31 March 2011

Letter from a reader in 2011

Hello Tony,
I've been reading your most interesting Uncle Fred's Diary, and may have a few answers to some of your queries. I lived in Lower Downs Road, SW 20, during the war, at the end nearest Chestnut Road. I was aged 12 at the start of the war.

Best Wishes,
Fred Brewer

16th Feb 1941
Seniors was a meat and fish paste manufacturer, and also produced tinned items, such as meat puddings etc.  During the war, and for a time afterwards, a popular brand of cigarette, called Senior Service, was available, but not connected to the above Seniors.

9th Nov 1940
I remember the low flying bomber incident very well. I saw it from a different perspective. I was delivering newspapers in Toynbee Road,  which ran parallel to the main railway line. The Dornier bomber (Do 17),  known as the flying pencil, flew along the railway line, towards Wimbledon. As Fred said, very low. Even so, at this low height the anti-aircraft guns opened up and shells were bursting around the aircraft. The plane turned to the left, in a semicircle, and flew back towards Raynes Park, gained some height, and I  saw the two bombs released, as mentioned by Fred.  I cycled to the area and saw a church, a couple of hundred yards from the station, on fire. There was no apparent structural damage. An American soldier, who was  passing by, started running in and out of the church, rescuing various artefacts, and placing them on the grass in front of the building.

5th Nov 1940
The road is Worple Road; the entry may be a spelling mistake.

28th Oct 1940
There was no road called Arterial Road - as you suggest, it was a general term for the main road at the bottom of Chestnut Road, which was called Bushey Road, but was more often than not referred to as the by-pass (A298 now). It was the Kingston-by-pass, a dual carriage way, not long built. After the war, a new road was made, now Beverley Road (A3) and that is now the official Kingston-by-pass.

24th Oct 1940
The aircraft Fred refers to was a Ju 88 dive bomber, which made a shrieking sound when in a dive.

20th Oct 1940
The firm was called Venners and they specialised in time switches. After the war, they made the clocks for parking meters.

11th Oct 1940
This is St. Heliers Avenue.

17th Sept 1940
Fruins, I remember it, but can't place it.

16th Sept 1940
Yes, it's Oxford Avenue, but there were no shops, purely residential.

8th  July 1940
Pentode, a valve used in amplifier circuits. Now made in the form of a transistor.

19th May 1940 - see 28th Oct 1940

17th May 1940
Yes, it is Bellbine, so called because of the bell-shaped flowers.

2nd May 1940
The many sets of lines, included the main line to Portsmouth, Epson and onwards, with branches off to Chessington and other places. The iron buildings that Fred refers to were on the far side of the main lines, and were connected with an extensive shunting area, where coal trucks etc. were sorted into long trains of fifty and more, for onward destinations.  A few hundred yards further on, there was another substantial structure, where the lines to Clapham Junction and Waterloo passed under the main road, to enter Wimbledon Station.

Scourine was a white abrasive powder, used for cleaning ovens and sinks.  Another version was called Vim.
Blue, was Rickets Blue. This was contained in a small blue and white stripped bag. made of cotton, and tied at the top; the size was about 1in diameter and 1¼ inch high. My mother used to have a 'tin' bath (galvanised iron) filled with water. One Rickets  Blue was added, then the  bed sheets, after being washed, were placed in the blue-coloured water for several hours. It was supposedly to give the sheets a heightened whiteness.    Apart from Gin being praised for its benefits, another advertisement that appeared in other publications was for Whiskey. It was advising drivers that a good swig, before going on a journey, would aid concentration, and it also advised one to take a back-up supply in a whiskey flask.

Christmas day
The best room, sometimes called the front room, was used over the Christmas period. Otherwise, this room was reserved for special occasions.The Post Office was open on Christmas morning, for the only delivery of the day -  usually, there would be seven deliveries, or more, in a single day (in the absence of any other form of communication). The BBC radio would have a special programme on Christmas morning, to follow a selected postman on his rounds, and to get the reactions of the recipients as they received their
Christmas mail. These annual broadcasts were very popular with the listeners.

