum boots and one at a time disappeared into a tin hut which contained a real fire and a fire bomb to be put out. We had to lie on the floor close to the instructor whilst he guided our hands and told us what to do. (Bet he enjoyed himself when the girls went in). Having disposed of the fire, we next proceeded to the gas hut where we actually had to take our gas masks off. So it was quite an interesting afternoon. I must say I feel more of a fire watcher now. Our fire watching last night was interesting as usual, but quiet. We read and talked most of the time after a lovely supper of chips & sausage meat, which Ethel & I cooked. We always do ourselves well on a fire watching don't we? Then later, about midnight, we had coffee and cakes. For breakfast, I was asked to cook one of my famous welsh rarebits. (Mr Davies insisted). You haven't heard about them have you? I shall have to make it for you when you come home, because I have had a lot of practice now. I have hit on a very bright idea. Ethel reminded me that when I'm married, I shall have to pay National Health, which amounts to 6/10 one month (4 weeks) and 8/5 another. Well as I should have to go to the doctor to be examined before he will take me as a panel patient, I could join N.H.I. a month before marriage and get all fixed up with a definite doctor. The visit would only cost 6/10 instead of 10/- or more. Your mother phoned me this evening and, as I had not received a letter today, she read hers out to me. I expect you will be sorry to leave there in 9 weeks time. I'm very glad you are not going to the search-light unit. Fancy giving Bowen a rifle with a fixed bayonet. He must have looked funny especially as I don't suppose he knew how to use it. I suppose you will have to take your turn on guard duty sometime. Winnie has now decided to get married on her fiance's next leave, whenever that may be. Apparently he has been pressing her for sometime. What we girls have to put up with! I'm still wondering how all the thousands of girls manage to perform their duties as a wife and yet continue at the office. What if they start a family with neither proper home nor food? Well I shall finish this at the office tomorrow, when perhaps I shall have your letter to answer. Tuesday I received your lovely long letter this morning. Evelyn had put it safely away in my desk drawer. Congratualtions on coming 2nd. What a pity George will not be staying with you. I expect he will have gone by Whitsun, when I am hoping to come down, though I really do not know where the money will come from. When I get paid on Thursday I shall be spending quite a lot on various clothes. A friend of mother's has offered me her coupons, although even with those I shall not have enough. Besides I shall not use the whole 18 it would not be fair would it? It should be a case of special leave for getting married. I noticed in the paper the other day, that a certain gunner Marks had obtained leave three times to marry the same girl. Apparently first time was in a registry office and as he was Jewish, he had to get married according to the Jewish faith (second time). The third time was because his records at the synagogue were destroyed in an air raid, so it's possible to get leave more than once if necessary. You mentioned you only received one letter. Well, another one should have reached you on Saturday this was also without "A Coy" as I did not receive your letter until Friday evening at home. I wonder if you will manage to live near home when you finish the course. It would be lovely. I should be very pleased to meet all your friends. By the way, I may be fire watching on the date we have fixed for our wedding, so we may have to spend our honeymoon at the office. What a revolting thought!!!! Well I suppose I had better get on with some work! All my love, and remember me to the others won't you?
PS Mr Davies wants to hire a bus so that he can gather everybody together and come along to the wedding. But I'm not sure I shall allow a big red bus to stand by such a great church and mar our beautiful picture, rather like Hampstead Heath on a bank holiday!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

