Showcase: Hitler’s V2 Rocket Just Missed Us (Part Two)
We’re shaking things up a bit here on Showcase. Dan Cross, our Associate Editor, has carried this torch since Showcase began, bringing our readers dozens of creative stories, poems and articles to enjoy. Now, each month, one of the Write On! team will edit the Showcase pages. All of us at Write On! thank him for his dedication to the page. I’m excited to add to the Showcase portfolio as the first rolling editor, with you for the whole of February. You may remember me as the editor for the Monday Moments page, or perhaps interviewing Mark Haddon in issue 7 of the WriteOn! magazine. When I’m not editing, I make sporadic contributions to the website as a creative writer of articles, short stories and the occasional poem.
Dan will still be involved with Showcase, helping us from the wings and ensuring the Showcase page continues to offer quality features. Symbolic to the story continuing while the page exchanges hands, so to speak, my first Showcase page is part two of Brian Rudge’s story. You can check out part one here.
Did you know that this week is National Storytelling Week? Brian’s story shows how even a memoir can be creative, and how the viewpoint of a child will put a touch of magic into harrowing events. His narration is reminiscent of my favourite childhood stories: Enid Blyton or Goodnight Mr Tom, and he ends with a silver lining, a way to write positively about a childhood in war.
Your point of view makes every piece of writing unique, means your story is important to tell and, in a time when we are being kept apart, sharing stories and creativity is a link to keep us all together.
So, keep creative, keep growing!
Hitler’s V2 Rocket Just Missed Us by Brian Rudge
As I said, I always loved going to Aunt Ida’s. It was a great big detached house that had been built just before the war by Uncle Ted, Ida’s husband. They had two children, a few years older than me, named Iris and Alan, and guess what? The house was called ‘IRAL’, with a lovely varnished board with that name swinging over the front door. Outside, there was a big garden with a lawn, fruit trees and an area for growing flowers. I had never met Uncle Ted, as he was away in the war, fighting for our country, when I was born.
I was so excited when Walter pulled up at the door. My two cousins seemed just as excited about their new ‘lodgers’ as they came running down the path to greet their nan and grandpa, Auntie Doll, Cousin Brian, Patsy the dog and, last but not least, Walter. We soon unloaded the car and my cousins and I were ushered up to bed after a glass of milk, where Alan and me ‘top and tailed’. Aunt Ida made all the adults, including Walter, a cup of tea. Walter then left and Aunt Ida, along with Nan and Grandpa, insisted on the full story of both hospitals.
The next morning, we were all up early. Patsy was interested in the garden, so I, along with Iris and Alan, took her outside for a look around. I had forgotten that Aunt Ida had six chickens, so some of us had fresh eggs for breakfast. I couldn’t get over how big Auntie’s garden was. Mind you, ours wasn’t small; Grandpa was a master tailor and had a workroom upstairs in the house and an enormous workshop with a big cutting table, plus five industrial sewing machines, in the garden. Apparently, before the war, there had been five seamstresses working in there every day, with the help of my uncle Cecil, who was also a tailor. However, the war had put a stop to that, as Cecil was now involved in the war effort in Egypt.
After a couple of days at Rainham, Grandpa phoned the house in Barking. Walter answered, saying everything was going well and the Council had sent a man to help; they would be finished that afternoon. Grandpa said, “Excellent, can you pick us all up about six o’clock?” Walter agreed and duly did so, waiting patiently while we all said our thank-yous and goodbyes. In the excitement, we nearly forgot Patsy. We were just getting in the car, when Grandpa heard her barking. She’d somehow got locked out in the back garden; her tail was wagging like mad when Alan carried her out.
Grandpa was very pleased with the work Walter and the boys had done. Walter had found some white paint and had painted all the wainscoting, especially where any pieces of glass had grazed it. Also, to Nan’s pleasure and amazement, he’d managed to get some blackout curtains. Nan’s had been shredded by flying glass when the rocket struck.
I overheard Walter telling Grandpa an amazing story the next day. When he’d got back from Rainham after dropping us off, he’d felt very tired and lay down in our Morrison shelter, falling into a deep sleep. He thought he heard an explosion during the evening, but assumed he must have been dreaming. And yet, when he met Bill and Steve the next morning, Bill said, “How unbelievable was that?”
“What?” said Walter.
Bill replied, “Another V2 hit Barking last night! I don’t know yet if there were any fatalities.”
Indeed, another V2 had hit Barking at the junction of London Road and North Street, without any serious injuries; not that we heard, anyway.
In announcing the Barking disaster, the Wartime Defence Ministry was careful to downplay its severity, saying only that a rocket had landed on a church in southern England. They did not want to help the Germans refine their aim by letting them know where their rockets were landing. The Barking Advertiser’s graphic account on January 20th 1945, of the St Paul’s bombing raid, read as follows:
Just after the service concluded and the congregation was leaving, a bomb fell on a church which was almost completely demolished and the wooden church hall beside it. Nothing remained except rubble. The priest in charge had just recited the vestry prayer in the choir vestry and was re-entering the nave when the roof and walls collapsed with a crash. Choirboys were divesting themselves of their cassocks and surplices and some of them were injured. They were immediately rushed to hospital for treatment. The priest in charge who had conducted the service and preached the sermon had a remarkable escape, for although heavy pieces of masonry were falling all around him, he was able to get out without a scratch. Rescue work started quickly and altogether six bodies were retrieved. Two more died after admission to hospital. Workers succeeded in saving the almost undamaged altar, furniture and drapery, despite the altar having been buried in debris. The name of the priest in charge has been withheld in order to avoid giving the Germans any clue as to the church involved.