Smaldons and other shops
Fred mentions Smaldons a number of times. This was a moderately-sized hardware shop in the Kingston Road, number 520, I think, and sold practically everything that would be required for jobs in the home, plus
sundries such as mousetraps and paraffin. Kingston Road was the road at which Chestnut, and the other eleven roads turned off from. The other end of the twelve roads was "The Arterial" or Bushey Road (Kingston-by-pass at  that time).

Trenches on Wimbledon Common
These were to prevent German gliders from landing, in the event of an invasion, which at the time was
considered a serious possibility.

Gunfire & The Playing Fields...
The Playing Fields were part of Canon Hill Common, where the AA guns were situated. It was about ¼ mile from Fred's house, at the side of Bushey Road. When they let fly, the sound was the loudest of any sound I've ever heard in my life. Fred often mentions the lack of gunfire, when German aircraft were in the area. I can clearly recall seeing a squadron of Heinkel bombers, with fighter escort, passing overhead, in broad daylight, on a sunny, cloudless day, completely unmolested. No British aircraft about and absolutely no gunfire.

Fred often talks of Whitbourn's. This was a cycle retail shop, plus repairs and cycle accessories. I bought my one and only cycle from Mr Whitbourn. It was a Hercules, no gears, and I had to pay 1s - 6p per week. That was 1939-40 time. The shop was situated on the corner of Kingston Road, and one of the last three roads of "The Twelve", I can't remember which one, but I'm inclined to think it was the last one. (Nearest to Raynes Park Station)

Batteries, etc.
The accumulators were a glass jar, roughly 4 inches square and 8 inches tall, containing lead plates and filled with sulphuric acid. Negative and positive terminals were on top, voltage 2v. These rechargeable batteries supplied the heating filament in the valve. A high-tension battery: 120v supplied the direct current to the  rest of the radio circuit. A tapping from the battery could have been used to supply the filament, but the power drain would have been too much. The HT battery was around the size of two house bricks, give or take an inch or two, to suit the individual set. The accumulator was also heavy, so overall, these sets were quite weighty objects.  The houses did, incidentally have mains power, but the radios of the time were designed to run on direct current, as opposed to the alternating current of the mains. The technology was not so far advanced then, but nowadays we use mains power for nearly everything, and rectifiers can convert AC to DC, but now, transistors do the same job.

Paths, pubs, shops and cycling
The line path gets much mention. The small line path ran from Raynes Park along the side of the railway, and terminated at the railway bridge, on the north side of Lower Downs Road. To continue on to Wimbledon, one would cross Lower Downs to the far side, still north of the bridge, and rejoin the big line path. I would think it would be about a mile to Wimbledon, where the path came out on the opposite side to the station, near a pub called The Prince of Wales. Fred would have to go a few hundred yards into Hartfield Road to pick up his elastic from Wells West, which supplied mainly sports and games goods. There also a fish shop nearby (opposite), where he probably bought his sprats. It was quite a hike to do on a regular basis. Cycling was prohibited on the line path, though some did cycle along it. Several roads turning off from Worple Road terminated at the line path. The Downs, and other roads on the far side of Worple Road led up to The Ridgeway.  Roads turning off the Ridgeway ended at Wimbledon Common. The Common is approached on all sides by steep hills, so whichever road Fred choose, on his many visits, would mean quite a steep assent. A hundred yards, or so, up any of these roads would mean that cyclists would have to dismount. The remainder would be a hard slog. I wonder if Fred ever mentioned Merediths or Houghtons. These were two adjoining shops, at the junction of Kingston Road and Lower Downs Road, and would have been nearer to Fred's house than most of the others.


  1. Just had a quick read through after breakfast (brunch, actually), and have two comments and a question.
    Rickits Blue should be Reckitts Blue (, and the Ju88 was the Ju85 Stuka, a dive bomber.
    Does anyone have any information about the bombing of Nelson Hospital? I was a patient there during the war (I am now 75) and we were hit during a raid. Any info gratefully received.

    1. Ju 88's were also fitted with dive brakes on the wings for use as dive bombers. The 88 a1 that landed on my fathers house in Richmond Ave had these fitted.

