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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire
People in story: 
J McGrath
Location of story: 
Wiilesden County Grammar School, Northampton & area
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 August 2005

This story has been submitted to the People’s War website by a volunteer from Lincoln CSV Action Desk and added to the site on behalf of members of the Old Uffingtonians Association, which is the ex-pupils of Willesdon County Grammar School, with their permission. In this case the author is J. McGrath. The association fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

The lady and gentleman, with whom my brother and I were first billeted, were a delightful couple. She was a retired teacher, he the advertising manager for a local shoe manufacturing company. They were childless and in this regard we filled a need for them. Most of my class group had been placed similarly in middle class and upper middle class families. So that in physical terms we most certainly liked it, better food, better housing, more personal attention (from 1 of 9 in poor circumstances, to 1 of 2 in much better). In addition it was, weather-wise, a fantastical autumn, rather like the one we have just had, so that we were able to spend time in the local parks and countryside.

No provision had been made for our schooling, we were not integrated with the local Grammar School. We had a separate existence within the premises of the Boys Grammar School and only worked half a day each. This was of course a dreadful arrangement, causing great resentment amongst the local pupils (and their staff) and resulting in our own localised ‘wars’!

A few minutes after being taken in by our new ‘Aunty & Uncle’ on September 3rd, Mr. Chamberlain made his broadcast declaration “………that as a result a state of war now exists with Germany”. Aunty burst into tears, I avowed forever after that, that was what spoiled her Yorkshire puddings that day.

The very next thing she did (not me), was to write to my parents telling them about the house in which we were now living, and that they would be welcome to come and visit us at any time. Subsequently I was made to write home once a week to let them know I was ok. By no means was this situation unique, though I fear this reaction was in a considerable minority. Especially in more rural areas many foster parents had taken in evacuees purely for the income — I believe it was 7 shillings (35p) per week for each child. Three of four children poorly looked after could make a handsome profit, and it happened.

Yes, we liked it at Aunty & Uncle’s. However in February 1940 I contracted Scarlet Fever and went into the Isolation Hospital. Aunty was back in harness teaching so a fresh billet had to be found for our rising 6-year-old brother. When I came out of hospital, I too went to the new billet. It was from my point of view, a disaster. The foster father was an iron smelter at Corby Steel works, a big strong, bully of a man, who beat his wife and son (nearly my age), and had taken to doing the same to my young brother. We had to move and after two months were re-billeted.

The people we were now billeted with were very kind — but feckless. They had two grown-up children and a boy of my age. Apart from feeding us very well, they used to give me two packets of 10 Woodbines each week. We lived quite literally just across the road from Abingdon Park and my brother and I spent much of our time there.

In the spring of ’41 I was very ill with rheumatic fever. It was agreed my young brother would return home, as he was still too young to be left on his own with a family.

I went to spend a recuperative period with my first Aunty and Uncle and stayed on with them when I was better. I then stayed with them until I had completed my matriculation examinations in July 1942. We remained in constant touch, by letter and by visits and staying with each until Uncle died in 1961 and Aunty died in 1971.

My 11 & 5-year-old sisters (1939 ages) moved just once when their original foster parents moved. They kept in touch with their new Aunty & Uncle in the same way I had, until their deaths.

My 7 & 9-year-old sisters also moved once & it was a failure & they returned home in 1942 also. They were subsequently evacuated to Todmorden on the Yorks/Lancs border when the Germans started their V1 & V2 bombing of London towards the end of the war. They were very happy there.

I never made any contact with my second & third foster parents after I left them.

It was in every sense a traumatic experience for children of our age to be uprooted from safe, secure & loving homes (even if very poor) & transplanted to what was essentially a totally alien culture. Of course we missed our parents, & more especially the closeness of our families & neighbours in communities held close by hardship.

Mistakes were made in placing, it was a hit & miss system. And yes, there was an element of cattle market selection in many places, so that many evacuees returned home feeling disenchanted; & many foster parents felt aggrieved at the coarseness of their evacuees — at their apparent lack of gratitude.

On the other hand, & I can count myself in these, very many of us entered a new world, had new horizons opened up for us. We developed a range of social graces that had not been available before, as well as an introduction to a wider range of people. As a result of these developments we were shown that it was possible to progress from the depths that so many people had been in during the early & mid 1930s. Many of us did, & it paved the way to opening of doors of opportunity for those with ability & determination that occurred in the post-war years & which still exists.

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