Section 3, part 1
Memories of a World War Two Evacuee (1) . By Alec Turner
This is an account of my memories of a time now over fifty years ago when in September 1939 Great Britain with other European Nations were facing the increasing prospect of another war against Germany, which eventually developed into World War Two. There were three children in our family and I was the youngest, being born in December 1929, with a brother who was six years older, and a sister four and a half years older than myself. The family lived in a three bedroom terraced house in Green Lane, Dagenham, Essex, just twelve miles from the centre of London.
The initial event that signalled the coming of war for me was queuing outside the local library at Valance House on a summer’s evening during 1938. This was at the time when Hitler had marched his troops into Czechoslovakia prior to that historical Munich Meeting, when Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister returned and waved that ill-famed appeasement agreement document to the news cameras. We were queuing to be measured for a gas mask that was collected from the library a few weeks later. After the return of the Prime Minister from Munich, the threat of war seemed to diminish for several months, but the newspapers constantly reported new events that kept the thoughts of a war pending. Government advertisements appeared everywhere instructing what people should do in the event of an air raid. One brand of cigarettes introduced a set of picture cards entitled Air Raid Precautions that gave illustrated advice on what to do if an attack ever came.
During this period I recollect seeing an air raid siren being fitted to the top of a high pole adjacent to a Police call box at Becontree Heath. On another occasion a RAF barrage balloon detachment had parked a vehicle on waste ground between Chadwell Heath Station and the nearby Gaumont Cinema. A winch was mounted under a wire cage on the back of the lorry and a steel wire hawser stretched up to the silver-grey balloon floating in the sky many hundreds of feet above. In the summer of 1939 Anderson Air Raid Shelters were delivered to many surrounding houses. They were named after the Government Minister responsible for their introduction and came free to people having an income below a defined level. My father was a London Bus Conductor and earned below this level so we got ours free. These shelters were made of very thick corrugated steel sections, with six or eight curved sections forming the roof and several straight sections for the ends. When assembled, one end section contained an opening for entry. The complete assembly was designed to be sunken about four feet into the ground and covered over with the earth taken from the hole. Each section was extremely heavy and installation was the householder’s responsibility. For people unable to tackle this task Dagenham local council provided a fitting service. My father had suffered World War One chest wounds and a collapsed lung in 1936 and so was considered medically unfit to do this task. I can clearly remember the two council workmen who came and dug the hole in our back garden and fitted the sections together to form the shelter. It was the first one they had fitted and had both previously been unemployed for a long time.
By mid August 1939 Britain’s entry into war seemed inevitable and the plan made many years earlier to evacuate school children from the greater London area became a reality with schools and parents getting together and then deciding whether their children would go if war came. My parents decided (together with my agreement) that I should go, if and when the time came. My Father had been a regular soldier having served in India and South Africa before the First World War in 1914 and had suffered several wounding and poison gas incidents. He fully realised the effects of military bombardment and the subsequent casualties that would arise. At this point in time both my brother and sister had left school and were just starting their first jobs, travelling each day into London and so were not eligible to go on the evacuation scheme.
After the long summer holiday, school started during the last week of August and I went up into the third year class at Grafton Road Junior Boys School in Dagenham. The teacher, Mr. Teasdale, had the reputation of being very strict and would use the cane for the slightest misconduct. The class did not get a chance to try the patience of this new teacher as we were only with him for one or two days as by the following week-end Great Britain became at war with Germany and the plan to evacuate Greater London school children before this was put into action. Preparations by the teachers in the whole of Grafton Road School began during the middle of the week and I was placed into a group of children administered by teachers of the Infants School with Miss Molyneaux at the Head. I started school at Grafton Road so the teachers were known to me, especially Miss Molyneaux who had a very special interest in encouraging young children in music and I had played in her school percussion band and went with the band to many musical festivals and contests whilst in the Infants School. There were no lessons during these few days but we were instructed of what to take on the journey if the evacuation took place. This consisted of our gasmasks, a change of clothing, a towel, toothbrush and soap, and most important was an addressed envelope and writing paper so that we would be able to inform our parents of the address when we were settled in our new home. The teachers assembled us into small groups in the classrooms. Most children had brothers and sisters who were placed together into the groups, so there was a wide range of ages within each group.
