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Evacuation to Huntingdonshire

by phyllisward

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Phyllis Reading nee Ward
Location of story: 
London and Huntingdonshire
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 November 2003


Evacuation to Huntingdonshire

From Phyllis Reading nee Ward

I was 14 in 1939 when war was declared on Germany. In August 1939 with my parents and 7 year old brother we were enjoying a holiday at Sandown Isle of Wight. However we only had one week of our fortnight’s holiday as my father, a civil servant, was recalled to London.

In September 1939 I was evacuated from Highbury Hill High School, with gasmask and case to the country. My mother went as a helper with my brother from Finsbury Park School and I did not know where they had been sent.

From Finsbury Park Station we went to Huntingdon North Station. On our arrival we were ushered through very temporary communal loos and given a bag of food goodies. We were dispersed to foster homes in outlying village. It was a beautiful September and we enjoyed the countryside. A friend and I walked from our village to the nearest town, Saint Ives, to borrow bicycles. Outside the bicycle shop a young friend from home, not from my school, told me that my mother and brother were in the town. We were reunited for the day.

Eventually, Highbury pupils were re-housed in with other foster parents in Huntingdon, where I stayed for a while with a newly married couple who were not really ready for a family yet!

Huntingdon Grammar pupils had attended the school in the town centre one classroom of which was Oliver Cromwell’s original school. However a new school had been built for them just outside the town ready for occupation in September 1939. The school they vacated was now being used by another organisation. Highbury’s headmistress Miss Nancy Smith was concerned for all her pupils (we were a girls’ school) especially as many American soldiers were based in the town! After negotiations we were allowed to use the “New” Huntingdon Grammar School before the rightful owners! Eventually we shared it with them. Some time later the “Old” Grammar School in the Town was made available for the Highbury pupils who stayed there until the end of the war.

After a while I went to live with my mother, brother and other foster children in St Ives. I biked into Huntingdon each day to school. I joined the Sunday School in the Free Church St Ives as a Sunday School Teacher. In the summer of 1942, one Sunday, I and a pupil were called out in Sunday School by the Superintendent, Miss Agnes Green. We were each given a shilling from an airman-abroad somewhere- because we both had a birthday just then. The airman had arranged this through his father who lived in the town. Of course I wrote a Thank You letter.

In the summer of 1943 my father decided that I should return to London and join the Civil Service-rather than have me go in the forces! Pity really! I left school at half-term because my birthday, 1st July, when I would be 18, came before the end of term!

On my return to London I went to work in the Ministry of Aircraft Production in Horseferry House near the Houses of Parliament. Soon afterwards the Germans started to send over the “Doodlebugs”. These were unmanned vehicles which flew over from Germany and then would “cut out” and drop. Before they cut out, they could be clearly heard. Several times when I was in the office at Horseferry House, the siren went. We couldn’t use the lifts so I and other colleagues would run down as many flights of stairs as possible, wait for the BANGS and then return to our office. We treated the situation very light-heartedly. At night we did not sleep in the house but in an outside above ground shelter. This would only be protection against shrapnel and certainly not against a direct hit. We learnt to live with Doodlebug 1 and then another menace, Doodlebug 2.

Christmas 1943 I was invited back to the St Ives Sunday School by Agnes Green- obviously a “matchmaker”! I stayed with Agnes for the weekend and so did an airman-Douglas Reading. We both returned by train on Sunday, Douglas to Letchworth where his parents then lived. This was handy for Henlow where he was now stationed. I stayed on the train to Finsbury Park. I arrived home to my parents with a soldier and three young teenage children. It was a very foggy night and the train was already delayed when it arrived at Huntingdon. The children were fearful that they would then miss their connecting train at King’s Cross. So I offered to take them home with me, for the night. A soldier in the same carriage asked if he could come too. I cannot remember my parents’ reaction but it was in war time and there was a feeling of camaraderie.

On Leap Years’ Day 1944 Douglas proposed. I declined at first. We were engaged in May 1945 and married on the 18th May 1946. He was demobbed in August 1946 and returned to his Civil Service job which had been evacuated to Llandudno. His office retur

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