Friday, April 30, 2010

Brockley 1941: Every Day Like Sunday

I spent some time in the reading room at the Imperial War Museum recently, and came across a poignant couple of handwritten letters sent by a father to his daughter. From the Second World War comes a letter send from 101 Tressillian Road, SE4 to 'Ella Kay' from 'Dad'. He informs her: 'Here we are back in the old home, what a mess too... The front room is smothered in dust from the houses being bombed in Breakspears Road (about 70 of them down)... Everywhere around here seems deserted and Brockley and Lewisham looks every day like Sunday nobody about as most of the houses which are not down are deserted by their tenants. There is practically no shops left in Lewisham High Street'.

Sent to Ella Jones at the same address from 1919 is a postcard, also from her father, but at a time when he was serving in France with the British Expeditionary Force. The card, dates 13 April 1919, is signed off 'don't get too old before I get back'.

I also read a First World War letter (19 March 1917) from Joe Hollister, who was living at 31 Hunsdon Road, New Cross, in which he mentions an explosion at a munitions factory. This was the infamous January 1917 Silvertown explosion in West Ham, in which 73 people died. The explosion caused damage across a wide area, seemingly including New Cross, as Hollister states 'about a dozen houses down the road had windows broken and shop windows as far out as Brixton (six or seven miles away) were blown in'.

It also felt like a privilege to visit the Imperial War Museum reading room in its last weeks within the dome of the building, in what was once the chapel when the building housed the Bethlem Hospital. The reading room there has now closed to allow it to be relocated to more accessible space on the ground floor.

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