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Patrick’s Evacuation Story,icon for Recommended story

by medwaylibraries

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Patrick Devine, Terence Devine
Location of story: 
Chatham, Kent; Clydach, South Wales
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 June 2004

Patrick and brother Terence on a mountain overlooking Clydach, 1941

Patrick’s Evacuation Story,
by Patrick Devine who was evacuated to Clydach in South Wales on 2nd June 1940

A little background information will be useful to the evacuation saga and what better place to start than that I was born on 21st November 1928 at Trafalgar Street, Gillingham, Kent. According to family records my parents moved house a couple of times before coming to Saunders Street, Chatham. I can remember living there and going to St.John’s Infant School in Ordnance Street, Chatham and then on to Junior Ordnance Street School, further up the road.

My father worked all his life up to then at the local newspaper, Chatham Observer, in the foundry and in late 1937 he got a job in London in a block-making firm. My parents decided it would be better to move nearer to London (as they thought!) and rented a house at Grosvenor Crescent, Hillingdon, Middlesex. After about 18 months we moved again, this time to Anerley, in southeast London, and were there when war was declared in September 1939.

My father lost his job owing to the war conditions, our family had no income except for a very small amount that my mother earned doing a domestic job for a lady in Beckenham, so we moved back to Chatham, my parents living in my grandfather’s house and my bother Terence and I with my uncle at Saunders Street, Chatham. This must have been very early 1940 as I remember we were living at Anerley during the very bad winter of 1939-40. Our Anderson air raid shelter in the garden was full to ground level with water and frozen solid.

So here we were, my brother and I, back at schools in Chatham, my brother at St.John’s Infants and myself at St.John’s Boys at New Road by the viaduct. I was soon to move up to the newly built school called Highfields at the top end of Ordnance Street. There was a meeting called at the school about the government evacuation scheme and my mother went along only to find that she was the only one there! The teacher in charge of the meeting was Mr Rowlands. My mother volunteered to travel with evacuee children to wherever we were sent. This was a good move as she would see where we went and with whom we were billeted.

I do not know when the call came, but my brother and I were taken to the shops and a small rucksack bought for us each, this I do remember. This must have been in the early summer of 1940. I remember lots of children gathering in the sidings to Chatham Station just south of the platforms, where the car park is now. We boarded the train, a steamer of course, and off we went. No one was told where we were going, I do not think even my mother knew. It was all very exciting for us children; a train ride was THE way to travel for us working-class kids!

I do not remember much about the journey except going through a very long tunnel which, I realized afterwards must have been the Severn Tunnel. After an eternity the train came to a station where we were told to get out, this turned out to be Neath. In a big clearing in front of the station were lots of buses, all seemed chaos at the time — my bother went on one bus, I went on another and I do not know where our mother went. My bus drove off and eventually came to a halt outside a building that was obviously a school, where we disembarked and marched into a hall. The school turned out to be Clydach Senior School, Sunnybank, Clydach in Wales. There seemed to be people moving about all over the place, with adults moving off with children, the hall was looking a lot emptier by the minute. I seem to remember my mother appearing from somewhere but not my brother. Eventually I was taken off by two people to a house quite close to the school. The people were Mr and Mrs William Sargeant and they lived at 19 Faraday Road, Clydach. A little later my mother came to the house and stayed the night, but she did not know where my brother was. We eventually found that he had been sent to Alltwen, which is s village just east of Pontardawe. She then went off to find him.

