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Silent Night bridged the divide

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Belle Thomas; Georgie Dangler;Murray Kendon;Lt.Barnes;Sgt.Aitken;Roland Martinez;Mrs Treloar
Location of story: 
Helston & Constantine, Cornwall
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 November 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by Cornwall CSV Storygatherer, Martine Knight, on behalf of Belle Thomas. Her story was given to the Trebah WW2 Video Archive, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2004. The Trebah Garden Trust understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I well remember the Sunday morning that war was declared. I was one of a large family, parents and 5 children, and it was my turn to cook the Sunday dinner. I turned on the radio and heard the dreadful news. I had an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

At the time I was teaching in the boys’ school at Constantine and war changed a lot of things. We soon had an evacuee school from West Ham and we had to take turns using the school building — mornings or afternoons. When not inside we would either be working on the school plot or going to the woods for nature walks.
Evacuees had a very different life whilst down here. Altogether, we had 3 evacuees stay with us — 2 boys and a girl.
I remember particularly one little girl called Alma. She was in my class and was 7 yrs old. She stayed with Mrs. Treloar, who had a fright the first night she was there. When she went to check on her she found her bed empty. After searching she found Alma under the bed. When asked why she was there she replied that that was where she always slept at home!
The countryside was such a change for the evacuees compared to the East End of London. One little boy looked up at the sky and said, “ I never knew the sky was so big!” and another boy, who was staying on a farm said that the cows had handlebars — meaning their horns.
One afternoon, whilst working on the plot, we saw a German plane circling over Falmouth. One of the boys, Georgie Dangler, said that he’d seen it drop bombs, but I didn’t think that he could see such detail from where we were. However, we soon heard the explosions as the bombs hit a tanker in the harbour. I got the boys back to the village as quickly as I could as the German plane came and circled overhead. It was quite a frightening moment.

After a term I came to teach in Helston where I again taught the juniors in an integrated school — evacuees and locals.

After Dunkirk some of the soldiers were billeted in Helston. I felt very sorry for them and so I organised socials at the Sunday School. Our family did a lot of entertaining of the troops. We often had them back for supper after church on Sunday night and usually once during the week for tea.
There were Americans and New Zealanders in town as well and one New Zealander, a pilot named Murray Kendon, often spoke of wanting to do something with planes to help people after the war. He did indeed start The Missionary Aviation Fellowship upon his return to New Zealand and I support that organisation to this day.

I used to think that women preachers were a bit odd and never intended to become one, but with so many local preachers having been called up, our minister asked me if I would be willing to take services. I felt I couldn’t say no so I agreed. As petrol was rationed there used to be a ‘Local preachers car’ which would pick us all up in turn and drop us off and would return to collect us that evening. We would be entertained to lunch and tea by members of the congregation. Once, at Zoar, my hostess asked if I’d brought my rations with me to which I replied “I’ve come in faith” and we became good friends after that.

I also did ARP duties. We had a room in Wendron Street and had to record all the phone calls that came in. If an air raid started we had to set off the air raid siren. We did two-hour stints and it was both rewarding and interesting.

Soldiers were always very keen to have a meal in the evenings and our church ran a canteen so I did my duty there about once a fortnight.
One evening a week we had a social evening at the church and sometimes talks. I used to organise some of those where we got together with young people from other churches.
We always encouraged musical troops to join us and a Lt. Barnes, who was a violinist, and a Sgt. Aitken, who had a lovely bass voice, were amongst them. We later heard Sgt. Aitken had been killed. Roland Martinez asked me to look after his piano accordion whilst he was away, which I did. After the war I sent it to his home address, but never heard anything back so I don’t know if he survived or not.

When the war ended VE day was a lovely day. It also happened to be Flora Day, which made it very special. We did some entertaining and Murray Kendon came along with a friend and his wife. She was a Canadian from Nova Scotia. When asked whereabouts she said “Truro”. We had some relatives in Truro, Nova Scotia and it turned out she’d actually taught my cousin, Estelle, there. It was a small world.

PoW’s had been billeted at Nansloe Manor and at Penrose and, when the war ended, the padre asked if they could join us for services at our church. There was a discussion where some people thought it wasn’t right as they’d been the enemies and others thought it was Christian to let them. It was decided to allow it and they settled in very well. We made friends with the youngest, Christoph, and still keep in touch.

At Christmas time 1945 the PoW’s said they’d like to do something for us and so they arranged an evening. They had a decorated Christmas tree and supper — although it was plain, but the thing I remember most was when we all stood around the tree and sand Silent Night. They sang in German and we sang in English and it seemed a very fitting ending to our war memories.

Video details CWS040604 15:56:00

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