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Evacuation to Wonderland

by ateamwar

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
FH Dawson
Location of story: 
Birkenhead and Corwen
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 July 2005

At the school, they were checked off the list and put with their group who would get off the train with them at Corwen. One teacher in charge of the whole party was in discussion with the school head as to the time of arrival of the expected buses that would take them down to Woodside Station. Billy’s Mother was giving hi, last minute instructions, “I want you to promise me that you will be a good boy and write regular to me and your Dad, we shall see if we can come and visit you in a couple of weeks time,” she turned to Frankie “Be a good friend to my Billy and see that he doesn’t get into any trouble-I’m glad he has got you for company.” At that moment, the buses began to arrive, they had come from the depot along Price Street and turned into Cathcart Street to avoid and unnecessary turning, they lined up alongside the school, behind was an open backed council wagon for the purpose of carrying the luggage which the teachers began to load directly. The teacher in charge began to call the parties forward who then put them in their groups on the bus, finally everyone was on and accounted for, the teachers accompanying the evacuee’s shook hands with the school head and their friends and mounted the bus platforms and gave the bus driver the sign to move off. Slowly the buses moved away and drove along Cathcart Street, at the junction with Conway Street, a policeman waited and controlled the oncoming traffic to let the small convoy through, by this time all the children on the buses were in full song as they headed down Conway street, turning into Argyle Street, making their way to Hamilton Square and turned into the Woodside approaches finally pulling to a stop outside the entrance of Woodside Station.
The teacher in charge on the bus spoke to the children, before stepping from the bus, “You must all stay on the bus until I come back to collect you, I want you all to behave and don’t make too much noise-it shouldn’t be too long before we get on the train.” She turned and stepped from the bus and entered the station with the other accompanying teachers.
Billy, who had sat next to Frankie all the way, spoke to him, “Does it take you long to get there Frank?” he asked, Frankie thought for a moment before replying, “If it goes like the last time, we will have to change at Chester and wait for the train to get to Corwen and that was about four hours-then we go by bus to the school and there they choose the people who will take us in and that could be at least another hour, but in the school hall they will have tea and sandwiches waiting for us before we leave.”
Billy told Frankie that this would be the first time that he would be so far from home, and asked him if he didn’t feel like crying. “What’s there to cry about Billy? Where we are going, it will be maybe better than home, at least for me it will be, I always seem to be in trouble with my Dad for nothing at all-I may miss my Mam a little, but not my Father-but you have a good Mam and Dad so I can understand you missing them-but your Man said that she will try and come to see you in a few weeks so at least it will be like a holiday for you wont it?” The teacher appeared on the platform of the bus, “Listen closely children-I want you to get off the bus and form up in twos-the luggage has been sorted out and is loaded in the luggage van-when I get off, follow me, no running or playing about, it’s too dangerous in the station with all the passengers moving around and the staff riding around and pushing trolleys-we are all going to platform three where the train is waiting for us and will be leaving in about twenty minutes-now be careful and follow me.” The children stepped from the bus and formed an orderly queue behind their teacher and followed her into the station precincts. The station was seething with people going to and fro, but they made way for the children. Some of them jumped as a nearby train blew its whistle to announce its intended departure, followed by the loud hiss of escaping steam, its intermittent chuff-chuff-chuff, increasing in tempo as it gathered speed. The teacher led them onto the platform through the gates, the ticket collector with a list was counting them as they passed one by one. The station staff directed the teacher to the carriages that her party were to occupy.
Opening the carriage door, she counted the first dozen off, telling them to get in, closing the door behind them. Then onto the next, and so on till the party was accounted for, she then went back to each individual compartment and warned the children of the consequences against the opening carriage windows. The first stop would be Chester.
The children began to chatter to one another, Frankie had taken up his favourite spot next to the window and Billy sat on the opposite side as he’d been told that he would see the big shipyard where Frankie’s Dad worked. Looking across the station, they could see another train blowing off steam and steadily moving away with a whistle, big clouds of steam coming in blasts from its smoke stack, some of the girls were covering their ears to lessen the noise. The train guard passed the door and tried them, to ensure that they were closed properly, when he was certain, he moved back down the train length almost to the guards van where he turned to face the engine, waved his green flag and blew twice on his whistle. From the front, the engine answered with a whistle followed by the usual burst of steam as it slowly moved along the platform and gathered speed, the guard jumped into his van closing the door behind him, the train was now definitely under way, it had now entered the tunnel and would finally emerge almost on a level of the main Chester Road. As it moved back into the light past the marshalling yards, where the carriages of the different railways stood, LMS, the LNWR and GWR waited and were cleaned before being brought into service, it was the first time that Billy had seen so many, to Frankie it was nothing new as he’d lived in Leicester Street, with his Gran for a while, which was only about fifty yards from the main gate where you could see them all arrayed on the side line, Frankie pointed out the approaching view of the huge ship yards of Cammell Lairds, it was possible to make out the slipways where keels lay and the building that was in progress. The train was now entering the rail cutting on the main line before passing through Rock Ferry station. In the carriage, the children were playing I-Spy in a boisterous manner, trying to outdo each other with cries of “It’s my turn, It’s my turn.” Frankie was dominating the group with the most wins and the girls were getting despondent, in the end they quietened down and turned to the windows at each side of the compartment and watched the passing views.