To Mary Platt from Tom Critchley 12.10.1940

37, Lonsdale Drive,


My dear Mary & Co,
If that daughter of yours craves air raid excitements send her along to us, we can put her in Tom's occasional bed... a mattress under the dining room table. All that we can guarantee is an air raid & most probably lots & lots of noise plenty of shell bursts & flashes & the far from exciting drone of Jerry overhead. If she had been here on Thursday night I guess she would have been cured. They came at 7.15 pm and for four hours never gave us a minutes peace; at least half a dozen at a time somewhere not too far off. At 8 o'clock we heard the swish of bombs & made a most undignified rush under the table. Three or four fell in fields close by & did an enormous amount of damage, most severely killing one cow. Shortly after that we decided to patronise the shelter. About 10 I heard the quick firing guns blazing away & as it was a lovely clear night guessed it must be flares they are shooting at so went out to look. I had a cap on and poised my tin hat on top of it. Unfortunately the hat caught the edge of the shelter & came down with a terrific clatter onto some bricks and then rolled onto the concrete path. Next door folks rushed out and seeing me in the garden called out in very agitated tones "What was that!" Pointing towards Palmers Green I said "They dropped two flares". It didn't calm their fears, but I didn't tell them what it was. We laughed about it and laughed still more when the missus next door told Annie their house shook. Now I simply daren't tell them.
We have now found another amusement other than popping under tables. Last night things were not quite to bad, so we went to bed about 10 pm. At about half past I was three parts asleep, when a bomb and its subsequent vibrations roused me, then immediately after came the angry-sounding swish. Annie was asleep, I yelled to her & she rolled between the two beds, & did it so gracefully too, just as the next bump came.
Is that the sort of excitement Molly wants?!
I certainly didn't think it exciting yesterday morning in a very thick fog I was held up at Brimsdown level crossing with the guns banging at planes overhead.
Johnson Matthey at Hatton Garden got a direct hit on Thursday night, I believe it has made a nasty mess & upset part of their work. We are still trying to get straight after our do at the works last week. Judging by the way three ton stuff has been thrown about it must have been a heavy bomb.
I like your suggestion about transferring to Scotland, but if we all did that we would lose our position in the league and might drop into the second division. One of my men has already acted on your suggestion, he is the only one to do a bunk and as he is Scottish by birth, perhaps one can understand it. He has gone to relatives somewhere in Ayrshire.
The character of the daylight raids have changed very considerably since we knocked the stuffing out of the big bombers. These still come in odd ones if the weather is bad, but if it is fine, then they send chiefly fighters with probably one-bomb each, most difficult for our blokes to intercept as we have seen for ourselves, there is so little difference in the relative speeds. We had such a raid at Brimsdown this morning. The warning had gone out for about half an hour when suddenly whistles sounded. By the time one had grabbed a tin hat, guns were blazing & before we could get into shelters, planes were overhead & by the time we had reached shelters it was all over. That was a raid that was. No bombs dropped near us. So back we trooped to our jobs.
Liverpool and St Helens are getting it pretty bad aren't they? What you folks have done to dodge it I don't know, still, their air force can't be as great as all that or they would be doing far more than they are doing. I certainly expected to see them keeping it up for days on end, but don't think I am disappointed, far from it.
Tom (Tom and Annie's youngest son) is still all right and not having quite such a tough time as formerly, they have improved the Central London gun barrage, so the suburbs get a few more instead.
That's all about the war news for this time from your special correspondent at Enfield.
We had two letters from Ronald (Tom and Annie's oldest son) this week, he is as usual having a nice enjoyable time & in one he speaks of purchasing a cocktail shaker!!
Cheerio and love to you three,

Annie and Tom

P S the bombs last night must have dropped near the tube (it runs in the open here) as there are no trains from Enfield West to Cockfosters, the terminus.
Annie adds a post script: 'Talk about going under beds. I was fast asleep when T. said "Get under the bed quick;" I simply rolled out of mine & under his. He stayed in, there I was under and he in!! All I felt was the floor bump. Then says he politely "You can get back now, it's all over."'
Nothing to report except they put a bomb in Trafalgar Squar last night in front of Nelson, but didn't injure him.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

