MEMORIES FROM WAR-TIME EVACUEES FROM TOTTENHAM
had been sent a copy of the Baldock Mail August/ September 2011 Issue, and was
directed to the article Memories of Wartime Evacuees in Baldock. I was so
excited because it was the first time I had ever heard from anyone about those traumatic
days, even after scouring through Facebook, and Friends Re-united on the internet.
Needless to say many of the experiences of the writer Olive Watson and her sisters
were similar to my own, coming from Seven Sisters School Tottenham, and being of same age.
My memories are still vivid although strangely, Olives recollections of the trip
from Tottenham to Baldock are more detailed. I am John Harvey (81 now) with so many
memories I could turn the article into a book, but here goes
1939 The conversations between mum and dad at home were frightening. War, Hitler, Oswald Mosley, Jews, gas-attacks and bombing, all sowing seeds of fear into our young minds. Also, I loved reading comics which featured war stories, with pictures of huge bombers dropping bombs on houses and I pictured the same thing happening to my road in Tottenham. This led to talk of EVACUATION and being taken from our parents and going to who knows where.
AN EVACUEE FROM WOODLANDS PARK SCHOOL TOTTENHAM
|So the day came, September 1st 1939, finding us lined up in the road outside the School, sadly looking for mum and dad among all the other parents lining the street. What are we doing, where are we going, will we see our parents again? I was standing with my younger brother Derek and sister Connie carrying a gas-mask (having practised many time how to put it on, and struggling to breathe.. So suitably labelled, and being given a packet containing and apple, orange and packet of cheese biscuits which I could smell and I hated cheese. So we moved off but oddly, I have no memories of the journey to what must have been a railway station, because my next memory is standing with a group of children outside Baldock Station|
group was led on a long trek along the Great North Road children breaking off as they were
taken to their billets. We were last, being told You are the lucky ones and would be
staying on a farm. So about a mile up the road, we were led into Blackhorse Farm to
meet Mr. and Mrs. Redhouse.
Redhouses were strict church-goers and Sunday evening would drive us in their little
Ford car to the Methodist Church in centre of town (still looking same today). One day
they told us they had received a letter from our mum, who had saved up some money after
finding a job in a pub, and was coming to see us. It was a very hot day I recall, and
walked along the Gt. North Road towards the station to meet her, exhausted, but you can
imagine the joy at seeing her again. Today I still feel the hurt as mum recalled, I
was dying of thirst, and they didnt even offer me a cup of tea
PICTURED RIGHT: BALDOCK METHODIST CHURCH
|Opposite the farm-gates on the other side of the main road was a big white house where two of our school friends lived Doreen Perry and her sister Alexandra, and we would often play in the fields together. Now a rude bit I am afraid, but with some interest. In a field just to the rear of this house was an Army unit, with a searchlight battery, and an anti-aircraft gun. At the bottom of the lane leading up to the site would always be a soldier on guard carrying a rifle, and a pair of binoculars, steel helmet, etc. His job was to stop anyone venturing up the Lane, and to look out for enemy aircraft. I used to love chatting to one particular soldier, and he would let me look through his binoculars. One day, cycling past was pretty young girl on bicycle, and a strong gust of wind caused her skirt to blow up, prompting my soldier friend to say to me, Son, I would ------- her if she had a face like a frying-pan. Sorry, but I did know what he was talking about.|
School meant a long walk every day to the Town Hall next to the Fire-station, where classes were laid out in an open plan, and even on the stage. I remember getting into a fight with a boy in my class, only to discover he was the son our teacher (Mr Pyatt I think).
Christmas and teachers organised a Concert, and I remember a very pretty little girl name
Fay Cohen who danced, sang and did acrobatics. From time to time there were organised
visits to the local Brewery to see how beer was made, and the famous Bondor Stocking
factory, famous for its nylon stockings and now turned over to producing parachutes. There
was a walk along the Icknield Way, which I think they said was an old Roman Road. Saturday
mornings were exciting as it meant a visit to the Astonia Cinema where we would be given
some sweets on the way out. I remember the first film, The Cisco Kid (with Cesar Romero),
and a song from a film I remembered and sing even now, Little Curly Hair in a High
Now to my shame, more drama. One morning I spotted a gold chain on Mr. Redhouses dressing table. I picked it up and went to school proudly wearing it on my scruffy waistcoat. It was spotted by a sharp-eyed teacher, a one Mr. Allison who wanted to know where I got it. I was asking myself, Well, did I just borrow it or had I stolen it. The teacher took it from me of course returned it to Mr. R making it obvious that he thought I was a thief. I was to report to the headmaster at the school next morning (which was a Saturday). I was ashamed and terrified, but on the way, who should I see, but Mr. Ring, my headmaster. I joined him and he recognised my state. Please, dont tell my mum, I begged. He put his arm on my shoulder, and promised he would not (a promise he kept). Not so Mr. Allison, where on my returning to Tottenham School, whose class should I be put in, but his, and he took delight in letting the whole class know about me. I could have killed him. But, back to Baldock and another trip on a bitterly cold day. A teacher noticed that my hands were blue with cold. She kindly took me to a drapers shop and bought me a pair of gloves, but the shopkeeper forced this pair of leather gloves over my fingers convincing the dear teacher that they fitted, and my hands were colder than ever. The day came, I, with brother Derek and sister Connie were moved from Blackhorse Farm and three reasons being offered the gold-chain incident, our room was needed for a Land-girl, and the other, washing facilities not good enough. But for the record, I treasure the memories and experiences at the Farm.
For a short period, we were housed in the Rectory attached to the local Vicarage, a grim place I recall where we were terrified every night by the loud chimes of the church clock. Our sister Connie (7) was separated from us and went to stay with a family by the name of Peacock somewhere in town. Derek and I were taken in by a Mr. and Mrs. Fox who lived in Mons Avenue near the end of Town. They had three children of their own; the house was small so things were a bit cramped. Mr. Fox worked at the local brewery and was also a Fireman. We were happy there, and I was introduced to Brussel sprouts for the first time, something Mr. Fox loved growing. Come Christmas, and one evening my brother and I went Carol singing in the hope we could earn some pocket money, and some very nice houses nearby found two scruffy boys singing on their doorsteps and when one lady gave us a shilling, we were over the moon. Across the main road led to a large housing estate and beyond that the Weston Hills, very popular for sledging. We were moved again, to a large place called Letchworth House. We loved it there, made friends with other children, and summer was approaching, but we never left the place
morning I woke up having nightmares, a sore throat and a temperature, and an ambulance was
called and I was taken to Hitchin Isolation Hospital with diphtheria. Not long before we
left Tottenham for Baldock, there had been an epidemic in London, and the Government
introduced an immunisation programme. My mum had us immunised. Back at the hospital, I
survived. A couple of days after my admission, several other children were admitted, five
from one family. I remember that evening, nurses and doctors were dashing up and down in a
state of distress, four of the children died that night.
The road to recovery was long, and I used to have swabs taken from my throat, which were sent to a laboratory in Cambridge and you were not pronounced clear until you had three positive results - and this went on for weeks. My clothes had been incinerated and I had nothing to wear and had to stay in bed during some lovely sunny weather. But the nurses were lovely, one I fell in love with, oddly a Nurse Harvey who would sit on my bed and talk to me. The day came; three clear swabs were noted on my chart. My mum had decided to take us all home, her words I remember, If we get hit by a bomb, we will all go together. So, home, and the Blitz, but that is another story ..
Article written and prepared by John Harvey from an original story published in the 'Baldock Mail' - Sept 2012