Ernest Walsh, contributing as part of the BBC People’s War in 2004 wrote about Hewer Street:
I was 17 years old when the following incident happened and was living in Notting Hill.
The street shelters were erected just after the outbreak of war. The low square buildings were fitted with bunks to sleep 10 persons and were sited along the road-side.
For nearly two years since 1940,vhen the raids on London really started, the brick built shelters had been our sleeping quartets; built mainly to protect civilians from shrapnel and falling masonry.
As soon as the warning sounded, the family would gather bedding, tea-pot and kettle, and settle down for the night; knowing that there would be no reprieve until the dawn. No luxuries, such as running water, toilet facilities or lighting, were to be had in our temporary abode. A candle, primus stove, and a bowl for washing were the essential requisites.
Someone was banging on the recently re-placed shelter door; I recognised Ronnie Trotman shouting.
“We’ve got to get round to the dairy, it’s been hit with about 20 incendiary bombs; the place is ablaze, and the horses are trapped next door, in John Nodes the undertakers” he blurted. Ronnie and I were great buddies; we had been friends since our days at the glass factory. We had even volunteered together at Horn Lane Acton recruiting centre. I was accepted, passed A1, but Ronnie failed on his bad eyesight.
Hewer Street ran parallel with Rackham Street
, and it took Ronnie and about two minutes to get to the scene.
When we arrived at the dairy, the ambulances from St Charles Hospital
were dealing with the casualties. We could hear the horses screaming next door, and making our way through the courtyard where a number of incendiaries had fallen, we noticed also, the now familiar red glow coming from the undertakers’ stables. ‘Together with Ronnie and Uncle Bob, we climbed over the boundary wall and into the undertakers courtyard, only to find the door of the stable would not open!
We could hear the horses panicking in their stalls, but the door would not budge; something was preventing it from opening, and it was difficult to see what the problem was.
I called to Uncle Bob “l’m going to try to get in through the window and calm the horses” Following his nod of assent, I threw a milk crate up, smashed the window and climbed in. The jump into the comparative darkness, landed me onto a bale of hay, luckily braking my fall. An incendiary bomb was burning fiercely in the far corner of the stable, slightly away from the horses. The deadly glow, and terrifying sizzle of magnesium, with its acrid smell; the choking smoke was suffocating the air.
Horses in their stalls were screaming, and kicking in panic. With the little light there was I groped my way to the horse nearest to the burning canister.
“Betsy” as the name plate on the door indicated, was jumping about wildly. As I approached her she rushed to her stall door. I then shielded her eyes with my hands. “Steady there girl”, I whispered gently, “we’ll soon get you to safety”.
I must have accidentally slipped the bolt to her door, because Betsy dashed past me, knocking me off balance, onto the wet slippery floor. The milk float, which was being used could still be heard crashing against the stable door, but still no sign of it being opened.
The sinister glow of the fire-bomb produced grotesque shadows as the panic stricken horses shied in their stalls. Holding on like grim death the Betsy, I shouted in the direction of the entrance. “Hurry up and get that bxxxxy door open, I’m being kicked to death in here”
The fire seemed to be gaining hold, and there was no way that I could get back up and out through the window. Suddenly the stable door crashed open! Betsy broke away from me and literally flew out of the door, knockinq Ronnie and Uncle Bob flying. The other horses must have smelt the air of freedom,
causing them to become more frenzied.
Rose-Maria appeared on the scene, and rushing to “Billy’s” stall, placed a damp blanket over his head; leading him out to safety.
The fires were then quickly dealt with, and the remaining four horses were evacuated from the building.
The air raid had quietened down somewhat as we arrived back at the shelter. It was now nearly 2 o’clock in the morning as I quietly lifted the door from its resting position and entered. Ronnie decided to risk the journey home; saying his Dad would be worried. Uncle Bob indicated that he had had enough “Sod it! I’m going upstairs to bed” he said as he marched out of the shelter.
Within the next few hours we would all be preparing for work, so the desperately needed sleep was our life preserver. As I checked the bunks with their sleeping occupants, the snoring and grunting of their fitful reposes was music to my ears.
My mouth was so dry, I could really murder a cup of tea. The primus was sitting on the table, invitingly. The smoke fumes and dust I must have inhaled this night would soon be washed away with a nice hot “cuppa”. It was the chinking of the cups that woke Mum. “What have you lot been sxxxxxxg about at now?” she grumbled. “I’m making a cup of tea, would you like one Mum” I asked, evading her curt question. Her grunt and th nod of her head told me she would, “But I don’t think there is any milk left” she countered.
My thoughts raced to the dairy and all the spilt milk I’d just been wading through, but it had to be tea without (aarghh!)
As I lay in my bunk, I could hear the air raid in the distance. Sleep would not come.
Bleary-eyed and washed out, with a stale cheese sandwich in my pocket which was to be my day’s sustenance, the 662 trolley-bus took me the next morning to Lamsons, a munitions factory in Hythe Road, Scrubs Lane.
“ Ernie Walsh! The foreman wants to see you on the office”
“Now what’s up” I thought punching my clock-card, acknowledging the charge-hand’s directive.
“I see by this letter I’ve just received, that you’ve volunteered to join the Army” the foremen said as I entered the office.
“That is correct”
“Well, if you change your mind, I will get you reserved on your war-work here, as a lathe-capstan operator”
“Thanks all the same” I said, “But I would like to join up”
I think I’d had enough of war-torn, half-starved London by now — I just wanted to get away.
Hewer Street was cut off half way along its length by post-war redevelopment.
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