War and evacuation. Chapter 4 of Yesterdays Child.

WAR AND EVACUATION…

I never got to know my family of two older brothers and an elder sister until I was let out of the home on a weekly basis from the age of six. I was finally sent home in 1937 in time for the Jubilee celebrations.
My family had moved back to London in 1932 from where they originated from to 218 Neate Street in Camberwell, South East London.
I recall having a flag put in my hand to wave about and the good old "knees up" as the Londoners called it. I began school at Coburg Road with one eye still covered up to try and make the bad one work. I had to wear a patch over one eye ever since I started to crawl because of the eye trouble that the illness left me with.
It had made me very unhappy because of the names that the children called me, such as Popeye or Nelson and it made me very aggressive in my character. I silently vowed that I would never hurt anyone like that when I grew up.
As I got settled in with the family I soon found out that my mother and father were always at each other’s throats. We never had one day go past without a row of some sort. I got used to the arguing and pot throwing over the years.
Funnily enough if anyone interfered with them and perhaps would ask them to calm down my mother would tell them to “Sod off ! When I want any help from you I will ask. Meanwhile this is between me and my husband.”

When things were alright between them and money was not so tight they used to take me to New Cross Dog Track on the Saturday night.
Our journey would take us along The Old Kent Road. We would stop at the Lord Nelson first where they would stop to wet their whistles as they told me but being naïve I could never fathom out where their whistles were. I had never seen them use one.
My mother would be dressed in a large picture hat with a dress that had beaded petals falling from the waist over a full skirt and Dad would be dressed up in his “whistle and flute” as he called his best suit.
As we moved further on down The Old Kent Road we would call in at the Thomas a Beckett public house.
This was where all the famous boxers trained.
I was very often patted on the head by them as I sat on the step waiting for my parents to come out.
I hated these trips to the dog track. I would much rather have been at home picking out tunes on the piano which incidentally I learnt to play quite well over the years.

During the summer of 1939 I was hearing talk of a nasty man called Adolf Hitler. It was snatches of conversation that I heard when the grown-ups were talking together and I had been told to go and play in the passage ( a long narrow hallway in the house ).
Children were being sent away from their parents to safety areas, whatever they were.
It seemed very strange to me that as soon as I got to know someone as a friend they were sent off to the country. Houses were being issued with funny corrugated shapes that were called Anderson air-raid shelters that had to be put in a hole that was dug out in the back garden, if you had one.
Gasmasks were issued and everyone had an identity card.
We had practised at school with our gasmask’s for ten minutes every day and were told if the air-raid siren went off to get under our desks.

This poem tells of the times we had to practise putting the masks on………………….

Everyone had an identity card and a gas mask too
Nasty horrible things to wear, stuck to you like glue.
It was a daily ritual to practice wearing that gas mask
None of us liked doing it because it really was a task
Teacher would then come round to see if it fitted snug
Pulling at the head strap she would give it quite a tug.
I wouldn't mind but it was supposed to keep us alive,
But how if we had to wear it long would we all survive?
I was glad when we finally stopped that daily routine
But we still had to carry it no matter where we'd been.
We were never parted from it even when visiting the loo
But as soon as the war ended they disappeared from view

copyright---Maisie Walker 2005--- all copyrights reserved.

September 3rd 1939 was a lovely sunny Sunday morning and to me there seemed to be a hush over everything. At 11am it came over the relay wireless that Mr Chamberlain had said we were now in a state of war with Germany. I can still hear my mothers anguished voice saying " Oh sweet mother of mercy! My boys, my boys."
The hush from outside suddenly became a cacophony of voices. All the neighbours gathered on their doorsteps talking about what would happen if old Hitler got to England. I felt terrified in case I was sent back to the Sisters of Mercy home.
I was relieved when my mother said that Hitler or no bleeding Hitler she was still going hop-picking the next day and taking her kids with her.

It was a well known thing for Londoners to go for about three weeks hop-picking every year. They classed it as a working holiday that got them away from the London smog and they could see a bit of green countryside.
It was during the third week that we were there when a German plane got through our defences ( such as they were).
He spotted us working and decided to use us as target practise. We all dived into the hop-vines for cover and Thank God there were no casualties because one of our fighters came along and a terrific dog fight was going on above us when the Spitfire shot the Jerry down.
We were all excited when we saw him bail out of his plane because it was on fire and came floating down in to the adjoining field.
Everyone left what they were doing and ran to the next field armed with whatever they could find to clobber the pilot with. He was still extricating himself out of his parachute so he had no chance to run anywhere.

