My father Leon Lalonde was Mechanical Engineer for W&C French from 1928 to 1947. He was responsible for the repair and maintenance of all Mechanical Equipment and Heavy Machinery. The large yard was located between Fairlands Close and The Reindeer Pub on Epping New Road. The yard housed every different kind of machine and piece of equipment a construction company might need. It also had a major repair workshop, paintshop, welding shop, and wood working shop.
During the war Mr. Charles French was naturally very concerned about the safety and welfare of his staff and employees and their families. He ordered a series of Air Raid shelters to be built into the natural side of a hill within the yard. These were to be four side by side concrete shelters, reinforced with tram lines from Walthamstow, which had switched to trolley buses. They would have a roof several feet thick, and walls of equal strength. One was designated as a Womans and Childrens Shelter, the second for Men. Each section had it's own set of private, chemical toilets. The third section was a storage shelter, which housed many cases of tinned and dried foods, bottled juices, rice and other basic foods. It also held three large tanks full of drinking water.
The fourth shelter was used by Air Raid Wardens, Fire Watchers and Rescue Crews, as a command post. The complex was also equipped with it's own diesel/electric generator, should emergency power be required.
It was said that more than one hundred people could survive in these shelters for several weeks. Heavy mobile drag-lines and other earth moving equipment was stored on the roof of this refuge, which gave added protection against bombing.
My parents and I spent many worrying nights in this protective sanctuary along with other families. We'd pass the time playing cards, the men playing darts. Children like me (I was 8 years old) played with our toys or cars on the cheaply carpeted floor, or tried to get some sleep in the army cots arranged along the walls.
People would bring in 'Off License' Beer and spirits and sing songs and dance to the gramophone playing records of Victor Sylvester and his Ballroom Orchestra.
In 1995 I went back to Buckhurst Hill. My Ivy Cottage at 58 Epping New Road had gone, replaced by an apartment block. The yard had gone, taken over by 'new development'. Progress can be painful for those who like to... remember.
I have just one question: How hard was it for the workers to demolish that big concrete Air Raid Shelter next to the workshop in the yard?
I would like to hear from someone who knows the answer to this!!!
M. Denman Lalonde
A memory shared byon Aug 18th, 2007.
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