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My mother Jean Bentley, nee Kemsley, remembers the evacuee who came to live on their farm outside Maidstone, Kent in the early part of the War. He was David Green of “90 Green Street, Chislehurst, Kent” and whenever they, or any of my mother’s friends asked his name, he always gave his name and full address! Unfortunately my mother has not kept up contact with David.
I have a photo of my mother’s birthday on June 11th 1940, it would have been her 11th. She is seated on her pony, surrounded by her Maidsone friends. The shepherd Buster is holding her pony’s reins. In addition to her friends, the picture also shows her friend Pat Hobbs, my godmother Margaret Fullager (now in Melbourne, Australia) and my uncle Trevor Kemsley (who still farms part of the original farm) . The gardener’s children Enid and Joyce are there and David too, who looks about 8.
My mother said that they all had great fun playing together, but that David was sent somewhere else when the Blitz began, as my grandmother thought that Maidstone would be caught in any bombing raids and not a safe place for an evacuee.
During the Second World War thousands of children were evacuated from inner city and semi industrial areas that were likely to be bombed. They were moved out to more rural locations where, it I was hoped, they would be more safe.
The greatest number of children to find themselves on the move came from the big cities London, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham and a small percentage of them found themselves heading to South Staffordshire.
Most of those allocated to Wombourne and the immediate area came from London, arriving by train and finding themselves somewhat bewildered by their new surroundings. Many had never seen a cow nor a field of corn before and some were overwhelmed by the distinctive “country smells” that they encountered for the first time.
One of those evacuated from North London was Fred Machin whose memories are recorded in the book ” Travelling Light”. He was just 12 when he was sent to Wombourne and he vividly recounts how, when he boarded the train (along with his two sisters) he was told that he was going to the seaside. His disappointment was immense when he found out how far from the sea he was to be (he had never been to the coast) and always referred to the village as ” Womboume-onSea”. Indeed many more of the evacuees followed suit and, for a while at least, even some of the locals starting using the name!
War seemed to creep up on our family. I remember in 1938 we were issued with gas masks (from the Hollybush on Penn Road Wolverhampton) and then in 1939 my dad was called up along with all the other Reservists. He joined the RAOC at a barracks near Nottingham then, after a brief leave, he was sent to Aldershot. I think this was the last place before embarkation to France, I can recall the farewell on the Station but I think we made a visit to him whilst he was at Aldershot. From that time 1939, through to 1945 there was just Mum and me and I grew from 8years old to 14-a very significant period of ones life!
There was a time of intense worry for my mum because she did not know whether dad was alive or dead, he was just “Missing”. This was the situation for 2 or 3 months until she had notification from the Red Cross that he was held as a POW in Stalag V111B.That was some relief for us.
For me this time was a time of upheaval, there was an imminent threat of bombing and invasion by the Germans and cities such as Birmingham and Coventry were badly bombed and people killed. Mum decided that I was in some danger and so I got sent to Uncle Fred’s parents who lived in a cottage on the side of Clee Hill. I must have been there for months because I was sent to the village school. I was not very happy; the couple seemed really old-fashioned to me and did not know how to cope with a 9year old boy. Neither did I like the school, probably because the old folks thought I ought to be sent to school with a bottle of milk to drink at playtime, nobody else did this so I felt very foolish and had my leg pulled by the other children.
When I returned home we took in Evacuees from Bermondsey in London, a mother and two girls, I think they stayed about a year, and as the Blitz eased they returned home. Later in the War when the Buzz Bombs were launched against London and the South East we had some more evacuees, this time a mother and daughter.
I tried to find the names of these evacuees from the records held at the Wolverhampton Archives on Snow Hill but was unsuccessful. However the archivist brought me some files held on refugees who had been allotted to the town. When I read through these files I was truly amazed because it revealed an episode of history that even now people do not know about. Apparently before the war in or about 1938 many Jewish parents became increasingly worried about the programs being carried out by the Nazis in Germany and Austria and what their future might hold. Many of the richer families sacrificed all their wealth in order to send their small children to England and the United States. In most cases they were never to see one another again, the parents being murdered in the Death Camps of the Third Reich over the next four years. A handful of these small children came to Wolverhampton and were billeted with friendly families, though what happened to them finally I do not know. Many I have heard were converted to Christianity and brought up as such by their adoptive family; there wasn’t much sympathy in those days for ethnic minorities! Now anyone can read the Minutes of the Meetings of the Committee organised by the local worthies, together with the Accounts held at the Wolverhampton Building Society.
Joyce Morgan arrived in Wolverhampton on 24th October 1940 with her mother and her four brothers and sisters after being evacuated from London. Their house in London was bombed three times during the blitz and when her father came home from the war in 1946 the whole family remained in Wolverhampton where they still live to this day.
One day we were told we were to be evacuated to place in the country so we stayed in London for one more night before the family was put on a train for the super safe haven of Wolverhampton. The train stopped at Tettenhall – Halt and buses took us to New Cross Hospital — an old building like a prison — we did not like it at all. It was only for one night as we should all be in a nice house the next day. We slept in a ward three to a bed and next day were taken to Tettenhall golf club where there were other families waiting to go into private homes. Some Mothers were housed with their children, and some children went to families, but we were a large family and no one wanted us and we had to spend the night in the golf club.
Next day off again to a place called Finchfield. Three houses belonging to Butler’s Brewery which had been empty for some time were given to us — six families in the three houses. All sorts of items were given to us by Tettenhall Council. We settled down in what we thought was our safe place but then were told we were to have a Morrison Shelter, a huge thing that filled half the room. Oh dear, did this mean we were no longer away from the bombing! We were assured we were safe but then we were living next door to the warden’s post.
Memories of the children at school laughing at my strong Cockney accent…… must say we laughed back when we tried to understand the local way of speaking. Then we made friends at school which was at Tettenhall Wood a long walk from Finchfield and I’m happy to say I still have the same pals seventy one years on.