My brother had been billeted with a local school teacher, his wife, also a teacher and their young son whose name was Norman. The family name was Williams and the father was known locally as “Jack Specs”. They lived at Parc Road, Alltwen, near Pontardawe. My brother lived there for some months and attended the local school. I would visit him on a Saturday or he would come to me at Clydach. I would meet him from the bus and on his return I would put him on the bus for Pontardwe and he would walk up the hill to Alltwen. If I went to Pontardwe we would sometimes go to the pictures if finances allowed. There were three cinemas in the town; the worst one was the Pavillion. It was nothing more than a large tin shed with a roof that let the light through and the rain in. The front seats were just benches, and the cost for the privilege of sitting there was about 1d or 2d. Another was called the Public Hall — that was a bit more up market, with proper seats. The third cinema was called the Lyric I think, but I am not certain. I would sometimes go back with my brother to 9 Parc Road for some tea before going home. I had to be home fairly early in case there were any air raids. Instead of walking up to Alltwen by the road we would sometimes walk up the track that took us through a factory that we called the sulphur works. I think it was because it stunk like hell of bad eggs! This track was to the right (south) of the road up the hill. If it was summer time we would play in the recreation ground at the bottom of Parc Road or go to a place just off the main road through Pontardwe called Cwm Dee (I am not sure if this is the right spelling), it was a stream flowing through a small rock gorge, we would fish for tiddlers there. One thing that my mother sent to my brother was a new game that was all the rage at the time, it was called Monopoly. We played it for hours on end and loved it. I still have that game, the board and all the bits that go with it — it has lasted well.

I cannot remember how long my brother was at Alltwen, it was several months, but he eventually came to live with me at Clydach. There were also two of our cousins evacuated to Pontardwe, although I think it was strictly speaking in Alltwen, as it was over the river. They were billeted in Railway Terrace, but I do not know the number. Their names were Heather and Hazel Rickwood, Heather being the older of the two.

Since starting this article I have been looking through some old letters and in one that I have not noticed before it gives the date of 2nd June as the date of the evacuation, and I have worked out that it must have been in 1940. The letter was from my brother Terence.

I remember the Clydach School very well, it was much more modern than the old Victorian style buildings that we were used to in Chatham, with the exception of course of Highfield which still had the decorators in it during the very short time that I was there. Clydach had a long line of classrooms with an open covered corridor facing a playground area that was half paved and half smooth but unmade ground. That bit was good for drawing circles in the dust in which to play marbles. This side of the school faced south towards Swansea. The gym was also very good and something that I had not had in my school before. After the gym session we had to have a shower which was a shock to the system of a young-teenaged boy! To the north of the school building was the sports field, something that our Chatham school did not have close by. In the corner of the playing field was an Observer Corps lookout post manned by several personnel. During playtime us boys would stand around the post to see what they were up to, especially if there were any aeroplanes about, they would be looking at them through their binoculars and checking their direction with a compass-rose placed on the edge of the sandbagged platform.

I had to play rugby a couple of times but did not like it much. I was not agile enough to keep out of trouble. The evacuee children were integrated with the local children in the classes, it was only when it came to English and the Welsh language lessons that there was any segregation. The Welsh children had at least twice the time for the Welsh language as did the English children. It would not have been a proper Welsh school if there were not any singing of course, so we evacuee children sang along in whatever language it happened to be. If it was Welsh we had no idea what the words meant but we sang along jsut the same! I learnt several songs in Welsh myself at that time. At least it has taught me how to pronounce a lot of the words in the language. On this particular subject, us evacuee kids picked up quite a number of phrases and expressions of the local children and I suppose were beginning to talk like them from the accent point of view.

The lessons that I particularly liked were woodwork and metalwork. In the letters that my mother kept, that were written by me from Clydach, I talk about making a bookrack and a watch stand, well, I still have the bookrack, it is on a shelf as I type!. I remember the watch stand beoing about a few years ago, but I do not know where it is now. In metalwork I filed away at a piece of hexagonal rod it seemed for weeks, tempered it in the furnace to make it hard, then sharpened it on a grinder, it is now in my tool box! It is a cold chisel.

All the children from the school were given a treat one day. We had to march off to the Mond Nickel Works canteen for some Shakespeare. We were treated to Macbeth with Dame Sybil Thorndike as Lady Macbeth. For what remember of it there was no scenery to speak of, just the dialogue from the stage. I think it must have made an impression on me because I remember it so well, especially the witches scene, "bubble bubble....etc".

