Oracle Scratchpad

July 5, 2017

In Memoriam

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:19 pm BST Jul 5,2017

My mother died a few weeks ago after a couple of months in terminal care. One of my tasks while she was in care was to go through all her paperwork and while doing so I discovered a couple of stories from her past that she had typed out (remember type-writers?) about 30 years ago. I typed them up on my laptop and printed several copies to hand out for people to read at the tea-party we held for her old friends – of all ages, ranging from 15 to 99 – after the funeral; this seemed to give them a lot of pleasure and they found them so interesting that I decided to share them with a larger audience. So here’s the story, written by my mother in 1983, of her evacuation experience at the start of the 2nd world war when she was a little over 14 years old.

The Summer of 1939.

Reminiscences of Dorothy Kathleen Lewis (1925 – 2017)

There had been a lot of talk about a war coming. Adolf Hitler and his armies had marched into Austria and were threatening Poland. We had all been issued with gas masks – just in case we would need them – and emergency plans had been made to evacuate all children from the big cities.

During the school holidays I was taken by my parents, with my sister, to my mother’s home village of Llangeitho in Cardiganshire. My mother had a cousin who was a retired school teacher and it was arranged with Auntie Jane that if war broke out Peggy and I would be sent to stay with her. I don’t think we were very pleased with the arrangement because to us she was very old-fashioned, not a bit like our mother. We ended our holiday and went back to London to wait for the school term to begin.

On the 1st September we heard that all children from our school whose parents wanted them to be evacuated should assemble at the school gates with a small suitcase and their gas masks. As we had already been told we were going to Llangeitho if the war broke out we stood and watched all our friends walking in crocodile fashion down the street and mothers and fathers crying watching them go. It was a very sad day, but I wished I was going with them. I didn’t like the idea of staying with Auntie Jane. None of these children knew where they were going, just somewhere in the countryside for safety, and they didn’t know who would be looking after them.

Well, on the morning of 3rd September Neville Chamberlain, our prime minister, spoke on the wireless (we now call it a radio) to say that we were at war with Germany. Immediately the sirens went and everyone ran to the shelters. My parents, Peggy, and I went to Baker Street Station, which has very deep platforms. There were hundreds of people with the same thing on their minds. We all took our gas masks with us. After a short time the all-clear went. My father sent a telegram to Auntie Jane to say Peggy and I would be leaving London on the train at 9:25pm that night. Trains did not travel as fast as they do today and we were due to arrive at Pont Llanio Station at 7:30am on Monday morning. Peggy’s friend and her mother (an Italian lady who did not speak very good English) was coming too, also one of the young people from the village who was working in London.

Paddington Station had very dim lights and when we got on the train there were no lights at all. After a little while we children began to feel a bit less afraid and started to tell ghost stories and play memory games. It was fun going to the toilet on the train because there were people sitting in the corridor and so was their luggage. We could not see them and I don’t think we really tried – it was all a game. We were supposed to be sleeping, but we were too excited for that. When it came time to eat our sandwiches we had to taste them before we knew what we were eating. Can you imagine being in a train without any lights, and there were no lights in the streets or houses or on the station platforms that we passed. Names of stations had already been removed in case the country was invaded by the enemy. The belief was that the enemy would not know were he was if there were no road signs etc. No-one thought about them using maps and compasses as they would now. [ed: 1983]

We eventually arrived in a town called Carmarthen where we had to change trains and take a slow train to Pont Llanio where a car would meet us. Our train from Paddington was very late arriving and the slow train had gone. Someone telephoned Pont Llanio station to say we would be late and to send the car back. The train from Carmarthen was a very slow one and my father used to say “you could get out of the train and pick flowers on the bank and get back into the train again”. It really was very slow and chugged its way along the line. We arrived at last in Pont Llanio and then in Llangeitho after a journey of 16 hours. [ed: 4:30 to 5:00 hours driving time, now; 6 hours by public transport] I am sure we must have looked very dirty and untidy. The trains in those days were steam and there would be plenty of coal smuts flying around.

I did not think Auntie Jane would be very pleased to see us and I was soon to find out that I had thought rightly. The first thing she did was to take up the stair carpet in case we wore it out. I don’t know how she thought we would do that because once we came down in the morning we were not allowed to go back upstairs again until we went to bed. [ed: if you’ve read “Carrie’s War” you may recognise the behaviour]  She also did not know that children eat quite a lot too. For breakfast Auntie Jane would boil an egg and cut it in half, so Peggy and I had half each. And the same for our dinner, we would have two small potatoes – and this was before rationing and shortage of food. We had a lot of friends in the village and if it was not for them asking us out to tea and/or supper we would have been very hungry. Peggy went to school in the village, but I was too old [ed: at 14 yrs 4 months] and had nothing to do all day, but soon found a baby I could take out in the pram and that meant I would be asked if I would like a piece of cake and a drink. After a few weeks and a number of letters home things goT a little better because my mother was sending parcels of food to Auntie Jane. I don’t know what arrangements were made money wise; because we were not Government evacuees Auntie Jane would not have been paid by the authorities to keep us.

