Monday, November 15, 2010

War Lore - a tale of Barnes Wallis

Although many people have marked another remembrance day, it is clear that as far as the World Wars of the Twentieth century are concerned 'remembrance' in the sense of living memories of people who died in those wars is fading fast. There's hardly anybody left who remembers the First World War, and those who remember the Second are disappearing fast. Most of those who do remember have childhood memories, so what people recall is often a mixture of lived experience and the stories they heard later about what happened. Of course these stories are sometimes interesting in themselves even when they are not necessarily true.

I heard some interesting New Cross war folklore this week, when a senior citizen told me his war stories. He could still recall his windows being blown in as a three year old in Loughborough Junction. But then he told me about the engineer and weapons designer Barnes Wallis- that he lived in New Cross (true - his father Charles was a doctor and there's a plaque at 241 New Cross Road; he later lived at 23 Pepys Road); and then that Wallis had tested out his a prototype of his famous bouncing bomb in an underground area at New Cross bus station (then the tram station), specially filled with water for the occasion. I've never heard this and I don't think it's true - the tests were actually carried out near Herne Bay in Kent. Has anybody heard this tale or a variation of it before? Wallis's childhood home in New Cross Road was more or less opposite the tram station, maybe that explains how the story came about.


Anonymous said...

Sounds odd, but I could certainly see them testing a scaled down version first. Whether that was at New Cross bus station though is another matter.

John Moonbow said...

Having lived here all my life I have never heard this story, but then again I did not know Barnes Wallis lived in New Cross until reading this. What I can say from my own experience is that I often find that these types of stories, those recalled from living memory, are often closer to the truth than official or ‘researched’ accounts.

The details may sometimes be muddled but the crux of the account is normally solid.

Alan Burkitt-Gray said...

No reference to New Cross bus station on this website which appears to be comprehensive. Trials with models were done at the Building Research Establishment, it says, and one of the models is still there.
And why would such a vital model be built in an area that risked nightly bomb damage?