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15 October 2014
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Memories of an Evacuee from 1940 to 1945

by Dundee Central Library

Iris Clark

Contributed by 
Dundee Central Library
People in story: 
Iris Clark
Location of story: 
Brereton, Staffordshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 June 2005

I remember the day when war was declared in September 1939. My mother, my young brother and myself were to go to Egypt to join my father, who was stationed there in the Royal Air Force. But because war was declared, we could not go. So we went to Margate. I remember going on to the beach to play and paddle in the sea, but that did not last for long. Soon barbed wire fences and barriers appeared. The army had put them there for security reasons, as well as big round things with spikes in the sea. We were told that they were mines. We kids at that time did not know what mines were, or why we could not go on to the sand. Our parents and teacher just warned us that it was not allowed.

Then the air-raids began. The first one was very frightening : you never got used to them and they got more frequent and worse. I remember one air-raid, which was even worse than the others. Everything moved and shook when the bombs exploded. I remember my mother saying, “That one was very close”. We were all in the shelter when the wardens came to ask for people to help out. It was the next day when we were able to leave the shelter, to go home and get ready for school. That was when we discovered both sides of the street next to the street where we lived were just piles of rubble, and some of the windows of houses in our street were broken.

All the children going to school were escorted by some parents, because we had to pass this massive pile of rubble where houses used to be. There were a lot of men digging in the rubble and when we got to school and into our classes, we were told that ten pupils would not be coming back to school. They were all killed in that air-raid the night before. I lost four girl friends and six boys. Every time there were air-raids, we did not know who was going to be missing from school.

We used to go down to the seafront. Sometimes we could hear guns in the distance across the channel. Soon after that, in 1940, the air-raids were more frequent, daytime and night-time. We were spending more time in the shelters, at home and at school.

The authorities decided all school-age children should be evacuated and we all got a letter from the school to take to our mothers. Some children thought we were going on a day trip. Our mothers had to give permission for the children to be evacuated. My mother explained to me it was not a day trip, but we would be staying with someone else and it could be a long time, maybe a year or two; but we would be coming home again. My young brother went to stay with our grandparents in Taunton but I was evacuated.

The day I left Margate by train, I was only allowed to take one favourite toy and a change of clothes and nightclothes, plus a gas mask. We all had a brown label pinned to our clothes, with our name and age on it. I was six years old.

I remember a lot of the children and mothers crying, I had tears in my eyes saying goodbye to my mother and brother. I said I would write to my mother when I got there, so she would know where I was, as no-one knew where we were going.

When the train left the station, it was daylight, so we were able to see out of the train windows, which helped some of the children who were still crying but they soon stopped. The train stopped at two stations to pick up more evacuees,: I don’t know where those stations were, because the names were blacked out. When it became dark outside, all the blinds on the windows were pulled down, and we were told not to touch the blinds or try to peek out the side of the blinds, because we would show a light.

I don’t know what time it was or where we were, but the train stopped because of an air-raid. We could hear guns shooting at the planes and we felt the train shudder when the bombs exploded. Then, after a while, everything went quiet, except for someone sobbing, and then the train started to move. It stopped a good while after at a station. We heard children getting off the train. We thought we were getting off too but we were told to stay in our carriage and not to move. After a while, the train moved again.

The next time the train stopped, which seemed like hours later, we were told to gather our things together and to hold hands and walk in twos. We got off the train and walked to a building where everything was pitch black except for some torch lights. We went into this building and were blinded for a second by the lights. We were told to stand in a row and I remember seeing a lot of people there. Names were called out and the children went away with different persons. I was left along with ten or eleven other children and we were put in a bus for a very short trip to another building, and told we would be sleeping there that night, and that we would be billeted in the morning, as it was too late to billet that night. We were all tired. I think it was a nunnery, because there were nuns who fed us and showed where we could wash and go to the toilet before going to bed. There were rows of camp beds in this very big room.

When we were in bed, all the lights were put out, it was pitch black and some of the other kids started to cry. Then the big door of the room opened but all we could see was a candle and a half circle of white - nothing else. It was scary. Some of the girls I knew came running to my bed until I think there were about five of us in my bed. This candle came nearer and stopped at my bed and spoke. It was a nun, who managed to get the girls out of my bed and back into theirs, and she told us not to be afraid.

The next morning, after we washed, dressed and had breakfast, we were taken to this big room. Some people there went away with some of the children, then I was taken by the Red Cross woman to the house where I was to stay. The people were Mr and Mrs Haycock and their daughter Phyllis. She was a lot older than me and was a bit disappointed at first, because she wanted a girl of about the same age. We became very good friends though, and just like sisters. It was nice having a big sister.

I discovered the place I was staying was called Brereton, near Rugely, Staffordshire. About Mr and Mrs Haycock, whom I soon called Mum and Dad number two, I class myself very lucky to stay with them. I was treated as one of the family. I knew other evacuees who were not so lucky as I was.

I started in the village school, and settled down nicely. In geography lessons the teacher let me write air mail letters to my dad in Egypt to let him know where I was and that I was all right. Also I wrote to my mum, who was in West Bromwich working in a munitions factory. My brother was in Taunton with our grandparents. Mr Haycock worked down a coal mine and worked day and night shifts.

We still had air-raids, and I remember their shelter was under the stairs. When the bombs exploded and everything shook, I used to look at the shelf where the white and blue enamel bread bin was. I used to see it move, and I was always waiting for it to fall off the shelf. It never did.

I lived in No 3 in a row of thirty houses and everyone was friendly. At the back of the houses was a lane and railway lines, and a common. At the other end of the common was an American air force base. It was also a base for Canadian, New Zealand, Polish and Australian air forces.

On special American days, being evacuees, we were taken there by bus for Xmas, Easter and Thanksgiving for a party that was out of this world, by which I mean there were things we could not get here. I always came back with a present from my American escort and something special for Phyllis, like nylons or make-up, as well as chocolates and sweets, and a hamper of tins for Mrs Haycock.

I remember when the flying bombs or doodlebugs started to come over, we used to stand outside and watch some of them, with this flame at the back. When the flame disappeared, some would carry on for another five miles before they dropped, while others would drop straight away.

One morning going to school, we saw all these different boats going down the canal. They waved to us and we waved back. About a week later we saw the same boats coming back up the canal. They were dirty, some had big and small holes in them, and the men on them were dirty and needing a shave. There were not very many boats coming back and they did not wave to us. Later we were told in school that those boats had sailed to Dunkirk (We were shown on a map where it was) to rescue troops from the beaches. We all thought they were very brave.

We had a prisoner of war camp across the common with two camps, one for Italians and one for Germans. The Italian prisoners used to dig ditches and cut the hedgerows, and made baskets. I was given a basket from one or the prisoners, who were friendly.

Soon after that, my dad was posted back to England and was able to visit me with mum. I looked forward to those visits.

Then it was time to leave Brereton and go back to my parents. I was sad to leave, but I still kept in touch with my second parents and used to visit them in the summer holidays. In Taunton we had a street party to celebrate the end of the war.

Iris Clark via Dundee Central Library

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Childhood and Evacuation Category
Outbreak of War 1939 Category
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