‘Dad refusing fried bread saved mum’s life’ says Newham woman who hid in cellar during war

The cellar in Betty's old house where she cowered as a child

The cellar in Betty's old house where she cowered as a child - Credit: Archant

From the baby-sized gas mask to the make-shift beds, Betty Sexton has had a poignant year saying goodbye to her old belongings.

Betty Sexton moved out of the house which had an air raid shelter in the cellar in November

Betty Sexton moved out of the house which had an air raid shelter in the cellar in November - Credit: Archant

Last month she finally left the house she grew up in – where she spent years cowering in the cellar as bombs roared overhead.

“I remember my neighbour’s hand trembling with fear as we made our way down to the air raid shelter,” she said.

“I used to pretend to be asleep so my mum would carry me down there. Really it was because I was terrified.”

During the Second World War Betty, now 78, joined her mother, baby brother and neighbour huddled in their air raid shelter in Green Street as German bombs rained down on London.


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The flat was in her mother’s name for 82 years and when she died, Betty decided to move back in.

She preserved the air raid shelter downstairs and didn’t move a thing until eventually clearing it out last month when she moved.

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“I still had everything down there,” she said.

“My little brother’s gas mask was the smallest thing you’ve ever seen. He was only three months old when he wore it the year the war broke out in 1939.

“I remember being in the cellar hearing bombs going off above. I can still hear them now in my mind. All I remember is that it was really upsetting.

“We had to wear our gas masks as soon as the sirens switched on. You’d get in a lot trouble if you were caught not wearing it.”

Betty flinches remembering the day her mum was nearly killed. She was cooking and asked Betty’s dad if he wanted fried bread.

“My dad said no, so she moved away from the kitchen cabinet. A few seconds later a bomb dropped on the Freemason pub in Romford Road.

“The cabinet smashed down and mum moved away just in time. There was glass everywhere. If he’d wanted fried bread my mum would have been killed.”

There were weekends when the bombing was relentless, keeping Betty and her family prisoner in the shelter for days at a time.

Betty swears she’s the only one who knows about some steps which lead from the street down to the cellar.

They were built to enable people walking past to rush straight down to safety if the sirens sounded.

Her mum used to worry that anybody could gain access to the house via the steps so her father cemented over them after the war.

Betty moved out of the house when she got married in 1956 but was only away for 18 years before returning when her mother died in 1974.

She continued to live there until last month, when she moved to Beckton to be closer to her children

“Green Street is in the family so when my mum died I couldn’t bear the thought of our family not living in that house. That’s why I moved back in. My gran lived next door and my dad was born in that street.

“We must be the only ones in Green Street to stay there the whole way through. Everyone else came and went.

“I feel like I’ve lived through something so different to the way I’m living now. We’re so lucky to have come out of that air raid shelter alive.”

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