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15 October 2014
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by Essex Action Desk

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Contributed by 
Essex Action Desk
People in story: 
June Staley
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Contributed on: 
07 September 2005

This story was submitted to the People's war website by the BBC Essex Action Desk on behalf of June Staley and has been added to the site with her permission and she understands the sites terms and conditions.

The memories I have of being an evacuee go back to a day or two before war was declared - it could have been the 1st or 2nd September 1939 - waiting at Maynard Road Junior School with a small case and, of course, the gas mask saying goodbye to my Mum, not really sure what was happening. I believe we went by train from St Pancras Station to Oakham Station, ending up at a Village Hall in Burley, sitting around waiting for somebody to take us home. I can still remember being given a cup of Horlicks not properly mixed (I have never liked that drink since then).

Three of us were picked out and went by car over a very bumpy field. It was very dark. We went up to bed — no electric light — we had candles. The other two girls were Brenda, a couple of years older than myself, about 10 I believe, and Doreen, about my age. We all slept in one bed, but that soon changed the next day as, I am sorry to say, I had a weakness, bed-wetting. Still I did get my own bed. We were on a farm called Cow Close Farm, Burley, Oakham, Rutland.

Mr & Mrs Eayrs were very kind to us. They had one son, his name was Geoffrey and he was about 14 years old. We were shown around the farmyard by Bob, one of the farm workers. It was very muddy and as I only had shoes on Bob picked me up and sat me on a huge carthorse — it was wonderful.

Mrs Eayrs helped us to write letters home to Mum and Dad. I am not sure how long Brenda stayed with us but I know she wanted to go home. Then Doreen went home not long after Brenda, so I was on my own. I used to walk to the Village Hall where we had a school. It was quite a walk but eventually all the evacuees and teachers went back home, so I went to the local village school.

I became friendly with one of the girls and was often invited to her home. On looking back I must have been lonely. Mrs Eayrs thought it might be a good idea if I went to live with this family - I think they were called Meredith. I know the man was a butcher. I am not sure how long I was there, but I enjoyed being with the family.

When the bombing in London stopped, Mum came and took me back home and I recall just going into the shelter in the garden when we did get a raid. I went to the Senior Girls School then until the Doodlebugs dropped at the top of the road and our house was badly damaged. Mum sent a telegram to Mrs Eayrs and I was back on the farm. I must have been about 12 then.
I went to school at Cottesmore. There was an aerodrome near there. The farm now had an electric generator so we had electric light, when it worked. Being a little older now I helped with the lambs when they were orphaned, getting up at night to give them a bottle. Also I loved to see the young calves they bought at market to fatten up and sell again. We used to give them a bucket of milk and let them lick our fingers.

I used to go to the bottom pantry and clean the eggs and put them in packing cases ready for market. They used to hang the pheasants here after a shoot on the farm. The top pantry was for dairy produce. Here there were great big bowls of milk and each day the cream was skimmed off and put in a butter churn. When there was enough cream I helped to churn until the butter formed. Mrs Eayrs also taught me how to clean and skin a rabbit and pluck and clean chickens. It was quite a big farm house.

In the back kitchen was a lovely old pump. The farm workers would come in during the early morning and pump the water up to the tank. I do not know how it worked but with the back boiler in the other kitchen we had hot water. This kitchen had lovely beams with hams hanging. We always had breakfast and dinner in this kitchen, tea was in the sitting room. There were two staircases, one up from the kitchen, the back stairs, and the other staircase with carpet along the passage. At the top of the back stairs (I suppose in earlier days these were the servants quarters) in one of the rooms they spread straw all over the floor and here they kept the apples from the orchard. My job was to pick out the bad ones every now and again and they went to the pigs.

At this time in the war we had double summer time. This was to enable the farmers to work later gathering the harvest. I helped Mrs Eayrs take food and drink to the field where they were working. In those times the wheat or barley were first cut and bound then the men put them in stooks to dry out, then when they dried they were loaded on a cart and taken to the yard and made into stacks. In the autumn, along came the traction engine and thresher and the corn was sacked up and put in the granary .

For a time there were Italian prisoners of war working on the farm. They had the old cottage near the farm house. They made me a ring out of brass. There were also some land girls to help out. I stayed at the farm until the war ended. Mum came for me after VE Day when all the celebrating was over. They had decorated my own bedroom (as I used to share the same room as my parents).

I did go to visit Mrs Eayrs four years later when I was 18 and had just got engaged. It was August time. I had a week there. The farm was much more up to date. The cottage was decorated and a farm worker was living there and the combine harvester came and I went round the field on it. What a difference to a few years before. Maybe I will go back sometime and find my way to the farm. I have been through Oakham on the coach when the club went to Rutland Water (that wasn’t there when I was an evacuee). Gosh it’s a life time away now.

June Staley

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