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15 October 2014
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An Evacuation Storyicon for Recommended story

by West Sussex Library Service

Contributed by 
West Sussex Library Service
People in story: 
Winifrid Bonfield (nee O’Brady)
Location of story: 
Isle of Sheppey, Kent; Holsworthy, Devon; Chilsworthy, Devon
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4678635
Contributed on: 
03 August 2005

My father had three weeks to do on the reserve when he was called up before the Second World War began. We lived in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey. I had an older brother and a younger brother at the time. I had my seventh birthday four days before war was declared.

For some unknown reason, I never did find out why, my mother took us to London to stay with my grandmother. As a result I was evacuated the following June from the London school just down the road. I can remember clearly the day we went away. I said goodbye to my grandmother and left with my haversack. My mother said she would see me at the school, she wasn't allowed to go in with me. We all met in a classroom and once we were counted we trooped out of the school. There were crowds of people waiting outside. I could see my mother and my youngest brother but couldn't get near to kiss them goodbye.

We got onto a double-decker bus and were driven to a railway station, Clapham Junction. We travelled all day and eventually ended up at Holsworthy, North Devon. On the train some girls said they would share a billet with me and then changed their minds. We were taken to the Senior school in Holsworthy. We had to go up some steps to get into the building but there were girls at the top shouting, "What be called, maid?" in an accent I couldn't understand.

We waited in the main hall while people picked whom they wanted to take home with them. Eventually a lady said that Mrs Hockeridge would take one and I was taken outside and put in to a car that was already full of passengers. I had to sit on Roy Marshall's lap and he was just like Billy Bunter! It was an Austin 7 so there wasn't much room. We drove for a couple of miles and reached the village of Chilsworthy. We stopped at the first house on the right and I was told to get out. When the door opened I fell out and ended up in a ditch. There were two women and a couple of girls at the gate. They were wondering who they would get billeted with them, at a house called "Whiteleigh Green", and ended up with me. The two women were Mrs Hockeridge (Auntie Emma, my foster mother) and Mrs Forde. Mrs Forde with her daughter Lily was self -evacuated from Gillingham in Kent. The other girl was Sylvia- Mrs Hockeridge's daughter.

Next day I helped them collect the cows for the lady opposite. My newfound friends got sticks from the hedgerows to wave at the cows to get them moving. I went to get a stick but picked a stinging nettle instead. A11 the cows had names-Buttercup and Daisy to name but two.

We weren't at Whiteleigh Green long before we moved up to the Post Office that Auntie Emma had taken over from her Mother-in-Law. After a short while another lady and her daughter moved down from Gillingham to get away from the bombing. They were Ivy Harmer and her daughter Joyce. Now there were four girls. Lily was the eldest at 8, then me-7, Sylvia was 6 and Joyce was 4. We got on well most of the time.

They took me to the local school in Holsworthy, on the school bus, but I couldn't stay there as I was an evacuee. Eventually they sent up a school in the Masonic Hall for all the evacuees but we had to walk the two miles to get there. Our ages ranged from five to fourteen.

School was two miles up and down hill and the last hill into Holsworthy was really steep. I seldom arrived on time for school because I dawdled, climbed up and down the hedgerows and picked flowers. After a while I started thumbing lifts and got into all sorts of cars to save me walking the 2 miles. This would not be allowed these days. There is one particular lady, in green car that picked me up quite regularly. One morning I dropped my dinner money down a drain, and had to get a couple of men to open the drain to get it back for me. The drain hadn't been opened up for years so retrieving my dinner money was not an easy task.

We had three teachers -Mr & Mrs Griffiths and Mrs Bailey. Mrs Bailey died while we were down there and was not replaced.

The village was very chapel minded and we went to Sunday school and the service in the morning, Sunday school in the afternoon and Chapel in the evening. It was the one and only time that the village had about 80 children in the Sunday school.