After VE Day, the Bishop of Chelmsford named him as Reverend Porter.
Grandpa’s house gradually returned to normal. Sometimes, to get us out of the house, Walter took Mum and me to Aunt Ida’s, which I loved (not least because I could ride on my ‘giddy-up horsey’ seat). And on one occasion, Mum had to go back to Moorfields to have her eye checked, which was, thankfully, healing well, although I wasn’t allowed to go as I had a bad cold. Her eye lost only about five per cent of its vision and, until the day she died (many decades later), if you looked at her eye close up, you would notice a very tiny scratch by her iris.
In February, we got a letter from Dad. At that time, he was in charge of a vehicle repair unit in Breda, Holland. The letter included a little home-made birthday card for me, which was brilliant. Nonetheless, I was a little confused, as the V2 had come from Holland. I didn’t learn until I was older that the northern part of Holland was still in German hands at the time. Still, despite being so close to the enemy, my dad was stationed with a very nice Dutch family. The head of the household was Jack van den Ring, who, over the following months, sent Mum and me several nice letters and presents, including a solid silver egg cup for me with my name cut into it and a beautiful emerald necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring for Mum. The family even sent a gold tie-pin, shaped like a cockerel with ruby and diamond chippings, for my dad. I kept those brilliant letters, with the funny cartoon figures on them, along with Mum’s jewellery, all my life. Unfortunately, with the passing of many years, the other items would become lost, though I would be fortunate enough to inherit a photo of Dad changing an engine in a military staff car in Jack’s very large workshop.
The war, thankfully, was at last drawing to a close and, immediately after VE Day, all the local councils in Great Britain festooned every lamp post and telegraph pole with bunting. The day after our council workers finished putting up the decorations in our area, I had an idea. At the bottom of Grandpa’s garden was a gate. I made my way down to it while all the adults were busy, found a way to open it and crept along the alley leading to the street. I found a lamppost beside a telegraph pole and, as quickly as I could, stripped the bunting from each. Then, I started wrapping it around my arms, torso, legs and, finally, my head, leaving just enough of a space to see. I walked about fifty yards to a bus stop and waited for the number 87, which went from Barking to Rainham.
Yes, you’ve got it! I was going to Aunt Ida’s.
I had travelled on the bus with Mum a couple of times to visit Aunt Ida whenever Walter was too busy to drive us, so I felt confident. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long and a bus came along quite quickly. But I was only five and a half at the time, so knew travelling alone would arouse suspicion. Although I was young, I was fairly ‘with it’ and knew to stick close to the lady in front in the queue, who had a little girl with her, so I wouldn’t be asked for money. It worked, although the driver laughed at me, covered in decorations as I was, and after boarding, I sat as near as I could to the lady, who, luckily, alighted at the same stop as me.
After jumping off the bus, I couldn’t remember the way to Aunt Ida’s at first, but it soon came back to me and, a few minutes later I was at her front door, looking up at the sign which read ‘IRAL’. I couldn’t reach the knocker, so I kicked the door as hard as I could. Aunt Ida opened it and said, “Hello, Brian, you’re dressed up! Where’s your mum? In the car while Walter parks it?”
“No, I came by bus,” I replied.
She still didn’t believe me and looked up the road, thinking perhaps she would spy Walter driving the Armstrong. Eventually, it dawned on her that I was telling the truth.
“Oh, my God, she’s probably got the police out looking for you! I must go to Mrs Ives to use her phone.” Aunt Ida, like lots of people in those days, didn’t have a phone, so she had to use one owned by one of her neighbours.
Mum answered the phone, her voice shaking and breaking. Ida said, “Hello, Doris, this is Ida. I’ve got Brian here. The naughty little boy!” Mum asked her to put me on the phone.
“What on earth are you doing? I’ve got half the Barking police out looking for you!”
Realising the enormity and stupidity of what I’d done, I stuttered. Through tears, I said, “Sorry, Mum, I promise I won’t do it again.”
Aunt Ida took the phone from me and Mum told her she was coming straight down to get me. Aunt Ida thanked Mrs Ives, who looked at me, winked and said, “Well, young man, you look brilliant and have made my day.”
Aunt Ida took me back into her house and gave me a glass of her homemade lemonade.
Not long afterwards, Mum came storming through the door. “Right, you naughty boy, get in the car now, and don’t expect to sit on your ‘giddy-up horsey’ seat for months!”
P.S. There can never be a silver lining to the rocket hitting the church, but the closest thing to it might be that the bombsite was not built on until 1951. This provided me and my mates (one of whom would grow up to become a footballer, Bobby Moore) with a brilliant, flint-strewn playground for several years.
(C) Brian Rudge, 2021
If you’re looking for more to read in the meantime, we’ve just published issue 7 of Write On! magazine. Read it online here.
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! ‘Showcase’, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue (7) of Write On!