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True Memories

by Essex Action Desk

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Essex Action Desk
People in story: 
Patricia Watson (Nee Bryan)
Location of story: 
Kent, Devon & Blackpool
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 September 2005

This story was submitted to the Peoples War wbsite by a volunteer from BBC Essex on behalf of Patricia Watson and has been added to the website with her permission.
Patricia understands the terms and conditions.

At the tender ages of eight, nine and thirteen years, two of my older sisters, one younger brother and I, felt we had been robbed of our safe and happy home, our street friends and our Winter Working Holiday.

Because September 3rd 1939 when the Second World War started, It was smack bang on the same day as we were all ready to go off hop picking down in Kent, a yearly event for us, our family and many more East Enders.

We still went hop-picking, but in a different frame of mind, than other years gone by.

Our Dad, some bigger sisters, and one older brother, had to stay in London for the time being.

We arrived at the Hop Gardens all ready for work and enjoy our break in the Country, buy while out on the field we had our first experience of what a War was going to be like. We were machine-gunned at while at the bins picking hops and witnessed paratroops falling out of their aeroplanes that were being shot down over the River Thames by our Akk-Akk guns before they could get into London.

Two of these Para’s made their way onto our common and shut themselves in one of the empty tin huts that were our makeshift homes. While we were picking the hops, some farmers and military soldiers soon rounded them up, but us younger children were not allowed out onto the hop fields any more, so just had to stay copped up inside the tin huts during the daytime until all the hops were picked by the grown ups and wait for Dad to come and take us home.

Then the first job for Dad was to take us to the school to be fitted with Gas Masks. Our two younger sisters had Minnie Mouse faces on theirs.

My younger brother and I with two older sisters had our names added to the Government Lists to be evacuated; that’s when we lost touch with all our street friends we were always playing out in the street with, even up to the time we were all fitted up with our Gas Masks.

Our last street game was helping to unload a lorry of sandbags, so the men down our street could put them all against the doors and airy, then all us kids got a ride on the empty open lorry up to the top of the street then had to run all the way back to our own street doors.

When it was time to leave home for the Evacuation, we realised just the four of us who were still at school were going away, on our own. Our lovely Mum & Dad, two baby sisters and all the rest of our family were staying at home, although an older brother went into the R.A.F. and the four of us went right out into Devon.

The strangest was we were all mixed up; there were children from other parts of London that ended up with us, not our own school friends, from East End of London. Some were from Hackney, some from Bow and Battersea.

On our arrival, my brother two sisters and I, held hands all the time we were in a public hall. Our Dad told us to stay together at all times but no one would or could take all four of us together, so with lots of tugs tears and talking, we were sent off in different directions, not far from each other, but it was almost dark and late by the time they sorted things out in the hall and we couldn’t see where we were being taken by our Foster Parents.

We met up back in the Public Hall the next day that was to be our temporary School and could also be transformed to a Church for Sundays. We were all Catholics and we had two of our lovely Nuns with us from our own School and two other teachers, also lovely, to comfort us and make us feel safe and happy.

Although still very tearful for many days, we would like to have been all together we might have been a bit happier then to know our Mum and Dad were thinking of us and sent us to a place of safety, or so they thought. We were only a few weeks there and after inoculations for a Diphtheria scare, we were caught out again, one Saturday morning whilst out playing by the Brook. Most of the people from the Village ‘Brookadoor’, had gone into Newton Abbot shopping or further just visiting when an Air Raid started without warning and before we knew what was happening we were being machine-gunned at by a big burly German pilot from a very loud and noisy plane right over our heads.

The screams of all the children and the shouts of our Foster Mums, trying to take us under cover — we were thrown up against a wall under a conservatory window. That got smashed, and then all the apples were shot off from the trees in the orchard at the back of the houses.

None of us felt very safe after that though and we had to stay until our Dad came to take us four home, three sisters, one brother to join some of the rest of our family, that had been sent to Blackpool in to the second wave of evacuation from London.

August 1941 — All Sorted

On the train from Devon to Blackpool, we had mixed feelings, glad to be with our Mum and Dad and going to see all our other sisters and a brand new baby nephew, our eldest sisters second baby, yet sad to be leaving the Valley where we spent the last few weeks in Devon, with our lovely family, the Sidworthy’s. They took our Mum and Dad in when they first came from Blackpool, to take the four of us back. They needed somewhere to stay while sorting out our billeting arrangements and the Borstal-like home that our young brother was put into.

That was uppermost in our Dad’s mind. It took priority, for them being there, over the whole journey. He had to go back to London to sort things out with the War Office too. Mum and the six of us Children stayed on in the same house. The family gave us one big room at the front of the house down in the valley. It had one double bed — all us girls slept in that bed and the two camp beds, one for Mum, one for our young brother. Dad might have to sleep on the Sofa when he came back from London.

When Dad was returning we all went down to the Train station to meet him off the Train. We watched his train come in as we stood looking through the railings, then as soon as he saw us he gave a loving wave and blew kisses at us.

