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The Wartime Schooldays of Michael Ashton

by csvdevon

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
Michael Stanley Ashton, Patrick Dawe Ashton, Philip Stanley Ashton (dec), Edith Mary Ashton (dec)
Location of story: 
Surrey; Derbyshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A6257496
Contributed on: 
21 October 2005

This story has been written to the BBC People's War site by CSV Storygatherer Coralie, on behalf of Michael Ashton. The story has been added to the site with his permission and Michael fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

My father worked at the Bank of England and they would not release him to serve in the Forces. Apart from being in the ARP (‘Anging Round Pubs as it was called!), he had to be on duty some nights at the Bank. This included ‘fire watching’ from the roof of the Bank, where they had profiles of notable buildings so that they could easily line up where fires were starting. In those days, the Bank had a military picket, which marched to the Bank each evening, ignoring all traffic lights! Visiting the Bank as a schoolboy, at weekends, one could easily go round a corner and be met by a bayonet pointing at you!

A cousin lived with us, who also worked at the Bank, and we spent many nights in the air raid shelter. We had an old wind-up gramophone and an oil heater, which used to get bunged up with bits of the angora wool my cousin used for knitting. I believe that my cousin was the only Bank employee to be hurt whilst on duty — she fell on the stairs whilst running for the shelter during an air raid!

I was first evacuated to Kilburn Hall, which had a large entrance hall, often full of the members of the WVS, knitting comforts for the soldiers! Most of the East End of London seemed to be evacuated to Kilburn, and I arrived home with a Cockney accent!

At home, in bad weather, a low-flying German plane crashed into the escarpment at “View Point” at Caterham. The following day, we boys were up at the crash scene to see what we could find. One boy managed to get a nice watch off an arm he found!!! All I took home was a fairly large piece of the fuselage. At one time, walking to school, we had to be very careful, as a lot of butterfly bombs had been dropped and some were hanging from the trees or in the grass verge.

When the war broke out, it was the time when even bank clerks like my father had a maid living in the house. Bridget, our maid, was from Southern Ireland and so she had to be repatriated. She was engaged to a Guardsman who was captured and finished up in a POW camp. He could not write direct to Bridget, and so he used to write to my mother, who then sent the messages to Bridget, and she wrote back via my mother. After the war, they did get married and settled down at Caterham-on-the-Hill.

Kathleen Jackson (artist and sculptor), who did a lot for Madame Tussauds was bombed out and used grandmother’s attic as a studio. She took me to her bombed house and we found a ‘St George and the Dragon’ figure which was not too badly damaged and I still have it. She also painted me in oils.

A memory of travelling by train was that we always seemed to change at Crewe, and I remember waiting for hours on that station! In addition, one had to be very careful getting off the train, as there were no lights on the platforms and one could too easily get out on the wrong side.

I was 6 when war broke out and we were on a caravan holiday at West Wittering. Living at Sanderstead, my father decided that we were too near London and so we moved first to Sussex and then in 1940 to Caterham. Father worked in London and was also in the ARP. I found the Battle of Britain quite exciting, lying on the lawn watching the dog fights overhead. During the Blitz, I was taken to the top of the nearby hill to see London burning. I used to search the garden for shrapnel and once found a burned-out incendiary bomb. The day before my brother's birthday, there was a bad raid on Caterham. One house was hit by an incendiary bomb, which exploded but did not catch fire. The owner had made a birthday cake for my brother, so we went into the bombed house, found the cake, blew the dust off it and it was as good as new!

When things got too bad I was evacuated to Derbyshire to stay with relations, went to the village school and had chicken pox! In the outhouses there were emergency stores of paper for newspapers, but more important, Reg Parnell's racing cars. Great fun! Another evacuee and I used to spend time searching the orchard for eggs from the free-range chickens. Each of us had our own weekly portions of butter, jam etc which never lasted me a week! I only remember one air raid whilst I was away.

It did not seem long before I returned home and off to another school (4th!) Next problem was scarlet fever! Bletchingly Isolation Hospital was next door to an Ack Ack station and we seemed to have raids most nights. The hospital was a large wooden building, which used to jump up and down in time with the Ack Ack guns. We isolated boys were good at singing “She’ll be coming round the mountains”! By this time our road was full of Canadian troops with all their equipment for D Day. I remember my mother being pleased at receiving wolf whistles from them!

One morning, I saw a noisy plane with a flame coming out of its tail. The engine cut out and there was an explosion. THE START OF THE V1’s. Off to be evacuated again, but to different relations. I couldn’t have been there for long as I was home in time for the V2’s. They frightened me more than anything, presumably as you did not hear them coming — just two big bangs (one going through the ‘sound barrier’ and the other the explosion).

My grandmother lived at Streatham and the road opposite her was flattened by a V1. The front of her house had to be shored up and the bathroom was over the front porch: I quite expected to find myself sitting in the bath in the front garden.

We moved to Plymouth in 1944, but when I saw the devastation, I realized how lucky we had been, even though we had spent most of the war near Kenley, and the Guards Barracks at Caterham.

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