Sunday, 24 August 2008

SLEEPING IN THE LONDON UNDERGROUND





Sleeping in the London Underground station

Mum and Dad decided that we would all be safer out of the house during the night-time air attacks, so we joined the ever growing band of Londoners who took their ‘beds’ to the local underground railway station.
At the start of the war, the government had refused to allow the London underground to be used an air-raid shelter. They seemed to think that the population of London would all rush underground and stay there for the duration of the war! This, however, did not stop the general public from buying platform tickets and just staying on the platform. It became a case of might being right, and the government relented.
By he end of 1940 some 170,000 Londoners were taking up their positions throughout the underground transport system, in an effort to shelter from the German bombs,
A couple of years later, the Leach family and other residents of 71 Oakfield Road added to the above figures.
Each evening, like a band of wandering gypsies, we would wend our way from the top of Oakfield Road (no cars in those days), to the Manor House tube station. Mummy would be carrying Sandra, who was a tiny baby, at the same time hanging on to Billy’s hand. Usually it would be my job to look after Dougie who was by now about five or six. Anyone who was big and/or strong enough, helped carry the bags containing night-time necessities. It was. Of course, Dad’s job to carry all the bedding needed for the whole family. This was usually rolled up, put into blankets, and tied up in large bundles.
On arrival at Manor House tube station, we would manoeuvre ourselves down the escalators – no mean feat for us lot. Daddy would take us down one or two at a time, leaving each of us at the bottom waiting for the next delivery to arrive.
We were then all shepherded on to the platform.
Each family or single person was allocated a particular place on the platform. Whether this was official policy, or was bought about by the general camaraderie of the times, I don’t know. Some people had bunk beds. These must have been given to the first families that applied for shelter. Anyway. We had our place on the floor of the station platform, and it was in exactly the same spot every night. No body ever put their bed down in another family’s plot.
Two white lines were painted on the floor, one eight feet and the other only four feet from the edge of the platform. Until 7.30 we were only allowed to ‘camp down’ behind the eight-foot line. After 7.30, people were allowed to make their beds up to the second mark, which was only four feet away from the edge. Once the trains stopped running for the day, it was every man for himself and the floor became a sea of bodies.
There were big bodies and small bodies: bodies with pink, shiny, tranquil faces and bodies with smelly feet and snoring faces; babies with bottles; children with teddy bears; people with false teeth and old people with no teeth at all; people who slept in their day time clothes, and those that insisted on wearing their curlers and pyjamas each night.
After greeting and exchanging the latest news with their ‘neighbour’, Mum and Dad would busy themselves making up beds for us all. Then they sat and drank cups of tea and chatted. Occasionally, Dad would go ‘up top’ to see if there was a raid in progress and assess how bad it was. When all the children were tucked up in their beds I was, as the eldest, allowed to stay up and wander around for a bit. This was all very exciting and great fun.
I imagine that Aunty Minnie and her family must have been there with us, because I don’t remember being on my own once the little ones had gone to sleep. My companion (who must have been Sylvia or Rita) and I would stroll through to the platform where trains travelled in the opposite direction. Sometimes there’d be community singing going on. Or a member of the public would be playing an accordion or mouth organ, and we’d hang around, listening. We’d beg Mum to let us go for a ride on the tube train.
‘Promise me you’ll only go one stop and then come straight back’, she would say. We would agree and, feeling so grown-up and brave, wait for the next train to draw in. Then, as the automatic doors opened we would jump aboard and stand there, trying to look like seasoned travellers. After just one stop, we would jump off the train and cross over to the other platform to catch a train back.
There was never any concern about us getting into trouble or danger. Parents never seemed to have that worry in those days, especially during the war. Everybody you met was in the same boat and treated each other as part of a big, friendly family.
The WVS would come down to the platform at some stage during the evening, dispensing cups of tea and biscuits, and if we were really fortunate, doughnuts. I can’t recall if this service was free or not but there was always a long queue. We didn’t mind waiting, as it was a way of passing the time.
Finally, when the last train had travelled through Manor House underground station, the lights would dim, and all would be safely gathered in, and the ‘concerto for snorers’ would start.
To be continued...

