11 January 2008

Bob, or Reginald Percy Leopold Britton

20 High View Road, home of Bob (or Percy) and Maisie Britton

Robert Hughes remembers his maternal grandfather, Bob Britton:

Bob was kind.

He didn't do War.

That's why when the bomb fell in 1941 he was caught in his bed.

He had already invented a coating for submarines, which helped win the war for his country and gained him a patent, but he was a scientist and he knew about poison gas, and all the ways that bombers from the air could devastate innocent people.

He built an air-raid shelter at the bottom of his garden in Norwood, and he built it strong; but on the fateful night, he was too traumatised by worry to be in it.

'Come along into the shelter' said my Grandmother Maisie.

Bob couldn't; his depressive condition didn't allow him out of bed. He will have told her 'Go, Lass, get down there.'

A German bomb destroyed three houses on Highview Road that night, and buried Bob in the rubble of his home.

The bomb blast caused some strange effects: some crockery was lifted out of the cupboard and chucked down onto the floor without being broken. A big wardrobe was wafted across Bob's bed before the rubble fell in on it, and it seems to have saved his life.

My Grandfather had seconds to decide whether to live or to die: he chose to live.

Without air he knew he would die quickly; but he was a scientist: he considered how soldiers crossing a bridge were required to break step: they might otherwise break the bridge by setting up a rhythm.

Bob thought 'Why don't I set up a rhythm?', and he did. He worked his elbows in such a way as to set up a force which pushed up that wardrobe and gave him air until the rescuers dug him out.

My grandfather lived to teach me chess, and retired from his career in paint manufacturing with honours from his profession, but he always wanted to enquire and explore, like his uncles in the Thomas family: Uncle Ernest Augustus, for example, wrote two books on cosmology.

You or I might think that the bomb-site at Norwood would be too much to bear. However, it isn't that surprising that Bob's enquiring mind took him back to have a look, some years after the War. Someone was beavering away at the bottom of the garden, and my grandfather asked him what he was up to.

'Getting all this concrete out...could have been an air raid shelter or something. I'd like to meet the bugger that put this thing in!'

'You're looking at him', said Bob.

'Bob' was Reginald Percy Leopold Britton, born in 1889 in Levallois–Perret, a suburb of Paris in the Hauts-de-Seine département. His parents were Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton and Irza Vivian Geraldine Britton (née Thomas), also the parents of Lionel Britton. Many thanks to Robert Hughes for the above article, and for providing the photo.


Snatch51 said...

The Blitz experienced by London was not to be trivialised, but occasionally some black humour emerged from the wreckage.
A shop displayed the sign: 'Open as usual', until it was bombed to bits, when it displayed:
'More open than usual!'
My grandfather started to recover after being bombed to buggery, because with the house around his ears it was hard to see how it could get worse.
My Mum phoned: (Bob's actress daughter working down on the South Coast in Repertory, entertaining the troops),
"Hello, Dad!...Blah Blah Blah...",
"Hello, Flora, Blah Blah Blah...",
"Right, I must go Dad...",
"Oh, uh, Flora..."
"Dad! What? I have to get going!"
"Um, er, Flora. The house has been bombed!".
"Stop it Dad! I have to be off now..."
"No, it really has..."
"Dad, you are speaking to me on our own phone!"
"I'm afraid the phone was blown out into the front garden!"
(It was, and all the neighbourhood ran up their phone bill!).

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Great stuff, Snatch. I wondered what had happened to the phone.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Bonnie's replied, by the way.