It’s the end of 1940. It’s the middle of the Blitz. The Blackout is in force. Mr Baynham is having a pint with his friend Joe in the Railway Arms pub in West India Dock Road, better known as Charlie Brown’s. Joe is an Air Raid Protection Officer for Stepney in his ARP helmet and blue uniform. “I’m off now, Joe,” says Mr B., “And Joe, ain’t you meant to be on duty?” “It’s New Year’s Eve,” he replies , “ but stand on me – there’ll be no bombs tonight – maybe I’ll pop down there later on.”
Mr B. steps out into darkened streets and eerie quiet. He begins his walk from Limehouse towards Stepney. Suddenly the silence is broken. There’s an ear-splitting wail of Air Raid sirens followed by the grinding roar of wave after wave of German bombers flying overhead, anti-aircraft gunfire and huge explosions as massive bombs drop on the docks. Then smaller incendiary bombs begin to rain down, lighting up the sky.
Mr B. is walking up Stepney Causeway. He’s reached Number 18 – the headquarters of Dr Barnardo’s Home. The children have all been evacuated months ago. One of “Goering’s breadbaskets” – a cluster of incendiary bombs – has dropped over the building. One is aflame by the front steps and there’s an unexploded one that’s rolled into the gutter. The front door has swung open. Mr B. runs up the steps and into the darkness to try and get a pail of water to pour onto the blaze. It’s pitch dark inside. He stumbles against a scuttle full of what they called ‘slack’ – damp coal dust – that can be mixed with other materials to burn in the grate, but surprisingly will actually suffocate a fire better than water. Mr B. throws it onto the flames, and the incendiary is extinguished. Mr B. walks round the corner to his home to join the family in the air raid shelter. He says nothing.
Next week there is a story in the East London Advertiser headlined: “Mystery hero saves Barnardo’s.” There’s a story about the fire with no names. The ARP check which of their team was on duty there that night. They find Joe, who daren’t say he wasn’t there but in the pub. He is recommended for an honour. He is awarded with the George Medal for civilian gallantry. He shook hands with the King in Buckingham Palace. Mr B. never speaks to him again.
My friend, “Scrap” Freddy Baynham of Havering Street told me this about his Dad.
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