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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Memories of a Teenage Wartime

by ICT Suite@Goldsmiths Community Centre

Contributed by 
ICT Suite@Goldsmiths Community Centre
People in story: 
Brian Rabson
Location of story: 
Ashford, Kent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 May 2004

Brian as a boy.

On September the 2nd at the age of 13 I was evacuated to Ashford in Kent. We left Catford station at 9.30 that Saturday and finally ended up at Ashford station about 12.30 where we were transported by buses to a church hall to assemble.

From there we were taken by lady billeting officers in small groups to the surrounding roads to find suitable foster homes those who had adequate space for small children.

Along with two other boys I was accepted at 52 Francis Rd. in the south of Ashford. The couple were a Mr. and Mrs. Blaskett and they had two children, one a boy older than us and a girl about the same age. Mr. Blaskett was an engine driver working mainly in the Ashford shunting yard, Mrs. Blaskett was a housewife.

By the following morning, Sunday, we had made friends with the children. My main memories of that morning is being in the back garden with the boy who much to our amusement had an air pistol and was showing us the elements of target shooting. The radio was on in the house and Mr. Chamberlain was announcing the declaration of war when the sirens went. We looked at each other bewildered, for there were no shelters at that time, but thankfully it passed uneventfully and the all-clear sound was loudly cheered.

It was a beautiful summer and autumn and the following weeks were spent doing part time schooling. At first we would meet in the local Victoria Park for lessons, later we did share the local school doing half day schooling London boys sharing the time with the local boys, mornings one week, afternoons the next.

Our leisure time was spent wandering about, sometimes scrumping apples from the Kentish orchards along the Wye road. We would bring some back and take pockets full to sell to the local boys at school for 1/2d each the following day.

Ashford had a cattle market which was a delight to us to wander around looking at the animals and listening to the auctioneer, something we had never heard or seen before. There was also a roller skating rink held I believe in the old corn exchange building, we were quite adept there learning our skating in the uncluttered roads and pavements of London before the war.

There were several disused gravel pits in the area which had flooded and we would go swimming in them, this was dangerous I know, but most of the time we were left to roam as we pleased. Some evenings and weekends I would go down to Ashford station and collect engine names such as Lord Nelson, Lord Hawke, Stowe, and Leatherhead to name but a few. Occasionally our foster father (who was a train driver) would pass by and give us a wave. One Sunday he took us in his engine for a tour of the railway yards from the footplate, this was a big thrill. Railways were a big industry at Ashford in those days.

After a couple of months nothing seemed to be happening in the 'phoney' War and I was feeling homesick. So during the November I returned home much to my mothers surprise as she was not expecting me, I met her returning from shopping at Catford.
Back to school at Catford Central I settled down to half day learning (due to teachers being called up). I seemed to be learning the same as I learned the previous year.
In April 1940 the whole of Catford Central boys’ school was evacuated again to a purpose built summer camp school at Ewhurst in Surrey. It was built as a holiday school in peacetime but was ideal for our Purpose, having 5 dormitories, classrooms, hall and recreation rooms. There were also a dining hall and a sick bay. The shelters were built semi underground in the grounds and we boys were soon set to work in our spare time at evenings and weekends digging turves to camouflage them. Happily we never used them, though we did hear a few bombs drop nearby.

Set in the beautiful countryside of Surrey it was ideal for nature Studies and botany lessons. It was here for the first time in the war that I had full time schooling, and also compulsory 'homework' which was called prep. They used to send us out on our own during the weekend and we would go to the village green to watch the cricket. Once I played Cricket for the school on the village green against the locals. The result eludes me now.

We would walk to Cranliegh, the nearest town, here we would see along the tree-lined streets tanks, with their men waiting beneath the Shady leaves for a call to arms were we to be invaded. This was a call that never came thanks to Mr. Churchill’s strong words after Dunkirk Later that year we would climb up Pitch Hill with a new loaf of bread. And a bottle of Tizer and sit amongst the whortleberries watching the Dog fights during the Battle of Britain.

We were allowed home for a fortnight that Christmas and it was then that the Blitz at the docks started. I remember looking from home At the big red glow in the sky some eight miles away and hearing some of A few of which were well of target. The Blitz was well and truly on when I returned to Ewhurst and stayed until the end of term, when I returned Again of my own volition to announce that I had left school.

Such were my early memories of the war, although much of it at that time was a traumatic time at that age there was no fear or worry for me. On starting work, in a factory doing war work, I began a new period of my life capable of taking on the responsibilities of adulthood at all of 15 years of age.

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