Contributed by: Robert James Bridge
To put into 800 words a lifetime’s experiences would, I am afraid, be almost impossible and at the age of seventy seven it becomes even harder, but I will of course try to install into the world today how, as a war baby and at seven years old, how lucky I and my family, were regardless of the poverty and fear we all experienced during those harsh times.
My first few years as a war baby, I was of course unaware what was going on and it was perhaps only when I reached the age of seven did I realise how the war was going to affect our family life and how the sound of the air-raid siren was going to put fear into our hearts and minds every time it sounded around North Crescent and our home town, Southend-on-Sea.
My father worked in London on the bombed out houses, retrieving not only debris but the bodies of those who had died during an attack by enemy bombs. I was only seven but I remember what a changed man he had become after losing his brother in a travesty that would remain with him forever. His brother had send Dad to collect the week’s wages before returning home to Southend and it seems as my father headed towards the office, a bomb struck the very house they had both been working. That was the last my father saw of his brother on that fateful day and he was, to all intents, never the same man again.
The sound of the air raid siren was always a warning of impending attacks and it was not long before the sound was to echo around our town once more. My two elder brothers and I slept in a makeshift metal enclosed bed and mother would shout for us to get into bed as the siren sounded, bringing fear to our household once again. As the siren came to a halt, us three boys ran to our bedroom window to search for aeroplanes in the night sky.
That night, one special star began to glow larger and larger, and the sound of its approach got louder and louder, until we noticed the flames coming from its tail and our house begin to shake as it passed overhead. Suddenly, the flames died out. For just one second, there was an eerie silence as it headed towards what is known as Warners Bridge, a bridge or road that headed towards a little town called Rochford. Alas, it never reach that far – thank God, and it landed in what is now known as they Southend Rugby Club, adjacent to the airport.
I recollect many older people thought what we called a doodle bug or a flying bomb was heading towards Southend airport in an attempt to obliterate it and who knows? Maybe they were right, but at seven years old and unaware of the destruction it could have caused, I and my brothers were excited at the prospect of going over to the area to maybe get some mementoes to show off at school, because to us children, the war was kind of like Cowboys and Indians, with us as the cowboys and of course the Germans as Indians.
North Crescent, on the outskirts of Southend-on-Sea was in fact an unmade road for many years and my brothers and I would sometimes help the milkman deliver his daily quota on what was a horse and cart, and on the bumpy road this was never going to be an easy chore, but it was exciting to us children until one day, we noticed lots of men up and down the road with shovels etc., along with British soldiers guarding them as they worked to build the concrete road.
The men working on the roads were speaking in a foreign language but that never stopped us children from offering them and the soldiers a cool drink, as they worked hard for many hours under the watchful eyes of the soldiers, and indeed regardless of the language barrier, we managed to convey we were no different from them. Even though the war made us enemies, we were in fact just like that – human!
The work progressed and our road began to resemble a modern road that we were able to walk down without fear of falling. The German prisoners gave us chocolate, and it was clear there was to be no war in North Crescent, since we had all become good friends. After all, as my mother said, “Many of those men had families and children back home in Germany and were just obeying orders like any other soldier”.