My father went to the school several times during the evenings of that week and presumably was told of the evacuation plan and details of the arrangements when the signal to go was given. At this time my mother had become very ill with scarlet fever but could not be admitted to hospital as was usual for those days, as the threat of war was so imminent that only emergency cases were being admitted. My father had to stay at home from work in order to look after my mother who was unable to get out of bed. There was some dilemma whether I would still be able to be included in any evacuation activity because of my contact with the disease and possibility of passing on the infection. This must have been resolved between my father and the school authorities during the week as consent was granted.
On the Friday afternoon it became known that the evacuation would take place the following day. That evening I remember preparing for the next day’s journey. A case was packed with a change of clothing and as my Mother was so ill, the lady living next door helped to make and pack sandwiches for me to take and eat during the journey.
My father woke me very early the next morning the 2nd of September 1939. I had some breakfast, then got ready to go with my father to the school. I carried the small suitcase, gasmask and the sandwiches in a cloth haversack. I don’t remember saying goodbye to my mother, but I think that she was far too ill to be fully aware of what was happening. It was a dull and grey morning with puddles on the pavement as we walked to the school but I remember feeling excited at the prospect of going on a long journey, although I did not know where or how we would travel. The destination was kept secret and maybe even my father did not know.
We were assembled in the classrooms of the school and were told that we would be going by ship from Dagenham Dock that was several miles from the school. A fleet of old cars and vans began to arrive at the school and children piled in to be taken to the Docks. I travelled with about four other children in the back of a small baker’s delivery van. We were taken to the Princess Cinema at the Chequers and then were reassembled to walk in orderly groups, the mile long straight road that ended at Dagenham Dock on the River Thames.
I can still clearly picture in my mind, the road ahead and behind filled with an endless stream of school children, some much younger than I, walking along the road and being urged by their teachers to keep in several lines abreast and not to stop. The case containing my clothes began to feel very heavy and I kept changing it from one hand to the other. Blisters formed in the palms of my hands that became most painful. It was about eight o’clock by the time we reached the end of the road which passed by the Ford Motor Works Factory and terminated at the Dock where the M.V. Daffodil was moored with hundreds of school children, some accompanied by their mothers, had already embarked. Two more boats, the Royal Eagle and the Royal Sovereign were also moored at the dock.
These boats, famous in their day, normally ferried day-trippers on the River Thames from Tower Bridge Pier in London to Southend and Margate and also across the Channel to the Continent. The Eagle and the Sovereign were Paddle Ships and the Daffodil was a new propeller driven ship, having been launched earlier that year. We boarded the Daffodil and soon the flotilla of all three boats headed it’s way down the River Thames towards the estuary, passing large oil tanks on the north shore and pausing off Southend Pier presumably to drop the river pilot off before entering the sea. By this time word had spread that our destination would be Lowestoft and our journey would take all day. The weather improved and became sunny after the dull start of the day, and luckily the sea remained calm throughout the journey. It was the first time I had travelled by ship and it all seemed a great adventure for me being a nine-year-old boy. All the decks of the ship were crowded with children, probably there were as many as 2,000 which was the passenger carrying capacity of the vessel. There also were many mothers and most of our schoolteachers who were organising and supervising the operation. Sandwiches were eaten and the teachers organised deck games such as quoits and giant sized deck-draughts. Escorted parties were taken on visits to other decks on the ship as we were only allowed to wander about on our designated deck. I went with one party on a tour and remember looking through a lower deck window, from a narrow passageway, into the engine room and seeing the highly polished glistening engine, handrails and pipework.
