The Blitz …

As the Collins boy carried on forging a reputation at school for his considerable athletic skills, the dark clouds of war were once again gathering over Europe. The Armistice agreement that stopped hostilities in 1918 had fuelled the rise of Herr Hitler looking for some reparations with a vengeance and so at 11:15 on September 3rd, 1939 the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced to a disappointed nation that Britain was at war once again with Germany.For a 13 year old boy from the Portobello Road, life would change dramatically. Beginning on September 7th, 1940 London was carpet bombed for 57 consecutive nights. Tony and his family would take shelter in the underground railway Tube stations and on some days he and his classmates would be allowed to leave school early, giving them time to get home before the sirens rang out their dismal warning sign that German bombers would be overhead shortly. The family would take ‘Bob’ their old dog with them to the shelters and meet with many familiar faces as they all huddled down together listening to the continuous boom of high explosive raining down on the streets above them. It was a particularly horrific experience for a young boy barely in his teens and would make an impression that would stay with him for a very long time. When everyone left the shelter each morning after the ‘all clear’, it would be daylight and through the thick, choking fumes of toxic smoke fuelled by row upon row of burning buildings and some active Phosphorus incendiary bombs, often still laying in the street, Tony would rush to his part of the Portobello Road to see if his house was still there.Plans for the evacuation of children from large cities were put into effect as the ‘Blitz’ continued on relentlessly. Many hundreds of thousands of children were moved out of London as part of these plans, all of which were issued with a small case for clothing, a haversack, gas masks and a label tied to their coats indicating which school they had come from, along with their name. There was no doubt it was all a most stressful process as children were assembled at their schools and led through the gates with their teachers to the railway stations. Mothers lined the streets as their children passed by holding each other’s hands tightly. They would shout messages through their tears such as ‘Don’t forget to write!’ and ‘Make sure you wash behind your ears!’ It was a highly charged emotional situation and would have a lasting effect on everyone concerned, especially the children.Tony did not want to go, but his dad thought it best and that was how he came to be billeted at a large house in Medmenham near Henley on Thames. His school master quickly discovered the extent of Tony’s sporting history. Not wishing to waste any time and with some obvious enthusiasm, he quickly formed and began to organise, a football team. Tony was made captain and led a group of boys that could easily beat the best the local town could offer and to make it more interesting the smitten teacher offered a prize of ‘tuppence’ (two old pennies) for every goal scored. So, that was Tony Collins’ sweet money sorted … and with this fairly guaranteed new source of income, he would be in charge of buying all the sweets and handing them out to his pals.However, for a homesick Tony, apart from the football, he really did not want to stay in the country, so when his mum and dad visited one day, he persuaded them to take him back home to London with them. His premise was that if they were to finally succumb to a German bomb, then he would want to be with them. His reasoning was simple and direct … and it worked!

Source: The Blitz …


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