- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Gladys Irene Dark (now GLadys Irene Jones)
- Location of story:
- Birmingham/Blithbury nr Rugeley Staffs
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 August 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Deena Campbell from CSV Action Desk on behalf of Mrs Gladys Irene Jones and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Jones fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
I spent the first year of WW2 in Coalville in Leicestershire as a 10 year old evacuee from Dennis Road School, Birmingham. I returned to Birmingham in August 1940 as the lady I had been billeted with had been directed by the wartime emergency powers to work in a munitions factory. I was 11 by that time and due to change from Junior to Senior School education. Up until then there had been no air raids in the area and it was considered safe for me to return to Birmingham and begin my senior school education there. This was soon to change when night time raids started over the Midlands during the middle of August. By the time I was due to start at Conway Road Girls School in the Sparkbrook area of Birmingham at the beginning of September there were air raids every night, starting in the early evening and continuing until next morning. We sheltered in the cupboard under the stairs in the house where we were living as this was considered to be the safest part of the house. Each morning I got up from my make-shift bed to begin the day at school walking through bomb damaged streets, where many houses had been destroyed and bricks, mortar, plaster, wood and glass were strewn across the roads. Some roads were blocked off because of damage to drains, sewers, gas and electricity mains or because there was an unexploded bomb which was being monitored. On arrival at school we assembled in the main hall for the morning assembly but most of the children were so tired there was very little attention paid to what was being said. However, I recall the morning during the second week of term when the Headmistress Miss Brooks stood on the stage and announced that if parents were willing then children could be evacuated to boarding school which I had read about in school girl books, not to mention the thought of escaping from the bombing.
We were given a form to take home for our parents to sign if they were willing for their child to go. Included on the form was a list of necessary clothing required in addition to the normal basic clothes for an 11 year old girl. This concerned me because the items listed included grey shorts, green blouses, stout shoes, Wellington boots, slacks and something called a “wind-cheater.” My mother had no spare money for these extra clothes which would have seemed to her to be unnecessary for a young girl of 11. To my absolute delight and joy my mother signed the form agreeing for me to be evacuated again and somehow found the money to buy the extra items of clothing. I recall going to a drapers shop on the corner of Mole Street and Stratford Road in Sparkbrook and seeing my new clothes piled up on the wooden counter and the shop assistant saying what a lucky girl I was to be going to boarding school in the country. I agreed with her wholeheartedly.
On Friday September 20th 1940 I once again left the streets of Birmingham and headed for the country to a new school, a new home, new experiences and a new life. It was a glorious golden early autumn day, not a cloud could be seen in the huge blue sky. Trees and hedges were covered in the full flush of summer growth and fields glowed with ripping corn. As the bus which had brought us from Birmingham drove down the country lane in the late afternoon sunshine and drew near to the School I could see the girls walking around the gardens in their grey shorts and green blouses talking and laughing and looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world.
The "School” consisted of a number of Canadian Cedar Wood buildings, like holiday chalets, grouped around a large quadrangle, edged with colourful flowerbeds. Beyond the school buildings woodlands stretched as far as the eye could see. The scene was a million miles away from the dark war torn streets of Birmingham and the rather sombre red-bricked school I had left behind. This is the picture that will always stay in mind of Pipewood School, Blithbury in rural Staffordshire, which was to be my home for the next two years. The school had been designed before the war as a holiday centre for city schools where children could be could experience country life. It was quickly adapted for use as an evacuation school. There were a number of them around the country. Education was conducted in a wonderfully relaxed and happy atmosphere. Lessons took place in glass walled classrooms and desks were often taken outside on warm, sunny days. If the weather was particularly warm, the headmistress, Miss Evans Rose would decide that formal lessons be postponed until the evening when it was cooler so that the girls could spend the sunlight hours on out of doors activities. Science was taught by learning how everyday things worked.
We had ducks, chickens, geese, rabbits and bees to look after. Domestic Science was learnt in practical ways by cooking meals, which were often part of the Menu for visitors to the school. I recall being part of a team designated to help prepare lunch for the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. This involved catching and killing a duck, plucking it and preparing it for the oven. A field was turned into a garden where we grew all the vegetables for the school’s kitchen. Fir children from bomb-scared Birmingham this was a haven of peace, happiness, interest and activity. It was our home as well as our school and our teachers were our mothers and our friends. Good manners, courtesy and deportment ranked equally with academic studies and above all we learned to respect each other and our teachers and they in turn respected us. Sharing a dormitory with 40 other girls from all sorts of backgrounds meant we learned to understand each other and to help each other. Having a German girl in our dormitory who we understood was of the Jewish faith heightened this aspect of our life.
Her parents had sent her to England before the war had started. We had no understanding at that time of the dreadful events in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s and the treatment of Jews. To us Margot was just another evacuee who had been sent away to the country for safety as we al were. We were aware however, that she had left her parents in Germany. She did receive a letter once I remember and I believe it was from Palestine and she was overjoyed. She was a beautiful girl, very clever but rather withdrawn and we all made a special effort to befriend her and help her English was extremely good. I often wondered if she found her parents after the War and if in fact they had survived. I hoped and prayed they had. This was all part of our Learning for life. The war was never discussed and we were cocooned by activities and interests and by the safe environment in which we lived and by the constant care we received from our teachers. We were occasionally made aware of the important events happening in the world outside the school gates and if Mr Churchill made a speech on the wireless we were all assembled in the school hall to hear the broadcast. When the two young Princesses spoke on “Children’s Hour” we eagerly listened to hear their historic message to “children everywhere.” We were also allowed to listen to Gracie Fields programme on Saturday Evenings as she was considered at the time to be an ambassador of goodwill and cheerfulness, which was obviously good for morale.
The safe and secure environment was particularly important to me as our home in Birmingham had been bombed at the end of September 1940 and my mother and sister had had to leave with what belongings they could remove and go to live with an older sister who at that time was expecting her first baby. Her baby girl was born during a heavy raid on 22nd September. As soon as she was fit to travel, my sister with her newborn baby left Birmingham and journeyed to the Highlands of Scotland where her husband was stationed with his RAF Squadron and my mother also accompanied her. They made a temporary home there and did not return to Birmingham until the summer of 1942. My only contact with them was by letter. Visits by parents and families were arranged each month and my other two sisters usually managed to come on those occasions. The visits were arranged on Sundays and there was great excitement when we heard that the buses bringing the visitors had arrived. Return visits to Birmingham by the children were not encouraged particularly during the autumn and winter of 1940 and the early months of 1941. As the German Blitz on Midland cities continued, a return visit was planned for the Easter holidays in 1941 and a large number of the children were packed ready to go. I was not one of them but I was quite happy to stay at school, as I knew I did not have a home to return to at that time. The buses booked for the journey had actually arrived when we were told that there had been an extremely heavy raid on Birmingham the night before and that was the visit that had been cancelled. We were told that during that air raid the parents of two young sisters had been killed. This brought the War right into our midst. The teachers quickly put emergency plans into operation and we were taken into Rugeley on the waiting buses to see a film and returned later in the afternoon to a special tea and were very soon absorbed in the life of the school again. Children are amazingly resilient when faced with traumas such as those we experienced during the War years.
This wonderful life came to an end for me in August 1942. My older sisters decided that I should be given the opportunity to take the entrance exam for a Commercial College where I could be trained for a job. I passed the exam and left Pipewood aged 13 and returned to Birmingham to start a two year secretarial course at Sparkhill Commercial School in Birmingham and the next stage of my wartime education.
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