One of the things we used to do together with two of our friends was to help the local butcher clean out his slaughter-house after he had killed a beast. This meant he then asked us to supper in his old farm-house with a huge Inglenook fireplace. Another of my mother’s friends used to have us in early for a meal and say “don’t tell Auntie Jane or she will not give you anything else to eat”. I often think back on those days and wonder why she was so mean. She had never married and had children, but being a teacher I would have expected her to be more tolerant.

In December of 1939 Peggy wrote a letter home which was full of complaint and left it somewhere where Auntie Jane found it and this letter was sent to my parents with a letter from Auntie Jane asking that we be sent back to London. A lot of the people in the village were very surprised to think that she should think to send us back to London when there were air-raids (these had not started at that time). People were saying we would be going home to be killed, but as for me I would rather take that chance than be left in Llangeitho.

Going back to London wasn’t much fun – the school was closed so once again we were at a loose end. We stayed in London over Christmas and again the government started evacuating school children and in February we joined a group who were leaving London – this time as London School Evacuees. We were sent to Buckingham to a family with a little girl of 2 years. This seemed to be alright and we went to school in the afternoons whilst the local children went to school in the mornings. It got rather uncomfortable there after a while because the man of the house, aged 24, lost his job (I don’t know why) and there were a lot of arguments in the house. His wife did not make herself look smart and he started to pay too much attention to me. Again a letter home that it was time we left there and one morning my father arrived and said: “pack your bags, you’re coming home”. What joy!

I don’t have much memory about this part of being an evacuee except to say I was relieved to be out of that house and back in the safety of my family. Whilst we were in Buckingham there had been bombing in London and Peggy and I were taken to see some of the damage that had been done. I think this was to frighten us so that we would be willing to go away again. I certainly did not like the sirens going and having to stop what we were doing and go to the shelter[1]. Once again we were on the move and this time I have a very detailed memory of the events.

We were assembled at the school playground all with our cases and gas masks – worried children and even more worried parents and teachers. No one knew where we were going except that we all piled into a double-decker bus. Lots of tears this time because we knew that people were being killed and injured. Would we see our parents again? What was going to happen to us if they were killed? Where would we go, who would look after us? Questions, questions!

We were taken to Marylebone station and put on an underground train. Where was it going? What were mum and dad doing now; were they still blowing their noses? We were not so bothered because we still knew where we were. Next stop Paddington Station and hundreds of children milling about. I remember I was in the Junior Red Cross at that time and a Red Cross nurse saw my badge and came to speak to me. Such a little thing but it meant such a lot and I have never forgotten her kind words, saying I was going somewhere safe and would be alright. Maybe I was crying at the time, I don’t know.

As the train pulled out of Paddington Station we were all trying to get to a window to wave, although we didn’t know anybody and we didn’t know where we were going. Well of all places – we arrived in Banbury. Now my Auntie Kit, my father’s sister, only lived about 2 miles out of Banbury in a village called Bodicote. I knew Banbury well because we had often visited Bodicote. If only she knew I was here. I know we could not stay with her because she had a very small house and she had 4 children already.

Again on another bus and somehow Peggy and I and two other girls from my class got separated from the rest of our school and we were taken to a village called Great Rollright. Peggy and I went to stay with a lady called Mrs. Robinson who kept the village shop, and my two class friends went to a farm.

Mrs. Robinson was a kind lady – she had asked for two boys but somewhere along the line she had two girls instead. It was very strange arriving in Great Rollright. We were all taken into the Church Hall and there were village people there who, to us, had a funny way of speaking. And one after the other they were saying how many children they would take. Mrs. Robinson wasn’t there, so maybe that is why she didn’t get two boys. I thought it was very embarrassing to be standing there with these quaint country people whilst they were deciding whether they wanted one, two, or three children.

Our time with Mrs. Robinson was very happy. Peggy went to the village school and I went to the county school in Chipping Norton, again on a part-time basis. Mrs. Robinson had a pet cockerel which was allowed to roam round the house – I hated that bird and I think it knew it. Its name was Cocky. Every time I wanted to go down the garden to the toilet this bird would follow me and stay outside until I came out again and peck my legs as I raced back up the garden.

There was certainly plenty to eat in this house and we really had an enjoyable time there. We were always sent to bed with a small glass of cider. I never knew then that cider was an alcoholic drink and I thought it was lovely. We didn’t seem any the worse for it anyway.

