As the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Britain is marked with a flypast of historic aircraft, Ron McGill has recalled spending much of his time during the summer 75 years ago amongst the rubble left by the German Luftwaffe.
He manned barrage balloons instead of going to school and even witnessed the death of an enemy pilot at the hands of angry Londoners who were left homeless by raids.
Mr McGill, 85, said: “My younger sister Jean and I had initially been evacuated in September 1939 to Berkshire, but this proved to be an unhappy experience for us both and our parents brought us home.
“My school remained in Berkshire, so most of my daytime hours were spent with the RAF personnel manning the Barrage Balloon site in Vauxhall Park, which was part of the defences for Parliament and central London.
“We wanted to know everything about the RAF, and the WAAF [Women's Auxiliary Air Force] girls were very kind to us.
"With their help, we rapidly became experts on both the RAF and the German aircraft as the air battles edged ever nearer to London in that summer.”
In April 1941, Mr McGill and his family were in an air raid shelter and managed to survive a bomb blast which destroyed their home.
He said: "We somehow lived through the nearby explosions, the clouds of dirt and dust, to find in the morning that the outside wall of our house had collapsed, caught by a blast from a parachute mine that had landed and exploded on the nearby milk depot.
“Like so many with their homes gone we then spent two weeks in a church hall before further evacuation, this time as a family but minus belongings and a home, back to the Berkshire countryside on the western outskirts of Reading.
“We never returned to Vauxhall as we were eventually re-homed, in 1943, to a small house at Roehampton where Nazi Germany had another go at us in July 1944 with a V1 flying bomb that left us roofless and dispatched us on the move again.”
But the most vivid moments from Mr McGill’s childhood came before the destruction of their two homes.
“On September 7 1940 the Luftwaffe arrived in superb formation and headed for Docklands where the area rapidly became an inferno of fire and smoke," he recalled.
“The most vivid moment of my young life arrived in the late morning of the following Sunday, September 15, when my mother and I had been visiting relatives near Kensington Park and the sirens sounded.
“As we hurried along we began to hear the noise of the ‘ack-ack’ barrage and the sound of engines and then the formation passing overhead and turning eastwards again towards Dockland.
“To our astonishment we realised a green parachute was coming down on us and he skimmed The Oval cricket ground wall and dropped by the doorway of a community centre by Oval underground.
“Unbelievably, the German airman had come down by a centre packed out with the survivors of the East End bombing of the previous Saturday.
“A frenzied crowd came rushing out with as many weapons and knives they could grab to deal with this enemy who had suddenly arrived at their door, although badly wounded and no obvious threat to anybody.”
'Brave young man'
The parachutist died but Mr McGill said if he had landed inside the cricket ground, and survived his injuries, he would have been safe as a prisoner of war.
“We found out later that this German airman was Oberleutnant Robert Zehbe, the 27-year-old pilot of a Dorner 17 who had been part of the raiding force which bombed east London.
“His body was subsequently buried not at the official German cemetery at Cannock Chase but just a few miles away from my home now at Brookwood Military Cemetery in plot 15, row 1, grave 2.
“I have visited his grave over the years and placed flowers in respect of a brave young man who died now 75 years ago.”
Mr McGill worked for the Post Office and British Telecom for 40 years and is now a painter and art tutor.