Len Harris' Story
I was one of the snotty noses from Jews Free School evacuated in September, 1939
to the village of Thame. Oxfordshire.
There, I was billeted with a farmer - Archie, and his sister, who was the world's worst cook.
I was told in no uncertain tones that I was expected to be a farm hand.
If you could imagine an east end kid who was supposed to milk cows.
I always had thought we got milk from a dairy.
I stuck it out for about two weeks, then after protest, I was billeted with the village bookie,
a kind and pleasant man, quite a contrast to Archie.
Nonetheless, after another week I decided I would rather brave the bombs of London
(which hadn't yet arrived), but would do so, so brutally later.
Are there any survivors from the Thame exodus?
How wonderful to establish a pipeline back to the past. No, I'm sorry, I
don't remember your brother, I was in the last; top class of J.F.S. And your
mention of Brune House rings at memory's bell.
I lived in Newnham St., near Leman st. And we were bombed out.
We then moved to a flat round the corner, and the momsers demolished that, too.
Sadly, they killed my dog who was in the flat at the time.
But, I got my own back. I joined the RAF and was in a
bomber aircrew and dropped a little retribution.
We must talk together.
Of all the many blitz memories, there is one that will stay with me to the
end. I was working for the Canadian Press in the Reuters building in Fleet
Street at the time, normally in the night hours. We rarely if ever took much
notice of the bombs, familiarity breeding if not contempt then at least
indifference. Suddenly, someone rushed into our offices on the second floor,
which we shared with the Associated Press, BUP, Pravda, and a number of other
foreign news agencies. He yelled at us to get out, quickly, and keep looking
left as we exited the building. Needless to say, we looked to the right, and
there, swinging on a phone wire connecting the Reuters building with the
Daily Express across the street, was an aerial mine, suspended by its
parachute. We all broke the world's speed record hoofing it along the Strand
lugging typewriters, and finished the night working in a suite at the Savoy.
Happy, terrible days.
(Editor's note, the question I posed to the group on September 1, 2000
was" Where were you on this date 61 years ago, the day the war in Europe began?)
I remember today well.
I was on Liverpool St. station platform, suitcase in trembling hand, gas mask
box around my neck, and an identification label pinned to my jacket. (even
to this day I refuse to wear any label.) The moaning and wailing and crying
would have done justice to a Russians play. It was the start of my life as an
evacuee. I stood it for about two weeks, then said, to hell with this, bombs
or no bombs, I'm going back to London. And I did.
Then, six years later on this day, I bade farewell to the rest of my air
crew, when 166 Bomber Squadron disbanded after 2-1/2 years of operation.
They had flown 5,061 sorties over Germany that cost 164 bombers lost and
took the lives of 1,500 young men.
VE day we had been flying over Rotterdam dropping food to the city's
inhabitants who had been cut off when the Germans opened the dikes, flooding
the land. We arrived back in the squadron crew room to see, scrawled in large
letters on the board THE WAR IS OVER. It took our crew about 10 seconds to
strip off our flying suits, and then we were off to the nearest town,
Scunthorpe, where the streets were ablaze with celebratory bonfires. I
remember very little of that night, but I can still feel the pounding in my
head the next day.