Ashworth at war… or why you should blame the Nazis for your heating


Some months ago a gentleman in his late 60’s called on the caretaker to ask if he could look around the gardens, explaining that as a child he had been brought up in Ashworth Mansions.  He now lived in Australia, but was visiting relatives in the UK and wanted to see his old home.  He told Daron about how he and other kids from the block had done all of the normal things children do.  They had played hide and seek in the gardens, drawn chalk animals on the walls, run around and shouted (and no doubt some residents were disturbed by the noise and complained).  He had happy memories of his childhood here in the early 1940’s, but his story had a sad twist because, as he explained, one of his young friends had been killed when a bomb hit Ashworth Mansions, causing terrible devastation.  The gentleman left Daron wondering if this was a tall story or whether the building really had been attacked in the Second World War…

There were already rumours around the block that something like this had happened, and there are some odd, structural features distinguishing the Ashworth Road end of the buildings from the rest.  One account had it that the building had been hit late in the war by one of the V weapons and was later rebuilt.  Some amateur research carried out by a couple of Ashworth residents has now thrown up the outlines of a remarkable and traumatic night, but one which was suffered by so many.  It turns out that Daron’s gentleman was telling nothing but the truth.  This is Ashworth Mansions’ wartime story.

The V1 flying bomb (doodlebug or buzz bomb) was Hitler’s first ‘revenge weapon’ that he hoped would turn the tide of the war.  Almost 30,000 V-1s were made, mostly by slave labourers.  Approximately 10,000 were fired at England; 2,419 reached London (5 hit the Borough of Paddington), killing about 6,184 people and injuring 17,981.  They flew at around 400 m.p.h. at an altitude of between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.  Each carried a warhead containing a ton of an early, but potent high explosive called amatol.  As it approached its target a timing mechanism connected to a spinning vane in the nose of the weapon would force the V1 into a powered dive.  The V1 would strike its target and explode with pretty much the same energy as one of the aircraft that hit the World Trade Centre on 9/11. The versions fired at London in June 1944 had a fault that meant they were all but silent in their terminal dive, and were often not heard by those they hit.

Residents of Ashworth Mansions going to bed on the night of 22 June 1944 would probably have felt that the worst of the war was behind them.  The building itself had been spared the blitz – the nearest damage had been on Lauderdale and Essendine Roads, or along Carlton Vale on the far side of Paddington Recreation Ground.  Rome had fallen on 4 June.  The Allies were ashore in Normandy, with their flanks secure and preparing for the savage battle to break out of the beach-head.  In the East the Army was annihilating the Wehrmacht.

But there had been a worrying development.  The first ten V1’s were launched against England nine days previously.  V1’s hit London on 13 June, killing six people in Hackney.  By 15 June the Nazis were able to launch hundreds every day from launch sites in the Pas de Calais area of France.  Rumours had flown around London that large numbers of German aircraft had crashed, causing extensive damage, but on 16 June the population was told that these new air attacks were not carried out by conventional aircraft but were instead Hitler’s new secret weapon.

By 21 June the barrage balloons defending London had been moved to a line along the North Downs in Kent in order to intercept the weapons.  Eventually, nearly 90% of incoming V1’s were stopped in this way or by anti-aircraft guns and stripped-down spitfires that – incredibly – flew alongside the V1 in a special high-speed air corridor, touched and flipped the flying bomb’s wings over causing it to crash.  In the early phases of the V1 attacks London’s defences were nowhere near as good though.  A few minutes before 2 in the morning on 23 June one slipped past the barrage balloons, heading for west London.

Where exactly a V1 struck depended on an adjustment made by a German engineer just before launch.  Rear view of the Elgin Avenue block taken from roughly the point of impactThe engineer would turn a screw clockwise or counterclockwise for a longer or shorter flight.  A tiny twist this way or that would mean 100’s of feet shorter or longer of flight.  Had this unknown engineer twisted just a little further then the V1 would have landed smack in the middle of the garden and there would have been no more Ashworth Mansions as we know them.  As fate would have it his adjustments meant that at 02.04 on 23 June 1944 a ton of high explosive struck the ground at 400 m.p.h. and detonated, half way along and next to the railings between the Ashworth Mansions garden on the pavement along Ashworth Road, slightly nearer Elgin Avenue than Grantully Road.