It was a phoney war up until the June 1940. Everything was still going on as usual apart from railings and various other things like old pots and pans being given up for the war effort. We still had to take our gasmask’s every where we went but up to that time it was like the sword of Damocles waiting to strike. Posters were put up saying "Careless talk cost lives". There was the blackout to contend with and things were beginning to get in short supply.

My father came home from the docks one day with a beautiful blue grey kitten that had been abandoned by its mother.
My mother took to that kitten and it became her shadow.
She would share her rations with Blue as she called him and when he got wounded by shrapnel she would nurse him back to health.
She would not have it put to sleep like many pets in the London area were because of the bombing raids. This was in case the animal ran off in fear and most probably getting killed or wounded in a gruesome way.
It must have been a terrible decision to make for all who had and loved their pets.

It was after Dunkirk when the bombing started in earnest and it got steadily worse as the days turned into months. It was a nightly ritual to get the flask of tea, blankets, candle and sandwiches ready to take down the Anderson shelter which incidentally was always swimming in six inches of water.
We could tell by the sound of the engines of the planes whether they were friend or foe. Blue always gave us warning at least 10 minutes before the siren went by clawing at the door or what was left of it. We knew that we had time to grab everything to make our way down the shelter. It was a living nightmare to go through the continual bombing night after night. My mother was continually praying with her rosary in her hands. When we emerged each morning still alive it was a miracle. It was better still if we could have a cup of tea and a wash to take the grime out of our eyes from continual dust and smoke of the fires and buildings that had collapsed.

One night stands out in my memory so vividly that I can still hear the screaming bombs and the Anderson rattling as the bombs reigned down on us. It was the night that hundreds of German bombers droned over dropping bombs to set all the docks afire. To say it was horrific would be putting it mildly. The scene that met us the next morning when we finally saw the light of day was horrendous. We felt as though we were standing in the middle of Hell. Fires were raging all round us and I could see bodies smouldering among the rubble of houses. The smell was putrid and we could only cope by putting something round our faces to try and filter the smoke and smell of burning flesh away.

The top part of our house had been completely demolished and yet my mothers beautiful ebony piano was still intact under the blankets that she had covered over it.
Even at the tender age of 10 years I wondered WHY the God that my mother was always praying to had taken our neighbours lives but left a piano.?
Believe it or not, to have a piano in those days was a status symbol.
Similar to a Rolls Royce car in the drive today.
That night has been etched in my mind ever since. If it had not been for our heroic R.A.F we would not be here today to tell the tale.

We spent most of our time down the shelter after that. There was a public house across the road from us named the Hop-pole and the piano found shelter down in the cellar until we found a safe place for it. It was well used by any who were partaking of the dregs from the beer barrels when raids were on. Especially singing songs relating to what they would do to Hitler.

Christmas Day 1940 was a stark time but it was quiet from the bombs for once and we were living in the shelter by his time because our house had gone.
I wrote the following poem about that particular Christmas Day and it depicts the fierce community spirit that everyone felt at that time.

A CHRISTMAS DAY MEMORY.

I sit and ponder about a certain Christmas Day many years ago
I remember very plainly of having no home and no place to go.
The year was nineteen forty in the middle of the London Blitz
Jerry pounding us with bombs, he tried hard to break the Brits

We finished up in our air-raid shelter to keep us from the cold
Listening to the bombs dropping down as hell began to unfold.
Christmas was fast approaching but no presents were in sight
It was dangerous for Santa to travel in the war stricken night.

At least that was what I was told by my fourteen-year-old brother!
No stocking put up for a Christmas, just comforting each other.
Christmas Day dawned and the firemen were so tired and weary
This did not deter them, they battled on as they remained cheery.

Along came a water cart at last to get water for a cup of Rosie Lee
How would the British survive without their cup of cheering tea?
We managed to have a quick wash to greet that Christmas morning
In case we were bombed again and had to heed the air-raid warning.

