The V2 Rocket that Took Away my Nan

I WAS a child of three when the Second World War started, but I have vivid memories of that time. I remember my sister being born in Upney Hospital, Barking, and then being driven with them to Harlow to be evacuated while the bombing raids were heavy.

After a short stay with a lovely lady, Mrs. Fitzgerald, and her family we moved to Hill House Cottage, Mulberry Green, where two of my aunts and three of my cousins had been since just after the start of the war. Five other evacuees were also there.

The dwelling was quite big, and stood in a cobblestoned courtyard with stables at the front and large open fields at the back. It was in fact the servants’ quarters in the grounds of what we always called ‘the White House’, owned by a Mrs. Illingworth.

While at the cottage we children were blissfully unaware of the bombs and the war, and it was wonderful to be able to run around and play in the fields, with nothing at all to bother us. I was very happy when my mother went to the fields to pick vegetables. We wouldn’t know, until our arrival there, what would be picked that day. It would be potatoes one day, pea-picking the next and pulling cabbages on another. Mother was paid for the number of sacks she could fill. It was hard work and I tried to help, but whether I did so or was more of a hindrance is now impossible to say.

Although of short duration, the stay in Harlow brought one of the happiest times of my early childhood and ended far too soon
for me. We returned to our home in Barking after my father was called up into the Royal Corps of Signals. He spent most of the war in East Africa, and we missed him dreadfully.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who lived a short distance from our house. Nan was a strong character and had brought up ten children. She would take me with her when she went shopping, and on most Sunday mornings she’d collect me and take me to church with her. After the service I’d often have Sunday lunch with her and Grandfather. The meal always ended with my favourite dessert – rhubarb and custard.

My sister was a beautiful child and the apple of everyone’s eye, and I recall being rather put out by the attention shown to her – but I had my Nan, who shamelessly spoilt me.

We like many others suffered the occasional inconvenience: windows were blown out during a couple of air raids, and our ceilings came down after an explosion close by. We hadn’t lost our home or any loved ones, though, like other people had.

Sunday January 14 1945 was to change all that, though. The day had started like most other Sundays. Mother made sure I’d washed myself properly, and after I’d dressed and had breakfast I waited for Nan and my Aunt Pat to call and take me to the church. Our family attended St. Paul’s Church in Barking.

If my grandmother was late for church, and this didn’t happen often, we knew she wouldn’t knock for me, and my mother would try to get me to the service in time. On this day there was to be no knock at the door,
and for some reason neither my mother nor I managed to get to church.

Some time later we heard a tremendous explosion. Neighbours ran from their houses trying to find out what had happened. We knew the explosion was close because of its loudness, and as was usual during the war the news filtered through.

A V2 rocket had made a direct hit on our church.

Most of the family lived in the same road, and it wasn’t long before they had all assembled in our house. The atmosphere was terrible, with nothing known for certain about the extent of the disaster. Nobody was allowed to go near the church for some time, the area being cordoned off.

Later our worst fears were to be confirmed. My grandmother and my Aunt Pat had been killed, and my Aunt Lil was lying seriously injured in hospital.

It’s difficult to explain how I, a seven-year-old schoolboy, felt when I heard this dreadful news. Having been so close to my grandmother, my first feeling was one of disbelief, then there was a numbness and a sadness that would not go away.

My grandfather had lost a beloved wife, my father and his brothers and sisters had lost a mother they idolised, and I’d lost someone who, if we were out walking, would always take my hand. Someone who would always be ready to give me a cuddle, and wipe away that tear when I was sad.

I had lost my Nan.

N. Ellis-Leagas