12 comments:

weechuff said...

I have nothing but admiration for mum and dad and all the other parents during the war,having to care for their families, and try and keep them safe. They seemed to have such a hard life. We take it for granted, just popping in the car and going anywhere. Fancy mum and dad having to take us all the way to Manor House, with everything else in tow!

granny grimble said...

It was a long, long, walk and don't forget we still could get caught in a raid en route! Yoiu should have seen the size of the bundle of bedding that Dad had to carry!

GoldAnne said...

That was absolutely fascinating
Leeta, you really brought it to life for me,, I was wondering about the tube trains still running!!!! Amazing it was safe, like you say though , being war peeps had the value of life more in mind than ctime!!!,
lol all the snoring ,
thankyou its great!!!
love anne xxx

Croom said...

I do so love Mum and Dad for all they did for us, wish I could tell them how very proud I am of them :O)

I am amazed that people kept your spot and didn’t just grab what was closes, we are a creature’s of habit though aren’t we?. Most have the same chair for your meal, the same armchair to watch the same programmes on TV and sleep on the same side of the bed at the same time each night lol..

Thank goodness for the white lines of safety. Do you remember if anyone was hurt on the lines? I expect a few would be drinking ah? Curlers and pajamas, he he, I bet it was a strange site and gave you children a few giggles behind hands at some of the sites.

I bet the community singing was really atmospheric. If Doug were older he would have loved to play the mouth organ for everyone. ,

Haven’t times changed, you would never let your little ones on a train by themselves now, even for one stop! Would you?.

Can’t wait for the next installment Leeta.

Tinax

granny grimble said...

We always slept in the same place.so you got to know all the people around you. You also worried if they didn't turn up on a particular night! Never heard of anyone getting hurt on the lines. Of course the electricity was turned off when the last train left the station. Yes, we did get attacks of giggles sometimes. Mum and Dad would never have let us go anywhere that wasn't safe, so I guess we were!

Babs (Beetle) said...

Oh another lovely post! It's good that you don't have any awful memories of the war. Our family were more fortunate than some.

LadyBanana said...

I find this absolutely fascinating :)

Found your blog through Beetle's

granny grimble said...

Babs (beetle)

I forever am thankful and grateful that we all escaped more or less unharmed. We lost and Uncle in the war,(Daddie's only brother) but only I knew him. I had a friend who was bombed out, but all the family were unharmed, and of course we lost our home (see earlier blog. In my early years of marriage I had a neighbour who told me she lost all her children, five in all, in a bomb attack. How could anyone live with that?


Ladybanana

Welcome to my blog! It's lovely to meet new friends. I hope you have started at the beginning, as it will make more sense that way.

Jay said...

I came to you via Babs, too! :)

This is fascinating - and familiar to me, too, though I'm younger and have no memories of this. But Mum and Dad lived through it - my older brother was born in 1944 - and I've heard the stories many times from Mum.

Now, I have something to ask you. Mum is 88 years old now, and can't read the computer without getting a migraine, but I think she'd enjoy your stories. Would you mind if I printed the pages out and posted them to her?

granny grimble said...

Jay


Hi! Nice to meet you Jay. Of course I don't mind you printing them off and sending them to your Mum to read. Provided they aren't going to be used for any other reasons. Don't forget to go back to the first episode and I will be posting more or less daily. I do hope she enjoys then and that they bring back a few 'new' mwemories for her. X

Swubird said...

Granny:

I just visited your site for the first time, and I loved your article about the tube train tunnel. I love to read personal stories about the war, and this one was super. What an adventure for a young girl.

Sandie sent me to your site. Her and I often exchange comments, and she thought I might like your stories too.

I write short short stories about my jumbled life. If you have a little time, stop by my site. I'd love to read your comments.

Great post.

Happy trails...

granny grimble said...

Swubird


Thank you for your visit and for reading my blog. I hope you visit again, I have lots more to tell!