There was an event during the voyage when someone claimed they had seen a submarine periscope which resulted in many children going to one side of the ship to have a look and there came a message over the ship’s Tannoy system for people to spread out on the deck as there was a danger of the ship gaining a list. Whether there was a real periscope seen or not I don’t know but it certainly caused alarm because the ultimatum for Hitler to withdraw his troops from Poland had been issued and everyone was expecting the war to start within a few hours. The flotilla arrived off the pier at Lowestoft at about five o’clock in the afternoon. When we got on to the pier I remember how peculiar it felt to tread on firm ground again after being on the boat since early that morning and feeling the swell of the boat on the waves during the wait just off the pier. As we walked along the pier towards the shore Women’s Voluntary Service helpers gave each child a paper bag containing sweets, an apple and an orange.
The teachers reassembled our group and we walked to an old grey stone walled school in Lowestoft where we stayed for the next three nights. Our sleeping area was in the main school hall. Straw was spread on the floor and pillowcases were provided which we filled with straw. I can’t remember meals and where we ate them but I do recollect that milk delivered to the school was boiled in a coal fired washing copper before available for drinking. It was whilst watching the teachers carrying out this process that I overheard them talking amongst themselves that war had been declared and must have been just after eleven o’clock on Sunday the 3rd September 1939, when the time limit of the British Ultimatum for Germany to withdraw their troops from Poland expired.
Memories of a World War Two Evacuee (part 2)
Life in Halesworth, Suffolk By Alec Turner
On the Tuesday morning we were taken in coaches to several small towns that lay inland from Lowestoft. I was in the group that went to Halesworth, Suffolk. Other groups went to Bungay and Beccles. I believe there were three or four hundred children in the group that went to Halesworth. On arrival in Halesworth we all went into a large chapel building where local organisers in conjunction with our teachers decided where our foster homes would be. As far as was possible brothers and sisters were kept together but I believe there were many instances where this did not happen, especially when there were more than two children in the family. I was amongst the last children to be chosen and leave the centre, and as I was one on my own, was placed with another older boy and taken to a house in the centre of the town. The lady of the house really wanted to look after girls, so apparently was none too pleased to see two boys on her doorstep. We had a midday meal at this house and later that afternoon the organiser came back and took us by car to the home of a local policeman, which was about a mile from the town and situated in the countryside.
I liked this place much better as there was a large garden with fields all around. The policeman and his wife had two children of their own, a daughter aged 15 and a son of 11 years old who was just over a year older than myself. The house was one of four semi-detached cottages that had originally been built for the employees of the nearby large house and farm. As it was some distance from the main town, it did not have any of the services to which I was accustomed in Dagenham. The drinking water was drawn by a handpump from a well in the garden. There was no electricity or gas and the toilet was a bucket in an out-house in the back garden. However, there was a bathroom with the water having to be pumped up from an underground water tank in the garden that was fed from rainwater coming from the roof of the house. The water was heated in a coal-fired copper and then bucketed into the bath. Lighting at night-time was from an Aladdin paraffin lamp and candles. All cooking was done on an old black kitchen range in the main living room that also heated the house in both summer and winter. This might sound very primitive judging by the standards that most of us enjoy today, but was quite common to encounter outside of cities in those days.
This was to be my home for the next nine months and I felt quite happy with my new kindly foster parents and family, although I was to see very little of the policeman who spent most of the time working very long hours and when at home was in bed asleep. I was pleased with the prospect of exploring the surrounding fields and finding trees that could be climbed. There was a very challenging willow tree in the garden that had a sloping trunk, which became my first target after permission to climb it was given by the lady of the house. She was quite amazed at the speed of this achievement as most local people fully expected that all children from “the city” would not have the ability and know-how to climb trees.
