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Fly Away Peter, Come Back Paul

by swallow

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter Faggetter
Location of story: 
Chaldon, Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 June 2004

Due to the creeping war influence the summer of 1939 had been quite different to previous years for our family. Dad's pockets had been shrinking through lack of work and this had resulted in losing the luxury of a car.
Thus we four children didn't get any of the usual good Sunday soakings on 'our' lovely beach at Bexhill-on-Sea. Trips to that part of Sussex with big wrappings full of super fresh cut picnic sandwiches were bound to follow a good radio weather forecast. And if the radio was necessary before the War, then during the WAR it would be indispensible.

As the days lingered towards September, so the one o'clock and 6 o'clock News became ever more sobering. I was now 12 years old, with Bob, my brother a year older. He was a fluent reader of books and a newspaper, and together with the radio most things were understood by him. There was no television in those days.
We had already been issued with the 'stinky pooh' gas masks, while additional candles gained in numbers. Air raid warning sirens at Caterham and round about districts had been practice tested to attune our ears to dangers to come, brick shelters were being built, notes hung and pasted, and people's faces grew longer. There was also much talk of evacuation - of sending the children ot towns and cities westwards, to the country. But we already lived in lovely country surroundings, albeit close to Caterham, so any talk directed at us got the thumbs down. No way. But apparently many were getting ready to go - abroad too; Canada! - if the War talk became a fact.
But we suddenly had bigger problems of our own for on the 1st day of September we were told we'd be moving, tomorrow!! We kids were stunned rotten, for our country home had been built by both Dad and Grandad in 1931. A boy who liked birds and aeroplanes couldn't have wished for a nicer home. But it was the fault of the coming war.

The removal van was supposed to arrive in mid afternoon but didn't show up till late evening. It had proved a real 'drag' of a day with all the packing and stacking and pulling up of mats - and with the News reader adding his tone of urgency to the already sickening day. Hence we didn't get to see our new address before midnight; a rotten old flat above an empty shop northwards of Caterham Valley and with an electric railway cluttering the outlook beyond a miserable looking back garden. Apart from a brilliant red orange and yellow tree that proved to be boughs fully loaded with the biggest and best apples imaginable, this huge tree of glowing brightness in the sunshine of the next morning as we were awoken by a train of the Sunday service, proved the only likeable feature within eyesight.

Following a makeshift breakfast and with Mum and Dad wanting free range in the business of homemaking we children set off to explore the better looking eastward prospects across some fields. It was while we glumly strolled in subdue talk through the dry shoe-scuffing grass of late summer that we received the second monumental news of that weekend. Of course we'd heard air raid sirens before - during and for practice - but we'd not been told of any repeat 'drill' this Sunday morning. As other more distant sirens now began joining the 'War' song with a tone of urgency, we realised something for real was in the air and returned to the flat.

With the radio on and WAR already declared, our parents were in full swing with preparations for an aeroplane gas attack. After hearing stories of gas used in the Firtst War, this form of warfare was the most feared and expected. This meant that sealing openings such as chimneys and vents was necessary, as was sealing window frames with putty - a commodity common to Dad's bricky fingers. As he now swiftly worked his way around windows, the News reader was revealing first the tale of the 'false alarm' siren soundings and then what befell a million kids at the train stations in and around London. The massed evacuation had begun, and yet another million would up-root themselves from their mothers and fathers to quite unknown destinations in villages and on farms to the south and western counties. Listening to the story on radio was bad enough, but the pictures in a daily paper on Monday morning was to me, spine chilling. True, some of the kids looked happy enough, but others looked already lost and abandoned. In spite of the fact that I'd never been out of Surrey and Sussex - never been away on holiday like some children with relatives in Devon or Wales - I would not have liked living with people ouside my family. I considered our overnight plight as bad enough, but at least we were all together - a comforting thought.

Within no time, some very misplaced children were making tracks for their town homes again, and we heard of their tales of woe and even beatings from people who didn't want them. The stories were many and very varied as they became known of in the years after the war. Some ill treated girls had packed their cases and set off on foot to regain their parents in London. And one boy told of awful clouts purely because he wasn't a girl - the foster carer's first and preferred choice. Other family children got quite separated and never got to see a brother or sister for months or years. It was terrible.

Following the long cold and snowy winter, the 'phoney War' months as that period became known, we thankfully moved back to our Chaldon village again. I was delighted, and we moved into a bungalow built by our father. Then soon we were hearing of the French port of Dunkirk - it was on everyone's lips, and yes, time for another evacuation. But it was fathers' and uncles this time in a strugle to get home.
No sooner had they stopped arriving in shoals - without bags and cases - when more soldier evacuees began arriving from the shambles of the Norwegian campaign. We seemed to know more about evacuation than we did war.
Soon it was the Battle of Britain time, a bonus period for the lovers of aeroplanes. It was only death and destruction that marred the spirit of aerial combat in the form of modern day, sleek and speedy 'Biggles' fighter planes.
We had loads of good Canadian soldiers housed nearby and in the district. These youngsters came to England's rescue soon after WAR was declared and were our local defence troops. And now, in mid September, at the height of the Battle, we're suddenly reminded of evacuees again for news is coming in of a Liner called City of Benares as having been torpedoed while crossing to Canada and America. Loads of evacuee children are drowned and missing. Fancy risking kids at sea when U-boats in the Atlantic are choking the life out of Britain in an attempt to help starve our island of food. Ships were being sunk daily! One would think some people are half-witted - ship's Captains included. Who in his right mind would sail a large ship with loads of kids aboard across a war-torn ocean at a time like this! As if the B of B and the threat of invasion (Sealion) wasn't enough, we are blessed with fools. Some kids - adrift in open boats for several days - cold, wet and starving hungry, should arrive, 'expected ashore or in port tomorrow.' said the newscaster. Evacuee authorities must be quite mad too, and makes us feel very glad we gave the scheme a 'wide berth'!!

Next we had the blitz to witness, for almost the entire Luftwaffe bomber force flew over our heads to bomb London. What a spectacle for we firework lovers!! Londoners were well provided for though as regards their destinations, for by 1939, 3 million cardboard coffins were ready for prompt occupancy, and all schools readied to receive the estimated 4 million bomb ravaged lunatics expected within a month. And with the pre-war Government having bought up the entire world stock of frozen meat and every can of beans and peaches - which they then hid in dumps till after the WAR, along with the sugar mountain - and ordered thousands of war planes from America to repel the Hun invaders - and thus putting the Yanks economy on a healthy footing - those left behind wouldn't be short of meat. Meat made big, strong men, and with crowds of these Atlas types Winston Churchill's words after Dunkirk that 'Wars are not won by evacuations', might now become reality. That's after Greece, Crete, Tobruk, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, Burma and countless islands. Mind you, they didn't get Malta!! - and nor did German feet come ashore on OUR Bexhill beach. So there.


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