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EVACUATION 1939

by Marskeman

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Marskeman
Location of story: 
Marske, Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A8092730
Contributed on: 
28 December 2005

EVACUATION 1939
It all seemed to happen without any warning, but was more likely to have been weeks in the planning. On 1st September 1939 with Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” just wishful thinking, we children were evacuated from Gateshead upon Tyne to various locations away from the war targets of Tyneside.
In my case, aged 11, I was sent off with my two older sisters - Ruby and Maud, aged 15 and 13 respectively — to Spennymoor, a small town only 20 miles or so away from our home in Gateshead. We travelled by train, armed to the teeth with packed lunch, fruit, sweets, a haversack filled with clothing and worst of all from my point of view, a cardboard box strung round my neck containing a civilian gasmask. This latter was to be carried at all times, wherever we went, and to this day I have an aversion to being trammelled with anything on or around my neck, as it hampered my ability to run at top speed.
The supposition by my parents that I would be ‘looked after’ by my older sisters proved to be far from reality. Arriving by train at Spennymoor, we walked or were conveyed to the local girls’ grammar school. My main and abiding recollection is of being seated on trestle tables while volunteer adopters strolled past as if at a cattle market before selecting one or two children each to take home with them. Whether or not the adopters had been vetted in any way to ensure that they were fit to be in charge of children, I very much doubt - unthinkable in 2005

I was approached by a very plump lady wearing a moth eaten fur coat and smelling strongly of beer and cigarettes; I hastily lied to her that I was awaiting being picked up by someone who had chosen me earlier. From then on, either other prospective adopters were made aware of my ‘reserved’ status, or I was just pug ugly, as I was the last child left sitting in the hall. Luckily, a late arrival — Mrs. Golightly — came and grabbed the last of the bargain lot, me.
I was taken to her home, but heard the row later in the day when her husband came home from work, as she had failed to get his agreement before my ‘adoption’ and he obviously didn’t think much of the idea.

However, I was treated well, given supper and shown to a comfortable bedroom, but then ‘panic’ — the lavatory was outside across a yard. Not that we had an inside loo back in Gateshead, but I had no problems there of feeling the needs of nature after bedtime. I suppose, it was just the fact of being in a strange home and that I would be causing an awful nuisance and noise getting up to go downstairs, unbolt the big heavy back door and out into the darkened yard to the loo — also in darkness. This of course was an added bone of contention for Mr. Golightly ( presumably I hadn’t gone ‘lightly’).

The following night I made no attempt to go through the excursion routine, but simply opened the bedroom window and peed into the backyard from there.
If the Golightlys knew what I was doing, they were diplomatic enough not to mention it and of course, once I knew I had that alternative, the nervous anticipation disappeared and I slept without further disturbance.

The Golightly’s had a three year old son — name forgotten — who seemed to be spoiled rotten. His father would frequently bring him presents and generally make a fuss of him, while completely ignoring me. I was expected to be seen and not heard and the less seen, the better.

There was only one other boy who, like me, had been evacuated with his sister’s school. I was allowed to visit him once in his adopted home — an elderly couple who set us up with what seemed to me, a 10000 piece jigsaw puzzle to keep us quiet and thus was spent a very boring sunny Sunday afternoon. I have never liked jigsaws since then.

My two sisters had also been split up, one going to the grand home of a rich businessman, where she and another girl were looked after entirely by servants and rarely saw their adopter or his lady.
My elder sister and another girl were selected by a widowed or spinster lady. At the time, I thought she treated them well and that the three of them got on very well together, but have learned more recently that she in fact treated them more or less as her servants.

Meanwhile, war having been declared on 3rd September, my mother, in company with another lady responded to a call for housemothers and went off to a lovely village in Yorkshire — Marske - not to be confused with Marske by the sea near Redcar. This Marske, is tucked away down a country lane off the main Richmond to Reeth road.

All of the foregoing had happened in the space of three weeks since the evacuation and, having established that I was not very much enamoured with my billet, nor with being separated from my own boy classmates, it was arranged that I should travel back home on the bus from Spennymoor to Gateshead, where my father met me and took me home.

