Sunday 11 July 2010

Anniversary of The Battle of Britain (Howard Reeves.)

My Uncle Howard  was nineteen and a member of the Home Guard in 1940. He was not called up to the regular forces because he had a reserved job. He was a draughtsman, alongside his father, my grandfather, in Thorneycrofts, a local shipyard in Woolston, Southampton. They were building minesweepers and destroyers.
He died a few weeks after this picture was taken, on Sunday 24th November 1940 the day after one of the worst Luftwaffe raids on Southampton. He was helping to pull the dead and wounded from the rubble of a pub in Woolston, called The London Arms, when another bomb hit them.

Howard 1940.

The lady who owned the dress shop opposite The London Arms, Mrs Adams, came out into the street after the last bomb had exploded which fatally injured my uncle. She climbed in through her own shop window that was smashed and broken and tore material from dresses she had on disapply to tie tourniquets around my uncles many wounds. She could see he was bleeding to death. She tried hard but couldn't save him. She spoke to my grandmother later about it. My grandmother had been expecting Howard home and had prepared his favourite meal of fish and chips. I often had fish and chips cooked by my grandmother in later years. The policeman who came to my mother and grandparents house later that day to tell them about their son was in tears. He cried uncontrolably. My grandparents house was the sixth he'd been  to.

The  site of The London Arms in Woolston, Southampton.

Woolston was famous for the Supermarine Aircraft factory. This was where the Spitfire was designed and built . Supermarine's chief designer, R J Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, lived in a small bungalow about a mile from my mother and grandparents. This is an old news picture of the factory in Woolston making spitfires.

My mother told me a story of how the sirens went one night. She was on her way to their Anderson Shelter and she could hear machine gun fire from a German Bomber flying low over Woolston. She later discovered from neighbours and friends that over 100 factory workers at Supermarine had been mown down and killed in the road between the factory and the air raid shelters.

 The site of the Supermarine factory in Woolston today.   

R J Mitchells bungalow in Woolston, Southampton. He was the designer of the Spitfire.

RJ Mitchell, Supermarines chief designer and the designer of the Spitfire.

The memorial in Woolston to R J Mitchel.

My grandmother told me how on another night the sirens once again had sounded. She was standing in her back garden in Longmore Avenue when a German Bomber flew low overhead.She looked up into the pilots eyes. She yelled out to everybody, " I can see him. He's looking at me." He was being chased by a Spitfire sent up from Southampton Airport and was flying low over housing to protect himself. The Spitfire pilot would not have shot up houses and gardens to get him. The German aircraft was later shot down over the New Forest.
Spitfires over Britain.
This is one of the saddest stories from the Southampton Blitz. Some school children were having an art lesson in Southampton Art Gallery on the 6th November 1940, when the sirens went. They went with their teachers and art gallery assistants into the basement. A bomb drilled through the roof and two concrete floors before exploding in the basement and killing them all.

Seventy years ago in the Summer of 1940 the skies of Britain were the scene of a deadly struggle. Day after day The Luftwaffe and the RAF fought relentlessly for dominance of the skies.

Over London and the skies of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire the interwoven con trails of fighter aircraft laced the sky, 20,000 feet above England.

Many of the towns and cities of England were being bombed too;
Great Yarmouth,Dover,Folkestone,Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth,Exeter, Cardiff, Swansea and towns and cities in the industrial centre of Britain, Coventry, Birmingham and of course London, were all bombed and some devastated cruelly. But the struggle went on.

If it hadn't been for ,"the sacrifice of the few," as Churchill put it, there would have been no fortress Britain and the build up of the massive army of British, Americans, Canadians and forces from around the Commonwealth that attacked the mainland of Europe on June 6th 1944, D-Day.

Here is a link with many archive recordings of that time:

One of the most poignant recordings is the live report by Charles Gardner of a dog fight over Dover as it actually happened, .


  1. Tony, That was truly poignant. I've seen so many newsreels about the Battle of Britain, and I can easily picture their dogfights over the channel. Your uncle was one of so many thousands to die in the Battle of Britain. I hope it was of some consolation to your grandmother to know that England stood alone for so long against an evil empire and won, and that her son did not die in vain. Thank you for the post.

  2. The death of your uncle was so sad and wasteful. Thank you for sharing these memories, which are disappearing fast. The British citizens were brave and stalwart, and remained so in defiance of heavy bombing. My 15-year-old dad spent the war years in Holland hiding as a girl on a Dutch farm so he would not be conscripted into a labor camp by the Germans. My mother spent the war years in Indonesia trying to keep safe from the Japanese. My grandfather and an uncle died in a Japanese internment camp in Indonesia. It was a terrible time. Too many lives were uselessly wasted.

  3. Thank you both for your kind comments.

  4. What a sad story about your Uncle. So many brave soldiers and civilians died in the Battle of Britain. It's good that you can tell his story so that his (and other's) sacrifice doesn't go forgotten.
    Also, in a related story, there's this new history website going up called History Pin ( It's a place where people can post historical photos and tell stories about people. Your Uncle's story seems perfect for this project.

  5. Dear Tony,
    I hope you don't mind me commenting on your blog. I work as a researcher for a company in Bristol, and we are presently working on a documentary about the Blitz. I would be really interested to know more about the story of your Uncle, I would be really grateful if you could get back in touch, my email address is Many thanks

  6. Tony,

    A fascinating blog - would your Uncle be Howard Reeves? I've started a topic on this chap on my forum, the South-East History Boards, with a photograph of his headstone. Several other HG men died on the same day in Woolston, possibly in the same incident?

    1. Hi John. Yes, he was Howard Reeves. His grave is in St Mary Extra bordered by Butts Road and Portsmouth Road. He has a military headstone but also buried with him are my Great Grandmother, my grandmother and my grandfather.