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15 October 2014
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Stale Cakes, Sugar Beet, Scabies and Special Custard - Memories of an Evacuee Boy's diet

by BBC Learning Centre Gloucester

Contributed by 
BBC Learning Centre Gloucester
People in story: 
Graham and John Morse
Location of story: 
Streatham, London; Eastbourne, Sussex; Paignton, Devon; Cinderford, Gloucestershire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 April 2005

Graham and his elder brother John at Christmas 1941 - after recovering on a diet including 'special custard' - actually rich Devon cream - from their malnutrition ordeal at an earlier evacuee billet

This story was submitted to the People's War site by the BBC Learning Centre on behalf of Graham Morse with his permission.
The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

School activities had been as normal, as it had been since the start of the new school year in August 1939. Now it was 3rd September 1939 and there was an air of gloom amongst all of us assembled in the Main School Hall, some 200 children between the ages of 5 to 11 years. We were the school assembly for Eardley Road Infants and Junior School, Streatham, London SW16. We all waited expectantly to hear what the Head Teacher had to say to us.
“We are at war with Germany” she said coldly,” As a school we are being evacuated to a safer area”.
Evacuated? What was this? How could children understand?
September 1939, here we are a family who had moved to London during the 1920s to enable our Father to search and obtain work after the recession in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.
Now after the Declaration of War we are to be separated, my brother John and I to be evacuated with our School, our Mother and Father with our one-year-old baby sister Margaret would stay in London for the immediate future.
Plans for the evacuation were very swiftly executed and before we really knew what was happening we were all being herded together in the school playground complete with school cap, overcoat, recently issued gas mask in its cardboard box with string to carry it on our shoulders, and a small carrying case with all our personal possessions, change of underwear, pyjamas, shirts, socks, and toiletries. Each one of us had a large luggage label fixed firmly to our coat buttonhole, stating full name and school details.
Eventually the double decker buses turned up to take us to the railway station and a train to safety.
My brother John had been put in charge of myself - he was just 11 years and I was six years old.
This was the very first time we had been away from our parents, except to go to visit Granny and Granddad in Cinderford in Gloucestershire occasionally.
The buses filled with children, half crying half laughing, set off to the Railway Station at Croydon, then by train to Eastbourne.
Eastbourne was to be our haven of safety; we arrived during the afternoon. We had to walk in a long line from the station to a Church Hall where we milled around like cattle at a market until a large lady in a WRVS uniform stood up on the stage and called for us to be quiet. Each one of us had to be registered at a table at one end of the hall, where we were given a carrier bag containing a small tin of corned beef, packet of biscuits, a small tin of evaporated milk, together with a small pat of butter and a packet of sugar.
After a while people started to arrive to view the children on offer. First one and then another would be selected and taken away, until finally all that were left were families of children, twos and threes, brothers and sisters who were not to be split up.
A long time had elapsed and we were still there when a kindly looking elderly lady approached John and I and after discussions with the WRVS Lady reluctantly agreed to take us "Only until alternative accommodation could be found".
When we walked outside it was quite dark, no lights anywhere "The Blackout" was in force. The elderly lady led us through the unfamiliar streets until finally we arrived at a large detached house.
An elegant looking elderly lady, who introduced herself as Mrs Stoney, a name that belied her nature and generosity, warmly greeted us inside the house. The interior of the Hall was like nothing we had seen before, highly polished block floor, Persian carpets, expensive wallpaper and beautiful pictures.
When we were ushered into the Lounge we were taken aback with the luxury of carpets, furniture and a large coal fire burning brightly in the fireplace which had a marble surround.
The lady of the house, Mrs Stoney had a housekeeper, Miss Stanley (the lady who brought us to the house) also an elderly gardener. The housekeeper was a strict disciplinarian, as far as two young boys were concerned, shoes off at the door, no running, no shouting, and bed by 7pm.
We loved to go into the garden and help the gardener tidy up and help with the bonfire.
Our schooling comprised of us all attending the Church Hall where we were all crammed into age groups, not very conducive to good learning.
I am not too sure how long we were there in Eastbourne, maybe six months or so and then as a school we were off again. Eastbourne had become an area subject to bombing, as the German planes jettisoned any remaining bombs after their raids on London as they hurried home to Germany.
This time the destination was to be Paignton in South Devon. Once again we travelled as the complete School and again had to suffer the degrading rejection and ultimate selection by prospective foster parents. Because John and I were labelled ‘not to be parted’, selection took a very long time. Finally a lady named Mrs Tucker took us under her wing and we went to her home - “Bay View” in Monastery Road Paignton, a nice bay-fronted end of terrace house.
Mrs Tucker had two sons about our own ages. Our stay with the Tuckers was enjoyable; we were able to wander free in the monastery grounds, visit the zoo, and go every Sunday to church where we were enrolled in the church choir, and we also of course attended school.
Regrettably our stay was short-lived, as Mrs Tucker became ill and was no longer able to look after us, so John and I were moved again.
This time our host was a Mrs Adam, whose large house was way out in the countryside. As well as housing a number of evacuees, she also had four Land Army girls billeted with her.
Here we were treated as second-class citizens, four children to a double bed, our milk drink was pale blue where it was watered down so much, our main diet seemed to be stale cakes purchased from (or given by) the local baker after he had decided they were not suitable for sale.
We still had to walk a long way to and from the village hall to join our school colleagues.
Sometimes at the weekends we would explore the area and found a farmer’s storage building full of swede-type vegetables. These we used to slice up with John’s pocketknife and eat raw to stave off hunger. We now believe they may have been sugar beet.
Early in 1941, most of the children billeted with Mrs Adams became ill. We were diagnosed as suffering from scabies and impetigo and all were under-nourished and suffering from malnutrition. We were all taken to an isolation hospital.
Our parents were informed and were very concerned but unable to travel from Gloucestershire to Devon to see us. They arranged for Dad’s sister Doris who had recently been bombed out of Plymouth and was now living in rural Devon, to visit and assess the situation. As soon as we had the all clear from the hospital, we were taken to where Auntie Doris and Uncle Reg rented accommodation in a farmhouse, with the farmer's family, Mr and Mrs Martin.
With the farm food and care we soon recovered.
We really enjoyed Mrs Martin’s 'Special Custard' which we now know was Devonshire cream, which they should not have made due to Ministry of Food restrictions.
After a month of ife on the farm, herding cows and sheep, helping in the fields collecting and stacking the sheaves of wheat ready for threshing at harvest time, we were sent to join our parents in
Cinderford, in Gloucestershire.
Earlier in the year, Mum, Dad and Margaret had been bombed out of London and had gone to live with my maternal grandparents in their two bedroomed house.
When John and I arrived we had to be accommodated by other members of the family. John went to Mum’s brother Fred and his wife Win to live, I went to Dad’s parent’s house with Gran & Granddad and Auntie Mabel. We all were in a bit
of a crush, but at least we were now safe and sound and all together if only now and then in a Church Hall where my Mum was the cleaner.
John was now 13 years old and had not been assessed for senior school, he took an examination and was accepted into Lydney Grammar School. I was sent to Bilson Junior School in Cinderford and later to East Dean Grammar School in Cinderford.
This is how we lived through the war years and beyond, until 1947 in fact, due to the lack of houses in the area.
In 1947 Cinderford Town Council allocated our parents a brand new council house on the Hilldene Estate. Regrettable John did not join us; he had joined the Army when he was 18 years of age and married Christine by the time he was nineteen-and-a-half years old.

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