V2 Incident Number 441 – Sister Maureen Bleaney (nee Fedden)
During the War (1944), Maureen had a miracle escape from death. The family were living in Stratford (Ada Street) at the time. Maureen was out playing with two friends in the street when a Doodlebug landed and exploded near them. Unfortunately, her two friends, who were standing each side of her, were killed but Maureen survived.
I have attached sister Nellie’s story (verbatim) regarding the V2 rocket incident. This was sent to sister Vicky who passed it onto me (29/11/21):
‘These are some notes I made when I phoned Maureen, I phoned Maureen today and she said “I feel so low Nell I was going to phone you”. Why are you feeling low, Maureen? “Well, it was ??’s funeral on Friday, Pam’s sister-in-law’s little girl, she was 10 and suffered with muscular dystrophy for a long time, it was so sad and I feel so low, I keep thinking back to the rocket”.
Well, I said to her you’re entitled to feel sad, as to the rocket it was bound to have a life-time effect – they have counsellors today. But she was upset really and started to say things like – “but why did I survive and the other two die? I feel guilty sometimes as though I shouldn’t be here – I’ve never told this to anyone before, but Aunt Clara shook me one day and cried and screamed why couldn’t it have been you?” Mum had told me to visit her to comfort her. So, I said to Maureen – how old were you Maur’? She said ‘seven’, so I said to her that well she wouldn’t have done that in front of mum and mum would have been very cross had she known about it.
But, anyway, because of this, I thought if anyone’s interested, I might recount what happened on that day from my point of view.
Now, shortly after Christmas, I had an idea it was probably the Tuesday, In fact it was THURSDAY, 4TH JANUAR Y it will be in the archives (incident 441 – https://www.wrsonline.co.uk) somewhere or other, but anyway, on that day lives were lost and lives were changed. Of course, Maureen’s was changed!
Anyway, we were all home from school, it was lunchtime, Eileen had gone up to get some shopping to Pall’s??? Maureen was out playing with Pat and Marion on the debris. Now, the debris was an area of wasteland where some bombs in the blitz in previous years had demolished the little rows of terrace houses and nearly a whole block was wasteland. In the summertime Rosebay Willow Herb, a tall weed with beautiful pink flowers grew there, as it always does if anywhere has been burnt. The children used to use it as a playground. Anyway, Maureen told me that what she remembered of it was she, Pat and Marion were kicking up the ice from the puddles and sucking them pretending they were ice-lollies. Now that winter was a very, very bad winter and there had been snow and now there was ice everywhere. Anyway, mum and I were in the kitchen cooking lunch, Davey had Vicki (nearly 1year old?) on his lap in front of the fire place in what we used to call the kitchen, we now call these rooms the living room (lounge). Dicky was in the army and as I’ve said Maureen was playing on the debris with her two friends. We were having for lunch, chips and dried egg omelette. Now this dried egg used to come in waxed packets from America. Anyway, I was peeling potatoes at the sink and mum was at the stove on the opposite side of the room cooking this egg omelette and chips. Anyway, the next thing I knew, this was about midday, in fact the V2 rocket had been launched at 12.35, it would only have taken a few minutes to impact. The next thing I knew was, I sort of heard something and thought “Oh someone’s getting it!” But in that split second, everything fell in. The kitchen had a middle door to the yard, the top half of which was glass, and two windows either side of that. All the glass and the windows and the door flew in, but luckily mum was on one side of the room and I was on the other and so we didn’t get injured.
Eileen was OK, she rushed home, although I don’t remember seeing too much of her for the rest of the day. Mum rushed into the kitchen to find Vicki absolutely covered with soot and so, of course, she was very concerned about her. Vicki has told me since they took her eyes out to wash her eyes. Now I didn’t hear that or since, but this is what she heard, probably from mum. Anyway, while all this was going on, Mum said “oh, where’s Maureen, where’s Maureen?” and Dave said I’ll go and find her and I said I’ll come too.