But it remained quiet, a deathly hush that seemed to envelop us all
A Christmas Day that remained in my memory that I can well recall.
It was like sitting on the edge of a volcano just waiting for it to erupt
Suddenly the sound of voices was heard the silence it did interrupt.

A radio was playing and the choristers were singing a rousing song
Many joined in the chorus as the voices made us all feel strong.
For those who have never witnessed a moving scene such as this
I thank the Lord! It was something that I would not have missed

I have never had that feeling of awe since that fateful day long ago
A kindred spirit amid a city razed that brought forth a certain glow
Of pride and joy that existed for a short time as we all started to sing
A song called “Santa Claus is coming to town” with voices in full swing

Its well over 70 yrs since that awesome day, I give thanks I am still alive
I very often wonder how through all that hell we managed to survive.
I hope and pray it will never happen again to any future generations
And may everyone be thankful as they enjoy their happy celebrations.

copyright---Maisie Walker -- all rights reserved.

Just after Christmas the Germans came back to give us another pounding.

My mother was by this time fed up with trying to keep what bits we had left together and we moved to number 168 further along the street that had a factory built nearby.
We started using the factory cellar to stay in during the night raids. This house too was bombed so we were once again with no home.
In the February 1941 my mother decided to go to the authorities to see if she could be evacuated with her children. My eldest brother was already in the Airforce. He was called up as soon as the war started. My sister was too old at 17 to be evacuated so she stopped with my dad but my other brother who was 14 years old and my mother and myself were told to be at the school by a certain time to board the bus.

We arrived at the appointed school with our gasmasks and tickets tied to our coats. Even the mothers had a ticket pinned to them. After a nightmare journey through London in a bus during a daylight raid we got to the station.
We were then herded on to it, like cattle by a bossy woman who kept shoving us into line.
I was rather worried about this because my mother had a very short fuse and I was edgy in case she shoved the woman back.
I was relieved, apprehensive and excited when we finally pulled out of the station heading for an unknown destination.

We had been on the train for about half-an-hour when a Jerry plane spotted us and used us as target practice.
Once again we came under machine gun bullets. It was a work of art for all of us to try and get down on the floor of the train because it was packed out with evacuees plus pregnant women who were being evacuated.
With a bit of luck we were coming up to a long tunnel and the train pulled to a halt to give the Jerry time to scarper.
As we pulled out again we could see that a Spitfire had come to our rescue and let the Jerry have full blast of his machine guns which resulted in the Jerry plane spiralling down to earth taking the pilot with it. The vociferous cheer that shook the train gave vent to all our fears.

We arrived in Loughborough at the Central Station at 7-30 in the evening.
We all had to walk to the Y.W.C.A. but fortunately the moon was shining that night and it helped us to fumble our way through strange territory in the blackout.
When we got to the Y.W.C.A. we were given a potted meat sandwich that was curled up at the edges and a black cup of tea but to us with being so hungry, dirty and tired it was like a four course meal.
I can recall someone saying that he was so hungry he could eat a " horse between two bread carts". I have never forgotten the giggle that went round our tired war weary group at that remark.

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War and evacuation. Chapter 4 of Yesterdays Child. was last modified: August 17th, 2013 by Maywalk
Published in Senior Chatters

17 thoughts on “War and evacuation. Chapter 4 of Yesterdays Child.

  1. lani36

    I am enjoying your story so much may its brings to light what my moms p-eople in the north of england must have gone through at the same time , I never met them but my mom used to send parcels for Brittain to her family from Australia, tinned fruit , fruit cake she baked and placed in greasproof wrapping and sealed in a tin tightly
    tinned peas and carrotts etc, I had no idea I was a little girl at that time , born in the 40,s , we had ration books as well here and one could only buy a few eggs a week but mom always had her own chooks and supplied the neighbourhood with eggs for milk and cream from a neighbour who had a cow. and she used to grow her own veges , and barter them for rabitts the nman next door caught and we were fairly self sufficient , going blackberrying for jams and pies etc; good old days .
    : thats was fun too for my brother and I .

  2. cappuccino

    I too,lived in South east London during the war…Upper Norwood in fact,near Crystal Palace.
    Dont recall much before 1944 as I wasnt born till Feb 1939.
    Interesting to read of your memories though Maywalk.

