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15 October 2014
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by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
William, Alf, Ida, and Lilly Eldridge, Mrs.Tew, Lord Buxton, Kate Williams
Location of story: 
Stanstead Abbots, Roydon, Hertfordshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Ted Newcomen from the Hastings Community Learning Centre and has been added to the website on behalf of William Eldridge with his permission and he fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.

My name is William Eldridge and at the beginning of the war I was 11 years old and was evacuated from Hastings to Hertfordshire with my two sisters Ida and Lilly, and my brother Alfred. It was the first time we had been on a train, and each of us had a small case as we didn’t have much in the way of clothes.
We arrived at St.Margarets station to be taken to Stanstead Abbots in Hertfordshire. We were the first ones to be transported to the village hall and it was by Lord Buxton, the Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in his green Ford V8 Pilot. We had never been in a car before and this was apparently a great honour.
Again, we were the first to be taken to our billet at 12 Riverside Cottages which was a two up, two down, end of terrace property. There was no bathroom, no running water, no electricity, and an outside toilet with squares of newspaper on a string (for toilet paper) hung on the door. To flush the toilet, you took a bucket to the river where some steps had been cut into the bank and there was a small part of the river fenced off, just big enough to take a bucket. I suppose you could say it was hand flushed.
Lord Buxton came in for tea — this was the talking point of the village for some time as he lived in a mansion on a large estate called Easnye. Later on we used to collect acorns up there, for pig food, for which we were paid one farthing a bushel.
Things started off quite quietly at first, we had the church hall for our school as the existing village school wasn’t big enough the locals plus us. We all had to muck in and sort things out to start with. Whilst unpacking school equipment we came across the teacher’s canes — as there was a big old slow combustion stove in the hall for winter heating we promptly put all the canes in it and burnt them. They couldn’t give us the cane for doing this as there now weren’t any left — needless to say they were eventually replaced.
There wasn’t enough room in the hall to accommodate us all at once sop we only did half a day’s schooling — the other half was spent digging for victory. We cultivated all of the school gardens plus nearly half of the playing filed (all part of the war effort).
As I said earlier, things were quiet to start with, then the London Blitz stated, and as we were only twenty miles away we could hear it. If we stood in the garden on the river bank, we could see the explosions and the sky was one big red glow from the fires. I can still see it, as if it was yesterday.
By this time people were leaving London en mass and looking for somewhere to stay, but where could they go? We had to give up our bed. Alf and I tried to sleep in two armchairs put together but eventually we ended up in the coal cupboard on top of the coal which had an old coat thrown over it but we didn’t get much sleep. Then, Mrs.Tew, the lady we were staying with, had a breakdown trying to cope with everything -as at one time there were twenty to thirty people at this house, most trying to sleep in the garden.
Alfie, Lily, and myself were moved to other billets. Lily was in a good one but Alfie and I didn’t fair very well. We were in the same street as Lily but what a billet! It was rough and we were back to sleeping on the coal but this time it was in a shed in the garden. We didn’t get enough to eat so we used to creep up the backway to Mrs.Tew’s and scrump apples from the trees in her garden. Luckily the billeting officer heard of this and moved us but we were split up again so were all in separate billets. The whole family was split up now -my father was in the army on bomb disposal in London, my eldest brother was in the RAF, my mum and the other two elder ones and the two youngest ones were evacuated to Swindon — so the whole family was separated.
My last billet was an improvement but another lad and myself slept in the attic, no floor coverings, one pane of glass broken, and the window itself screwed up so it wouldn’t open. This lady was friendly with the local haberdasher who used to visit every evening and they would get through four pints of bitter between them. I used to go to the Bull Inn and fetch it, two pints at a time. I had to go to the bottle and jug department and they would seal the corks with sticky paper (that was the law). So that was two journeys to the Bull each evening plus one to the Railway Hotel, a pub at the other end of the village, for a double-scotch for Old Kate Williams who was a nice old lady in her seventies. I used to do her shopping for her, for which I received a glass of lemonade for being a good boy. But she always put sugar in it to remove the gas because she said it wasn’t good for me.
Back to the billet — we were reasonably comfortable as we did sleep in a bed, but once again there was no running water and the toilet was at the bottom of the garden. Water came from a well in the garden and was drawn by a pump which was so worn that you had to leave three inches in the bottom of the bucket to tip in the top of the pump and then pump like hell to form a siphon and draw the water up how times have changed!
I was 12 years old by now and the war was getting worse. Troop convoys went through the village every day and an aerodrome was built at Roydon, a couple of miles away, so there were a lot of low flying aircraft, mainly at night.
I then got a job with the village baker. Every day from school, between about 4pm to 6.30 p.m., riding the bike (thus saving petrol) to the farms to deliver bread, then back to the bake-house to clear the ashes from the fire (a coal fired oven) and fetch the coal in ready for the next batch of bread. After which, I had all the bread baking tins and trays to clean & grease ready for the next day. I was there all day Saturday, when I used to go out in the van with the baker — he even taught me how to drive it. A 1935 Morris 8 van, it was, with little oval windows in the back doors. I sometimes gave my sister a ride around the village in it. She had to sit on the floor because I had her seat on top of mine so that I could see through the windscreen. Luckily the village policeman never did catch me as I was only twelve years old at the time. My wages for this job were three shillings and six-pence a week — seventeen-and-a-half pence in today’s currency. I was rich really, although I had to clothe myself out of it.

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