Night silent killer came to wartime Seven Kings

IT was February, 1945, and Ilford and its surrounding districts was in the grip of a sustained attack by Hitler’s silent killer - the V2 rocket.

Six-year-old Janet Howe was asleep in the same bed as her mum and sister Brenda when she awoke to see the stars.

Her street, New Road, Seven Kings, had been hit by a V2 and she could see the sky through a hole in the ceiling and roof.

“My sister was lying with her head towards me at a very awkward angle and where her head should normally have been was a huge chunk of masonry,” recalled Jan, 71.

She suffered a small nick on her wrist and her mother had a cut to her head which bled profusely. Her sister’s eyes were filled with brick dust which led to her having to wear glasses for the rest of her life, while her grandmother, who was sleeping in a small front bedroom, escaped unscathed, if terrified. Jan’s dad was in Italy with the RAF.

“My sister tried to open the bedroom door but couldn’t because of all the rubble on the floor, so she bashed on the glassless windows and called out for help,” added Jan.

Her mum finally managed to open the door and carried Jan and afterwards helped Brenda down the stairs. Jan was then rescued by a young stranger, an experience which today continues to evoke vivid memories.

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“He was an off-duty policeman who had come to see if he could help,” said Jan. “He picked me up, and I can still remember the feel of his tweed jacket and seeing my reflection in the mirror, which by some miracle, was still hanging on the hall wall.”

Jan’s mum and sister were taken to hospital, while she was left in the care of her Sunday School teacher Miss Christmas, who lived nearby. She didn’t know at the time, but her family were among the lucky ones, as several people were killed in the attack and many of the street’s houses were demolished.

Jan’s family’s house, while badly damaged was quickly repaired. She is not sure when the family moved back, but remembers spending Bonfire Night that year in the garden of the house - a night with special resonance as there was a knock on the door and her dad was home from the war.

It’s these powerful memories which prompted Jan, now Gilham, to construct a replica model of the house, due to be exhibited in Redbridge Museum, Central Library, Ilford at the end of the year.

When she visits the museum from her home in St Leonard’s, East Sussex she plans to try to go back and see the house - number 64 - which holds such strong wartime memories and where she lived before marrying and leaving the town in 1961.