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Welsh Adventure: Part One

by ateamwar

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Al Owens
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11 October 2005

The furthest my sister and I had ever travelled before June 1941 was Southport,
which was about 18 miles away from our home in Bootle, on Merseyside, and that was as evacuees.

We had survived the “May Blitz”, which was a continuous bombing raid on our
area which lasted for the whole of that month. This meant that we had to spend
every night in the Air Raid Shelter in Derby Park.

My mother, who was widowed, used to take my sisters Iris and Lily, and myself
there every night at 7 o’clock and we would be there until well after midnight, when the all clear siren sounded.

Early in June 1941 our school was evacuated to Mid-Wales. My sister Iris, who was 13 years old, was not able to go with Lily and myself because she had suffered from Rheumatic fever a year or so earlier and still needed special attention. Lily was only 11 years old and I was a mere 8 years old when we went on this journey into the unknown.

We boarded a train from Liverpool’s Lime Street Station on a Monday morning in June and travelled to a place called Garth, which was about 4 miles from the town of Builth Wells in the then County of Breconshire.

The teachers who had come with us herded us all off the train and sorted us out onto coaches to take us to our final destination, which was a chapel in the village of Pentre Llewyn. This was probably only a three-mile journey but it seemed much longer at 8 years of age.

At about three o’clock in the afternoon we all lined up with our nametags on display for the local residents, who were mainly farmers, to take their pick. The man who picked me was a local farmer called Mr Williams whose farm was named Tyn Llwyn and was about a mile away from the chapel.

After picking me Mr Williams had to go to a long table where he began to fill in forms. It was only then that I realised that Lily, my sister was missing. It was eventually discovered that she had gone to Garth House by mistake. Mr Williams reassured me that Lily was supposed to be staying with him and that we would be reunited within a short period of time.

About a week later Lily was brought to Tyn Llwyn farm. Everything was foreign to us, the surroundings, and the language, which although it was English, was totally alien to us. Eventually, however, as all children do, we learned to adapt to the way of life. What struck us most though was the remoteness of the place. We were used to a terraced house in the middle of Bootle, suddenly we were living in a house on the top of a hill, surrounded by high mountains and our nearest neighbour was probably a mile away in all directions. This took us a while to get used to.

Within about a fortnight at the farm we started at the local school. When I say local, I mean, of course, about a 3-mile walk each morning and afternoon to get to and from it. I remember when we first started they had to split the school day into two, locals in the morning and evacuees in the afternoon, to fit us all in.

Eventually, though, some of the evacuees had returned home and some of the elder children won the scholarship to the Builth Wells Grammar school. At home we had gone to school from 9 to 4o’clock each day and my sister Lily had won the 11 plus scholarship. She was eventually allowed to go to Builth Wells Grammar school and we were parted again after the Christmas of 1941.

I was only able to see her during the school holidays and on Mondays when I went with Mrs Williams to Builth (this was market day). Eventually in 1943 Lily went home with mum and Iris and attended Seafield College in Crosby.

The first summer in Wales was glorious if I remember correctly, but then again when you think back in your childhood years, all summers seem to have been good ones. We worked in the fields during the hay and corn harvests right throughout the summer holidays. We would be working until about 9 o’clock at night because it stayed light until very late. This was probably because they used to put two hours on the clock in those days, they called it double summer time, it seemed to stay light until about 11 o’clock. When we finished we would eat supper, get washed and flop into bed.

I slept with Herbie; he was the son of Mr and Mrs Williams. I think he was about 24 years old then. Lily slept in their daughter’s bed, her name was Ruby and she must have been about 19 years old. Lily and I would be called for breakfast at 8 o’clock, whilst the rest of the family would have been up from about 6.30 am. They would have already milked the cows and headed them back out to the fields to graze by the time we awoke and came down to breakfast. We realised that farming was not an easy life for the family in those days. In between the hay and the corn harvests there was sheep shearing. Most of the farmers in the area were hill sheep farmers and Mr Williams had about 200 head of hill sheep and 100 head grazing on the lower grasslands surrounding the farm.

At sheep shearing time all the farmers helped each other. On two days other farmers and their sons would help out on our farm and then Herbie would go to their farms to help them. Shearing time in the area would last for about two weeks and us kids would help by rolling up the fleeces and stacking them ready to be picked up by the lorries which would take them to the weaving mills.

After all this it was back to schools in early September. It was a long walk and we would leave at 11.30am and not get back until about 5.30pm. This meant that it was nearly as long as a full school day. When, later, I was starting at 9am and not finishing until 4pm I was away from the farm from 7.30am until 5.30pm. This was not so bad in the summer but it was hell in the winter months.

We settled in with the local kids pretty quickly and if there was any “aggro” it didn’t last very long. The Headmaster, a man named Mr Swann was a very fair- minded man. I don’t think he was local so he probably found life difficult at first for himself and his family to integrate into the community. He used whatever he had learned to get us accepted as well. He was a great one for sport, football and running in particular and of course cricket in the summer. He wanted to get locals and evacuees playing together, so he mixed the teams to make sure we did not play each other.

Mr Swann was also an officer in the Home Guard Company and he went away for about a week on some kind of course. On his return he told us that he had been to Liverpool and that he had seen my father’s shop on Scotland Road. He was “taking the Micky” out of me by saying that I had changed my name to Owens from Cohen and that the name above the shop was Cohen. From that day on I was nicknamed Ike, but I didn’t mind so much because it made me a bit of a celebrity with the other kids. I didn’t inherit anything from this fellow called Isaac Cohen of Liverpool though; maybe it’s because he hasn’t traced me “already”.

These were very happy days when I look back at them, except that I missed my family, although Mrs Williams was a lovely lady. Each night she made sure that she gave me a goodnight kiss and Mr Williams and Herbie showed me how to do things around the farm.

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

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