- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Alan Day
- Location of story:
- East London, Norfolk
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 October 2004
whole school crowded onto the platform
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF EVACUATION
I woke up that morning feeling fearful of the events to come. I was young to be evacuated. Up to then I had not be anywhere without my parents except for one or two Sunday school outings. My clothes had been packed in my regulation rucksack; it was the deluxe version, crudely made of sacking but water- proofed and green coloured supplied by the school at the cost of 9d, the ordinary ones were brown, sack colour, not water-. proofed and cost 6d. I don’t remember the journey to school but my mother came with me. I don’t even remember my farewell to my Dad and Sister but they went off to work as usual. Not many east end dads could afford to lose a day’s work in those days.
At school those of us who were going away assembled in the hall, the other children stayed in the classroom. Each of us in the hall had our rucksack, our gas-mask in a cardboard box and hung round our necks by a piece of string. Our hands clasped a paper bag containing the prescribed iron rations, a bar of chocolate, some raisins and an orange. The lonely fear was soon replaced by a group excitement, just like going on a school outing, but none of us had ever experienced that. None knew what to expect. Where we were going or how long we would be away. I supposed that none of us realised what was really happening.
We were grouped into classes and at the appointed hour we marched out of the school, single file and across the road, it was a main road and the traffic had been stopped by a policeman while a crocodile of several hundred kids crossed over, there must have been a big hold up for the traffic. There were lots of mums outside the school gates and along the 200 yards of road to the station - my mum was there but I didn’t notice her. I do not remember any kids crying.
The railway station — Hackney-Downs, served a suburban line to Chingford on the edge of Epping Forest and I had only been to the station before on family days out to the forest. It was a strange feeling. The whole school crowded onto the platform. The train then pulled in the station, it was just like the ones that went to Chingford, a little tank engine with very rudimentary coaches. I thought oh goody - we are going to Chingford. We were crowded into the train, it was a crush and we were not very comfortable with all our luggage, but I got a seat next to a window. I soon knew we were not going to Chingford; the stations we were passing had strange names. The toiletless train was unhurried; the little engine had probably never pulled a load such a long way before. But we munched away at our chocolate and raisins and after about four hours the train stopped. The station’s name board said Downham Market, I had never heard of it.
We were kept in the train while the carriages were emptied one by one and once again the classes were assembled in single file and then marched across the track into the cattle market. I had seen a cattle market before whilst on holiday in Dereham but most of the children didn’t know what this area divided into squares by iron railings were. Each class was allocated a cattle pen. We waited for what seemed like an age and then the buses arrived — dozens of them. One at a time the buses pulled up at the market entrance and we filed onto them until each one was full, a teacher then boarded it and off it went around the corner. Our bus journey lasted about half an hour through very country countryside and through several villages. It was uncomfortable on the bus with all the luggage we had. Eventually we went over a river - a fairly wide river and in a hundred yards or so we stopped. We were in a village and we stopped outside the school. There were lots of people around, men, women and children all curious to know what these kids from London looked like. We had no idea where we were but we were marched into the school and sat down in classrooms. The teacher who came with us asked us if any of us wanted to pair up. I looked at the boy next to me, I never liked him very much, but at least it was a friendly face in a very strange world and we agreed to pair up. None of my regular friends came with us.
Our would be hostesses were let in, no men, only women and the reviewing and selection began, rather like the preview at an auction. I’ll have him, and that two there will do, that little girl with the curly hair. The voices sounded strange, difficult to understand but they were obviously speaking English. All the women seemed broad shouldered, brown faces, hard weather beaten faces, but on the whole they were smiling.
Us pair were very late in being selected. In fact we were beginning to hope that no one wanted us and we would be sent home, but eventually we were chosen by a pleasant looking woman with a friendly face. We collected our luggage and trundled off. Along the village street, over the river and then along a farm track by the side of the river for about a mile. The river had very high banks so that we didn’t see the river for a long time. On the way we learned that we had come to Ten Mile Bank, Norfolk and that the river was the Ouse. We passed. Through a farm yard and about a quarter of a mile later came to a cottage. We were greeted by a tall wiry man who said he was Mr. Cooper. A meal was ready for us. What a strange world. The toilet was in a shed in a garden — a bucket: with a seat on it. The only water was in buckets which came from the river, the cooking was done on curious paraffin stoves and the lighting was from tall chimnied paraffin lamps. From the upstairs windows you just saw the river, over the top of the bank. There were houses and a church the other side of the river but the nearest house this side was the farm we passed on the way. There were a few little boats tied up on the other side, square ended shallow boats.