The clouds of steam were left behind in a swirling thick white as the train chugged its way onwards, Chester now only minutes away. Frankie and Billy had found another way of passing the time; Frankie was counting cows and Billy was attempting to count the sheep. In the end Billy gave up saying “There’s more sheeps than cows.” Frankie laughed at him “Billy, there’s no such word as sheeps-only sheep if there’s more than one-and besides I was cheating a bit, some of them cows were bulls.” “How did you know which was bulls then clever dick?” Billy exclaimed. Nearby, one of the girls who’d heard Billy’s remarks said “Ooh Billy McGeown you shouldn’t say rude things like that-I’m going to tell the teacher when we get off the train.” Billy rounded on the girl, saying “That’s not rude, that’s a saying so you tell the teacher if you want.” He finished by pulling a tongue at her. The train was now taking a wide bend before getting into Chester Station, on the right they could see glimpses of the River Dee, in the background, the mountains of Wales stretched ahead fro miles without a break, with the sun shining, the children were presented with some beautiful panoramic views of their future homes somewhere in amongst those hills.
Slowing and blowing steam the train entered the station and with a squeal and shudder of brakes, came to a halt. The guard went to the carriage where the teachers were, after a conversation with them went back with the one in charge to the guards van where certain luggage was offloaded onto the platform, the teacher then went to certain carriages to get the children there and take them to another platform where a train was waiting to take them further in another direction. She returned to the train, stopping at the remaining children’s carriage to enquire if any of them wanted to visit the toilet, as they had a fifteen minute wait and that it would be another hour and a half before they could go. A few of the girls took advantage of the offer and followed the teacher. Frankie felt hungry, opening his gas-mask, he took out a block of Fry’s Mint Chocolate and a packet of wine gums that his Mother had put in for the journey, he offered a piece of the chocolate to Billy. Putting the other piece in his mouth, Billy spoke, “I wish I’d thought of that Frank, but mine’s in me suitcase-but, I’ll give you some when we get to were we are going.”
“I didden put it in there, me Mother did, she knew we would have to keep us gas-masks with us,” was Franks answer. The door opened and in climbed the girls who’d been away with the teacher to the toilets, once in, the teacher closed the door firmly and spoke to the children from the platform, “No more stops till we get to Corwen-Don’t!!! get off till you are told and when you do, stay together in twos and wait for me alright?” Satisfied with the children’s nods, she went back to her carriage.
The children were engaged in conversation in their little groups, discussing the events of the day up until that pint, Frankie was thinking of his granny Maxwell, whom he’d left without saying goodbye to, due to the fact that she lived so far away from Hope Street, maybe he could write her a letter when he got to the place destined for him, a small jolt brought him back to the present as the train began to move once more, moving over the rail points with its click-clickety-click, it seemed to say to Frankie, “We’re on our way-we’re on our way,” as the train departed the station and picked up speed and sped on into the panorama which unfolded ahead of them. Billy broke his silence, asking Frank if he knew where they were at that moment. Frankie pondered a while saying “I don’t think we are far from the Welsh border. I’m not sure if the next station we pass through is called Ruabon or Wrexham, but they are in Wales and where we are going is not very far from there.” The train was travelling through the valley with its hills and mountains on both sides, when it whistled the echoes bounced to and fro as if there were more than one train on the track beginning to slow a little, then gave a whistle and suddenly with a whoosh and a roar, a train on the down line passed at speed making the girls flinch with fright at the unexpected noise it created. Once it had passed, it seemed that it went quieter, though they could still hear the train puffing away up ahead, they passed a small station with sidings unable to see the name as it had been removed as a precaution to foil any enemy agents who may be looking for their position and their way around. On all the station platforms, were posters displayed warning about ‘Talk Can Cost Lives,’ ‘Dig For Victory’ and ‘Help The War Effort,’ none of which meant much to any of the children.
The train had only stopped once for a minute or so on the line awaiting the signal to continue on its way. Steaming on, the scenery getting more mountainous and the chugging echoing back and forward, it seemed, that the train was making a big turn, at times it was possible to see the front and rear of the whole train by looking left and right till it straightened once more, a short while later, the train began to loose speed, on the left it seemed to be following a mountain with granite and crags, a few houses and cottages came into view, on the right there was a view of a broad, fast running river, ahead Frankie could see a stone bridge spanning the river, it took him a few seconds before he realised that he knew where they where. “This is Corwen!” he exclaimed “This is Corwen!”

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