The following day — Sunday — my father and I travelled by bus to Richmond where we changed to another bus travelling to Reeth. Alighting at the end of the minor road which led to Marske, we then walked the two miles or so to the lodge house occupied by thirty or so of my classmate evacuees and the two housemothers. As it was quite late in the evening, the boys were all in bed, but the 3 adults and myself enjoyed a magnificent meal of cold roast beef carved from the biggest joint I had ever seen. This among other provisions was supplied by the Fawcett family farm.

The property occupied by the evacuees had been a large hunting lodge owned by the Hutton family and in addition to the main house had dormitories where the boys were accommodated and stables underneath where horses and coaches had been kept in bygone days.
Two of these - somewhat dilapidated - coaches survived in the yard and provided the setting for many games of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ over the next few months.
There was also a magnificent ballroom, kept under strict lock and key, which we were allowed to play games in on special occasions; perhaps on exceptionally cold/wet days when it was impractical for us to go out of doors.

Although I enjoyed all these facilities, for reasons which I didn’t question at the time, I was accommodated separately in a very nice house “Clints”. My adopters were a Mr & Mrs. Pearson, whose only son was serving in the RAF and I suppose I was a substitute while he was away. Certainly, I received every care and attention from these two wonderful people.

Mr.Pearson was employed as a sort of estate maintenance manager and occasionally passed by the evacuee lodge leading a huge shire horse. Naturally, a short ride on the horse’s back was the order of the day for a few of us.

We also benefited from the friendship of a teenage farmer’s son — name of Metcalfe, but first name long since forgotten. He took a few of us out in his pony and trap to collect rabbits from snares and set fresh ones. I thoroughly enjoyed the rides out and the friendship but admit to feeling a bit squeamish about the rabbits.

There was another evacuee boy staying in a neighbouring house and, although we joined up with and enjoyed day-to-day activities with our classmates, we often went out, just the two of us, exploring what to us ‘townies’ was a happy hunting ground of beautiful countryside. I particularly remember the delightful feeling of sloshing through the newly fallen Autumn leaves which carpeted the country lanes. Back in Gateshead, our streets were not lined with trees, so it was a very novel and exciting experience.
Of course as 11 year old boys, we didn’t fully appreciate the beauty and tranquillity of the area. However, my father was sufficiently moved on his occasional visits to compose the following words:

THE HAVEN
In a little valley, sheltered from the storm,
Trees and hills surround it, war clouds never roam
Lies a little village, filled with children from afar
Seeking peace and refuge from the hideous war.

Fields of every green decorate the countryside
Leaves of every hue adorn the trees with pride
The country smell that’s loved so well
None can understand how town folk dwell.

Tall trees stand like sentinels there
Their foliage making a perfect screen
To hide the rabbits who play without a care
A perfect picture; beauty serene.

Cattle graze the land with sweet content
Birds sing merrily on branches bent
Peace rules this little village so rare
A welcome greets the visitor there.

Up hill and down dale the road winds on
Hill-tops seem to be nearing the sun
The wind whistles gaily thro tree tops on high
Birds winging gracefully in the deep blue sky.

The river runs by, with its long winding trail
Its clear cool waters invitingly feel
The trout dart hither in the shady stream
And the sun thro the trees on them gently beam.

When Winter comes with its mantle of white
And cold icy winds bellow and bite
Around large cosy fires the people will sit
And feel secure from war beacons that have been lit.

When trouble is over and there’s peace in the land
The wanderers will return to a welcome so grand
They’ll leave happy memories — of what you may ask?
Of sweet hours spent in the village of Marske

Education:
Marske village school was very small , so it could not accommodate the incoming 30 or so evacuees and the local children.
It was therefore arranged that one group attended school in the morning and the other group in the afternoon. We were of course delighted to have only half day lessons, but the other half days were not spent idly. One of the early projects, was to dig up part of the school playing field and plant potatoes, as a contribution to the ‘dig for victory’ campaign.

