Not “Jossa” South London Family (Part 6) – John Charles Jossa


We’re going to finish the Jossa Family Story in more modern times with the story of John Charles Jossa, who was John Felix Jossa’s son, and Jacqueline Jossa’s Grandfather.

A large part of this post is based on stories about his Father posted by John Jossa, Jacqueline’s Father. I hope I have done it justice.

A Plumstead Boy

John was born in 1921 a few years after his Father returned from living in New York USA, and three years after his father and mother married. John grew up with his parents and at 93 Durham Rise Plumstead, with his two younger brothers and two younger sisters.

The Woolwich Arsenal continued to provide direct and indirect work for the whole Woolwich and Plumstead areas and John worked as an Electrical Tester and Inspector, up until the start of WW2. The picture above from 1939 shows the Thames on the left, looking down River towards Kent, Woolwich Arsenal is marked out by the triangular shape next to it, and Plumstead is to the right.

WW2 RAF

Having a good background in Electrical Engineer, John was a good bet for the most technical of the armed services, the Royal Airforce, and we pick his story up with him in 1941 when he volunteered for the Royal Airforce in and was sent for initial training to Padgate in Cheshire (where his brother Anthony Martin Jossa would follow him to do his RAF National Service in 1950). John’s sister Elizabeth Mary would also join the RAF in 1941 in the Women’s Auxiliary Royal Airforce. It is likely that John may also have been shipped across the Atlantic to carry out flight training in Canada, a much safer environment than the UK.

John showed great ability and rose through the ranks to become a Flight Sergeant Navigator in 101 Squadron flying in Lancaster Bomber DV268 operating out of Ludford Magna, deep in the Lincolnshire Countryside. 101 Squadron was a specialist experimental Squadron, and only took the best of the best initially, so this speaks highly of John’s abilities.

Soon after the camp was occupied by the Bomber crews it was renamed “Mudford Magna” because of the appalling state of most of it after any rain and heavy vehicles traversing it, the low lying Lincolnshire Fenland quickly reverting to marsh like conditions. The Village itself was tiny, only about 200 inhabitants, and outside of the main village street, the surrounding farms and hamlets had no electricity, gas, mains water or mains sewerage, and although these facilities were laid on for the RAF base, the surrounding villagers would not get these services until after the base was closed down, and the various services were redirected to include the civilian population.

#MudfordMagna

Bomber crews lived a bizarre life, on the one hand, whilst they were on the ground in England they could live an almost normal social life, eating regular meals, listening to the Radio, going to pubs in Ludford either the White Hart Inn Hotel run by William Bowen (still open in the Village) or the Black Horse with its Landlady Selina Gilbert at the other end of the main Road through the Village (all of 30 yards apart) socialising with the local girls, in relative comfort.

@whitehartinnludford

On the other hand, every time they climbed aboard their planes for an operation over enemy territory they stood a high chance (over 44%) of not coming back, and if their plane was hit there was often little or nothing they could do about surviving, it would mostly be down to good or bad luck, even between members of the same crew. More members of Bomber Crews were killed in WW2 than civilians in the Blitz on London, or civilians that died in the British bombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and Bomber Crews had a higher chance of being killed in action than Infantry Officers did in WW1. As controversial as the bombing of German Cities by the RAF may be viewed by modern commentators, the bravery of the Airmen involved in destroying the Nazi menace in Europe can’t be understated.

So aircrews’ lives consisted of periods of normality interrupted by concentrated periods of extreme danger during which the crews had to remain outwardly absolutely calm. On the one hand the crews were well fed and could go to the local Towns and Villages to drink in the local pub s, on the other whole plane loads of men would disappear the following day, shot down, never to be seen again.

The mental strain of living under such conditions must have been unique. Some bomber crews described the experience as the equivalent of living inside a murder mystery play where, on the one hand life appeared normal, but on the other, you could never tell who would disappear and wind up dead next. Of 101 Squadron Airmen 740 were killed, and of those 96 have no known graves.

