Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bartholomews’ Bomb

Late one dark evening in 1940, during the Nazi blitz on London, a few incendiaries were scattered around our residential area. Most fell harmlessly out on the roadways or in people’s back gardens where they were quickly smothered by residents using small bags of sand. As the raiders failed to follow up with any high-explosive, all seemed quiet as I, then a young teenager, walked homewards up our road.

But as I came up to where my friend, Ronnie Bartholomew, lived, I saw a line of people going up the garden path and in through the open front door. Wondering what sort of a party this might be, especially as the Bartholomews, though the kindest of people, were hardly the party-giving type, I took my place in line and soon realized that I was the only one empty handed—the only one with no gift for the hostess. Because, as I went in through the front door and the blackout curtain, I saw that all incoming guests were handing over a small sandbag to Mrs Bartholomew who then passed it on to Mr Bartholomew who went halfway up the stairs and passed it on to my friend Ronnie who disappeared the remainder of the way upstairs with the gift.

Meanwhile, Mrs B. was greeting each newcomer with remarks on the weather, how it was so long since she had last seen them, asking about their families and to please come into the living room and have some tea, coffee or cocoa. Upon seeing me, Mrs B. said Ronnie was upstairs and to go right on up. Upstairs, I saw a stepladder set up in the hallway under the entrance to the attic and Ronnie's feet on the top rung, with his upper body inside the attic. Some spots of blood on the ladder added interest to the scene. Ronnie came down the ladder, said hello and invited me to go up the ladder and see Leslie, his older brother. He then went downstairs again.

I went up the ladder and all was explained. Leslie had several little sandbags on the attic floor with an incendiary bomb burning away on top of them. The shovel with which he had scooped the bomb onto the sandbags was nearby. Overhead was the hole in the roof where the bomb had crashed through the tiles. As Ronnie handed him yet another bag, he piled it with several others on top of the bomb. The blood I had noticed before was from a small cut in his hand made when using a penknife to cut a bag open to sprinkle loose sand down between the cracks. By this time, the poor little German bomb had no chance whatever of carrying out its intended tactical task of burning down the Bartholomew’s house. It was the most smothered little bomb in Britain. The greatest danger now was that the attic floor might give way under the weight of so many generously donated small sandbags, thereby perhaps smothering in turn the merry-making donors at the tea party now in full swing on the ground floor below.

All in all, it was probably one of the most successful social gatherings that was ever held in the normally much more sedate atmosphere of the Bartholomews' house.

computer graphics and ink sketches

John Ough

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