Eyewitness account of the V1 bomb on Kenton Gardens by Newton Myers

Newton Myers wrote this in 2003 for the BBC. He was 12 years old when the V1 hot Kenton Gardens. He lived in 5 Kenton Gardens, and the Lyons family were killed in 9 Kenton Gardens.

" It must have been sometime in the early summer of 1944. By now mother had died, Barbara and Lou were married and living with us at number 5. I was now attending Harrow County School and on the morning in question I had a dentists appointment. For this reason I was still in bed at 8:10, having a lie in, fortunately inside the already described indoor shelter. Barbara was in the kitchen ironing. father was in the bathroom shaving and I suppose Lou was on duty. He was in the RAF at Stanmore at this time.

This picture shows Kenton Gardens before the Doodlebug.The two semi detached pairs from the right hand side of the picture plus half the next pair were demolished by "Our Doodlebug"

Without any warning there was a colossal compression and explosion immediately followed by all kinds of crashes, bangs screams, sounds of breaking glass and god knows what else. Barbara started screaming in the kitchen. I was, needless to say, terrified. At 12 you really know what is going on and I knew we had been hit by something rather nasty.

I clambered out of bed and through the door of the shelter, out through the back room door into what was left of our hall. There was dust everywhere, Barbara was still screaming in the kitchen and there were other yells, shouts and screams coming from other places. At this moment my father appeared staggering down the stairs which were still relatively intact. His face was a mask of blood and he was shouting "this is the end, this is the end" over and over again. As we met at the bottom of the stairs he picked me up and rushed out into the front garden with me in his arms. Then he put me down and I rushed back into the house. I went into what was left of the front room. The mantelpiece had come away from the wall and was lying horizontal across the sofa. The bay window was halfway out into the garden. When I looked out and to the right all I could see were what appeared to be the roofs of our neighbours houses.

The only problem was that they were at ground level with no houses underneath them. Dust was everywhere, there were still screams and moans coming from the buried, dying and injured. My friend Stuart from across the street came running over with his grandfather. They had been standing at their front door checking the weather when the incident occurred. They were physically blown backwards the length of their hallway into the grandfather clock that was on the back wall of the hall. By some miracle they were not hurt.

Neighbours started to appear and help wherever they could. Someone rescued Barbara from under the kitchen dresser which had come away from the wall and trapped her by the shoulder. father was taken off by someone for first aid to his bleeding face. He actually had the most miraculous escape of all of us. As I already said, he was shaving at the time. The bathroom sink was under the bathroom window which was in the front of the house.
Attached to the centre post of the window was his shaving mirror. He was leaning forward shaving when the entire window disintegrated and came in at him. How he wasn’t blinded we’ll never know. In fact his injuries were extremely minor and superficial. It seems that the glass virtually granulated and became like a powder. For this reason his cuts were really quite trivial and healed in a few days.

The only thing was that for several weeks, if not months, he would find small bits of glass that had been imbedded in his scalp and that had gradually worked their way out. Barbara had to have some stitches in her shoulder but fortunately there were no broken bones. My only injury was through stepping on a nail protruding from the smashed top of our tea trolley. Thanks to the dentist appointment and the indoor shelter I had been fully protected.

Normally at this time I would have been having breakfast at the kitchen table. This table was smashed to smithereens by the huge glass fronted dresser that came away from the wall and crashed on top of the table. I would have been under that dresser and whilst it probably would not have killed me it might well have severely injured me. Mind you, I still don’t like going to the dentist !

The toll of this incident was 13 dead including one who was never identified. The investigators concluded that it was one of the infamous "glider" doodlbugs that got us. It is believed that the engine cut out over Kingsbury, about 4 miles away. Instead of diving as the earlier types did, this bomb glided in a low trajectory towards the back of our row of houses. Its point of impact was four houses away from ours and it was calculated that it actually struck at the base of that house. One extremely unpleasant fact was that the owner of that house was believed to be feeding his pet rabbits at the time of impact. The rabbits were housed in hutches at the back of the house, precisely where the bomb impacted. The only consolation is, I suppose, he never knew what hit him ! They never found his remains.

Before long the rescue teams arrived and started the grisly task of recovering the bodies. I was unlucky enough to see one of my friend’s sisters on a stretcher under a blanket being carried past me towards the ambulance. As the stretcher bearer passed me, a doctor pulled back the blanket, I had the unpleasant sight of someone who had been completely flattened. Not a pretty sight.

