Primrose Hill in wartime

 

Pam Lutgen’s childhood in the war

As a child I lived in the Primrose Hill area throughout World War Two.  My earliest memory of the war was my first sighting of a barrage balloon floating above our house. They were huge, silver-coloured,  gas filled balloons  with tail fins and were positioned in vulnerable areas to act as obstacles to enemy aircraft. On asking what they were, I was told “silver fishes in the sky, dear.” An answer which, young as I was, I didn’t quite believe.

I can remember our little baize-topped card table bouncing whenever the anti-aircraft gun on the hill went off or a bomb fell in the area, and eventually my mother decided that we should sleep in the comparative safety of Chalk Farm Underground station.  This was an exciting experience for a child, but when a bomb was dropped on Haverstock Hill and a broken gas main threatened the Tube, it was decided that we might be better off in our own beds.

Later we moved nearer to Primrose Hill itself and were bombed out there by planes we believed were aiming at the gun emplacement on one side and the main railway line from Euston on the other.

Escaping gas threatened us here too.  Our house was still gas-lit at the time and pipes had been pierced by the bomb.  I can well remember picking our way in the dark down a broken staircase while well-meaning neighbours offered to light our way with candles!. We were put up by friends and the following day my mother braved unexploded bombs by returning to the house to get some clothes for me and shoes for herself to replace the odd ones she had scrambled into in the night.

The remains of the gun emplacement was left in position for a time after the War.  I remember seeing the entrances to subterranean tunnels and my older cousin tells me that dances were sometimes held in the chambers underground. I also recall an underground air raid shelter in Chalcot Square where friends and I ran riot after school.

After our brief experience of the Tube we tried sleeping in surface shelters in the street. These were fun for kids.  They had two –tiered bunks and little heaters where, if you put a kettle on at night it would be ready for you to make a cup of tea in the morning.  The shelter we used was even given a pub sign and was called “The Cock and Pullet “ which caused amusement to some.  One of the activities we children enjoyed at the time was to collect shrapnel – fragments of fallen shells – which one could find in the street after a raid.  I once boasted that I had picked up a piece which was still warm, but that surely cannot have been true.

After the bombers came the doodlebugs – unmanned flying bombs whose engines cut out when they were about to come down.  I saw one once flying westwards towards King Henry’s Road. Its engines stopped before it reached where I stood and I hedged my bets and fled northwards towards Swiss Cottage. The doodlebugs were replaced by the rockets. These were also unmanned flying bombs but were much faster and silent in flight.  One fell on Primrose Hill while I was at school and I was reprimanded for nipping off for the afternoon to see if things were alright at home – they were.

On the other side of Primrose Hill from us was Regents Park, part of which had been taken over by the RAF for training purposes.  RAF personnel were billeted in Viceroy Court and other blocks of flats in the area.  I still think of this when passing Viceroy Court on the bus and am reminded of the day when, as a child, I peered through the gates of the Open Air Theatre in the Park to watch a youthful Vera Lynn singing to a sea of young men dressed in light blue RAF uniforms.

On the whole my experience of the war in Primrose Hill was more exciting than frightening. We children didn’t fully grasp what the bombs and the bullets could do to people or what was going on in other countries.  Today the area is more fashionable and more expensive than it was then and there is little to show now of the activities of those violent years.

This page was added on 09/05/2012.

Comments about this page

  • My family lived on Woronzow Road (some still do I think!) and tales of the war years were handed down to me by my mum. My great grandfather had a builders yard (Joseph Disson & Son) near the junction of Woronzow Road And St. John’s Wood Terrace and built a shelter for the family there. Only one small problem: the guns on Primrose Hill. My great grandmother was a strapping woman who would have given Herr Hitler a right pounding and had no fear of his bombs, but as soon as those guns started she would freeze rigid and if the sirens were late, the family would be left to carry her down the road to the shelter while all hell rained down from above. Ultimately they took to sheltering in the cellar of their house at number 18, but this nearly ended in disaster when a string of bombs came down on Henstridge Place stopping only 100ft or so from them.

    My mum also told of collecting shrapnel and using it to play hopscotch, and the V1s coming over. I’ve always been rather in awe of it all..

    By Clifford Heathcote (02/03/2018)
  • My grandparents, whose name was Leney,  lived at 59 King Henry’s Road in November 1944. They were both killed when a flying bomb hit their house.

    Does anyone know if the bomb that fell on my grandparent’s house was a V1 or V2?

    I appreciate any info. you may have.

    Thanks. Richard Leney – Vancouver, Canada.

