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Whitstable at War - World War II

... Playgrounds & Hobbies

     

As a war involving the civilian population, the conflict had a major impact on the lives and upbringing of children. Denied access to some normal playgrounds and pastimes for such a long period, they adapted and found a new form of normality in an abnormal world. These new  playgrounds and new opportunities often centred around the impacts and remnants of war.  

  

Playgrounds and Hobbies...

  

With some normal play areas off limits, youngsters made use of war damage....

   

Now, what's all this then about London's Fields........Dad didn't go into much detail, except to say there was a bomb crater there during the war and he and best friend Benny Gaskin would go there to swim and play in the crater. 

He went there once and lost a brand new shoe in the mud.........that meant a walk home with one bare foot... Far worse than that would have been the thought of his fathers reaction to the news of the loss!!! Needless to say he still remembers that day VERY vividly. 

Mark Foreman
Brooks
Alberta
Canada

    

Collections...

   

In normal circumstances, children collect stamps. In wartime, more exciting collections were possible....

  

I was born in 1936 so, towards the latter end of WW2, collecting war souvenirs was a great hobby. My collection included....
  •  a belt buckle retrieved from a JU 88 crash site at the end of Bogshole
     
  •  a piece of AA shrapnel that fell on our house and whose whistle made a family dive for the Anderson Shelter (the indoor metal type) 
     
  • bits of 2 doodlebugs from Bells Greenhouses and the garden of a cottage in Denstroude
     
  • small pieces of the V2 that landed in Jack London's field 
     
  • an engine part from a Spitfire that crashed at the top of Rayham Road in the little copse. 

   

Bill Dancer 
Victoria
British Columbia
Canada

  

In our chapter on Adult Life, Brian Smith explains that circumstances involved his family travel and periods away from Whitstable. Some of those trips were to areas of more intense enemy activity including London. Again, children adapted and exploited the opportunities...

   

The Holbeach Road School (Catford) was my ‘second’ school - sometimes for about 3 months. But each return home to Whitstable meant several treacle tins of shrapnel plus other relics for trading at Oxford St. school. Perhaps I traded with Bill Dancer! Most times I traded for ‘fag cards’ or marbles but one trade was a propelling pencil (less cap). Another was a French fountain pen with glass ‘nib’.  

My proudest trophy from London was the top 15" of an aircraft instrument panel. No instruments or identification but, of course, it was from a Messerschmitt fighter!  I think that netted me the pen. 

When the ‘All Clear’ siren sounded after an air raid, there was usually a banging of doors as we kids rushed out to be the first at the best ‘trophies’. Fins from bombs were most sought after but I was just beaten to the best which adults said was a fin from a V2 which had hit a nearby street.

One daytime raid sent we school kids down into the school basement shelters which were lined with wooden slatted bunks. We got to use the bunks as we were shut in overnight. The school was hit and surrounded by countless phosphorous incendiary bombs. A bomber could carry 100s of these small bombs about the size of a pint milk bottle. Breaking on impact the phosphorous ignited when exposed to air thus setting fire to whatever was around it.  

When we were released around 10am, there were still small pockets of the playground surface (tarmac) smouldering. An exciting adventure for a young Native.

My worst trophy from London was in fact my only ‘war wound’. It was only a small flesh wound. The biggest wound was to my pride.  Sitting on a playground bench next to my ‘girlfriend’ I naturally put my arm around her waist. She dug a fingernail into the top knuckle of my left index finger which still bears the crescent shaped scar. That was one trophy I didn’t show off at Oxford Street!

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing
Victoria
Australia

  

The Dangers of Play

 

Of course, there were dangers for over-exuberant youngsters. In our "Downed Aircraft" chapter, Vanessa Trampleasure outlines the rush of boys to the Dornier that crashed on the mudflats of West Beach. However, as John Harman explained in the "Preparing for War" pages, such an escapade would have involved tangling with anti-invasion defences.... including barbed wire, concrete protection and mines.

Similarly, Bill Dancer describes a near accident while children investigated the outcome of a V1 strike at Denstroude Cottage...