We ran all the way up over and across the bridge to the steps that would bring him up to us. From the platform below, as soon as he came through the gate our little brother ran straight into his arms, a sight we were longing to see, my sisters and I; It broke our hearts when they took our brother away from us and put him in an approved School, for something he was bullied into doing; bringing pencils out of school without the teachers knowing. He took all the blame; bless him, through no fault of his own, only through some malicious gossips about “The East End Kids”.

Dad now off the Train, and with us, we all went back down to the Valley to Mum and Mr and Mrs Stidworthy and spent the lovely summer evening all talking and planning for our journey to Blackpool at the weekend, the main reason why Dad and Mum were there in the first place.

So the mixed feelings came to the fore, of leaving all this loveliness behind, the valley, our friends, the blue bells, the primroses, the brook and what would all our School mates say when they didn’t see us in School after the holidays. As I write now, I regret not having taken all their addresses when we left Devon, to keep in touch. Somehow I think as Kids, you tend to leave that to your Mum and Dad, so if they did correspond for a while It must have all fizzled out, as it so often does (like ships in the night). But the memories live on and on I am glad to say.

We all had a little present for our new nephew. I don’t remember what the other bought but |I had bought a baby feeding bottle a shaped one, with a teat at both ends. I can’t remember him ever drinking Milk from it but he drank the Orange juices that came from the baby clinic. He was still breast feeding for a long time so I don’t know what happened to the feeding bottle.

I do know the house came alive when we all arrived with a house full of laughter. Dad said to Mum, he loved it, though our big brother was still overseas, with our eldest sister’s husband, (our new nephew’s Daddy) abs we all started to teach him to say the words “My Soldier Daddy” and other words so his daddy would see how clever he was.

Our Dad started to become ill from all the sights he has seen back in London when he was an A.R.P. Warden and pulling little Children from bombed shelters and burning houses after working in the docks through the daytime. He never talked to us about it, our Mum told us later.

Our new nephew would try to give him some of his own breath to help him breathe, when Dad would fight for breathe through asthma attacks, that he was getting very frequently; that’s how a child’s mind works. They were always together with our younger brother, over the park, on the beach, and around our house.

He had to ease up with working in the Docks, so he stayed with us all the time. Then in Blackpool but found an easy going job at the Pleasure Beach on the boating lake. He enjoyed it and made some good friends while there, working at the Pleasure Beach. One man was called Ted Hoy and he owned a garage not far from where we lived and I baby-sat their little boy for him and his wife on occasions.

Dad would help out mending some cars, light work though but he liked to keep busy and always thinking of some way to make extra money for us. He had big ideas too for all of us, when the War was over he used to tell our Mum. The other man he befriended was a Mr Longworth. He owned an arcade and a restaurant in Bispham. He and his Wife fitted the three of us Sisters, who were back from evacuation, up with jobs, when it was time for us to start work, and bring in some extra money to help with the house keeping.

Though some of us always had a little sort of job after school for our own pocket money, which made it easier on Dad. While we were still at school, my younger brother and I found a lovely little Ice-Cream parlour along the prom where one of our elder sisters worked; we could go there after school and at the weekends.

There were always these sorts of jobs to be found at the seaside. To earn your own pocket money made us feel so grown up, my brother and me, it did, ‘twas good, for us and when we came out of the Ice-Cream parlour on a lovely hot summer afternoon, my brother and I would go to meet our Dad from the Pleasure Beach, help him to tie all the boats up alongside and put all the oars away in a shed, then after cadging some free rides off his other mates at the fayre, we all walked along the prom until we got to a place called Madame Tussauds and Fairyland Corner, go home and our Mum’s faces always lit up to see us all home safe together.

After giving up the Ice-Cream parlour job along the Golden Mile my young brother’s next job was a paper round. See who he took after, always had a job, always had wheels to get him there, first it was bikes, then straight to cars, loved his wheels all his life, bless him.

The couple that owned the Arcade and Restaurant became my forth set of Foster Parents five years later and I loved these two people from the start. How lucky that I was cared for by the people who cared for me, not forgetting my lovely aunt Rose.

While working in the Arcade on the machines and in the restaurant, in turn, we used to serve all the Americans and our own Soldier boys and airmen, with tea and toasted tea-cakes in the mornings. We really did enjoy our newfound jobs, my sisters and I, working for this lovely couple in Bispham, Blackpool, till the end of the War. Dad used to wait at the train stop for the three of us sisters when he finished at the Pleasure Beach, same as he used to when we were younger and still at School.

So many War stories I have told to my Children, grandchildren and friends, there’s always a new one to tell. Sadly our lovely Dad died just before VE Day. He did so many brave things in the first and second World Wars that made us all proud of him. Needless to say, we never celebrated victory with all our London and Blackpool friends and neighbours; we listened to it all on the wireless.

The second saddest thing is I am the one survivor of all the four evacuees’s that felt robbed of our childhood, schooldays and play days in Stepney, London, East End. Glad to be alive to tell the tale.

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