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15 October 2014
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Evacuation and a London Childhood

by Billericay Library

Contributed by 
Billericay Library
People in story: 
Stanley Shirley
Location of story: 
London and the West County
Article ID: 
A2933453
Contributed on: 
20 August 2004

I was evacuated from Eastbrook Senior School in Dagenham, Essex on 2nd September 1939. We left on the Ford Motor Company Jetty, Dagenham on the River Thames.

We went on a paddle steamer to Lowestoft, Norfolk. I walked with my borthers Denis and Ted; our ages were mine (8), Den (9) and Ted (12). It was cloudy and windy; the moon was seen now and again through the clouds.

We carried our clothes and others bits in white pillow cases. To me it was scary walking past an old barn at Dagenham Village High Street. At the Jetty a cry went up ‘the gates are locked.’ We hung around a bit. Gates opened and we went. All I can remember about the trip was me running up and down the steps, watching the paddles go round. Watching girls queuing up for a cup of tea at a tea urn on a lower deck for Mum’s surprise.

On arrived at Lowestoft, we were taken to a local school for sandwiches and drinks. I slept on a sack full of straw. I was woken up, told the air raid siren had gone and was taken to sleep the rest of the night on the school field. A full moon was shining.

In the morning, we were loaded onto coaches. I was given a brown carrier bag with a bottle of water, orange, apple, a big bar of chocolate, I was told not to eat any of it, it was emergency rations. I ate the chocolate as soon as the coach started.

My brothers and I handed up at Thurgarton Rectory, Thurgaton Village, near Norwich 3rd – 4th September 1939.

When we went to bed, I asked my brother Ted ‘Where is the toilet?’

Over there, he said. I got up in the night to use the toilet for a wee. Couldn’t find it in the dark. Tiddled on the floor.

Mrs Steadman cried out, ‘What’s going on?’

We had half days at the village school. To go to school we walked through fields full of horses. Field with heifers and a big black bull with enormous horns. We used to ride on the heifers.

Being townies, we didn’t know the heifers kept the bull! Two horses in a field, you walked slowly, they never took any notice of you. If you ran, they chased you. I always ran. I got to a fence just in time to climb up on it. They were big, good at snorting over my shoulder, great fun. We went to the local church every Sunday morning.

Inside it was whitewashed walls. Mr Steadman the vicar got very ill. We were moved to Mrs Barbar, Shop House, Thurgarton, on 30th October 1939. I remember coming down for breakfast, a table was full of food. Lovely.

Our mum bought us back home early November ’39 by coach. All I remember is fields with hundreds of pee-wits flyaround.

I lived in 77 Standfield Road, Dagenham, Essex. IN 1940, the spitfires used to fly over the house to land at Hornchurch aerodrome. There was always one missing, I could tell. Spitfires flew in vics of three.

When I got a bit older, I realized what was going on. I had a cousin, Eric, who was a air frame fitter stationed at Hornchurch. Eric would stay at 77 for 24 hour leave. Eric used to sit and just look out of the front room window. My mum told me to, ‘Leave him alone,’ Did as you were told in them days.

My brothers and I were evacuated again late in 1940 to Gloustershire by train. All I remember is sitting in the carriage with other kids.

I was put in a house in Tewkesbury with my brother Denis. We were told we had scabies. I remember telling people quite clearly, ‘I haven’t got it.’ And I didn’t. But I soon got it from other boys and girls who had it.

I was cured and sent to live in Twyning Manor House, Tywning, 4 or 5 miles from Tewksbury town. Twyning was on the river Avon. A bank in the river was dug for us kids to swim in.

I had a portrait painted of me by the daughter of Manor Lady. Six pence for every sitting. A fortune. I went back after the war. No sigh of a portrait.

I lived at Manor with another boy. My brothers were at a cottage at Hill End. The bedroom was about sixty foot long. It’s a luxury flats complex now.

I was thrown out of Manor House. I would not wear a tie at the food table. I never had one, looking back.

