Being rather off the beaten track, I did not have much contact with others after school, so it was to my delight that I received an invitation to a little Christmas party at Miss Rose’s house. This was the first of a number of invitations to tea etc. from other Village folks, who made this evacuee feel at home.
The big event that Christmas was the massive party held in the Village Hall for all the children, organised by Mrs. Glasbrook and her committee. The food was a child’s delight in the midst of so many food shortages, with a present for everyone. I had a cardboard printed cut and glue together of the battleship HMS Duke of York. Ten years later I found myself part of the Royal Marines detachment on that actual battleship, when she became part of the Reserve Fleet. The party was a huge success as it brought together many evacuees and village children who had never met before.
By the Spring I was beginning to enjoy village life, although still very much a ‘townie’! I had got used to the peace and quietness and the ways of the villagers. I picked up a skin infection and was sent to a small children’s nursing home in Sturminster Newton. After a week I was allowed to go out into town with other children. One boy who I only remember as ‘Ginger” came from a farm near Lydlinch.
One day he asked whether I would like to help move a herd of cows from a field near Sturminster up to Lydlinch as the farm was shorthanded. Up to that time I had only seen cows in the fields and never face to face with then. With nothing else to do, I agreed to help and that afternoon we met up with the two farm workers and a herd of about 30 cows. It was a very hot afternoon and the cows were frisky, especially when vehicles were trying to pass. Being my first experience with cows, I helped as rear guard. By the time we arrived at the farm, I was oozing perspiration and red in the face from all the running around. The cows were put into a field and we all went into a barn. I was very thirsty and wanted a drink.
One of the men said there was only water or cider. I had never heard of cider and asked what it was, to be informed it was apple juice. I asked for cider and was told to help myself from a barrel in the barn and use the horn mug. I opened the tap on the barrel and filled the horn, then drank the lot in one go. I then asked if I could have another horn of cider and told yes. Drew another horn and again drank it down without stopping. It seemed to clear my thirst. One of the men muttered he had not seen anyone down two hornfuls straight down like that before and then asked me what I thought of it. I can remember sitting down with them and saying that it tasted a bit like beer and a little sour.
That is all I recollected until I found myself in my bed at the nursing home with Ginger mopping my face with cold water. According to Ginger, we had started to walk back to Sturminster but I got only as far as the farm gate when I fell flat on my face – dead drunk! I could not be aroused so the farmer was called and his wife drove us back to the Nursing Home. Ginger brought me in through the garden gate and into our four bed room without being seen, undressed me and put me to bed. As we were allowed to miss meals if out, we were checked at 6pm to ensure that we were in, or in bed. I slept solidly until breakfast time the following morning without ill effect. No one found out much to Ginger’s and my own relief. So, one more advancement to country life. “Scrumpy!”
6: FAMILY REUNION
Two days before I was due to return to Mrs. Snell, passing a room which held smaller children, I heard someone calling “Bobby, Bobby.” It was a small boy with part of his face covered by a dressing. I looked again and thought he looked like my young brother Derek. When I asked a nurse who he was, she said he was a new evacuee who had just come down from London. He had been hit in the face by a burning piece of falling rubble after he had left an air raid shelter several days before, and this burn had now turned septic. I went back to the boy saying ‘Derek, Derek.’ He flung his arms out and just replied ‘Bobby, Bobby.’ He was my brother Derek. We hugged one another – then with a feeling of panic I asked Derek where Mummy was and why was he alone. With a three year old’s bravery, he said Mummy had taken him on a train ride, and then he had been taken from Mummy that day to this house. I knew then that at least my mother was safe but where was she, and where was my father?
Subsequently, I found that both my sister and myself had had the information withheld from us of problems in London. Our family home had been bombed. My parents salvaged some of the furniture etc. and found a flat. Two weeks later, this block of flats was also bombed. With what was again salvaged, my mother and Derek moved into her own mother’s home. My father went into his sister’s home.
When my father found Derek had been injured, he had my mother and Derek evacuated within 48 hours down to Dorset. My mother had been met by the indefatigable Mrs. Glasbrook who had arranged a billet with Miss Rose (Upper St. Cottages). Mrs. Glasbrook was concerned about Derek’s face and had the village doctor, Dr. Percival, look at it. Doctor Percival stated that Derek’s burn required hospital treatment as it was turning septic, and the following morning he was sent to the Children’s Nursing Home in Sturminster where we became united.
I returned to Mrs. Snell. Jean my sister had moved from Mrs. Tucker at Gold Hill to Mrs. Wingrove at The Row, the cottages behind Fox’s Bakery in the High Street. Derek and my mother were at Miss Rose’s cottage (Pine Walk Cottages?). We managed to meet each day. This went on for several months until Mrs. Glasbrook obtained an end house in Gold Hill on the right hand side of the unmade road leading to The New Inn, opposite the house I had first been billeted in and on the opposite side of the road from Mrs. Tucker where Jean had first been billeted. We had come a full circle!
At the school we had a new Headmistress, Miss Vera Baker; Mrs. Wyles having left to raise a family. Being a Church of England School, the vicar, The Rev. Delahaye, a former Army Padre, would visit at least twice a week for morning prayers and hymns, and the telling of humorous stories and anecdotes. Sadly, his only son Robin was killed on active service with the Indian Army.
Whilst the integration of evacuees and villagers progressed slowly in school, there was a ‘pecking order’ for boys. Four boys, Denis (Jubee) Barr (I never found out why he had the nickname Jubee), Bob Gillis, Derick Butt and Ivor Rideout were the leading lights – neither village boys nor evacuees were permitted to join in their daily game of “IT” or “TAG”.
Outside of school their pretension vanished. Solid sturdy Denis Barr was a gentle giant where young children were concerned. Both local and evacuees four to seven year olds would chase him around a field until he let them catch up, whereupon they would cling to his arms and legs to bring him to the ground and clamber all over him with squeaky delight. No youngster was ever hurt but Denis must have received many a painful kick or punch from them.