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David Ward - A Baby's View of the War in Exeter

Through no fault of mine, I was born at Buxton in September 1941 because my father was doing an OTC course there prior to him being sent to join the war effort. On the 2nd October I made my first acquaintance with Exeter when I went to live at my grandfather's house, Hillsborough Lodge in Pennsylvania. He had his business at St.David's station, Ward & Co..Now I must admit the following 7 months went by as a blur as they tend to do when your age is counted months but the following story I kept cropped up for 48 years because I myself believed it to be a child's fantasy.

When I eventually told it to my late mother in 1989, to say she went white would be too strong but she became very shaky. For the sake of the story I have filled in the bits that she later told me.

On the night of 25 April 1942, mother and grandparents had gone to a party somewhere and I was left in charge of the nanny but I was apparently not inclined to sleep so the whole evening I was visited by the nanny. My bedroom was in the top floor at the back of Hillsbrough Lodge and looked down towards the city. I remember those lights as if it were yesterday. Eventually my mother comes in to see what the problem was but couldn't get me to sleep. As I was not crying or anything she left me to my own devices.

Some time after I noticed lots of little bright flashes and bangs. The flashes must have fascinated me because I remember them getting closer and closer and the bangs louder. The next thing I "remember" was being outside what is (was Lower) St.Germans Road and the Prince of Wales Road where there was this massive circular brick water tank - and that's it except that it was my grandfather who raced upstairs to pick me up and it was the last bomb to drop on Pennsylvania that night.

As it turned out the big reservoir had been built specially for the fire services in case the mains water was disrupted. That night half of the back end and roof of Hillsborough Lodge disappeared by a near HE hit and the house became uninhabitable. It was rebuilt later that year and in the meantime we camped out at the Moorlands Hotel, Haytor Vale from May to August 1942. On return to Hillsborough Lodge, I lived there until 1946.

In 1995 I went back to Hillsbrough Lodge for the first time since the war and was able to look round the house again. But the one thing that just didn't add up with my story was that I could never have seen out of the window down into Exeter because the attic room floor where I slept back in 1942 was at least 4ft from the bottom edge of the window. When I mentioned this to the owners - they had bought the house in 1947 from my grandfather - they said the floor had been lowered in the rebuild but that originally it was near flush with the window sill.

I'm glad I was able to sort this fantasy out and even more glad the later evidence showed it wasn't a figment of my imagination. But one still has to wonder why that night I was "privileged" to see what happened.

David R Ward lives in Houten, Holland.

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