It had been a glorious sunny day and now it was dark I had some idea how, Alice in Wonderland must have felt.
It was still school holidays in the country, harvesting had high priority and it wasn’t yet completed. We had about a week to the start of school. The following day I sent a post card to Mum and Dad to let them know where I was and that I was safe and sound. Us two boys got friendly with a farmhand who was ploughing the field behind the cottage and spent the day walking up and down behind the plough. The weather was still fine. Mrs. Cooper worked on the land and she took us potato picking. To get to the field we had to walk to the bridge and. back along the other bank for about half a mile. I was enjoying the potato picking, until about mid - day and then I felt ill. I felt very ill. At the end of the day I got a lift back to the farm near my new home by a horse drawn farm cart. The walk from the farm to the cottage was agony. I had been sick several times during the day and felt very relieved when I arrived. I was put straight to bed. The next few days were very hazy. I remember the doctor coming in every day. I remember visits from the London teacher and from the village Head. Master. I was very ill. It was never explained to me or my parents what was really wrong with me but my illness was blamed on drinking river water which was what everyone on our side of the river drank. I was banned from drinking river water. The houses on the other side of the river had tap water and a supply was brought across the river by a punt for me to drink.
As soon as I was well enough I was moved to a house across the river. The Coopers had been childless but the new foster parents, the Malkins, had grown - up sons and grand children. I immediately felt at homes and I was at this new home for a happy year. The youngest son was in the army in France and I remember clearly the worry and the tension in the house the news got progressively worse. He arrived home from Dunkirk. I had his bed. So he stayed at his girl friend’s home. I remember well the celebration of his return at the local public house.
On the whole we Londoners that were left, after the first three months only about half of us stayed, about fifteen in all integrated well with the local kids and. made friends with all. However, there was one clique that was hostile to us. In the beginning the local kids were frightened of our reputation for being toughs, I suppose we were really but it soon occurred to some of the local fourteen year olds that they would be able to handle London ten year olds. They gained prestige in the eye of some of the local kids by setting upon us. It did not last for long because although they were older and bigger and we came off worse it was still a painful experience for them scrapping with the Londoners.
I developed friendships there that have lasted till now.
My parents came to visit me about once a month. A local coach firm had obtained a special petrol allowance to run regular trips to the area as most of the local schools seemed to be evacuated there about. The coach used to serve several towns and villages along the road and the coach used to drop my parents off on the main road (A.l0) about 1,5 miles from Ten Mile Bank. I used to meet them off the coach at about mid - day and walk back with them in the evening. They were always made welcome and given lunch and tea by the Malkins; they developed a friendship and kept in occasional touch until their death.
I used to come home during the school holidays. The first time was Christmas 1939. A group of us travelled home together. There was a station, Hilgay Fen, about one mile from the Bank where the main line trains used to stop. It was about 90 miles to London and the train ran into Liverpool Street station and always went through Hackney Downs station at walking pace and I was often tempted to, but never did, jump out there. I had to catch a local train back to Hackney Downs and then walk home. After the first time I usually made the journey by myself. I was eleven by then.
I sat my scholarship exam (now called 11+) at the village school and the London children did much better than the local children. Between the time I sat the exam and results coming through I was allotted a place at a Central School, a sort of half way between a secondary and a grammar school. The central school was evacuated to a place called Outwell which was only about twelve miles from Ten Mile Bank and I was to be transferred to Outwell from Ten Mile Bank. Before I left home from my holiday, only a few days before I left my parents received a letter from the L.C.C. telling them that I had been allocated a place at our local Grammar School which was evacuated to Kings Lynn, still in Norfolk and about twenty miles from Ten Mile Bank and Outwell. The transfer to Outwell was well organised and this was to go through in spite of my eventual transfer to the Grammar School.
I returned from holiday in London in September 1940 to Ten Mile Bank a few days before I was due to go to Outwell. I felt sad at the thought of leaving the Malkins and my friends at Ten Mile. In fact, nowhere else in my wanderings was I to become friends with any of the locals.
On the appointed day a car called for me at Ten Mile Bank driven by a member of the W.V.S. and I was driven to the village of Upwell which was a couple of miles from Outwell. This was only the second time in my life that I had been in a car.
My new home at Upwell turned out to be a pub - I think it was the Black Horse. My recollections of this place are dim but the impression that stayed with me was that it was chaotic
It was a long way that I had to walk to and from school, over three miles but I did get my first experience of school dinners there.
Because of the distance I had to go to school I was entitled to a school bicycle one was ordered for me but it didn’t arrive before I left. My memories of the school were a bit vague but I think I enjoyed the school, it was very different. My one memory of that school was the music lessons and there I was introduced to’Ava Maria’,’ There ere she walks’ and ‘Jubilate’.