The RAF being the most technology dependant of the Armed services very quickly started changing from a very socially hierarchical service like the Army, Navy, and indeed civilian life in the UK, into a technical meritocracy. It was important on a heavy Bomber that the crew were technically competent, calm, and able to work under pressure (i.e. whilst under fire from the ground and fighter planes) the days of the aristocratic Tally-Ho! adventurers was long gone. John Jossa fitted this new meritocracy.

“Lancaster and its bomb load,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 11, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/1947.

Lancaster bombers could be manned (operational front line bombing crews were 100% men) entirely by Sergeants (minimum rank to be part of aircrew) or by a mixture of Sergeants and Officers. Whatever the ranks of the various crew members, the Pilot always had the final say irrespective of his rank compared to other crew members. On DV268 all of the crew with John were Sergeants. By the time John Jossa was flying in Lancasters each crew member had a single role, the seven crew were formed of Pilot (Paul Rudolph Zanchi) 19 from Southend, Flight Engineer (Leonard Arthur Crooks) 20 from Grays in Essex, Navigator (John Jossa) 22 from Plumstead Kent, Wireless Operator (Henry Stuart Waller), Bomb Aimer (William Rowand) 23 from Lambeth, Mid Gunner (Dennis William Timms), and Rear Gunner (Alan George Lovesay). Conditions on bombers were “snug” but not as cramped as in fighter planes, as can be seen from the photo of another crew below, John Jossa as Navigator (on the right) would sit just along from the Wireless Operator Harry Waller (on the left).

Airborne Cigars

101 Squadron was a particular target for German attack as a number of planes in that Squadron carried the ABC jamming system. This was a top secret radio system called AirBorne Cigar (ABC). It seems it may have got its name from a codename of “Corona” for Ground based jamming and disruption systems, that morphed to “Cigar” (Corona being one of the biggest manufacturers of Cigars) and went from Ground Cigar, to Airborne Cigar once mounted in Lancaster Bombers, and from there to ABC in official documents.

The system work by discovering the frequency the German Ground Controllers were using to guide the German Night Fighters into position to attack the British Bombers. Once found the German transmissions would be jammed by send a white noise type signal so that the German Night Fighters had to fly blind, and by the later addition of transmitting in German on the same frequency to send the German Fighters to the wrong places, which lead to some heated and bad tempered exchanges between German Ground Controllers, German Night Fighter Pilots, and British Radio Operators swearing at each other in fluent German whilst spreading confusion and misdirection. This role would be taken up by an eighth member of the crew specifically to operate the ABC. Giving that not only fluent German, but colloquial German was needed for this role, these operators were sometimes from German Jewish Families now living in Britain, having fled the Nazis, taking a huge risk if they had to bail out over German held Territory.

The Last Mission

John Jossa’s DV268 25th November 1943

At 5.18 on the afternoon of Friday November 26th 1943 DV268 took off from Ludford Magna Airfield, with its crew of Zanchi, Crooks, Jossa, Waller, Rowand, Timms, and Lovesay. Seven men aged from 19 to 23, little more than boys, with a 19 year old flying the plane. Look at a group of boys/men of those ages now and decide if you think they would have the maturity and courage to risk their lives every week to fight to save Democracy. These men were giants when compared to today’s standards.

They flew from Lincolnshire in darkness, and heded across occupied Europe to the Nazi Heart of Darkness – Berlin. They reached the target unscathed and successfully unloaded their bombs into the heart of the Dark Empire. It must be remembered that at this stage in the war, the tables had turned on the Germans to a high degree, they were on the defensive on many fronts, and having sowed the seeds of terror with the Blitz on London, were now reaping the whirlwind of vengeance from the RAF for all the civilian deaths they had caused. Unfortunately for German civilians this was paid back with interest against them in Berlin and other German Cities, and their Night Fighter crews were equally dogged in their defence of their cities.

As they were leaving Berlin returning from the raid, and despite the ABC in use by planes from 101 Squadron, some German Night Fighters managed to use new radar mounted in the noses of their aircraft to locate 101 Squadron, and went in for the attack. One night fighter cut DV 268 out from the Squadron and went on the attack. Now at night a Lancaster Bomber had some chance of fighting back and taking evasive manoeuvres to keep clear of any attacking faster and more agile German Night Fighters, but there was a high degree of luck involved, and needed the Bomber to evade the fighter long enough for the fighter to need to turn back and refuel or go after an easier target. In trying to shake the Night Fighter off their tail with machine gun fire and evasive action DV268 became separated from the rest of the Bomber Stream.

