Memories -the Bomb Sites of Poplar

When I lived in Poplar more than fifty years ago there were many places where the destruction of the bombing in the second world war could be seen. Poplar had a large community of dock workers – dockers, stevedores, lightermen who worked in the Port of London. The docks were a strategic target for enemy bombing and bombing is never a precise activity. As a result many buildings were damaged to destruction. 

Ten years after the war ended the bomb sites were still around. Some had been converted into reservoirs, with basements tanked to hold water stores, which had been used to fight fires in the war. Now the war was over these bomb sites and their reservoirs gradually reverted to nature until builders moved in and rebuilt them, and for a young boy in Poplar the bomb sites were the only way in which i could get close to nature.

Flowers gained a precarious hold on some of the bomb sites. The yellow Oxford Ragwort found them a convivial home. We called them “wee the beds” because we believed that if you picked them you would, without fail, wee your bed that night. This myth protected the ragwort and it flourished on bombsites and on other bits of waste ground. In early summer the leaves of the ragwort were devoured by hairy yellow and black caterpillars, which grew into what we thought were lovely black and red butterflies but were actually black and red cinnabar moths. I have not seen the moths or the caterpillars since.

Going down to where the reservoir was contained at the bottom of bomb sites gave us the chance to see and collect tadpoles some of which grew into frogs (they were the more interesting to us then) and some grew into newts.

The bomb sites were our playgrounds. Our primary school playground had little grass and my secondary school had no playground, and so we explored the bombsites and got to know them and love them. Today they would be considered too dangerous for children to play in and I am sure that they were. We dug a den on one bombsite and stayed in it for long periods. One summer morning we found that the roof of our den had collapsed; had we been there when it collapsed I would not be writing this memory today.

We would climb over the remnants of the bombed buildings; they were our trees because there were no trees which we could climb in Poplar.

Today all the bomb sites are gone; they have been flattened and developed into housing or shops or other buildings. I wonder how the children of Poplar today can get close to nature in Poplar without these scars of a finished war.

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