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A Bermondsey Boys War. Part 4 Evacuation to Torquay.

by kenyaines

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Kenneth Alford Haines [kenyaines]
Location of story: 
London and Torquay, Devon.
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 February 2004

A few weeks after my family and I returned home to Bermondsey from our adventurous stay at Shepherds Bush, I was told that I'd passed the Scholarship, and was given a choice of schools.
We opted for St.Olave's and St.Saviour's Grammar-School, in Tooley Street by Tower Bridge. it was the nearest to home, also I wanted to go there and mother had a good report on it from a friend whose son was a pupil.
St.Olave's was closed in London and evacuated to Torquay in Devon, so I would have to join it there, and faced the prospect of being away from home on my own. When we were evacuated before, the family had been more or less together at Worthing, now I'd be 200 miles away with the added worry of them all being in London at the mercy of the german bombers every night. I was a bit apprehensive as well as excited. A few weeks later we heard that I'd been accepted by the school, and within another few weeks while the nightly air-raids went on unabated, I received my travel instructions.
On the day of departure, Dad took me across London by Bus and Tube-train to Paddington Station.
Of school uniform I had virtually nothing.
Clothing wasn't rationed yet, but was in very short supply, most of the clothing shops were closed or bombed out. It was to be another year before clothing coupons were issued and "utility" clothing appeared with the familiar CC41 label.
However, the school rules were relaxed for the duration, and the only mandatory uniform was the school-cap with it's sterling silver badge, and school-tie, which I obtained from the school.
We were met at Paddington by a well-dressed lady in her Thirties who was to be my escort. She told Dad that she would see me safely to my billet at Torquay.
Paddington Station had so far escaped the bombs. It was a busy place, with lots of bustle, and the occasional chuff and roar of a Great Steam Locomotive as it took off for the West Country, pulling a train of cream and brown coaches.
The Escort Lady led us to our Train, Dad saw me off and we were on our way.
The 200 mile journey took five hours, and was a bit boring until we got past Exeter.
Then the scenery changed dramatically as the Railway-line followed the coastal route.
The Train went in and out of short rocky tunnels on it's way round the coast, with the Sea on one side and the countryside on the other.
The colour of the ploughed fields changed from brown to the red soil of Devon.
I'd never been on a Corridor-Train before, and it was a novelty for me to stand there out of the Escort's sight with my head out of the window, catching glimpses of the huge Green and Black Engine with brassware gleaming in the sunlight, as it rounded the bends ahead of us.
However, I suffered for my foolishness.
By the time we arrived at Torquay, I had painful wind-burn blisters on my lips.
The Escort-Lady said that she did her job
on a voluntary basis, and was going to stay for a few days at the Palm-Court Hotel by the sea-front until her next assignment.
I later saw that this Hotel was quite a grand place, so she must have been a well-to-do Lady doing her bit for the War-effort.
She duly deposited me at my billet in Sherwell Valley Road, on the outskirts of Torquay close to the Picture-Postcard Village of Cockington, a famous Tourist attraction, it had picturesque cottages, and a thatched Smithy, where you could see a Blacksmith at work and watch a Horse being shod if you were there at the right time.
The village was only a short way away. At the end of the road where the houses finished, a footpath led through an Orchard and across a couple of meadows past
farm buildings.
It was a nice walk, if one avoided the Cow-pats in the lush grass, and the local Farmer was friendly, he always let us go in to see the animals, there were horses and lots of Black and White Cows, sometimes we saw them in the milking parlour.
I was to stay with Mr and Mrs B, their fourteen year old daughter, Doris, and small son of about five.
There was already a Boy from St.Olaves staying there with whom I was to share a Bedroom and Double Bed.
His name was George, and he was a year older than me, so he was in the next higher Form at School.
I'd vaguely known him at home, as he lived just a few streets away, so we were to get on well together. George was an only child, a quiet, studious chap. I was glad he was there as he helped me learn the ropes at school.
For the first week or so, I was very homesick, and silently cried myself to sleep every night worrying about Mum, Dad and the Kids at home in the Shelter with the Blitz going on. I think that's when I learned the power of prayer, and to always have faith in God.
I was so relieved when my first letter came from Mum. I just knew they'd all be OK from then on.
The B's were quite good to us, but Mrs B, or Aunt Flo, as we called her, had her own fixed ideas about everything, she could be quite unpleasant when she wanted to, although she was kind to us in her way and meant well.