     

    By Richard Leney (11/02/2016)
  • My 3 rd Great Grandfather Jonathan Sutton (b 1808) lived at 16 Primrose Hill in the mid 1800s until his death in 1878.  I found that No 16 is the only cottage still there in 2014  – amazing! but it did have half its roof blown off during the three air raids in April 1942. 

     

    By R Heard (19/10/2014)
  • Hi. I am trying to find out any information about the doodlebug that hit st Johns Wood station in WWII, there was only one lady and a baby survivor. An very small Irish man climbed through a small hole to rescue them. Any information would be really apprieciated the lady survivor was named Doris Sartain. 

    By Lorraine reeve (20/08/2014)
  • My grandfather Frank Pain was the owner of King Henrys Garage,in King Henrys Road. He had 22 taxis at that time. He lived at 57 Fellows Rd. Although evacuated during the war,I did come and visit my grandparents,and enjoyed seeing the Barrage Baloons,the guns on Primrose Hill etc. Paul Richards

     

     

    By PAUL RICHARDS (22/06/2014)
  • Doe anyone know anything else about the aircraft hat crashed in Regents Park? My father lived near Chalk Farm through the war and often spoke of his experiences. He told me of this crash a number of times, thought the details were a bit sketchy. He collected shrapnel and even got caught taking home an incendiary bomb he’d found on Parliament Hill.

    By Phil Squire (28/12/2013)
  • Hi all. I was born on Primrose Hill AA Gunsite in 1947. I am looking for anyone who knew my mum Sylvia Norgrove / Horning

    By Pat (29/07/2013)
  • During the Blitz Primrose Hill provided a location from which to defend the city, as described in Aldous Huxley’s wartime novel Time Must have A Stop (1944): A man meditates in his flat during an air raid in which ‘the guns on Primrose Hill were banging away in a kind of frenzy.’

    By Bridget Clarke (04/04/2013)
  • Hi, I lived at 36, Manley St from 1950-1958 and went to Primrose Hill Infants. My dad was born in Manley Street and followed the family tradition of working on the Railways. His name was Ben Spencer and he was also in the Home Guard during the Second World War. He met my mum Dot, who was from Lambeth, when she got a job cleaning the engines. She used to tell us of when an air-raid was on there would be her, uncle Albert, nan and their dog they called Buzz (named after the bombs)all sheltering under the kitchen table! I remember fondly ,playing on the swings, kite flying and sledging on Primrose Hill and the regular visits to London Zoo. I didn’t want to leave London and used to come back to Manley Street to stay with my friend until they pulled the street down and shipped everyone off to Hackney Wick to live in high-storey flats, such a shame! Sadly both my parents have passed but my sisters and I are planning to revisit N.W.1 in the near future

    By Sue Harding (20/02/2013)
  • Hi, I was born at 10aa Gunsite on Primrose Hill in 1945. I am trying to find anyone who knew my mother Sylvia Norgrove/Horning who was during the war with the WAAF. She later married a Sydney Horning.

    By Patricia Venton (Horning/Norgrove) (19/02/2013)
  • My parents lived in London, on Albert Street, I believe, before the War. My Dad joined the RAF and my Mum and brother left London to live in Blackpool. A lot of women, especially those with children, left London to live in places like Blackpool which was an ideal location as the warplanes did not bomb Blackpool, instead they flew in using the Blackpool Tower as a landmark to turn towards Liverpool to do their damage. So, I was born in St. Annes-On-Sea in a hotel converted to a hospital during the war. We returned to London in 1945 to live on Princess Road. Primrose Hill was my favourite play place. I always wondered what that big round hole up on the top of the hill was for. And, I’m glad to confirm my suspicions that there were anti-aircraft guns on top of Primrose Hill. There didn’t appear to be a lot of bomb damage to the area, a couple of houses on Regent’s Park Road, which I couldn’t resist exploring. The images of the hanging staircase that didn’t touch the floor are still in my mind and the plaster bare walls with the lath showing. I went to Princess Rd. School (Primrose Hill School) until 1952 when we emigrated to Canada. The headmaster was Mr. Clayton and my teacher for the last three years I attended was Miss Thomas, a lovely Welsh lady and an excellent teacher. On my first trip back to the U.K., I went into Primrose Hill School. Miss Thomas and Mr. Clayton had retired. The headmaster phoned Miss Thomas and we had a delightful chat, that was in 1964. My Mum was a dinner lady for several years. I have a photo of all the ladies going on a day bus trip. My Mum is standing 7th from left wearing a black hat and her friend is kneeling in front of her, both wearing dark suits. Jim says his Mum was a dinner lady, too. Maybe his Mum is in this photo, too. I enjoy this website tremendously, thank you. Rene

    By Rene Dzuris (04/11/2012)
  • Hi All, I am really interested in Primrose Hill, my mother I believe was in the WAAF during WW2. I was born in 1947 after the war. my birthplace was 10AA Gunsite Primrose Hill, I am looking for anyone who knew my mother Sylvia Norgrove who later married a REME called Syney Jack Horning. My mother sadly is dead, she didnt tell me anything about herself at all before my birth, I dont know where she served either, I just have a picture of her in uniform sitting outside some sort of tea house. If anyone can help I would really appreciate any more info.

