Schoolboys’ lucky grenade escape at Fairlop

The Odeon cinema in Gants Hill stood for 69 years and played a large part in supporting the local co

The Odeon cinema in Gants Hill stood for 69 years and played a large part in supporting the local community. - Credit: Eastside Community Heritage

My early years were spent at Fairlop School, as this was the only school in the area. It was one mile away and we had to walk come rain, come shine, come snow.

There was not a bus route down the New North Road until the 1950s.

On occasions when the air raid warning sounded on our way to school, we would run to a shelter that had been put into one of the shops and stay there until the all clear had sounded – which was much better than being in school.

At one time three boys had gone to get some dandelions from a field near Fairlop School for their rabbit and found an unexploded hand grenade.

It had been found in an area the home guard used to practise their drills in.

They put it in their bag along with the food they had gathered and on walking back past the railings outside the school one swung his sack around only for it to hit the railings and explode.

It took the muscle out of one boy’s leg, the finger off the second boy and injured the shoulder of another. They were lucky to be alive.

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The Home Guard regularly used to be on manoeuvres in the area with green gun carriers, small tanks and soldiers with rifles going up and down our streets. As boys we loved the excitement of seeing them in the road.

My connection with Fairlop aerodrome came about because I used to take love letters written by my schoolteacher to a Spitfire pilot stationed there.

Every time I did my delivery my teacher would give me a sweet. As everything was rationed we would only get six sweets a week, so to get two or three more was amazing and I was the envy of all my mates.

Every morning I would walk into class and say “any letters today miss?” and when she would say “not today Derek,” I was always dreadfully disappointed.

Unfortunately it only lasted for a few months as he was shot down and killed. He was only 19 or 20.

As a family we went to the Gants Hill cinema and many times a film was stopped. A manager would come out and announce an air raid had started, and if anyone would like to leave he would leave the lights on for five minutes.

My dad always said: “If we’re going to be killed we might as well be killed watching a good film.”