Wartime Potters Bar

Park Avenue

By David Roberts

Wartime in Potters Bar

Potters Bar before the Second World was no more than an oversized village divided by a railway track. Unlike today, much has changed, with many buildings demolished and built over. Large housing estates now cover the fields and open spaces we local children once played on.

We lived in Park Avenue and known as the most bombed area in Potters Bar! The German planes would target the Railway lines as they emerged from the tunnel after leaving Kings Cross railway station, or transporting troops, tanks, guns, and other war equipment, from the industrial north. Many bombs missed their intended targets, hitting surrounding and often residential areas instead.

My mother drove a milk float pulled by an old Horse, rescued from a bombed out building in East London. My Father was exempt from service due to ill health, and worked as a booking clerk at Kings Cross Station, and was a member of the Home Guard.

I was 7 years old when the War started. My school teacher’s brother was Captain John Allcock of Allcock & Brown fame – The early Aviators who first flew the Atlantic non-stop in 1919.

In 1916 the Zeppelin L31 was shot down over Potters Bar, by pilot officer Tempest. A road was to be later named after him. The Zeppelin pilot, Heinrich Matty, jumped from the airship without a parachute, rather than be burned alive. On Armistice Day 1937, a service was held at a local Cemetery, attended by General von Ribbentrop, General Goering and other members of the German military, who were later to hold top positions in the German war ‘machine’, and would be later tried for War Crimes at Nuremburg. After the War, deceased German airmen from the Zeppelin were removed and re-buried in Germany.

We would spend every night in the Air raid shelter when the sirens would sound around 9pm in the evenings, and again the next day when we were at school. Anti Aircraft guns were positioned on street corners, and barrage balloons would fly above.

Most kids’ parents had gone off to war! Food was scarce. I had an Allotment where I would grow vegetables to help out. A local Policeman showed me how and what to grow. He also showed me how to shape up and learn to Box!! Johnny Wright, the 1948 Middleweight Olympic Silver Medallist lived in Potters Bar, and used the drill hall in nearby Barnet to train, where my friend and I used to go. I even managed a few rounds with him, as being in the Navy he was short of sparring partners.

On one night raid, Incendiary bombs fell on Park Avenue setting fire to some of the houses. Those that missed landed in the fields, stuck in the mud unexploded. We boys would unscrew the tails of the bombs and remove the magnesium, make fires, and then throw the magnesium on and watch it explode! We would then float the canister they were dropped in into a nearby flooded bomb crater.

One afternoon, whilst waiting for a bus, a giant U.S Bomber flew overhead at Rooftop height, before crashing at the bottom of Park Avenue, landing on a Piggery. We got inside the plane, and found it empty, finding out later that the crew had bailed out over Epping Forest 5 miles away.

We often saw squadrons of planes flying back after raids over Germany, with spaces in the formations, for those who did not return. We would also find parts thrown out of planes, to lighten the weight of a damaged plane.

2 of my Uncles arrived home after being rescued at the evacuation of Dunkirk, only to be sent back at the Normandy landings, where a cousin serving in the merchant navy was killed unloading ammunition at the artificial Port at Arromanches. Another uncle was shot down over Germany, and imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, while in England, German prisoners worked on the roads, repaired buildings, and were able to walk around freely.

I befriended a German prisoner – a lad about 17 years called Hans. I took him apples from the Garden, and the occasional Cigarette. In turn, he carved a miniature pair of ski boots from wood, which I still have.

My friend George Samson, who would later go on to join the Royal Marines, lived in Park Avenue, and would deliver Telegrams to addresses where servicemen had been killed or taken prisoner. The new boy stopped outside George’s house right at the end of the war in 1945, to tell his mother he had been killed. He is now buried in New Delhi, India.

We suffered food rationing like most people. Coal was scarce, so my brother and I would go to where the Railway Coal Trucks were kept in the sidings, and throw Coal onto the track to take home in a Handcart. One particular cold morning, my mother wanted me to go shopping with her, and at the last minute decided to light the boiler fire. While chopping firewood on the back step, there was an almighty bang, and the earth shook causing slates to topple off the Roof, and the bathroom windows and frame came crashing down on me, cutting open my head.

Had we not stopped to light the fire, we would have been at the top of Park Avenue, where a V2 rocket landed killing 23 people. When I arrived, there was a crater 200’ wide and 200’ deep, with water mains pouring, and gas mains burning, and surrounding houses destroyed. Nothing was left of the Catholic Church, and all of those inside had perished. On peering underneath some sacking, there were two small boys, one of which had been decapitated. There was a distinct smell of hot bricks and burning timber in the air, and it actually snowed that evening!

We were eventually evacuated to a relative about 4 miles away, only to be bombed again, and forced to return to a half repaired house again. Even the shop where I had a paper round had been bombed.

Meanwhile, air raids continued day and night. We could see the huge orange glow in the night sky, where London was alight from one end to the other. Wounded servicemen would walk around Potter Bar dressed in blue jackets, white shirts, and red ties, mixing with PoW’s who would wear their brown army uniforms, with a large orange diamond sewn to their jacket and trousers. It’s rather coincidental that the house I currently live in was built by German POW’s!

Towards the end of the war, in 1944, the streets around Potters Bar were full of Tank transporters, and guns and vehicles of all descriptions, all hidden under the cover of trees and hedgerows. British and American forces were based in the surrounding houses. One morning as I made my way to school, to my surprise, every single street was empty. All the troops and vehicles had disappeared overnight, heading for the D Day invasion.

Overall, it was ironic that we children would see more wartime action than when we went on to serve in the armed forces several years later! We were a generation who had experienced enough of war, hard times and fear. Quite an interesting 6 years in the life of a young lad!

