I know I often write about the Portsmouth blitz, but it was such a terrible time for those who lived through it that when I am contacted by people who survived I feel I must put it in print.
One such person was Win Lee (née Winter) who arrived in Portsmouth from Gibraltar with her parents, brother Larry and sister Margaret. Her father was in the navy and had served at the Battle of Jutland. He had left the service, but re-joined in the mid-1930s when the naval list opened during the depression.
They came home from Gibraltar in 1939 on the Japanese liner Sua Maru. At that time Japan was not an enemy. Win told me eight-year-old Larry was a bit of an imp and caused the Japanese stewards no end of trouble. ‘One day they got hold of him and hung him upside down over the ship’s side. That sorted him out,’ she says.
At Southsea her father rented a flat above Morrises, a grocer’s at 92, King’s Road. It backed on to Bush Street East.
On the evening of January 10, 1941, the sirens went and the family went down into the shop’s cellar, but when the bombing started to get heavier they all ran to the Anderson shelter behind the shop in Bush Street East.
All the shops along King’s Road, including the enormous Dyers Emporium department store, were hit and set ablaze.
An ARP warden found the family in the shelter and told them to get out because a building was in danger of toppling on to the shelter. They were told to go to Yarborough Road where there was a large communal shelter.
They ran though the burning streets only to find the shelter was overflowing, but somehow they squeezed inside.
Win recalls that someone in a panic shouted: ‘Gas! I can smell gas.’ Her father knew the danger of someone panicking and punched him in the face. That shut him up.
What happened next still amazes Win. The 85-year-old adds: ‘From nowhere a double decker bus arrived. Heaven knows where from. The driver was so brave driving though the blitz to get to us. We were all loaded on but many didn’t want to go upstairs for obvious reasons. But that’s where we went and we got underneath the seats.
‘When the bus started the roof hit low-hanging tree branches and people downstairs thought we were being machine-gunned.’
They were all taken to St Jude’s School, Southsea, then to Milton Road School. The raid continued throughout the journey.
The courage and fortitude of people in those days fills me with pride when I talk to them.
All they had were the clothes they were wearing. Their King’s Road home was destroyed along with all the family’s possessions.
Win’s father had to return to his ship and the family were taken by bus to a large house at Sheet, near Petersfield, owned by a wealthy spinster called Miss Day.
In the lounge were two pianos and it was in this room the family camped for the next few months.
Miss Day was not impressed the authorities had requisitioned part of her house for people she thought were beneath her. She had nothing to do with the family. Win’s mum cooked all their meals in the open fireplace as she wasn’t allowed in the kitchen.
Eventually Win’s mum got a letter from her husband saying he was at Campbeltown off the west coast of Scotland and they should join him there. A long journey in wartime.
Two days on a train packed with soldiers and sailors made the journey unbearable. Win remembers that to visit the toilet she had to climb over servicemen sitting or stretched out asleep in the corridor.
All she can remember of Campbeltown was that it rained every day, but at least they were away from the blitz.