We got involved with the village church and would have been happy to have stayed there. But doom. One day I came home from school to find my head mistress from London sitting at the table. Unbeknown to us she had been frantically looking for these four girls she had lost at Banbury Station. I don’t know how she had found us, whether she had contacted our parents or hunted through the schools in the area. With a surname like Walklett I don’t think we would have been difficult to find. I don’t think she had been in touch with our parents – what an awful thing to say to them: “I’m very sorry but I may have lost your children”. No, she must have hunted through the school registers.

The upshot of this visit was that she had found somewhere more suitable for us and would we pack our things because she had found somewhere else for us to stay. More tears because we liked Mrs. Robinson, and the village people were all lovely to us and we were invited to their homes. Off we went with Miss Attride in the car to another village called Duns Tew. The strange thing was that none of our school were there, so why were we moved yet again?

This time we stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Beck, his name was Harry and hers was Daisy, but they were Mr. and Mrs. Beck to us. Mr. Beck was a farm hand and he worked with horses. He used to plough the fields of the farm across the road. He must have walked miles in the days he was ploughing. Although I had had many holidays in Wales and Shropshire at haymaking time I knew nothing about ploughing.

Mr. and Mrs. Beck had a young man living with them. He was like their son; although his family lived in the village he had lived with the Becks since he was a baby and they called him their son. His name was Walter. The village was a beautiful place and we lived in No. 73. There were no street names, every house had a name and a number so we were at No. 73 Duns Tew, the last house in the village, a lovely old thatched cottage. There was always a big wood fire in the grate and plenty on the table. Mr. and Mrs. Beck were the nicest people in village.

Peggy now had to go to Steeple Aston School (since moving to Banbury in 1975 I have met the widow of her headmaster there), and I went to a Continuation College which had been evacuated from the East End of London. This was very odd to me – we were taught shorthand, typing, arithmetic, English grammar, French. This was obviously training us for the commercial world. I was much younger than the other girls there but my education was more advanced than theirs so I soon became top of the class. My English was always being complimented. What they didn’t know was that I had a Welsh mother and the Welsh language used very letter in the word. My French was well in advance and my Maths took a flying leap.

I made friends in the class. The class was held in The Hall, North Aston – a country seat. The Hall was so large that there were 9 girls living there and they had servants. The school room was in the Grand Hall and it was so beautiful it seemed a pity to me that there were desks etc. on the polished floor.

In Duns Tew we had one of the masters of the school staying in The Nurseries (which is still there) and every Friday evening the family he stayed with invited those of us in the village to spend the evening in their house and they had a piano so all the war songs were being sung: “Roll out the Barrel”, “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried line” and many more.

Because the school at North Aston was a long walk I bought a bike, something I had always wanted, and I joined the cycling group. This meant on one day a week we would go for an outing to places like Blenheim Palace [ed: 10 miles away] etc. I became a good cyclist and had plenty of energy when others flagged behind. I certainly made use of my bike.

One particularly happy time was when it snowed in the winter. Yes, we did get snow in London, but not like this. It was white[2] and where the wind blew it was as high as the hedgerows; I couldn’t believe what I saw. Walter the Beck’s son had a sledge and he showed us where it was good to use it. It was a fantastic time.

 

[Banbury, 1983]

 

 

[1] One of the stories about my mother that I first heard at her funeral was about the time she persuaded her parents to let her stay at home overnight. At the time the family used to head for the air-raid shelter (i.e. the local underground station) at the end of the day and stay there all night long. My mother hated this and persuaded her parents to let her stay at home in her own bed provided she promised to join them at the air-raid shelter as soon as the air-raid sirens sounded. She was only allowed to do this once – because she managed to sleep through two bombing runs and without being woken by the sirens or the explosions.

[2]If you’re wondering why white snow is worth mentioning you probably don’t know about the density of London smog at that time.

26 Comments »

  1. Jonathan, very sorry for your loss. What a treasure to have these written memories though! After my Dad died I found some essays he had written while taking an English class as he was waiting to be discharged from the army at the end of the war. Fascinating stuff and I wish I’d seen them while I could have still asked him for more detail.

    Comment by Jeff Richter — July 5, 2017 @ 5:37 pm BST Jul 5,2017 | Reply

  2. Jonathan, I am so sorry to hear about your Mum passing. Thanks for sharing these amazing memories and for preserving them.

    Comment by sqlmaria — July 5, 2017 @ 8:03 pm BST Jul 5,2017 | Reply

  3. Jonathan:

    My deepest Condolences. Thank you so much for letting us into your Mum’s world during the war. Its so powerful a message in its depth. Its hard to imagine to be in her shoes and yet she illuminate so much happiness in spite of the hardships. Jonathan, we do miss you in Boston.

    Lyson

    ps: Watching “Crown” on Netflix, I got a glimpse of the London Smog at that time.