To Mary Platt from Tom Critchley 5.10.1940

My dear Mary & Co,

Whatever else life is as the moment, it is not monotonous, we certainly get a variety of experiences, all more or less unpleasant it seems. Even the all-night raids here had a break at last, ere they got too monotonous & the last two nights we have had the all clear by 3 am. But on the other hand the two preceding afternoons have been raids all the time. In our foolish optimism we thought rain would mean a cessation, nothing of the kind, it only means more haphazard bombing, which is a bad thing.
Last Monday night we had a rare good do, the best yet. Guns were at it all night & on one occasion as several bombs dropped together we had what one can only describe as an earth tremor; the beds shook for quite a time. Then that same night there was a crash which I thought meant tiles gone; it wasn't ours after all but next door had a large size shell nose complete through their roof & ceiling. The ARP collared it as they said it was unexploded.
Further to give a bit of variety, the chumps have eased up on the sirens so that now bombs may fall & no warning be out. Friday I was on my way home when there was a good old crump & when I arrived home folks all at their doors. The plane was fairly low overhead & had dropped two eggs at Cockfosters about three quarters of a mile away.
We have had two lots of incendiaries fairly near this week, but no damage of note was done. We heard each lot coming down and were out of bed and at the door in record time.
Occasionally we get a real good thrill, such a one was yesterday when in the rain & low clouds a Junkers 88 was spotted near the works flying low. I was on spotting duty at the time & had a good view. He flew slightly to the north of us & perhaps saw our chimneys, anyhow, he turned and made a dive for the works. The nearby quick-firing gun (2" Beaufort-Swedish-120 shots a minute) got him immediately with red tracer shells. We saw the shells... at first just short & then immediately underneath, he banked steeply, almost horizontal, & dodged in and out as every gun in the district got going. The air was thick with shell bursts and much too hot for him. Then he began to lose height and we saw two bombs drop. They dropped about a mile away completely demolishing some houses. The soldiers said their HQ told them they scored two hits & he came down.
I never saw folks as excited as some of our fellows were. At the top of their voices they were giving a running commentary in far from choice language & dancing about without a thought of cover. I'll bet Harry has never got in such a state at a football match.
As a further bit of experience a bomb was dropped on the towpath across the river from the works & one of big calibre in the works last night. The first only smashed one side of a building & brought down about 100 telephone wires, but the latter has made a lovely mess. It's in my side of the works & I have an office with broken windows & no ceiling and a lab next door that's little more than a rubbish heap. On the whole we were lucky it has done as little damage as it has done. The bomb went in soft earth and penetrated deep before exploding so that the blast was blanketed & the force exploded upwards. We have a crater you could put a house into, about twenty feet deep and fifty feet wide. All that earth went up in the air and came down on nearby roofs, bringing some of those to the ground. The garage where I keep my car in day time had a morris van inside. One of the garage doors was blown to bits, the girders hurled in all directions & the concrete floor lifted in chunks all over the show. The van body is a wreck but the engine etc is all right. The remarkable thing is the silver nitrate building escaped except for some broken joists in the roof. The copper sulphate building has no roof & one side is missing, but the plant inside is OK & most of the main staunchions and beams are sound. Taken by and large, I reckon we got off very lightly indeed & except for copper sulphate, can carry on as usual in a day or so.
All the vital things here escaped & furthermore nobody was injured, although men were working in the vicinity & some of the Home Guard were in a pill box between the two bombs.
The most wierd thing is the suplhuric acid tank, fortunately it only has about a ton in at present; the bomb fell about 10 feet from one end of it (by the way it is on girders 14 ft in the air) & it is still up in the air with most of the girders twisted into impossible shapes, two of them with their concrete bases suspended over the crater. Well that's the war news today from our small window. We had three letters from Ronald (Tom and Annie's oldest son) on Friday, all posted in August on different days & all via America. They cost him from 3/9d to 10/- to send & have come nearly all round the world... Palestine to Singapore, to Australia, to America & then on by American Clipper.
I doubt if he knows if there is a war on. Life goes on in the old peaceful way, perhaps we might say it's monotonous way.
Perhaps I told you he and a friend took a flat. He speaks glowingly of a trip to Jaffa and bathing in the warm sea and entertainment at Government House. Lucky Ronald, may his luck continue.
Tom (Tom and Annie's youngest son) is getting a little less attention at night now. I think that's why we are getting a bit more.
I don't blame Mrs Wilson's folks for leaving London. I think those who have no real reason for staying ought to get away, it isn't too pleasant a district these days & yet it might be a lot worse. It's surprising what one can get used to & put up with. Believe me, London folks stick it wonderfully well.

Bye bye, love to you three,

From Annie & Tom