Evacuation to Marsham in Norfolk
We were ending summer nineteen-thirty nine and I was barely eleven years of age. There was talk of war. Joe took me to a place somewhere along Old Bethnal Green Road, I think it was to one of the few schools that were in that road. I remember trying on a gas mask, I thought it very exciting at the time. As I said before, I don't remember much about the rest to the time in Bethnal Green, but I remember the rubber smell as I tried the gas mask on. I was told to leave it in the box and to carry it about with me, over my shoulder wherever I went. As we all know war was declared on the third of September, that fateful Sunday morning, to me seemed just like any other. It must have been late in the day that we arrived at Liverpool Street Station.
I said good-bye to mum, then me and it seemed like hundreds of other kids were bundled together. As a youngster of only eleven, everything seemed very confusing, there seemed to be an air of urgency about everything. Everything seemed to be happening quickly, maybe we had got there a bit late. My name was no doubt already handed in, because as soon as somebody in charge asked my name, so they picked up my suitcase, stuck my name on it, then tied a label through my button hole. When I think back, it was at that point, in spite of all that noise and all those other kids around me that a strange feeling of loneliness came over me, a feeling of sadness. I could no longer see mum’s face who, for a while I could see, amongst the crowd of other faces. We were all now being ushered into carriages, we were all children, all about my own age, some much younger, accompanied by an adult, all going somewhere, but none of us really knowing anything. After all these years, although there are no more steam trains, as soon as I am in a railway station, I am reminded of that day. The sound of hissing steam, porter’s whistles, and banging carriage doors even the unforgettable smell of coal. So this was to be it. The youngest of five and the first time away from the family. A little evacuee as we were later called. It wasn't until after we reached our destination that I realised the reason for our hurried departure, and the meaning of the word, evacuee. We were told that we were at war with Germany and that they would be dropping bombs on London. It didn't mean much to me as a kid, all I knew, it sounded very exciting, anyway there was too much happening too quickly right then, for any of it to sink in properly.
We arrived at Norwich Railway Station, where we were all grouped together, then told to wait for our names to be called out. The coach that I got on had a card displayed in the window with the name Marsham written on it. On the journey that took an hour or so, the coach stopped a few times, to let some children off. I was to get off at the final stopping place, a village called Marsham. Marsham was a village situated about ten miles east of Norwich. It was probably about nine-thirty or ten o'clock at night when we got off the coach. We were all ushered into a building, which turned out to be just one big hall, this hall, I later found out was known as the reading roomto the locals, it was more like a classroom to look at. In fact that is exactly what it turned out to be, our classroom. I can still see it, I was sitting there with the rest of the kids, wondering what was going to happen. Each sitting there with our labels on and our gas masks over our shoulders. One side of the room was a cluster of people, standing near the open door. Every now and then, a child's name would be called out, then a person from the cluster would go out with a boy or girl, baggage and all. It seemed to me, that all these people were intended foster parents. There was a lot of chattering going on I was beginning to pick out the local accent, people were saying things like "Come you here" or "go you there" I bet they thought that we spoke funny too. I was beginning to feel very hungry, I was wondering whether I was going to anything to eat at all that day, I can only remember having a banana since leaving London and nothing to drink. There was a lot of us there it looked as though there was more than one coach load, after all. For some reason, I didn't know any of the other kids, yet all the others seemed to know someone else. I often think about that. I have a feeling that I may have changed schools shortly before I left, and may not have been at Saint John's very long. Saint Jude’s school always comes to mind, maybe I was there too for a while. For the first time that day I saw a familiar face. He had just arrived through the front door of the building. I recognised him as one of the teachers from Saint John’s school. I didn't know then, but I later found out that his name was McCarthy, he was to be our teacher in our new school in Marsham. I got the impression that he had made his own way from London as it looked as though he had just arrived. As I said earlier, my time at Saint John’s was not all that clear. Mr McCarthy was just a teacher that I had caught a glimpse of once or twice, so I didn't know him. He never seemed to be a friendly person, he had a slight limp and a red stern face. Seeing this familiar face amongst all these strangers, did not give me the comfort that it should have done. Names were being called quite frequent by now, I am saying to myself, "I wonder what my one will look like" well it got down to three of us, twin sisters and me. The little girl that had just gone, went out with a woman who had a hump on her back, using a walking stick. The thought of being looked after by a person like that was beginning to make me feel depressed. By now, Mr McCarthy had gone, and there were just a couple of people standing near the open door. They were just standing there, talking together, they looked as though they might be in charge. Suddenly, one of them came over, looked at my label, went back and then beckoned the twins, leaving just me. I was by now getting that same feeling that I got back at Liverpool Street Station, a feeling of sadness is the only way I can describe it. Surely I'm not going to be left out, maybe they have made a mistake, I might be lucky and be going home. Just about that moment a woman burst through the open door, I noticed that she had a grin on her face, she said something to the two other women, I think it was something in the way of an apology for being late. She came over to me, then asked, "Are you Stanley?” At that moment, I knew that I was going to a good home, Mrs Clarke my foster mother was a woman about forty years of age, quite an average build and was of a friendly disposition. She was married to Ted, who was a couple of years older. Mrs Clarke's mother who I always used to call Mrs Rowe also lived with them we lived in a cottage at the end of a lane called Rodgate.
