- Contributed by
- Gloscat Home Front
- People in story:
- Dudley Charles Mills
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 July 2005
1939 — 1940
When war was declared in 1939 I was 8 years old and living in Westcliff on Sea, Essex. Throughout the Phoney War things continued much the same as they had in peace time but in the Spring of 1940 the war began to become a much more serious business and with the fall of France seaside areas were designated restricted areas and the population advised to leave.
So we moved out and the troops moved in. Our new home was to be in Tolworth, Surrey, which turned out to be a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ because shortly after our arrival , the Blitz and the Battle of Britain were upon us. As a 9 year old boy the upheaval of moving meant little to me but the excitement of watching those contrails across the sky as the Battle was fought out between the RAF and the Luftwaffe was really something and the nights spent in next door’s Anderson shelter were , if somewhat uncomfortable , still part of the adventure. However, my parents took a rather different view and decided that my sister and I should move to somewhere safer. As a result, the two of us went to a little village called Horley, just outside Banbury, in Oxfordshire. This was not one of the mass evacuations which had occurred earlier, but something arranged privately — we’d missed the boat in that respect.
When we arrived there we found that there were already a number of evacuees from the East End of London in the village and nearly every house had its share of young Londoners. My sister, who was 12 years older than me and married with a young baby ,was billeted with a worker at the Manor, but I found myself with a widow and her married daughter in a house at the other end of the village. I say she was a widow, but I thought she was so awful that perhaps her husband sensibly left her!
I can remember penning a letter by candlelight (no electricity there) in my bedroom pleading with my parents to take me away to stay with John and Derek, my two bosom companions from Westcliff. But to no avail, though eventually I moved to stay with Mrs Puddle, a few doors away. The village school, run by Mrs Pearson , was now nearly doubled in size, but Mrs P was assisted by Miss Marx, who had come up with the original batch of Eastenders. Actually, I think she was a very good teacher and she was definitely of the carrot rather than the stick school - good work was rewarded by a sweet from her own meagre ration.
We had arrived in Horley in the autumn of 1940 and winter in the country was another experience for us. Rationing was getting tighter and confectionary was becoming very hard to come by and the one village shop had very little to sell. During the winter the Germans used to fly over us on their way to the industrial midlands and I particularly remember the night when Coventry was hit very badly.
‘Souvenirs’, which were a ‘must ‘ for all schoolboys to collect, grew into enormous collections of bomb splinters, shrapnel from AA shells and, most prized of all, pieces of German aircraft (highly illegal, of course). I remember cycling with some of my friends to Edgehill, where rumour had it that a Dornier had crashed. We eventually found the wreckage and we were really only limited by the fact that we were on bicycles in the amount that we could carry home. We must have been aware that collecting such pieces was strictly forbidden because we scuttled off back to Horley as quickly as we could. During the summer of 1941, things at Tolworth had improved and my sister and I said goodbye to our rural retreat and I returned with my valuable collection and an Oxfordshire accent to suburban Surrey.
After my return, air raids continued, but perhaps we had got more used to them, and as we now had an indoor Morrison shelter, we no longer had to endure cold nights in the shelter next door. Morrison shelters were steel tables , probably about 7ft by 4ft, very strong and solid and not movable at all — they made made wonderful bases for train sets — though getting the whole family underneath was a bit of a squeeze.
By 1944 the war had definitely turned in our favour and with D-Day, the Second Front had opened. Unfortunately, Hitler still had some nasty tricks up his sleeve and the first of these was the VI, or Doodlebug. These were mostly aimed at London and would appear at any time of the day or night and the situation became very serious .
It was decided that there should be a really mass evacuation of schoolchildren and within a very short time this was set in motion. The whole school was gathered together in the morning and we boarded a train for London, subsequent destination unknown. On the way to London, probably in the Vauxhall area,we saw a V1 come down just to remind us what we were travelling for. The train slowly wound its way north from London and eventually, quite late at night we arrived at Leigh, Lancashire (now part of Greater Manchester I believe). We were all put into a church hall at Hindsford and slept on the floor in the charge of quite a young lady teacher who got considerably rattled by the chatting of young schoolboys in the early hours of the morning. Hindsford was in the midst of a coal mining and cotton spinning area which was vastly different from the leafy roads of Tolworth, but as a 13 year old I found it all quite fascinating. My schoolmate Michael Biggs and I were billeted with a charming elderly couple in quite a small house in Hindsford — the man of the house was a colliery deputy and all the neighbours were either working down the pit or up at t’mill. As it was still summer we spent a lot of time going around the local industrial area before we eventually were forced to do some school work. These days people move around a lot more than in 1944 and it was a great opportunity then for us to get to know something about the North and the lovely people living there. However, come the autumn, we all had to return as the V1 menace had receded. As it happened of course, the V1 was succeeded by an even greater menace, the V2, but luckily the RAF were able to reduce the threat by bombing the launching sites and the places where the weapons were made.
And so by the end of 1944 it was felt that the time had now come to get back to where we all started from and I was back at Westcliff on Sea; still full of troops, though not quite so many and the sea front still barricaded in many places. I was now at my sixth school since leaving Netherfield School in 1940! In just a few months the war in Europe was over and peace, if not prosperity, returned to England.
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