World War Two

Ronald Leedham: Sheltering in the Church

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.

Ron describes being led through the woods to shelter.

Transcript

And then we used to watch the bombers going over, the Heinkels and whatnot, you could see them, great blocks of them going over towards London or wherever they were going. We used to see that going on and then they started doing the raids, the proper raids at night.
The Battle of Britain only lasted a few months, then when that stopped, the Blitz started and well that was when the fun and games started and there was one night where..we were all sleeping downstairs again, on mattresses, and I can remember this blinding flash and a terrific bang, awful noise and everything shook and all the staff came belting in again, 'Quick, quick, quick, we’ve got to get out, we’ve got to get out, quick.' God knows why, we were much safer where we were.
And they had us all dressed, all in a great long crocodile and we went out of the playground, below the playground there was a wood which was part of our playground. It was a lovely wood down there and further down from there was the Baptist church near where the caretaker lived, because they were devout Baptists. And we all had to go down in the night, during the air raid, all holding hands, going down through the wood and along the path at the bottom, through the wood, down to the Baptist church and all the time of course, it was bloody mayhem... gorr. For some reason, they thought we’d be safer in a church and the church, there weren’t any pews down but somewhere there were mattresses everywhere and we all had to lie down on mattresses and they gave us hot drinks and half the staff were crying and us kids, I think some of the girls might have been crying but the boys weren’t, we thought it was wonderful.
But fancy to think that we’d be safe, walking through an air raid with shells bursting overhead, with fires, glow over London like no-one’s business, noise everywhere, flashes, just to put us in a church cos they thought we might be safe, bit muddled thinking there you know. You’d have died just as well there. It was a very funny experience, I never found out why they made us walk through that lot, as children of eight, nine, ten. It's very strange, very strange.
And yet a few weeks after then I left there and I went to Sevenoaks cos I was 11 and I heard that the place had been bombed. It had taken a direct hit and a couple of the staff had been killed but don’t know what happened to the kids, I don’t think they were hurt. But the place did eventually get bombed. So I suppose... whether the church got bombed as well, I don’t know.