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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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EVACUATION

by WESTHILL

Contributed by 
WESTHILL
People in story: 
Pam Hards/Clare Doe
Location of story: 
Tavistock, Devon
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4179251
Contributed on: 
11 June 2005

In 1939 I was living in Tooting and I was just 8 years old when I was first evacuated. I went with my school to Littlehampton and war was actually declared a few days after we arrived. I was billeted with a young couple who were very well off, and was given my own room with all new furniture and lots of toys. Eventually when it came to go home from there (theythought an invasion of the English coast was imminent), this couple wanted to adopt me, but my parents quite naturally said "no".

By this time it was approximately May/June 1940 and the London blitz started, so every night it was into pyjamas and dressing gown and down to the shelter at the bottom of the garden. My Dad has built me a cosy little bunk in there. We had everything dropped around us - high explosive bombs, incendiary bombs, land mines - the lot, and ended up with no windows whatsover in the house.
The main pleasure for us as children, was that there was a general rush in the morning to get out and pick up the biggest pieces of shrapnel that we could find (as I have got older I am always grateful for the fact that I really didn't realise the horror of what was happening).
Eventually I was again evacuated with another school (I went to 11 different schools during the war) and this time ended up in Tavistock in Devon. At the meeting hall prior to the journey to Devon, I made friends with another little girl and we stuck together through the journey, duly labelled up and carrying our gas masks over our shoulders in their cardboard boxes.

On the train I had the bright idea of mixing our clothes all up in each others cases, so that (as I thought) we couldn't possibly be separated. As it happened it worked out that way.

We were eventually billeted with a lady who ran a small grocers shop. She was extremely kind to us, as was one of her daughters who lived next door and had a son rougly our age.

The railway line ran at the top of her garden, and I knew that the trains there went to Waterloo, so much to the consternation of Clare, I was always threatening that I was going to follow the train lines home (not at all taking into account that it was a 250 mile journey!!).
Looking back I realise what a wonderful two and a half years we spent there, living right on the edge of Dartmoor, which I have really grown to love over the years.

One funny thing that happened when we woke up the first morning in Tavistock, was that we heard marching in the street and someone shouting orders, and we thought the Germans had arrived, us not knowing at the time that some of our soldiers were billeted in a large house along the street.

Also, soon after our arrival, the blitz of Plymouth and Devonport started; we thought the blitz had followed us, as we could see the glow of huge fires from the doorway of our house.

I eventually returned home and shortly after my return to London the flying bombs started, and in August 1944 we were hit by one and completely lost our home. My Mother and I returned to our friends in Tavistock while we awaited the allocation of a flat (my Dad meanwhile had been called up and was serving in the 14th Army in India and Burma).

We again returned to London, and by that time, rockets had started to hit London; we had one or two drop quite near us, which were quite frightening, as you had no warning whatsoever that these were coming, just all of a sudden there was a huge explosion.

Happily soon after that however, peace was declared and the VE celebrations started. My poor Dad - with lots of other soldiers - was still out in India, as capitulation of the Japanese did not take place until a few months later after Hiroshima.

We kept in touch with the families in Tavistock for many many years, going back to Devon for holidays, etc. and my husband and I actually spent our honeymoon with the lady we were evacuated with.

Clare and I live about 20 minutes away from each other now, and have been like sisters all our lives, bring up our families, holidaying together etc., so at least as I am sure with many other people - some good things came out of a tragic situation.

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