I am sure that in following months these enforced foster parents had to change many of their preformed views they had about town and city children. Many parents were concerned about how their children would address their new foster parents but in most cases the children themselves resolved the problem. Most children called them “Auntie” and “Uncle”. This didn’t seem right for me and I avoided using any name as far as possible, but when I had to I used, Mr. or Mrs.
During the first week at Halesworth an air raid warning was sounded, and we all took shelter in a small room in the house where the window had been boarded up and stayed there until the “all clear” was sounded after 20 minutes. Afterwards we heard that it had all been a false alarm and there had been no German aircraft in the skies above. There were no more instances of this kind during the rest of the time at Halesworth, which was until June 1940.
School was organised soon after we arrived and since there were a large number of evacuee children in Halesworth it could not be contained within the existing school and was conducted in several wooden hut buildings known as “The Church Rooms”. The Head Teacher was Miss Molyneaux with other teachers from Grafton Road and Lymington Road Schools in Dagenham. It must have been a very difficult and trying time for those teachers as school equipment was scarce and created great problems to teach for five hours every day. Country walks were frequent and there were plenty of paths and farm tracks to follow. A knowledge of the countryside, country ways and how to behave and respect them was quickly acquired with identification of trees, birds and farm animals being a major pursuit during these lessons. Although some parents and elders frowned upon and criticised these activities being included in the teaching curriculum whilst at Halesworth, I in the course of my life, have always valued and appreciated all the knowledge gained during this period of my schooling.
After school and at weekends we spent many hours exploring the fields around the house and during the autumn we picked the plentiful blackberries in the hedgerows. Too many for ourselves to eat so we took baskets of them to a house in the town where we were paid twopence a pound for them. This supplemented the sixpence a week pocket money that my mother included by postal order in her letters to me. Letter writing was a weekly task encouraged by school teachers and foster parents and was essential to maintain the important link to parents who still had the responsibility to clothe their children and ensure that problems of unhappiness were identified and resolved. My Father came to visit me after about six weeks at Halesworth and also came again with my Mother just before Christmas, who had by then recovered from her illness. They brought some Xmas presents and also my Meccano set to provide an interest for three boys now in the family throughout the long winter evenings. So from then onwards after the evening meal was cleared away the Meccano set came out and all sorts of models were constructed and dismantled for something else to be built the following day. This all happened in the light given from the Aladdin oil lamp placed on the centre of the table and was always accompanied with constant warnings for us to be careful and not to knock or bang the lamp which had a delicate glass chimney, earthenware mantle and filled with highly inflammable paraffin.
The weather during the winter of 1939/40 was very cold with plenty of snow falling. The newspapers showed photographs of frozen seas around the coasts of Britain, a rare occurrence of recent years. Snowdrifts were common and roads were impassable until cleared by the horsedrawn snowplough. I had not seen snow like this before so it was a source of great excitement walking to school in these conditions. The country walks did not cease during the winter and I remember one brilliant sunny day’s walk through the snow to Heveningham Hall, a large country mansion about four miles from Halesworth.
We spent the whole day in the grounds having taken a packed lunch with us. I still have a photograph of the children eating their lunch with Miss Molyneaux and another teacher in the snowy grounds of the house. The large lake in front of the house was completely frozen over with snow covering the ice that had been swept to make a circular path for the skaters who were on the ice.
We three boys took it in turn to go to the farm each morning at half past seven in all weathers to fetch the daily milk in a special milk can. We had to go into the cowsheds where the farm cowhands who were always very friendly and allowed us to try our hand at milking the cows. Not very successfully as I remember, which resulted in us having to take a lot of jovial jibes from them about being “Townies” who wouldn’t be able to do those sort of things. During this time there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease of cattle in the area and everyone entering the field leading to the farm had to dip the soles of their shoes in a bath of disinfectant sited at the gateway.