I can remember what a lot of the teachers looked like but not many of their names. Mt Thomas was the headmaster I think, a shortich man with combed-back grey hair. The PE master was also on the short side, youngish and with glasses. As an aside, quite by chance I met him in Regent Street, London, one day. I was looking in a shop window and he came and stood beside me. That must have been about 1946. Then I think there was also a Mr Howells.

The houses in which we lived belonged to the Mond Nickel Works. They were all built of the same red brick and varied in size according to rank at the works, management having the larger semidetached ones at the end of the roads. Also I suppose, so that they did not have to walk passed the "peasants" houses as they went to work! The house in which I lived was at the end of Faraday Road but was numbered 19. Between that house and the school was just a rough field with a road without houses, leading up to the lower slopes of a mountain called Gellewuested (probably the spelling is wrong but that is what it sounded like). If there had been an air raid during the previous night this was a good place to look for shrapnel, pieces of metal from exploding anti aircraft shells to my younger readers. It almost became currency to us school boys, "I'll swop these three little bits for that bit with the brass ring and numbers on", sort of conversation at play time or after school.

A street game that was very popular, along with marbles in the gutter was what we called Tip-cat. The kit for playing this was a tapered piece of stick about 4in.long with tapered ends and a stick for each player. It was played by hitting the tapered end of the "cat" so that it jumped in the air then hit with the stick to send it along the street. The person hitting it furthest was declared the winner of that round. During this game being played in Faraday Road one day a player put his foot out to stop the "cat" but stopped me instead. I fell over and broke my wrist. I was first seen by a doctor somewhere locally who said I was to go to the local Cottage Hospital in Clydach. It was quite a small place that I remember and seemed to be empty. There was the doctor and quite a large lady in nurses uniform and I was taken into a room with an operating table in it which had one of those large circular lights over it. The doctor and nurse seemed to be discussing me at some length, as to whether to put my arm in plaster or use a splint, and the plaster won, but to do it I had to be put out as my bone had to be pushed back into place, which I understand would be painful. When being put out with a rubber mask over my face for some reason all I could think about was my grandfather George Rickwood, whose face seemed to be in the round light above the table! Of course when I went back to school I was something of a star with a plastered arm. It was my left arm so it did not stop me from writing but ....NO PE or SHOWERS or RUGBY! The plaster did not set very well as my arm is slightly bent to this day.

My brother and I got on quite well with the family in Clydach. There was Mr Sargeant, his name was William and he worked in the Mond. He would sometimes bring us home some lumps of nickel which was like ball bearings all stuck together, apart from that I do not know what he did in the factory. Mrs Sargeant's name was Grace, she did not go to work. There was a daughter living in the house as well, her name was Margaret, she was about 15 years of age, fairly tall and slim with straight hair. The other member of the household was Mrs Sargeant's sister. She seemed to be older than Mrs Sargeant, probably about 45-50, her name was Miss Posten and was known to the family as Lizy. After my brother and I had been at the house a few months the Sargeants bought a dog. He was small like a terrier, he was called Don ( a stange name for a dog), this suited my brother, he likes dogs and cats for that matter.

My mother told me after my brother and I were home in Chatham, that Margaret was an adopted daughter of the Sargeants. On thinking about it she did seem a bit young to have parents of the age that the Sargeants were. But what matters most is that she had a good home environment. There were three bedrooms in the house, Mr and Mrs slept in the front bedroom, Margaret and Miss Posten in the middle bedroom and Terry and I in a smaller back bedroom. The kitchen and bathroom area had red tiles on the floor, and in the kitchen was an enormous coal-fired range. It was absolutely gleaming. There was always a kettle steaming away on it, spotlessly clean as well. From what I can remember most if not all of the cooking was done on this range, coal of course was not expensive in this part of the world. There was a big oven beside the fire part of the range as well.

