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Evacuation to Selmeston, Sussex September 1939 - Diana Harding nee Major

by UCNCommVolunteers

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Diana, Daphne, Douglas and Lillian Major
Location of story: 
Selmeston, Sussex
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Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 February 2005

Evacuation to Selmeston, Sussex September 1939 by Diana Harding nee Major

2nd September 1939

I was nine. I went with my mother, my baby brother who was just a year and my sister who was thirteen. We met in the school and were taken by coach to the railway station. Then we all crowded on the train. It was a boiling hot day.
We were just all in little dresses. The children were all very excited ‘cause it was an adventure going on a train. Probably the first time for many children. Nobody knew where they were going. We travelled all day as trains then were very slow, the old steam trains. In the afternoon we arrived, didn’t know where and were taken to the local church hall. We were given a carrier bag with 48 hours emergency meals. The meal was a tin of corned beef, I can’t remember anything else except a huge bar of chocolate, which of course was melting — but not for long.

We were taken to different houses to be billeted. My mother and young brother were billeted with the local policeman. My sister and I were down the lane in a cottage with a lady Naomi and her elderly dad who looked like Father Christmas with a big long white beard. The cottage had no running water, the kitchen had a water pump and toilet was outside at the back of the cottage. Although I came from East London, at least we had running water indoors and our toilet was a flush toilet, although still outside. So to venture to the toilet was really an ordeal.

The local school only had two rooms so with the extra pupils we had to sit three to a desk. The village itself was just one lane consisting of the school, church, general store and combined post office — selling everything, a little tiny thing, the sort of thing you would see in Coronation Street (on TV) the local pub ‘The Barley Mow’.

3rd September 1939

We all went to a little cottage down the lane to find a wireless so we could listen to Neville Chamberlain to see if we had declared war or not (we children did not realise the significance). As the man was speaking I realised my mum
and other ladies were all crying and wondered why. Although ‘The Picture Post’ had given us an insight into what was brewing in the rest of world. We children would look at the picture in ‘The Picture Post’ these depicted the Spanish War and things that were going on in Germany at the time. The build up, things that were happening to the Jewish population and realised that it might be happening to us. We heard the adults talking but children were seen and not heard then. Also my eldest brother had joined the air force before the war started, although my mother did not want him to go. I heard my dad say he will have to go anyway soon as he was coming up for eighteen. We then went to school with the rest of the local children.

The first Sunday after war was declared — Harvest Festival

I vividly remember a harvest festival in the church. I was wearing my brand new Wellington boots — the first pair I had ever had. They were like shiny black liquorice. We walked through a pitch-black lane and as the church door opened and shone all the light out the smell of the vegetables and fruit and of the farmers, an earthy smell, came out. It was absolutely packed. I have never enjoyed a harvest festival since then.

As things remained quiet in London and the expect blitzkrieg did not happen people began drifting back to London. My mother and brother went back about a fortnight before and my sister and I returned about two weeks after — Christmas Time. This time was called the ‘phoney war’.

Typed by UCN Volunteer
Janice Brodie
21st February 2005

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