Of my memories outside school there are few. I remember the pub yard where I used to spend most of my time with the son of the house and I remember walking a few miles to look at a crashed Blenheim bomber. It was guarded by soldiers and we couldn’t get any souvenirs.
I had been at this school for about a month and was sitting in my class one afternoon when the Headmaster walked in the class and called me out. There was a woman in W.V.S. uniform in the corridor and I was told I was being taken to Kings Lynn I was taken back to my billet, a hurried packing up of my goods and off to Kings Lynn. My third car ride.
We arrived at Kings Lynn at about 5.30 p.m. and stopped outside the King George V Grammar School which was the school my Grammar School - Hackney Downs was sharing.
The school was closed - there was no one about. The poor woman who drove the car was getting very worried when a man appeared from a house opposite the school who asked could he help. He was a master at the school who knew about my transfer but I was not expected until the following morning. However, he knew where I was to stay and off we went. In spite of my unexpected early arrival I was welcomed in a friendly way by the Perry’s. The man worked on the railway, the wife had a number of relations near to hand, including a sister who with her husband owned a fish and chip shop. There was a daughter aged about one. I was not to know this but my unhappiness in this house increased steadily and the wife’s relations had a lot to do with this.
I arrived on a Friday and on the Monday morning I was sent off to school with only vague directions as to how to get there. Fortunately, I met a boy going to school wearing the school cap and I went along with him. I had a friend. The billet was near the docks at Kings Lynn, it was known as North End and was a rough area and skirmishes between me and my friend and the local boys were numerous.
Our out of school hours were spent, when not doing homework, in a variety of ways. We played by the side of a local brook, we wandered around the docks, we ventured past the docks on the banks of the river Ouse which was wide, muddy and tidal. We wandered over the marsh area behind the docks, and we frequently walked the mile or so into the centre of Kings Lynn. Here we played in the park, in the Cattle Market, wandered round the town’s museum and generally occupied ourselves.
I found that my main function in the Perry household was that of an unpaid baby - sitter, whilst Mrs. Perry worked in her sister’s fish and chip shop. I then found that sometimes when I got home from school there was no one in the house and it was locked up and I would have to wait as long as an hour before Mrs Perry would return from one of her relations. I was never very welcome in the relations' houses except the fish and chip shop.
Soon after I got to Kings Lynn the coach trips stopped, probably through lack of demand as more kids returned to London. My parents visited me about twice in the six months I was at the Perry’s. They had to come by train which in the war years was not easy. I remember one visit the train was due to arrive at 11 a.m. and I was there to meet it but it did not arrive until 4 p.m. due to the line being bombed. They had to catch a train back at 5 p.m. I enjoyed my parents' visits and understood why the visits were less frequent.
I used to travel home to London for the school holidays by train and was getting quite a seasoned traveller. I don’t remember any problems with this travelling. The atmosphere in the Perry’s was getting frigid. I suppose I objected to being shut out before tea and shut in as it were after tea. During this time I got a bike, a second hand one brought from one of Mr. Perry’s relations — I probably got done. I suppose I had been at the Perry’s about a period of six months when I was told. I would have to go.
My next billet was on the outskirts of the town. The road was unmade and had a mixture of nice new houses and scruffy old cottages. The people I went to stay with were the Elsegoods — a lower middle class household. He used to be a Master Builder before the war and was now a Clerk of Works — I think for the Army. He had a car and a petrol allowance. They had a son my own age, we had separate bedrooms and we got on quite well together. There were a number of boys from the school in the area and our ‘playgrounds’ were much different to what we had previously. We had the River Gaywood it was about 15’ wide and bounded by meadows. We had Wooton Woods about a mile up the road and a lot of farm land around. One of our favourite haunts was a bombing range about three miles away and we used to sit a the edge of the woods whilst the planes, Blenheims, used to make low level attacks on the target, a whitewash circle, with smoke bombs. One day I returned home to the Elsegoods from one of the trips the proud possessor of an exploded smoke bomb. It was a magnificent trophy and the son of the house was green with envy. The Elsegoods were not, proud of it, nor envious of it but were quite of the opinion that I should not have brought it home. I got my fourth car ride returning the bomb; we did not visit the bombing range again.
All the boys from our school who lived in the Gaywood area had to attend Church every Sunday morning. I suppose the idea was to keep touch with us over the weekend. The Elsegoods were going to move house so I had to have another billet.
