A collection of Smith family stories: Chapter 3

The bus from Welling Corner.

7th September 1940

The air raid sirens where waling out their warning. Ben and his driver had prepared the bus for the last trip of the day. Ben was the conductor on the bus from Welling to Lewisham. He was tired as they [(Mar) and young Joan had spent the night in the shelter. Until last night they hadn’t bothered. But! Earlier there had been a hell of a bang and a couple of widows had been broken, when bombs had fallen on Eltham. old man Hill came back in a state “The Castle’s has coped it, Woolworth’s is ablaze, it’s not safe to go out for a drink, bloody Gerry’s destroyed a bloody good Pub; be safest in the shelter. I’d just got this lot out of the door.” He had two bottle of stout in his hands. “Get some glasses we can have a bit of sing song in our shelter.”

“Come on Mar get your hat and coat, we’re in the shelter for the night” Ben was following old man Hill down the garden with his Mandolin in his hand. “You have the drink, we’re strictly tea total.” ignoring this, “Mar fancy a stout for medicinal purposes.” “He can leave that thing in the ’ouse.” Mar was protesting about the Mandolin. Thus it was they had spent the night in Hills shelter, the first of many cold damp nights.


There were planes droning over head, the guns had already started peppering the sky with black smuts as fighters wheeled into action picking off the slower planes. “Are you going driver.” The passengers wanted to get moving before the bombs started. “It looks as if they are heading towards the docks; let’s go before they change their minds.” “Ok! We ‘aren’t due to leave until 2 o’clock. Ben what do you make it.” Ben looked at his watch. “Let’s get the show on the road.” The driver got into his cab as Ben ushered the few passengers onto the rear of the bus. “Fares please.” The diesel engine shock the bus into life and they noised their way into Eirth Road heading for Bexlyheath town center, they rapidly filled with Saturday shopper cutting short the shopping in an attempt to miss the raid. There was a distant rumble as the planes rained the deadly cargo, over the river somewhere to the north west of Shooters Hill. “Sorry mate, all buses are terminating at Shooters hill, no ones allowed into London it look as if the invasions started.” A special constable was manning a road block at the top of Shooters hill at the junction with Eaglesfield road. All traffic was being turned back towards Welling. Already the buses that should have gone onto Lewisham where parking up along Eaglesfield towards the Golf Club. “How are we expected to get home?”  Ben had left his passengers to go up to the drivers cab to see what was up, “I finish my shift in Lewisham.” “Sorry mate there’s a big raid on over the docks.” He didn’t need to state the obvious their conversation was punctuated by the distant thump, thump of explosions and the dull throbbing of distant planes. The sky over

London was glowing with the light of distant fires.

After sirens had sounded earlier in the day, the planes had gone over the outer suburbs of Bexley and concentrated on the area to the North West of them, Ben and his driver had continued on their way to Lewisham, so that they could finish their shift and get home. Up until today the fighting had been out in Kent and South of London nothing but the occasional stray bomb had come near to their bus route they where getting used to getting on with things as near normal as possible. Today was different the planes had been coming in shifts all afternoon, waves after wave heading towards Woolwich and Deptford. A small crowd had gathered around the police road block trying to find out what was what. No one had any answers to the questions just suggestions. “Best make your way home as best you can, or find a public shelter somewhere and sit it out.” Ben had already made up his mind up to walk. Soon after leaving the bus he could see the extent of the fires over London. The river was lit up from Barking on the Essex side through North Woolwich, Silvertown, and Poplar all the way up to Tower Bridge. South of the river ware houses where alight in the docks from Woolwich through Deptford to Southwark. Thick black clouds had filled the skies above London which had become a flaming hell. Ben had started walking down through Castle Woods towards Well Hall then on to Eltham, and home on theMiddle Park Estate.

“Thank god your home Ben, all this bombing I was worried something had happened?” “Had to walk from Shooters Hill all traffic is stopped, this is the big one.” Suddenly there was deep rumbling thud that shook the house. “That was close better get in the shelter, the sirens went hour ago but nothing was happening.” Ben had gone to the back door to see if he could make out what had happened. “It was one of there’s came down over Mottingham way.” Old man Hill was out watching the dog fight that was going on over the South East London. The glow of a thousand fires was lighting up the horizon. “This is the big one.”


