- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Margaret Gerrard
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 November 2003
This is a piece written at the request of my great niece, who is 10, doing an history project at school.
Memories of an Evacuee, Margaret, October 2003
Now I am an old lady. I am seventy-three years old but at the end of the summer in 1939, I was just nine years old.
One day my father went out to buy a newspaper. On his return, he told of a man running down the road shouting "We're at war. We're at war!"
I lived in Liverpool, which is a big city with a wide river called the River Mersey where ships came to unload food and goods they had brought from distant countries.
Because the enemy would most probably send aeroplanes with bombs to destroy the city; the docks where food was unloaded and the ships, it was decided that most schools would be closed and all the children with their teachers would be sent to the countryside where it would be safer. This was called evacuation, and we children were evacuees. We were told to pack a small case with some clothes and take it with our gas masks to a big railway station in the middle of the city. Our gas masks were in brown cardboard boxes with a strong string which acted as a strap to enable us to carry the boxes over our shoulders. To try to prevent us from being sad because we were leaving our parents and homes, we were told to travel alone to the station by tram. The station was some five miles from where I lived. I think the teachers were afraid that if everyone's parents were there, many children would cry and many grown ups too would be upset.
My father was out when I said "Good-Bye" to my mother and set off alone for the tram stop. When I was nearly there I met my father and the man for whom he worked. This man had a car. Not many people had a car in those days, and this man offered to drive me to the station. Sadly I had to refuse. I had to travel alone, as instructed.
When I arrived at the station there were hundreds of people - children all alone and quite a lot of grown-ups. Before too long we were all put into our class groups with our teachers and were packed into the carriages of a train with a huge steam engine with a black funnel that puffed great clouds of white smoke into the sky and enormous wheels that squealed and shrieked as they rolled along the tracks and steam that hissed as it escaped from the boiler in the engine.
Soon the guard shouted, "All aboard", the carriage doors slammed; the guard blew his whistle and waved his flag to let the engine driver know all was clear to go and the train moved slowly out of the station. People on the platform waved to us and smiled. It would be a long time before some of us would return home and see our families again.
After travelling through the outer suburbs of the city we went through green fields and past pretty villages nestling in the shelter of tree clad hills. The leaves on the trees were tinted with the colours of autumn; the sky was clear and bright blue; all the children sat quietly and looked out of the carriage windows.
At last we came to a village in Wales and we all had to leave the train. There were crowds of people with kindly, smiling faces, lined along the streets. We were all loaded into cars (what a treat) and driven slowly along the streets. The people waved and our teacher explained that these village people had come to welcome us and we should wave back. We shyly waved. It all seemed very strange and unreal. I was in an open topped car and I felt like a princess.
We arrived at the village hall and we were all given a big bar of chocolate and a small packet of biscuits. I had never had a big bar of chocolate all to myself before and held it tightly in my hand to keep it safe. A line of ladies stood on one side of the hall and all the children lined up on the other side. Slowly each child was handed over to one of the women opposite and was told this was the person who would take us to their home and where we would live.
At last there were about six of us left, but there were no more ladies, so the District Nurse took us all to her home and we stayed there until we were found homes to go to. The nurse was very kind but really hadn't too much room. Four of us had to sleep in one bed (a double one) and two had to sleep in a single bed. It was very cramped and we did not get much sleep. One of the children said her bar of chocolate had disappeared. The nurse made the six of us stand in front of her in a line. She asked us if we knew where it had gone. No one did. She then told us that one of us must not be telling the truth. She said that if we told lies a black spot would appear on our tongues and we would be 'found out'. She made us all open our mouths and stick out our tongues so she could see which one was guilty. I knew I was safe. I had not touched the chocolate so I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue - the nurse looked and nodded. I was not guilty - but then neither was anyone else it seemed. I suppose the chocolate had been dropped and lost that way. However it was never found.
After a few days I was sent to live with a lady who had a little girl who was two years old. The lady was kind but she did not feed me well. I never saw her before I left for school as she was still in bed. She left on the table, the night before, a small cup of milk for my breakfast - a sixpenny piece (worth two and a half pence in today's money) to buy a cake for my lunch and on my return there was a cup of tea for my evening meal. Soon I lost a lot of weight and each night I was so tired through lack of food I would go to bed after my cup of tea. I think the teachers must have told the lady (called Mrs. Edwards) that I could take sandwiches for lunch like everyone else, because one day, my teacher seeing I had no lunch asked everyone who had a spare sandwich if they would give it to me. A few days later Mrs. Edwards asked if I would like a cheese sandwich to take to school. Because I was so hungry, I said "Yes". But cheese was the only thing I really did not like - it made me feel sick. So after one bite I flushed the sandwich down the lavatory at school. Some days later a terrible thing happened. The sandwich had blocked up the drains and I was found out. I was never asked why I had done this. No one ever knew, but Mrs. Edwards never made me any more sandwiches and I continued to go hungry.
Once in a while my father used to send me a sixpenny Postal Order which I could exchange for sweets at the tiny shop in the village, but sometimes Mrs. Edwards would tell me to go to the shop and use it to buy something she wanted. She used to say she would give me back the money but I don't think she ever did.
Although I wrote to my parents telling them I was hungry, they later explained that they had thought I was just homesick and believed I was well looked after because a couple of weeks after I went to live with Mrs. Edwards my parents had gone to visit her. They saw I was in a pleasant house with good food on the table. Unfortunately for me Mrs. Edwards' mother was staying with her at the time, having a holiday, and so there was plenty of food.
Winter came and I grew pale and weak. I wrote again to my parents and my mother decided to visit Mrs. Edwards and see for herself how I was. She planned her visit as a surprise so she would see how things really were. She did not tell Mrs. Edwards that she was going to visit her. A long time later, my mother told me of the sorry state in which she found me. She had questioned the teachers about my condition. They said "Yes" they knew but did not feel it was their place to interfere. The following week my mother returned and took me home.
There was no school for me to go to but twice a week a teacher would travel to different homes where children who had not been evacuated would gather - usually about six of us. The teacher would stay for one hour. It was a poor education and only very few of us ever 'caught up' with what we had missed during that time.
The children from my school did not return to Liverpool and those from the school who had returned home, or had not been evacuated in the first place had to live through the terrible blitz. Night after night enemy 'planes would bomb our city and for weeks we slept in air raid shelters. One time the whole of Liverpool burned for three days. In the mornings the streets were covered with fine grey ash which had moved over the city in great clouds and eventually fallen to the ground.
My mother found me a place in another school so I never went back to my first one - well not until many years later when as a teacher myself I went there to do some teaching practice. There was a lovely little boy there, ten years younger than I, who used to play with my brother (Sophie's Grandad) when they were both four years old. This little boy grew up to be very famous. He was one of the Beatles. His name was John Lennon.
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