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Evacuees of World War 2 Remember.

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Evacuees of World War 2 Remember.

Postby Nevis » Sun Apr 02, 2017 4:09 pm

I would like to thank all the evacuees and their families and everybody who contributed their stories to this project.
I would especially like to thank the members of 'Memories of Crawley' (Facebook) for all their help. Nevis.

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"At the beginning of World War 2 I was aged six and three quarters. My parents decided that the best thing for me and my two brothers (twins, aged eight) would be to be evacuated. This was all arranged through our schools. Because we lived in London, the Government knew that it would not be a safe place as it would be one of the first places that the Germans would bomb. All parents were very sad to send their children away but they did it because they wanted us to be safe.

On evacuation day, which I think was a few days before the war actually started, we all had to meet at the school. We had to take our gas masks and enough food to last us all day. Our parents had no idea where we were going. We had to walk in twos and go to our nearest railway station which, for us, was Clapham Junction. We had only just moved to that area, during the school holidays, so we had never actually been to the school which was called Mantua Street School. So we didn't know any of the children or any of the teachers. It was a good thing that my brothers and I were able to go together or we would have been very lonely. Our Mothers walked to the station to wave us goodbye. We all had a label attached to us with our name and school written on it. All the children were very excited at going to the country. Our Mothers were very sad but they tried not to show it. My Mum told me afterwards that after the train had gone, she went to do some shopping. The lady who served her was very upset and she said to my Mum "my kids have just gone away". My Mum said "So have mine", and they both stood there and cried.

We all thought that we were going a long way away, possibly to Wales, but we actually went to a village called Binfield in Berkshire, which is only about thirty miles from London. When we arrived we were taken to the village hall where we waited to be taken to our billets, which is what they called the houses where we were going to stay. I know that in some places the people came and chose which children they wanted, which must have been awful if you were one of the last to be chosen. This didn't happen to us as it had already been decided which houses we were going to. We were taken to the houses by the Scouts and Cubs of the village. My brothers and I were taken to a family where there was a husband and wife and two very small children. Up to this time we had all been excited but while we were having our dinner I suddenly realised that I wanted my Mum and I started to cry. In the afternoon they took us to the cemetery to visit their relative's graves. Perhaps they thought this would cheer us up. I was walking along a grassy bank when I trod in a wasp's nest and got badly stung on my legs.

When it came to bedtime, I was horrified to find that I had to sleep in a baby's cot with the only bedding being the man's overcoat. It was quite a large cot but for a six-year-old it was very cramped. I can't remember how long I slept in the cot, but I'm sure they must have got me a bed later. We weren't very well looked after there and after a few weeks we were moved and my brothers and I were separated. I went to a Mr and Mrs Mitchell who had a daughter, Mary, who was my age. When I first went there Mary was in hospital as she had had Appendicitis. In those days people stayed in hospital for quite a long time. At first Mrs Mitchell was very nice to me but when Mary came home, she wasn't so nice. Sometimes my Mother sent me new clothes and Mrs Mitchell used to take them for Mary and give me Mary's old ones. My Mum sometimes came to visit us on Sundays and when she found out what was happening to my clothes she wrote to the Billeting Officer, who was the person who arranged where all the evacuees were going to stay, and I was taken to another place. This was a farm where they had a daughter who was four years older than I. They were really nice people and I was very happy there.

Schooling was a bit difficult as there wasn't really anywhere for us to go to school. At one time we went to school in the mornings and the "country kids" as we called them, went in the afternoons. After that, the evacuees went to school in the village hall. One class was on the stage and the rest of the hall was divided into three classrooms by very thin curtains. This wasn't really very good as you could hear the children in the other classrooms.

I was evacuated for two and a bit years, then just before Christmas my Mum came to visit me and the lady I was with asked my Mum if she could take me home for Christmas as she had a lot of visitors coming to stay. There wasn't much bombing going on at that time, so I went home and as soon as I arrived home I knew that I didn't want to go back to the country. Mum and Dad let me stay at home so I spent the rest of the war in London."
Ellen. (Written for a school project by Ellen for one of her grandchildren, who was 8 years old at the time).
.................

“When the war started, I remember a man coming up the road, and he was shouting out “War declared …. War declared!” And of course, I didn’t really understand it, and my older sister said “Oh! We’re all going to be killed! Even Shirley Temple!.” Shirley Temple was all the go on the pictures at that time. My mum had two sets of twins, I had a twin sister and little baby twin brothers.

