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Joan, The Graveyard Evacuee

by CSV Solent

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Mrs Joan Short
Location of story: 
Milburn Pont, Somerset
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4528307
Contributed on: 
23 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Catherine Blandford and has been added to the website on behalf of Joan Short with her permission and she fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

We lived in Bevois Valley in Southampton. You couldn't work anywhere you liked - you were told where you had to go. So my father was a fitter for Spitfires, working on Rolls Royce engines. Didn't mean much to us children. We went to school as normal, except that we had to do gas mask drill in the playground. We had to put our gas masks on and march. They felt horrible to wear:heavy and suffocating. They had Mickey Mouse ones for the very young so my sister Ann had one. She was only three or four. But there was never a real need for them. It's funny the things that stay with you. Whenever I see grapefruit I remember the first time I saw one. I thought it was a giant lemon.

It was after the big air raid on Southampton when a blast blew dad out of bed that my brother and I were taken to the Civic Centre to be evacuated. Milburn Pont in Somerset was a lovely village but I was sent to an old lady who was very religious. She marched me to church three times on a Sunday and if she thought I'd been naughty she would haul me to the vicar and he would be asked to forgive my sins. I was about twelve.

Mrs B never allowed me to go out to play. I went to school and that was it. I was allowed no friends and had to be back home by a certain time else I was given the stick on my bottom or shut in a dark cupboard under the stairs. I only ever saw other children at school, even my brother, who had gone to a lovely couple - the local cobbler and his wife. They did everything for him, took him on holiday - Mr and Mrs Hansford they were called - and he went back to visit them after he was married.

They never tell you how ill-treated evacuees were. I just went inside myself. It has affected the whole of my life. I have to have a light on at night and I'm very nervous of any dark. Mrs B would shut me in the cupboard for 20 minutes or more at a time unless her daughter came round (she must have been about 40) and let me out. I heard her telling her mother off for shutting me in there but it didn't stop her.

I would be sent to the graveyard with Vim and a scrubbing brush to scrub the tombstones. If the choir boys were about they would climb up the trees and throw stones and laugh at me for the job I was doing.

My friend Betty Williams from school said she was going to call round for me to come out to play. When she arrived Mrs B ran upstairs and emptied the chamber pot over her out of the window.

I had to help on the daughter's chicken farm - feed the hens and collect the eggs. I didn't mind because I wasn't shut indoors. I liked the husband's work. He was a stonemason. He used to make prayer books out of marble for American soldiers with inscriptions on them. Mrs B's food was good though. She would get marrow bones from the butcher and make pea soup out of that. And she made apple dumplings I remember, a proper country cook.

I was confirmed while I was there. I had to prove I was christened but St Peter's Church in Hammersmith couldn't find my records because of the bombing so I had to be christened again. I went to Sunday school too of course. Miss March, the teacher, was Mrs B's sister. Once I said, "Good morning Miss March, April, May." She put a note under Mrs B's door telling her and I was chastised for that.

Leslie Hedges, an evacuee boy at school, was very unhappy. All the other evacuees who could (I couldn't)put money into a kitty in secret and gave him the fare to Southampton. When he got there , there was a big air raid, so all the evacuees who had given him money were caned - so many strokes for how many pennies they'd put in. It was horrible. The News of the World at the time printed a story about evacuees on a farm being so hungry they would suck the milk from the cows' udders, but they never printed our story.

Things got worse and I became desperate. Mrs B's brother was in hospital so I was sent to his wife's with a custard for him. Mrs B had been horrible to me that day because a girl at school had pulled me by my sleeve and torn it. I was in terrible trouble with her. When I arrived with the custard I knocked the door but no-one answered so I put the custard on the doorstep and ran down to my friend from school - Betty William's house - and told her I had run away. She said, "Oh ho!" and ran to the pub where her mother worked and told her. Her mum said I was to stay there till she got back. Then Mrs B's daughter came looking for me but I would not go back. So she got the policeman to come and he made me go back. She wasn't bad to me then. I think she was worried she'd gone too far.

Mrs B told the authorities I slept in the spare room but I didn't. She made me sleep in her bed and I hated it. Eventually the children at school gathered together to help me escape. One girl brought in some writing paper, another brought the envelope and a third some stamps. I wrote to my granny and mother came and fetched me back. I went to live with aunts and uncles after that. But I endured two years or more with Mrs B.

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