- Contributed by
- BBC Southern Counties Radio
- People in story:
- Patricia Oakley, Mr and Mrs Spruce, Mr and Mrs Austin (parents)
- Location of story:
- Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. Cookley, near Kidderminster, Worcestershire.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 May 2005
I was 14 years old and lived at Clacton-on-Sea, on the flight path for German planes heading to bomb London.
In the second week of the war a German plane was shot down in my school field so we had a few days off school while the building was repaired. Long tunnels were dug under the grounds of our school field. When the bombers were spotted coming across the English Channel a huge siren would sound and we had to pick up our books and march down the tunnel, where we sat on uncomfortable benches and did our work until the siren was sounded again to say it was safe to come out.
In May 1940 we were listening to the radio news. We were shocked to hear that the next Sunday all school children living on the East coast were to be evacuated from their homes. The bombing was getting worse and there was fear of invasion. Preparations began immediately. There were clothes to be sorted, packing cases to be found, and all our anxieties to be dealt with. On Sunday 1st June 1940 hundreds of children said goodbye to their parents and were taken by train to the West of England where it was thought to be more safe. No one knew where our destination would be. It was an extremely hot day and we were taken via Cambridge to avoid crossing London and the frequent air raids.
After a very long journey we arrived in Kidderminster, Worcestershire and it was then discovered that we couldn’t stay there because it was a garrison town. We were kept in the cinema without food or drink while billeting officers toured the surrounding villages, commandeering any spare beds. Eventually, as it got dusk, we were taken in a crocodile past a row of cottages that had originally been built for the workers from a nearby steel works. In front of these cottages was a communal paved yard enclosed by a low brick wall. All the residents, including many children, sat silently on the wall, swinging their legs and pondering what changes our arrival would bring to their village.
I was taken, with a friend, to live in a house built into a cave! My friend didn’t like this house so she made friends with some farmers and they invited us to move to their farm. At night we were not allowed to put lights on, unless there were blackout curtains at every window. If we showed a tiny chink of light the air raid warden would come and threaten prosecution, because any light would help the bombers to find their targets. But life on the farm was fun and I learnt to milk a cow and collect eggs from the hens. When my friend’s mother came to see us she was shocked by the very uncomfortable conditions we were living in (no furniture, curtains or heating) so she took her daughter away to live with a relative.
I was unhappy on my own so was soon moved to live with an elderly couple, Mr. And Mrs. Spruce. They were like kind parents to me. I stayed with them for six years before I returned to my own parents. They had an orchard stretching down to the canal. It was very soothing to sit on the bank and watch the long boats, pulled by horses along the tow path, as they carried their cargoes of coal and timber. They were very strict Methodists and although they were very kind and caring they had very strict rules. Sunday was rather a solemn day, except that Grace had to be sung after Sunday lunch. Depending on which hymn tune from the morning service was fresh in uncle’s mind, sometimes we would run out of tune or sometimes run out of words! As a teenager I found it very difficult to suppress my mirth!
When we first arrived we were sent to a school in the nearby town of Kidderminster. Soon that was bombed so we had to have lessons in the village hall. This was difficult because our school was spread out over 12 villages. Very few people had cars then and the teachers had to travel round the villages by local bus to teach their different subjects. This meant we were often left on our own for long periods of time and I’m afraid we didn’t always work hard! When the time came for me to take my final exams we had to sit in a very old building where mice sometimes crept along the floor. Next door there was a country fair going on in the old cattle market. A very loud hurdy-gurdy, was playing ’Waltzing Matilda’ all day long making it hard to concentrate.
I passed in eleven subjects in my School Certificate exams but the sixth form had closed so I had to take local employment and wait until after the war to gain entrance to Teacher Training College. I felt I had lost my teenage years with no opportunities for parties or experimenting with clothes or make-up. Worst of all I had been parted from my family for six years. Some of the effects were indelible and have had a profound influence on the rest of my life.
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Camilla Hartley on behalf of Patricia Oakley and has been added to the site with her permission. Patricia Oakley fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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