Mr Sargeant was a keen gardener as were most citizens during the war. Terry and I were sent up on to the lower slopes of Gellewusted mountain to collect horse manure for the garden. When we had a bucket full we brought it back to the house and tipped it into a large old oil drum which stood at the top of the steps up to the garden. Another thing that we collected from the mountain was blueberries which grew in profusion on the ground. Of course we only picked them from around the manure!

When I was standing in the garden one day I remember hearing the drone of an aeroplane which sounded quite low, and to my surprise there was a Lysander flying, it seemed at about 50 feet up. It was going so slowly as they were supposed to do, I could see the pilot quite clearly and as they say, the whites of his eyes. It is the only time I have seen one flying, or at all come to that until I went to the RAF Museum at Hendon in the 1990's where one is on display.

Mr and Mrs Sargeant were very strict Methodists. They would not do any work or other tasks such as cooking on a Sunday. The minister from the Strict Methodist Chapel, or the minister who had been preaching at the chapel on Sunday, would be asked back to the house for lunch which had all been prepared on the previous day. The most they would do would be to boil a kettle for a pot of tea, the washing up would be left till Monday morning. As a special dispensation Terry and I were allowed to put out some toys on Saturday to play with on Sunday, but that would only be in the front room with not too much noise, playing outside was strictly not allowed. The idea of going to the pictures on Sunday was akin to blasphemy but their daughter Margaret and her friend Rosemary (I think her name was) often went for a walk on Sunday evenings especially in the summer, but somehow someone let on that they would go to the pictures at the cinema in Clydach called the Globe. The girls were terrified that their parents would find out. Terry and I knew so we used to tease them about it.

Sometimes in the summer months we would go to the open-air swimming pool in Clydach. I have an old postcard photograph of it right next to St.Mary's Church in the High Street. It was very run down even in those days, the changing cubicles were about three feet by two feet and had a door that did not reach the floor by a foot. A bit further along the road towards Swansea was the Methodist Chapel then on a bit more on the other side of the road was a wood yard. During an air raid one night a German plane dropped bundles of leaflets, I expect the airman could not be bothered to untie them, dump them out and let's get home boys! Well, one of these bundles landed on the roof of the wood yard. I do not know from whom I got it but one leaflet came into my possession, much to the consternation of Mr Sargeant, by the way he reacted I think he thought it had been delivered personally by Hitler. Anyway he did have a look at it and wrote on it where and when it had been found. And quess what? I have still got it, it is a little bigger than today's tabloid papers, four pages entitled "A LAST APPEAL TO REASON by ADOLF HITLER". I must read it oone of these days!

Sundays being what they were in the Sargeant household Terry and I had to go to St.Mary's Church in the morning for matins, home for something to eat lunch time, back to the church in the afternoon for Sunday school, back home for afternoon tea, then to round off the day, off to church for evensong, every Sunday. On some occasions we would go to the Methodist Chapel with Mr and Mrs Sargeant, they were "English", a big distinction from "Welsh" people so all the service was in the English language. Even at those tender years I remember the wonderful singing by the congregation and choir. I have liked Welsh choirs ever since. The lady that took us for Sunday school was a Mrs Davis, her husband was a policeman, on speaking to my brother about her, he said she came from the West Country. They lived at Ynysforgan or there abouts, on the way towards Morriston. She and her husband invited us evacuee children to her house for tea in groups of about four or six at a time. She also gave each of us a New Testament. I still have mine, written inside is my name and "Sept.1st 1940 Clydach". On the way to or from church one day I picked up a couple of leaves from a hedge to use as bookmarks, its the sort of thing I had seen my mother do, they are still in there! The boy who was billeted next door to us in Faraday Road was named Ronny Nobbs, he used to go to church with my brother and I. One Sunday as we sat at the back of the church trying to make ourselves as invisible as possible a part of one of the lessons being read was about a man climbing up a tree so he could see Jesus, well this started us off giggling and we could not stop as kids do. Of course the churchwarden came looking for the disturbance and soon found it in the back row. Although at the time it all seemed rather boring to young teenagers it was good training really.

