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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Evacuation to Wiltshire – the Manservant

Much of the action in these tales takes place during the period of WWII. 

When war was initially declared there was much panic and concern regarding the children of London.  It didn’t take long for the powers that be to decide that the men will tote the guns and the women will run the factories and the children will be sent out of harm’s way.  Called Operation Pied Piper, millions of people, most of them children, were shipped to rural areas in Britain as well as overseas to Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. 

You’ll notice the underlined words in the above paragraph.  Yes, most of them were children, but some were like my Mum who had come very close to losing part of her brood and under no circumstances was she about to do so again. She insisted on being part of the evacuation process.

I would have been about 7 years of age and LS a small toddler when we made our first foray into wartime evacuation. Oh yes, we did it many times, after all “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”!

There must have been preparations but I don’t remember them but I do recall the noise of the train station, the pushing and the shoving, the crowds of children and people.  The uncomfortable cardboard box strung with string around my body added to the confusion and fright.

I can’t honestly say whether it was on this train trip or another of our evacuation flights, with hindsight it probably occurred later after a long period of “sweets and candies” deprivation. Nevertheless, the memory stands out very clearly: when I, along with other children, was given a chocolate bar wrapped in purple paper, I could not believe it was all for me – the whole bar just for me. It must have made a tremendous impression, because to this day I still love “Cadburys”!

But I digress.  We arrived in the area of Wiltshire know as Castle Combe.  If you’re thinking “Eh I know that name from somewhere”, you’re right. The movie Doctor Doolittle was filmed there in the 1960’s.

From my very young and rickety memory I gather we were billeted in a large Manor house said to belong to the Wills Tobacco Company. It must have been very large because I’ve always thought of it as a Castle!  I think it might have been what is now The Manor House Hotel shown in this picture:

It was not a hotel at that time, it was a one family dwelling.  As you can see from the image this is a very imposing structure, especially to a young mum who was used to living in a one bedroom flat, ground floor, no grass just a stone area at the back called “the yard”.  
I’m not going to pretend that I remember everything about our stay but I do recall at least one meal.  We were seated at a long, long table which to my young eyes looked to be about the size of our “backyard”.  It was highly polished and shiny and we three, Mum, LS and I, were the only occupants sitting at one end.  This was our first introduction to what I now think must have been a footman (I’ve watched Downton Abbey).  We were served our meals by this very stately figure.  

Wow, you may be thinking, how terrific!  Not so.  To my very cockney, very impressionable and totally overwhelmed mother it was scary.  More scary than the bombs back home, you say?  I guess so.  Fortunately, the trains ran both ways and before you could say: “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” we were home.

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