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Evacuees in Devon, and Dad's Accidental Death

by vivien

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Vivien Smith
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09 November 2003

1944 - a beautiful summer. I was eight years old. Living in Budleigh Salterton in Devon which seemed a million miles from Fulham in London. An idyllic life - country, woods, sea. My elder sister Pat had been evacuated at the age of six and a couple of years later my mother took my younger sister irene and myself to live in the same village to where Pat had been billeted. When the war news was good we would return to London. When the bombing was heavy we would take the long and arduous train journey back to Devon. Eventually we were all living together in a rented cottage plus my young aunt. My maternal grandmother had died in March that year at what I later realised was a tragically early age of fifty-four. Mum the eldest sister of the family had immediately said that Bunny would live with us. She worked in the local Post Office but had no knowlege of the telegram that would arrive on that terrible morning in July which contained news that would remain etched in my memory forever. Hearing my mother screaming "Pat, Pat - something terrible has happened" I turned over and cried. I knew it was dad. He hadn't wanted to go to war. H was thirty-four. He was married. He had three children. But eventually the calling-up papers had arrived. We went back to Devon. He went to Warrington, HMS Gosling, to train and then to Scotland. Mum took it in turn to take each of us sisters to London when he had leave. The last time was before he was going abroad. He was in charge of the luggage at Waterloo and it was my turn. Mum took me to London and amazingly we found him quite quickly. I remember their goodbye kiss and going back to the lonely flat before returning to Devon. He had two younger brothers, both in the RAF but he wanted the Navy and went into the Fleet Air Arm, a combination of both. So how did he die? Not in combat. No just a stupid accident. He was in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) swimming during his off duty time. Cramp. Can you believe this? To sail to Ceylon in the midst of the war and die from cramp. He was a joker. He played pranks. People knew he played pranks so when he called out that he was drowning who would take notice. This was good old Alf. Always good for a laugh. Somewhere there are people who must be living with the awful memory that they could have saved him. I cannot blame them. People walked past our local pub and heard his laugh. That's Alf they would say. Must go in and join him. Always good for a laugh. Maybe he died laughing. We will never know but life was never the same again for my mum, my sisters and myself.

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