The pair of Planes, the big and muscular Lancaster DV268 and the smaller agile German Night Fighter flew on across Germany, Sergeant Lovesay exchanging fire as they went, tracer bullets from Lovesay’s heavy machine guns sent long streaks of light past the pursuing plane, but the German was not for turning, and avoiding the incoming fire, used his speed to avoid the tracers from Lovesay’s guns and opened up with his own machine guns and cannon, firing high calibre rounds. Lovesay’s gun compartment was obliterated killing the brave young gunner in the process. Now flying with little sight to the rear of the plane Zanchi put the plane into a “corkscrew” manoeuvre pulling extreme G forces as he plummeted the big plane down in a gut-wrenchingspiralling fall, temporarily losing the German Fighter in the confusion and darkness, a Lancaster being hard to see from above in the dark against the darkness of the blacked out landscape below. They lost sight of the Night Fighter, and relaxed just a little as the manoeuvre seemed to have worked.

As navigator John Jossa now had to work out where they were, having plummeted down to perhaps as low as 1,000 feet, and miles off course, John would now have to recommend a course. John realised that they were low on fuel, and could see exploding German Anti-Aircraft “Flak” being fired at the main Bomber Stream between Cologne and Essen and advised that they head directly for the area taking Flak and rejoin the main Bomber Stream. Paul Zanchi was loath to cross an area taking anti-aircraft fire, but John argued, that on their own they would be a sitting duck for any German Night Fighters or, if spotted, random anti-aircraft guns, and that if they took a longer route to around the Flak, they would not have enough fuel to get back to Britain and would have to ditch in the sea or over occupied territory. A brief but intense discussion took place between the 23 year old Navigator and the 19 year old Pilot, on the best way to get out of their dangerous situation, and perhaps reluctantly, the Pilot turned the Lancaster towards the Bomber stream and the Flak. Ultimately the Pilot’s decision would be final, but in an aircraft where life or death can hang on the slightest error, it is incumbent upon men to speak their mind plainly, irrespective of rank.

Reunited with their Foe

While the discussion on which course to take was taking place in the Lancaster, their deadly foe in the Night Fighter had not given up looking for them. The German Pilot was, for all the fact that he was fighting for the Nazis, a brave and skilful pilot. Having located the DV268, he quietly slipped his camouflaged aircraft a few dozen yards beneath the wounded bomber. In this position his aircraft was invisible to the Bomber crew, by site and shielded from its radar. But the German Pilot could now see the Lancaster fully silhouetted against the starry sky above.

This manoeuvre, although dangerous was a deliberate one. The British had their AirBorne Cigars but some Germans Night Fighters had “Jazz Music”. “Schrage Musik” was the German nickname for Jazz, or “oblique/skewed” Music; in this context it referred to a set of upward facing guns at an oblique angle mounted behind the cockpit of some German Night Fighters. These required the Fighter Pilot get his plane unseen under an enemy aircraft, then fire upwards. This was an effective tactic, but if successful, the Bomber above him could quickly disintegrate into an inferno of falling wings and airframe weighing several tons a-piece, enough to reduce the Night Fighter to a burning splintered wreck if it wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way.

German JU88 Night Fighter with Schrage Musik directly behind the cockpit.

AftermathThe first the crew of DV268 knew about it was a terrific thump that rattled the aircraft as shells from the German Fighter tore through the bottom of the fuselage and out through the top. Paul Zanchi was killed instantly, and the badly damaged Lancaster plunged out of the sky. The last thing John Jossa remembered was thinking that they were all going to die, and looking across to see if his friend from South London, William Rowand the Bomb Aimer was OK, then he blacked out in the tumbling chaos of the falling plane. The picture below from Wingleader magazine (see link) is the best representation of such an encounter that I can find.

