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Child from Home

BOOK: Child from Home
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CHILD
FROM HOME
CHILD
FROM HOME
MEMORIES OF A NORTH COUNTRY EVACUEE

JOHN T. WRIGHT

First published in 2009

The History Press

The Mill, Brimscombe Port

Stroud, Gloucestershire,
GL
5 2
QG

www.thehistorypress.co.uk

This ebook edition first published in 2012

All rights reserved

© John T. Wright 2009, 2012

The right of John T. Wright, to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

EPUB ISBN
978 0 7524 8004 6

MOBI ISBN
978 0 7524 8003 9

Original typesetting by The History Press

Contents

Acknowledgements

Preface

1    Beginnings

2    Evacuation

3    Little Man You've had a Busy Day

4    Kitty

5    Grove House

6    Salad Days

7    The Land of Lost Content

8    And So to School

9    Village Life and People

10  Stormy Waters

11  ‘An Hour-glass on the Run'

12  Blitzed

13  The Old Order Changeth

14  The Turning Tide

15  Comings and Goings

16  The Return

Appendix:
The Family Tree

Acknowledgements

The author extends his sincere thanks to all of those that have given so generously of their memories and time, which have proven invaluable in the compiling of this book. Whilst space prevents my listing all of them, I wish to acknowledge the particular contributions made by Catherine Brown (Kitty) of Pickering; Monica Tingle of Hartburn, Stockton-on-Tees; Eric Ward of Orpington; Stan Ward of Brotton; Alan Clark of York; Maud Eskriett of Haxby; Brian Mann of Haxby; Angela Hewins of Harbury; Irene Reynolds (Aunt Renee) and my cousins Jimmy Nolan and Keith Reynolds. Especial thanks go to my long-suffering wife, Enid.

I wish to dedicate this memoir to my wife and family, not forgetting my cousin Jimmy, who was more like a brother to me at that time.

Preface

Our deeds still travel with us from afar

and what we have been makes us what we are.

George Eliot (1819 – 1880)

As I entered the winter of my life I found myself reflecting on what had happened to me in my childhood, in what seems an age ago. In order to recall the old days I would need to penetrate the fog of the years and get inside the mind of the boy I once was. I would have to reassemble and set down my dim, swirling thoughts and vague half memories in some sort of chronological order. It seemed to me that it would be a great pity if my wartime experiences should be lost and gone forever.

Family stories passed down through the years can be inaccurate, with the true facts elusive and difficult to verify. Although there is now snow on the roof, I thought that I should make the effort while there was still a little fire in the grate. I felt that I had to get it written down before life's fast-moving currents pulled me under. Life is never a closed book; words can be powerful weapons that can help bring to life the thoughts and feelings of days long gone. To be a youngster living through a global war is an incomparable experience; a time of great emotional upheaval and change, and I felt it deserved to be recorded and preserved.

I have been fortunate enough in recent years to make contact with various people from my past, some of whom I had not seen or heard of for over sixty years. Their recollections of those distant times have been invaluable. Looking back can stir up mixed emotions – some painful and some pleasant. The pleasant and poignant memories tend to linger in our minds and seem eager to come out, but the sad and painful ones crouch in the deep recesses.

Questions arise: How permanent are the experiences and associations of childhood? How much bearing do they have on our later lives? To my mind, what happens in the first ten years of life can never be eradicated. We all carry the past within us; it is in our blood and our bones. So as not to hurt or upset relatives and descendants, I have changed the names of certain people.

War makes victims of us all. Some, like me, have lived through events that changed the world forever. Our daily lives were lived out within the turmoil of a world conflict; our small commonplace acts were carried out against a backdrop of world-shattering events and it is the little things that make the story whole. I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey into the past and hope it will be of some interest to others.

I feel that younger people should be aware of those dark years when the world went mad, in order to shape a better future and not make the same mistakes. I hope that my memoir will serve as a small tribute to those who died too soon.

1
Beginnings

‘Come on sweetheart, up you go!' said my mother as – with George balanced in the crook of her left arm – she helped me up the wooden steps. Never having been on a steam train before, we were thrilled at the thought of the great adventure to come. As I reached the sill of the carriage I kept a tight grip on my wooden Tommy gun. It had a spring and a ratchet that made a loud rat-a-tat noise when the handle was turned. This much-treasured toy, made by Dad five months earlier, had been a present for my fourth birthday and I really loved it. My brother George, who was two, clung on to his ragged teddy bear – the authorities had stated that we were to take only one toy each. Mam gripped the vertical handle beside the door and pulled herself up into the maroon and cream railway carriage. The long, plush, upholstered seats of the third-class carriage had a slightly fusty smell.