By Christmas it became known as the “Phoney War” because there had been very few instances of enemy aircraft flying over Britain. This led to many parents taking their children back home to Dagenham, and resulted in all the remaining evacuee children in Halesworth being assimilated into the local school. The Church Rooms had not been very suitable for use as school classrooms, so I would imagine that the teachers were pleased with the new arrangements. I went into a class having a local Halesworth teacher. The class was preparing for the then known scholarship exam (akin to the 11 plus exam) and I remember having to do homework for the first time during the evenings. I sat the exam sometime in April or May. I believe great confusion followed as the evacuees took the Essex paper with the local children taking the Suffolk paper and shortly after the Dagenham children left Halesworth. At the end of the year it was eventually revealed to my parents that the exam papers I had taken had been lost. It was highly probable that I would have failed, as there had been a substantial loss of academic work over the previous eight months and maybe I wasn’t good enough to have made the grade anyway
Memories of a World War Two Evacuee (part 3)
Life in Loxley, Warwickshire By Alec Turner
A morning in the middle of June 1940 brought an end to the Dagenham evacuee children being in Halesworth, having been there for nine months. The war events that had occurred during April and May forced the departure of all the remaining Dagenham evacuees from Halesworth and the surrounding towns. After the fall of Holland, Belgium and France to Hitler’s Army, East Anglia became a vulnerable area for an invasion attack so the authorities moved us to the Midlands.
That morning complete with gas mask, a case containing a change of clothes, and a pack of sandwiches, I accompanied my foster mother to the Railway Station in Halesworth where I joined all the other children and teachers to board a train that seemed to be shunted all around Suffolk to allow more children to join us in a journey to an unknown destination. Trying to fathom out the route was much hampered as railway station large name boards had been removed because of the possibility of being read by the pilots of enemy aircraft, so you had to be quick to read the small name plates as the train passed through a station. I remember seeing Rugby as one of the places we went through. Finally, in the late afternoon, the train arrived at Stratford upon Avon where we all alighted and walked to a nearby school.
After doctors giving each child a quick medical examination we were divided into a number of groups to be dispersed around several small villages in the area. There were about thirty children in my group and taken by coach to a small village known as Loxley, some four miles from Stratford upon Avon. We all went into the tiny school where the villagers were waiting to receive their new charges as decided by the local Billeting Officer, who was also the “Lady of the Manor”. As before, at Halesworth I seemed to be the last boy to be chosen. However I did not have far to walk as the house was right opposite the school. We probably did not impress the local people very well as we all arrived very tired and looking dirty from the long journey in a steam train that had puffed out sooty smoke all day. Most children had quite black faces and I suppose mine was no different.
Loxley was a very small village having just two general shops, one of which was also the Post Office, serving a population of about 250 people. The bus service came once a week and ran into Stratford upon Avon on a Friday, the market day. So it was very isolated. My new foster parents were over sixty years old and their daughter who had no job took on the main role of responsibility for me. Although the house was a pair of old cottages that had been made into a single house it had electricity for lighting and had running water and a flush toilet installed in an out-house.
Within a day or so two Dagenham teachers were assigned to us and billeted into houses in the village. One being a Mr. Forester, who had been a teacher at Grafton Road Boys School and the other a lady teacher who had French-Canadian origins. They set up school in the village Community Hut. It was a smaller scale repeat of the Halesworth episode.
Mr. Forester only stayed a few weeks and with some children having drifted back to Dagenham the evacuee children were transferred with the remaining teacher to the small village school who did not stay very long before she was replaced by another teacher from Lymington Road School in Dagenham. The local children, evacuees and the two teachers shared the same classroom, with distracting situations frequently occurring. How these teachers managed this extraordinary situation still amazes me as additionally the age group of approximately twenty evacuee children spread from about seven to thirteen years old.
My Father was concerned over the threat of invasion and very dissatisfied in the way that my education had been disrupted with little prospect of improvement so he made application for me to go to Canada or America on the Overseas Evacuation Scheme that existed at that time. I had a medical examination from a doctor who came to the school and I was placed on the waiting list. Nothing happened as a few weeks later a ship with evacuees going to Canada was sunk by a German submarine with loss of children’s lives and so the scheme was cancelled.
