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Orkney Adventure (Did they all survive?)

by ateamwar

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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June Barrell
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22 July 2005

November 1940, the night train to Edinburgh leaving Kings Cross passengers including an apprehensive 11 year old with her mother and brother bound for Thurso and thence the boat to Stromness.
I had no conception of what the Orkneys were like. I had just started a new grammar school in Slough; I had no wish to be uprooted from my new exciting life. As the train drew out the sirens were sounding and my mother was anxious to leave London behind. We were going to be re-united with my father working on something ‘hush hush’. Later we found his company — Balfour Beatty were constructing the Churchill barrier at Scapa Flow. My memory of that journey is still with me. Staggering half asleep across Edinburgh Station to change trains at 3 o’clock in the morning — onto Inverness and then Thurso — the longest journey I have ever made. Overnight in The Royal Hotel Thurso and to the S.S. St Ola en route to Stromness. For November, the notorious Pentland Firth was remarkably calm (subsequent trips were not so good!!) We stood on deck and watched the islands come into view the Old man of Hoy and then the mainland. I remember my mother being very impressed because the boat had been used for a film ‘The Spy in Black’ (she was a fan of Conrad Veidt). Pitch black Orkney — miles of nothing! And the wind — I still hate windy weather!! We were housed temporarily with a lady called Mrs Wallace and her old father — who looked like Father Christmas — she gave us a meal of ‘tatties and neep’, I remember my brother and I were less than delighted. We later moved to a furnished apartment in Kirkwall — Matches Square — the toilet was outside — not pleasant in cold winter weather as this involved 20 or so stone steps down. Try that in snow and ice.
I started school at Kirkwall Grammar School and adjusted slowly to the different teaching system, I made a few friends — although they said I sounded Cockney — I still wished I was back home though — raids or not. There was little to show that we were at war. I don’t recall being short of any food and I did get my first kiss from a boy — when I was 13! During our 2 years stay, we had 2 air raids — each on a day of mock invasion exercises — and I remember my dad looking at rocket guns being tested on one of those days — now what does that tell you? The time I recall with most clarity is our last 3 months there. I spent those months in East Bank Isolation Hospital with diphtheria — two of my school friends sadly died from the disease. During this time I met some members of the forces also spending time isolated, 3 young lads with chickenpox and a Major in the R.E. suffering from mumps. All of them signed my autograph book and I often wondered if any survived the war and indeed are still alive now. I wonder too of the dedicated staff of the hospital — all in my now battered old book along with teachers from the school who wrote a few witty remarks when I left. Probably these are long gone, but maybe there is a possibility that the young soldiers on my ‘wall of friendship’, may have made it to 1945 and who knows maybe are still alive — I would love to know — if they are around — in their 80s, I imagine and I hope they survived the war. Privates A. Dawson, S. Pearson, and A. Knapp and Major H.A. Holt, who I fear would no longer be around as he was older. The boys couldn’t have been any more than 18-21.

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