I was moved to the Clingos. It was one of the scruffy cottages a few doors down the road. It was the most unpleasant family I had ever experienced. The man drove a horse and dray for the railway. They had a son about sixteen who went out to work and, whose bed I had to share. I wasn’t ignored or maltreated there, I wasn’t particularly unhappy there but I loathed it. It was not a happy household. There is only one outstanding memory from the two months or so that I was there. Periodically the old man used to deliver beer to the pubs and when this happened he came home drunk. One evening he came home in this state and took exception to my being in the house and told me to clear out. I don’t remember the exact words he used but I took it to mean go out for a couple of hours. I don’t think he remembered the words he used but he thought he told me to clear off for good. I want out and roamed the town for a few hours and returned home about 10 p.m. In the meanwhile, every one had. been searching for me, the Clingos, the school teachers and I believe the Police. It was a group of very relieved Clingos that greeted me when I returned home. The old man had sobered up considerably. There was a sort of enquiry at school the following day and it was decided that I should be moved. And it happened two days later. The new billet was on a council estate only about ten minutes walk from the school. The people were the Hooks, he was a docker, when dock work was still casual and spent a fair amount of time off work. There was a daughter a little younger than me. It was a poor household with very little spare money around but it was happy. For the first time since leaving the Malkins I felt that I belonged. Their home was also my home, not just a personal refugee camp. For the first time since coming to Kings Lynn I integrated with the local kids, they were my mates. They all came from poor families but they readily accepted me - a grammar school kid. There was a fairly big piece of waste-land backed by some woods next to the estate. This was our playground. It provided everything we needed. Again I felt happy both indoors and out, as an example of my belonging in the Hooks - my cycle had a puncture, Mr. Hook noticed it and mended it. This was to be my only really happy period at Kings Lynn. It lasted a month. The young girl was taken ill.
The next day following the girl being taken ill I was called to the Headmaster’s study and told the girl had Diphtheria and my clothes had to be collected and I would be taken to a new billet that night.
The Headmaster took me to the new billet in his car. It was in North End again. The house was a terraced council house, it was clean and the people friendly. They already had an evacuee, a boy who I was quite friendly with in London, but he wasn’t at the Grammar School. I don’t remember the name of the people. I had quite an enjoyable evening with my friend and I went to bed thinking this isn’t at all bad.
At breakfast the following morning the woman made some re mark about it being a pity about the Hooks little girl. I commented something about Diphtheria being an unpleasant illness. She made some comment like - I thought it was tonsillitis she had but as it was Diphtheria I would have to go. She wrote a note for the Headmaster.
When I presented the note to the Head there was some action.
I was told to sit in the hall and have no contact with the other boys. It was the most boring day of my life, no lessons, no chatting, and no books to read - just sitting there on the stage and occupying my time with what thoughts I could muster.
Arrangements for new accommodation was made for or me during the day. After school, myself and the Head cycled back to the billet collected my case and cycled away. On the way I asked the Head, “If I am asked again what shall I say is wrong with the Hook girl”? He replied by saying something like it will be all right.
We cycled on to the Gaywood area and down the lane where the Elsegoods and the Clingos lived until it was obvious where I was going - the Rayners. Several kids had stayed there before and she had a reputation for meanness, strictness, nagging and pernickettiness. I was not elated at the prospect. I moved in, I was not happy there in fact I spent very little time indoors. There was not enough to eat, my friends and I used to supplement our food by scrumping apples and carrots, by buying broken biscuits from a shop and buying bread rolls.
A friend of the Rayners saw me eating a bread roll and told the Rayners. There was a row, I said that I reckoned I was under fed and Mrs. Rayner reckoned that she fed me as well as she could on the allowance. She wrote to my parents asking for more money. They agreed to send an extra 5/-. (25p) a week. It was only a few weeks before the summer holiday and in subsequent correspondence between myself and mum and dad it was decided that I should come home at the end of term. There was some grammar schools open in London — my school wasn’t. It was arranged that I should attend the N.E. London Emergency Grammar School for boys based on the Parmiters school building at Bethnal Green. My own school was opened a year later.
I quickly settled in at home again — my two and a half years absence seemed just like a week’s holiday.
What effect did my evacuation have on me? I don’t know, but I know I developed a strong independence. I know I can live in any environment, I can see that I can survive in spite of what authority can do to me. I am intensely suspicious of authority. Parental love was replaced by friendship of my mates. I learnt that security is valuable but one can exist very well without it.
Since leaving the Malkins at Ten Mile Bank I lived entirely without happiness at home but found happiness all the time I was out of the house. I felt I belonged to the school, but never since the Malkins had I belonged to the families I lived with, except for a few weeks at the Hooks.
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