One neighbour had a lucky escape. He had just returned from his night shift, was tucked up in bed and just going off to sleep. Since the bomb came in at such a low level the base of his house was blown away and he came down on top of the rubble still tucked up in bed. They carried him through the remains of our back room on his bed, blaspheming mightily about getting even with the $^!!@#@% Nazis.

Number 5, although still standing, was too badly damaged to be habitable. However I was relieved to learn that it would not have to be demolished. The rest of that day is a little hazy. I know that some neighbours further up the street provided endless hot sweet tea and obviously sometime later that day the three of us were reunited, both father and Barbara having returned from hospital.

We spent the next few nights in Wembley with Lou’s parents. My only memory of that short stay was sitting in their outdoor brick built shelter. Lou’s father was Secretary to Taylor Woodrow the huge contractors - I guess they built it for him. As we sat there shivering we heard a series of doodlebugs passing overhead. None cut out within hearing distance, fortunately.

This whole incident had a disastrous effect on my nerves. Up until now I had borne the bombing with typical British phlegm. However now I begged my father to take me out of London. I was panic stricken and absolutely terrified.

His ex secretary, Phyllis Mabey was staying with friends in Taunton, Somerset. She arranged accommodation for us both at a pub in Taunton called "The Four Alls". I clearly remember standing on Paddington station waiting for the train. It seemed an age before it left and I was trembling with anxiety. Eventually we got to Taunton, I don’t remember anything of the journey. I’m sure that every minute of it made me feel less anxious.

The Four Alls was a typical small town pub. Pop and I shared a bedroom and a double bed. I had great difficulty in getting off to sleep. It was on this occasion that he gave me a tip that I still use to this day, fifty years later. What was the tip? You must imagine that you are sitting in a darkened theatre in the most comfortable seat you’ve ever sat in. You are gazing fixedly at the stage curtain which is closed and made of black velvet. You are waiting for it to open. That’s all there is to it. Works like dream!

A few days later I came out in a dreadful rash that itched like hell. We at first suspected bed bugs or fleas but since father was not affected and we shared the same bed we came to the conclusion that the cause was something else. father took me to a local doctor who asked "Has this boy been subjected to some sort of traumatic experience recently?". Of course the doodlebug was the trauma, I was suffering from an allergic nervous reaction. I’m not sure what the cure was, some sort of sedative I suppose. Anyway the rash cleared up and I was fine thereafter.

From BBC web site “ www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/48/a1153748.shtml

Newton Myers was living in Canada in 2007, and we exchanged emails . Dec 2009: he has written his autobiography ,on http://newtonmyers.com, which includes more details of the inside of the house in Kenton Gardens and some of the neighbours..http://newtonmyers.com/contact.htm

Number Five

5 Kenton Gardens, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex, was home. It was affectionately known as “Number Five”. A semi detached three up, two down house on a small crescent of almost identical houses. The main distinguishing feature was that some had round bay windows, others had square ones. Ours was round. There was something special and slightly more “classy” about having a round bay. People who lived in “square-bayed” houses were somehow of slightly less distinction. Of course this type of class prejudice was “all in the mind” but nevertheless typified some of the thinking that still existed in the thirties. In the front of the house was a small garden, fully “crazy paved” with a green privet hedge, again a status symbol. The yellow variety went with the square bays!

Let me try and describe the inside of “Number Five”. On entering the front door there was a hallway with the hallstand on the right. This hallstand had a round mirror and contained my father’s various hats, a black Homburg and I believe a softer felt hat for weekends and holidays. In the centre of the hallstand was a small box with a lift up lid which both contained and smelt of, gloves. What does a glove smell of you ask?; It’s a mixture of leather and hands I suppose, what ever it was I can smell it right now as I write this. On either side of the glove box was a square opening into which you placed your umbrellas, walking sticks or whatever. At the bottom of the square openings were small tin trays to catch the drips from the umbrellas on rainy days. Either side of the central mirror were a series of hooks for our coats.

Facing you and again to the right was the staircase, straight up except for the last 3 or 4 stairs which neatly executed a left, right-angled turn on to the landing. Down the hall on the left was the front room door, next to that the back room door, facing you was the kitchen door and underneath the stairs, to the right was a cupboard in which was stored the Hoover and sundry other cleaning items. The front room was the one with the round bay window. Facing you as you entered was the fireplace complete with wooden surround (mahogany I think) with the inevitable mantelpiece and mirror. Such structures were part of the standard fixtures and fittings of these semis built by Mr Nash the builder.