Anyway, we all had to accumulate at this school, where they were going to decide where to send us, and first of all, they sent us to Cranbrook in Kent, and we were there for six months, and after six months they decided that it wasn’t far enough away from the bombs, so they packed us on a train to Devon. I remember us going to the station, and of course our mums couldn’t afford for us to have attaché cases, so we had pillow cases (as did a lot of kids) with all our things in, and a gas mask on our shoulder, and a big ticket, a great big label with our names on. Now our mum kept us all nicely dressed, and as twins, we always had the same. So we were put on the train to Devon, and I cried all the way.

When we got to Devon, they put us into a big hall, like a Chapel hall. We weren’t allocated to people, they came and they chose us. There was a lady who came and chose my little baby brothers, and she took them to live in her cottage, quite a long way from us, in the country. Then a little girl called Shirley, and my twin sister and I were put next door to each other. But the unfortunate thing was, the people who we lived with never spoke. They hated each other. I wasn’t allowed to go in with my sister to play, and she wasn’t allowed to come to me. There was this great big fence that ran along the garden, and we used to have to talk to each other through the fence.

Well, the war was on and people had to take us whether they wanted to or not really, because it was compulsory. Some of them didn’t particularly like children, but there was a war on and they had to have us. We were given a carrier bag, inside was a tin of corned beef and a big bar of chocolate and some other rations. Anyway we were chosen and neither of us was very happy, we couldn’t see our little brothers, the house I was in was overcrowded and the woman who lived there wasn’t married, the man lived with her.

She had a bathroom and toilet upstairs but she wouldn’t let us use it, she used to make us go into the yard. It was like a farm, a very small farm with a couple of pigs and some shelters. In one of these they had a toilet, which was a bucket with a seat on the top. I remember going in there one day to see a rat, popping his head up through the seat.

My sister and I didn’t stop crying for our brothers, and ourselves, so they bought the little brothers to us, one to me and one to my sister. They put my brother and me in a baby’s cot. Now can you imagine, I was up one end with him up the other and I can remember my dad coming to see us and I’ll always remember his words “Poor little buggers … Poor little buggers.” Our life was very rough there.

There was a little girl there, a very timid little girl, a weak looking very delicate child. She was three and I loved her. We used to play in the yard and there was a pigs trough about as long and high as a coffin and the water inside deep. Well one day, this little girl leaned over it and fell in. We tried and tried but we couldn’t reach her so we went running to the old man who used to work the orchard calling out “Patsy’s in the trough!” He ran down and got Patsy out of the trough and rushed her indoors where they gave her a warm bath and she was alright, then he chased my little brother and I all round the orchard with a great big stick and he was whacking us on the back. He blamed us for the little girl falling in the trough. My little brother was screaming as he was thrashed by the man with the stick. There were a lot of incidents like that. We were there for quite a long time. The lady who lived there had an 18 year old son who lived away and he was coming home with his girlfriend, so we had to leave.

We were moved to the end of the village to a lady who lived in a little cottage which was very old and run down with a tatty thatched roof. You can’t imagine what lived in that roof, great big spiders and rats. The woman used to leave a walking stick behind the bed and she said “If you hear the rats scratching, bang the wall and they’ll go away.” On the stairs she had placed some gin traps, farmers used to put them in the field and if a rabbit trod on one it would snap. They were terribly cruel things. When we had to go upstairs she would call “Mind the traps girls, mind the traps.” One day, we were in bed my sister and I, and by the side of the bed was a big bowl and a water jug, covered with a towel.

Well I’ve never seen a bigger spider, I don’t know what you’re like with spiders but I’m terrified. So there was this giant spider, it had come out of a damp hole in the thatch and was on the ceiling just above the jug. My sister said “If we pull the towel off the jug the spider might fall into it.” “Spiders don’t just fall” I said, as the spider landed on the towel and began to run. We screamed our heads off and the woman ran up and said “Oh you stupid girls, it’s only a spider you stupid girls.”

One day she went to Plymouth, the air raids had calmed right down and so off she went with her friend. It wasn’t far away from where we were. She said “I’ve left you some dinner in the cupboard.” There was no refrigerator. Inside the cupboard was a rabbit pie and when we placed it on the table we saw that it was full of maggots and flies and of course we couldn’t eat that, so we had nothing to eat and she had gone off for the whole day. There was a billeting officer up the road and we went and told her. “Come and see our dinner” and when she did she said “Oh girls, I’ve got to get you away from here.” Then she went all over the house and out the back, and there again, was a bucket with a seat over and it was full up to the top. This woman’s husband was away in the army and they had a little girl. My mum used to send us parcels but we never saw them. At that time kids couldn’t get sweets because of the rationing so my mum and dad and two older brothers at home saved all their chits to buy sweets so my mum could send them to us. Well this little girl, Valerie, when she used to cry, the woman would go to the cupboard and give her some sweeties. They always had sweets, but we never had any.

