Some died, some survived as the bombs rained down . . .
Greta Smith, Cranford Park, 1953
Greta Smith: saved by her father, who died, when a bomb hit Cranford School


ERIC HAYLES writes: There are two very strange wartime bombing incidents that I know of, one of them occured in Hillingdon, but relates to a Hayes family, the other happened in Cranford, part of the Urban District of Hayes and Harlington. I don't think I've referred to either of these incidents before on this site, but I'm surprised that the Cranford one has not been mentioned by someone else before now.

Kathleen Field at 49, East Avenue, Hayeshe first incident relates to the Hillingdon Hospital maternity ward in 1941 and our Webmaster's grandmother, Mrs Kathleen Field. She had given birth to twins and although the babies were both ok, since one was rather weak, it was decided to keep both babies in hospital for another day or so, but to allow Mrs Field home to care for her other four children, one of whom was Maureen, Josh's mum.

Amazingly, on the night of her discharge, a German bomb fell on that hospital ward, killing the twins. Their mother would have died too, had she not been sent home just hours before. I don't know if there were other casualties in the raid.

The second incident was even stranger and was also in 1941, I believe. Yet I have never seen, nor heard of, any other reference to it, even though it relates to Cranford School. Maybe that illustrates just how little information was passed around during the war, when the rules were, "Mum's the Word!" and, "Even Walls have Ears!".

It seems that some families living close to Cranford school sheltered in its underground boiler room during night-time air-raids. One of these families was the Smiths and their two children, Ivan and Greta. One night a German bomb fell down the boiler room chimney and into the boiler room itself, where it exploded. Hearing the bomb fall, Mr Smith flung himself across his sleeping children...and was killed. The children were brought out in a filthy state, but alive, and completely unaware of what had happened.

How do I know this? Mrs Smith, Ivan and Greta then moved to 8 Glebe Road, Hayes, close to where I lived in Second Avenue. We children all became close friends, went to Townfield School together, and I was in Ivan's class. I learnt that Mr Smith was Danish, but had changed his family's name from Schmidt to Smith, following the outbreak of war; his wife was English.

Ivan's story of his brave father amazed me as a boy, and always has, but it was not until about ten years ago that I was able to ask Mrs Smith (by then, widowed Mrs Gaffney) about it. She was then living in the same Ivan Smith, Cranford Park, 1953sheltered housing complex as my father, in Kelf Grove (the grounds of Hayes Manor House) and I had photos I wished to be passed on to her daughter, Greta. During that visit I recalled the story as I'd remembered it, recalling that Ivan had said that, when the children were brought to her afterwards, she had at first rejected them, not believing they were hers, because she couldn't recognise them under the soot and filth.

She told me that it was not because of their state, that she hadn't recognised them, but because she was certain that they'd both been killed. It was then that I first learnt that she, too, had been sheltering in that boiler room. She told of the horror of the experience and that she could never understand how she had managed to climb up and out through the darkened chaos. She said that when she returned to the scene later, she still couldn't understand it, although she remembered, how in the chaos and total blackness she had cleared away rubble and a heavy door above her, that had blocked her way up the steps to ground level and safety.

I attach pictures of Ivan and Greta taken, coincidentally, in Cranford Park, in about 1953. Sadly, Ivan died a couple of years ago, his mother some years earlier. Mrs Kathleen Field, my late mother-in-law, is seen in her front garden at 49, East Avenue, Hayes.




West London Special Features

Click for more