Gillian Lewis takes up the story:

“In 1944 our family lived in Ashworth Mansions. I cannot remember the number, but we lived on the second floor. My grandparents, Benjamin and Cissie Lewis, and my cousin, Teresa Feri (aged nine) lived in a flat [at the corner of Ashworth Road and Elgin Avenue]. Not only was Teresa my cousin she was also my friend and we went everywhere together and to the same school and she introduced me to the local brownie group (St John’s Wood).

I remember being woken up by my father and my bed being covered in glass. I recall our family making our way down to Maida Vale Tube station. My grandparents’ flat and that section of Ashworth Mansions being ablaze. I kept asking my father, ‘will Teresa be coming?’, but my grandparents and my cousin were killed. We spent the night in Maida vale underground station. I found out that my Grandparents were buried in the Jewish Cemetery in East Ham, a most depressing place, not a single flower in sight. Teresa, being half Italian, must have been buried somewhere else, possibly a children’s mass grave. I no longer live in the area, but Elgin Avenue & Ashworth Mansions and the whole area as it used to be holds a special place in my heart.”

215 Elgin Avenue was destroyed.  That end of Ashworth Mansions was damaged beyond repair and much of the rest of the building was seriously affected.  Sadly, a total of  seven people in Ashworth Mansions were killed and thirteen were injured.  The buildings were left mostly uninhabitable and only block five on the corner of Biddulph Road and Elgin Avenue had anybody living in it 1945.

After the war the building was reconstructed, pretty much as it had been before, but if you look carefully you can see the differences – a railing here of there does not quite match; there are some suggestive lines in the brickwork; the trees on Ashworth Road are not quite where you would expect them to be. There is a house on the corner of Elgin Avenue that does not match its neighbours and the flats in block one are laid out differently to how they were when they were originally put up. Perhaps there is something else?  Although we do not know for sure, it is an odd coincidence that the area of Ashworth that was heavily damaged by the V1 is the same as where we have the communal heating.

 

So, there you have it, the communal hot water and heating is in fact not the Board’s fault, but Hitler’s! And little Teresa Feri must have been the unfortunate playmate of that Australian gentleman.  And just maybe, he is one of the children pictured watching the clean-up operation…

Martin Clements, March 2008

Photos courtesy of the Daily Mirror Archive.

Note: for further reading, Here is a very good description of a flying bomb attack on a neighbouring block in St John’s Wood.

Advertisements

16 Responses to Ashworth at war… or why you should blame the Nazis for your heating

  1. Gillian Lewis says:

    I wonder if the gentleman from Australia who recently visited Ashworth Mansions would remember me, because it is apparent that we lived there at the same time. He may also recall my cousin Teresa who sadly was killed on that night in 1944.

    There used to be tennis courts in the gardens at the back of Ashworth Mansions and it was more open and easily accessible to everyone and as children a safe play ground. but now it is fenced off and private. Teresa and I went to the same school together. I would call for her every morning and we would clamber out of the back window of my grandparents flat, (they lived at number 1 Ashworth Mansions) and we would a take a short cut across the gardens to the Park at the back of the flats (then called and as we knew to be The Rec) on our journey to school.

    I remember this rather tall, austere, elderly lady elegantly attired in purple or lavender who regularly to walked in the park, she looked very much like our Queen Mary and I was convinced that she was a witch and I remember being frightened of her. There were one or two other strange characters (from an imaginative child’s point of view). There was an odd looking man who carried a sack over his shoulder and I thought he kidnapped little children and popped them in his sack and stole them away, (poor man, completely harmless!)

    The milk was delivered to the flats by a horse drawn cart, so we always fed the milkman’s horse with a carrot or an apple or two. Also if my memory serves me the baker also made deliveries by horse and cart.
    My Granfather, Ben, in his late sixties could always be seen on summers day sitting on the wall outside number one watching the children play and the world go by.

