Features Walthamstow

Life in Blitz-era Walthamstow

Lionel Clyne, 91, was only eight when WWII broke out and spent most of the conflict in the area

By Fran Di Fazio

Lionel Clyne (credit: Steve Coombs)

The discovery of a suspected WWII bomb at the town hall in December brought back memories for many of those who survived the Blitz in Walthamstow.

These include Lionel P. Clyne, who was only eight years old when war broke out and spent almost the entire conflict living in the area.

During the initial Blitz, which lasted from October 1940 to June 1941, more than 700 bombs were dropped on the borough.

This forced Lionel’s family to spend numerous nights inside an Anderson shelter in their garden, which was “very small, made of corrugated iron and covered with earth as protection”.

Lionel said: “We were told to go down to the shelter at about six o’clock in the evening and to not get out until six o’clock the next morning. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it was warm and it was dry.

“You’d leave your house [the next morning] and you didn’t know whether the school would be there when you got there. And you’d leave school – I’d come back for lunch – and you didn’t know whether your house would be there. They were very difficult times, but we survived.

“We had lots of interruptions [at school] because of air raid bombings, when we had to take shelter, but we had some very good teachers there, very committed. They were very happy days, in spite of the war.”

Lionel initially attended Markhouse Road School, directly in front of his house, before moving to George Gascoigne Secondary School in Queen’s Road.

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Markhouse Road School (credit: Vestry House Museum)

After the initial Blitz, a terrifying new bomb appeared in the skies above London. V-1 flying bombs were unmanned aircrafts that exploded as soon as they touched the ground after running out of fuel.

The “doodlebugs,” as they were infamously nicknamed in Britain, were deployed from 1944 and, on 16th August that year, one hit the corner of Hoe Street and Church Hill, killing 22 people, injuring 144 and destroying dozens of buildings.

Lionel said: “You’d hear them buzz above you, then there was a sort of a deadly silence, and then you got the explosion.”

So terrifying were these new bombs that once, while coming out of a shop with two friends, Lionel heard a “terrible roar” and immediately raced back inside to safety, only to discover the noise was “a van with a broken exhaust pipe”.

However, the most lingering effect of the war was the rationing of food. Lionel remembers the ration books and having two lamb chops’ worth of meat per week and, importantly for a child, that sweets remained rationed until a decade after the fighting stopped, due to the short supply of sugar.

Lionel, 91, now lives in Kent with his wife but says Walthamstow “will always be [his] home” and visited just before the Covid lockdown.

Asked whether he found it much changed, he replied: “I didn’t, funnily enough. Some things change but that’s inevitable. Now it’s very cosmopolitan, and it’s reflected in that you can get any sort of cuisine you like. It’s fantastic, absolutely fantastic.”

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