  2. Reckitt's ... you are certainly right, Alan. Now I'll try and see where it was mentioned... - Tony

  3. Hi again - OK, found it - in the long and helpful letter. (I've been in touch with the writer since and we sorted out where a bicylcle shop was... and still is!) Nextr to look at, Nelson Hospital, which is certainly in my childhood/relations memory.

  4. Anyone know what date the doodlebug fell near Champions Timber Yard? It missed the yard and fell at the bottom of Belmont Avenue, where my brother and I inspected it the following morning. Anyone have a newspaper clipping of the event? (We lived at No. 75 Belmont and lost all our windows, together with the front door finishing up halfway down the hall. Good thing we were all in the Morrison shelter at the time! Scary stuff!

  5. Fred Brewer provided this answer re Nelson Hospital: The Nelson Hospital was hit by incendiary bombs during the Blitz of 1940. The German raid was quite a large scale one, and seemed to be mainly using incendiary bombs. The raid took place around midnight, and the whole area was lit up by flares, suspended on parachutes. At about 1.00am. I decided to take a look round, and walked in the direction of the fires. Our house had an incendiary bomb in the rear garden, which my father extinguished. (I still have the tail fin). On arriving at the Nelson Hospital, I found the roof on fire from end to end, and nurses and other staff were evacuating patients. The fire services were concentrating their resources on the hospital fire, and left the surrounding properties that were on fire to the efforts of the occupiers. Most of the side roads,opposite the hospital, were on fire, and people were doing their best to extinguish the flames with stirrup pumps. These were small portable pumps, with a leg of the pump placed in a bucket of water, and a handle at the top was used to send a spray onto the fire. They were not of much use for general fires, and were more suitable for putting out a single bomb in the open. All householders were supplied with one pump. The hospital survived and is still, as far as I know, in use today. Many of the houses in the opposite side roads were badly damaged. One, at the beginning of one of these roads, and nearest to the hospital, was destroyed when a bomber was brought down and landed on the house, and damaged several more. Parts of the aircraft were scattered over the road, and I still have one of the pieces. (Such was the habit of youths of the day, who used also to collect shrapnel from the anti aircraft shells, pieces of flying bombs, spent machine gun bullets and other artifacts of the aerial war, which was to be found in great abundance). The worst affected roads near the hospital were between Merton Hall Road and Chatsworth Avenue.

  6. Tony,
    Was the Nelson hospital not hit in the raid of 10th May 1941, rather than 1940 ? My grandmother who will be 100 next year gave birth to my Mum there on 9th May and recalls the hospital being bombed, patients being evacuated and the air being full of burning paper from the paper mill !

  7. And the following BBC People's War site has an account of raid on the hospital on it appears 18th Feb 1944 -

    1. And my late mother recorded it briefly in her diary that my wife is transcribing.

  8. I can remember Merediths on the corner of Lower Downs Road and Kingston Road. I was a schoolboy at Wimbledon College in lates 1980s and often stopped off there to get sweets. Think itmust have closed in the 1990s. It is now a double glazing showroom/offices

  9. The bomber that the writer remembers is actually a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which had sirens attached to the undercarriage. This creates a screaming effect when the dive bomber reached the sufficient speed, as in a dive.

  10. Hello - I live in Chestnut Road now - quite close to number 66! This blog is fascinating as it gives such a great insight into life in the war - and how life just went on... my daughter is at the school that is mentioned in the blog as having a bomb dropped in the grounds. Tony, did you live down Chestnut Road as, coincidentally, I believe you were my lecturer in Plymouth many years ago...

  11. Hi Chestnut Rd Resident - please do get in touch. Plymouth not a good experience - but good to share! Mail tony which is at

  12. I live in Sydney road and its fascinating to read

    There is a hardware shop in kingston road, probably not the same one:,-0.2242841,3a,75y,156.07h,79.61t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1srzYSORAP2O9r2F1Fl7_0nw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

    The cycle shop is still there:,-0.2291624,3a,23.8y,194.63h,88.13t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1ssi8OSGNwoIjOyArKqbNJLQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656