I was born in the Royal Northern Hospital, Holloway at 3.20 in the morning on the 28th December 1944. Being a Thursday that made me a child with ‘far to go’. How true. 11 days later, just after noon on 8th January 1945, I was blown up by a V2 rocket - a Vergeltungswaffen as the Nazi High Command liked to call them.
Of course, I shouldn’t have been London at all. The local Air Raid Precautions officer had arranged for my mother and I to be evacuated to Dunmow in Essex - but with the weather being so terrible and my father at home on embarkation leave before being shipped off to the Middle East, my mother decided to stay put. Taking air raid precautions into her own hands she defied Hitler and his crumbling Reich by placing a shove ha’penny board over the top of my cot. “Just in case” she said. I was not consulted about any of this.
A SHOVE HA’PENNY BOARD
Shove Ha’penny is a simple game of skill played on a stout wooden board about 40cms by 70 cms - although in those days it would have been feet and inches. Some at the time would have said that it was our right to use feet and inches that we were fighting for. In the game of Shove Ha’penny 5 coins (the eponymous halfpennies) are knocked up the board using the heel of the hand - the intention being to lodge them in one of a number of ‘beds’ marked out on the board. Hours of endless fun are guaranteed if absolutely the only other thing you have to do is paint the gutters or put butter onto the cat’s boil.
The V2 landed at the top of Sydney Road, about 200 yards from where I was fast asleep, in my cot, under my shove ha’penny board. The blast from 1 ton of Amatol high explosive blew down a row of houses and smartly removed our front door and most of the windows. It also brought the ceiling of my bedroom crashing down on top of me and my shove ha’penny board.
My grandfather who counted himself a bit of an expert on these things said that we were lucky that it wasn’t a V1 ‘doodle bug’ that landed in Sydney Road. Whereas the V2 hit the ground at supersonic speed and buried itself before blowing up, the V1 simply fluttered to earth when it ran out of fuel and blew up on the surface, flattening houses on all sides. My grandfather knew all about V1s having been chased up the Seven Sisters Road by one when he was cycling home from work. During the air raids of the earlier part of the war, instead of joining the family in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden, he would sit outside in a deck chair giving a running commentary as the bombers came over…
“It looks like they’re going for the gas works again! Hampden Road has been hit and there’s a nasty fire brewing up at George’s old school … here comes another one now!”
My grandmother said afterwards that she couldn’t decide what was worse. Enemy action or my grandfather carrying on about it…
The V2 rocket that fell onto Sydney Road just after midday on the 8th December 1945 took a number of lives. It was the end of the school Christmas holidays, it was freezing cold and most people were indoors. They were killed. A decorator who had been working on one of the houses in Sydney Road counted himself lucky. He normally went home for his lunch at 1.00 o’clock. On that day he decided to leave at 12.00. He was walking up the street when the rocket hit and he survived… and so did I, underneath half a ton of plaster and lath and my shove ha’penny board.
When I was a little older my grandfather told me later all about the V2 that fell on Sydney Road, Hornsey that morning in January 1945. He said that it was travelling so fast that the first thing he heard was the boom of the explosion. The whistle of it arriving came seconds later. I couldn’t argue with him. He was actually there when it happened. I didn’t see a thing. I was underneath a shove ha’penny board.
– from Martyn Day