   

I was standing by a window when a policeman or warden opened it and a sheet slid down coming to a halt some small fraction of an inch from my chest. This was the closest I came to being a war casualty and, as a result, we were ordered off the site with no souvenirs.  

Bill Dancer 
Victoria
British Columbia
Canada

    

... and, in our Chapter on "The Military", Brian Smith outlines the problems of children's play areas ovelapping with army training grounds.

 

Activity Spotting....

  

Brian Smith's trips during wartime provided a chance to view scenes not available to Whitstable-based children....

   

Mum and I made a number of train journeys to London.  Our destination was usually Catford or Southampton. However, we also made one to Yorkshire and a few shorter ones to Woolwich. 

As exciting as such journeys could be for a young lad, my favourite part was crossing the Medway estuary at Rochester and Chatham. Joy of joys! I would see one of the big Short Sunderland flying boats taking off and perhaps another taxiing in.  Magic!

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing
Victoria
Australia

   

Escape to the Countryside

 

Nowadays, many parents would be concerned at the thought of their children playing unaccompanied in woodland "out of  town". However, during the 1940s and in wartime, such areas and such activities could give "grown ups" peace of mind....

  

The beach was off limits but Reeves Woods (aka Red Bridge Woods) gave us hours of pleasure aided by fertile imaginations and a wonderful degree of freedom. 

At the end of the day this the best playground. It was of considerably greater acreage in those days and had the stream, trails, wild parts and was almost exclusively our own private playground. 

Later we learned to appreciate this was a place where nightingales could be reliably seen and heard and later kingfishers as well. 

From our parents perspective, it was sheltered and therefore safe and, best of all, if you were overdue, they knew where to find you.  

Bill Dancer
Victoria
British Columbia
Canada

 

Of course, Reeves Wood was not the only country playground in a town that had yet to expand into its rural legacy....

  

The area between South Street and the Coastal Road (Thanet Way) between the railway crossing and Rayham Road was fields in those days and, in those fields, were a pond and a fenced in reservoir. 

Both bodies of water were rich with a variety of aquatic life which with a tennis racquet were easy to catch in order to make up a non tropical fish tank. Newts, tadpoles, water spiders, didicous beetles, water skaters, caddis fly lavas were all there. 

On occasions, our collections were handy for some classroom project and far more interesting than watching mustard and cress grow on a flannel!! Mind you the D. Beetle could be a bit aggressive and, so, you were constantly looking to see if other pond life was disappearing. 

Bill Dancer
Victoria
British Columbia
Canada

   

By the Fireside...

 

Wet days and evenings of the early and mid twentieth were somewhat different from today... with no TV, computer games or other sophisticated entertainment. Games were simple and family oriented. During the 1940s, such games were adapted and often given a wartime  flavour with wartime reward....

 

Many evenings were spent at Doug Crawford's parents home which was situated above the Halt Stores going toward Thanet Way. 

We used to have aircraft recognition contests with Mr. Crawford (Maker,Type,Mark) using air observation cards and drawing competitions where whoever, for instance, drew the best picture of a pig riding on a doodlebug got a Sharpe's toffee or a square of chocolate - no mean prize in days of rationing.

Bill Dancer
Victoria
British Columbia
Canada

   

Of course, some children had an advantage when it came to the hobby of aircraft spotting.....

 

Aircraft Recognition

 

Bill Dancer related a story of enjoying informal aircraft recognition sessions during the War. 

Probably, like many other Whitstable kids, I spent a lot of time with eyes skyward watching the aerial action. By the various arguments in the school playground, I guess we all thought we were expert at identifying any plane which flew into view. 

I was a bit luckier than most as an Aunt was a sergeant in charge of an AA battery. She passed her redundant official aircraft recognition books on to me. 

I cannot recall doing so but, no doubt, I showed those off at school to back my ‘expert’ claims! Some of the German aircraft illustrated were amazing attempts to fool others into thinking they were badly damaged, doomed and not worth attacking. 

Those aircraft seen over Whitstable were generally the common run of the mill types, nothing exotic.

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing
Victoria
Australia 

  


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