- Contributed by
- Brian Harrington
- People in story:
- John Harrington
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 September 2004
“Two kinds of luck” the story of an eight year old evacuee
When war was declared our family along with many others faced the prospect of massed bombing, or so it was believed at the time, would soon follow. Living in
Chatham Kent, close to the naval base, this made evacuation all the more urgent. As a result, my brother John then eight years old found himself on his way to Wales.
Going through the usual process at the local village hall, he was eventually placed with the widow of a miner. Though quite elderly at the time, Mrs Davis was well able to cope with the three young boys billeted with her. John still has fond memories of the happy times spent in her small terraced home with this strict but loving old lady.
Having spent almost a year there, sadly Mrs Davis fell ill and he found himself on the move again, this time to Yorkshire.
This time his luck really changed for the worst, John encountered the Whiteings, a well- to- do family who had moved to Yorkshire to escape the London Blitz. From the start Mr and Mrs Whiteing and their twelve year son Alan made it clear that John, and another evacuee ten year old Alf Campbell that they were not welcome, and that they were “just doing their bit” for the war effort. Despite them owning a large detached house with several bedrooms John and Alf’s first night was spent in a small box room under the staircase without hardly any light or space to move, this would be their home for the duration of their stay.
So the daily routine began, after washing and dressing their first task was to feed the families pet goat a rather bad tempered Billy who John later admitted that he tried to kill by feeding it any thing he could lay his hands on, this task completed, breakfast was eaten in the kitchen alone, the rest of the family eating in the parlour - a place forbidden to them except to dust and polish, in fact, all meals were taken alone.
After returning from school it was not unusual to be met by the lady of the house and to be told that guests were arriving and not to return until a certain time. Having not eaten John and Alf would wait by the local fish shop in the hope that someone would discard some uneaten food. After enduring seven months of such treatment which resulted in several attempts to runaway Johns luck again was about to change.
Being from a working class family on low income it was difficult for my mother, now with a young daughter and my father serving in the navy to visit John. Having not heard from him since his arrival in Yorkshire she became very worried.
As fate some times takes a hand, my father’s ship docked at Liverpool and he was given a fortnights leave while the ship underwent a refit. On arriving home and hearing of my mothers concerns it was decided that he would make a visit.
It may not be widely known but not only women and children were being evacuated, but also the elderly and infirm. My grandfather, severely wounded in the First World War and totally deaf being one.
With grandfather also in Yorkshire my grandmother and my father traveled up to see him
with the intention of visiting John at the same time. The first part of their plan worked without a hitch, but due to wartime restrictions on travel it was not until the late evening that they arrived at Johns so called home. Far from being welcomed they were told that John was asleep and they would have to call back the following morning.
Alone, and in a strange town and after trying unsuccessfully to obtain accommodation they decided to spend the night in a bus shelter. A patrolling policeman seeing a woman and a sailor in the shelter late at night stopped to question them, on hearing their story the
kind officer arranged beds for them at the local fire station.
On returning the following morning and hearing John’s story, my farther had to be restrained from meting out a more basic kind of justice; in fact the couple was fined ten pounds at the local magistrate’s court for their treatment of the two boys.
It later emerged that letters sent by my brother had not been posted and parcels sent by my mother never received.
In contrast my sister Joyce aged four and evacuated at the same time found a very loving couple so much so that she was distraught when she saw the sailor she had called to Auntie that was coming up the drive had come to take her home.
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