Pedalling boy, 15, dodged bombs to raise fire alarm

Peter Riches pictured in his ARP messenger boy tin hat in 1940. He was 'working' at Gosport
Peter Riches pictured in his ARP messenger boy tin hat in 1940. He was 'working' at Gosport

THIS WEEK IN 1989: Baby cheats death after 14-foot fall

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The main picture shows Peter Riches in 1940. He was 15 and an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) messenger boy at Gosport.

His niece, Lorna Wilkinson (née Riches), of Lapwing Road, Milton, Portsmouth, recently asked him to contribute some memories to a family album she is compiling.

Two-year-old Lorna Riches with her four-week-old brother Jack

Two-year-old Lorna Riches with her four-week-old brother Jack

This is one of them.

Now 88, he recalls: ‘One night I will never forget was when I was at the ARP shelter post. Bombs began to fall, mainly over Portsmouth.

‘I grabbed my bike and rode around to see if I was needed. More bombs fell so I headed back to the post. On my way I met mum who told me there were houses on fire in our street (Hartington Road) but no phones.

‘She told me to take a message to the town hall for help. Off I went and handed the message in for the fire service. At the town hall I was told to remain where I was until things were quieter. I stayed for some time but knew mum would be worried about me and set off again.

George Riches in the uniform of the Royal Scots Fusiliers

George Riches in the uniform of the Royal Scots Fusiliers

‘In Forton Road I heard the shriek of a bomb behind me so pedalled like mad. I heard a big bang and was pushed forward. I looked to my right and saw bricks falling almost in slow motion. I tried to go faster but realised I was further on than I thought, so slowed down. It was an unforgettable night. Mum was worried about me and was so pleased to see me back.’

Lorna was born in October 1941 and she lived in Woolwich in a house shared with her mother’s two sisters.

Her father, Jack, was born at The Priory, Priory Road, Hardway, Gosport, and enlisted in the Royal Artillery in 1934. Lorna’s parents married at St John’s Church, Gosport, in January 1940.

Jack’s father, George, was also a career soldier who had enlisted in the Royal Scots Fusiliers in Londonderry in 1910 when he was 19. In 1916 he married Dorothy Chant, of Green Lane, Gosport, and during the Second World War and after drove munitions trains from Priddy’s Hard to Portsmouth.

Lorna’s memories of her early years at Greenwich are vivid. She says: ‘My nightmares began on November 1, 1944. A V2 rocket destroyed most of the terrace and killed a family of five a few doors aways.

‘We suffered only minor injuries and were released from hospital after treatment. I was three and me and my three-month-old brother Jack needed our ears and eyes syringed.

‘My father, in France, was granted compassionate leave and returned to Woolwich only to find very few houses still standing. None of the neighbours knew where we had gone.

‘We had in fact boarded a train to Gosport and were living temporarily at Hartington Road with my grandparents George and Dorothy. We soon moved to married soldiers’ quarters at Fort Monckton.’