Mam had another six toddlers to look after apart from us and, after getting us seated, she heaved the heavy brass-handled door shut. She pulled down the long leather strap to close the window and fitted the hole in it over the brass peg to keep it shut. She hoisted our meagre items of luggage onto the netting of the brass-railed rack, checking at the same time that she looked respectable in the long rectangular mirrors screwed to the wall. Shortly afterwards, a railway guard appeared wearing a shiny, black-nebbed cap, a brass-buttoned waistcoat and trousers of the same thick, heavy, black material. After slamming shut any doors that remained open, he blew loudly and shrilly on his whistle, waved a green flag above his head and clambered into the guard's van. The great beast snorted as its pistons squirted out clouds of steam and the glinting, well-oiled, steel rods began to force the huge wheels into motion. Very slowly we began to move and the great black train groaned as it heaved its fully laden carriages out of the station and we were off, blissfully unaware that we were never to see our house or our pet tortoise again.

Gradually the train settled into a clanking diddly-dee, diddly-da rhythm as it picked up speed. We gazed out at the ugly squalor of our sprawling industrial town. The old smoke-blackened buildings on the outskirts of Middlesbrough were far from pretty, and were certainly showing their age. We were on the North-Eastern Railway line – designed by the renowned railway engineer George Stephenson – one of the first in Britain. Ramshackle allotments lined the tracks.

A month earlier, on 3 September 1939 to be precise, war had been declared and, thankfully, none of our family had the slightest inkling of the dire consequences for us. On that sunny Sunday morning after Mam had turned the knob on our Ecko wireless set in its brown Bakelite casing, it took five minutes for the humming, glowing, glass valves to warm up sufficiently for it to operate. Bakelite was the only material that could be moulded at the time the set was made and it was called a wireless as it was powered by a heavy, electric accumulator – a kind of transparent, wet cell battery made of thick glass in which a row of vertical lead plates submerged in sulphuric acid could be seen. It had to be recharged (for a small fee) every two weeks or so.

Two days earlier the government had closed down all the regional broadcasting stations to ensure that everybody would have to listen to the new BBC Home Service. Dad was not with us as he had rejoined the army the previous year. While on leave, he had made a rectangular wooden box with a secure handle, which Mam used to carry the accumulator to Rogers' electrical shop on nearby Newport Road whenever it needed charging. The wireless and the accumulator were rented from there and a heavy, fully charged accumulator was brought home in its stead.

At 11.15 on that fine morning, the two of us had sat by the wireless with our mother and her teenaged sister. Renee was at our house more often than she was at her own; she was a great help to Mam and we loved being with her. We were dressed in our Sunday best having just come back from the service at St Cuthbert's Church where, in his sermon, the vicar had reminded the large congregation to listen to their wireless if they had one. In a solemn tone of voice, he had told them that, ‘BBC broadcasts are being made at fifteen-minute intervals and an announcement of national importance will be made soon. Let us pray that the news will not be too bad. Hope springs eternal in the human breast. God bless you all!'

Mam held us very close as she sat riveted to the set and we eventually heard the reedy, tired-sounding voice of our seventy-year-old Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Mam had once said to Renee, ‘Some folk call him “the undertaker” because of his grim and severe appearance, but his old-fashioned black tailcoat and out-of-date wing collar don't help matters. Since last year's meeting with Hitler in Munich he has lost all credibility, but I'm sure he thought that he was doing his best for the country at the time.' He gravely ended his announcement to the nation with the words, ‘… consequently, this country is at war with Germany!'

We were too young to understand what it was all about and as Mam switched off the wireless she looked bewildered and stunned. The fact that war had finally arrived must have been a frightening and terribly uncertain prospect and there was no means of stopping or questioning it. The colour drained from her face and there were tears brimming in her eyes as she sat there in a daze and George and I didn't dare to break the silence or move a muscle. Even at that tender age, by some mysterious process, I had sensed the extreme gravity of the situation. It seems that at that moment, right across the nation, there was a communal holding of breath. Who knew what the future held? Everyone had been aware of the impending danger, but they had prayed that it wouldn't come to this. For Mam there was a feeling of numb disbelief and it became a matter of adjusting the brain to accept what the heart already knew.

Our mother was thirty years old and Dad, who was five years older than her, was serving with a Royal Artillery regiment on his second spell in the forces. Fourteen years earlier, as a young man, he had enlisted into the East Yorkshire Regiment and had seen stretches of service in India, Egypt and China. While in India he had taken a course at the British Military Hospital in Lucknow where he qualified as a nursing orderly, and in 1932, after seven years of service, he returned to civvy street.

In the latter years of the worldwide recession, my father was fortunate enough to obtain employment as a steelworker in a local foundry. He thought that, having seen much of the world and having ‘done his bit', his army career was over, but it was not to be. His aunt lived just a few doors from the Bradford family home, and it had been on one of his visits to her that he met Granny Bradford's eldest daughter, Evelyn, for the first time. She was a shy, quiet and warm-hearted young woman with an open childlike innocence. He loved the way she moved and the soft cadence of her voice. When she smiled her whole face lit up and Dad was entranced and couldn't keep his eyes off her. She was small and slim with a good figure and shapely legs. She always tried to look smart and fashionable, even though Middlesbrough was a provincial backwater which always seemed about ten years behind the latest London styles. On their first date she had worn a cloche-hat; artificial pearls; a waistless and bustless, knee-length frock and low-heeled, buttoned, strap-over shoes.

BOOK: Child from Home
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