U3A member and Wac Arts heritage volunteer Barbara Prynn interviewed Judith Ufland on her memories of war in Hampstead and at the Town Hall. The synopsis of the interview and the full interview are available to read below.
Thanks to Judith and Barbara for sharing their (hi)stories.
Judith’s Interview Article: “Air-Raids in Hampstead”
Judith moved into Hampstead on Lyttelton Road with her mother and father around 1944 when the Germans began using V2 bombs. She was only six years old. These bombs were notorious since they were designed to cause maximum damage to the area it hit in retaliation for the Allies bombing Germany. V2’s were especially dangerous because there were no air-raid warnings; the civilians only knew they were coming by the sound, which was well-known to the community since it was bombed often.
Judith’s house had a shelter in which a double bed mattress and a large table to hide under were kept. The double bed was the place her family always slept. Chicken wire and steel girders were used to cover open areas of the shelter.
One night Judith and her parents were lying in bed when a V2 passed overhead. They jumped out of bed and hid under the thick table in the shelter which thankfully protected them from the ceiling plaster that fell on top of them. The table was specially made to protect civilians in a shelter from falling objects.
After the ceiling caved in, Judith “danced on the ceiling” which she thought was amusing as a child, but her parents thought differently.
Judith believes she saw a ghost when the ceiling caved in, but now realizes that it was most likely smoke being displaced when the ceiling fell.
Judith stayed in Hampstead for a while as she has memories later on of the house and therefore her family fixed the ceiling. Judith eventually moved out since her father was an architect who designed airstrips and moved houses often.
Before moving to Hampstead, Judith lived in the country with her parents and grandmother. It was Judith’s job to make sure her grandmother gets to the shelter when the air-raid warnings went off. Their shelter in the country was in the garden in their backyard. There was a large hole in the ground and two doors into the shelter where four bunk beds were situated on the walls and a single light bulb lit the room. Judith’s mother brought food, drink, and some toys. They would only leave the shelter if the all-clear was heard.
Interviewer: Today is the 27th of February 2019 and my name is Barbara and I’m going to talk to Judith about her experience of being in an air-raid shelter during the war.
JUDITH: I did get to an air-raid shelter, but I am now 80. I was born in 1938, which is in my vague opinion a year after the war started, or a year before the war started.
I: I think a year before it started in September 1939.
JUDITH: My first memory about the war is that we were living somewhere and my father’s mother was living with us. When there were air-raid warnings, we used to have to run downstairs and go out into the garden, into the shelter which was at the back of the garden and my job was to haul grandma along after me.
I: How old were you then?
JUDITH: I really don’t know. But I think we must have been in the country. I was a small child who was not taught much. *laughs* So we used to go to the air-raid shelter, that’s all I can remember. Actually getting there, and hauling my grandmother in with me.
I: Is that because she was reluctant or had mobility problems?
JUDITH: Well I thought she was terribly old *laughs*. She might not have been *laughs*. I only have one other memory of the war. That was when we came back from the country, and we lived in Hampstead on Lyttelton Road in a great big house. We didn’t use any of the rooms upstairs because it was only me, my mother, and my father. And we had a shelter which would- I think- I’m not sure if it was an Anderson shelter or another but it was where we slept. It was made out of steel girders with chicken wire.
I: Was this in the garden or was this in the kitchen?
JUDITH: It was in the lounge I think. So, the three of us slept in this bed.
I: And how big was it?
JUDITH: I thought it was enormous.
I: *laughs* Compared to this room, how big was it do you think? Seven foot square, something like that?
JUDITH: A double bed.
I: A double bed- so there was a mattress in it?
JUDITH: Yes, that’s right.
I: It was steel girders with chicken wire
JUDITH: Steel girders- and chicken wire covering the open areas- yes.
I: And somewhere to crawl in?
JUDITH: Presumably, yes. So, that was the bed. And there was also a very large table, which one could get under in case a bomb came along. Now, this was the time of the V2s.
I: So, 1944?
JUDITH: It was not talked about. My father was an architect, and he went all over the place designing airstrips. So, it was like a normal family, well felt like normal family to me. *sighs* and the V2s used to make noise. But when they stopped making noise, you had to get sheltered. I think this was towards the end of the war, after they’d stopped bombing because and they’d stopped air-raid-
JUDITH: The V2s came along in order to finish everybody up. We’re lying in bed, and there’s a V2. We wait for it to go past, and it stopped. And we got out of the bed shelter, and got under the table because it was a very thick table since it was specially made. We all got under the table, and the V2 discharged its bomb and the ceiling fell in.
I: Of the room where you were?
JUDITH: Of the room. We were alright, because we were under the table *laughs*. It might have been my imagination, but I definitely saw a ghost, *laughs*. And that is the last of my memories.
I: Okay. Can we go back to when you were in the country?You were describing how you were the only child?
I: You were describing how your parents would go to the shelter in the garden.
JUDITH: Presumably, if my father was around, yes.
I: And it was your job to escort your grandmother-
JUDITH: Well, I think maybe my grandmother might have been escorting me.
I: Do you remember what it looked like in there?
JUDITH: I remember other peoples’ shelters at back of the garden. There was a big hole. There was a door, an entrance. A wooden door and then you went inside there were bunks up the sides of the walls.
