As the war progressed, the area around the factory at Forest Gate was one of few places in the East End to escape enemy air-
But there was one miracle. For most of the war the firm had thrown open the basement to the public, and about two hundred of them were sheltering there that night. Imagine my relief on entering the basement to find not one casualty amongst them.’ The board minutes reported, ‘The office block was severely damaged by blast and fire and much valuable equipment was lost. As the offices were untenable, the staff and such equipment as was saved had to be moved to the Handwrapping Room in the Factory.
Fortunately the Main Factory (apart from blast, damage to glass etc) was practically unhurt, and as soon as the water connections were reconnected, production was started up immediately after only one week’s delay.’
In spring 1944 the luck ran out. For four years the factory at Forest Gate had avoided the horrors dropped upon East London by the German bombers, but now it received a direct hit. Luckily, few people were killed and the main factory was relatively untouched, but the severity of the damage was a serious shock to operations.
On the same night Robert Robertson’s home was severely damaged, so he and his wife moved up to Chesterfield. At one point during the war Sydney John also moved his family up to stay at the Portland Hotel in Chesterfield.
Fred Izard, who spent forty years in general maintenance at Forest Gate, later recalled cleaning up after the bomb. ‘Number one boiling room suffered the most. We had to plug all the holes made by bomb splinters in the steam pipes and all the factory girls got to work chipping away the remaining glass fragments in the windows. It was one of the most wonderful sights – dozens of girls working away with little hammers and chisels. They cleared all the glass in two days.’ One of the worst jobs was clearing shattered glass out of the big glucose tanks. Fred volunteered. ‘They rigged up a bosun’s chair over the tank. I put on a swimming costume and was lowered into the tank. Then I cut away the top layer of semi-
Picture courtesy of London Borough of Newham Arts & Heritage.