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Childhood Memories

by csvdevon

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
Beryl Richards
Location of story: 
Northampton, Bedfordshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4507300
Contributed on: 
21 July 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People's War site by CSV Storygatherer Alison Lear on behalf of Beryl Richards. The story has been added to the site with her permission. And Beryl Richards fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I recall being a small child living near London as the war progressed. In 1939 I was evacuated with my mother and sister to a farm near Northampton - I don't remember anything about that except for the dreadful taste and feel (to a town child) of fresh milk and warm from the cow! Then, as my mother returned to London to look after my father we went to friends in Bedfordshire, then to our next-door neighbour, a newly-married young woman whose husband had been called up and who escaped being directed into a job by taking on a couple of evacuees. After my sister had nearly killed me in an accident our parents decided to move out of London to a rented house where we could be together. So by the time I was six and started at school a year late, I had lived in five houses. There must have been many like us.

I don't remember much about the lessons, but I recall the teacher counting us into the air-raid shelters ("Walk quickly, don't run"). These were huge sewer pipes covered with earth and grass in our playing field. They were almost pitch dark, with duckboards as a floor and wooden benches where we sat until the "All Clear". I hated it when the teacher shut the door, cutting out the daylight, and prayed as we all did that I would not need the lavatory - a bucket behind a sacking screen. But then the fun began - can you imagine the noise inside a concrete pipe of all those little voices belting out "Its a Long Way to Tipperary" and "Ten Green Bottles"?

We were too young to think of any danger. I imagined I would see the shiny cone of the bomb as it came through the ceiling. I elected myself the family air-raid warding as I lay in bed each evening - "Barnet, Mummy", "Hatfield, Mummy" "Ours, Mummy" as the siren sounded, warning them how near the danger was and in which direction. We did not have a shelter. There were times when we slept under the mahogany dining table, and I distinctly remember sitting on my mother's lap by a dying fire as a Doodlebug approached and the engine cut out ("Count to twelve and wait for the bang") and Mother threw me under the table, banging my head in the process, and dived on top of me. How I squalled!

We didn't question anything. I was positively jealous at school when gory stories were swapped in the playground after a V2 rocket landed on houses in our town, killing several people including children. I had nothing to tell - it was years before a chance remark from my father told me that as a member of Heavy Rescue he had been digging up victims. It had never been mentioned before me at the time.

This seems all doom and gloom, but I also recall the glorious sight on a summer's day as the whole street watched a sky covered from horizon to horizon by aircraft towing gliders and cheered the noise they made. It must have been D-Day. I was lucky in that my father was not called up. I had toys and books handed down from an older sister and clothes of hers which came to me via a cousin. One of my joys as the war ended was a second-hand bicycle, and I got the kitten promised by my mother "When I can feed one properly". And on VE night I danced the Conga, with several hundred others, on the concrete apron of the Fire Station!

A Tiverton doctor once told me that he had patients who still suffered from being teenagers sleeping in the London Underground
stations during raids. He wisely said "They were too old to be cuddled". I was lucky, I was young enough for cuddling.

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