Post memories: How a German V2 rocket that killed Barking civilians saved my life
PUBLISHED: 17:00 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 17:03 06 January 2015
It’s rare to hear of happy endings during the London Blitz – but for one Barking boy a bomb saved his life.
Albert Hollis shudders when he thinks of the rocket that scattered glass over his bed, where he would have been lying had the Germans not blasted his cousins earlier that day.
A bomb roared through St Paul’s Church on January 14, 1945, wiping out Albert’s aunt’s house in nearby Westferry Road.
With their home reduced to rubble, his six cousins were shipped to his house while alternative shelter was arranged.
“We were worn out and up later than normal because of everything that happened that day,” said Albert, now 81.
“After we’d taken my cousins to Westbury School where they were sheltering we were finally about to go to bed when the second rocket hit.
“I was thrown to my knees and hit my face on the edge of the table. I jumped up and made for where the front door used to be and nails had gone right through my slippers into my feet.
“I was practically wearing wooden skis because the floorboards had nails sticking out of them. I looked down and saw blood but don’t remember feeling anything.
“I saw a trolleybus rolling about like a piece of tumbleweed on the street and shocked people were coming out of the cinema. Quite a few had been killed.
“If I had gone to bed earlier I wouldn’t be here today. The thing that saved me was my cousins’ house being hit because we’d spent the day looking after them so hadn’t gone to bed yet.”
The second German V2 to fall on Barking that day was in London Road, near North Street, where Albert lived.
The first ruined part of St Paul’s Church in Ripple Road.
Eight were killed and 52 injured as they left church after the Sunday service that day. Had the rocket hit a few minutes later the church would have been empty.
V2 rockets travelled at 3,000mph, according to local historian Tony Richards.
They broke the sound barrier and were 28ft long when they silently dropped out of the sky.
Had the Germans perfected this armoury earlier Albert wonders whether they could have had a better chance of winning the war.
He recalls the fear the “silent and vicious” V2s inflicted, compared with the earlier doodlebug bombs, which he described as a game.
“V2 rockets were terrifying –they would fall and that was that,” he said.
“It was the very end of the war by this time. I dread to think how it could have been a different story if the Germans invented those earlier.
“For us the doodlebugs were quite good fun. We could hear them coming and they’d cut out and we’d dive in somewhere. We made a game out of it if anything.”
Albert describes the January 14 rockets as “one of the worst wartime incidents in Barking”. This year marks their 70th anniversary.
A memorial service will be held at noon on January 14 at the Ripple Centre on Ripple Road, which was built on the site of St Paul’s Church in 1992.
A plaque has been erected facing St Erkenwald Road commemorating the destruction of the church and the deaths of so many worshippers.
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