    There were happy and sad days then, especially the tragic night in June 1944.

  2. Gillian Lewis says:

    A couple of Saturday’s ago I took the opportunity to visit Ashworth Mansions, with the sole intention of speaking to the caretaker about the Australian gentleman who had recently called to see him whilst visiting the UK. Unfortunately, Saturday happened to be his day off, so no joy there. But I did have the pleasure of meeting a very charming retired lady who lived in the flat adjacent to the caretaker. She very kindly invited me in for a cup of tea and a chat and to give me the opportunity to view once again the gardens, where we played as a children.

    The gardens now are attractively landscaped, (minus the tennis courts!) and are completely closed off and private. I really was disappointed not to have met the caretaker, but I did leave him a note with my telephone number, but Daron, hasn’t call me yet!

    It was perchance that I met the young lady that now lives in the basement flat where my grandparents once lived. She kindly invited me in, and to my disappointed, it was one room, a studio flat. Anyway, I shall be visiting Ashwoth Mansions again soon and hope to have a word with Daron, the caretaker.

    • Alan Carter says:

      Hi Gillian,
      I am the Gentleman from Australia (David Alan Carter) and I am now 76 years old, therefore, not quite 8 during the night of the bombing.
      I lived with my family in Ashworth Mansions and looking at the map, we lived in the left hand block, 2nd or 3rd floor, facing the Paddington Recreational Ground i.e. diagonally opposite your cousin.
      I remember that night quite vividly – we were playing on the disused Tennis Court area, it was a bright summer evening and the sky was carpeted with aero planes, supposedly on a bombing run. I remember my last words to your cousin, “that I will see you tomorrow”. I have the impression that she was small in stature and with darkish features.

      I don’t know whether my facts are absolutely correct, but I have been under the impression, that the V1 grazed the top of my unit block and ricochet to the other side. I was always given the impression that we had a lucky escape. I remember waking up and being aware that I was laying on a bed of glass and by brother told me that he had a broken window pane around his neck, but neither of us suffered any scratches.

      I remember the Paddington Recreational Ground and the old Band Stand, where the Americans and the local girls were jiving, I remember seeing areal combat, which all seemed to be taken place silently, in slow motion, way up high. I remember regular trips to Maidavale station and being camped out for the night.

      So, resulting from the bombing, we were evacuated and I spent time in Liverpool and Leeds. After the war, my family returned to Ashworth Mansion and I lived in No. 51, again on the recreation side, on the first floor. I lived there until I was about 20 years of age (1956).

      I went to the local cubs and had my bar mitzvah at St. Johns Wood Synagogue .

      Isn’t the brain a magnificent piece of machinery! The re-call is amazing even that of poor Teresa.

      • Gillian Lewis says:

        Hi Alan,
        Joe Ferri said you had been in contact and that you do remember, Theresa, which is great! My memory is a little vague, so I don’t actually remember you. I wonder if you knew Christopher, who we nicknamed, Jumbo, because his ears stuck out. He lived opposite the Paddington Recreation Ground in the road behind Ashworth Mansions. I could send you some photos of Theresa and Joe if you would like them.
        You’ve read my input so not really anything to add, except, where did you go to school? I went to Essendene with Theresa. I would call for her in the morning and I remember we always stop off at the sweet shop, either before or on the way back from school to buy lemonade powder or hundreds and thousands and those little transfers you would stick on the back of your hand, do you remember. Such lovely memories! I always think about Theresa she was very special to me, a lovely cousin and my best friend and she will always have a place in my heart. I remember we save farthings, so that we had money to spend in the sweet shop.
        You can contact me by email if you wish.
        Best Wishes
        Gilly

      • Gillian Lewis says:

        Hi David, still waiting for you to respond to my last reply to your message. I hope you are OK? Would love to hear from you, my emai is:gilly.interact@btinternet.com. I will take this opportunity to wish you all the best for 2013.
        Gillian