One day, when the woman was away, we found a letter, she had put it in a glass cabinet, we pulled it out and saw it was addressed to us, it read, “ Dear girls, I’m sorry that I couldn’t get you two of these (whatever sweets they had been) and also enclosed are some ankle socks” We never saw the socks either, we had the old ones that had been mended.

Anyway, going back to the thatched roof place, the billeting officer said that we couldn’t stay there, and so there we were again, out of the frying pan and into the fire. She put us in a house halfway up the village and it was called, the Millman’s.
She put us two girls with two horrible boys, the same age, they had shaved heads with great big thick fringes. Fancy putting us with two boys like that! We hated them and they hated us. They used to keep saying to us “You’re eating our rations!” and things like that. It was terrible, and every time we wrote a letter to our mum, she would read them. She wouldn’t let us post a single one unless she had read it, put a stamp on it, and stuck it down.

Well one day we wrote a letter, and she read it and said that we could post it on our way to school. On the way to school my sister tore a little bit of paper off of something and she wrote “Bring us home, it’s horrible, it’s terrible!” and she pushed the note through the corner of the envelope. My mum said when she got that letter she couldn’t quite read it, but knew what it was. Our dad came down the next week, the bombs were still falling in London, but not as bad, and so home we went. Our house hardly had a roof left on it, all the tiles were off and the windows gone and the frames just charcoal.

Going back to the story of when we were first evacuated and given a pillowcase, well my mum had bought us a little handbag each, both the same, as we were twins. A little navy blue handbag with a silver buckle, a bottle of perfume, a hankie and a toothbrush, and we thought that was lovely. Well when we got to Cranbrook they emptied our pillowcases and pinched my bag. “I’ve lost my handbag” I cried “Where’s my handbag?” I was very upset as my mum had bought them as presents to cheer us up.

We were there in Cranbrook for six months and they put us next door to each other. They were nice ladies and said they were sorry we couldn’t be together and that this would just be a temporary stay. They said that we were going to live with some Lady somebody who was really rich and she lived right out in the sticks. Anyway, off we went again. The house was large and very posh with a swing in the garden and was kept by a servant who was deaf and dumb. She took us up to our bedroom and there were two little beds with a little chair and a cupboard each side, and a table that was laid out with cups and saucers and two plates with an apple on each one. But it was right out in the wilderness and we didn’t know the old Lady, the servant was deaf and dumb and we had preferred it where we were, with the two old ladies, so we ran away, we didn’t even stay there the one night. We were soon rounded up and taken back to the two old ladies who felt so sorry for us that they said that we could stay with them. We stayed with them until the six months were up and then we had to go to Devon.

After dad bought us back to London everywhere we went was debris, that’s all there was, debris. We had to sleep in our Anderson shelter, mum had a double one in the garden, it was under the ground. My dad covered it with sandbags and grass, a corrugated thing.

There were two bunks in it and it smelled very musty. We would hear the bombs whistling all around us, all the time. We kept a lot of chickens and rabbits and they all got blown up. One time when we were down in Devon, our air raid shelter was practically blown out of the garden, there was hardly any roof left on it and we had a bomb fall right outside the house. Another time an incendiary bomb went right through my brother’s bed. My mum had a cupboard full of photos of all of us from when we were tiny and it broke her heart when that all got burnt.
I tell people all these things and I try and remember as much as I can, but I can feel these things so clearly in my mind, even now. It was a terrible time.”
Susan.

(Hello everybody, this is Nevis. The above post is transcribed from a conversation I had with Susan over the telephone. After checking with Susan, I discovered her memory is certainly better than mine. I would like to add the following changes.)

"Most everything is perfectly correct. Just a few mistakes.
----The little girl called Shirley was billeted with my little brothers,(I believe she stayed in that cottage when my brothers left it.)
The rat popped its head out of a hole in the wall and not the lavatory.
When we got to our billett in Devon (not Cranbrook ) the two girls whom lived there emptied my pillow case and stole my handbag with my perfume, hankie and toothbrush etc inside. I never saw it again.
The two ladies whom we stayed with in Cranbrook werent old ladies, They were middle aged.
Hope thats put it all right.
Best wishes.
Susan :-D "

