Just another regular day in Portsmouth living through bombing in the Blitz

Part of the former residential area of Portsea taken into the Dockyard in the early 1940s.

Part of the former residential area of Portsea taken into the Dockyard in the early 1940s.

A tram from Horndean about to descend to Cosham.
Picture: Barry Cox Collection

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Regular readers will know how much I enjoy talking to senior people of Portsmouth who have led marvellous lives, even though most had to live through the Second World War.

Last week I asked about the housing that once existed in Portsea behind Cumberland Street and that now lies within the naval base wall.

Eveline Milton.

Eveline Milton.

One of those who responded was Eveline Milton (née Salmon) who in 1932 was born at 11, Frederick Street which, along with Gloucester Street, Marlborough Row, Brunswick Row, Orange Street and Unicorn Street all stood just outside of what was the dockyard perimeter wall.

Eveline says that some time about 1940 everyone was moved on by the authorities and the rows of houses were demolished.

The streets were replaced by rows of warehouses used for storing military equipment. The dockyard wall was then extended well into Portsea. Marlborough Row and Gloucester Street appear to still exist in name only today.

Eveline remembers listening to the wireless in Frederick Street when the announcement that Britain was at war with Germany came over the airwaves.

The remains of Conway Street, Landport, after the night of December 23, 1940.

The remains of Conway Street, Landport, after the night of December 23, 1940.

In the two-up, two-down terraced house lived a family of six. She says: ‘Sleeping arrangements were a little cramped, but as we knew no different, we didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.’

Eveline’s parents, Ernest and Ruby, slept in one room with baby daughter Dorothy. Three other girls Kitty, Betty and Eveline slept in the other.

There was a small back yard with whitewashed walls and an outside toilet.

School was in Kent Street, the other side of Queen Street, now called John Pounds’s School. The girls used to walk down Cross Street and across Queen Street on their own without a thought of any danger.

St Paul's Church, Southsea. Is it now in America?

St Paul's Church, Southsea. Is it now in America?

When the family had to move from Frederick Street, Ernest, who was a drayman for Brickwood’s, was offered a pub.

Eveline thinks it was called The Keys (or Quays) in Conway Street which, as we know, went down (literally) in legend during the war.

On the evening of December 23, 1940, what is believed to have been a land mine, but might have been something much larger, and aimed at the Dockyard, landed outside the Dockyard wall in the middle of the crowded community that was Conway Street, Trafalgar Street, Nile Street and Duncan Street, off Unicorn Road. The area has since been taken for parking of dockyard and naval vehicles.

I can find no trace of the pub but on that night it took a direct hit. Luckily the girls were down in the cellar but the pub came down on top of them.

Eveline’s mother was seriously hurt and taken to Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, where she was put in a ward with injured soldiers. ‘There was hell to play about that,’ Eveline remembers. Her father escaped with superficial injuries.

With a large grin Eveline adds: ‘After several hours the girls and I were all brought out of the cellar. It was just another day really as bombing was a regular event.’

‘Er, yes, quite,’ I said in amazement. To be sitting in my office in my house today worrying if I was going to be bombed while sitting at my desk, is something I am eternally grateful I don’t have to worry about. How the people of Portsmouth got on with living at that time always fills me with pride.

Apart from Kitty who remained with friends, the rest were sent to the New Forest where they remained for several months until their mother was well enough to take them back.

Brickwood’s then gave the family a house at Portchester – 35, Neville Avenue. But one day the house on the opposite corner took a direct hit and Ernest, who was standing outside his front door was blown clean through the house into the back garden. Luckily all the doors were open.

Eveline, like so many others of her generation, clearly remembers seeing Portsmouth lit up by many more raids on the city.

She can also remember seeing dog-fights high up in the sky above Portchester between the RAF and German bomber escort fighters. It seems unbelievable today.

The family later moved back to Southsea, Landport Street, and when Eveline married lived in St Paul’s Road.

On a final note, Eveline tells me that the wonderful St Paul’s Church, which was burned out on the night of January 10, 1941, was taken abroad. ‘Each brick was numbered and taken to America to be rebuilt,’ she says. If anyone has more information about this, please get in touch.

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