- Contributed by
- BBC Southern Counties Radio
- People in story:
- Pauline Richardson, Betty Richardson, Mr and Mrs Till
- Location of story:
- Figges Marsh, Mitcham and West Worthing, Sussex
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 July 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by David Baker at Dorking Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Pauline and Betty (nee Richardson) with their permission and they fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.
Background to story: Children’s experience of war-time evacuation
This is an account of our evacuation from Figges Marsh in Mitcham to Worthing in Sussex and it describes the people we stayed with and the way we lived until our return home eleven months later. It also gives an idea of how different it was to be a young person in those days compared to today.
Our names are Pauline and Betty and at the time we are talking about, Pauline was thirteen and Betty was eleven, although we were effectively much younger than today’s children of the same age. We were evacuated on the day that war broke out, being taken by coach from our school, Links Road Central School in Tooting, to the station where we were put on a train. We were told little about what was happening to us but, as children did in those days, we accepted everything without question. All we had with us were our haversacks and our gas masks.
Just before we got to Worthing, the air raid sirens went off for the first time and the train stopped. We didn’t know what the noise was; it was rather bewildering. We were taken from the train to a nearby school where we were each given a tin of evaporated milk, a bar of chocolate, a big hard-tack biscuit and a tin of corned beef. Pauline remembers that the pear in her haversack had become badly squashed.
There were hundreds of children there, some coming, some going and we didn’t know why. No-one explained to us, but then that was the way things were then. We had only the vaguest idea of what was going on. All we knew was that someone would have to house us. It was not very well organised; there was no real coordination. We had been separated from the anchor people in our lives and, as the older of the two, Pauline felt the greater sense of apprehension. Betty had her older sister to lean on and still thought that war meant the opposing sides would be lining up in the fields behind our house in Figges Marsh and fighting it out.
We were determined to stick together, and perhaps because of this, we were amongst the last to be housed. At first, we stayed with an elderly couple. Maybe because the wife’s health was rather frail, we were moved after about six weeks to stay with another couple not far away, again in Worthing, a retired head master and a retired head mistress. They may have been able to teach children, but they had no real idea of how to look after us at home. They were pleasant enough and the house was lovely, but we were left very much to ourselves. Fortunately for us, they had a cleaning lady, Mrs Till. After a few weeks, she took us over and so we moved again.
Mr and Mrs Till were probably in their sixties, they had never had children of their own, but they knew how to look after us and they were lovely. In some ways, this story is a tribute to them. Mrs Till had a bicycle with a big basket on the front, which she rode to work every day; Mr Till was a milkman.
On Sundays, they took us for walks around Chanctonbury Ring and we also spent time with them on their allotment. Here, for the first time, we saw vegetables growing and we enjoyed tea in the shed, which Mrs Till brewed using a small methylated spirit stove. Back home, Mrs Till taught us jam making, cooking (Mrs Till made a lovely seed cake) and other useful things. We also remember being taken to a local chicken farm where we helped to catch the baby chicks.
Mrs Till maintained contact with our parents throughout our stay (in fact they stayed in touch until their death) and made sure we wrote home from time to time. We remember that, in the Spring, she helped us to pick primroses and pack them carefully in little boxes with damp cotton wool and send them to our parents with our letters.
During the week, we attended Worthing Central School, either in the morning or the afternoon, walking home again afterwards along the sea front to West Worthing where the Tills had their house. At school, we joined the choir, which was run by one of the teachers, a passionate and dedicated enthusiast who made us practice hard. We remember being entered into the West Sussex Musical Festival, held on the pier, and winning a cup for singing rounds and Jerusalem.
The rest of each day was free and we spent a lot of time in the Museum opposite. Betty can still remember the painting of Samson and Delilah which hung above the stairs. Apart from that, we walked a lot, went bird-watching, enjoyed swimming in the summer (we knew where there was a gap in the barbed-wire defences) and we knew every graveyard in the area.
We continued to live with Mr and Mrs Till until our return home to our parents in August 1940, just before the blitz began in September!
The effects of our evacuation still affect us, explaining our interest in properties, gardening and cooking for example. In less obvious ways too; it is interesting that Pauline has always had a feeling of uneasiness just before going on holiday, a reluctance to leave home, which she just put down to being difficult. She was not consciously aware that this might have anything to do with being evacuated until recently when she heard others who had been evacuated talking on a radio programme about the same sort of feeling. She felt pleased to know that it wasn’t just her.
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