Shrapnel swapping in schoolyards

London Fire Brigade pic

London Fire Brigade pic - Credit: London Fire Brigade

Hainault resident Derek Hall recalls more memories of the Blitz in east London.

You must remember that at the time the war was very exciting for little boys.

Every morning we would go over the street and into the park looking for pieces of shrapnel - they came in all shapes and sizes and were always really sharp and horrible looking - like pieces of ice chopped off an ice berg.

If they had hit you you could easily lose an arm or die because they were so sharp and jagged.

If you found the pieces you could take them to school to show your mates and if one of your mates had a piece you really liked you could swap it for one of yours, like you would swap cigarette cards.

Also, watching the fighter planes taking off from Fairlop Aerodrome to go and fight the Germans and counting them as they came back sometime later in the hope that we had not lost any aircraft.

When we got back from school every day my brother and I had to prepare our chickens’ food, then we would chop some firewood and get a bucket of coal in from the coal shed.

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We’d enjoy lighting the fire and try not to burn the house down.

Our next job was to put up the wooden shutters over the windows downstairs just in case a German bomb landed near during the night so that we wouldn’t get hit by flying glass and then we’d have a few other chores before our parents got home at 6.30pm.

In 1944 we came out of our houses one morning to find ammunition belts with bullets in strewn across the rooftops and gardens.

We thought this was wonderful and eagerly ran around collecting as much as possible - there were maps and other paraphenalia everywhere.

We soon found out that a German bomber had been hit by gunfire and the crew had resorted to dumping anything they could out of the plane to try and lose weight as they tried to make it back to Germany.