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The war - a teenager's view

PUBLISHED: 09:13 24 December 2008 | UPDATED: 22:05 05 July 2010

Jim Cheeseman, right, donating his life story to William Wexler, of the Lowestoft Record Office. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Jim Cheeseman, right, donating his life story to William Wexler, of the Lowestoft Record Office. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

EARLIER this year, a Lowestoft man deposited the first two parts of his autobiography at the Lowestoft Record Office.

Jim Cheeseman, of Breckland Way, has written more than 300 pages about his life from 1927 to 1976 in two volumes.

A young Jim, aged 16

EARLIER this year, a Lowestoft man deposited the first two parts of his autobiography at the Lowestoft Record Office.

Jim Cheeseman, of Breckland Way, has written more than 300 pages about his life from 1927 to 1976 in two volumes. Before I was a Man and Now I am a Man tell the story of his childhood in London, his evacuation to Sussex, training with the National Fire Service and time as a waiter on the Queen Mary ocean liner, as well as many other fond memories from a life journey that has seen him go on to be a successful Lowestoft businessman and town councillor.

Mr Cheeseman, 81, has also seen extracts from his autobiography, One Hell of a Life, stored in London's Imperial War Museum due to the rare opportunity to be able to read about a teenager's perspective on the war, the training process for the national fire service and the experiences of someone working in the Royal Naval Canteen Service.

He also loaned these extracts to The Journal and the following is an extract from a poignant moment on Wednesday, January 20, 1943, when he was looking across the River Thames with workmate Eric Funnel.

“Suddenly we heard the low drone of an aircraft coming from our right. There had been no air raid siren, there were no barrage balloons in the sky and London had not been raided for some time. Therefore, it had to be an RAF plane.

“Eric picked out a small dot in the sky way beyond Woolwich and we stared as it was getting bigger and louder. We noticed that it was following the line of the Thames, but cleverly crossing the meanders.

As it passed in front of us, Eric said, 'That's a Jerry bomber.'

“I interrupted, saying, 'It can't be, it's too low and it's only going slowly. It would have been shot down by now.'

“Our eyes were fixed on the bomber as it flew towards London. By now Tower Bridge and Big Ben would have been in the pilot's sight. At Deptford the plane turned left, flying towards New Cross and on to Brockley. At this point, we gasped as we saw between five and seven bombs leave the aircraft.

“One of the bombs hit Sandhurst Road School, which was adjacent to where Jim's aunt Elsie lived. When he cycled to her house, he discovered that his cousin Jimmy had gone to help, but only two six-year-olds had been pulled out of the wreckage alive. A total of 38 children and six teachers lost their lives when the lone plane attacked.

“Once again my power of speculation must come to the fore, based on all the evidence I have seen. There is no way that the raid was authorised by the German Air Force; it was purely an act of bravado carried out by a single crew.

“Maybe even a wager, using a bomber that was nearing its last days in action. Daredevil acts like these were not uncommon in either the German or Royal Air Force, and that applied to both the Great and Second World Wars…

“Six teachers and 38 children were unnecessarily killed at lunchtime on that fateful January day, and they should never be forgotten.”

A memorial plaque to those who lost their lives can be seen in Hither Green Cemetery.

It bears the names of one teacher, Harriet Langdon, and 30 of the children who were buried together in a communal grave. The children, aged from five to 15 years old, were: Kathleen Brazier, Malcolm Alexander, Winifred Cornell, Norman Greenstreet, Joyce Brocklebank, Olive Asbury, Margaret Chivrall, Pauline Carpenter, Anthony Drummond, Evelyn Scholes, Norah Harrison, Pamela Silmon, Dennis Barnard, Pauline Davies, Judith Biddle, Joan Baker, Berry Barley, Edna Towers, Doreen Lay, Iris Hobbs, Janet Dutnall, John Hones, Rodney Jarret, Doreen Thorne, Richard Fagan, Cyril Glennon, Clive Tennent, Ronald Barnard, Eunice Davies and Anne Biddle.

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