Church:
We all attended Sunday School in the beautiful little village church and on one occasion I was prevailed upon to operate the large bellows handle behind the organ, pumping vigorously to keep the instrument supplied with air. It was extremely hard work for a little lad (I was undersized for my age then) and I did not repeat the exercise again.

Food:
Living in the countryside I was nor aware of any significant shortages. However rabbit seemed to be on the menu, in one form or another, on several days of the week. One of my tasks was to collect milk for the Pearson household. This involved walking a few hundred yards to the Simpsons farm, armed with a large can. The farmer’s wife would fill this straight from the cooler operating on that evenings milking. Carrying it carefully homeward, a stop was necessary every now and again to take a sip of the lovely creamy milk — purely to avoid spillage of course!!

Although most of the local school children lived in the village, there were a few who lived on outlying farms. A village bus picked these children up and delivered them home again every day and I was specially favoured occasionally by being allowed to ride ‘shotgun’ with the owner/driver of the bus — Mr. Metcalfe Iveson -on the delivery round trip. My arrival back home always seemed to coincide with a juicy pork pie for tea. Absolutely delicious!

Chocolate:
At this early stage in the war chocolate rationing had not commenced, shortage of cash was the main restriction to purchasing goodies. My favourite indulgence at that time was ‘Milky Way’, a less expensive version of the Mars Bar. Once a week, I visited the village Post Office cum general store to buy a Milky Way, take it home and slice it into thin portions so that even if shared, it lasted longer. Maltesers, which had been launched just before the outbreak of war, were another favourite sweet.

RETURN TO TYNESIDE;

Apart from a few skirmishes on the battlefront and an occasional ‘sneak’ raid by an enemy bomber, nothing really happened during the first 12 months of the war. Understandably, evacuees started to drift back to their homes and my classmates were no exception. By August of 1940 there were just 3 or 4 boys left at the hunting lodge — not enough to justify keeping my mother and friend there to look after them and they finally closed shop and returned home.
I was one of the last two boys to leave and I remember the thrill of being driven in a very posh car owned by Mr. Iveson from Marske to Richmond and thence by bus to Gateshead.
In the interests of economy and practicality, my father had given up our flat in Gateshead and moved in with the husband of the other house mother; so on our return home, two families shared the one flat. My sisters were still away in Spennymoor, but that still left 4 adults and three boys sharing a small, three bed-roomed, flat. I slept in the living room on a horse hair couch and went to sleep to the sound of the lowered adult voices before they too retired for the night. Quite cosy from my point of view!

We must have stayed in the crowded flat for only a few weeks, when we were allocated what was then a ‘state of the art’ all electric council house — 37 Southway, Sheriff Hill. With large airy rooms, an indoor loo and a proper bathroom, we wouldn’t have called the king our uncle! Our previous home in Baden Powell Street was located in a heavily built up area, which made our new location facing onto a fairly large park seem ‘countryfied’ by comparison. It was further to go to school but that was a small price to pay for the ‘up market’ environment and running to and from school was just something which everyone did as a matter of course in those days. A far cry from the chauffeured services provided for to-days youngsters.

With the majority of children evacuated, the schools had all been closed. However, the headmaster of our ‘Shipcote’ school — Mr.Thompson — opened up ahead of any official re-opening timetable and we all went along VOLUNTARILY because we had become rather bored after the excitement of being away in evacuee land where we had at least the discipline and routine of half day schooling and the organised ‘out of school’ activities.

Then of course the real war got under way, but that is a topic for another day.

‘Clints’ showing the house where I stayed with Mr. & Mrs Pearson. Also to be seen (bottom left) is Mr. Iveson’s village bus parked at what is now the home of Connie Blackmore to whom I am very grateful for provided the newspaper cutting.

Footnote: 66 years after evacuation, I re-visited Marske in July ’05 and spent a happy hour or two reminiscing with Mrs. Simpson and her sister and with Connie Blackmore who filled in a few gaps for my story.

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