He ran off, so I started to look for Maureen. Well, my impression, of that area as I walked out into the street, was clouds of thick, thick, dust swilling all around and I walked all over the place. But I’ve got to admit I didn’t see any dead bodies or anything, because everything was obscured by this thick swirling dust. I must have walked practically to the edge of the crater but didn’t really see anything. It was like walking through a very thick, muddy fog. Anyway, suddenly Davey was there in front of me and said “what are you doing here, what are you doing here? Go back home, go back home.” I said, well, I’m looking for Maureen. So, he said I’ll find her don’t worry, don’t worry. So, I started to make my way home, found myself in John Street and was walking back along John Street to get back to Ada Street. Everyone was out of their houses, of course, further back. This little girl was crying and crying and this man said to me “there she is, there she is”, but of course I didn’t recognise her because all her hair was standing on end. Anyway, it was dustbin day and all the dustmen were there with their carts and they’re not like they are today. They chucked out all the bins and put everyone who seemed to need to go to the hospital in the back of the trucks.
So, I went with Maureen in the back of this dustcart to the hospital where we went into a waiting room to be with people who had arrived. I was thirteen at the time when Davey and I had just, surreptitiously, started smoking. Behind us I heard someone say “Oh would you like a cigarette?” I turned, and the soldiers who had been injured, and they were in sort of royal blue uniforms, they were convalescing in the hospital, turned to me and said “oh no you’re too young”. But I would have given anything for a cigarette at that particular moment in time!
Anyway, Maureen and I were eventually put in to a little treatment room and we sat there waiting and waiting. And then what happened was, Aunt Annie arrived while Maureen and I waited for a doctor to see Maureen. Aunt Annie, she was in her works overalls and with a turban around her head, and I said “oh they can’t find Pat, they can’t find Pat”, so she said “oh she said, she’ll be OK, she’ll be OK”, what a huge relief that was. Well, eventually mum arrived and, obviously, took over.
The house was badly damaged and at those times what happened was they used to send round first aid workman, to build up the broken windows and put tarpaulins over the roofs so at least the house was more or less kept dry. We all slept downstairs that night, in the kitchen. The house had to be shored up with these huge shoring timbers – Stan and I used to do our courting there because it was sheltered and the wood was warm!
But during this time, after the rocket, Aunt Clara, Pat’s mum, she had to go into hospital because of the shock of everything and she miscarried her fourth child, her two elder children, boys, Billy and Johnny, and Pat was the third child, she was the daughter. Pat’s body was kept in what used to be our front room or parlour, some people used to call it, and mum put two candles on the mantelpiece. She was in a small, white coffin. She was almost six at the time and, to me, she looked like wax really and her eyes were slightly open and looked navy blue to me. I suppose medical people will say because of this, that and the other. But even as young as I was, it made me realise dead is dead and alive is alive.
The funeral was held from Ada Street. Aunt Elsie (Aunt Clara’s sister), Uncle Harry, Uncle Bill (Pat’s father), mum and dad, of course, and I think one of Aunt Clara’s brothers, I can’t remember now. But, anyway, it was held from Ada Street. Aunt Clara was in hospital, of course.
The only thing I can say is, that event, I suppose military people would call an ‘incident’, had a lifelong effect on some people, especially Maureen and also, especially, Aunt Clara. Aunt Clara never had a daughter again, she had two more sons and now she’s old, well into her eighties, she’s got bad legs, she lives in a warden controlled flat. Obviously had she had her own home, that would have been sold and she would have been in a nursing home. But, no, she’s in a warden controlled flat and people come in to look after her. But she never had the comfort of having a daughter and she misses mum dreadfully, I think. Vicki, little Maureen and I have made attempts to sort of keep in touch with her, but she really doesn’t want to know. I think mum was her comforter and also her counsellor as well and mum was very good to her, although impatient at times because mum wasn’t that type of person.
Maureen, of course, she has suffered because of her eyes are bad, much worse than she realised until she was much older. But she was blessed. She’s blessed with her children and her grandchildren and her great grandchildren and her husband and all her brothers and sisters and friends and everybody.
So, I want to say to her “you were fortunate to survive, it wasn’t your fault that the others died. We’re glad you’re here and we hope you’re going to be here for many years to come. DON’T EVER FEEL GUILTY. Aunt Clara shouldn’t have said that to you when you were so young and I think that it also has had an effect on you. So, forget all about it now and enjoy the rest of your life. It is now 2017 and I am so sad that Maureen isn’t well. What a shame.
The next instalment will be about my sister and I, Eileen, being evacuated and how we suffered. I’ll leave that for another time except to say that when we did finally arrive home to No.1 Ada Street, both of us felt home and mum at last!!!!!!
Nellie wants to emphasize the fact it was she who found her, and it was a significant moment in Maureen’s life. She suffered subsequent health problems but went on to have a lovely big family and enjoyed a life with lots of love and fun. And despite ill health she was very brave.