- Contributed by
- Dunstable Town Centre
- People in story:
- Dorris Perry
- Location of story:
- Houghton Regis, Dunstable
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 February 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Dunstable At War Team on behalf of Doris Perry and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
On the 1st September 1939, with war imminent, all London school children were assembled at their various schools for immediate evacuation to the countryside. War was announced two days later after Chamberlain’s ultimatum to Adolf Hitler was ignored.
I was amongst those children. I was just thirteen years of age. I remember we travelled light with a case, our gas mask and a few items to eat.
We arrived late afternoon in Luton from St Pancras Station — my home area. We finally came to Houghton Regis. I recall a large pleasant village green and a long dark coloured hut. From here we were given refreshments, much kindness and told to wait until our foster carers chose us.
The youngest children were chosen first. Being amongst the eldest, my school friend and I were chosen by the licensee and his wife to go to the Chequers Inn — opposite the village pond. They had one small boy and we stayed happily with them for several weeks. It was then announced that evacuees should not stay on licensed premises.
We were then moved to Park Avenue and lived with another nice family. By this time we had started our schoolwork at the old village school situated at the top of the High Street, Houghton Regis. After tests we were placed in various forms at Northfields School. Life took on a very rural style. As I was drawn from a Church of England (open-air school) Sundays meant regular worship at All Saints Church. I loved the checkerboard effect of the stone-craft. It was from this church under the instruction of the vicar Mr F, that we were later confirmed at the old Priory Church Dunstable on 10th December 1939.
It was a very happy existence in Houghton Regis. The winter of 39-40 was extremely cold, but the summer of 1940 is well documented as one of the hottest. After school the village boys and girls would take pleasure in walks and rambles over the fields. Often Spitfires and Hurricanes flew low practising for what lay ahead.
Until early 1940 there were regular Meets on the village green. There were many hounds all with different names. The riders looked picturesque in their ’pink’ riding habits. A certain Colonel we were told owned much of the surrounding countryside.
On Saturdays with schoolwork done we would head for the excellent roller skating rink in Dunstable. It was called the Half Moon Rink. We would skate around to the popular tunes of the day and feel well exercised, then either bus, or walk home.
Another popular entertainment was the Union Cinema in Dunstable. Judy garland, Deanne Durbin, Mickey Rooney and all the big stars could be seen in the classic films of that era. The radio was very important and as the war lengthened became more so. It was an evening event to catch up with the latest news on the war front.
By May 1940 Hitler’s forces had invaded the low countries of Holland, Belgium and Denmark after the fall of France and our retreat from Dunkirk. Bombs began to fall on us. A stick of bombs fell near us at Easthill Lane. I was now living in Easthill Lane, off Drury Lane with a wonderful family with whom I am still in touch. I remember those bombs falling and running to the Anderson shelter in the garden, as they seemed to come nearer. There were many factories in Dunstable now into war work - Sphinx, Bagshawes, Empire Rubber Co. etc and Luton’s car plant made tanks.
Spring was lovely and often the family and I would rise very early and gather mushrooms from the surrounding fields. These would be cooked on return, with gammon rashers - my first introduction to this delicacy. Rationing of all foodstuffs was not as severe as later on. A clutch of wood pigeons would be brought to the door by a travelling supplier and Mr F — an excellent cook, would cook these in a flaky pastry. I can taste it now!
In August I started work at The Empire Rubber Company. They manufactured service respirators, lines of communication, helmet protectors and earplugs! Of which I still bear the scar to the top of my right middle finger. They were punched out of a strip of rubber with a treadle machine. At one point a German aircraft machine-gunned the spotting tower. It was over very quickly and no-one was hurt.
By September my widower father said I could return home. I said my farewells to the Family and boarded the train. The date was 7th September 1940. As the train drew into St Pancras station the sirens began blaring, warning of imminent danger. The time was 5pm. I emerged from the station on to Euston Road and everyone began to scatter. Above me there was noise of gunfire and trails of vapour in the blue sky. It was the beginning of the Battle of Britan, and our young airmen were taking on the enemy aircraft high above. I was warned to take cover. There was no-one to meet me. My father was unsure which train I would be on. Fortunately, I lived only a few minutes walk to our London flat in Church Way, Euston and I was re-united with my father who was very anxious.
All night long the bombs rained down on the East India Docks and around. The residents and myself took cover in the brick built air raid shelter in the grounds of Wellesley Buildings. The blasts rocked the shelter and hurt our ears. The ‘All Clear’ did not come until dawn. My father said I must return to Houghton Regis. Broken hearted he put me on the train back to Luton. All around me were servicemen with full kit returning to their units, ships and aerodromes. I cried all the way.
Back in Easthill Lane we watched the glow in the sky on winter’s nights as London burned at the height of the blitz. I returned to the Empire Rubber Co. I remained there during the winter. Many times we would walk across the dark frozen fields to ‘clock-on’ by 7.30am. Meanwhile the F family found space for extra evacuees. Notably a family of three Jewish people. I remember the terror they spoke of, afraid of what might happen. Mrs F was still in her twenties, a superb cook and a very competent housewife. Her three children were slightly younger than myself. Mr F worked at the cement works. They later had their share of sadness.
I finally worked at Thomas De La Rue’s. This I found very interesting. They produced foreign stamps and bank notes — on amazingly efficient German machines. I vividly recall the procedures, five operators to each huge machine, plus the machine minder. De La Rue’s was near Waterlow Ltd.
Houghton Regis was a pleasant, peaceful place. Dances and community interests were held in the halls there. I still remember the sunlit day I finally arrived back in London in June 1941.
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