One Born Every Minute – John Alfred Leggett
From pre-war Britain to todays modern world,
how things have changed.
This is the story of my life, and I will start it at the beginning...
An enthralling account of life in Britain before, during and after World War II as seen and experience by John Alfred Leggett who served with the RAF. Covering his personal experience of being evacuated, living through the Blitz and being bombed out.
John’s writing style mixes his own down to earth nature with humour, which has come to define so many of his generation, who endure hardships that we today would find intolerable, with a stiff upper lip and a smile and is a stark reminder that John and his generation did so much with so very little.
“A doorway into another world now long gone. We often don’t realise just how much our world has changed during a life span. Technology has transformed our lives to such an extent that the description of how life was when John was a child seems almost unbelievably primitive.” – Chris Estall
Every bit of open space had got a barrage balloon on it, and they were mainly manned by girls. Every bit of open space was used for war effort in one way or another, and they were obviously worrying about food so space became a very essential item. The black out had a very depressing effect on London. I know that there was people still enjoyed themselves if they could, but it did have a depressing effect, because once it got dark and the old sirens went off, we all got down in the shelters and then had to wait. Well, just round the corner from where we were living was the old fish shop, I mentioned earlier that the proprietor of that fish shop was an auxiliary fireman, and he was killed one day fighting fires in the docks, and the next day a stick of bombs came down and one caught a shelter up the top part of the estate, the second one hit our block of flats and set the whole lot alight, and the third one hit his fish shop and took it out completely. I think, you know, the man dying the one day and then his shop going the next, really summed up how life was in London in those days.
We were in this shelter exactly opposite in Wadden House on the ground floor, when this bomb hit our block of flats and the fire services turned up and started shooting water everywhere, and my dad said to mum, “Come on, we’ll have to get out of here, this is getting too dangerous, let’s get away”, because, the block of flats was well ablaze. It would be about half one, two in the morning, we walked up the road, past the shelter that had been hit, not realising that there were people in there seriously hurt, and some dead, and we went to Dog Kennel Hill, climbed up the top of Dog Kennel Hill, and you’ve never seen anything like it.
If you looked across London at the fires and bombs and stuff going off, you’ve got a terrific vantage point from there, but also having to dodge shrapnel. You don’t realise that everything that goes up has got to come down, and shrapnel comes down at a hell of a rate, and, once or twice, we dived into the gutter, because bombs were coming down that close to us. We climbed up Dog Kennel Hill, over the top, going down to Denmark Hill and we finished up in the William Booth Memorial College at Denmark Hill, which is the headquarters of the Salvation Army. It’s their training college, and they’ve got a big square glass tower, and you may believe it or believe it not, but they stuck us in this bloody glass tower and gave us tea and biscuits. They are lovely people and I don’t ever want to hear anybody run the Salvation Army down because they were absolutely trumps in those days.
The next morning we walked back from the William Booth Memorial College, up over Dog Kennel Hill, back to our block of flats which was a smouldering mess, and my father said, “Right, let’s see if we can salvage something”. Fire Brigade allowed us to go in and we pulled out quite a lot of smoke damaged clothing and bits and pieces. Our furniture was all splitting up; it wasn’t very grand in the first place, because pre-war furniture wasn’t exciting. But, anyway, we pulled stuff out, pulled it down and put it in the shelter. The L.C.C. had allocated a shelter for storing our smoke damaged furniture. We could put it in that shelter and it wouldn’t be used until we’d cleared our stuff out.
So, we’d shifted everything that was salvageable, and put it in this shelter, and at that time my father was driving for the L.C.C., he was driving an open lorry. So, he went to County Hall, which is the headquarters of the L.C.C., and went in their Housing Department, told them that he’d been bombed out in the Southdown House bombing, and he was working for the L.C.C. “Is there any chance of getting another flat?” he asked. Well, you know what its like, “Oh yes, there’s one for you, but it’s the other side of London”, and he said, “I don’t care where it is, as long as it’s a flat I can keep my family together”. So, we were given a flat over at White City Estate.
Now, White City Estate is an estate that was completed round about 1936, quite nice flats really for the period, and we piled all our salvaged materials onto the back of that lorry, and Margaret, Maurice, myself and mum sat up at the front with dad, and we drove over to White City. It was like going to another world. I’d never been to anywhere like it. Anyway, we moved in to this new flat, got ourselves settled in, sorted out. I can’t remember now too much about it but we got sorted out. My father went out and bought a load of distemper and whitewash and he sized it all up and decorated, and we were in. So he said, “I’m not staying in this flat if they’re carrying on bombing”, which they were doing, so he persuaded mum that every night we would go down the underground. So, we used to go down the underground, it was one of those stations right up town, on the Central Line, I think it was Tottenham Court Road that we used to stay at, and we used to take over half of the platform. And my mother, being you know, a busy woman, she finished up selling tea, coffees and sweeties on the platforms and, well it became a way of life, we had music, we used to have laughs and jokes. You’ve got the world and his wife travelling through the underground in those days, and they thoroughly enjoyed some of the repartee that went on with it all, it was quite good. But, you caught the first train out in the morning, which usually was about five, and then we’d walk from there to Wood Lane Station, that’s where it used to be, it’s now called White City, they’ve moved it up the road, but in the old days it was at Wood Lane. So, we used to walk out of Wood Lane Station and up through into the estate to our flat, and then me father used to go off to work. I know this all sounds corny but that’s how life was, and, when the bombing eased off a bit, then we stopped going down the underground and we then lived in Champlain House, it was 29 Champlain House we moved in to, and it wasn’t bad, there was some nice people there.
“The description of the time was very good. Well written and said it like it was.” – Kindle customer
John Alfred Legget was born on the 29th May 1930, the youngest of three children.
He currently lives in Clacton-on-Sea, UK.