To continue my story from “On being an Evacuee”. ByArthur Cox
Our first place at Wickford.
After we, that is my brother Donald and sister Olive and myself, returned from being evacuees at Maldon, we stayed for a while at our own home in Stanley Road, South Woodford. My eldest brother John and my father were away on war work. Dad worked at the London Docks but was posted away to other places. There was no school for us and we spent our time exploring the nearby Epping Forest. There was quite a lot of snow that year and I made a sledge using the metal frame of an old high-style pram. My mother contacted my father’s uncle – Alfred Maishman – who lived in Wickford, Essex. It was then arranged that our family should move to live at his house. I have the letters that passed between them at that time. I remember the packing of all our stuff in a large removal van and regretting that my sledge had to be left behind in the coal-cellar.
We moved some time around Easter in 1940. I remember going in the van and stopping in Wash Road, near the bottom of Crays Hill, after turning off the Arterial Road. There was a ford and a wooden bridge and the van driver was doubtful about both the ford and the bridge which had warning signs about the weight it could carry. Eventually the bridge was used because the water was rather too deep.
We arrived at Uncle’s bungalow in Castledon Road, Wickford. The bungalow is no longer there. The idea was that Mother and my younger sister would have one room in the bungalow and my brother and I would occupy half of a large old Army hut in the garden. This hut extended over the boundary and half of it belonged to the neighbours. The property was large with an orchard. Our cooking was to be done by sharing the kitchen which was really just a lean-to extension on the back of the bungalow.
However, things did not work out quite like that. My uncle who had been an army cook in WW1, was not too particular about hygiene and sharing a kitchen became a source of trouble and dispute. He would then turn off the gas at awkward times. Then we made use of a small coal stove that was in the hut and we all lived there together. Coal was fetched from Dear’s Coal Yard in nearby London Road. The toilet was a bucket in a part of the extension and the contents were simply tipped on to the vegetable beds. Uncle would cheerfully pull up carrots and wipe them “clean” on his trousers before putting them on to boil. Also living in the bungalow was our great aunt Mary Humber and my young cousin Sylvia. There was no bathroom on the premises and we had to make do with a strip wash with water heated on the stove.
When we moved, I was 10 and at the school in Wickford the headmaster, Mr Rose, said it would be silly for me to enter the junior school for a few months and took me in at the Seniors although I was under age. I remained the youngest of my classes until I eventually left. I found that at first I experienced a certain amount of bullying but never really knew why. I was a quiet, shy lad and of course had a different accent to the other pupils. I was a “vacky” and so open to be teased. Later this changed and I was called “Prof” because I seem to know a lot more than the others and about all sorts of things.
Of the teachers, I remember Mrs Mason who taught art among other things. Also Mr Crooke whose subject was woodwork. He was my favourite teacher. There was little available in the way of wood and he tried to get old furniture to break up. He taught us much about wood, trees, the use and care of tools and these things have been a great source of interest to me ever since. Religious instruction was a compulsory subject every day and Mr Crooke was, much against his will, obliged to take a class in this subject. He said that he was not religious but in order to carry out the instruction he would pick on somebody and get that person to stand up and read out the long genealogical tables from the old testament. We all hoped that we wouldn’t be chosen because of the long difficult names and the sniggers of the others when the names were stumbled on.
Other teachers I remember were Miss Freitag who taught arithmetic. We got as far as learning about circles and finding the area thereof – πr2. Her favourite saying was “Put it in your mental notebooks”. A Mrs Weston taught history and civics and was also the deputy head. And I remember a Miss Amos the music teacher. Her lessons as far as I remember consisted of sitting at our desks singing songs. I must have missed out somewhere with music lessons and remember one day we had to go up to the piano one-by-one and sing the notes she was playing. I hadn’t a clue about this and was immediately marked down as “no sense of pitch”.
The classrooms for special subjects were all in a long row of wooden buildings on the north of the quadrangle. First the art room, then the woodwork room and then the science room and some others. To me the science room was strange; long benches fitted with gas burners and little sinks. We sat on high benches. For science we had no materials to use and this lesson became botany and horticulture which I found very interesting. One lesson was about digging and this was followed up by a trip across to the Junior School playing field where we learnt how to do double digging. Later, we used the field by the Seniors School – the one that sloped down to the river Crouch. This field was marked out – another useful lesson! – and then dug up in small beds like allotments. I remember the problems of watering the crops with a single hose and, being a practical lad, I suggested that with the aid of some rope, a pulley and a bucket we could get water from the river. This was done using the branch of a tree to hold the pulley.
Other classrooms in the same block were the domestic science room with stoves and large circular arrangements to heat up the smoothing irons. Of course, the boys never did any of that in those days nor did the girls do any woodwork. Out in the playing field were the rows of brick-built air-raid shelters and we spent many hours in there – usually having spelling bees.
A company of soldiers lived in a row of bungalows at the top of Castledon Road near the small stores. They were a Scottish regiment and we watched – and listened – as they marched up the road to Castledon Hall where I believe the officers were billeted. We also saw many small tank-type vehicles roaring about the roads. (Bren-gun carriers).
Back to The Hut
Later, my eldest brother John came to stay with us and he acquired various birds as pets. One was a crow (“Jim”) who would follow us to school and wait on the school railings much to the amusement and wonder of the other children. I have some photos of these birds. We had other birds also including a magpie and a little owl. Our Uncle used to curse these birds and accused them of pulling up his crops and eating the fruit especially the raspberries. Little did he know that it was not the birds but us children.
Other things I have to write about later when time permits.
One day my mother was rather badly burnt by the old stove.
Conditions, despite all my mother’s efforts, were not good and we all got scabies and had to treat ourselves with a zinc ointment.
Blocked up outlet to the road.
Photographs of our army camp in the neighbour’s orchard.
Sylvia and Olive with Sylvia’s little tricycle.
Down at the river and at Downham.
Next door with the the boy Cyril Prince.
Air-raids, the Blitz and aeroplanes.
Seeing the light in the sky from the fires in London.
Dog fights during the Battle of Britain time.
Anti-personel devices (“butterfly bombs)
Life in the air-raid shelter
Incendiary bombs and stirrup pumps
Carrying the gas-masks.
The captured and decapitated teddy bear that Sylvia has never forgotten.
for other items, see the INDEX
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