Christmas 1940 I can remember it well. Because Joyce and Ivy had arrived I was made to sleep on a camp bed on the landing. Before Xmas we had seen this huge sack of toys in one of the sitting rooms. We tried to keep our eyes on it but it disappeared. On Xmas eve the other three girls were given a pillowcase to hang up. I was given a bolster case that opened both ends, I can remember crying my eyes out before I went to sleep. Next morning I was delighted to find a pillowcase full of presents. Ivy had made me a dressing gown-something I had never possessed before and I had several games and things as well. All were new to me at Xmas. I spent Xmas day going around with this pillow-still full-slung over my back, just like I imagined Father Xmas would have. We had great fun in the wintertime with the snow -sliding down the banks on tin trays.

Sometime in 1941 Auntie Emma had pleurisy and went away for convalescence. Mrs Lane, her cousin, came and looked after us. She was the only one who could do my hair properly. At that time I had very red hair with long ringlets. From the time I went to Devon my foster mother had insisted on doing my hair up in rags every night, which was very painful. Sylvia had straight hair and that was the way her mother got ringlets for her. My hair was naturally curly and all my mother had to do was brush it around her finger. When Auntie Emma returned we were all put into different billets. Mr Hockeridge asked for us to be re-billeted because he thought that Joyce's mum was too friendly with the postman. Roy Marshall (Billy Bunter) had returned to London early so I went to live with Wilfred and Ada Smith.

Wilfred was a lay preacher and spent a lot of his time riding his wife's 'sit up and beg' bicycle up and down the village singing hymns. When he preached to the local chapel his false teeth used to fall down. He and his wife had never had any children and their bungalow was the poorest in the village. We had oil lamps and the oven was a biscuit tin on its side on top of a primus. The water was from a pump half way down the garden.

One redeeming feature of the bungalow -it had a large attic that was full of books. I found an arithmetic book and spent most evenings doing the sums in it and not looking at the answers until I'd finished working them out. Mr Smith had been a soldier in the First World War and ended up with an ulcerated leg. He used take all the bandages off and the smell was horrendous. Not a very nice thing for a little girl to see. Mrs Smith used to cycle into Holsworthy and do cleaning jobs. They were both Sunday school teachers in Chilsworthy.

While we were in Devon Mrs Griffiths had a baby girl, as part of our lessons we knitted a baby's layette. I can remember writing to Mum and asking her for a new coat and could I have my hair cut. My gran wrote back to me enclosing a second hand coat and said Mum had a big expense coming offbut she would be able to cope with my hair when I returned home. A little while later she wrote again to say I had a baby sister. I was very pleased, as I had had to put up with the two boys. My teacher gave me some of the clothes we had knitted for her daughter to send back to London.

While I was staying with them my eyes were bad with blepharitis and the doctor sent me to the evacuee hostel at Whitstone near Bude. This was a big country house where all poorly evacuees were sent. I was there a little while and I caught impetigo from one of the others. It spread from behind my ears, over my head in the elbow crease and behind my knees. The other children were painted with gentian violet but I was just bathed and bandaged up like a mummy. At nighttime they put cricket stumps by my arms and bandaged them on so I couldn't scratch.

During the day we were allowed to run wild the only thing they did for us was to take us for very long walks. It was on these walks that I first saw wild daffodils growing in the hedges. I had a job while I was there and that was to darn all the socks and stockings and there and then I decided that I would not do that again when I grew up and I have stuck to that. I must have been at the hostel for a few months and I kept writing home and asking if I could go back there. I had had most of my hair cut off by then and had a thick crust of white scurf over my head. Eventually my father arrived one day and came to take me back to London. He had travelled overnight by train to Bude and had got a taxi out to Whitstone we grabbed as many of my clothes as we could find and the taxi took us back to Bude. We travelled all day and eventually got back to my grandmothers in Clapham.

My mother cried when she saw the state of my hair. My sister was nearly six months old by then and my younger brother was very shy with me. I felt as is the walls of the room were coming in on me, the rooms at the hostel had been so large. It took a little while to get used to being with my family again we had to wait for my eldest brother to come home from Swanley. Soon after Dad was invalided out of the Army and we were all able to get back to the Isle of Sheppey.

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