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15 October 2014
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Memories of the Evacuees

by cornwallcsv

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mrs Edna Gwendoline Ternouth, Josephine (Josie), Mary Brightman (now Jones Mrs), Mary Owen Evacuees.
Location of story: 
St Breward Village, North Cornwall.
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 May 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War website by Lynn Hughes on behalf of Edna Gwendoline Ternouth (Mrs), the author and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site terms and conditions.

It was September 1939 that a large group of evacuees arrived at St Breward, North Cornwall, from the Lambeth area of London. Two young girls were allocated to my parents, Mr and Mrs John.’ R. Rowe, No. 10 Penvorda Cottages. They were Mary Owen aged 12 years of age and Josie Brightman only 9 years.

However they settled in this village, with no electricity. So no street lighting, no sanitation and only one cold water tap outside the back door. I really don’t know! A “Bungalow” galvanised bath hung on a nail on the outside walls, and was brought indoors in front of an old-fashioned coal range fire. The water brought in buckets, to fill a heavy iron boiler on top of the stove and heated up. A Friday evening ritual! In the bedrooms were jugs and basins, where we washed ourselves daily and chamber pots underneath the beds.

In the morning my mother or myself would empty the pots and the water used, into enamel “slops” buckets, these we had to carry down over the stairs along a passage and down a long garden path to throw into a pit at the end of our garden! At the top of the garden was the lavatory — Elson buckets, burying the contents in the cover of darkness, as was the custom with all those who lived in the row of 12 cottages which belonged to the well known “De Lank granite quarry”. The men employed by the owners, T. W. Ward of Sheffied. Oil lamps and candles were used in the dark evenings. However, life in the country obviously intrigued them — especially Josie — she didn’t want to return after the war, but I persuaded her to, as I thought she would get a better education which she deserved, she was a very intelligent girl. She had her parents and 2 sisters to return to, but her heart was in Cornwall! She used to come for holidays frequently and then about 23 years ago Ken, her husband and Josie moved to this county and settled. Her daughter Lesley followed got married and has 2 Cornish born boys Daniel and Joshua.

After moving a few times in the Truro area, they now live in cottage on Bodmin Moor. It seems she has gone back to her roots.

The amazing discovery that we made about 5 years ago was that Josie should not have been with the St Breward contingent! She had no idea herself, until we went to “Larnanva”, near Falmouth, to an evacuee’s reunion. Each ex-evacuee wore a badge, showing his or her name and area from which they were evacuated. A gentleman who lives in Lostwithiel also an evacuee, who settled back in Cornwall, approached Josie and explained that they had attended the same school back in London, Josie had departed at the wrong station. But poor little Josie was herded along with the others, and got out at Bodmin Road Station. I had always thought until then that Mary Owen and Josie were friends, but they didn’t know each other! I helped my mother look after them. They attended my “war-time” wedding in De Lank Methodist Chapel (my late husband Gordon was in the 5th Battalion D.C.L.I.). This was July 20th 1940. On February 19th 1941, my dear mother passed away in City Hospital Truro. It was a terrible shock to us all she had “mothered” these two evacuees, and had been a kind, caring person all her life.

So, at the age of 20, I kept house for my Dad and continued to look after Mary and Josie, until the arrival of their respective mothers, and as was the ruling they went and lived with them. Mary returned when her mother and 2 Brothers, decided to return to London. They called themselves Catholics, but as we were Methodists they used to attend the services with us and Sunday School, helping with the anniversaries and we would dress them up in their finery for the occasion, new straw hats and pretty dresses, white socks and black patent shoes or white if we could not purchase them and they learnt to sing the hymns, and our way of life, became their way too.

At one stage I put up Josie’s mother, Mrs Brightman, and Audrey and Florrie, her two sisters. They slept in the back bedroom with Josie. I also had Josie’s Auntie Mary and her daughter Linda, and they slept in the little bedroom. By this time I had my elder son Trevor, so he and I had the front bedroom, my Dad in his fifties slept in the sitting room downstairs. This continued for a few weeks until the cottage was ready for them to live in.

I remember that this place had been allotted to them at Penpont, and should have been ready when they arrived. However I coped, I don’t know as all the cooking was left to me. I must have been just 22 years old. This cottage was next to my Gran. Josie was fond of her and my Auntie Nora who also lived there, that she spent a lot of time in with them and eating Cornish food to which she was accustomed.

No one had expected bombs to be dropped on the moor and village of St. Breward. But a few times the “Gerries” would off-load, sometimes they would land in fields and on the moors but one evening the Row Sunday school took a direct hit! The only civilian killed in North Cornwall was Roland Skinner aged 10, I think he was killed by falling debris. Houses were also badly damaged on that occasion, and even in my own home, the landing ceiling came down and that was a mess! (Of course this shocked all the residents in ours and surrounding villages).

The Sunday school was rebuilt after the war and is still being used and was renovated and altered in the 1980’s to be used as a chapel as well as Sunday school. It had become too expensive to keep both building going.

I’m going back to the evacuees reunion now, my husband was with us and enjoyed the nostalgia as Josie and I had, I think the organisers and Westward T.V. crew were rather intrigued because I seemed a bit young to have been in charge of evacuees. I am only 9 years older than Josie so we explained that actually the two girls we had, were my mother’s evacuees. Well the crew invited us to go on T.V. in the evening so Gordon drove us up to the studios in Plymouth where we were interviewed and also the two couples who live in Lostwithiel. It was an exciting experience and my families still have it on video.

Gordon knew Josie quite well as he came home on leave every 3 months while he was still in England and Scotland training.

Just before D-Day the wives were allowed to go up Battle, near Hastings to spend a weekend with our husband. We had to get Police passes. Josie went to stay with my good friend Monica for the 3 days, while I went off with Trevor, who was 3 years old. I met with another soldier’s wife, Myrtle Baron from St Austell, and travelled up on the train. We were billeted with the same lady, whose husband was in the RAF. We soon heard that the other wives were staying for a week and we decided to do the same. Of course when Josie heard that she was very upset and went to my Auntie Lily and said that she didn't think Edna was coming home again!

How attached she had become and so trusting, her Dad was in the army and at one time was stationed in the Orkney Islands. He would send us parcels of tinned fruit sometimes and her Uncle George (her Auntie Mary’s husband) would sometimes send money. Her letters invariably began, ”Dear Mum, Audrey and Folly I am happy, safe all right and comfortable.

Anxious times lay ahead for me, as Gordon was sent across the Channel to Normandy. He managed to write very regularly, in spite of the fierce battles. Many of his comrades were killed or badly wounded in action, some were his old friends. Miraculously he survived, and went right through to Germany. What a welcome he received when he was demobbed in 1945 we were fortunate to have nearly 54 years of married life together, blessed with Trevor (54), Daphne (47), Adrain (42), 8 Grandchildren, Philip (26), Richard (20), Emma (22), Rebecca (18), Ashley (9), Charity (6), Christian (4), and Eleanor (16 months). Daughter — in — law Pamela, son — in — law David and daughter — in — law Joy all living near by.

Josie loves to keep in touch with all of us, and her husband accepted us as family too. One regrets I’ve been always sorry to have lost contact with Mary. I do hope these details will be of interest to you and will be put into the archives of Truro Museum.

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