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.behance.net%2Fgallery%2F73131133%2FWingleader-Magazine-Crowdfunding-Campaign-Nachtjagd&psig=AOvVaw1xIAzFUgQzNMyimy7EvpBm&ust=1591715551257000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCPCB8NbA8ukCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAI

Aftermath, Heaven or Hell?

The next time John Jossa opened his eyes, he saw a blurry image of white wing shapes floating above him, he thought he was dead and seeing angels in heaven, until Dad knew was waking up seeing white wing shapes above him.  He thought he was in heaven seeing angels, then he heard the angels speaking German, he remembered feeling strangely disappointed.

When the Angels came into focus they turned out to be German Catholic Nuns wearing large white “winged” headdresses (Cornettes similar to the picture below), the height of fashion in Mediaeval times, but now adorning the heads of angels of mercy, acting as nurses. John had been unconscious for three weeks. Instead of waking up in heaven he awoke to the hell of pain. Hiss head injuries had caused his coma, his back was compressed and broken, his skull was fractured in three places, he had a broken jaw, and his tongue was split right down its length. Most of the rest of the major bones in his body were broken.

John Jossa’s son would, many years later, try to work out what had happened between the German Night Fighter blasting DV268 with its Schrage Musik Guns, and the Germans finding John Jossa some distance away from the wreckage on the ground a short time later.

The conclusion arrived at was that John’s seatbelt was wrenched out of its fittings, the momentum of the falling spinning plane then threw him through the Cockpit Canopy, snagging his parachute pack, which burst open, snagged on the wrecked plane, bringing John’s exit to an abrupt halt but causing a number of injuries, before the cords snapped, hurling him away from the stricken plane on impact with the ground.

An irony of his time in hospital was that whilst recovering in there he met and spoke with a German Luftwaffe Night Fighter Pilot, who had had his leg broken during aerial combat. Like often happens in these situations when two men have both put their lives on the line in deadly combat, there was no animosity between the two, and John Jossa described the Night Fighter Pilot as “A nice bloke” just like the men he knew in the RAF. John believed that he may have been the Pilot that shot down DV268.

Dulag Luft Wetzlar

Slowly bringing him back to health the German Doctors, gave him the bad news that he would never walk again.

Once John was well enough to be moved, he was shipped out to Dulag Luft Wetzlar near Frankfurt. This was a new Camp built to house the flood of Allied airmen whose planes were being blown out of the sky every night by the Luftwaffe and German ground defences, in their increasingly desperate defence of their Fatherland. It was set up to interrogate airmen and surreptitiously gather intelligence, and although there were some allegations of torture and mistreatment of airmen, it seems that generally the regime was not unduly cruel.

There were a few Prisoners who were permanent “Staff” in the camp to show the new arrivals the ropes, and keep things running smoothly, but the vast majority of prisoners were just transitioning through, undergoing interrogation before being shipped out to other Prisoner of War Camps. John would have been in good company and waqs preceded in the camp by men such as Guy Bushell (of “The Great Escape” fame) and also Douglas Bader, the famous Fighter Pilot who flew despite having two “Tin Legs” (artificial legs).

The German Staff at Dulag Luft soon realised that threats and physical intimidation didn’t get them very far in eliciting information from British Prisoners, and John still being in recovery from his serious and extensive injuries wouldn’t have been subject to any physical interrogation, rather the Germans had a reputation for using subtlety in Dulag Luft, befriending and engaging prisoners in conversation to see what they could get out of them, before passing them through to other camps. The greatest exponent of this approach in Dulag Luft was Hans Scharff. Only a Corporal, and therefore referred to as “Mr” and in civilian clothes to hide his lowly rank, Scharff used his engaging personality and intelligence to ring many airmen dry of what they knew. The Germans at Wetzlar rarely used physical violence, but would use the threat of handing the airmen over for torture and execution by the Gestapo if they didn’t share with him some secrets such as where their bases were, or technical details of equipment, aircraft, and allied tactics. The Allied Airmen were lead to believe that this was their only hope of avoiding the Gestapo. This behaviour was in breach of the Geneva Convention as it states “ No pressure shall be exerted on prisoners to obtain information regarding the situation of their armed forces or their country.”

