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15 October 2014
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I Missed Being in the Hubbub of the War

by Wood_Green_School

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Mrs E Dowling
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08 September 2005

Home at start of war: Ashford Kent
Address in Witney: Taynton, Burford, Oxon.
Former School: Ashford County School, Ashford, Kent.
Maiden Name: E…..

I can remember very little of the preparation for the evacuation. As you will see from the account of that time we had just two days’ notice and the Battle of Britain was taking place above at that time too.

I have no recollection of the departure at all.

The journey was very long and I can remember a long delay, when children further down the train were getting off the train and running about. I knew it was very late when we arrived at Oxford and were given refreshments. I would think it would have been nearly midnight before we actually got to bed that night.

A friend and I were last to be found a bed for the night. The village had already had their share of London evacuees, and to find accommodation for another batch must have been quite a problem. The accommodation for us was temporary with a maiden lady for a couple of nights, in a small cottage in the centre of the village. We then moved into the Post Office with the family of the billeting officer.

Burford was a much smaller town than Ashford and much prettier. Ashford was then just a market town with the large railway works being the main industry, in the middle of a large rural area. Even so, the area around Burford and Taynton was much less populated and seemed to us to be in the very heart of the countryside. It was very much quieter and Burford had no Woolworths or Marks and Spencers. I lived on the main road through Ashford so I missed the noise of traffic and people which could be heard day and night in our house. I did notice the difference in speech - mine. Before I was evacuated, I thought I spoke perfect English, but I soon found out that I had an accent - a Kentish one - which I still have to this day.

The thing I missed most was being able to leave my books at school, because we were sharing the school, we were unable to have a desk of our own, and I always forgot at least one book a day. I also missed being in the hubbub of the war, we had seen all the train loads of troops being evacuated from Dunkirk and then all the dog fights between the planes overhead; although it seems a silly thing to say, I missed being near the sea. I don't think I had been down to the coast very much, and by the time we left Kent, I think the barbed wire and tank traps had been put all along the coast line, around Kent and the South Coast. (When I say I hadn't been to the coast very much, I meant from the outbreak of the war.)

The difference between my home and my billet was that my own home was two three-bedroom terrace houses made into one on a main road in Ashford, whereas my "billet" was a country type house on the edge of the village with fields to the side of it. Life there was very similar to life at home. The main difference was the toilet. Although at home this was outside the house, it was covered over with a conservatory, and we didn't have to go out in the open to get to it, whereas in the village it was halfway down the garden.

We had a Christmas party in the Village Hall, a fancy dress party. I went as an RAF Spitfire, but I can't remember any of the other costumes. I went home to Kent for Christmas, my next door neighbour came up to fetch his daughter and two or three of us went home for the holiday as well. I remember going on a trip with the school to Oxford to see all the colleges, and also on a trip after school to see a tiny church in a field, but I can't remember the name. I was also in the school play. We did "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and all the Burford Grammar School boys and girls were in the audience. I also remember going to see a puppet show which was given in a house on the Taynton Road. A friend of mine and her young sister were billeted in Taynton with a retired Admiral, and I was invited to tea to celebrate the sister's birthday, which we had in the housekeeper's room. The Admiral was the local air raid warden, and I upset him one day when there was a very rare air-raid warning, by looking out the door to see if there were any planes about. He shouted at Mrs. B….., to make sure she kept me indoors.

I think out of school hours, my time was spent doing homework and writing letters, and going for walks around the village, playing with the other children. I can remember staying behind at school to play netball, and I used to go for bike rides with my friends. On Sundays we all had to go to church. The school insisted on this, to get us out of the way on a Sunday morning. On a Saturday Mr. B….. used to take us out, and I can remember going to Northleach, Cirencester and Bourton-on-the-Water. (I saw the model village there.) Then every Saturday we had our get-together in the village hall.

My parents didn't visit me. It was impossible for them to leave the business, and of course I had been home for Christmas. It was quite worrying for me because Ashford was bombed whilst I was away, and one day our house was machine-gunned by a German plane. They found some of the bullets years later when the roof was being repaired. My mother eventually came up to take us home, I think at the end of the summer term. She stayed the night with an old lady who lived in a little cottage near my billet. I can only remember sitting on a bus in Burford, with a lot of the girls who were staying giving me messages for the staff and girls who had remained behind in Ashford.

The main difference when I returned home was that by this time Ashford was a restricted area and only people who lived in the area were allowed to enter, or people who were authorised. The danger of an invasion had passed, but air raids were frequent. These were directed on London mainly but the planes were often heard overhead on the way there and back.

Mrs E D……
Aldington, Ashford, Kent 1989

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