- Contributed by
- BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
- People in story:
- Rita Cox, Albert and Maisie Chalk (parents), Ken Chalk (brother)
- Location of story:
- Headlands Farm, South Brent, S. Devon
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 November 2005
My name was Rita Chalk when at the age of 8-1/2 years old, I was evacuated on September 1st 1939 with Junior Priory School in Acton, Middlesex. My brother should have gone with his school and I was going with him to Dartmouth as he was 14 years old but his school friends called him a sissy so he told my parents he didn’t want to be evacuated, hence I went with my own school. Being the youngest of four and from a close and loving family, leaving them was traumatic and not quite understanding the whole situation of what was happening. I was a very nervous child, always had a night light in my bedroom.
My mother saw me off with all the other parents at the Great Western Railway. Later, all of us children had our gas masks and a small case with our possessions, going into the unknown, most children were excited but not me, I remember just crying.
After many hours on the train, we arrived at a place called South Brent, Devon, about 20 miles from Plymouth. In the village hall there were a lot of people selecting children, because I was crying no one wanted me, eventually an Irish man took me back to a very poor cottage with 6 or 8 children, a wife and an old granny. I slept in the bed with the other children. There was a water pump in the middle of a circle of cottages and a bucket for a toilet.
All the evacuees went to school in the small chapel as the village school wasn’t big enough. Two teachers, a Miss Gale and Miss Smith, came with us from our school in Acton.
After 3 weeks living with the O’Sheas, it was discovered by one of the teachers I had bug bites, so I was transferred to a small farm about ¾ mile from the village. The farmer was a bachelor (Mr. Kingwell and his housekeeper, Miss Sherrell, I called them Auntie and Uncle, obviously they were not used to children, but they did their best. For me it was such a completely different environment as a child from London being with so many animals, we only had a cat at home and probably saw a cow in a field when we went to Richmond for an outing. I never had a light to go to bed, and I would lie in bed and hear rats scuttling in the loft of the bungalow, often a cat would bring a rat into the bungalow.
I was taken rabbiting where a ferret was placed in a hole in a hedge, and the ferret would chase it out and be caught in a net. I was taken onto Dartmoor with Mr. Kingwell looking for ponies in thick snow, also go to the field and collect the cows for milking back at the farm. Remember, there weren’t many fridges around in the early forties, so local people wanted fresh milk and I was sent to deliver a pint of milk to a retired Major living in a large house across fields with galloping horses and geese which was very frightening. This was before I walked ¾ mile to school, consequently, I was always late for school which Auntie knew about. Eventually, Miss Smith one of the teachers, caned me across the knuckles with the edge of a ruler which became bruised.
My father came to visit for a few days not long after this incident, he was very upset. I wasn’t aware of this but when my father went back to Acton, he wrote to someone and not long after Miss Smith was sent back to London.
It was an extremely hard life, no one slacked, working from dawn to dusk. Everything was done manually with the help of one young man about 17 years old, who lived in the village at the cottages where I was first evacuated.
Many of the evacuees who came with me, plus as the war continued more came from other parts of London, quite a lot of them wrote to their parents asking to come home. Though my father came and visited me several times, I never told him how unhappy I was. He probably suspected as I always cried when he left.
We still took an 11+, though I cannot remember studying, certainly not at the farm, education wasn’t in their vocabulary. Fortunately, I passed an exam to go to Acton Central School, there wasn’t a school suitable near by, so it was decided that I would go home. In August 1940, I did go home for 2 weeks to my oldest sister’s wedding, I was pleased to go back to South Brent as the bombing was awful in London at that time. So in August 1942 at the age of 11 years, my two sisters Joyce and Doris came and took me home to Acton. Joyce was 19 and Doris 22, both thought the countryside was dreadfully quiet after London.
I did keep in touch with my foster parents until they died. In 1960 I took my son when he was 2 years old, they were so pleased to meet my husband and parents.
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