I ate with the servants. I was sent to live in the gardener’s house called ‘the stables’, all part of Manor House grounds. A nice family by the name of Beacham. Went back for a week to stay after the war.

Across the yard was the chauffeur’s house. Nice family. Had a girl evacuee with a crippled leg. She was great. Her leg didn’t stop her playing with boys.

My brothers and I would walk for miles up the Beacon Hill with just a bottle of water and cross the Avon on a ferry punt, half a penny each.

We caught a village bus that ran Wednesdays and Saturdays only to Tewksbury. If you wanted to see the end of a film at the cinema, we had to walk back to Twyning on the main road in the dark. The bus always left ten minutes before the end of the film. Done a lot of walking.

At school the headmaster was a nasty man.

One day at school a skua dive bomber of the Fleet Air Arm was practising dive bombing over the fields. He got into trouble. You heard the engine coughing.

The airplane came very low over the school. I waved to the man at the back; next minute the plane crashed. Big cloud of smoke went up. The teachers hushed us back into school. Sad.

After school, my brothers and me had a look at the crash. Lots of blood. Bodies taken away. I took a lot of bullets. Police came and took them away later.

I watch Bristol burning one night.

Then I was brought home with Denis. Ted stayed at Twyning for years.

At home the mini blitz was on. My mum used to wake me up, saying, ‘They’re over, make a cup of tea.’ Every night. Got a bit tired.

My eldest brother Bob joined the RAF in 1940. He ws the first ATC cadet to get his pilot wings. The mayor of Dagenham presented Bob with a wrist watch. In 1941 the Mayor-Alderman Clack, presentation at Bonham Road School Dagenham. Bob crashed in Northamptonshire July 12th – 13th 1942. Killed. He was burned to death. My mum nearly fainted. I wish I hadn’t told her.

Bob’s funeral. From my house, had my dad marching behind with borther Len in Home Guard uniforms, ATC cadets alongside the cortege and behind to Eastbrook Cemetery. Past Eastbrook School, school boys and teachers lined outside by air raid shelters. I have the photos.

A V2 rocket blew up at the school in Heathway, I fell off my chair.

A Doodlebug blew up at Osbourne Square. I stuck my head out of the bedroom window to see it come down like a falling leaf. The blast hurt my ears. Perforated one. A lot of trouble over the years with that.

I was riding along Hunters Hall Road, Dagenham, when a buzz bomb came along just over the roof tops. A riad warden blew his whistle and rattle: ‘When I tell you to lay down, you bloody well LAY DOWN.’ The warden was about four foot ten tall.

I used to go bike riding at the weekend to see the damage done. Riding along a rocket V2 blew up in the air over Rainham Road South. A piece just missed my head. I picked it up. Lots of bits fluttered down too, in the ditches.

My brother Len who joined the RN, he was a gunner on a destroyer on D Day. He sold it to an Aussie sailor for £5. My brother Len used to come home from Chatham for 48 hour leave with a few mates. My mum would be up. Get out of bed: ‘The Navy needs it.’
I was in the back garden when a load of German fighters (FW190) came over very low. Saw pilots and bombs.

Germans shot my dad up at Barking Bus Garage. He came home. He said, ‘Bastards missed me.’ Dad had got through 1914 – 1918.

On a bike ride, I used to look at German prisoners at Purfleet (now ‘The Tavern’) prison camp. I just looked at them, then rode off.

I started work at Blacksmith Shop River Plant 1945 Briggs Motor Bodies. I had the pleasure of seeing a Workers’ Play Time (Chequers Lane).

On VE Day, I sat in the back garden thinking of all who lived in the road and were dead: soldier next door, air gunner, a friend blown to bits, a Merchant Navy 16 year old drowned.

At school 1944 we had a man on a trower ‘Briggs Motors’, Rainham Road North. If a Buzz Bomb was coming. If a buzz bomb was coming he waved a red Flag, blew a hooter. We would run like mad to get in an Air Raid Shelter.

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Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
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Gloucestershire Category
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