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Children on the

From the publishers of

children on the home front from

1939-1945

magazine

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“My first memory is of evacuation. on the day i reported world of British children forever…

Evacuees

We'll meet again Don't know where Don't know when But I know we'll meet again some sunny day Keep smilin' through Just like you always do Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

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to school, i had my smelly gas mask, a bag and a label pinned to my coat.” Norman Backhouse, Liversedge

in your view Audrey Rooks, Westfield, Woking, remembers… “After a short drive we pulled in at a depot where we were each given a brown carrier bag with string handles. This contained a variety of packets and tins of food that were to be given to our host family to help out with the first meals. On top was the largest bar of milk chocolate I had ever had in my possession. I was very tempted to break into it but then the rumour swept through the bus that this food was to last until the war ended. After that I dare not touch it. Bu the end of the first week I had settled down in my billet in the small Oxfordshire village of Bix, accepting of the situation as children do. This was the start of a happy country childhood. That large bar of chocolate was handed over to me. Every evening I broke off just one square to eat. Manners dictated that I offer my chocolate round to my host family, but I breathed a sigh of relief when it was refused!”

With the start of enemy bombing in London, the decision was taken to evacuate 120,000 children to Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wales. Far left, brother and sister Tony and June Bryant await the train that will evacuate them to Luton. Near left, a little girl waits to be evacuated with her teddy bear

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Evacuees

“There were scenes reminiscent of a cross between an early Roman “The

Unhappy times, too With the huge number of children who needed to be placed with families, a number of evacuees had a less than positive experience in youR view Derek Sives, Carnoustie, Angus, remembers… “When I was eight I was evacuated from Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, to Stonehaven, with my 13-year-old sister. We were billeted with a lady who seemed to us at the time to be very old. On our first morning we went down to breakfast thinking a bowl of cereal with hot milk was waiting for us. We were horrified to see that it was “steepies”, bread covered in watery milk. Each day, when we came downstairs the lady would be standing at the bottom with a cane, which she used to rap our fingers if we dared to touch the wallpaper on the staircase. Needless to say, we were very unhappy and three weeks later when our mother came to visit, we cried so much that we were taken home immediately. We happily lived out the rest of the war days with no sign of bombing at all.” 46 Children on the home Front

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slave market and Selfridge’s bargain basement.”

During the day when we were not at school, we had to sit on a dining chair with our arms folded and not say a word. If we did we were punished. I can remember my sister being sent to the dark understairs cupboard as a punishment. If we spoke at table our knuckles were rapped with the bread knife Marie Stoneham, Aldwick

Historian Richard Titmuss

in youR view

Joan Murton, Isle of Wight, remembers… “My friend Jean and I ended up with the local coffin maker and his wife. I always liked sewing and when I was asked if I could sew I willingly said I could. Jean was wiser than me and she said she couldn’t sew. I had to sew the pillows that went in the coffins. These were usually white, although on one occasion the Rector died and his coffin was lined in mauve, so the pillow had to be mauve. I was often kept up nearly all night making these pillows. At 13, the thought of a dead person’s head resting on the pillow I had made gave me nightmares and sleepless nights.” Mrs M Cooper, Billericay, Essex, adds… “I was an evacuee for just two days in 1940. My mum was eight months pregnant and we were sent to Surrey. People seemed unwilling to take us in and we were the last ones waiting in the town square. It was getting dark when the billeting officer took my mother, younger sister and me to the manor house. We could feel the lady of the manor didn’t want us. The maid took us to a room with a double bed for the three of us. Next morning we were told not to use the front door but to go in and out of the back. When my mum asked for a cup of tea she was told there was plenty of water in the tap. No wonder we went home to the air raids in London after two days!”

