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Monday, 24 April 2017

Birmingham & Harrogate

Birmingham and Harrogate

D-Day June 1944 was an uplifting time for Britons.  At last, we were taking the initiative, we were moving forward.  For once, fewer bombs were falling on London than on German cities.

No doubt this really ticked off Hitler who had engaged the services of Wernher Von Braun the scientist with a penchant for inventing flying objects.  Londoner’s first introduction to his skills was on June 13th 1944 when the first of the flying bombs christened “Buzz Bombs” or “Doodle Bugs” made its appearance.  Because of the limited range of these objects, South London where we lived was a prime target.

V1 - Buzz Bomb or Doodlebug

Anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced these V1’s will tell you that the thing they remember is the sound.  It did not sound like a plane.  It was a hard to describe “buzzing” sound.  (I’ve heard it described as a motor cycle engine).  The scary part was when this sound stopped, that meant the bomb was ready to drop! Unless you were a Saint, everyone wished for the sound to continue and for someone else to be its victim.

Soon, however, Von Braun upped the stakes.  The silent and stealthily V2 rockets became the norm.  So, this may have been the time when we once again took up our evacuation adventures.  But then again my memory being what it is these trips could have occurred earlier.

In order to write these stories I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the internet about World War II and evacuees. While it’s a wonderful source for checking dates it’s also a treasure trove of personal stories.  When I read some of these accounts where children were ill-treated, some half-starved, I am forever thankful that our mother fit the criteria for accompanying us: pregnant women and mothers with children under five. Sometimes she fit into both categories.

By now, our evacuating family has reached it full complement: Mum, Me, LS, LB, and finally LLB.  This is a good point to pop in one of the lovely poems by LS:

My mother’s third baby's expected
She tells us she's going to knit
An undershirt for this unborn one
A miracle if it should fit

She bought herself a ball of white wool
A very good pattern and read it
She'd never done any knitting before
So we had to give her credit

Many times with wool in hand
The pattern she'd try to figure
The undershirt remained at row one
But her tummy sure grew bigger

My mother’s fourth baby’s expected
She tells us that she will finish
The undershirt for this unborn one
Her hopes we wouldn’t diminish

It could have been around this time when we were sent to Birmingham.  I’ve never been able to figure out why Birmingham?  It was and is an industrial city that suffered bombing throughout the war, so why send evacuees there?  
Perhaps a more pertinent question would be why would they want us?  Surely it wasn’t for the money.

We couldn’t have been there very long because I have an almost blackout of memories from that period. 

However, I do know that Mum being Mum was not one to forego an opportunity because I recall a visit we all made to a WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) centre where we were all outfitted with clothing for free.  I remember it most vividly because the shoes I was given were hideous to my burgeoning teenage eyes!

Our next stopover is in Harrogate, Yorkshire.  Here we are billeted in a huge communal stop-over type of building, prior to being boarded elsewhere.  We are housed in a room that had bunk beds that I thought were pretty neat; I’d never seen the like before.  It was fair sized room that overlooked a large garden that backed onto railway tracks.  The sound of the trains became a comforting sound that I’ve always liked.

Every family was expected to contribute to the running and care of the household.  We sat as a large group for meals and while I’m sure there was a roster for all kinds of jobs I only remember having to help with the washing up.

Our stay here was delayed because LS became very ill and needed to be hospitalised.   Also, there probably were not a lot of households ready for a mother and four young children. After LS returned, our billeting came through and I hated it!  Mum and the two youngest were in one house with sweet pea flowers around the front door, and LS and I were living in a house controlled by a miserable harridan of a woman, on the opposite side of the street.

I think it was while we were there that notice came that I had won a scholarship to attend a school that also had been evacuated and was operating from a satellite site in the countryside of Woking.  Time again to pack up and leave!

1946 Edition of first Post-War School Magazine

However, I never did get to the Woking site for Mayfield Grammar School for Young Ladies; by the time forms had been completed, uniforms arranged and directions received, wonder of wonders; the war was over and the school returned to its home in Putney.

Evacuations are done with and life returns to normal, but that begs the question: what is normal for this little Covey of Cockneys? Is there another another tale to be told?

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