University of Oxford
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The Simpkins at War

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 18:59 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

At the start of the Second World War the Simpkin family all lived in London, and my Uncle Leonard Philip Simpkin was posted to the RAF Gunnery School at Eastchurch, on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent in November, 1940. He and his fellow trainees had just arrived in Eastchurch station, in steady snow, when they were immediately ordered by their commanding officer to take shelter under the train as there was an air raid in progress. It was freezing cold, and the noise and turmoil seemed to go on for hours before they were eventually told that they could crawl out from their shelter under the train and continue their journey to the camp. Uncle Leonard remembered how cold they all were, and that none of them could feel their hands or feet. However, when they did eventually get to the camp, there was a warm fire and drinks for them to enjoy before they were shown to where they were to spend their next few months.

My uncle very much enjoyed his time at the Gunnery School, especially, he said, going to the dances that were regularly put on in Sheerness for the servicemen. After he had completed the course, he was posted to Glamis Castle, the Late Queen Mother's birthplace, which was, yet again, a cold, but beautiful posting. Uncle Leonard never returned to Sheppey until we, his brother's family, moved here after the war.

In later life, Uncle Leonard made a marquetry picture (attached), using a variety of woods, which he was to show to the Queen Mother, when she visited the hospice in which he then lived, but he died two days before her visit.

Uncle Leonard had a crippled sister, Olive, who did gold thread work, making badges for uniforms, which kept her busy during the war. He also had two other sisters, Iris and Vera, who were in the Land Army, and my Dad (his brother), Archie, who worked at Croydon Aerodrome. Leonard and Archie's father, (my grandfather) Frederick, was a warden and worked on the railways. He had a younger brother, Ernest, who came home on leave, before being shipped abroad on military service. He was having a drink in a public house when the pub was hit during a bombing raid, and Ernest, as a result, lost a leg. Needless to say, he never returned to active military service. Frederick and Ernest used to entertain the troops playing their banjos and piano.

My Dad, Archie, didn't want Mum and me to stay in London during the war, so we went to live with relatives in Pickering, in Yorkshire. I was only 18 months old, but from that day on I have always been called "the evacuee". We really didn't know the war was going on while we were in Yorkshire, but we certainly did when we came back to London for a brief visit. Lovely places, like our local church, set on fire by bombing, and the Americans, who had taken over the schools in the area. Granddad always made them welcome. He also always took us grandchildren to Billy Smarts Circus which, of course, we loved.


Item list and details

Marquetry picture of Glamis Castle made by Uncle Leonard; Uncle Leonard Philip Simpkin;

Person the story/items relate to

Leonard Simpkin and his close family

Person who shared the story/items

Valeria Reveley (nee Simpkin)

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

This is a story about my uncle

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID