Friday, July 15, 2011

Restless - World War Two Deptford

Restless (2006) by William Boyd is a great read, a tale of wartime espionage and its reverberations many years later. Much of the action takes place in the USA and Oxford, but at one point in 1942 the main character has cause to visit Deptford for reasons I won't divulge for fear of spoiling the plot:

'The next morning on the wireless she heard the news of the raids on Rotherhithe and Deptford - whole streets flattened, an entire housing estate evacuated, blocks of flats burned out and destroyed... She read of a charitable-trust estate in Deptford - three blocks almost totally destroyed, a direct hit on one, Carlisle House - 87 people feared dead... Eva caught a bus to Deptford the next day and went in search of Carlisle House. She found the usual fuming moonscape of dereliction: hills of brick rubble, teetering cliffs of walls and exposed rooms, gas mains still burning through the tumbled masonry with a pale wobbly light'

I believe that Carlisle House is fictional, though of course there were many real life scenes like this in Deptford during the war. At the BBC WW2 People's War archive, Daisy Purkiss recalls life in Deptford at that time:

'If we were caught in the street during a raid... we ran for the nearest shelter. We always ran for cover if we were outside. In Deptford High Street there was a bomb shelter under a big shop- Burton’s, a clothing shop. Everyone out in the High Street when the sirens went off ran for that, and stayed down there until the “all clear” sounded. Most of the raids were at night, and in the morning on the way to work we could see what the bombs had done . The did a lot of damage - knocked down buildings, shops and everything, but Burton’s was never knocked down. There were some American troops in the area and they used to help with clearing up the bomb damage. By the time the war ended most streets around Deptford and Lewisham had buildings missing where the bombs had landed'.

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