I continued at Loxley School for six months or more until the summer of 1941, when the eleven years and over children were loaned school bicycles to enable them to cycle four miles to a larger school in the neighbouring village of Wellesbourne, and matched the system of the local children when they became eleven years old. Our teacher returned to Dagenham, as there were only two children who were under eleven years old and they were they were absorbed in with the local children.
At Wellesbourne School we were integrated into classes of our own age group and schooling and lessons became closer to being normal again. Coinciding with our going to school at Wellesbourne the Air Ministry was building a RAF Bomber Station between the two villages and consequently the most direct road was closed to all civilian traffic. An alternative route around the airfield added another two miles to the journey but school children were allowed past the sentry-guarded barriers through the centre of the airfield buildings that were built around the original roadway. Runways were laid and hanger buildings appeared in just a few months, to be followed by numbers of Vickers Wellington bombers. It very quickly became an operational establishment for the training of bomber aircrews. Although there was a sinister side to this, it provided me with a tremendous fascination and interest and furthermore the luck to be able to witness at close hand the activities of the aircraft being serviced, taking off and landing whilst cycling to and fro to school. What a scoop for an eleven year old boy! Several aircraft crashed in the vicinity with the loss of the crews. After the wreckage was cleared away I was often among some of the boys to go and hunt for any remaining souvenirs. Sometimes we found strings of machine gun ammunition, which on one occasion brought a Policeman out from Stratford upon Avon to find the boys that had any in their possession. Fortunately I didn’t have any when the Policeman questioned me but I still got the full force of his warnings on playing around with such dangerous things. One summer’s evening I was going on an errand for an elderly lady who lived in the village, to collect some medicine from the doctor’s surgery in Wellesbourne. The guards at the airfield entrance barriers got to recognise the school children and also allowed us through at other times. As I approached the airfield a Wellington that was coming in to land crashed short of the runway. It came down in a field close to the road and skidded into a stream, and by the time I arrived near to the scene a stretcher party were just getting the injured crew out. Fortunately they all survived the crash, as the aircraft did not catch fire.
On a similar errand one misty Sunday morning when there was no activity around I was passing a Wellington on it’s dispersal point when an lone RAF maintenance man climbed down from the hatch. I called over to him to let me have a look inside the aeroplane and he beckoned me over and let me climb up the ladder into fuselage and into the pilots and bomb aimers positions. He asked me if I was I Boy Scout, to which I replied in the affirmative, and he then said “Ah well, I suppose it will be alright then”. In point of fact I was a Boy Scout at the time, so no untruth had passed my lips. I’ve always hoped that nobody saw him allow me inside the aircraft, as I am sure that would have been a chargeable offence, especially in those wartime days. The one thing that did irritate me afterwards was the fact none of the other lads in the village believed my story!
The bicycle was an essential in this village that did not have a daily bus service, and I had been fortunate that I was allowed to use the foster mother’s bike albeit a ladies bike, before getting the school bike of my own. On Saturdays I often used to cycle into the town of Stratford upon Avon to have a look in the shops. Books always were a fascination to me and a browse around W. H. Smiths bookshop always took up half an hour or so. On occasions when pocket money was available a purchase would be made, often it would be about the aeroplanes of the day. Sometimes I would go to the cinema, and on a few occasions in hot weather I went swimming. There was a section of the River Avon that had been made into a lido but the water was always muddy and not very pleasant. I had learned to swim before the war at about the age of seven.
There was plenty of historical interest in the town that was of course mainly concerned with William Shakespeare. In those days there were few tourists and the hotels seemed to be full of RAF personnel, with the paved area in front of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre being used as a drill parade ground. Shakespeare’s Birthplace was visited on an occasion when my mother and sister came to visit me. The only time I went to the Memorial Theatre was with a school party to see a Christmas Pantomime. I was rather too young to appreciate or understand a Shakespeare play at the time.