    By Patricia Venton nee Norgrove/Horning (28/09/2012)
  • Hi, Irene, I would love to see the photo, my mum is almost certainly on it. I don’t know how to add an attachment on this programme or I would add a picture of my Mum. Look forward to seeing your pic soom. Regards Jim.

    By Jim Morris (08/09/2012)
  • Hello Jim, Wow! We must have crossed paths at school. I left Princess Road School in 1952 right before we emigrated to Canada in October of that year. My Mum was a dinner lady, too, for several years. I have a photo of all the ladies going on a day bus trip. If I can attach it, I will. My Mum is standing 7th from left wearing a hat and her friend is kneeling in front of her, both wearing dark suits. Is your Mum there? Irene

    By Irene (24/08/2012)
  • A little bit more about Regent Park, an aircraft, I believe it was a DC3, hit a barrage ballon cable and crashed into the cricket pavillion in Regents Park. I believe it was taking soldiers back to the States but they all died. The pavillion was not re-built for many years after.

    By Jim Morris (20/08/2012)
  • Hi Irene, I attended Princess Road School as it was then from 1945-1951. I then went to Haverstock Hill School until 1955. Mr Clayton was my headmaster and Miss Thomes was my teacher for the last year. I also remember Miss Gyde and Miss Boswell. My mother was one of the dinner ladies for many years. The son of Donald Zec, the Daily Mirror columnist was there at this time, I wonder where he ended up? Jim Morris

    By Jim Morris (03/08/2012)
  • I too remember the ladies hostel on Primrose Hill. Much to my parents’ distress I came to London in 1961 at the age of 17 – but only on condition I stayed in the Green Cross Hostel for Young Ladies as I believe it was called. I still have a friend from the dorm we shared (four to a room!) and this year we are celebrating our 50th year of friendship. Would be fun to hear other inmates’ memories!

    By Rae (31/07/2012)
  •  I enjoyed reading about wartime experiences in the Primrose Hill area. My Mother and brother left London in 1939, I was born in St. Annes-on-Sea. We moved back to London right after the war in 1945. My Dad was in the RAF and came home to us. Did you attend Primrose Hill School on Princess Road? Me, too. Do you remember Miss Thomas, a lovely Welsh teacher we had? And, Mr. Clayton, the Head Master? We lived on Princess Road and Primrose Hill was my favourite play place. I always wondered what the big round hole up on top of the hill was for. Recently, I realized it must have been for anti-aircraft guns and I’m very pleased to finally see photographs of the guns. Thank you. Was it my imagination or were the barrage balloons flying for a time after the war was over? Something I seem to remember or maybe imagined. Thanks so much for your recollections. I, also, enjoyed reading Ann and Jim’s recollections.

    By Irene (29/07/2012)
  • Re, the opera singer mention above. Her name was Ellen Terry and she was as famous in her day as Madonna is today but I believe she was more music hall than opera. Our land-lady, Mrs Scott, was her house keeper but I never heard about the ‘voices’. Jim Morris

    By Jim Morris (20/07/2012)
  • I found your article very interesting as I lived in Rothwell Street through-out the war, I was born June 1940, but can still remember the noise of the bombs and breaking glass. I also played in the remains of the gun emplacments and air-raid shelters. Two things I would correct you on, the ‘bomb’ at Haverstock Hill was a land mine whose parachute caught in the trees which saved it from exploding. The ‘bomb’ that landed in the allotments on Primrose Hill adjacent to Regents Park Road was a V1 doodlebug and not a V2. I was sitting outside of the chain link fencing around the gunsite at the time with my aunt and uncle. Hope this was helpful and thanks for the photos in your email.

    By Jim Morris (16/07/2012)
  • I lived in a girls’ hostel overlooking Primrose Hill during 1956/57 in a large old house reputed to have been owned by an opera singer so that her voice could be heard all over the house. All these old houses were pulled down and three-storey ‘modern’ houses built there which are old in their own way now.

    By Ann Barber (11/07/2012)

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