“Drat Those Pesky ‘Vacuees”
As promised last month, we commence reproducing extracts from “Drat Those Pesky ‘Vacuees” by Robert (Bob) Holdeman.
1: EVACUATION & ARRIVAL
Early morning Tuesday 25th November 1940, looking at the smoke still rising from bombed buildings, wrecked houses and piles of rubble and glass in the roadways, as we traveled to Waterloo Railway station. My mother with young brother bereft, taking my sister Jean and myself to meet the rest of our party and the Courier escort; quick farewell; a few tears and we were off to a destination unknown to us eight children. Our Courier, still fondly remembered even now for his wonderful stories, wriggling both ears and twitching his nose at the same time, smoking his pipe and blowing smoke rings, and with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Mars bars.
The train was stopped and held up for a long time somewhere north of Salisbury due to an air raid. Finally – Templecombe and what seemed like hours and hours of waiting for our next train which made a slow journey stopping at every small station. At Shillingstone station, we alighted and were greeted by Mrs. Harriet Glasbrook (The Lady of Childe Okeford Manor) who was the Evacuees Billeting and Welfare Officer, together with her small group of assistants and their cars. In the gathering dusk we set off, finally arriving at what I thought was a small hamlet only to be informed it was Gold Hill, part of the village of Childe Okeford.
Our party was broken up; my sister Jean going to a Mrs. Tucker. As I waited, I was awe stricken by the absence of lights and the quietness; no searchlights, no sound of German bombers, no anti-aircraft fire and bursting shells, and no crump of exploding bombs. It was scaring. I was placed with Mrs. Yetman in the left side corner house of the unmade road leading to the New Inn, then informed it would be only for a few days as Mrs. Yetman did not want a boy evacuee, only a girl evacuee. I was a bit concerned as I did not want to be too far away from my sister Jean.
That evening, Mrs. Yetman took me with her to a women’s gathering at Lille Oliver’s, The Hollow Farm. As we walked, I was conscious of strange smells; Clean Fresh Air! damp grass; wood smoke (far unlike the acrid smell of burning buildings); a sweet pleasant smell which I found later to be from a cut hayrick; then an unusual to me, pungent smell which came from a slightly steaming mound – the farm’s midden heap or to me then, the dung heap. Above all was the almost total absence of sound – it was quiet, very, very quiet.
At the farm Mrs. Yetman, Lille Oliver and several other ladies sat around a table all engaged upon knitting gloves for the War Effort – I think it was the war effort. After several questions and answers, I sat in an easy chair reading my secreted copies of the Hotspur and Wizard, the boy’s magazine.
That night on going to bed, I lay awake in the silence, listening hard for the first sound of German bombers with their “urr whump, urr whump, err err whump” unsynchronised engines. Most boys knew this distinctive sound of German engines. I fell asleep with all the lights left on.
Thus ended my first day and night in Childe Okeford. How did I remember the date? In front of me is a pocket Bible. The flyleaf bears the written inscription, “Robert Holdeman in memory of his Confirmation on 3-6-45 at the Church of St. Nicholas Childe Okeford by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury. Also in memory of Nov. 25th 1940 from Harriet Glasbrook,”