  3. Joe Ferri. says:

    I remember well that night 23rd June 44.
    I was asleep at the front end of the flat No1, woke up to a loud bang and being only 10, had no idea what had happened, but soon found myself trying to help an old gent, (my uncle Lew) who was in bed with a wall on top of him…..all I could see were his feet so I tried to get him out, Also just outside our front door which had been blown off was a Mr Bush, he was in his mothers arms bleeding very badly, the door had hit him I think and I gave them my pyjama top to help.
    It was then that the A.R.P. arrived and ushered me out to an other family member (my uncle Alec) and taken to their home. It was there that I was told my sister Teresa, Grandma and Grandpa had been killed.
    I was promply sent to Wales for the rest of the war, some of the children I remember (as well as Jillian), were Allen and his brother Ellis, Rosmary and her brother Raymond, plus a boy named Christopher.
    I now live in New Zealand and am 75 years old.

    • Heather Laskey (married name, O'Brien). says:

      My name is Heather Laskey. Joe – are you still alive? We lived at 10 Elgin Mansions; I knew you and Teresa, we often played together in our back yard, and I remember the night of the bomb that killed Teresa. I too was evacuated after it – though we only got the blast. When I worked as a journalist I did a broadcast about it one November 11th, here in Canada where I live. I thought it was only your grandfather that had been killed with Teresa, not both of your grandparents. Also had been told it was a land-mine, didn’t know it was a VI rocket. Have often wondered what became of you. That night changed our lives. My email address: laskey.obrien@ns.sympatico.ca

  4. Joe Ferri. says:

    Allen, it was great to speak to you on the 8th but at this moment I have been unable to find Gill’s e.m. address but will keep on looking
    and Gilly if you see this please drop me a line.

    Allen have a good trip speak when you get back……Joe Ferri.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Joe,
      Finally, Got a message from David and I have written back. It was only by chance that I went to the site today and saw the message. It had been sitting there for sometime. Thank you

  5. Gillian Lewis says:

    No it was me! Gilly. Don’t know why anonymous came up.

  6. Gerry says:

    I was born in Leith Mansions in 1946 and lived there for the first 23 years of my life.Played in Paddington Rec and went to Essendine Road school,and to Cheder at Maida Vale Beth Hamedrash

  7. Gillian Lewis says:

    HI Gerry, We’d left Maida Vale before you were born – soon after the bombing of Ashworth Mansions June 1944. We also used to play in Paddington Rec and I went to Essendene School with my cousin Theresa who was killed on the night of the bombing. Some members of my family however still remained in Paddington until the early sixties. Now and again I visit the area as it does hold special memories. Don’t know what else I can add to the above only that it would have been nice to have known.
    Gilly

  8. Ken W says:

    I returned from evacuation about 1943. I started back at Essendene road school when it reopend. The older boys were posted on the roof with binoculars spotting for doodlebugs. Runing down the stairs ringing school hand bells when one came our way. I was also Mr Bracken`s (headmaster) messenger boy. I am now 83. Ken W

    • Gillian Lewis says:

      Hello Ken, We lived at 25,Ashworth Mansion, Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale and my grandparents and my two cousins, Theresa and Joseph lived with them at Flat 1 Ashworth Mansions before the night of the bombing, June 1944. Tragically, both my grandparents & my cousin Theresa were killed that night. I also went to Essendene School up until 1944. You said you returned after being evacuated 1943 when Essendene School reopened. I wasn’t aware that it ever closed during WW2, that’s interesting! Maybe you returned a year or
      maybe two later than 1943? because I was a pupil there from 1942 to 1944. I would like to hear from….Warm regards. Gilly

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Gillian,I was also a pupil at Essendine school from 1942 to 1945 when I left there at 14, your surname rings bells, like you I wasn’t aware the school ever closed and I also thought the headmasters name was Mr Branghem but I could be wrong, I lived in 170 Shirland rd I had a young friend named Cyril Elmon who lived in the mansions,interesting day yeah!! My name is John Skinner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: