NOSTALGIA: The man who was machine-gunned by Germans in war-time Southsea

Ken stands in Woodmancote Road, Southsea, where he was narrowly missed being machine gunned by Messerschmitt during the war
Ken stands in Woodmancote Road, Southsea, where he was narrowly missed being machine gunned by Messerschmitt during the war
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Bob Hind tells the fascinating story of a Second World War childhood of horses in houses, angry monkeys, and Messerschmitts

I recently published a photograph of King’s Road, Southsea, and was contacted by Pat Le Clercq who told me about her husband Ken, born in 1930, who can remember walking King’s Road before the war.

Ken witnessed an arc of fire from a petrol pump in Great Southsea Street, Southsea, during an air raid Photoshop artwork by Steve West

Ken witnessed an arc of fire from a petrol pump in Great Southsea Street, Southsea, during an air raid Photoshop artwork by Steve West

I visited Ken at his home in Milton, and what stories I picked up!

The family came to the mainland from the Channel Islands. His father ran away to sea and ended up in England.

Ken was born a month early on April 22, 1930, after his mother fell down some stairs. The family lived at 19, Stone Street, Southsea.

The family worshipped at the magnificent St Paul’s Church, in St Paul’s Road, where he was christened. Everyone was devastated when it was gutted by fire during The Blitz.

St Paul's Church, Southsea, which was bombed in the war

St Paul's Church, Southsea, which was bombed in the war

On one occasion Ken was sent for a haircut by his mother and returned home saying the barber shop was closed.

His mother told him to get back and get his hair cut and Ken ran away. He entered David Greig’s provisions store and ran into a large display of boxed eggs, tipping the lot over.

He says: ‘There were eggs all over the floor, many smashed. My mother was contacted and the manager, who was somewhat irate, wanted paying.

‘I said I had slipped and fallen over, knocking the eggs over by accident.’

The manager let him off – in fact, he gave Ken a packet of biscuits.

Ken told me King’s Road was a delight, especially at Christmas when all the shops were decorated, as was the road itself.

‘My grandmother used to leave everything to the last minute’ says Ken. ‘Up to Charlotte Street for a fresh chicken and then down to the King’s Road for the last knockings when items went cheaper than earlier in the day.’

Ken’s grandmother lived in Lancaster Road – she stood six feet four inches and terrorised her neighbours. When residents saw her walking along the street they would rush indoors.

For the 1935 Coronation Ken’s mother made a red, white and blue suit. Four years later it was still good enough for Ken to wear when Pompey played in, and won, the FA Cup final.

Ken tells me that at that time houses were teaming with rats. One neighbour named Cannard kept whippets. He used to hit rats over the head just enough to stun them. He would wait for them to wake up, release them, and the dogs would chase them down Stone Street, catch and kill them.

Next-door-but one was a Mr Todd, a haulier of some kind.

Ken explains: ‘Mr Todd used to lead his horse through the house to his back garden where it was stabled. As all the houses had wooden floorboards the ‘clump, clump, clump’ of his horse being led along the long hallway used to echo through the adjoining houses.’

Just imagine that today.

Along the road was The Surprise public house. Ken can remember the men coming out of the pub after their lunchtime Christmas drink.

They would take silver money out of their pockets (half crowns, florins and shillings) and roll the coins down the road for the children to chase.

The Surprise had a monkey in a cage kept in the bar. It hated women. One day Ken was sitting on the lavatory in the garden when the monkey opened the latch, got in, and sat down beside him.

He called to his mother, who came running, and when the monkey saw her it chased her into the house where she just managed to slam the door.

The next-door-neighbour, Mrs Smith, wondering what all the noise was about, came out and the monkey leapt over the garden wall and chased her indoors.

She slammed the door on the monkey’s tail, slicing it off. It was eventually captured and placed in a menagerie in Victoria Park. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

On January 10, 1941, Portsmouth was hit by the worst blitz of the war.

Ken tells me: ‘Our house didn’t have a shelter so we went along to Buswell’s store in King’s Road where residents were allowed to use the cellar.

‘A bomb landed on the building next door and, with a loud whoosh, shook the whole of Buswell’s cellar.

‘I looked up and the roof was caving in with a cross-beam cracking under the strain, bending downward. Luckily it held until we got out.

‘The family were told to get to Colwart Barracks (near Gunwharf). We gathered up our bedding and began walking down King’s Road.

‘Although it was in the middle of the night it was like daylight with all the buildings ablaze on either side of the road. One abiding memory was a store on the corner of Great Southsea Street that had a petrol pump alongside the pavement. A bomb blast had fractured the pump and the fuel was set on fire.

‘It was like a flame thrower seen in those American war documentaries, spurting a high flaming arc right across King’s Road, setting the buildings on the opposite side on fire.’

Ken’s father served in the Royal Navy and had been away from home for years. He was on a two-and-half-year commission but the war broke out and he did not come home for four-and-half-years.

He just happened to get some leave at the same time as the raid and went to his house to try and find his family.

He was informed they had been taken to the barracks and he rushed off to find them.

On arrival at the barracks there were many seeking refuge but among the throng his father heard a little girl laugh and he knew immediately that it was his only daughter, Marie Ann, aged seven, who he not seen since she was three.

The year before, says Ken, his father had been serving on HMS Icarus and was sent to Dunkirk to assist with the rescue of thousands of soldiers.

Among the hundreds of little ships and destroyers that were assisting with getting the thousands of men on board their craft, Ken’s dad dragged one soldier on board the Icarus. It was his brother.

In the final phase of the war in the Far East his father served on the carrier, HMS Formidable.

He was lucky to escape, as the ship was hit by a Kamikaze aircraft exploding on the flight deck.

By 1942, the family was renting a house in Woodmancote Road, Southsea. One afternoon Ken was walking home when he heard a German Messerschmitt approaching.

It came into view over the rooftops of Winter Road, then dived and machine gunned down the centre of the road.

Ken managed to get down on the pavement close to a house forecourt wall and the bullets drove into the tarmac alongside of him.

He ran into a nearby yard where he burst into tears with the shock of it all. It seems so unreal in today’s world.

Ken began work as an apprentice joiner and carpenter and as he was under training he missed being called up for national service.

Most of the houses on the corner of High Street and Broad Street have some his work in them.