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Wartime in Tunstall 

by Richard Kite

There was a period at the school when it did not have an air raid shelter and whenever a significant a day time raid took place in 1940 it was not uncommon for children to be told to use the desks as a means of shelter. The possibility of effective protection never occurred at the time but was certainly a timely morale booster. I might add that school lessons proceeded immediately after each raid and the teachers were very strict in those days, the cane being the method for ensuring discipline was maintained. Yet let us not forget, one of the teachers who administered the cane, quite often generously bought ice creams for the pupils using her own finance when we sat on the front lawn on a sunny day, subject to arrival of the ice cream man on his three wheeled bicycle.

At one time, exact year I do not recall, a large bomb landed in an orchard near the school. The direction being that which is the extended line from the entrance lane to the school and about some two to three hundred yards along a cart track, thence in an orchard belonging to the then Lieutenant Colonel Lumley Webb adjacent to the cart track, near to some large fir trees which existed. The bomb disposal soldiers arrived and dug down to the bomb (which was quite large) and at some depth it could be seen from the surface with the front sticking out of the side of the square hole made. Taking some time to excavate and having completed on a particular day time, the soldiers departed until the next day, whereupon, all the boys from the school went to look down the hole. Thus, having been satisfied it was of little interest and nothing was taking place, all departed for home, thus, its removal was not recorded. To my knowledge, at no time was the school closed for bomb disposal recovery but there again my memory may be lapsing at this time.

All quiet events do occur but one sad occasion was in Hearts Delight Road when a bomb, advised to be about five hundred pounds, landed at the front door of a bungalow and the owner, a Mr. Thomas, went to the front door and died from the explosion. His wife who was still in the kitchen at the back, together with their dog, escaped injury. However, the front of the bungalow was rebuilt as the rear remained undamaged.

A final piece of sadness was when two Spitfires carrying out practice interceptions suddenly stopped activity when one suddenly spiralled to the ground just south of the Hearts Delight Road adjacent to a Royal Observers post and very close to the very large white house at the top of the small hill from Wrens Road. I witnessed this from the farm known then as Grove End Farm on the road towards Bredgar. At the time our supposition was the pilot had had a blackout but as someone who has flown a small aircraft as a private pilot, it is my belief he was unable to correct the aircraft once it entered a spiral dive as the aircraft was not at a sufficient height to enable recovery.

At a later stage, the school did have an air raid shelter built and when “doodlebugs” came on the scene and because the siren sounding was unreliable, a pupil was selected from the senior class to sit outside the front door with a whistle and to blow it if a “Doodlebug” was heard. On the sounding of the whistle all children made haste at high speed to the air raid shelter in the main playground. Needless to say, there were false alarms and a lorry coming up the road was a favourite excuse and would not result in a verbal warning of wasting time.

I remember a “Doodlebug” crashing at Policeman’s Corner, which was quite close to the houses in that location. In the subsequent explosion the house roof were significantly damaged as were the Sitting/Living/Front Rooms of the houses but fortunately, no one within the houses were injured by the ensuing blast. However, it is reputed a certain Mr. Ouse of 3,Gorden Villas, Bredgar who was sitting on a fence stile near to the corner road and houses was blown into the thorn May Tree a couple of feet or so from the stile and suffered scratches and shock. The latter was all the more traumatic as he was somewhat deaf and did not hear the coming of the“Doodlebug” and had to be helped with escaping his predicament. It was understood that Mr. Ouse suffered hearing problems from exposure to Great War gunfire. Naturally, I cannot substantiate any of the information in regard to Mr. Ouse but if someone has other information I would welcome any correction made.

Most people have never seen a flying fortress bomber flying on one engine but when it is flying with this problem it is quite low, as seen at the junction where Hearts Delight Road joins the road to Bredgar near to the Oast House on the corner near to the school. This aeroplane turned and eventually crash landed on a field from which grain had been cut, on a line south of Borden Church and south of the road extending to Oad Street. It was the understanding that all crew except for one survived the crash landing which was without wheels and text book in such terms. Not forgetting Perspex from the shattered lower turret made very good rings for the fingers, as collected some distance from where the aircraft eventually came to rest.

The Tunstall school also did its little bit for the war effort in the production of vegetables in two gardens. One garden was opposite the smaller children’s classroom to the back of the school behind the then outside toilets and produced a variety of crops such as potatoes, cabbages and peas, together with runner beans. plus, a few I cannot remember.There was another garden much more extensive and on the opposite side of the road from the school, this now occupied by houses which did not exist there in wartime. Here a greater variety of vegetables and soft fruits were planted and nurtured as a nature study program by to-days standards. Notable was celery which was fed with liquid made from sheep droppings in a bag within a bucket of water, for which the celery and was determined by us all to be the best on the planet.

With all the activity of school, Tunstall School was very special and we must mention the honours gained by it pupils educated there, some moving on to universities and senior industrial careers. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that memories can play tricks and as we get older, imagination influences our recollections.

I do hope my comments will be of some interest.

Richard Kite

Memories of Richard Kite | childhood | Tunstall
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