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15 October 2014
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No Fixed Abode: My Evacuation Story

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Peggy Cole, Joan Cole, Vera Hutt
Location of story: 
East Coker, Somerset
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's war site by Pam O'Brien from Chichester Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Peggy Horsley with her permission and she fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was evacuated from London with my school, the Charles Edward Brookes School, to the village of East Coker in Somerset. The first billet that my sister Joan and I were sent to was the home of two wealthy industrialists by the name of Drake, who were descendants of Sir Francis Drake. The brothers were elderly gentlemen, who we rarely saw. The house was very modern, and we had our own private bathroom. However, the housekeeper was very unpleasant. The carpets in the dining room were taken up in case we damaged them, and all the ornaments were put away(in case we stole something). Our Classics mistress thought that we had such a good billet that she asked to join us. That was our release! She lasted six weeks before she complained, and we were all moved. Joan and I then went to the local manor houese, Coker Court. That was absolutely super! We lived in the attic bedrooms, in the servants' quarters. There were twelve of us altogether, and it was like one long party. The people at the house were very kind to us, but there was a servant problem, and they couldn't continue to look after twelve children. We were split up, and Joan and I , and a girl called Vera Hutt moved in to the old coachman's cottage in the grounds, with one of the London helpers to look after us. The cottage was attached to what had been the stables, but was now the garage. Unfortunately, the woman looking after us was very severe, and a terrible cook. There was no joy in her at all.
Our parents were all missing us, and a visit was organised. My mother was brought down with the other parents by coach. She and Vera's mother were horrified at how we were living, especially as we had been so happy before. It was decided move the three of us again, but there were no billets available, except a very primitive bungalow which had been a first World War hut. It had a bucket loo at the end of a cinder path, one cold tap, one open fireplace, and the cooking was done on oil stoves. The London Blitz started on 7th September, and our house was bombed on the the 8th. Our mother then brought what furniture could be salvaged from the house, and moved down to the bungalow to look after the three of us. We were there for about three and a half years, and we children loved it. It seemed like camping out!
While I was living in the country, I became very interested in wild flowers, and one day went out on the moor to study them. While I was there, my mother and Joan went into Yeovil to shop. The sirens went off, and I saw German planes heading towards me. I took cover under a bush! Yeovil was bombed, and my mother and Joan had gone into a public shelter. When they came out, their bicycles had gone, so they had to walk home to East Coker. I had run home after the raid, and had to wait a long time before I knew that they were safe. A couple of days later, they went back to Yeovil to report the theft of the bikes. However, the police had found them dumped. They must have been used by people to get home when the raid started.
While we were living in the bungalow, I was able to keep rabbits, and a neighbour used our Orchard to tether their goats during the day. I then took them home in the evening. One day, I went to get them,and the nanny was making a strange noise. She had her kids on our front lawn! This was my introduction to childbirth. I was given one of the kids to keep as a pet, and called it Dinky. The other was kept at the balloon ground, where the Waafs kept it as a pet. We took Dinky there one day, and the difference between the goats was marked. Theirs was kept indoors mainly, and slept by the fire. Dinky was larger, and was brighter and more interested in its surroundings than the other goat.
When I was sixteen,I joined the GTC - the Girls' Training Corps, which was supposed to prepare girls for the forces. I don't think many people now have heard of it. We learnt Morse code, aircraft recognition, and how to march and salute. We wore forage caps, navy blue skirts and white blouses, and used to regularly go on Church parades through Yeovil. The GTC was based in Yeovil, which meant I had to often cycle there and back in the dark.
Eventually, my mother returned to London, as our house had been rebuilt and my sister had gone away to college. The first billet I went to after this was freezing cold, as the husband, who was doing war work, wouldn't allow the fires to be lit until he got home. I became ill because of this, and was moved again. The next billet was lovely. The lady who looked after me looked like a man - she dressed like a man and smoked like a man. I didn't care; she was a good cook, the house was spotless, and I was very happy there. That was the last of all the places that I lived in in East Coker.

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