Rex Robinson

Wartime Crawley

By David Taft

Photo:Rex third from left

Rex third from left

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Rex Robinson' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Rex Robinson' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Here in his own words are some of Rex Robinson's memories of what life was like in wartime Crawley

Breaking News of Declaration of War

On the 3rd September, 1939, I was 13 years 11 months. I was sitting on the bottom of the stairs at 59 New Street, Three Bridges and the wireless was on at the time. We were waiting for Mr. Chamberlain, for the 12 o clock news, when he declared war. The Germans had seven days earlier gone into Poland, and we'd gone in to help. 12 o clock noon, war was declared, that we were at war with Germany.

Half an hour later, after declaration, the air raid warning sounded and of course, we immediately thought the Germans were going to bomb us. But as it happens, it was a false alarm. It was an unidentified aircraft that had come over the south coast and everyone's immediate thought was that we were going to be invaded; and to be honest, if we had have been invaded then, we'd all be speaking German now, because there was no defence, none at all.

Schooling during the War

I had a few months at school with the war on. All our windows were taped up. If you were blasted, there was sticky tape. Blackout curtains were put up. Gas masks were issued. We all had a gas mask. We all had to walk around with this little box with a mask, given identity cards, I've still got mine at home. Sarah Robinson School, which I attended until March 1940, had half day schooling, because a school came down from London, called Parkside. We shared the school. Some weeks we had the morning session, some we had the afternoon sessions. If by any chance they did not know what to do with us, we walked up to the Tilgate Forests and had nature walks, looking at the squirrels, robins and the birds and the birds nests. Apart from that, it's been demolished years ago, opposite the post office, there was a tin church, all made out of corrugated iron and we used to go in there some times for lessons. That was dead opposite Sarah Robinson's.

Bombing of Spencer Road 2 September 1943

A German plane that had been seen circling the Crawley area, over the East Grinstead area, for 20 minutes, suddenly swooped at West Green, machine gunning everything in sight, releasing a stinger bomb which descended on Spencer road, shattering the Church of England Infant's School, the Salvation Army Hall and blowing the roofs off several of the houses. A second run reigned bombs on the High Street, the Post Office, Willetts, the stationers (has picture). A third run targeted Station Road. This time a house was destroyed, killing two ladies. The Baptist Chapel was also damaged, founded in 1883.

Rationing and the affect on my fathers grocery business.

It didn't really affect us until 1944. That's when it started to bite home. My family ran a little general store in Three Bridges and rationing came in with coupons. You had to give in so many coupons for two ounces of butter, perhaps, two pieces of bacon and a tiny piece of cheese and a small amount of meat. Unfortunately my father's business, actually went broke because him being a small business, the Co-op being a quarter a mile away at the top of Hardwick Road, they took all the business; the reason being, a lot of the folk that used the shop in my mum's shop were old enough to remember the first world war where they did not have a good rationing system. The big shops got the goods. They thought, 'Right, off we go to the Co-op'. It was a vicious circle. If you did not have the coupons, you couldn't send the coupons off to the Food Ministry to get the supplies. My poor old daddy. They shut the shop in 1942, when rationing really bit in.

First doodlebug encounter

The first encounter I had with the doodlebug, my girlfriend and I had cycled up to what used to be the Wagonshed, which unfortunately is not there any more. The Wagonshed used to be between Horley and Southfields and we'd gone up there. It's an open swimming pool, and we'd got stripped off, ready to dive in. And the doodlebug came over the top. And I've never seen two people move so fast to get in the water. It was really frightening because it came down quite low. That was my first encounter with the doodlebug.

The next encounter in Crawley on the 1st July 1944 when a flying bomb, a doodlebug in other words, fell on Oak Road and West Street, killing seven people, injuring 44 and destroying 15 houses.

The next one that landed was on 29th July 1944. A doodlebug landed on the allotments behind Morthouse Road, Southgate, but failed to detonate. It was the first time that one had failed to explode and the bomb boffins were anxious to examine it, within a matter of hours. And they took it away to find out how it worked.

A little side story

My girlfriend's aunt was expecting a baby before that bomb dropped. And on that weekend, my girlfriend, Stella, who was staying with me at Three Bridges; and we had a milkman called Adolph, would you believe, dear little roly-poly type. And he knocks on the door, and he said, 'Have you heard about the doodlebug?' Of course, Stella, needless to say, said 'No, we haven't. He said, 'A doodlebug dropped and it didn't explode'. Stella and I got on our pushbikes and we went down to Malthouse Lane. Of course we couldn't get anywhere near the house. The police had ringed it off. We were then in turn asked by the police where the residents had gone and they'd gone to the church hall. We hurried down there. There was my wife's grandma, there was Hazel, baby, three days old, all grimy and in their nighties, quite a sight really.  The funny part about it, my wife's cousin's surname is Elliot and they'd named her Hazel. She always went through life as HE, 'High Explosive.'

This page was added by David Taft on 11/06/2008.

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