Wartime memories from my father

The VE Day street party held in Aylands Road, Freezywater, in May 1945
The VE Day street party held in Aylands Road, Freezywater, in May 1945

David Chandler shares the fascinating stories from his father Tony’s childhood growing up in Freezywater during the Second World War

The VE Day 75th anniversary last month brought to mind stories my late father told me of his wartime childhood in Enfield and a mystery that’s always puzzled me.

There was a street party in Aylands Road, Freezywater. My dad, Tony Chandler, is in there somewhere, aged ten. He didn’t enjoy it, as he disliked parties and, for him, five years of adventure and excitement were coming to an end.

Dad’s photographic memory meant that when this photo resurfaced (probably around the 40th anniversary) he was able to give a detailed account of the festivities; who was there, the quality and quantity of food provided, and the songs that were sung. He recalled children were given a treat of “fake lemonade” – lemons were hard to come by during wartime. I asked him what exactly this intriguing beverage consisted of and he replied: “I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t have any lemons in it.”

My grandmother is stood on the left of the photo and, comparing her appearance to photographs taken a few years earlier, she looks deeply affected by the hardships of wartime. My father Tony was born in 1935 and lived in Aylands Road with his parents, Eddie and Mary. My grandfather worked for Ewarts in Kentish Town but was too old to be called up. He was a member of the Home Guard and, in the later years of the war, he was also an air raid warden. Eddie Chandler is pictured on the right of the photograph depicting a training exercise with the Middlesex Regiment. I don’t think the spigot mortar they are showing off was ever used in anger!

Eddie Chandler (right) on a training exercise with the Home Guard, Middlesex Regiment
Eddie Chandler (right) on a training exercise with the Home Guard, Middlesex Regiment

My father wasn’t evacuated, as his mother didn’t want to let go of her only child. Dad was also determined to stay at home, because he was spoilt rotten and didn’t want to miss the action! He always said growing up during the war was the most exciting time of his life and he remembered collecting shrapnel from houses which had been bombed out.

When I was young, dad would point out buildings that had sprung up on the old bomb sites after the war. He told me about a V1 raid on Holmwood Road which destroyed many houses and attracted children from miles around to look for ‘treasure’.

During the Blitz, raids on Enfield were relatively light, but bombs did fall and in 1941 there was a direct hit on Aylands Road. In fact, the bomb landed in my grandparents’ garden! Dad was outside with his mother in the air raid shelter when a German bomb exploded at the very end of the garden. It must have been terrifying, but for my father it was just an opportunity to collect shrapnel close to home – although he didn’t snaffle it all. I dug up a piece 40 years later, which I still have in my possession.

Second World War bomb shrapnel recovered from Aylands Road
Second World War bomb shrapnel recovered from Aylands Road

Dad obviously led a charmed life; in 1944, Chesterfield School in Ordnance Road took a direct hit from a V2 bomb, which missed him by about ten minutes because he’d gone home for lunch. The top of Aylands Road, where there are now flats, was a prisoner of war (POW) camp – my dad used to visit the prisoners and take them sweets. He also remembered the terror that swept through the neighbourhood when residents were told to stay indoors, as a German POW had escaped. He was found hiding in a neighbour’s shed and my father watched from the window as soldiers led him back to the camp.

When I look at the VE Day street party photo, I remember all these stories, but one thing still bugs me – what exactly was in the fake lemonade?!