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Archive for April, 2013

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(Photo credit: DavidQuick)

We arrived late at night in Northampton, and the billeting people could only find temporary accommodation for us. The four of us were taken to a large house which looked quite creepy in the dark. My sister told us it was a home for ‘mad’ people, but in reality it was a home for disturbed children.

We were all feeling cold, miserable and very hungry by then, as we had not eaten since breakfast. A member of staff showed us to a room which had two beds and a chair, and told us we could all sleep there, and that we would have breakfast in the morning. Lil said that we had not eaten all day, but the woman replied that there were no kitchen staff on duty that late but said if we wanted a drink there was water in the kitchen. Later, my sister tried to find the kitchen, but the house was all in darkness, so we went to bed very hungry and thirsty.

It was so cold in the room that we undressed as quickly as we could, throwing all our clothes on the chair. It was a long time before I fell asleep, as the house seemed to be filled with strange noises. I could hear moaning and crying, then someone would shout out as though they were in pain, and this was followed by footsteps running about. I awoke with a start to hear my sister Lil shouting: “Who’s that? What do you want?” Someone was in our room, but it was so dark we could not see who. We were all terrified and spent the rest of the night huddled in one bed.

At last it was daylight, but when we looked for our clothes, they had all disappeared. Someone had stolen them. Even worse, our only other change of clothes had been left with the billeting officer. We started to bang on the door for help, but nobody heard us.

Lil would not let us go out of the room in our nightclothes, so we had to miss out on breakfast. It was only when one of the children was noticed wearing odd size clothes, and then more clothes were found in one of the bedrooms, that the staff realized they were our clothes, and returned them to us.

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Take them back!

Take them back! (Photo credit: wokka)

When we arrived at our school the whole place was in chaos. Parents and pupils had no idea what was happening. At last the headmaster appeared. He told all the children to line up in the hall, and asked the parents to wait outside. Our teachers then pinned a label on our clothes with our name on it.

Next, we were all handed a brown paper bag. When I looked inside I was amazed to see biscuits, chocolate, fruit and even tins of food. We were told the food was for our journey, but how we were supposed to open the tins I have no idea, as we did not have a tin-opener. We then had to file out into the playground. Our Mum was waiting there with the other parents, Mum looked very upset and worried. I remember she said to my sister Lil: “Now make sure that you look after them, and that you are all kept together.”

Then we had to board a bus which was waiting outside the school. I thought Mum was waiting for our Dad to arrive, but when I saw tears in my Mum’s eyes and my sisters crying, I realised that my parents were not going with us. I started to cry when the coach pulled away, leaving my Mum waving to us until we were out of sight.

Looking back, I am truly thankful that we had Lil, who was such a caring and loving sister. At the time she was only eleven but she was like a second Mother to us. How the other children fared on their own I dread to think. There must have been a lot of very frightened children on the coach that day.

After travelling for some time on the coach, we arrived at a strange place called Rugby. The driver pulled up near a big building, and we were told to take all our things with us. Inside was a large hall where we had to line up. We were given a hot drink, and then a lady showed us where the lavatories were, and told us to be quick as the billeting officer was waiting for us. When we returned to the hall, there were a lot of people walking about looking at the children. Then they began to point to individual boys or girls.

My sister Lil asked what was happening, and was told they were choosing who they wanted billeted on them. Lil explained how Mum had said we were to be kept together. At this, the lady replied that nobody would take four children. My sister started protesting and said she would not move from the hall if we were separated. However, some sort of compromise must have been made as we ended up in different houses but in the same street.

I can still remember how very frightened I felt when I was left on my own in a strange house. I started crying for my Mum. I was billeted with an elderly couple who soon put my fears to rest. They treated me like their own daughter and could not have been more kind. They had one daughter who was working in a munitions factory, and it was her bedroom I was to sleep in. I felt quite lonely in the bed on my own, as I was used to sleeping with my sisters. I had never seen a bedroom like it.

There was a lovely pink satin bedspread, a bedside lamp and a wardrobe to hang clothes in. Even after all these years, I can remember a manicure set in a small purse and a set of hairbrushes on the dressing table – luxury indeed. For some reason they called me ‘Snowball’ but I do not recall their name. I was not to have the benefit of their kindness for long. After a week we were moved to Northampton, which was to be a very different experience.

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[Evacuees enjoying a nature lesson in Caersws]

Soon events were to happen that would change our lives in a way we could never have imagined. It was September 1939, when war was declared with Germany. I was nearly six years old. My memory of the day is how worried my parents looked. They spent a lot of time listening to the news or talking with neighbours out in the street.

I was quite surprised to see so many people in the street, all discussing the news.I heard the name ‘Hitler’ and talk of their fear of invasions and bombings, which at the time meant nothing to me. People seemed at a loss what to do and reluctant to go back to their homes. It was only when it started to get dark that the street began to empty.

Apart from everybody having to black out all their windows, and no street lights, the early days of the war did not affect our lives. The air-raid sirens went off a few times, but were false alarms. However, we were soon to learn the grim reality of war.

The first time I heard my parents discussing evacuation, they were having some sort of disagreement about who should be evacuated. Dad wanted to keep my brother George at home, but Mum thought he would be safer with us four girls. This would leave my two eldest sisters at home as they were working, and my baby brother, Brian. In the end they decided it would be just my sisters Lily, Mary, Kath and me. I had no idea what my parents were talking about, and soon the conversation faded from my mind.

How long after this we were evacuated, I do not know. All I can remember is that one day Mum said: “You will have to leave home for a while, as it is not safe to stay in London.” Mum explained that we would be living in the country, and that some kind people would be looking after us. I still did not worry about it as I thought my parents would be with us. I had no idea that my three sisters and I would be on our own.

One morning, just before we were going to school, Mum gave each of us a carrier bag. Looking inside, I was quite surprised to see my clothes folded neatly at the bottom, and my Sunday-best dress packed on top. Mum then said: “I want you all to be on your best behaviour, as today you will go to school first, and from there you will be evacuated.”

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