Parachute mine reduced house to rubble

IMAGINE being a child and having to leave your Ipswich home at a moment's notice, because a massive parachute mine is dangling from a nearby crane.The learning that your house has been reduced to a heap of rubble just a few days later, and moving from house to house with your only clothes being handouts.

IMAGINE being a child and having to leave your Ipswich home at a moment's notice, because a massive parachute mine is dangling from a nearby crane.

The learning that your house has been reduced to a heap of rubble just a few days later, and moving from house to house with your only clothes being handouts.

These are all memories of Ipswich during the Second World War, for Irene Rook (nee Cobbold), who now lives in Mondron, Spain.

Irene said: “I was born in 1927 and lived with my mother, grandfather and blind grandmother in Suffolk Road. I never knew my father. Life then was peaceful. I do not remember seeing many cars, bread milk and coal were delivered by horse and cart. My grandfather used to take me on Christchurch Park to see the ducks. On Sundays we always attended church morning and evening, also Sunday school, and of course we always had a walk in our best clothes. I played with my friend in Suffolk Road, games included hopscotch and skipping whip and top. On Fridays I used to go round the houses with a big basket full of garden produce for our neighbours, which earned me pocket money to go to the Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon with my friend Pamela Howlett to see Flash Gordon.


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“Life went along peacefully all around me at 4 Suffolk Road. On the corner was a little shop called Fuller's, I think. On the opposite corner was the stone mansions yard where grave stones were made. When I was in church on Sunday September 3 1939 it was announced that war had been declared. I was twelve and had no idea what that meant, although I was destined to find out very soon. I remember the low hum of the planes overhead, the sound of anti aircraft guns, the searchlights and bombs dropping and the barrage balloons in the sky, the terrible sound of the sirens warning us that trouble was coming. If I hear that sound now I still get goose bumps.

“Then came the terrible night which really changed my life. We were all asleep when suddenly there was a bang which threw us out of bed and shattered all the windows and doors - it was terrible. Everywhere there was dust and glass, whistles blowing and men shouting.

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“My grandfather had a big cat which used to sit on his shoulder. The poor animal was terrified at all that was happening and fled out of the broken windows. When it was safe to go back to the area he found Toby alive and well. I will never forget that night.

“Grandma being blind was in a terrible state of shock. Men told us a land mine had dropped opposite and the parachute had caught on the crane. We had to leave immediately, stopping for nothing. We were taken to Northgate School for safety. This was the end of my peaceful life. The bomb disposal squad went in and removed some of the explosive and then detonated it.

“Our house and a lot more just became rubble. A woman at the church we attended, I believe her name was Lady Paul, put us up for a few weeks at her big mansion house where we lived with the servants.

“I believe she helped get clothes and furniture for us and a house. The first house was in the Bramford Road area. We did not stay long as there were too many rats and I was terrified, we were then given a house in Withipoll Street. There were three floors; grandma being blind could not cope with them. I remember being in the attic one day and watched a German plane come down over Christchurch Park, not far away. We finished up in a little house in Orchard Street next to the paper shop.”

She added: “I attended the Senior Girls School in Bolton Lane and my teacher was Miss Paternoster. I was still thirteen when I left school and I worked briefly at an eye glass factory in Chelmsford, but I wanted to come back to grandma. So I returned to work in the “posh” cinema the Ritz in the Buttermarket, Ipswich, where I became an usherette and relief cashier, they called me 'Rene'.

“I used to buy curtain material when it was not rationed and I made my own dresses. My friend Muriel Broom and I both had a healthy liking for dating the sailors from H.M.S.Ganges; in fact our names were carved on many a tree in Christchurch Park! One day at the Ritz we had the whole of the Ganges in to watch the film “In Which We Serve,” I had a lot of dates and lots I could not keep.

“Sadly my Grandma died and I had to go into lodgings. I stayed with my friend Muriel in Harmony Square for a short while and then went to lodge with Mrs Easty and her two daughters, Peggy and Joy, in Reading Road. How Mrs Easty cared for us all I don't know, but there was not many mornings we didn't run for the bus eating a bacon sandwich. Mrs Easty took in washing from the American base so maybe they supplied her with the bacon and other things! By this time I was working as a machinist in Fieldsman's in Northgate Street where I helped to make uniforms for the army and air force on peace work. We used to go to dances at the church institute in Tower Street, because of air raids we would dance by candlelight.

“The air raids did not deter us and we used to walk home in the dark, sometimes picking a rose from someone's garden and eating chips out of newspaper.

“I remember the doodle bugs, how awful they were. When the noise stopped my heart was in my mouth, wondering where they would land. Sometimes planes flew low and machine gunned the town. On my way to work one morning I saw the sky almost black with planes and gliders going overhead. They were on their way to the landings at Arnhiem in Holland.

“I hated the shelters and would not go in one when the raids were on. My friend Joy met an American serviceman from the Rattlesden Base. I used to go with her to the dances. She went to North Carolina as a war bride about 1945-46. I have lost contact with her. If anyone can help me trace her I would be very grateful.

“When the war ended in 1945 I was still working at Fieldman's and there were great celebrations. I was at the HMS Ganges dance at Shotley later that day and when we returned the Cornhill in the centre of Ipswich was crammed with people singing, shouting and dancing, it was a great relief for every one. The street parties soon started and we held one in Reading Road. I wonder now how the residents got all the food together, because it was rationed? I would love to hear from any of my friends in Ipswich. My email address is irenerook@avired.com .

If you enjoy local history there are two local books available now. 'Ipswich - The War Years' is extracts and photographs from the Kindred Spirit column. This hardback book is published by First Edition in association with the Evening Star. It is on sale at the Evening Star office in Lower Brook Street, costing £14.99.

Another is by local historian Frank Grace. Frank looks at the history of the slums of the St Clements district of Ipswich in an area known as 'The Potteries”. This area of poor housing survived until the 1930's. Frank's book 'Rags and Bones' is now on sale. Both books are on available at the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre in St Stephens Lane, Ipswich.

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