The day war closed the Ilford Hippodrome

The Ilford Hippodrome was hit by a German rocket in January 1945 and was later destroyed.

The Ilford Hippodrome was hit by a German rocket in January 1945 and was later destroyed. - Credit: Archant

In our weekly Heritage column, historian John Barfoot shares his experiences as a child in wartime Ilford.

September 3rd will mark the 77th anniversary of the fateful day Britain declared war on Germany.

I remember well that sunny Sunday morning in 1939; it had been a good summer, despite the fact a thunder storm the previous month, had been responsible for the death of five adults and two children, when lightning struck a rustic shelter in Cranbrook Park.

It was unusually quiet in our back garden as I was picking runner beans that morning, as many of the local children had already been evacuated.

The adults were indoors sitting by their wireless sets, awaiting an announcement from the Prime Minister, as Germany had been given an ultimatum to stop their invasion of Poland by eleven o’clock.


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Sadly, no such withdrawal had taken place, and once again the world was set to go to war.

By Sunday lunchtime my runner beans were forgotten as my parents and neighbours emerged into the sunshine to discuss the declaration of war by Neville Chamberlain, over the garden fence.

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My parents and immediate neighbours displayed no fear or apprehension at the grave news, maybe it was relief after the threat of war had hung over their heads for so long.

I had been given the option of evacuation in the lead up to the Munich Crises and with the worldly wisdom of an eight year old and a bold sense of optimism, had opted to stay with my parents in Ilford.

I was nine the following Sunday, by which point we had been at war for a week.

The first hardship of the war that I remember personally had been the closure of picture palaces and the Ilford Hippodrome! A tragedy for any youngster in Ilford at the time.

Fortunately they reopened shortly afterwards and we were able to watch newsreels screened between films, to show us what had gone on.

Back in those days we were totally relying on the BBC and the family’s wireless radio for the most up to date news.

Ilford wartime evacuee re-unions have taken place in recent years, might I suggest a reunion for us little blighters who made the brave decison not to be evacuated from Ilford as war broke out.

I wonder if there are enough of us left residing in the borough or its nearby neighbours, to warrant the reunion?

If you are a kindred spirit, please feel free to contact me via the Ilford Recorder.

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