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The Bombing Of Cranford Park School - 1940
Cranford Park School
What really happened that Night
Jill was in the boiler room when it took a direct hit from a bomb. She was there with her parents, sister and some local people. Jill's father, the caretaker of the school thought it would be a safe refuge. The School took a direct hit, their home, the school house was not hit and suffered no damage. These are her memories of that night...
Jill's Memory - to Mabel and Bill
This is the true story about that fateful night when Cranford Park School took a direct hit on the boiler room.
Jill was excited, it was going to be and adventure tonight, no bed for her she was going to sleep in her school. Well not exactly in the school but in the boiler room. Jill was eight years old and lived in the school house attached to the school at which she was a pupil.
She loved her new home, her dad, Bill had been lucky enough to get the caretakers job two years ago. The school was newly built and work was scarce. He has done numerous odd jobs since leaving the army. He had done his bit in World War 1 and has even been discharged a decorated man. He was a quiet man and had been glad to return home to his small family, two children, Sid and Phyllis. His wife Mabel had been the love of his life and the moment he had seen her at the local dance he knew she was the one for him. Mabel was kind, and great company. If a party needed to get going you could always count on Mabel. He was surprised she had agreed to marry him because he was her complete opposite. Bill did not like social events that much preferring to potter in his garden, read his newspapers whilst he had a quiet smoke in his shed. With his new job came the school house. It was roomy, modern and perfect for his family.
Jill had come along late in Mabel and Bill’s life. Mabel was shocked and could not believe she was pregnant again. She was 39 years old and her beloved Sid and Phyliss where nearly grown up. Sid was 15 by the time Jill came along, but she fitted in and made their family complete. Jill was a ‘Daddy’s girl’ and as she had grown up she followed him everywhere. If you wanted to find Bill just look for Jill she would be tagging along behind him.
Jill especially loved helping her dad with his caretaking duties and when school finished she and dad would go inside the vast echoing building void of children. Mabel had taken on the cleaning duties, but Jill preferred to be with her Dad. She never really did anything but loved to tinkle on the piano in the school hall. It had been a bit of a joke between Jill and her Dad as he would sing whilst she bashed the keys, it was always ‘Daisy Daisy give me your answer do’.
All in all Jill’s life was quite idyllic, she had a big brother and sister, a whole school to play in and an adoring mum and dad.
Jill knew that things where serious and that a war was going on as she had heard her mum crying and saying that ‘all those young men that are going to die, oh my poor Sid he will have to go’. Sid had joined the Navy. Nothing had changed when the news came on the radio for ages and it really didn’t register with Jill that a full scale world war was going on.
That had all changed over the last few nights. The bombs had been dropping everywhere. Jill lived near a big industrial area and factories where a target after all the helicopter and munitions factories where all nearby.
Bill had decided that staying in the house would be too dangerous and he decided that sleeping in the boiler room underneath the main school would be the safest place for his family to stay for the next few nights. Mabel had managed to muster up some old camp beds and blankets so as they would not have to sleep on the concrete floor. Bill, being a kind hearted soul had mentioned to some local neighbours that they were welcome to come to the safe haven with their families but would have to supply their own bedding.
The night had arrived and Jill could not contain herself. She picked a few of her special toys; put them in a small carry case, with her pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers. It was not cold in the boiler room as her dad had kept the boiler on low just to keep the chill of the school. It was a coal fed contraption that she remembered her dad having to clear of clinker and ashes.
‘Please mum can we go now?’ Mabel raised her eyes to the sky, ‘For goodness sake Jill not yet it’s still light’. Jill could not wait, this was such an adventure. The family down the road where coming and they had two children so they could play, the grownups could chat and maybe mum might have some treats to eat. The door bell rang and Phyllis, her sister and Helen, her big brothers girlfriend came into the small hallway. ‘Helen you might as well stay, it will be safer for you and Phyllis we are sleeping in the boiler room tonight, to many bombs coming down’. Phyllis started to sulk, she hated making do and really wanted to curl up in her cosy bed. The thought of a night on a put up bed did not thrill her. Jill felt slightly deflated, she wanted her sister to be as excited as she was. Helen and Phyllis disappeared into her bedroom. ‘I better go and get my bedclothes, come on Helen I’ll get you something to sleep in’.
Would this adventure ever get started? The night would not come, now her sister was dragging her feet. Dad was getting his keys ready, her mum had picked up the bedding. The time had come. Bill ushered his family out of the house and along the small garden path. He looked around his perfect little patch of a garden, neat, in order and in his eyes beautiful. The little troupe followed behind, Jill with her little case full of treasures, Phyllis and Helen with a big bundle of clothes, blankets and makeup, and her poor old mum, Mabel overloaded with everything they would need to see the night through. Bill picked up the three fold down beds and struggled to the main entrance to the school. It wasn’t really dark but Mabel had decided that they better get themselves sorted out sooner rather than later. At the main doors was the family from down the road, and they all met up chatted and giggled and made their way to the school boiler house.