The room was, I suppose, about 14 by 12 not counting the bay. The back room, originally the “Drawing Room” had no bay but instead it had French doors which led via a few concrete steps to the back garden. This room also had a fireplace but of lesser stature than the front room and without the built in mirror. It did however have a built in gas fire.

It also housed one of Father’s prized possessions his Marconi Radio. This contemporary technological wonder had no less than 10 short wave bands and cost 18½ guineas in 1936. This was a vast sum of money for those days. I came across an advertisement for just this radio in a bound edition of Punch magazine for 1936. I also have a picture of mother sitting in the back room listening to said radio

The kitchen was as I remember quite large for such a modest house. There was an Ideal boiler for heating the water, no central heating, of course. There was a Radiation gas cooker, a pantry under the stairs, come to think of it I’m not sure how that worked with the hallway understairs cupboard. Perhaps I’m wrong about the latter. The other noticeable feature of the kitchen was the dresser, complete with glass fronted cupboards at the top, a work surface made of deal, no Formica in the thirties, and cupboards underneath. Also there was a large kitchen table, again topped with deal which was scrupulously scrubbed every week, Notwithstanding this weekly scrubbing there was always an interesting sort of “grey gunge” that formed in the joints between the deal boards. I remember constantly annoying my mother and/or the maid by prying this gunge out with a knife or fork, most unhygienic!.

Upstairs were three bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate toilet. The large front bedroom, with the round bay, was my parent’s. I think at times I shared the large back bedroom with Barbara at least whilst we had a maid. I then remember moving into what had been the maid’s room, namely the small room. Subsequently I think I returned to the big backroom possibly after Barbara was married.

The Garden
At the back of the house was this “enormous”, or so it seemed to me, back garden. The actual size was, I suppose, about 40 feet by 100 feet and it was bounded on each side by a wooden fence. In my young innocence this fence constituted life’s boundaries. The people who lived over the other side of the fence were in some way lesser beings, their gardens were things of mystery and in no way anything like ours.

And how was our garden? It was my father’s pride and joy. He tended it with a loving care that is seldom equaled today. The very bottom of the garden had a stream, called “The Brook” , partially hidden from view by a fence of dubious structure which I remember my father struggling to maintain. He was not the most practical of men! The remainder of the garden comprised the lawn, a thing of beauty and beloved by Pop. There were various flower beds and a vegetable patch at the bottom.

At one time there was a small, and rather too deep, fish pond, at the bottom right hand side of the garden. This provided a summertime supply of newts and tadpoles. The occasional imported goldfish seemed not to survive for too long. One theory was that the pond was too deep and that they drowned ! Somehow I rather doubt that.
Father’s other great joy was his hedge in the front garden. this hedge was green privet and dense, so dense that a drunk mistook it for a bed one night and tried to sleep on it. Needless to say Pop was absolutely distraught at the havoc wreaked by said drunk and it took many weeks of careful snipping and grooming to restore the hedge to it’s undulating beauty.

At the side of the house was "The Shed". A structure consisting of pre-fabricated wooden panels with a gabled roof complete with finials. These were precariously nailed on and they kept falling off despite father’s best efforts with hammer and, usually bent, nails. The shed contained garden tools, lawnmower, forks, spades, and many other interesting gadgets. One most important item was "The Watering Can". A magnificent piece of equipment made of galvanised steel with two handles, one for carrying upright when full and another on the side for tipping whilst watering. It had a beautiful solid brass or possibly copper rose on the end of it’s spout which produced a fine spray. If on the other hand you wanted to have a jet of water, for example when watering in cabbage plants and such like, the rose could be unscrewed. But ... the real joy of the watering can was that father used it to pee in. Thus he avoided going into the house and taking off shoes etc. Furthermore the resulting liquid was suitably diluted with water and used as a fertiliser!. No doubt full of potassium and other valuable chemicals. Talk about getting your own back!. Runner beans, cabbages, peas and lettuces were all subjected to regular doses of dilute VICPEE.

Father’s other favourite piece of equipment was his edging tool. This multi purpose implement served as hoe, edger, chopper, weeder, tilth maker, seed drill maker and so on. For those of you not familiar with the configuration of an edging tool it has a crescent shaped blade set at the end of a wooden handle about 5 feet long, the handle is mounted in the same plane as the blade. It’s prime use is for creating really sharp edges to lawns at their intersection with flower beds. Needless to say we had really sharp edges to our lawn and flower beds, a trait which I have inherited. Yes I do have an edging tool and I used it exactly as my father did before me.

Willaim John Lyons, killed in this V1 bombing