‘At school we would scrape food from the swill bins because we only got leftovers at our billet’ Mrs B B, London Children on the home Front 47

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Evacuees

“At first it was just like another holiday, but after a time a funny

The start of a real adventure... in your view Mrs M Terry, Harleston, Norfolk, remembers… “My twin sister and I were sent to Exmouth in Devon at four years and five months old. We only saw our mother and father twice in the year and a half we were there. Auntie and Uncle were really lovely people. They taught us so much. We could tell the time and write our own letters home. Uncle used to ask us what we wanted to say, write it down for us and we would copy it. We cut our own Christmas tree and carried it home, picked wild flowers and played on the beach. At Budleigh Salterton there were very large pebbles on the beach – Uncle would write little messages on the bottom of some of them and we would have to find them. When we came home from school we would drink our orange juice out of little bone china cups, which we called fairy cups. By the time I had my three children only Auntie was still alive. I took them to Exmouth to see her and she said looking at my twin boys was like going back to when we went to stay there all those years ago.”

The circumstances were not just strange for the evacuees, but for the families who took them in

M

arjory Ramson of Gosport remembers her first sight of the city girl who had been allocated to them in Newhaven. “I was only eight years old and can still see our skinny little evacuee, Betty from London, in plimsolls that should have been binned months before. My first job was to run over the bridge to the Co-op and purchase a new pair of plimsolls, which must have made quite a hole in my mother’s purse. I remember that Dad’s weekly wage was under £1! “Having made the journey without a shriek from the air raid siren, I went into the back yard, which was completely

enclosed by a high brick wall, except for a well fitted wooden gate. “Imagine my horror when I saw this scrap of a girl, also eight years old, sitting on a chair with a white sheet completely surrounding her, crying. My mother had discovered nits! There she was with the paraffin can and scrubbing brush. Mission accomplished, Betty was allowed into the house. “We got on well for over a year and then her parents came for her. I can remember her leaving wearing a green and cream cardigan that my mother had knitted for her to match one of mine. I’ve often wondered if her family survived the bombing in London and what happened to her.”

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feeling of homesickness seemed to creep into me.” Letter to the News Chronicle from a 13-year-old evacuee

in your view

Jean Seymour, Oakham, Rutland, remembers… “I was 12 when the war started and living in Manchester. On September 1, 1939, our school was evacuated to Uttoxeter in Staffordshire. The owners of the house where four of us were billeted were on holiday when we arrived, so it must have been a great shock when they returned to find four home-sick children to care for!”

Far left, three mothers say goodbye to their sons as they board a bus bound for the West Country. Above, children arriving for their new lives carrying their precious toys. Below, what would these tots have made of it all?

Joan Clark, by email, adds… “When I was around five years old my mother, baby brother and I were evacuated from London to Preston in Lancashire. It was a strange world to me, especially wearing wooden clogs, but the family we were billeted with was very kind and I went to school with their daughter, Kathleen. For a child it was all one great adventure. There were some American troops based nearby and when we saw them we used to say: ”Got any goom choom?” which was how we asked for chewing gum in our Lancashire accents. Of course, we always got some. Often, when we were paddling in a stream nearby, the GIs would ride in their army trucks across the bridge and throw money into the stream. This usually started a fight to see who could collect the most coins. The army held socials as well, and I must have been a very bold child as apparently I used to stand on a table and sing my heart out.”

‘we were a group of little evacuees, our suitcases in our hands and our gas masks in a cardboard box’ Stella Speller, Stevenage Children on the home Front 39

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Joan and Daphne,Thank you very much for your gift world of British children“Dear forever…

War effort

 All the day long, Whether rain or shine, She’s part of the assembly line. She’s making history, Working for victory, Rosie the riveter (from Rosie the Riveter/Kay Kyser)

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which I have just received. I am most grateful to you for the trouble you have taken…”

Clementine Churchill’s hand-written letter to Joan Drury of Eastbourne and her sister, for money raised for the war effort

In your vIew Evelyn Holley, Bristol, remembers… “I was ten when war was declared. Some time into the war they built a brand new hospital at the top of the hill into Cirencester for the American GIs when they were wounded. We were asked to volunteer to write letters home for them. I recall the first time I went I met this young GI and his hands were heavily bandaged. As I wrote the letter to his mother he told me he had played the violin in an orchestra in the States but that he would never play again as half his hands had been blown away. It was the Dear John letters that I hated. I had to read letters to the boys telling them that their girlfriends had found someone else. It was such a sad business. My friend went to a big house to write letters for British soldiers who were terribly burnt. I went a couple of times but I became too emotionally involved and had to give it up. I just thought what a waste of beautiful young men.”