Theirs was a nice modern semi-detached House, with a long back-garden sloping down towards it. Inside all was spotless and neat. Lace D'Oyleys on the dining-room table and all.
The first thing that struck one on entering was the all pervading smell of boiled Cabbage.
As part of her morning ritual, Aunt Flo would put a Steamer of Cabbage on the Stove to boil at about eight o'clock, for dinner at twelve, by which time it was reduced to mush.
Other than that, she wasn't a bad Cook, the only thing was that her idea of the quantity of food needed by growing lads didn't coincide with ours. George and I were always hungry, as portions were small and there were never second helpings.
She sometimes cooked a Milk-Pudding called Junket which I'd never heard of before. It had an Almond-like taste, and was quite nice.
St.Olave's was "billeted" on Torquay Grammar School, about twenty minutes walk away. On our way there, George and I would stop at the Village Bakery and each buy a "Halfpenny Batch Loaf", actually a large Bread-Roll. We'd munch the warm fresh bread as we walked to School.
All our spare pocket-money found it's way to the Baker's or the School Tuck-Shop, where they sold pop and biscuits. But we always had to make sure we saved enough money for essential School items, such as ink and pencils.
School was a bit strange at first, but I soon got to like it and fitted in well.
The Masters all wore gowns and had nicknames given to them by the boys. My Form-Master was "Charlie", really Mr Charlwood, and Dr.Carrington the Headmaster was "Carrots", another one was "Boggy Newmarsh" our Latin Master.
We shared the School Buildings with our hosts, Torquay Grammar School, so our hours were somewhat irregular. Most days we started at 1pm and finished at 5pm, we also went to School on Saturday mornings.
The time lost was made up by us having about three hours Homework every day.
The B's home wasn't really a very happy one. Aunt Flo was MrB's second Wife. The first one had died when the little boy was born.
Aunt Flo doted on the boy, and spoiled him, but seemed to have a down on Doris, who'd just left School, and hadn't yet started work.
When the big Air-raids on Bristol started, MrB was sent there on Bomb-damage repair work, as he was a Telephone Engineer.
He was told that he'd be away for some time, only coming home for the occasional weekend, so they decided that Doris should stay at home and help Aunt Flo in the house until he was back home for good.
Doris was a nice quiet girl, tall and thin with ginger hair like myself.
I felt sorry for her, as Aunt Flo was always scolding her and treated her like a Skivvy, she was everlasting dusting and polishing and sat quietly doing her embroidery in the evenings, but she always seemed cheerful and happy when she came out with us, so I suppose she'd come to terms with things. She told me she wanted to train to be a nurse when she was old enough.
We soon got used to Aunt Flo and her ways, and learnt how to humour her. I used to get the job of holding up her skein of knitting-wool on my arms, while she wound it up into a ball, chatting all the time.
She told me that she was born in Newton-Abbot, a market town about fifteen miles away, and had lived there until she was married.
She'd worked as an Operator in the Telephone Exchange since she was a teenager, and met her husband there.
Apparently, she'd married late because she stayed at home to support her invalid Mother, so she had good reason to feel frustrated really.
One day, Aunt Flo showed me a photograph of herself in a long dance dress, taken when she was younger. I thought she looked very nice with her wavy blondish hair. She told me that she used to have it "done" at the Hairdressers every week in those days.
My time in Torquay passed happily enough, and we made the best of things. The only real downside was the long walk to school, as there were a lot of hills and it always seemed to be raining during the Winter.
However,Torquay was an excellent place to be at in the Summer.
We had some good times on the beach. George and I would go home that way sometimes and stay for a while, but one hot sunny day, I came to grief.
We went into the water, and it was lovely, but we had no towels with us, and foolishly dried in the sun when we came out.
George got away with it, as he had a dark skin, but with my Ginger Hair and Freckles I wasn't so lucky. By the time we got home, my Chest and Back were really sore, and by bedtime I was covered in Salt-Water Blisters.
I was in agony for a couple of weeks and didn't get much sleep, but I managed to keep it from Aunt Flo.There'd have been hell to pay if she'd found out we'd been in the Sea on our own. That was forbidden as neither of us could swim. It can be a bit dangerous down there, with the undertow from big waves.
