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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
Sylvia Wade (nee Radford)
People in story: 
Sylvia Radford, Edith Walker, Tommy Scott, Marion Scott, John Scott
Location of story: 
Harrogate, Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 January 2005

Leaving Home

I’m now in my 84th year, but when I had to leave home I was just approaching my 18th birthday.

When war was declared on 3rd September 1939, I had been working as a lowly Clerical Assistant in the Air Ministry for a year. Travelling up and down from Grays, Essex to Kingsway in London and quite happy in my work and daily routine. Then, on 9th September we were all told that we were being evacuated to Yorkshire — “up North”! I’d never been further away from home than my Grandparent’s in Suffolk, and then always with my parents. I’d also been to Ramsgate on holiday, again with my parents. What would I do? How would I manage?

We were all given a letter — a “pass” really, which was dated 14th September 1939, with THURSDAY stamped in red. The pass said: “Admit the bearer to train No. B.35 leaving Kings Cross at 1.00 p.m.” We didn’t know our destination. Quite an adventure it seemed.

So, Mum and I had to go to buy a new small suitcase, big enough to take sufficient clothes that would last a week. Anyway, in those days we didn’t have as many clothes as youngsters seem to have nowadays. More likely, “one off, one on and one in the wash” was the order of the day. Mum and Dad were really upset that I was to leave home, especially not knowing where I was to go, or when I could let them know where I was. My older brother had left home the previous year to join the R.A.F., so now I was to go too!

My friend at work, Edith, who later became my sister-in-law, was as bewildered and worried as me. She lived in West Ham and we had met when we both started work in the same department in the Air Ministry. She was a few months younger then I and was really devastated at the thought of leaving her Mum and Dad and the rest of her family. However, there was no way out of it at that time. So, on the morning of September 14th, having said our tearful goodbyes, we all met up at Kings Cross station to leave at 1.00 p.m. on train No. B.35, heading for the unknown!

It wasn’t until we were puffing along on our way “up North” that we were told our destination — Harrogate in Yorkshire. Harrogate? We had never heard of Harrogate. We were told it was a Spa town and we would be billeted with families in private houses. The Air Ministry was to pay One Guinea a week to our billetors for our bed, breakfast and evening meal.

When we eventually arrived at Harrogate station we were taken thought the town, down Pier Hill to the Crown Hotel. Here we were told whereabouts we were to be billeted. To our dismay Edith and I were split up. Although we were going to the same suburban area of the town we were in different roads, but not far apart. Edith was a single on her own and I was paired with another girl who worked in the same department. She was Ethre from Ireland, so she had already left home before!

In due course we were taken to the family at 24 Arncliffe Road. They were Mr and Mrs Scott and their two-year-old son, John. Here we were, with complete strangers, in a Yorkshire town, miles from home and hardly understanding the language! However, they made us most welcome and I must admit they had difficulty in understanding us too. I can remember distinctly be asked to speak more slowly! Ethre and I were shown to our bedroom, complete with one double bed! Neither of us was used to sleeping with anyone and Ethre turned out to be very shy and modest which made us both feel uncomfortable. We discussed the possibility of her and Edith swapping billets. When we met up with Edith the next day she was unhappy being on her own, so fortunately we were able to sort things out with out billeting officer. Ethre moved out and Edith moved in with me. Mr and Mrs Scott were very kind and understanding and they didn’t mind so long as we were all happy.

Theirs was a modern comfortable home and they were a young couple in their thirties. He was a coal merchant with his own business and he also had a contract with the local Council for snow ploughing in the winter. Mrs Scott was the daughter of a local grocer, so you can imagine, we were fortunate not to go without much of anything during the war years.

After that first weekend getting settled in our new homes and finding our offices, we were able to write to our parents to let them know where we were, how we were and what we needed them to send on. Extra clothes of course, and anything else we could not do without. We were also able to tell them that we were to have three free travel passes a year and hopefully the first one would be for Christmas. Considering, as Clerical Assistants, we were then only earning 23 shillings a week (£1.15), it was a blessing to know that.

The Air Ministry departments were all housed in the many hotels in Harrogate. Edith and I were in Harlow Manor in Caldbath Road, which was quite a long way from our digs. We did eventually have our cycles. Edith’s was sent up from her home but I had to buy a brand new Raleigh, all black, complete with saddlebag for £4-10s (£4.50), but that was some time after we arrived. I had to save up for a considerable time.

We all gradually settled down to our new way of life miles from home. I guess we were more fortunate than those drafted into the Forces. We were far from the air raids, although we had to do our stint, on a rota, of Night Watch in our office buildings. These were really more of a “social evening” for us.

Edith had a transfer back to London in 1943 as her Mother died. Also her family had been bombed out of their home in West Ham and moved out to the suburbs of Ilford. Harrogate was my home for six years. Mrs and Mrs Scott, Tommy and Marion, became my dear friends over the years. My Mother was able to visit me once for a week. She was happy to see how well I was being looked after and to meet “my family”.

So much happened during those years a lifetime ago. Eventually in 1945, after the war ended in Europe, I applied for a transfer back to London, as the Air Ministry was not intending to move back for some years yet. My fiancé was due to be demobbed in October from Austria where he was stationed. We were planning to be married in 1946, so I was granted my transfer to another department in London.

I had to say my farewells to Marion and Tommy and young John who was by then an eight-year-old schoolboy. We all felt very sad having grown so close during those traumatic times. So once again I was leaving home, but this time back to my own home.

During the post-war years I have visited Harrogate a number of times and always have that feeling of “going home”. I get the same feeling whenever I go to Leigh-on-Sea where I was born. Home is where the heart is!

Sylvia Wade (née Radford) d.o.b. 18th September 1921

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Message 1 - Leaving Home

Posted on: 06 January 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Sylvia

What a fine written story. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Best wishes lass,


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