Far left, all children had to muck in and help with household tasks. Left, youngsters help fill sandbags on the seashore at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, before the bags are taken to local buildings and shelters

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Evacuees

“Suddenly our classroom overflowed with evacuees.They found our “Sud

New brothers and sisters Some evacuees integrated into their hosts’ lives immediately, and became part of the family, even if they came from very different backgrounds

M

aureen Anderson remembers how well her family’s evacuee suited them. ‘“This is Ethel,” said my sister, of the new arrival. “She’s from London and she’s come to stay with us for a while.” This was my first meeting with the evacuee who went on to live with us for nearly five years and who became my second sister. Ethel, an only child, had been sent away as soon as war broke out but her first billet was an unhappy one – she was locked in a cupboard for being naughty. We lived in a small village in a South Wales valley and we spoke Welsh at home. Ethel picked up basic Welsh words very quickly and in time understood what we were saying even if she couldn’t converse in Welsh. The village school became

divided into two camps: the English section and the Welsh. At playtime, we would meet in the playground and shout rude comments at one another. We were the ‘Welsh rabbits’ and they were the ‘English pigs’. As the weeks progressed and we got to know one another better, the catcalls became more unenthusiastic and finally died away altogether. My mother was determined that Ethel and I were to have exactly the same things so we would leave the house in identical clothes. We still talk about the grey-and-blue checked coat, grey ‘Deanna Durbin’ hat and hand-knitted blue silk gloves we wore to what we used to call the Easter Parade. We learned to put on gas masks and sat in them, breathing heavily and peering out of clouded visors. We carried them to school and to

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country ways rather strange, but we felt sorry for them and most became our friends.”

Henry Shanks, Lanark

in your view Mrs E L Lister, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, remembers… “I was the youngest in my family from a small Shropshire mining village, which gave a home to a young married mother and her six-month-old son from London. What great times we had! Fortunately, the friendship didn’t end with the war. Afterwards, my parents used to send our ‘London family’ their Christmas dinner - a freshly dressed chicken, complete with vegetables from our garden. It would be packed up well and put on the train in a specially marked box and they collected it from Paddington Station. The box was returned on their next visit to us, ready for the following Christmas. I am the last surviving member of my Shropshire family and I still keep in touch with our Londoners by telephone and occasional visits. Not bad after 65 years…”

the local cinema in cardboard boxes with the thin string cutting into our shoulders. Ethel’s parents came to visit at regular intervals. They brought presents for us: the odd chocolate bar and tea bags from a Canadian cousin. These were a real novelty as we had never heard of a tea bag. When the bombing of London quietened down, Ethel returned to her family. But then the doodlebugs started and we received a brief telegram saying, ‘Coming home, Ethel’. We met her at the station and it was as if she had never been away, so quickly did we slip back into the old familiar ways.

Left, a small boy in RAF sergeant-pilot uniform shows his ‘wings’ to a girl while waiting for his party of evacuees to leave London. Above, the Government was keen to hammer home the message that children were safer in their new rural homes, despite the heartbreak this inevitably caused for parents

‘i went from a Glasgow tenement to a farm. i couldn’t believe how well a rough city girl fitted into that gentle life. i loved my time there’ Jeanie Richie, Stirling

n 1996 James Roffey set up the Evacuees Reunion Association mainly to dispel some of the myths that persisted about wartime evacuation. He says: “It was widely believed that all evacuees were children from inner city slums who were billeted with middle class people in rural areas.Very often, the reverse was true, as in my case. I was taken from a comfortable home in south London to a tumbledown cottage where the front garden was knee-deep in nettles and there was no running water or electricity.”

i

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Children of the Home Front  

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