    Comment by Lyson — July 5, 2017 @ 9:58 pm BST Jul 5,2017 | Reply

  4. Jonathan: Our Prayers are with you and your family. Very sorry to hear about your loss.

    Thanks for sharing the letter from your Mom. It gives us a very good insight about the war and how the evacuation was done during the time.

    – Aswath

    Comment by Aswath Rao — July 5, 2017 @ 10:38 pm BST Jul 5,2017 | Reply

  5. Jonathan, Beautiful tribute.

    Comment by connormcdonald — July 6, 2017 @ 1:24 am BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  6. Beautiful memories to add to those you have if your mother – thankyou for sharing

    Comment by Debra — July 6, 2017 @ 3:50 am BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  7. Lovely tribute, Jonathan. Thank you very much for sharing this, and wishing it helps bring you peace.

    Comment by Noons — July 6, 2017 @ 5:15 am BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  8. Thank you for posting this, it is a lovely tribute to what must have been a fascinating life.

    Comment by Mike — July 6, 2017 @ 12:45 pm BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  9. My condolences on your Mom’s passing. My prayers are with you and your family.

    Comment by Amir Hameed — July 6, 2017 @ 2:19 pm BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  10. My condolences for the loss of your mother. Thank you for sharing her writing.

    Comment by Scott Neil — July 6, 2017 @ 3:07 pm BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  11. My condolences. Thank you so much for sharing such vivid descriptions of life changing events (only) seventy-eight years ago, and less. – Rob

    Comment by rob4oracle — July 6, 2017 @ 8:34 pm BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  12. Diary notes from our loved ones are far more valuable than diamonds, Jonathan.

    Comment by britta — July 6, 2017 @ 11:05 pm BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  13. My condolences. Thank you for sharing.

    I definitely need to get motivated and convert all the familial flotsam to replicable electronic media. https://flic.kr/p/Aer1K

    Comment by jgarry — July 6, 2017 @ 11:07 pm BST Jul 6,2017 | Reply

  14. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words; I appreciate the thoughts.

    Comment by Jonathan Lewis — July 7, 2017 @ 11:22 am BST Jul 7,2017 | Reply

  15. Very sorry for your loss, Jonathan

    Comment by exagriddba — July 8, 2017 @ 2:43 pm BST Jul 8,2017 | Reply

  16. So sorry for your loss, Jonathan.

    When my mother passed a few years ago, we found a bunch of check registers rubber-banded together. I guess in those days you went through a lot of books of checks, but not many registers. She had kept logs of many life events in those registers, from what she baked, when they went to her parent’s house, when my dad went out of town on business, what clothes she made, to when my sister went on solid food. In all she had chronicled everything of note for 30 years.

    Comment by dallasdeeds — July 8, 2017 @ 4:39 pm BST Jul 8,2017 | Reply

  17. Very sorry to hear about your loss. My Prayers are with you and your family.

    Comment by Anand — July 8, 2017 @ 8:54 pm BST Jul 8,2017 | Reply

  18. My condolences and prayers for your Mother, Jonathan. You were so right to share this story, thanks!

    Comment by stewashton — July 9, 2017 @ 8:09 am BST Jul 9,2017 | Reply

  19. My condolences to you and your family. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Mary Elizabeth McNeely — July 9, 2017 @ 3:41 pm BST Jul 9,2017 | Reply

  20. Sorry to hear about your loss Sir. My condolences.

    Comment by Amardeep Sidhu — July 9, 2017 @ 5:09 pm BST Jul 9,2017 | Reply

  21. I am truly sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. Please accept my condolences and may our prayers help comfort you.

    Comment by Pavan Kumar — July 9, 2017 @ 7:11 pm BST Jul 9,2017 | Reply

  22. So sorry for your loss, and very nice from you of sharing the history!

    Comment by Daniel Scabello — July 11, 2017 @ 1:23 am BST Jul 11,2017 | Reply

  23. I’m very sorry to hear about your loss, I imagine how you must be feeling, as my mother also passed away less than two years ago.
    Please accept my deepest condolences to you and your family.
    Maybe one day you will publish the memories of your mother. From this fragment, I recall the war years atmosphere, after having read Sir Winston Churchill’s books.
    May God rest her in peace.

    Comment by IUDITH MENTZEL — July 11, 2017 @ 2:57 am BST Jul 11,2017 | Reply

  24. Sorry for the vacuum created in your life due to her passing away! May The God rest her soul in peace.

    Comment by Vijay D — July 16, 2017 @ 9:48 am BST Jul 16,2017 | Reply

  25. I feel very sorry on your mother pass away, may god rest her in peace.

    Comment by Henish — July 24, 2017 @ 2:49 am BST Jul 24,2017 | Reply

  26. My condolences for the loss of your mother. May her soul rest in peace .

    Comment by mominshahid — July 31, 2017 @ 1:29 pm BST Jul 31,2017 | Reply


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