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In 1939: From Poverty to Country Pursuits in Bedfordshire

by freddywest

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Frederick West
Location of story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 November 2003

In 1939, my family lived in Fonthill Rd. Finsbury Park, London. It was the sort of street that people lived in when they couldn’t afford a slum. On one corner of the road was “Ayrsies”, a general shop where one could buy a penny packet of Lyon’s tea, half a tin of condensed milk,(if you took your own cup) and a pennyworth of sugar, wrapped in a cone made from a newspaper. On the other corner was a bakery owned by a German couple who were very good-hearted, giving credit where they could, stale cakes to the kids, and late in the afternoon, half price bread. That didn’t stop the local patriots from burning down their shop when war was declared.

Then came September 1st. 1939, buses and taxis were commandeered to ferry all the children to the local railway station so that they could be evacuated. Each child had a luggage label tied to them to let people know who they were and where they were going. Two of these waifs were my sister aged 7 and me aged 10. Clinging to each other and to the paper carrier bags that contained spare clothes, we were herded on to the train (our first train ride) with absolutely no idea where we were going or even why we were going.

After a couple of hours, we arrived at St. Neots station and we were led to an open topped car driven by a vicar. Two boys, their sister, my sister and me climbed into the car, (our first car ride) and we were delivered to some very kind and generous people. The two girls went to Baker’s farm and us three boys went to the head gardener’s house on Lord and Lady Jubilee’s estate, Gaynes Hall, Perry.

After a couple of days to settle in, we started school at a village school in Gt. Staughton, three miles away. There were five classes in the main hall, one in each corner and one in the middle. The teachers did their best, but they were never in with a chance of teaching us anything.

After a few days of this, my two fellow evacuee friends and me decided there were too many exciting things to do in the countryside than go to boring school. Halfway up Perry hill in Perry Woods we discovered Lord Jubilee’s head game-keeper’s cottage. A lovely man, and we attached ourselves to him like leeches. Rough shooting in the mornings, rabbiting in the afternoon, we learned more about the countryside in six months than we ever learned before or since.
Can you imagine an eleven year old kid from a London slum recognising the flight of a snipe, feeding pheasants and partridges on their nests, handling a 410 shot gun, gutting and skinning rabbits, moles and anything else that came within range?
One of our lady teachers was rather pneumatic and Herbert, the game-keeper, tried very hard to get me to fix him up with a date.
I didn’t see the point at the time, I did later.

My sister was staying at Baker’s farm with another girl and us three boys loved to help around the farm. Mr Baker, his son and the farm workers were very tolerant about our efforts. I’m sure we did the cows more harm than good even though they seemed quite laid back about the whole thing.

We both came home in the August 1940 just in time for the blitz, another story.

My sister and I went back for a nostalgic visit, what a mistake.
Graffam Water, a new reservoir had swallowed most of the farm and there was a housing estate on the rest.

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