Despite this many allied airmen, especially Americans, struck up friendships with various interrogators especially Scharff. The difference between the Americans and British was that the Americans were late into the War, so hadn’t had to stand alone against the might of the Nazis, had not had their home towns and civilian families bombed by the Germans, and therefore had less personal animosity towards the Germans. Scharff was picked up the Americans after the German surrender, and was used to train the American Secret Services on his interrogation techniques, allowed to settle in the States, and retired from Intelligence work to create Mosaics, including the Cinderella Story in Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World Orlando Florida.

Hanns Scharff

It is not clear if John was transferred to another camp, although most prisoners were transferred after interrogation. Being badly injured he may have stayed in the Frankfurt area, and it is entirely possible that he would have been visited by Scharff in Hospital, as Hanns Scharff made a point of visiting injured airmen for his “chats” to see what he could get out of them.

After the War

John was repatriated to Liverpool in England aboard the SS Arundel Castle on 6th February 1945. Although glad to be back, the prognosis for him was not good given his injuries. The Germans had told him he would never work again, and now British Doctors told him that he would never have children.  

John was a fighter, regained the ability to walk, and married Eugenie Rebecca O’Brien and had six children. Eugenie was descended from two Irish Families, the O’Briens and McAlisters, her two Grandfathers having served in various capacities in the British Armed Forces in the Artillery, Marines, and Military Police. The Families One of her Grandfathers had been born in Malta a Major British Army and Naval Base, an Aunt had been born in Cairo Egypt, and she had connections to Canada with many relations living there. Her immediate family came together in Alverstoke and Gosport in Hampshire, an area full of Military and Naval Bases, before much of the Family moved to Woolwich to work in the Royal Arsenal there. The Families were very close, those that stayed in the Woolwich area lived together at 37a Tormount Road Plumstead.

John Jossa never complained about his injuries, and as his son John (Jacqueline Jossa’s Dad) says he was typical of the determination and courage of that generation.

Terror from the Skys in the 20th Century


When tracing Family Stories for clients, very often we turn up examples of civilian suffering from the two world wars, and it is surprising how close so many families came to not existing many more due to enemy action.  Here are a few excerpts from the various stories we have uncovered for clients.

The Great War

The Great War as WW1 was known at the time, was the first war that posed the threat ofZeppelinsDocks attack from the air to London. Although aerial attack is generally thought of as happening to the Docklands in WW2, Britain had to suffer it in WW1.

The Kaiser had initially forbidden raids on London and on any Historic Buildings generally, but in 1915 gave clearance for bombing of the London Docks by Zeppelins. These raids were generally ineffective, few getting through mainly due to adverse weather conditions. One night raid on the 7th/8th of September did manage to drop over a hundred bombs in a line across the East End causing damage and widespread fear, although without major loss of life.

By 1917 tactics changed, and the Germans started to use fixed wing aircraft as Bombers rat1917gothabomberher than the less reliable Zeppelins. In June 1917 twenty Gotha Bombers took off from an airfield in Belgium, to mount a strategic raid on London. After an initial attack on Margate and Shoeburyness, the formation headed up the Thames. The noise of the bombers flying in formation drove the curious to watch them pass over, thinking they were British Aircraft. By the time they reached the East End, they saw bombs were raining down on Barking, and East Ham, the explosions tracing a line to Poplar.

1917uppernorthstreetschoolA set of bombs made a direct hit on Upper North Street Primary School in Poplar. One or two 110lb high explosive bombs passed straight through the roof of the school, smashed through the Girls’ classroom on the top floor killing two children by their impact, then continuing straight through the Boys’ classroom, throwing some of the boys through the floor and into the ground floor classroom where the Bombs exploded in the Infants classroom. Sixteen infants aged between four and six years old were killed in the explosion, more than thirty children were injured, some losing limbs

The German bombers carried on to bomb Liverpool Street Station and by 12 noon had crossed the City as far as Regents Park. By the time they headed back for the coast, over five hundred Londoners were killed or injured. Despite some anti-aircraft fire and the scrambling of home defence formations of the Royal Flying Corps, the bombers were not intercepted, and made it back to Belgium without any losses.

On his return the leader of the raid, Hauptman Ernst Brandenburg, was summoned to Berlin by the Kaiser where he was awarded the highest honour for bravery.