Another time, we went down on to the Lower Promenade, intending to explore round Corbyn's Head, a Headland jutting out into the Bay. Although it was sunny, it was also windy, and there was a sudden squall. We turned to go back, but the Sea had got rough, and with the tide coming in, big waves were breaking over the steps on to the lower Promenade, some of them splashing over the top railings.
All we could do was make a dash for it between the waves, and eventually we made it to the stairs leading to the Upper Promenade, encouraged by the small crowd watching the action from behind the railings up there.
Needless to say, we were soaked to the skin, but escaped Aunt Flo's wrath by saying we'd been caught in the storm, which was true anyway.
One afternoon during a lesson in my first term at school, The Headmaster came into the form-room and I was called out. With my heart in my mouth, wondering what I'd done, I hurried to him. He smiled when he saw my worried face. "Come with me!" He said quietly. "You have a visitor."
To my astonishment, I found my brother Percy in the Head's Study seated with an elderly distinguished looking man. After my first surprise, I greeted my brother gladly. Dr. Carrington introduced the Gentleman as Dr. Platt, the County Education Officer.
Percy had been evacuated to Exeter, and was lucky enough to be billeted with Dr. Platt.
He had told him that I was at Torquay with St. Olave's, so when the good Doctor came to Torquay on a routine visit, he brought Percy with him so that he could see me. We were allowed to sit and chat in the Secretary's office while Dr. Platt conducted his business with the Head.
Percy said that Dr. Platt had a big house just outside Exeter, and he was happy there as the Doctor was a very nice man. Our sisters, Iris and Beryl were also at Exeter, billeted together. He told me that the schools in London had closed again because of the bombing, and all the schoolchildren evacuated. It was a lucky chance they'd come to Devon.
We spent half an hour or so exchanging news, then they had to go as Dr.Platt had other calls to make.
When Christmas came, Dad came down to Exeter and stayed for a few days. I went over from Torquay and stayed at my sister's billet, so we all spent Christmas together. I don't remember much about the place, except that the garden of the house backed on to the river Exe. It was cold and damp while I was there, with mist rising from the river.
Percy's luck had run out though, The powers that be had decided that Dr. Platt should take more evacuees in his big house, so Percy was moved out and a family installed.
Percy's new billet was with an old army major who was a bit of a martinet and resented having to take in an evacuee from London. Dad had a few words with him when he saw the situation, and the upshot was that Percy went home with him to London.
He had passed the exam for a Technical School, and got a place at the Borough Polytechnic which was open again.
Back in Torquay, we had a cold winter but Spring was soon on the way.
The B's House had a big garden, and with all the publicity about "Digging for Victory", I got interested in gardening and prevailed on Mr.B to let me have a patch of my own. He was only too glad, and gave me a
decent sized plot.
One Sunday Afternoon, I dug my plot over, and thought it needed some manure, so I got a couple of paper carrier-bags and went down to the Farm.
The Farmer said that Pig's manure was best for the garden, and I could take all I wanted. When he saw my Carrier-bags, he said I'd need to put one inside the other, as the Pig-manure was a bit damp.
With the double bag full of the stuff, it was quite heavy, and I hadn't gone far when the handles broke. I hugged the bag of smelly manure to my Chest and hurried home. By the time I got there, it was seeping through the paper, but I made it up to the garden, just about.
I abandoned my old gardening coat and managed to clean up a bit before going indoors, but I wasn't very popular with Aunt Flo when she got a whiff of me.
Things went on quite pleasantly until one Saturday as I walked home from school on my own. I took the usual shortcut through the park and was set upon by two boys of about my own age. It turned out they were also evacuees from London, but they thought all Grammar-School boys were cissies and needed beating up. I went home with a few bruises and a black eye to explain away, but I think I gave as good as I got, anyway, one of them retired early with a bloody nose.
As Spring gave way to summer, life got a bit more interesting as we went out a lot more. There was much to see around Torquay, and always something going on in the town.
One public holiday,when we were down there
we saw that the Town Hall was decorated with flags and banners, and there were a lot of people about, then we heard the sound of Bagpipes approaching and a parade of servicemen marched by. I don't know what the occasion was in 1941, but there were a lot of airmen there in their blue uniforms from the nearby RAF camp. They all wore a white flash on their forage caps, so I think they were all trainees.
At last, the end of the term came. George and I both went home for the Summer
Holidays, as did many of the boys at School. The Blitz had died down by then, and it was deemed safe to be in London for the moment.
To be Continued.

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