Birmingham was about thirty miles away and Coventry 20 miles. From Loxley, on a clear day, you could see Coventry Cathedral. In the autumn of 1940 German planes began the night-time bombing of the two cities, resulting in the massive devastation of Coventry on the night of 14th. November 1940. I saw an eerie cherry red reflective glow on the clouds caused by the huge fires that raged that night. Birmingham also suffered extensively on many other nights. In bed, I used to listen to the German planes going overhead. They always sounded different to our own planes, as their twin engines produced a pronounced throbbing noise due to the driven propellers being unsyncronized. I have since learned that the German planes were flying along a navigational radio beam from a transmitter sited on the Cherbourg Peninsular in France, which would have passed directly over Loxley when aimed at Coventry. There was an incident one night when a German plane unloaded showers of incendiary bombs onto a pig farm about a mile from the village, damaging the farm buildings and killing a few pigs. Many unexploded incendiary bombs were afterwards found in the surrounding muddy fields.
Agriculture was the main form of employment for the villagers with several farms being closeby. The farmers welcomed extra help at times, and I was pleased to join in with several other boys when needed. It provided extra pocket money, which was a great incentive. At haymaking time I helped turn the hay after a days sun, and then I help toss it onto the wagon for it to be taken back to the storage barns for the winter cattle feed. Soon after there was pea picking and we got one shilling and sixpence for every full sack of peas. August was harvest-time when the fields of wheat were cut. The sheaves had to be gathered and set up into stooks so that they would dry and ripen for two or three days before taking to the barn where it would await the arrival of a threshing machine to come around to the farm. With todays combine harvesters there is far less manual handling of the wheat than there was in those times. Threshing was the very dusty business of separating the grain from the husks and straw and I got the job of “cutting the bonds” which meant that you stood on the top of the threshing machine and cut the strings around the sheaves of wheat prior to it being fed into the machine. By the end of the day my hands got very sore from holding the knife and from the thistles in the sheaves. To wear gloves when doing this job was considered to be “cissy”. There was always plenty of fun when you got near the end of stack as the rats and mice started to come out and were chased by the farm dogs and cats.
At Half Term in October we spent the week potato picking for which we were paid four shillings a day. Each person was allocated about 25 yards of a row and you had to pick up and bag the potatoes as the digger machine went along each row throwing the potatoes out onto the ground. This was a backbreaking task and made you feel very weary by the end of the days work. Half term holidays were not usual in those days but were introduced in the rural areas so that the school children could help with the potato harvest at that time of the year.
The summer of 1942 saw a lull in German air raid activity over Britain due to Hitler’s campaign in Russia beginning to suffer defeats. My parents had promised that if it stayed that way by the school summer holidaytime then I could come back to Dagenham for break. So when that time arrived my father came to fetch me back to Dagenham by train. I enjoyed my stay at home for about three weeks and I don’t remember any air raids occurring during that time. I was twelve and a half years old now and my father was confident that I would be able to travel on my own, so he took me to Paddington Station and saw me onto a train to Leamington Spa, where I had to catch a another train to Stratford Upon Avon.
The reduced German air raid activity continued into the autumn and the news began to be more optimistic with the increased role of America in the European theatre of the war. The threat of any invasion had now disappeared. With these conditions prevailing my parents decided that I should return home and finish my schooling in Dagenham. So about the middle of October 1942 my father came to Loxley to take me back home. I had been away for just over three years. I now think that those years provided me with a most valuable experience of life, and happened at an age when a boy born in the town was able to obtain the greatest benefits and pleasures of being in countryside surroundings. It proved to be a time that the war took a turn for the better as one week after I came back to Dagenham and had started school at Triptons, General Montgomery’s victory at the Battle of El Alamein took place which historians now regard as the “Turning Point” for Britain in World WarII.
End of section 3
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