Back in Poplar on 20th June 1917 the whole Poplar neighbourhood turned out to pay their respects at the funeral procession of the Poplar children from Upper North Street Primary School. There is little doubt that the Harrigans were in this crowd. The children were buried in the East London Cemetery, and the service took place in the Harrigan’s local C of E Parish Church of All Saints. It was the biggest public funeral for common people ever to take place in the area.

1917funeralroute

The daylight bombers were to return to London on Saturday 7 July 1917, and other bombing raids would take place during WW1, but none as murderous as that on 13th June 1917.

Outside of London

The rest of Britain was not exempt from raids; on 25th September 1916 the Zeppelin L21zeppelindamage off course and looking for a target, saw the industrial fires and chimneys of the Mills and Factories at Bolton. It flew a double loop over the town dropping 25 bombs and killing 13 civilians in residential streets, only causing minor damage to industry and infrastructure. It then flew back to Germany.

There was no panic in Bolton, there was anger and surprise. Two months later L21 was back on a return raid to the Midlands, this time bombing Chesterfield.  This time the raider was intercepted by three RAF fighters flown by Egbert Cadbury, E.L.Pulling, and W.R.Gaynor, who engaged the Zeppelin emptying four drums of ammunition into her, including phosphorous incendiary rounds.  L21 exploded and fell from the sky into the sea ten miles off of Lowestoft, there were no survivors. A triumphant cheer went up in Bolton, no more civilians would be killed in the night by that particular murderous craft.

L21down

World War Two; The Blitz

London South of The River; Bermondsey

By the outbreak of the Second World War, many children had been evacuated from the most vulnerable parts of East and South East London, those parts near the docks, and around major road and rail links. But for the adults left at home, there was also a share of danger once the Germans started bombing London. One account from an eyewitness describes a raid on the actual streets in Bermondsey in 1940 where part of my own Family lived:

“Saturday from 4.30 was a day of terror, I was collecting in Neptune St when the sirens went, and as the planes were overhead in scores I picked up Mrs Rouse’s boy, and she and the baby and went to the Shelter in the Town Hall. We only just got in when Jerry released his bombs where we were standing and demolished Mrs Rouses house plus eight others. What a shock! Well most of the people in this dugout are now homeless as the bombing was unmerciful and hardly a place within a ¼ mile around escaped, except the Town Hall, he started a fire here which I expect you could see in Dormans [our evacuation venue 30 miles away] the all clear went at 6.45 and I was so shaken by the experience, and the screaming women and children, in the dugout that I packed up and made my way home, but most of the roads were roped off, and so I had to go half way round London to get to Canal Bridge, however I thought I would give a call in home before going to Brockley, and got a shock to see Credon Road no 51, 53, 55 got hit, and the next fell in Varco Rd, right opposite the end house; two people killed in this house. Mum and Dad [who lived at number 59] had a shaking up.

The worst part came at night. I had just left for home and got to Canal Bridge when the sirens started, I ran for a dugout in Peckham Park Rd and the experience all South London had to suffer was more than one could go through more than once. We had bombs dropping every five minutes, and I should say there are marks of the raid in nearly every road in SE London, at home they had another on drop at the entrance of the church in Verney Rd, Ilderton Rd every shop has been hit, all Rotherhithe New Road there are hundreds of people killed or injured, when the all clear sounded at five o’clock I had to walk home, and about every hundred yards along the Old Kent Road had been bombed, so you can imagine my feeling as what to expect in Brockley. The first signs came when reaching St Katherine’s [St Catherine’s church Hatcham in Pepys Road SE14] our church got two bombs and is a wreck, Vesta Rd two houses and a number of incendiary bombs, in Drakefell Road, St Asaph Road, Avignon Road etc., one dropped outside the Patton’s but was a dud, what luck!

Well my dear it has given us all a good shaking and are dreading tonight. I can now understand why the government wanted to keep the children away, and am pleased you and Francis have not had to face our terror.”