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"My step dads mum was sent to Devon when she was expecting my step dad, his brother was sent elsewhere. After the war, my step dad was at home in London when he woke up to find his older brother in bed beside him and he didn't know who he was, they still laughed about it right up to my stepdads death couple of years ago."
Julia B.
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"Our mum, I think, came from Dulwich, and her mum ((my nan) and her stepdad Harry (who was a Jew) ran a pub, and I remember mum saying they were sent to the Kent countryside, but my mum and her sister (my aunty Anne) didn't like it, and during the air raids they used to go down to the cellar in the pub. My dad and granddad I think, were in the navy. Such a shame they are both not here, they would love telling their stories."
Lisa F.
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"My nan and granddad were from the Stratford area during WW2, in fact they lived opposite each other . At first my great nan refused to let my nan be evacuated but in the end agreed to due to the local school being bombed and the majority of the people not surviving. When she was evacuated she lived in a posh house up in Somerset. She was only there for a couple of months since she paid for the train to come back home with the money her sisters gave her, and never was evacuated again. My granddad was evacuated to Bridgwater in Somerset. He was the eldest of his siblings and when he came to it he made sure that his 3 younger siblings stayed together. My granddad went to another family which was a rich Jewish family. We got a picture of all four of them when they had a chance to meet up and also a picture of his evacuation nan."
Elizabeth M
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"We arrived in Crawley in 1966 and have been here ever since. My Dad (who sadly passed in 1997) wrote down stories of his 1930s childhood for us in the family and I have his account.
Ernie lived in Charlton then with his parents and 2 brothers. (His dad worked for Brentford Transformers after the war and came to Crawley with them in the 50s.) When the war began the 3 brothers (aged 7, 9 and 11), along with their school, were evacuated to Tonbridge, Kent. The family who took the boys in did it not for compassion or even duty, but for money.They had one spare room because their eldest son was away in the army, so the evacuees were put in there, sharing the one bed. They were fed left-overs or anything cheap, while only the family enjoyed eggs, butter, sugar or anything else nice. Straight after breakfast the evacuees had to leave the house, whatever the weather and regardless of whether there was school or not, and they were not allowed in again until all the family were home at the end of the afternoon. After tea the boys were required to sit quietly until bedtime. A big leather belt was used on them if they ever transgressed! (I have no idea how nobody noticed how cold and bedraggled the boys must have been, unless they thought they were just out enjoying the countryside?! Apparently the London teachers didn't stay long and the children were left to the mercies of the local schools.) Letters home were censored, but eventually the brothers managed to write and post a letter secretly and, even with the war on, the postal service back then was such that their mum came storming down within 24 hours and took her boys back home.

When heavier air raids meant that the government enforced a second wave of evacuation and Ernie's parents were both working long hours in the war effort, the boys had to leave home again, this time to a place of greater safety than under the flightpath of enemy bombers on their way to London! This time the evacuee train travelled west and Dad ended up in the village of Huntshaw, between Bideford and Torrington, in north Devon. In such a small village the brothers weren't able to be billeted together this time. Older brother Les went to a farm on the edge of the village, Ernie and Alan were taken in by a couple in their 60s who lived in a 17th century thatched cottage at the entrance to the churchyard. The husband was church warden and official rabbit catcher for the district. The wife was a country housewife who grew and cooked all their food. They welcomed their charges as part of the family and Dad's time there was very happy.

When his mum, injured and exhausted, was given doctor's orders to retire as an air raid warden, she traveled down to Devon to look after her boys for the rest of the war. The farmer who had taken in Les allowed the family to move in to rooms at the back of the farmhouse together so that they could be almost a family again. Their dad used to travel down sometimes for a weekend since he couldn't leave his job at the RAF depot, Kidbrook, making oxygen cylinders for bomber crews. Dad had many happy memories of his time in Devon.
That's the potted version of Dad's little autobiography."
Best wishes
Sylvia Keeping
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"My Mum, Ruth Wickins as she was then, was evacuated from London to Polgooth, Cornwall in 1940 aged 12. On arrival she was lined up for selection by the locals. A lady with a young child chose my mum on the basis she would be a good prospect for baby-sitting. The woman was very strict and would send my mum off every morning to a farm several miles away to fetch the milk in a tin can. On the way back it would spill over if she ran down the country lanes. She was an only child, her Mum died when she was two and her dad worked in the City. Her only joy was to get a letter from him and the postman used to signal to her if there was, or more often not, a letter from him that day. She made lifelong friends with a younger girl called Winnie Smith. They both still keep in touch to this day, although it's only through the post now as they are both in their eighties. She remembers her dad visiting her in Cornwall and how she cried with joy. When he left the woman was very annoyed with my Mum as she thought it reflected badly on her. Mum still reminisces on her times as an evacuee. She was thrilled once to have a new petticoat so she showed one of her classmates. The teacher saw so made her stand on her desk to show the whole class."
Paul F Turner
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