Wartime Evacuee

As we bemoan the fact that life is getting tougher as the recession bites ever deeper into our pockets, let us just reflect back to a time when things were much harder and be grateful that we do not have to face the problems of an imminent invasion as was the case when Fred Heritage was at school. This article was published in “Rye’s Own” 10 years ago – Fortunately Fred is still with us to tell the tale.

By Fred Heritage

Fred Heritage - Rye Wheeler
Fred Heritage – Rye Wheeler

When I was ten and my brother Syd eight something happened to change our fate. War was declared in thirty-nine and changed our lives for quite a long time. Soon after that we were sent away to a safer place, so they did say. As we left Rye station on that very sad day there was nothing we could do or say. With gas masks strapped upon our backs it was so hard not to look back. We were like soldiers going off to war not knowing if we would see Mum and Dad any more. The Germans are coming is what they said but we would have been better off at home in our bed.

Life was hard in this so-called safer place miles from home, with hardships to face, as young boys of nine and eleven this was to be no God sent Heaven. For nearly three years we were away with plenty of work and not much play. When first arriving at Bedford and feeling very low we had some sort of medical and told where to go. Some Like us went to Great Barford, some elsewhere and all because of something that never happened, the invasion scare.

At Barford we were tired, some even fell asleep we had been herded all that day like a flock of sheep. In the village hall we were introduced to whom we would stay I will tell you now it was one hell of a day. I remember at first how we cried so at night in the morning looking a pitiful sight. We were at an age we didn’t quite understand why we were taken from Mum and Dad so grand. We felt quite lost and so alone all we really wanted was to go back home. As it happened it was not to be and quite a long time before we saw the sea.

Food was short, we weren’t well fed at times very hungry when we went to bed. We cut squares of newspaper to hang in the loo dug lots of holes to tip our poo the bucket was big and very heavy and as it was emptied, so very smelly. Our bikes were sent up, but not for fun more jobs to do and errands to run. Cycle to Bedford to stand in a queue for bread and cake, maybe a few sweets too. A cart was made for us to use not for fun and not to abuse. Loads of wood got higher and higher to feed the ever hungry fire.

The night Coventry was bombed it was a terrible time we might as well have been little soldiers in the front line. Bombs were dropping all around but back home people were sleeping very sound. Next morning oh what a sight such huge craters and a plane still alight. One Winter it was so very cold the old pump froze and we were told get out there boys and thaw the darn thing but it was awful when the metal stuck to our skin. I already had poisoned chilblains all up my legs never mind they said, just go and make some more willow pegs. These pegs to hang up the clothes what they did with them “Heaven knows”.

Sunday dinner was black pudding and veg. followed with fig and date jam on a piece of bread. Tea was usually bread, marg. and spam as a special treat a small piece of ham. Occasionally we wrote letters home to Mum and Dad, Gran and Grandad too. We weren’t allowed to stick them down as they were censored in a way but the “Mrs.” would always say, I’ll put in a little note too.

A lot of people didn’t really want evacuees and some poor kids were sent overseas. I still have letters written to my Gran but they are not the true words of an unhappy young man. Sometimes the local boys at the school to us evacuees could be very cruel. At football and cricket it was usually us against them they pushed and shoved and generally caused mayhem. The headmaster tried to see fair play and we got our comeuppance another day.

The Skevingtons kept chickens that had to be fed and we would go gleaning before going to bed. We picked up the corn the farmer left behind and if he caught us he wasn’t too kind. Our pocket money we had to earn we picked up acorns to sell for the pigs. Life would be hard we were soon to learn it wasn’t much fun being evacuees in digs. There isn’t much joyful I can say that happened to us while we were away. As you can imagine, Christmas was very sad away from home and our Mum and Dad.

I remember our little suits made of fine hessian cloth things were hard in those days even for the poor old moth. The trousers made my legs red and sore we used to say bugger Hitler and his stupid war. Our childhood was ruined by this crazy man six years of misery from when it began.

We finally went home, the invasion scare over the Germans aren’t coming now to Hastings and Dover but the war wasn’t over without a doubt as we were soon to find out. We hadn’t been home long, when for us it all began again fighter bombers and doodle-bugs had to play their silly game.

I started work on the farm late autumn forty-two my birthday being in January, I wasn’t fourteen at the time so when I left Great Barford my school days were through.

From the November 2012

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