The map below shows just how close the bombs fell to my relations in Verney Road. The Germans were trying to destroy the network of Canals, Docks, Railway Lines, and Gasworks that clustered in Bermondsey, but to the ffamily it would have felt more personal than that.
bombingcrop

As the water table was so high in the Bermondsey area, there were very few deep shelters around, so the family would have had to have taken cover as best they could in any local shelters, crossed their fingers for luck, and hoped that the bombers didn’t get a direct hit on them.

The picture below of a German bomber over South East London, shows a Bomber’s view of the area, the area on the bomb map above is just little below the tail of the plane in the picture below, where you can see the railway crossing the canal (black vertical line crossing a white horizontal line) the Gasworks can be seen to the south, the complex railway junctions between Bermondsey, and The Bricklayers’ Arms Goods Depot, as well as the long straight line of the Surrey Canal and Surrey Docks separating the Gasworks from the streets to the north of it.  Poplar is the land in the loop of the river to the right.

germanbomber

London, North of The River; Poplar

The people of Poplar had suffered many miseries from the turn of the twentieth century through the Air raids of WW1, Strikes that meant starvation rations and occupation of the docks by the military in the 1920s, a devastating flood that forced people out of their homes, and the unemployment of the depression in the 1930s, but the 1940s and WW2 would prove to be more fearful times. The Docklands were bombed remorselessly by the Germans during 1940 and 1941.

1940docksburning

From 7th September 1940 London was systematically bombed by the German Luftwaffe for 56 out of the next 57 days, with the 15th September marking the height of the daylight raids. Because of the failure to break the will of the people of London whilst receiving heavy casualties amongst German Pilots from British fighter squadrons during this time of the Battle of Britain, the Germans switched to night-time for most of their raids after the summer of 1940. On the night of 29th December 1940 the Luftwaffe dropped 10,000 fire bombs on London at a rate of 300 per minute, or 5 per second. During the Blitz 28,556 Londoners were killed, and 25,578 were wounded. The bombs that killed the children in WW1 at Upper North Street Primary School weighed 110lbs, the Germans were now dropping bombs that weighed up to 5,500lbs on London in an attempt to level whole streets full of women and children.

The bombing never completely went away, and in 1944 a new terror weapon was unleashed, the V1 Rocket carrying over 2,000lbs of explosives, called a Doodle-Bug or Buzz-bomb by Londoners. People would speak of a “throbbing, droning sound” of the V1 engine, before something looking like a small aircraft with a flame coming out of the back of it, would appear in the sky. Londoners soon learned that as long as you could hear the engine there was no danger, but once the engine cut, the Doodle-bug would plummet to the ground and explode, the best thing was to walk away from the direction of flight of the Doodle-bug, and then hit the deck when the engine cut out. The V1 proved to be inaccurate, and many were either shot down, or “toppled” by fighters flying alongside and flipping them over with their wing tips to disable their internal gyroscopic guidance system forcing them to crash into the fields of Kent and Essex (see picture). 1944V1By August 1944 80% of all V1s launched were being downed by British defences before hitting their targets. By December 1944 allied advances had overrun the nearest continental launch sites of the V1s and attacks reduced dramatically.
Undeterred the Germans next attacked with their V2 Rocket between 1944 and 1945, 1944V12sending over a total of 1,358 to fall on London, like the V1 each one of these carried over 2,000lbs of explosives. Many people believed that these were worse than the V1 as they gave no warning being a rocket that flew at supersonic speeds and against which there was no effective defence, and the only effective way of countering them was to bomb their launch sites, and ultimately shut down production by winning the war.

 

Children were evacuated for at least some of the War, but the adults were forced to put up with the terror from the skies,  Londoners stood up to it, and pulled through, despite the horrors they had witnessed.  London’s morale was never broken.

The Moral of the Story

All good stories have a Moral.  Tracing Family Trees and writing up deep and complex Family Stories for our clients, brings out starkly the tenuous luck that has brought all of us into being on this Earth today.  One bomb falling a little to the left or right, one minute delay in getting to a shelter, and a whole Family’s story could have ceased to exist in a blast of high explosives, and many did.  We should each thank our lucky stars for all of us for getting here today.

If you would like your Family Tree researched, and your unique in depth Family Story Published, please contact paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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