Bill opened the huge cast iron doors with his jangling keys and pushed it with is shoulder to get it open wide enough for everyone to get through. It was lovely and warm and smelt of burning coal, disinfectant and dust. It was a big area so plenty of room for everyone. Mabel set about making up the beds whilst everyone else chatted amongst themselves. Jill took her little case opened it up and carefully folder her pyjamas and dressing gown and placed them under her pillow. She put her little checked slippers under her bed, just like she did in her bedroom. Her knitted teddy bear was placed neatly on her pillow. The story books and comics were put on the floor in a neat pile. There it was lovely. Jill could not wait to get into her bed and secretly read, after all her mum and dad would be too busy being in charge to keep an eye on her.
Jill was right, Bill directed the visiting family to a corner of the boiler room. He thought it would be better for them to have a bit of privacy so ushered them towards a corner behind the unlit boilers. Bill and Mabel where going to sleep near to the cast iron door just in case, and so they could keep an eye on what was going on with the kids. It was at the top of a concrete stair case with a large landing. Jill was please because now she was sure they would not see her secretly reading. She did not take into consideration that the lights would be put out....
Jill jumped into her bed and looked across at her sister and Helen chatting and giggling. She looked up to her parents, they where deep in conversation and her mum was giggling as something her dad had said. Dad was holding mums hand. The glow from the coal alight in the boiler made the room an orange colour. Jill fell asleep almost immediate feeling at peace and so happy to be sleeping in the boiler room.
Jill woke up with a start, what was going on she could not hear, she felt fear run through the blood in her veins. The peaceful boiler room was now awash with boiling water, the cast iron door was lying flat on the landing and a freezing gush of cold air was blasting all over her body. She saw the family trying to move their children out of the boiling water. She felt her bed, but her hands found the cold concrete that she was now lying on. It was so dark, she could not make anything out. In a stupor she came to realise that someone was trying to get her to stand. She felt a strong cold arm link into her and her legs making some attempt to stand her up. Why could she not hear, she could not hear her own voice. She screamed but she could not hear it. The next thing she remembered was seeing Helen walking up the staircase to main part of the school. Where was her sister, where was Phyllis. Jill tried to focus her eyes, ‘Mummy, Daddy where are you?’ She felt herself being half carried and half walking up the staircase behind Helen. ‘There’s my Daddy, there he is’. Jill could see him laying on his front his head resting on his forearm. ‘Let me go, let me go’. Jill wanted to be with her father. Jill then saw a leg coming from under the cast iron door. She recognised the slipper, it was the same checked pattern as her own. Was that her mum, was it ? ‘Jill stepped over her parents, why where they not moving, why was her dad just lying there taking no notice of her....
Phyllis was taken away in an ambulance, Helen went with her. Jill was taken to her dad’s brother’s house. She remembered being placed in an Anderson Shelter in the garden and being freezing cold and covered in a table cloth. The next three weeks for Jill where a blur. Her Uncle didn’t want her, she remembered his wife saying ‘I am not taking on someone else’s child she has to go’. Helen arranged for Jill to stay with her mother until Phyllis came out of hospital. She has suffered a bad cut to her arm and back.
The bus chugged along the main street. Phyllis was carrying a suitcase, Jill was sat next to her. She gained some comfort from just being close to her sister. She was a grown up, 17, and that made all the difference. Phyllis had no idea where she was going or where she was going to stay that night. She was homeless with an eight year old to look after. She was trying really hard not to cry, her welcome at Helen’s mums had run out, there was no other family willing to have them. What was she to do? Her parent’s funeral was been and gone. Sid had been allowed leave from the Navy and had arranged for her parents home to be put into storage until something was sorted out and then he had had to leave. Phyllis had taken Jill to the pictures to keep her warm, she could not even remember the film, she had been in between crying, feeling hopeless and just plain sad. Phyllis and Jill where on the bus with nowhere to go but again in the warm.
The bus lurched to a stop and Phyllis heard heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs. As the passenger came to the top of the staircase she realised it was Mabel’s sister, her aunt. ‘Hello what are you two doing on this bus’? Phyllis started to sob.’You two go anywhere to go’....Phyllis couldn’t speak. ‘that will be a nowhere then, you better come home with me’.
That was where Jill and her sister stayed. Jill went back to Cranford Park for a visit and a collection had been made and she was presented with a new doll. She said she felt like some kind of curiosity.
She had to leave her school and go to a new one near her aunts. Phyllis married but remained at her aunts with her sister. When her husband came out of the army she moved her sister, now 14 to live with her until she married.
Both sisters have remained partially deaf since the blast. Jill married and remained so for 52 years until her husband’s death in 2008. She had two children of her own, a boy and a girl, whose memory of their grandparents she kept alive for them.
Jill says the worst thing for her was that no one told her that Mabel and Bill had been killed and she never went to their funeral. She recalls that she just fell in that they were dead.
Jill now has Alzheimer’s and is cared for full time by her daughter.
I am that daughter and mum told me this story for the last time today because her memory is going. I wanted to record it before the memory is gone forever.
Thanks for reading this.