“Any one at Home.” “In hear Dave, I no it’s you, saw your bike.” “How are yu’ Gran, I thought I’d pop in to see you.” I had just propped my bike against the back of the house at Cuff Crescent and let myself into the kitchen. “Cup of tea I’ll just put the kettle on, made some cakes as well.” “Ok! Gran. Let me get the tin for you.” I knew exactly where the tin of cakes was kept; I had been here many times before. The kettle was a big iron one stuck on the hot plate by the coal fire in the sitting room Gran was permanently sat by the fire brewing tea for any one who popped in to see how, things were. “Dave gets another cup you can take it to Pop he’s down the garden putting another row of spuds in.” Ben (Pop) had died two years earlier I was embarrassed what should I say. “Oh! Sorry what will you think of me Pops not with us any more, I still see him down the garden you know.” “He was crying you know that day they wouldn’t let him into Lewisham when they bomb the docks. He thought that London was finished and there would be an invasion.”

I knew what Gran was talking about I had heard these stories over and over again, ever since I could remember.

Pop crying because London was on fire, the day George came home from a Germany POW camp at the same time as uncle John (Baggley) was released from Brixton jail. John had served time for his alleged sabotaging the war effort. Uncle John had been a conscientious objector, the story goes, that when he was working on a farm he weeded out the cabbages instead of the weeds. No one thought to show him the difference between cabbage seedlings and the weeds he was supposed to take out, so he took out everything.  I would drop in on Gran’s and sit with her in front of the fire encouraging her to tell me yarns about how life was in the past. Dad and George’s stories I had heard nearly every week for 5 years since Uncle George had started having Sunday lunch with us. Funny thing is that apart from the war stories the details of any of the earlier stories are lost. There was always talk, about how the family had gone on the annual hop picking trip to a farm in Kent. But! Where this was I had no details some where in the Yalding, East Peckham area. Great Grandad had been an os’tler working with the horses at the Chalk pits at Gillingham. Before he became a bus conductor Ben had worked as a Clown/ stage hand in an end of the Pier Theatre at one of the South Coast resorts Brighton or Eastbourne no one left to tell us which. Every Christmas he would entertain us with his old musical recitations and play his Banjo, or Mandolin sometimes he would demonstrate the one string violin. He was still doing the rounds of local Old Age Pensioners clubs entertaining the old folk with his sing song sessions, right up to his death.


The ‘All Clear’ siren didn’t sound until the early hours of the morning. The docks had been bomb all night the sky was black with acrid smoke from the thousands of fires that had been started that night. Hundreds of people had been kill in the East End of London the true figure was to remain a secret for 50 years (430 was the official number that first day) so when Ben left for work that Sunday morning he didn’t have any idea how bad it really was the news paper just reported ‘The London Docks’ had been bomb over night many enemy planes had been destroyed by our fighter in heavy fighting over Essex and Kent. Ben went up to his bus on shooters hill rather than the garage in Lewisham. “Well done, mate.” The local bus inspector was trying to organize the busses that had been left on Shooter Hill during the raid. “Driver! Take your bus down to the garage and refuel. Then make your way back to Welling. You’ll have to follow the diversions still some unexploded bombs around Deptford”.  Ben got onto the bus “’allow! How have you got hear?” An old man from the previous night was still on the bus. “I couldn’t face the walk home, so I dosed down over night.” “That will be extra mate, were, where you making for any way.” “Deptford Church Street, no one there to miss me so I stayed put thought it safest.” “Looks like its still burning down there. Best hope there’s a ‘ome to go to.” “Here mate.” “No mate you paid last night we’ll finish the journey today.” With that the sirens started again, another raid was on its way. “Driver will we make the shelters on Blackheath?” “I’m going for it.”


All though the first mass raid on London was 7thSeptember 1940 there had been raids earlier. The night of 5/6thSeptember Eltham High street had been bombed and Woolworths, Simpsons and “The Castle” pub had been hit.



You can see a map of where the bombs dropped in this area in 1940-41 here

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