When the sirens sounded on that mid-March night, the general mood was not so much of alarm as of weary resignation to ‘another raid’. It soon became clear, however, that to classify the night’s activity in this way was on a par with suggesting that Chopin, say, wrote some natty little tuneful numbers. For this was no mere raid; it was a blitz.
As Jenny made for the shelter, Archie cycled to the fire station, where he joined his team to face the toughest night’s fire-fighting they had known so far. Tenements with roofs like tinder-boxes were being hit with incendiaries, and then high-explosive bombs followed. Rescue work went on as bombs fell perilously close. After a relief team took over at three a.m. Archie arrived home in a daze. Jenny was safe, but their house had several broken windows, and a crack had appeared in the back wall. Archie joined his wife in their shelter until the ‘all clear’ finally sounded, snatching at sleep a few minutes at a time. Later, he cleaned himself up as best as he could (without hot water, owing to the gas-mains having been damaged) satisfied himself that there was no risk of the house collapsing round his wife, and headed for the shipyard.
When he returned home later, he ate almost mechanically, then fell asleep – until the sirens sounded again, announcing the start of another night of terror. Once again, he headed for the fire station, where calls soon flooded in. Archie and his team were soon sent to assist with fighting a spreading fire in a small row of terraced houses in a narrow side street.
Almost as soon as they arrived, they heard the spine-chilling whistle of a falling bomb, and then the ear-splitting blast from just yards away. Men scarcely had time to protect their faces from flying glass and debris. Just after this, one of the men noticed that smoke was coming from the ‘coal hole’ of the end house, and then heard a child scream. Quickly, the front door was opened with an axe. A little girl half ran, half limped out of the house and was lifted to safety by a defence volunteer and taken to an ambulance. She yelled something about ‘baby sisters’. Archie grabbed a mask and went inside. As he reached the cellar door, he smelt burning paraffin. He guessed that a lamp had been blown over by the blast, and broken. A cellar would be the obvious shelter for babies, though. Diving down the cellar, by the light of his helmet lamp he could just make out the outlines of two babies in a cot. Grabbing them, he climbed the steps as fast as he could. As he did so, he stumbled as his foot caught in something… The strap of a bag, maybe, he thought… he couldn’t see, just scrambled on, fearful of falling as both his arms were full. Somehow, he made it. When he reached the top of the cellar steps, he felt cool air; George Baird had broken down the adjacent back door that led into a tiny yard. Once out of the doorway, he was able to kick whatever it was off his foot. Ambulance crew relieved him of his two armfuls…
You can read part six here.