It was very typical, quite a large garden, flowers and vegetables, chickens and cockerels in the run. At the far end of the garden on the side of the garden path was a large four foot deep hard water tank for all uses apart from drinking, next to that, a wash house, next to that there was an outside toilet. Going back down the path, out of the gate and across the lane was a woods, about one and a half acres, to the right, a few yards up the lane was a spring well. Opposite to that there was a three bar gate, over the gate was a meadow and at the far end of the meadow was an old mill. The mill was derelict, which made it ideal for us kids to play in later. Just beyond the old mill was fenced off, as it bordered onto private land standing on that land was a mansion house owned by the country squire, by the name of Buxton. The only time that we ever heard from him or his gamekeeper was if we ever happened to wander anywhere onto his land, when more than likely there would be a gunshot, no doubt fired into the air, to scare us kids off, no doubt in case we might have had any ideas of poaching.
All our drinking water was taken from the well by means of a hook that was fixed to the handle roller. The well must have been about thirty foot deep. The well was used by everyone in the lane, as there was no running water. We would probably only have to make one trip a day to the well because, as I have said, we had a hard water tank at the end of the garden path, this was used for washing, watering the garden, doing the laundry, even flushing the toilet after using. To the other end of the lane, going up towards the main road, was a dairy and cow sheds, there used to be a proper mess made in the lane at milking times. It was bad enough with all the mud, but near the cow sheds at milking time there would be cow pies everywhere. That was another reason why everyone that lived in the lane, without exception, had a push bike. All us evacuees used the reading room as a classroom initially, and even then it was for mornings only. The local juniors would use the classroom in the afternoons, you could say that in the early days in Marsham we went to school part-time. As it turned out, Mr McCarthy was one of the two teachers along with a Miss Robins, she taught us at one end of the room, and he at the other. It would sometimes become a bit confusing.
During the summer at harvest time, us kids would go rabbiting. One trick was to walk behind the combine harvester, waiting for the rabbits to run out. We used to run after them, until they ran out of breath, hold them up by their back legs, and give them a rabbit punch. Once I entered a competition in a kids comic, called The "Mickey Mouse", it was a true story, of how I caught a rabbit, dealt it a rabbit punch, but not before it had rolled into some muck I took it back home, washed it in a bucket of water from the tank, dried it, brushed and combed it, then sold it down the lane for a shilling. Mickey Mouse published it in their weekly comic. For that I received a postal order to the grand sum of five shillings I would look forward to the winter in Marsham. Every year it would snow. I was told it was something to do with it being Fen Country. Seeing all that snow coming down, and settling on the trees, bushes and meadows, was very exciting as a youngster. It would often lay, about six inches, we would make a sledge for racing and carrying goods. We would go ice skating on the lake near the cow sheds which was always frozen over. Us kids would build a huge snowman in the middle of the lane, there was no worry about a car coming, as there wasn't any. In fact the only car I ever saw in the village, was an Austin Ruby which was driven by the district nurse. I don't even recall a car being owned by Mr Buxton, the country squire, or even by the only other rich person in the village, Mrs Clutterbuck. As we lived in a lane, there was mud everywhere. When it rained or snowed, we were always in about two inches of mud, a thing I never saw in London, it was unheard of. It was important to wear rubber boots (the Wellington boot type).
