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My Childhood Days

by West Sussex Library Service

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
West Sussex Library Service
People in story: 
Jean Quinnell (nee Casey), Jack Casey, Doreen Casey, Molly Casey, Brian Casey, Billy Casey
Location of story: 
Dagenham Dock, Cromer, Stoke-on-Trent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 November 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Charles Kay from Crawley Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Jean Quinnell with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I’m starting my true story on an early morning in September 1939. I was eight years old and war had just been declared between Germany and England. I had two sisters and three brothers, Jack (18), Michael (16), Doreen (15), Molly (13), Brian (11), me (Jean) (8) and Billy the youngest who was six. On that September morning, when it was still dark, my mother and sister took the four youngest of us to the Catholic School in Dagenham which we normally attended. We were going by bus, where we did not know.
Looking back, it must have been a very sad day for my mother and sister. Mother told me later that she and Doreen had cried all the way home. We took with us our gas mask and a bag of clothes. I don’t remember any of us children crying at the time, in fact it seemed a bit like an adventure. We had a small kitten at home which followed us nearly all the way to the school. Mother said she never saw it again!
We went on a coach to Dagenham Dock and then on a boat called the Queen of the Channel. While we were on the boat I sang a song ‘Half a pound of tuppenny rice’, then my brother Billy sang ‘Popeye the sailor man’ over the loudspeaker so people on the next boat, the Golden Eagle, could hear. We got off the boat at Yarmouth, where the barrage balloons were going up, and spent the day on the beach, then we slept in a school, on sacks! It was more than one night but I can’t remember how long we stayed there. The children of the town gave us all a toy. I got a rubber doll but a dog pulled it apart the next day. I never did get another doll, only one with a broken up face.
Billy, Brian and me moved next to Cromer, where we stayed in a cottage with an elderly couple. Molly, who was older, went to a Youth Hostel and eventually joined the Land Army in Yorkshire. One day, Brian, Billy and myself went down to the beach (which we weren’t supposed to on our own). The tide was coming in and it was a bit frightening as it was becoming dark. We saw a big ship leaning against the cliffs and saw boxes floating about in the water. We walked right underneath the ship! We also saw unexploded mines floating and we were getting frightened by then, so we went back to the cottage and told them what we had seen. We got a good hiding (pants down and bare bottoms!) We never stayed out late again. The beach was wired to stop people walking along but we got down the cliff. We had to leave Cromer soon after that as it was getting too dangerous. I found out later that there was a lot of bombing and the man we were staying with was killed.
We next went to Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. We all went to different homes. I was the last one left in the school hall where we had been taken. I was really upset, my brothers and sister were gone and I was left all on my own. Up until then, I hadn’t cried, but I really sobbed my heart out. Later someone came and took me to their home, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very happy. The daughter of the family was about my age but wasn’t very kind. Perhaps she was jealous as she had an elder brother who made a fuss of me. During that time I spent away I didn’t have much schooling as they didn’t have room, or pencils and paper, so we spent most of our time nature walking!
One brother, Brian, lived a few miles away on a farm, but the younger one, Billy, lived near the school where we were and we saw each other every day. One day, Billy didn’t come to school and was missing for a long while. I found out that he had had an appendix operation. When he came back to school, he showed me his scar.
At dinner time, we had a packed sandwich, just one. I had egg and Billy had jam. We swopped as I didn’t like egg!
We were both unhappy in our different homes, so we met at dinner time and hugged each other. In the end, my older brother Brian took him to the farm where he was staying. My oldest brother Jack was in the Royal Marines and came to see me one day and saw I wasn’t treated very well. He told my mother and she came and took me home. I didn’t stay at hone very long because bombs were dropping everywhere, so mother took me to Yorkshire to a good friend of ours near Huddersfield. My sister Molly was there as well. The time I spent I in Yorkshire was the happiest of my childhood, but that’s another story!
Jean Quinnell (nee Casey) 9 November 2005

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