Bulldozers and Rockets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmallwood 1916-1OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeptember 27th 2014 was a day to remember, the day that the Summerstown182 Guided Walk came of age. This was what I always hoped the walk could be, interaction and engagement on the street, people coming out of their houses to see what the fuss is about, history being relived with every step. The names on our war memorial came to life that day and it won’t be for the last time. Three families who were each related to one of the Summerstown182 came to the church. Frederick Neary, William Pitts and William Clay. One of them brought along three generations. What followed was an extraordinary procession through the streets between Wimbledon and Fountain Road, streets where some of these people were born and raised, streets where one or two still have family. Roughly a third of the 182 came from this area, it is their heartland, very central to this project and worthy of celebration. It is why we would like to one day string a ‘chain of poppies’ between the two tower blocks. Progress was slow. There seemed to be a story or a connection on every corner. People came out of their houses or downed tools in their gardens to talk to us. Leaflets were distributed, names and addresses bandied around, Sheila has a notebook full of people I need to speak to. The word is truly on the street about the Hazelhurst Road remembrance. Incredibly two of the families had a shared history at the same address. 22 Foss Road no longer exists, bulldozered away in the late sixties, it was located roughly in the middle of the area between the two tower blocks. Frederick Neary lived there in 1918 and so did his brother-in-law Thomas Holloway whose Victory Medal was clutched today by his great great granddaughter. A generation later, Maureen Giles was only a small baby when the V2 rocket pulverized many of the neighbouring houses. Her brother Ray lived there until the bulldozers came and worked as a teenage labourer on the building sites that created the concrete boxes that sprung up in the name of progress. Christine pulled out the extraordinary little pamphlet that she found amongst her Mum’s belongings, a ‘Smallwood Road School Roll of Honour’ of ‘Old Smalls, serving their country in His Majesty’s Forces’ produced in 1916. There are about 450 names in here and the families eagerly searched and invariably found the names of relatives. Forty of the Summerstown182 are listed in this booklet which shows how imporant Smallwood School is to this story. A little further down the road we stood respectfully outside it and Ray recalled someone telling him how half their class disappeared on 19th November 1944. We remembered their Nan, Minnie Matilda Ware, the widow of William Pitts, killed with her daughter by that rocket and buried in Streatham Cemetery, close to the beehives, not far from Douglas Kitts. Ray recalled mention of the Gardeners and the Ackermans. We will all hopefully be back in six weeks time to remember them properly. To cap it all, we has Iris with us. All the way from Taunton, the lady whose tribute to her grandfather, William Clay started all this off. We passed 138 Smallwood Road where she was born. The VE Day street party photo came out and it seems like a relative of anyone who has ever walked the Summerstown streets was in attendance that day and in this picture. Talk of daffodils, pigeons and watercress beds, the things that made Summerstown great, turned to tales of dodgy geezers, jail-breaks and cash stuffed under the carpet. The fly-by-night Paraffin Park evoked by Alfred Hurley. We finished off with an assessment of the strange raised humps on a patch of grass behind Newbridge Court at the top end of Hazelhust Road. Could this be the location of the air raid shelters which were empty on the morning of Novembr 19th? Certainly not the best surface for a game of football. Had we witnessed a troupe of albino squirrels prancing across these, the day couldn’t have been any better.

The next Summerstown182 Walk will be on Saturday 8th November at 2pm, there will be another one on Saturday 6th December. Close to the seventieth anniversary of this incident, a service to remember the victims of the Hazelhurst Road V2 bomb will be held at 1030am on Sunday 16th November at St Mary’s Church, London SW17. Afterwards there will be a gathering in front of Smallwood School, close to where the bomb fell.Hazelhurst service


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