BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

A Foundling's War Memories

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Vicky Copestake, Ethel Vickery
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 August 2005

The Foundling Hospital and children's party

“This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Diana Bransby from the Haywards Heath Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Vicky Copestake with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions”

When I was in the Foundling Hospital in Hertfordshire (which later became Thomas Coran School), I was known as Ethel Vickery, and we all had identity numbers mine was No 24471. As a 5year old girl, many things had already happened in my short life that would change everything I knew, but one thing I believed was that I was fortunate to have been born a girl, boys were killed! That’s all I heard on the radio news and snatches of adult conversation was of “our boys” being killed in the war.

There was a big R.A.F. base nearby and the American servicemen would visit us at Christmas time and hold a big party for us, just at the end of term. They organised games, I can remember running around the tree, we sang songs for them, and they gave each of us a toy (which they had often made themselves).

We all had our own ‘personal American’ who looked after us for the day, someone who was all to ourselves for the whole day! One I remember in particular, lifted me up as I was so small, and that was because I had coeliac disease, which meant I couldn’t eat bread, any cereals, or cake and had my own special food. Well, on this occasion, my American threw it out saying “you won’t need that today! It was overwhelming — there was ice-cream, jelly, all the treats we never saw, and I ate everything I could — under the thunderous gaze of one of the nurses!


My war was a daily struggle
Against dying.
From London Hospitals each night
The sirens wailed louder
Than my baby grief.
I was poorly but alive
My space was needed.
All England was on hold
As nurses dashed sick babies
Through the blitz, to shelters.
They trembled for their unlived lives.
Each day I screamed for my pretty mother.
My gas mask was hot and rubbery;
It made my laughter bubble,
It made her smack me.
Barrage balloons hung fatly
Above the privet hedge.
I ventured from the gate
And felt it greyly menacing
My infant world.
Yelling she lunged
With flailing coppered arms
To catch me.
My overhead a table
The siren crooned a lullabye
The candle sputtered,
I stuttered, sobbing into sleep;
Her dirtied pinnyed lap
My bed.
The war was waged
On our wireless
Day after day
The sorry tale
Of our dead boys — who
Once wore sailor suits — was told
The market took place
At our black door
She deftly took chickens from her coat
Above my head and slid them under theirs.
She dealt bananas singly like cards;
So quick I only smelt them
She menaced me to silence
With the copper stick
And hate between us blazed.
The charity delivered me
At last to school and chapel.
Too late
The gates were fastened
So many eyes regarded me
And I looked about my neck
To read my name
Others owned my freedom.
We were sheltered, fed and clothed
But love was not a garment
That we wore
And Christmas, a treasure-trove
Of memory for some.
Parties were a mystery of
Unimagined delights.
Our Americans came in time,
Thank God, they came in time.
They burst upon our senses
Each year at Christmas.
Despite our fastened fate
And narrow lives
A fleet of lorries
To collect us.
They sped us to their camp
With singing voices;
Received like royalty
We children were
By many men who called us 'honey'.
Others said that we were 'cute',
When in our formal charity arrayed.
My American was huge
With smiles he carried me
To Christmas tea.
He plied my plate with jelly
He filled my hands with candy
And winked his eyes at me.
He lived for me that treat-filled day
And I for him.
I did not know his name
And could not tell him mine
For I was dumb with joy
And filled with plunder
He had a present all for me
He pushed my sorrow far away
He dazzled me with love
The songs I sang around the tree
Were all for him.
Next year I begged to go again
But adults said
The war was won, for freedom.
I knew for certain
That they lied
“This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Diana Bransby from the Haywards Heath Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Vicky Copestake with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions”

My war stilled waged
I wanted love, not charity;
For loving parents,
And my space
And a name to call my own
And voice to speak it
Devastation lay buried in my soul.
My battle was to survive it — smiling;
Like the child of light
I truly was.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Childhood and Evacuation Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy