Unlike thousands of children, David Jupp came to Portsmouth when war broke instead of leaving the city. Growing up in the city during the bombing shaped his life and now he’s written a book about it all
Little David Jupp found himself heading the wrong way. He should have been going, not coming.
When thousands of children and many of their parents were fleeing Portsmouth, the four-year-old, his elder brother and his mum and dad were moving in.
The Second World War had just started and the Jupp family were beginning a new life in what, in a few months, would become one of Britain’s most heavily-bombed cities.
‘Looking back now, I suppose it was strange that I was going to Portsmouth when so many children were being evacuated,’ he says.
‘At the time, for me, it was a big adventure – starting school in a big, strange city. We had no idea what was about to happen.’
The family home had been in Reigate, Surrey, but David’s carpenter/joiner father Ern had been made redundant.
One of his brothers, Fred, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot was leading a design team at the Airspeed factory in Portsmouth. He wrote offering jobs to David’s dad and his brother.
So, even though the war had started, David found himself at Warren Avenue, Milton, in the home of the Royal Navy and a sitting target in one of the Luftwaffe’s prime targets.
So, the most formative years of his life were spent growing up in air raid shelters, listening to bombs hurtling towards his street and turning the craters they left into adventure playgrounds. He has never left Portsmouth.
Of course, there are many people who went through the same life-altering experience, either as children or adults.
But David, a quiet and thoughtful 77-year-old, has captured all those memories in an intimate and highly-readable autobiography covering just those war years.
It’s called A Shelter from the Storm and the play on the word ‘shelter’ is important. It refers to those hiding places from German bombs, beneath the living room table, the stairs and crowded into the Anderson shelter in the garden.
But it is also a reference to the shelter provided by a loving family bonding under the most stressful of circumstances.
It is not a story about war as such. It is about an attempt to create a safe childhood in very unsafe times.
It bring to life a period in a child’s history, including its music, dance, discovering the magic of cinema and that first awe-inspiring visit to Fratton Park.
It is also a tribute to the least lauded of war heroes – the families, notably the mothers, who kept home life going ensuring that children were clean, fed and loved, despite shortages, long hours of work in factories and hospitals, and far too many deaths.
‘It took me several years to write,’ says David at his home in Stubbington Avenue, North End, Portsmouth.
‘The memories of that time are still so vivid because I was at such an impressionable age.
‘But what I wanted to do was write it in the form of a novel, not just a list of facts. I wanted to paint an accurate picture of what it was like growing up in Portsmouth during the war – the bad times and the good. And there were many good times too.’
Among the grim moments was his first experience of death. The young David, now five, had befriended a girl in Warren Avenue whose father worked at the Co-op department store in Fratton Road.
When it was hit by an incendiary bomb on the night half of Portsmouth disappeared – January 10, 1941 – her father, depressed by the devastation, killed himself.
‘I remember my friend saying ‘‘I’ll never see my daddy again’’. He was just another casualty of war.’
David writes vividly of the night a land mine (parachute bomb) wiped out a large section of Warren Avenue and the sixth sense of his brother Bert, 13 years older than him.
‘Bert came into the living room and said he didn’t like the sound of what was going on outside.
‘There had been some activity that evening with distant gunfire and low-flying aircraft, but no warning siren had sounded.
‘For some reason and without question we followed Bert into our under-stairs cupboard. We’d only just taken our places when there was the loudest and most awful explosion I had ever heard.
‘It was as though the whole top of the house had been lifted upwards into the sky and deposited elsewhere leaving us exposed and vulnerable.’
Bert told them to prepare themselves for the blast which would inevitably follow.
David adds: ‘Suddenly a powerful wave of air swept through the house. It rushed over us, even seeming to go through us. It was followed by the tinkling, almost a musical sound of breaking glass, moving towards us and reaching a crescendo as it levelled with the house and passed beyond it.’
When the family emerged from their hiding place they discovered the front door blown wide open, the windows shattered and large zigzag cracks crossing the upstairs ceilings.
David continues: ‘When Bert looked outside he couldn’t believe his eyes. He told us the end of the road had gone – houses and shops were flattened.
‘Only the pub on the corner, The Travellers Joy remained. No air raid warning had been given.’
David is married to Suzanne and they have three sons and a daughter. He left Eastney Modern school at 15 and became a telegram boy for a short while. But most of his working life was spent as a printer and designer.
‘I’d always enjoyed writing, but when the chance came to write a book it had to be about those early wartime years.
‘It feels as fresh today as it did then. They were remarkable times in this city which will never be forgotten.’
nA Shelter From The Storm is published by Spinnaker Press and is available from Waterstones, Commercial Road, Portsmouth, at £8.
25,000 BOMBS FELL IN A SINGLE NIGHT
On Friday, January 10, 1941, 300 German planes dropped 25,000 incendiaries plus high explosive bombs on Portsmouth.
The main shopping centres in Palmerston Road, King’s Road and Commercial Road were destroyed.
Other buildings wrecked included six churches, the eye and ear hospital, part of the Royal Hospital, Clarence Pier, the Hippodrome and three cinemas, the Dockyard School, Connaught Drill Hall, Central Hotel and Royal Sailors’ Rest.
There were 2,314 fires, 3,000 people were left homeless and 171 were killed and 430 injured.