There was a coconut mat placed outside the front doors of most places in the winter. The custom was that every time a person wanted to go indoors, they would take off their boots, then walk in, in their stocking feet, leaving their boots outside. The first year, after I was evacuated I was caught napping. As we never wore rubber boots in London, all I had were my school shoes and a pair of slippers for the summer. Even my school shoes were wearing a bit thin. Mrs Clarke lent me a pair of her rubber overshoes, but they were a bit too big for me. They would only do as a temporary measure, besides the mud and snow would get down the sides. Mrs Clarke asked me to write home and tell them that you need seven and sixpence, then she would get me a pair of short leg boots. These were the kind of boots I really wanted, especially as those were the kind that all the men wore in the winter, out here in the country. What used to appeal to me about them was, they had a short leg, with a dull rubber finish, with thick sturdy soles and heels. That way, I could jump up and down in the mud and snow, with no fear of letting anything in. I didn't like the shiny, long leg wellington boots, they were alright for girls. I suppose I felt about the same when I was in Bow. The time when our mum got our school boots, I liked the strong sturdy look then. Instead of writing home myself, Mrs Clarke decided to write home for me. She said she had been intending to write for some time, now this would be a good opportunity. I was anxious for the money to arrive nearly a fortnight had gone and still I hadn't heard. In the morning before I went to school I would look through the front room window straight up the lane, for the postman, I wanted to catch him before I went to school, I was getting a bit anxious and the bad weather was now drawing in. One morning a letter arrived, I could hardly wait to open it up when I did, it contained a letter from mum, there was a postal order inside for one and sixpence, but no mention of the seven and six boot money. It was some time later that I learned from mum that she had not been living at home for some time. She had been very unhappy at home for some years, but wouldn't leave because of us kids. But now that I was being looked after, and the three boys were bringing in enough to keep things going. She decided the time had come to make the move. As mum was not living at home, she obviously didn't know about my request. That morning I went to school feeling very disappointed Mrs Clarke made me wear her overshoes again, as there was a lot of mud in the lane. After morning school, I arrived back home for my dinner, Mrs Clarke said, there's a parcel just arrived for you. It seems that the postman only delivered large parcels after he had finished his morning deliveries. I opened up the parcel, it was a shoe box wrapped up in brown paper inside was a pair of shoes. If I was disappointed before, well, I was certainly disappointed now. The shoes, although they seemed in good condition, were second-hand, and had been re-soled and heeled, I was never going to forget those shoes. They were a brown casual type with a side buckle, and where they had been repaired the soles were twice the normal thickness. This made them higher at the front than they should be. The edges of the soles were very glossy, where they had been heavily waxed. I could tell by the uppers, that they had been well used before repair. Inside the shoe box was a letter from dad, which read something about me needing money for boots, so I have got you some good stout shoes, which should keep the rain out, also find a shilling postal order from Fred. Freddie had a way of sending me something from time to time, as did Joe. Mrs Clarke must have noticed my disappointment, although I did not say anything to her at the time. Later on, Mrs Clarke told me that she had mentioned in her letter, that due to the bad weather setting in, and also that my other shoes were wearing out, money was needed for some rubber boots, which is what the local people called the heavy wellington type boots. She said that your dad must have misunderstood. It transpired that dad got to know an old Jewish man, who had a dingy old second-hand shop in Green Street, or Roman Road as it is now called. Everything that this old bloke sold, although second-hand, had always been well repaired and laundered. He had a wide range of stock from suits to socks and pillowcases to blankets and sandals to shoes. The set up with dad was, dad could have anything he wanted for a deposit of say, five shillings, and would pop in there every week, and pay the old chap two and six off his account. Although (give old man Waxman a miss) every now and again, to use dads words. Knowing that dad had that kind of arrangement, and seeing as he was very old fashioned anyway, it wouldn't have mattered to him, whether the shoes were new or second-hand, so long as they were strong and serviceable. Anyway, the following Saturday, Mrs Clarke took me to Aylsham and fulfilled my wishes.
So Stan is happily settling into his new life in Norfolk and receives a welcome visit from his eldest brother, Charlie, who is now in army uniform. In chapter 3, how the tumultuous events of WW2 are having a direct effect on Stan's family: http://bit.ly/2ymDsT0