The Blitz as seen by eyewitnesses

Memories of the Blitz

THE PEACE and calm of a Saturday afternoon in September 1940 was shattered by the drone of hundreds of German bombers as the Luftwaffe launched its aerial assault on Britain.

It became known as Black Saturday and marked the beginning of the Blitz. In an attempt to break the British spirit and its air force, the Luftwaffe sent hundreds of bombers night after night over the East End.

The experiences of many of those who survived have been captured by Andrew Bissell in London’s East End Survivors. The book tells the story – through the words of those who were there at the time – of the wartime East End, an area that became synonymous with civilian courage, stoicism and defiance.

The book is lovingly prepared as shown by the attention to detail and is far more than a historical tome of 240 pages. It is packed full of unseen photographs, poignant stories from some of the unheard voices of the Blitz generation. The accounts of those who lived through the Blitz are very moving, especially as some were young children at the time.

Phyl Stableford (nee Spackman) from Myra Street, West Ham, was one of thousands evacuated from the East End.

She says of her new home in Essex: “We were always hungry and in the night we would creep out of bed and make for a store of apples kept under the roof eaves. The food situation got so bad Alma (her sister) took to eating swede peelings from pig buckets and we both ate raw sugar beet from the fields.”

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Meanwhile Ron Wood, aged 23 at the time, tells of his desperate search for his girlfriend’s family in Silvertown during the Blitz.

He recalls: “My girlfriend and I both worked at Tate & Lyle and had gone to Stratford to shop. We were in Roberts department store behind Stratford Parish Church when the sirens went and sheltered there in the boiler room. Afterwards we heard that the raid had been aimed at the Royals and Silvertown where Joan’s mum lived in Bradfield Road.

“We made our way down there and it was a terrible sight. The heat around the docks was unbelievable and the Rank’s flour mills were ablaze.”

John Parsons, then six, recalls: “Mum and dad would send me out to return to our old bombed-out house in Wellington Road, Forest Gate. They wanted me to scrape away all the rubble to try to find the old coal shed. I did find it one day and remember being as proud as punch as I carried my full bucket back to our new place in Norwich Road.”

The book is Andrew Bissell’s second and was inspired by his father’s memories of life in Plaistow.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Black Saturday (September 7, 1940) a special exhibition has been touring Newham. Called Black Saturday: Stories from the Blitz, it features personal memories and images from the time.

It has already visited a variety of Newham venues. From Monday the exhibition has been at the Old Town Hall in Stratford.