David Roberts, May 2014.

This page was added on 09/05/2014.

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  • Fascinating recollection, and confirms some of the stories my dad told me, he lived at 72 Park avenue and some of the windows blew out or bowed, being stain glass leaded lights following bomb blast. he also talked about nicking perspex from a crashed plane and making things out of it. i guess David would have known my Dad, Francis Cain

    By Matt Cain (30/01/2024)
  • My family lived at 16 Sunny Bank Road, Potters Bar and I was born there in 1940. A bomb landed at the top of our street (on the hilly part) and killed a dozen families. The blast went over our house with no damage.
    Attended primary school age 3 in 1943 and when the sirens or planes were heard, we went under the school oval into concrete bunkers for our lessons.

    By Alan Camfield (01/12/2022)
  • Great stories of the time.
    My father also lived in Park Avenue and was in the street when the V2 landed, luckily he hid behind a post box and it protected him from the blast wave.

    The house My dad lived in had lead light windows and the blast forced in the window which gave it a curve but didn’t shatter as the lead just move enough. When I was young the curve was still there and was all the way until the new owners changed it to a double glazed window a few years ago,

    By GUY TAYLER (21/01/2021)
  • great stories from great people. im a Potters Bar resident for all of my 66 years!

    By COLIN SHEPHERD (14/04/2020)
  • My Take on the Potters Bar V2 – aged 5 & 11/12s Living in Oakmere Ave next to Park Ave

    It was January 1945 and I was in the kitchen drawing on a white metal enamelled table that served as both a work-top and dining table with a red crayon. Although I had created what I considered to be a magnificent rendition of the Flying Scotsman I knew this was an illegal act much frowned upon by the adults around me, but, in the dreary months marking the final stages of World War Two, it was the only entertainment on offer. I felt relatively safe however, because the door behind me leading into the entrance hall was open so, if I frequently turned round, I could check the comings and goings of the other members of the household. I had no idea how I would account for the drawing if anyone had come in, but, with all the optimism only a five year old could muster, hoped they would go unnoticed.

    We had a full house at that time. I was living with my mother in my grandparent’s house together with my Uncle Jim who was only nine years older than me. In addition at that time we had my great-grandparents and their daughter (my great Aunt) staying with us together with their one legged gold finch named Henry the Fourth Part Two (Part One having passed on two years previously). They were with us because their house in Balham had been bomb damaged and, by this stage in the war, Potters Bar, where we were all living, was judged to be relatively safe. Eight people, plus Henry the Fourth Part Two and Field Marshall Montgomery (Monty), the Scottish terrier, in a small three bedroom semi was a bit of a squeeze, but we managed. I vaguely remember sleeping most nights under the oak table in the dining room which was supposed to protect me from the ministrations of the Luftwaffe.

    Hearing a movement from down the hallway I moved away from the table and stood by the dresser where my grandfather kept his Opas tablets for his stomach ulcer. They had a minty flavour. I knew this because sweets were unavailable due to rationing and I dipped into them as often as I dared. I threw the incriminating red crayon into the coal scuttle by the black-leaded stove.

    Surprisingly, as I mentally prepared my ‘It wasn’t me, it was Uncle Jim before he went out’ routine the ceiling fell down. Not just a little bit, but the whole lot. It fell in complete silence with a strange sense of purpose, as though this was what it was supposed to do, that this was its main function, to fall down and emit a cloud of white dust that covered every surface. Some time passed while I mentally assessed the situation. The dust was sufficiently thick to cover the drawings on the table so I felt I might get away with it.

    ‘Danny,’ I called (five years old and still couldn’t say “granny”, how sad is that?). ‘The ceiling has fallen down.’
    I can still hear her reply from the upstairs bedroom in a totally matter-of-fact voice, as though this was an everyday occurrence. ‘The front windows have been blown out as well.’

    She must have been in a state of shock, for the windows had shattered and shards and splinters of glass had impaled themselves in the walls and furniture all around her, but she hadn’t suffered a scratch. My great-grandparents were fortunately upstairs in the back of the house having a lie down. They were covered in white dust where part of that ceiling had also fallen down. When my grandmother saw them she screamed because she though they were dead. Everybody else was out.

    What had actually happened was that a German V2 rocket had scored a direct hit on a Catholic church about three-hundred and fifty metres away. The blast from the explosion blew most of the tiles off the roof of our house and broke all the windows in the front. The front door was blown open and the Yale lock torn off. This flew up the hallway and ricocheted off the table, exactly where I had been standing, with such force that it smashed its way through the glass in the back door. I did feel at the time this was an extreme punishment for drawing on the table. The black scar on the table where the enamel had been chipped off served as a reminder for many years of the dreadful consequences of transgressing the house rules!

    The only casualty in the house was Henry the Fourth Part Two. Somehow the blast had forced open the door of his cage and he had flown out, enjoying a few moments of freedom before dying of shock in the back garden. The next day I buried him with full military honours and felt the fact he only had one leg added a certain piquancy to the ceremony.

    By Joe Morris (04/06/2019)
  • This was so interesting. My grandparents and my Mother lived in Quakers Lane, my grandfather Arhur Fleetwood was the Sargeant at the police station. My mother signed up to join the WAAF in 1943 (I think).
    My grandfather was also an ARP and helped at the V2 rocket site. My sister does have some original photos of this showing my grandfather. Thank you for this article.

    By Angela Graham (09/10/2018)
  • My mum was a teenager at that time she lived with her grandparents when the V2 rocket landed on their house while she was doing their shopping. When they had their funeral their coffins were drapped in Union Jacks and the last post was played. My Grandad built many houses in Park Avenue and has Feild Court is named after him.

    By Alison Power (18/03/2017)