World War Two

Ronald Leedham: Explosives

Ronald Leedham was born in 1929 in India. His family moved back to England in 1931after Ronald contracted Polio. Ronald spent some years in Hospital as a young child after contracting Diptheria. When he was six he returned home to Catford for a short while to live with his father, eventually ending up living in ‘homes for crippled children’ run by the Shaftesbury Society, until he was sixteen.

Here Ron describes discovering unexploded bombs.

Transcript

There was one time when one of the gliders was coming along and he was a bit high actually and we all saw it because you saw the shell burst first of all. The sky was black with shell bursts and this bomb was, he was almost on the point of stalling. He wasn’t quite flying, he’d have come down any minute and he was wobbling around in the sky as he came.
And we were all in the playground, standing out there watching him do this right above us and he tipped over our way, we thought 'Oh god,' we were going to run for it, not that we could have got very far. And then a shell burst underneath the wing that was tipping our way and it tipped it the other way and it fell down. It fell about half a mile away with a terrific crash, you know the sort of thing. But what turned them off, what turned The Society off completely and they made us evacuate, was one night, no early morning, we were still in bed and the only aircraft that we had that was fast enough to catch these things, cos they used to fly at 400 mile an hour, well our fastest fighters would only go 365 but we developed an aircraft called a Tempest, just about at this time and they could do 400 mile an hour and they were something like a Typhoon.
But anyway we knew about these Tempests and we knew everything about the aircraft that were flying around. We could tell by sound, what aircraft it was and we were in bed on this particular morning and we heard a buzz bomb coming, flying low and we could hear there was an aircraft behind it which we knew was a Tempest and when he got within range, he opened up with all four cannon. Unfortunately he missed the bomb and he hit the school and we could hear these blooming cannon shells flying through the loft space above the dormitory and exploding into the loft space and tiles going everywhere, you know. God almighty, it only lasted a few seconds, the roar of both aircraft with the cannon shells being fired and then exploding. It was quite noisy and, we were all in bed, 'What the bloody hell? 'But the bomb got away, he must have exploded further on because the aircraft had to pull up, he couldn’t go any further than the house because the barrage balloons were there, you see. So he had to let the bomb go but the bomb obviously went straight through.
Unbelievable, they were awful. Very exciting, we enjoyed it actually, it was good fun. But anyway, the next day one of the boys saw these big score marks in the drive and he followed one of them up just to see what it was and it went into the rockery. So he dug into the rockery and in the rockery he found a cannon shell. Laughs And so we followed all these tracks up and we found all these unexploded cannon shells buried in the ground. It was wonderful, and we found that… with a couple of pairs of pliers, you could unscrew the back of the shell. Which we did, we unscrewed the back of the shell and in the back of the shell there was a lot of white powder and we got a piece of wood, Laughs scraped the powder out on to a piece of newspaper and of course we were all stamp collectors and so we all had magnifying glasses and we used to use the magnifying glass with the sun, shine it on the paper, set the paper alight and this explosive would go off. It’d go whoosh. Laughs It didn’t go bang cos it wasn’t enclosed, it just took fire. And do you know, the staff caught us doing it. Do you know what they said? Don’t do that.
But anyway, because of that, we got evacuated and they took us up to between Redditch and Birmingham, until the buzz bombs stopped and that was just before Christmas. I remember we had Christmas there and then they took us back but we still had the V2s, though we didn’t have any V2s drop round us. But, we heard the explosions and then because they went faster than the speed of sound, you had the double bang. You had a bang-bang, so you knew it was a V2 and the sonic boom.
Yeah it was quite an interesting period. It was, it dominated everything in school life.