  3. Maywalk Post author

    Many thanks for getting back to me Cappucino. You were born a few months before D-Day.
    June 6th.. ..1944…….
    WHAT a memory that brings back with seeing hundreds of our planes flying out to do their utmost to bring that dreadful war to an end and finishing up with many NOT coming back.
    A VERY emotional day.
    Where you still in London when the war finished?

    1. cappuccino

      I was 5 yrs old during D Day,Maywalk.
      My memories go back about a year to around 1943 or so…bombings..parachute mines..flying bombs(Doodlebugs)…it all seemed so exciting at the time…being a little kid,I had no idea how serious it was.
      Yes..we never left London during the war,I dont recall any kids that did.

  4. nmod

    Interesting account of the war years , it shows how resilient people were on those days ,and somehow I can’t help to sympathize with civilians on war torn zones who are still suffering similar situations even now.
    Maisie what does it mean to go hop- picking ? I’m not English born so I have not idea of what that is .
    Thank you for sharing your very interesting story with us … I will be away for a week …so I’m not sure if I will be able to log in but I will certainly try to … If not i will catch up on the chapters when I come back home ….

  5. Faye

    Maywalk dont let the silence of people put you off continuing with your story. I am enjoying the read although I seldom comment on anything…Im sure many others are the same. So please continue…being born after the war Im finding it most interesting and an insight into what happened in the yrs before my birth….:-)

  6. Maywalk Post author

    Thanks nmod and you too Faye for the encouraging post.
    Its as well to know of these happenings because as I said not many of us are left.

    To answer your question about hop -picking nmod it was as I said a working holiday for the Londoners whereby they picked the hops to make beer and other drinks.
    I
    It was a lovely carefree but hardworking time for them but they all loved it.
    At night there used to be cooking on an open fire and someone would be playing their accordian or squeeze box as they are now known as.
    Everyone would join in having a singsong or dancing round to the music IF they had the strength after a hard days work.
    A lovely atmosphere where no one was any better than anyone else.

  7. Maywalk Post author

    Yes it was nmod. Something that is missing in today’s society.
    Probably because we were all in the same boat, as the saying goes.
    Enjoy the week and I will talk to you when you get back.
    God Bless.

  8. lo1234

    May, I have a British neighbor, who is 94. She came to the USA with her husband after the war in 1946. She has similar stories of the war. What I find fascinating is the resiliency of those who lived through that period of time. Thanks for sharing these stories. I so enjoy them.

  9. annemarie

    May, I really enjoyed reading about what you went through during WW 2 . You are so lucky to have survied and able to remember and write about you life during that time. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. Marie

  10. Maywalk Post author

    Many thanks ladies for the lovely replies. There soon wont be anyone to ask because many of those that I was evacuated with have now left this earth.
    I can only thank my son for learning me how to use a computer and asking me to write all my tales down.
    Bless you all for getting back to me.
    There are 12 chapters altogether in the book I wrote and if those who are reading this blog want me to carry on putting them on here I will but, as I said previously, I DONT want to bore folks.

  11. sandowner

    maywalk you have certainly brought back memories of my early life hop picking every year until the picking ended (I was about 18 then) we used to use the huts all yr round ,, I still visit them old oasthouses yearly,,,,,,, hahah behind which many London kids were created
    and the evenings spent around the cookhouse fire,, and the stories ,,and watching the film slide shows ,,once a week given by a old preacher ,,who we all new as “sunshinemounting” them days I clase as very important part of my family life,,,,,,,,
    ,,,,,,,thank you for remnding me of them

  12. lolomeowsie

    Maywalk, your story is far from boring. I am totally caught up in it, as I was born in 1950 and lived my entire life in the USA. It is amazing to hear of these times and the sacrifices that were made. It was a completely different world. Thanks for telling us about it.

  13. Maywalk Post author

    Thank you Sandowner and Lani for the replies.
    Its good to know that many folks are still interested in those far off years. I am VERY lucky to still be here to relate them because SO many of my generation are in the throes of Dementia or have passed away. Sounds gruesome but its true I am afraid and its surprising how many folk still contact me wanting to know about those years.
    I usually direct them to my website because it also gives many tales on there of veterans who have sent me their wonderful tales to be recorded before they left this world.
    I have felt VERY honoured to have had them contact me.
    Thank you again.
    God Bless.

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