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From Peckham to Northampton - an Evacuee's Story

by karenmark

Contributed by 
People in story: 
audrey marlow
Location of story: 
sussex, Warwicks, Northants
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 November 2003

On 1 September 1939 I was evacuated with 'Mothers and under Fives' as I had a baby sister, I was eight. We gathered on Peckham Rye station and although all the mothers were crying I seem to remember that we children all thought it was very exciting. The train left for an unknown destination and we arrived in Southwick, Sussex. We all gathered in a local hall where we were given a food parcel, dried milk, chocolate and I remember, a tin of corned beef amongst other things. My mother and sister an I were left until the end because volunteers drove us around to billets but no-one would take us as they only wanted a mother and baby and not an older child also. In the end the lady driver took us to her home. Although I enjoyed living at the seaside, plus the fact that we could only go to school for half a day, I don't remember a great deal about this period except the man of house was extremely fat and they had a horrible son about my age.

By Christmas as no bombs had dropped on London, my mother decided we would go home. She and my father had never been parted before and she was unhappy living in someone else's house. On my return to London most of the schools were closed because most of the children had been evacuated so we only went to school if we wanted to, again for only half a day.

At Easter time 1940 I was sent off to Leamington Spa to live with my godmother's aunt and uncle. They had no idea how to look after a small girl but they did have lots of relations with children of my own age who used to take me fruit picking etc. A great novelty for a child brought up in South London. I stayed here for a whole year during which time I did not return to London or have a visit from either of my parents. It is strange that I don't recall being at all unhappy about this - perhaps I was particularly resilient. I was living here when Coventry was very badly bombed and this was an extremely frightening time - often the German bombers dropped their bombs on Leamington, presumably on their way back to Germany and I can remember running down an alleyway at the back of the house where I lived, trying to get away from machine gun bullets. As I was usually in some kind of trouble at school it did not surprise me when one day the Headteacher sent for me, I don't even remember being particularly surprised to see my mother sitting there with my sister on her lap. My father's firm had been evacuated en bloc to Northamptonshire and a kind colleague of his who owned a car had brought her over to see me. For some reason which I never found out, the people I lived with told my mother that if she took me away for a visit they would not have me back! I was then taken by car to the village of Brixworth where my parents had two rooms in a house. I had to sleep at a house down the road as there was not enough room for me.

I then attended the local village school and eventually took the 11+ and gained a place at a grammar school and my parents chose Honor Oak Grammar School in London but for the duration of the war I had to attend the nearest London evacuated school which was Notre Dame High School, Southwark. I had to go to school in Northampton and travelled every day by bus. This then began a very happy time of my life.

I became friends with a girl whose parents were farmers. What a different lifestyle for me. They had ponies and they taught me to ride. I joined the local Pony Club, went to gymkhanas and rode with the Pytchley Hunt. (I suppose this is not very p.c. now but it was fantastic at the time). Incidentally I hardly ever remember the hunt actually catching a fox. I spent every minute of weekends and holidays at the farm. Sunday lunchtimes I was often invited to lunch and asked whether I wanted "beef, partridge, pheasant etc". As my poor mother was feeding us on about 2 oz of meat a week each no wonder she used to get so cross when I came home and told her what I had had to eat! She was also very worried at this time because my father had been called up and was in Europe with the army. Nothing ever appeared to be rationed - they made their own butter and had unlimited eggs meat etc. The only benefit I can recall my family receiving from this was if there were any cracked eggs for sale.

The summers always seemed to be sunny. I helped with harvesting and every holiday was packed with enjoyment. When my school returned to London during a lull, I transferred to Notre Dame High School, Northampton and there I stayed until the end of the war. I just felt that this would continue for ever but of course it did not. On the day that the war in Europe ended my friend and I plaited our ponies' manes and tails with red, white and blue ribbon and rode them into the market square in Northampton to join in the celebrations. I don't think we appreciated how much this day meant to the adult population - I do now.

Even though the war was over, my life did not return to normal because I then had to attend my chosen London school but because my father was still away in the army I went back to London to live with an aunt and uncle for the next eighteen months - parted from my family again although I want back to Brixworth and my farming friends at holiday times.

One aspect of this part of my life that I find interesting is that I attended eight different schools but still managed to learn to read, write and add up!

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