At the expense of being taunted as a pedantic Pom let me first say that I was NOT evacuated. You cannot evacuate a person; you can evacuate a building, a place a street a railway station; but you can’t evacuate a person. Now that I’ve got that off my chest I was once what is known as an ‘vacuee, which is short of course for evacuee which is someone who’s been evacuated which as I’ve already said is impossible and now I trust you are suitably confused.
I believe that my brother and I were part of the Campbell Infant & Junior school group which was sent to Somerset. I remember very little of the actual transfer, but I suppose we were pretty much the same as any other group of ‘vacuees leaving for the country. I recall my gas mask in it’s little cardboard box slung across my chest, and my belongings in a pillow case, the same as many of the kids. There were hundreds of us on the platform at Paddington Station.
Not everybody had a suitcase in those days, holidays before the war for us was a “char-a-banc” to Southend a walk along the pier and a paddle in the Thames if the tide was in, otherwise you could gaze at the oozing mud flats. The Southend Pier was so long that there was a train service to take you to the end. The Thames Estuary tides were very low and at low tide, the mud was black,oozy and if memory serves me well, smelly!
Lets get back to what I was rambling on about; when we arrived in Somerset we were placed in the care of a Mr & Mrs Martin, in the village of Mere near Glastonbury. I have vivid memories of some events and little of many more, like school and church. No doubt we went to school and also to church but those events left nothing by way of memories, I suppose I was around 5 or 6 at the time. I’d started school in ’38.
I can’t describe the Martins home, I do know that there was no bathroom. On Saturday nights Mr Martin would bring in a big tin tub and place it before the hearth/stove on which large pots were boiling away. Bath night, Mr Martin would pour the water into the tin bath and Mrs Martin would then bathe Sonny and me, one at a time it wasn’t big enough for the two of us to be in there together as we did back home. I suppose they had their bath after we’d been shuffled off to bed.
The fire in the stove was peat which gave off a beautiful warmth with a pleasant smell. On some days Mr Martin would take me with him when he went to cut his peat and I was allowed to sit on the horse, a big old horse or so it seemed to me and Mr Martin would lead him along. I tried to help him load the cart I know, but I was probably more hindrance than help.
There were times when we were coming home that the most delicious smell ever would hit my nose, an aroma that made the mouth water, an aroma I’ve never smelt since. Faggots! I can’t remember what they tasted like but the smell I can still feel. I have never come across the smell of faggots cooking anywhere.
Another strange thing living in the country was the milk. It didn’t come in bottles left inside your porch at the front door by a milkman, it came in the back of an open cart in churns and you’d take your jug out and buy as many gill’s as you wanted and the milkman would dip his measure into the churn fill it and pour the contents into your jug, Full cream milk, unpasteurized straight from the cow. Heaven 😮
At one time we were taken to Wells to visit the great cathedral; the War Office, Dopey Daughter and I went there in ’05 as I wanted to see this great building again, I used to do pencil drawings of Wells Cathedral,
not from memory as my mother liked to tell people, but copied from photographs. I never was much of an artist, not like my chum Michael Hayter who lived in the ‘Banjo’,Michael was a couple of years younger than I was and both he and his sister Beryl were amazing artists.
However my drawings of Wells were quite credible, the only drawings that I ever did that were!
One last memory which is very strong; the Luftwaffe rarely got as far west as Somerset, for them it was a waste of bombs time and men, but one night the sound of a lone German bomber flew over Somerset. I recall we all stood outside watching this aircraft high in the sky caught in the searchlights. Only a sporadic amount of gunfire could be heard. It didn’t get shot down while we were watching and if it did get shot down later I’ll never know.
Looking back it’s obvious that it was making for Eire; (Ireland, which is a neutral state), having lost it’s way after dropping it’s load of bombs or the pilot was attempting to get to freedom by escaping to Eire. There is no way that his aircraft would have had sufficient fuel to fly back home to Europe. The Irish weren’t particular fond of the English either so he may have been hoping for a nice welcoming party.
And this is something that really irks me about the Irish in Eire; they were neutral yet did not ban German spies and or espionage units living and working there; yet they relied on the British merchant navy which was suffering horrendous losses to the German U-boats to keep them supplied with their needs, food, fuel it all had to get to the Irish by sea and it was the British seamen who were risking their lives and many dying getting it to them. Merchant ship convoys could be spotted from Eire by the German spies and this information was used to the utmost effect. But enough of that!
The Martins had a cat, I don’t know what it was called but I have fond memories of pulling it’s tail to which it took great umbrage, so much so the it scratched me. The scratched turned septic as the saying went, infected these days,and I was laid up for some time. No anti-biotics then either; now here I am 70 years on and the scar is still visible on my right leg right beside the knee. I suppose I was lucky my mother wasn’t there when I pulled the cats tail as she’d have given me “a clip around the ear”.
Now speaking about my mother brings me to another part of our time in Somerset. As I said we were part of the Campbell School group and the headmaster of the junior school, Mr Caswell was given the job of checking and keeping his eye on the welfare of the children from both the infants and junior schools.
This involved driving down to Somerset every so often in his Hillman Minx, to do his job and also bring messages and presents and or needs for the kids from both schools not just his own. Of course he needed a volunteer female to accompany him as there was both boys and girls to see, naturally my mother stuck her hand up to assist him, which at that time was handy for her, she was pretty well alone in the house, what with Sonny and me being away in the country and my dad was in the Home Guard, please don’t think “Dad’s Army’, and he’d go to work during the day (he was in essential service so he couldn’t join the regulars) and besides doing his work he’d be at action stations during the air-raids. He’d come home have a wash eat his tea and then off to Parsloe’s Park to man his gun for the night; grabbing what sleep he could.
I don’t know how often my mother and Mr Caswell came but I do recall one occasion very well, part of her job wasn’t very pleasant. One of the boys in Sonny’s class; Charlie something or other I can’t recall his last name, he came from Scratton’s Farm which was over near the Thames, and he was billeted quite near us and my mother had to go break the news to him that his house had been bombed and his parents were killed in an air-raid., and that when the time to go home came he didn’t have one to go to.
At this point Charlie who understood everything he was told had a fit of some sort and his head jerked right and left very quickly and he swore using the f word. I saw Charlie some 2 or 3 years after the war and he was slouching along muttering to himself and every now and then his head would twitch right then left and “fuh” would come out of his mouth, not the full word just “fuh” and he’d wander along muttering to himself. Even then as an 11 or 12 year old I understood and felt a great pity for him, it is one of the saddest moments in my life.