Yet our trips ashore were spoiled by the regularly recurring air-raid alarms. Often one did not see a single aircraft. Most likely the Germans only flew just over the channel to reconnoiter the area and sometimes to drop a bomb a long way from London. Because you never knew, once the aircraft were spotted, no risks were taken and the alarms were sounded.
Yet it happened that a group of bombers surrounded by fighters appeared above London. That created a lot of noise in the form of the firing of concentrated anti-aircraft guns. But in all the time that I was in London I never saw one aircraft downed. What I did notice was that in spite of all this life went on as normal and nobody went a step faster. The Germans on the other hand continued to fly respectfully above the balloons while only occasionally a fighter would be audacious enough to shoot and puncture a balloon.
This was all very exciting as long as they did not come over at night to keep you awake because we needed our sleep to be able to carry out our work during the day. The ship was nearly empty and yet there was no word about our departure, but it was as clear as a bell that we had to go along the east coast again to leave London. We were not too keen on this because we read the newspapers and we knew therefore that along the east coast not only at night but also during the day you could expect trouble. In fact we were not too keen at all.
We did not know what went on in Germany in the head of the man with the little moustache. His Armies appeared to be ready for a landing on the English coast, but he seemed to fear the strength of the English Airforce. Therefore did he go into conclave with himself, at least thatâ€™s what I thought. Dictators can do that: they may use cards, or a crystal ball or just sleep on it. After a while they come up with a plan that usually means the elimination of persons of different thoughts. Apparently he called his stout friend Herman Goering with the plan to increase the air war above the British Isles to such an extent that the British would surrender, if not after a couple of weeks, then certainly in a month. In any case the British Airforce had to be totally destroyed. I do not know if that was a correct interpretation but it could have happened that way could it not?
In any case this plan did seem to unfold on 7 September 1940. An Airforce fleet of (it was said nine hundred aircraft -hitherto unknown number), went aloft across the channel in the direction of London. They did not come one by one but en masse, and where to?
You got it! The London Docks.
We saw them coming and when the first bombs starting to drop I ran like crazy down the gangplank and after some forty paces I flew into a small entrance under the Silos under construction. Was I safe? We had to wait and see. The time seemed to stand still. It was raining bombs, but how long this lasted I donâ€™t know. Through the small entrance I saw items flying through the air which normally would be securely fastened to the ground, and all this under a curtain of dust and smoke from exploding bombs. The noise was fit to raise the dead and then some. It seemed that my clothes and my hair were blown from my body. It lasted an eternity but everything has an end and so did this bombardment. When I went outside I did not recognize where I was.
How was it possible that surroundings familiar for me could be changed so much in such a short while? Everywhere there were fires and explosions of time bombs. The stench of gunpowder and burning timber and whatever else was very strong and stuck in your throat.
The East-End docks were surrounded by small homes of dockworkers and their families. They also had suffered the full force and most of these houses had simply been blown over by the blasts, and all the peopleâ€™s belongings were lying in the streets. Ships were burning or had been sunk. It was a scene never to be forgotten.
What happened to our ship? It brought tears to our eyes. A bomb had exploded in the engine room and destroyed the refrigerator and the high pressure steel ammonia bottles. Another had exploded in the hold next to the engine room and created a sieve out of the watertight compartment. Two bombs had exploded in the water next to the ship with the result that the rivets joining the steel plates of the hull were opened up in the two holds behind the engine room allowing the water to pass through the damaged watertight compartment and into the engine room.
With two holds and the engine room flooded our one and a half year old ship slowly sank to the bottom of the harbour, leaving the main deck about one and a half metres above the water-line.