Derek Helling's Story
My name is Derek Helling.
I was born in Croydon in 1939 and grew up in South Norwood,
Obviously, I was too young in the early days of the war to remember
much, but some things are imprinted in my memory. One is the smell
of the cold, moist air when we ran from the house to the Anderson
shelter in the garden next door. My mother put saucepans on our heads as
protection from falling shrapnel. We were never hit, but we used to
find bits of ragged steel in the roads after a raid. Probably from
our own AAA. Another memory is my father holding me at the entrance
to the shelter, pointing out the red hot tail pipe of a V1 and my mother
admonishing him to bring me back into the shelter. That was when I
learned that if I could still hear a V1 I was (fairly) safe. I also
remember seeing the contrails and my father saying that brave RAF
pilots were protecting us.
We were evacuated to Somerset, to a truly wonderful family in the
Mendip Hills. I don't remember when we went, but I recall walking to
Norwood Junction station over streets covered with broken glass. My
father explained when I was older that the bombs created a vacuum that
sucked the glass out of the windows. I recall the train leaving
Paddington and seeing a lot of damaged buildings.
The best part of our evacuation was that my mother came with us. I
don't know how this occurred. I think that a church that she
attended had some contacts with the family in Somerset.
We soon learned how to milk cows, collect eggs, etc.
We always had plenty of food, the farmer's wife made butter,
clotted cream, preserved fruit, made jam, etc.
My lifelong friend was also evacuated with his mother to a farm
not far from us and their experience was much the same as ours. I
never realized that other evacuated children had such terrible
experiences. I always looked back on it as one of the
happier periods of my life.
My first school was in the local village. I was aware of no
hostility, we were not badly treated and my parents remained in touch
with our evacuation hosts for more than 30 years after the war ended.
Another memory is later in the war when I was playing in the fields.
It was warm, spring or summer I suppose, and we heard the sound of
many aircraft engines. I looked up and saw dozens of aircraft towing
gliders. They were very low and seemed to clear the tops of the
hills with little room to spare. I always assumed is was the
beginning of the invasion.
After reading some of your letters my heart goes out to those who
suffered abuse and brutality in the haven that was supposed to be
I now live in the U.S.A., in Wildwood, Missouri. I have been in the U.S.
since 1968. I love to visit England but am always ready to come back
to Missouri. I think that home is where your children are, and my
daughter lives just 19 miles away.
My wife has just brought in a bacon buttie, must go