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Evacuated to an Irish Castle

by CSV Solent

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Winifred Dawson (nee Arnott)
Location of story: 
Northern Ireland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 June 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Ian Douglass and has been added to the website on behalf of Winifred Dawson, with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I spent my first years in Stockton-on-Tees. I was ten when war broke out in 1939. Having passed the 11+, I was due to start school on 4th September at Kirby High School in Middlesbrough. As we lived near an aerodrome, my parents decided that instead of going to school locally, I would go off to live with my Uncle and Aunt in Monaghan in Eire. There were several other evacuated children in the area but we couldn’t go to the local schools because the teaching was in Irish. We were sent to a ’Dame School’ run by an elderly lady but as I wasn’t learning anything, I was sent to live with my grandparents in Belfast where I was sent to a boarding school as a day pupil.

In September 1940, Hitler ordered the bombing of Belfast Docks and also the convoys which gathered in Belfast Lough. We spent many nights hiding under the dining table during the air raids. The bombers often mistook the Water Works for the docks and so many of the bombs missed their target! Seven of my relatives were killed in one house by a direct hit. Another family of relatives had their house destroyed and had to walk across Belfast with their cat to safety.

By Easter 1941, the raids had got so bad that the school decided to evacuate to the country. This took the whole of the summer term to organise, during which time we were excused school.

In September 1941, we arrived at a ramshackle castle, which had been built by the Huguenots. This was Carrowdore Castle on the Ards Peninsula. I was to spend the next four years at this pleasant spot. The castle was always freezing in the winter as there was no coal available. There were no facilities for science, domestic science or gym. The hockey field was covered in gorse bushes and cows! For music we had a wind-up gramophone and one record!

The Quaker movement in Northern Ireland ran a committee for Jewish refugees and our school took on a few refugee girls who had escaped Nazi Germany (without their parents) on the ’kindertransport’. One of the girls is still a close friend of mine and lives in Vancouver in Canada. A family of Czechoslovak Jewish refugees established a farm near the school and we used to go there on visits. One taught us German and another later established a brand of children’s clothes.

I was an only child and my mother only came to see me once a year. I only saw my father twice during the war. I treated my aunt and uncle as my parents and my cousins as my brothers.

In Ireland there was always plenty of milk (it was rationed in Britain) and we had bread made from wholemeal and buttermilk. White bread was banned in Eire during the war. While I was staying there, my Grandad tried to bring some bread from Northern Ireland but had it confiscated by Customs at the border. He was so ashamed of this! Although we were unable to get bananas and ice cream in Belfast, I remember eating these on a trip to Dublin. During the winter, it was difficult to get fresh vegetables and I remember eating swedes, turnips and dried peas.

On VE Day, we had to go to Belfast to take our oral French exam for the Senior Certificate. After the exam we enjoyed the celebrations and finished the day by cooking meals for soldiers in a basement.

We spent VJ Day at Lisburn, where we saw soldiers playing a piano on top of an air raid shelter and joined in the celebrations in the town square.

There was very little entertainment at school. We mainly read books and wrote letters. We would only see films during the holidays. We were not allowed to read newspapers in case we were upset by the news. We had no access to a radio. The only news we heard was relayed to us by the head teacher and this would only be good news!

My main contribution to the war effort was knitting ‘comforts’ for the troops. These were scarves, pullovers and socks.

Although the war years were not at all unpleasant for me, I regret the poor education which it caused. I’d also have liked to be a few years older as I always fancied joining the Wrens!

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