I: How many?
JUDITH: I think there were four.
I: Two on each side?
JUDITH: Yes. And you’d close the door and were underground. We used to play games, or go to sleep, or have something to eat or drink if we had time.
I: Your mother would’ve taken food, drink …toys?
JUDITH: She must have had a sort of set of stuff. I don’t remember being particularly worried.
I: Do you remember the sequence of events that got you into the shelter?
JUDITH: I think the air-raid warnings, which still gives me the creeps after all these years, and the all-clear.
I: After the warning, was there kind of a rush into the shelter?
JUDITH: Oh no. There was a gallop. Yes.
I: Okay, to get in there and shut the door.
JUDITH: That’s right. Yes.
I: And you stayed in there until the all-clear went.
JUDITH: That’s right.
I: Any idea how long you usually stayed in there?
I: But it could have been quite a long time if there were bunks on the walls.
JUDITH: Yes, if it was night-time we went to bed. If it was- well it was always night-time in there because-
I: *laughs* because it was dark with no light-
JUDITH: *laughs* there was a light
I: Right- some sort of light.
JUDITH: There was a light. Yes. There was a light bulb.
I: That you switched on. Somebody did.
JUDITH: Presumably, yeah.
I: Do you remember what it smelt like?
I: No. Okay, and then you came to Hampstead and you were in this big house-
I: There was the other kind of shelter in the sitting room.
JUDITH: Yes, yes. There wasn’t a shelter in the garden there.
I: The process was the same? That you heard the air-raid warning and then there would be a rush to get into the sort of cage-
JUDITH: The bed or under the table yes.
I: How was it decided which you went into?
JUDITH: I mean, we went to bed in the bed. You know we-
JUDITH: Yes, that’s where we always slept.
I: Under the table or in the shelter?
JUDITH: In the shelter, on the bed.
I: So every night you would sleep in there?
I: So you’d get ready for bed.
I: -and presumably you went to bed earlier than your parents did-
JUDITH: Presumably, yes.
I: You’d just get in there and go to sleep-
I: If there was a warning during the day-
I: You would also go in there or maybe under the table?
JUDITH: Yes, I think we always went in there, but I don’t know why we went under the table the day the ceiling fell in.
I: That’s interesting. So you were saying that this was the time of the V2s.
JUDITH: That’s right.
I: But if there was an air-raid warning during the day, you would still go into one of these places?
JUDITH: Yes, but at the time of the V2s I’m not sure that there were air-raid warnings. It was the noise of the V2-
JUDITH: That made you know that it-
I: So somebody, presumably your mother, would’ve been alert all the time as to when there might be such a sound?
JUDITH: Yes, yes. But, I knew the noise.
I: You knew it. So you would’ve known yourself-
JUDITH: Yes. I don’t remember going to any shelters that were for people who were walking about outside. I don’t remember that at all. I’ve seen it in films. That people used to go into and the wardens used to shove people into this communal shelter. I know my uncle was a warden in the war. But I never saw him being a warden.
I: You slept on the mattress under the sort of cage- any idea apart from sleeping in there, how much time you spent in there each time?
JUDITH: No idea. No. I mean, presumably, you know the V2 stopped making its noise, then you rush in there, then it discharges.
I: And you’ll hear that?
JUDITH: Yes. Well if it stops making a noise it means that it’s stopped moving and it’s going to blow up…
I: But you could hear whatever has blown up?
JUDITH: I don’t know. All I know is that it did make a noise, and when it stopped making noise you ran.
I: And on the day that it- going back to the table, was there a mattress under there?
I: Nothing. Just carpet or something maybe? So, on the day that you went under the table that was under the other arrangement-
JUDITH: Maybe it was broken or something? I don’t know.
I: Maybe one of your parents had some idea that that would be safer? Which obviously it was.
JUDITH: Yes it was.
I: And you said you saw a ghost?
JUDITH: I thought I’d seen a ghost and I still think I saw a ghost. It was a very old house, and it had a big open fireplace, which wasn’t used and it was most likely smoke that had come down from something being dislodged when the bomb went off. I decided it was a ghost.
I: You thought it was a person?
JUDITH: I thought it something floating with a sheet on it with holes for eyes. You know that kind of ghost *laughs*.
I: Did you tell anybody about this?
I: So, you’re under the table.
I: And the ceiling fell in.
I: So you had to climb out from under the table, presumably.
JUDITH: We did yes.
I: And then what happened?
JUDITH: The ceiling was all over the floor which I thought was very funny.
I: The whole ceiling had come down?
JUDITH: Yes. All the plaster work had come down. Not the rafters and things like that. Yeah. I was sort of dancing about saying “I’m dancing on the ceiling”. *laughs*
I: *laughs* -anybody else amused by this?
JUDITH: Apparently not *laughs*.
I: And then what happened?
JUDITH: I don’t know. Those are my two memories… or maybe three.
I: Presumably somebody came and cleaned it up?
JUDITH: Presumably they did. I don’t know. We moved around to different houses an awful lot. So we might have just moved out. But I don’t think so because I remember being a little bit older, and we still lived there in that house. Somebody must have cleaned it up.
I: *laughs* -and fixed the ceiling.