I Was Forced to Sleep In Bombed Houses

I Was Forced to Sleep In Bombed Houses by Enrico Stennett

It was now 1948 I was still only 20 years of age, I was now working but had nowhere to live, London was so badly bombed during the War that in certain places very few houses were standing.

Between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Mansion House, every building was demolished. In the East End of London almost every house was bombed. I began to search out the houses to find any room, which was intact, where I could sleep.

It was a bitter cold winter. I kept all my cloths in the locker at the Savoy Hotel where I had found work. The fact I could have a bath there every day if I wanted to made my life a bit easier. I lived like a tramp, as I nestled down in a little corner of the room, which I found intact and covered myself with an overcoat.

Some nights it was so cold it was impossible for me to sleep, but other nights I was so tired I had no difficulty sleeping.

One night I was so cold I left the bombed house and went to Lemon Street Police Station in Aldgate East, begging the Policeman to put me in a cell so I could be warm. I was told the cell was only for prisoners, I was told to go out and break a window if I wanted a cell accommodation for the night.

When I replied I did not travel 6,000 miles to break windows. I was told if I wanted to stay in the waiting room for the night sitting on a chair, I was welcome. I started to wait in the waiting room but found it colder than the bombed house, so I was forced to return to my regular bombed house I slept in. I suffered this for around 3 months but could not stand it any longer.

I returned to the Hostels seeking a bed but the answer was the same they had no beds. That night I crept into one of the Hostels when no one was looking and found a dormitory where many men were sleeping, and crept under one of their beds, someone saw me and I was chased out.

The following day when I was at work at the Savoy Hotel I told my lady Supervisor about my predicament, she gave me a letter for the Rhoten House Hostel in Settle Street. I found accommodation at the Rhoten House, where there were large dormitories full of old men, sick men, tramps and down-and-outs. These were the people I was forced to mix with because I needed somewhere to sleep. I was given a bed for 3/- 6d a night.

I cannot describe the conditions the place was absolutely filthy it stank, there were tramps, old men and the snoring and coughing was unbearable. I have seen men in their lowest form of degradation and here I was within their midst.

I lived in the Rhoten House for one week but then decided I could not stand it any longer as I could feel my skin being eaten away. My entire body felt as if I was being eaten alive, I only had one flannel vest, which I kept on to keep me warm. When I took my vest of I realised what was eating away at my body, within the fabric there were hundreds of white louse, the vest looked like a bit of cloth with hundreds of maggots on it, which infested the beds of the Rhoten House, I had to burn all my underwear. When I returned to the Savoy Hotel I took of the rest of my cloths and dumped them into a dustbin.

It was difficult to have a proper wash or a bath, as there were no baths to be seen anywhere. I used to wear a thick woolly vest, because sleeping in the Rhoten House and the bombed houses I needed to keep warm. I had brought with me from Jamaica some thick flannel underwear, which came in handy.

I was being bitten by bugs, worse still my whole body itched so badly it became unbearable. I felt as if I was living with a load of tramps and drunks. The conditions had to be seen to be believed, not in my worst nightmare could I believe that the British people I was so proud to be a part of in Jamaica lived and behaved like this. I could not return to that place, I tried to find somewhere else to live, by going from door to door asking for accommodation, but everywhere I went the answer was the same. ‘We do not take coloureds’.

In the end my friend and I decided we had no choice but to return to the bombed house, where some of the rooms were still intact. As I lay in the bombed house, covered with my overcoat and shivering with the cold, my thoughts returned to Jamaica and the home I had left behind, and the comfort of the life I had known in Mount Carey. I felt so desperately lonely and sad, the tears streamed down my face; I just did not know how I was going to survive and I wished at that moment I could have found some way to get on one of the next ships leaving one of the docks to return home.

But somehow, survive I did.

It was the strength of my upbringing and the discipline that had been instilled in me as a child which saw me through.

I never returned to the Rhoten House again.

by Enrico A Stennett