If we felt adventurous on a Saturday or school holiday we would go up one of the other mountains nearby. This one was Gelleonen. To get there we would go to the few shops in Sunnybank, go along a path that led through them then over an iron bridge across a stream, on to the dram lines. This was a railway trackthat came down from the colliery further up the valley. From here it was possible to walk up the mountain paths onto the top. There was a ruined building up there and it was said that it was built by a scientist trying to perfect some kind of "death ray" to bring down aircraft back in the 1930's. There was a good view of Clydach and the valley from the top, I have got a photograph of my brother and I with a view of the village and school visible in the background. If we walked along the dram lines that I have just mentioned, they led to the main street in Clydach where the shops were but it was very dirty as the coal dust fell off the train wagons as they came from the mine. There was also a lot of waste from the mine tipped out of the wagons along the track over which we used to climb. There was a Post Office with the shops at Sunnybank where I would buy 6d savings stamps with my pocket money after saving for a few weeks. These were stuck into a small booklet and when they amounted to the vast amount of 15/- (75p) I was able to buy one Savings Certificate. I still have the Holders Card that was given to me at that Post Office with their date stamp on it, the date looks like 24 December 1940. In one of my letters to my mother in Chatham I say something like "they have some sweets in Georges", which was the shop there, also the Post Office I think.

AT some time when I was in Clydach I went on holiday with Margaret and Miss Posten to some of their relations living in Tenbury Wells, Shropshire. We went there by train via Cardiff I would guess. At that ttime it had a station of its own. We stayed in one of a group of cottages, about 15 minutes walk from the station. The place was The Rugpits. I do not remember my brother being there so it must have been before he came to stay with me at Clydach. I slept in an attic room and I can remember a leg of ham hanging from the ceiling. The room had a very small dormer window looking out over the garden. The lavatory as such was a small shed at the end of the garden, just a board with a hole in it and a bucket underneath. Not a place to linger! We must have been there over a weekend because we had to go to chapel, which was a small shed just along the lane from the Rugpits. This was a very rural area. I can remember visiting a large farmhouse somewhere close by in which was a very old piano that made some very out-of-tune noises much to my delight. It was here that I saw for the first and only time an aircraft called a Handley Page Hampden, a twin engined bomber of the late 1930's era. It flew very low over the fieldsat the back of the house. From Tenbury Wells we went on a visit to Ludlow for the day and I can remember seeing the castle there. I went back again there in the late 1970's and could vaguely remember some places. My wife and I paid a return visit to Rugpits at about the same time and spoke to some people outside the cottages. They knew the people that I had stayed with and told us they had moved to the other side of town, but we did not go to find them as our time was short. The railway station had long since gone, it was a builders yard when we saw it but there was the bridge still over what used to be the track.

There was no proper air raid siren in the village of Clydach but the hooter from the Mond works was used instead, short blasts for a warning, one long blast for the all clear. There was an anti-aircraft gun in a sand-bagged emplacement outside the front gate, a Bofors 20mm gun. I was always hoping to see it fire at something but I never did.

I sat an examination for secondary school and much to my surprise, passed, and did well in the art section I believe. This meant I would have to leave Clydach to go to Pontypridd, the place to which the Chatham Technical School had been evacuated. My brother faired much better in the examination stakes by passing for the Sir Joseph Williamson Mathematical School, Rochester, which was also in another town in Wales, I know not where. With all this moving about hanging over us our mother decided to take us home as there were not many air raids and the war had taken a turn for the better. This must have been about the middle or late 1942. So it was back to Chatham, a new school for me at Holcombe, Chatham Technical School, and my brother at the Mathematical School then in Rochester High Street. I was soon to move again over to Rochester Technical School as that had the art department and proper School of Art and Crafts.

Patrick Devine - January 2000

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