We want to hear stories from you or someone you know who was an evacuee during the war. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add them below.
“The Grand Theatre was a luxury to us people that hadn’t got any money, because my late husband was Bevin Boy, money was scarce. I was brought up around the miming area. To go to the theatre was great because you could dress up. It was a night out- you never went scruffy. Other people had evening dresses, I had a light summer dress and I’d dress my little daughter up nice. In those days, for a pound, you could go to the theatre and then go across to the Co-Op and have a meal.”
“The costumes were magnificent and at the end when the Prince married the Princess it was marvellous- all the glitter. Just after the war, with the economy as it was, all this glitter was something to build you up; you’d had a good night, you’d got your husband and daughter and went for a meal after. It was just sheer bliss.”
“I think it was 1943 – Blossom Time or Lilac Time – it was the music of Schubert arranged into a musical performance and there the leading singer – whose name I remember to this day – was called Leo Sheffield. Poor chap, he was past it, he must have been seventy plus and I assume all the better singers were in the Services. Apparently this Leo Sheffield was a known artist – he’d made films and was reputed to be a baritone of quality. I’ve no recollection of this quality: all I recall is this poor old chap doing his best….As Mother was widowed we took in lodgers from time to time and I think in that very performance we took in a man from the chorus: his name was Tom Bowling. He contended he was a descendant of the Tom Bowling, where we all sit and remember him at the last night of the Proms, and he too must have been in his mid-seventies in the chorus, secretly past it…My recollection of the wartime performances is, compared with modern standards, they were second-rate, third-rate, but the audiences were not critical: we were glad to have something live and vibrant in the middle of rather a dark town at that time of our lives.”
“We used to get on the bus at the bottom of Gough Street to Wolverhampton, it was two pence. We’d go to the Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS); it had a little place opposite the town hall. You’d get a small portion of beans on toast for a very small amount of money. We’d do that then we’d stand in the queue in the passages at the side of the theatre for the rep. The Co-Op had got the shops over the road. If we went to matinee performance, we’d go and have a look in. if you could afford it, you’d go in the Victoria hotel. You queued until the theatre opened; you climbed up all those stairs. I think we used to pay one and sixpence. I had a favourite seat…we could only afford the Upper Circle and it was the second row, in the middle on the right, where the man with the lantern slides was. He was advertising lots of local things at the beginning. And of course, the curtain was always lovely to see- it was dancers, I’ve always got a picture of it in my mind… If the theatre was full, which it frequently was, they allowed some people to stand and watch. At the interval if we could afford it, we’d have a drink- right at the back at the top, a tea or coffee. The last bus went at nine, the last train at ten past ten. When you came out of the theatre about a quarter to ten, you chased down the road to the station and the platform was packed and my goodness me it was hard work getting on the train to go to Willenhall.”
“In the early days when the war was on, of course, theatres were closed. And then eventually the government restriction was lifted and they tried to get people to the theatre. The evening performance used to start, as far as I can recall, at about half past six at night. The last bus was nine or half past nine. All the lights in the buses were camouflaged so that you couldn’t see out into the street. As a child who adored the theatre, it was absolutely magic. I can remember going to see things like The Desert Song and Rio Rita and was absolutely mesmerised when that curtain went up. Outside there was the blackout and it was very dark and only the radio to listen to. When we went to the theatre everyone dressed … the men would be in suits and ties, the ladies would always be in their best gowns and frocks. One has to realise that when the war was on there was so little to do. It was a night out.”
“We queued in a side alleyway and then there was a concrete staircase which led to the gallery. A chappie used to open the door and shout ‘Early doors’ and I would think we probably paid tuppence extra to go in early and the poorer people waited later and went in ‘Late doors’. Now the curious part of this was that we were issued with a ticket that was metal, about the size of a large box of matches or about the size of a packet of cigarettes. We paid our money…and the tickets came down a slot – metal –and we raced upstairs because there were no reserved seats – they were stepped, arena-style seats – and then we got the best seats we could and the usherette took the tickets back and then they were recycled for the next performance.”