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My memories of the evacuation

by csvdevon

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
Mrs Zena Alexander
Article ID: 
A4232819
Contributed on: 
21 June 2005

I was the only girl in a family of four brothers. Three of my brothers were Royal Marines, one was in the Air Force and one was invalided out of the Air Force. I was born in 71 High Street, Stonehouse. When I was six we moved to 15 Edgcumbe Street next door to the Queens Arms Pub and we were there when war was declared. Three of my brothers went to war - the youngest was Clary and he went to the Air Raid Patrol. He was employed as a messenger as he was only 16 or 17 years old at the time.

When the air raids started the council re-inforced our cellar as it was the only safe place where we could go. We had gas, water and electricity. Four other families lived in the house with us. The building had been a Conservative Club but was converted into flats. All the families had four rooms each. There was no hot water or bath and we used to bathe in a tin bath. The other families were Mr and Mrs Swiggs (their children were Bobby, David, Ron and Betty, Aunt Gus, Uncle Bert and Joyce Preece. She had a son called Val (Valentine)and he died on the HMS Exeter. His brother was called Bernard and he was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese.

There was a pawn shop nearby which was called 'Dickie Dawes' and my brothers used to fire an air gun at the brass balls which were hanging just outside the main door. They taught me to fire an air gun. People couldn't see us firing because we were hidden from view but they could hear the 'ping. ping' sound of the pellets. The owner of the shop was called Dickie Dawes and he was a really nice chap. The shop was like an old curiousity shop. I remember a large Japanese-looking ivory clock which used to stand in the shop window gathering dust. We used to take dad's brown suit in on a Monday for half a crown and it would be collected on a Friday so he could wear it at the week-end.

When war broke out we used to have to take it in turns to shelter in the cellar or stay upstairs which was more dangerous because of the polished wooden floors. People would have to walk up and down the wooden staircase to make sure no incendiary devices were getting in. They would bring their own food and blankets. You could get 50-100 people into the cellar and foreign sailors often joined us for shelter.

I remember my mother gave up her egg ration. She came from Lee Mill and was a farmer's daughter and she decided to keep chickens which my grandfather gave her. We were given corn rations instead of the eggs. My grandfather gave us 24 chickens. I remember pidgeons started coming down to eat all the corn so my mother put food down in the house and when the pidgeons followed, my mother caught them and wrung their necks. So we had pidgeon pie for tea.
We had a very bad air raid one night. This was about two years after the war. An incendiary bomb came down and landed on the chicken house and the door blew open and the chickens got out. They had no feathers on them as they had been burnt off by the explosion. So everyone gathered the chickens and they were brought into the shelter with us. They were huddled into a corner and fed some corn. When the air raids started my mother had a beautiful white blanket which she would put on a table and draw on with pen or pencils. She drew flowers, birds, anything which would keep her mind off the bombs dropping.

There was a laundry in Market Street called 'Baptes' and it caught fire because a bomb landed on it. It destroyed the whole building. Around the corner was the Dunlop tyre factory and this burned for 24 hours. There was a river at the bottom of Stonehouse but it had dried so fire engines had to come from all over the county to put out the fire.

When we were at school if an air raid sounded we would have to run all the way home because there was no shelter. On one occasion we were coming back from school down Market Street when we saw a whole line of bullets hit the pub 'The Queens Arms'. A policeman nearby told us to get down. We waited 5-10 minutes and then ran all the way home. They did eventually build an air raid shelter in the school. They had to dig up the whole playground and there were steps leading down to the shelter which had benches all the way round it. About 200 children and teachers could get into the shelter.

On one occasion my brother Les and I went to the Palace Theatre to see 'Mother Riley and Daughter Kitty'. Mother Riley was a man dressed up as a woman. They were very well known at the time and they travelled all over the country. We had an air raid whilst we were in the theatre one night. The manager asked us if we wanted to continue with the show or go home. The audience voted to go on with the show but the bombs got so bad that in the end they had to close the show down and everyone ran out to find safety.

