Vere Hodgson: Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45:
Had a busy week. Awakened by the guns on Friday night. Had not heard the Warning. Stuck it for a bit, but as it was so noisy I hopped out of bed and into dressing gown. The whole sky was light as day, festooned with three magnicent red star flares which threw amazing colours all over Campden Hill. Shots going for the flares — occasionally little bits of them fell off and dropped like falling stars.
Old Dears all assembled on the landing below. Racket increased. My British Israelite, who is a thoroughly nice person, invited me to her window. A great red glow filled the sky as from a fire.
For an hour we hopped to and fro. Once a roar filled the air, and she called: ‘Come away — that’s a bomb.’ I did not seem to be frightened, and I can honestly say I saw it flash down — it seemed to be on N. Hill Gate. Heard some glass go, and thought it was my skylight — but still I did not worry.
Finally we decided to go up on the roof. Very cold as we climbed by the fire escape. Firewatchers were like ants below. White frost on all the roofs, and in the direction of Portobello Road there was the sound of a crackling fire. We knew it was near. Other fires round about. We well deserved pneumonia, but could not resist such an amazing sight from the roof.
We then had a cup of tea, refilled our hot water bottles and returned to bed, but it was long before I slept. Heard the re-engines clanging through the streets. Finally dropped off, thinking — Well, saved again. All felt second-rate next day.
News came of a bomb on the College at Campden Hill, where the Gibraltar refugees live. Also of a bad business in Portobello Road.
Told Miss M. that I had better go and see how was the Morris family, whom we have helped a lot. Donned my snow boots. The stalls were just going up for the Portobello Saturday Market. Morris house was intact, but poor Mrs Morris was sitting on the stairs more dead than alive. She and Ann and the other children had dragged themselves round to the Shelter. Her husband and Jimmy had stayed to watch the house. Asked her if they were cold in the Shelter. ‘Well, really Miss, I was so bad I did not know if I was hot or cold…’
For them all it had been an awful night. Great fires in a timber yard next door to a garage. Petrol had to be drawn off before they could pour water on the fire — for two hours firemen had to watch the place burn before they dare do anything. At 3 a.m. a great cheer went up as the hose began to play.
Further down an H.E. had fallen and many were killed. I penetrated further. Firemen were looking tired and grimy. Hoses lying around and fires smouldering. It was Tavistock Crescent. Saw dozens of children bombarding a burnt-out shop. It was the local Sweet shop and the youngsters were trying to salvage what they could from the mess!
Their school was burnt out. A bonny little girl spoke sadly of the shop. An invalid woman had kept it for years. Now she had lost her home and business at one swoop. Certainly it had been Portobello’s bad night.
Ealing, Acton and Chiswick all had damage. The Old Dears of my flats had been out exploring. Part of Kensington High St cordoned off — a bomb either side of Barkers or Pontings. Auntie Nell tells me that someone on her roof saw a parachutist bale out.
Midday went to St Albans; but made a mistake and took train from King’s Cross instead of St Pancras. Travelled with a weary-looking reman. Had been working all night in Wimbledon, where a Convent had received a direct hit — and rescue men were still digging out the nuns. Such a nice man — had been in the 1940 blitz on the Dock Fires. On one night 300 more men were killed.
He was just going to see his little boy, who was evacuated.