One of the shops was called 'Bindons' which was a naval outfitters and that was destroyed. The anderson shelter behind 'Bindons' was blown up on to the roof of another property. A young lady in there lost her leg and her alsation dog which was protecting her wouldn't let anyone through to help her. In the end my brother Clary got the dog out and he was recognised for his bravery with a medal.

When I was 11 I remember a fish and chip shop called 'Skinners'. There was a huge air raid one particular evening and after a long while the all-clear was given. So everyone gathered in the fish and chip shop especially the Royal Marines. However a lone bomber came back and hit the shop and there was total devastation. Many people were killed and mutilated. Apparently one Marine who had had his hand blown off still had his fish and chips in his hand.

Mum had a coal stove in the house and when the bombs came it meant there was no gas with which to cook the food so you couldn't have a hot meal. My mum told the neighbours that if they brought a shovel full of coal and their dinners with them she would cook their dinners. My mum cooked their meals right through the day so that everyone could get a hot meal.

When the war got too bad I was 10 or 11 and I was sent to St. Breward in Cornwall, a lovely little village. I was sent to stay with Mr and Mrs Tom Sundrey. She had four children of her own; Mildred, Pearl, Joyce and Billy. She took in David Swiggs, Reggie Kempt and myself. Tom, her husband had been a fisherman from Tintagel but he worked in the local granite quarry. I had my bike sent over and every week he would take me to Tintagel. We cycled all the way there and back and I brought back cockles, mussels and crabs. When my mother had told me that I was being evacuated I was not particularly worried. I would write once a week and they would write to me. They would try to get to see me once a month but this was not always possible due to petrol rationing. When mum visited she would always bring with her something for us all to eat and we would all have tea together. I was there for two years and I was very happy. We went to the cinema once a week which was a film shown in the local school. It was 2p to get in and we sat on the school benches. The farmer next door was called Mr Finnigan and he used to hire us to do the potato picking or haymaking. We would be fed cakes and drink and he paid us half a crown to stand the sheaths in groups of four. Mr Finnigan kept a bull and we were always told to keep the gate shut. But he went into the field one day and the bull was very bad tempered and Mr Finnigan was gored and killed by the bull.

If we needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night we would have to take a torch or candle and go down the garden path to the toilet outside. It was very frightening in the dark.

I remember Lady Astor visiting one of the pubs in Union Street because of the devastation caused. She was very much like the Queen Mother and often turned up to give her support. She was a very domineering, persuasive person.

Boats from Dunkirk were often brought in at 'Halfpenny Bridge'. I remember soldiers coming off the boats badly wounded and some were stretchered covered in blood. They were taken to the Stonehouse Naval Hospital.

My mother would stand for hours on the doorstep and watch people coming and going and chatting to her neighbour Mrs Yabsley. One day a black American soldier was walking down the road and two white American soldiers were walking in the opposite direction. The two white men called out to the black soldier 'You black bastard, get off the road!' He wouldn't move so they pushed him into the road. My mother went over and castigated them saying they were very rude. This sort of behaviour was still tolerated in America but my mother wouldn't have it.

Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were our washing days in the boiler-house. All the residents took it in turns. There were stone baths, a dolly blue bath, an old copper pot to boil water and an old mangle.
Mrs Swiggs always did her washing on a Wednesday and she insisted on bringing in her old mangle into the courtyard. If there was an air raid we would always have to try to get into the shelter before Mrs Swiggs because she was so big and fat she would have blocked the way in for everyone. On one occasion when she was doing her washing, our cock bird which was very vicious attacked her bottom as she was bending over and she fell in to the bath with her blue bloomers showing. It was very funny and she had to be rescued by all the neighbours. I also remember our dustman having to pick up the dustbin lid to protect himself from the cock. One day he was picking at me so hard that my mum picked up the poker and hit the bird so hard she killed him. We had him for tea.

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