My Nan wasn’t evacuated, as her and her family lived in rural Shropshire. Her parents ran a farm but as her father was too old to run the farm alone, he had taken on a number of employees a few years before the outbreak of war. Obviously, all these men were conscripted up for the war effort so it was left to my Nan, her mother and her sisters to run the farm. Soon after, they all joined the Women’s Land Army and were helping grow food on farms throughout the village. My Nan is still very surprised that an evacuee was never sent to stay with them on the farm, but she met a lot of them through her friends in the local area. She speaks today of how they all mucked in together on the farms and how she made a lot of dear friends through the evacuation – some of which she is still in contact with today. In 2009, she was one of over 90 veterans invited to a Garden Party with the Queen at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the hard and essential work of the Land Girls in the Second World War.
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My grandfather’s friend Robert was evacuated from London just outside Cambridge at the beginning of World War II. He was quite a character and had never lived out of a big city before. One day my grandfather and Robert were taking a walk through a field and without warning a herd of bulls started moving fast in their direction. My grandfather started to run out of the field at top speed only to discover that Robert was rooted to the spot, petrified. My grandfather screamed after Robert and realising he should have followed, tore to the lane just in time. It turned out that Robert had never seen a bull before and had no idea what was happening! It was a very lucky escape!
My grandmother, on my father’s side, was evacuated from Ilford in London to Devizes in Wiltshire with her twin sister. They both spoke of how the couple that took them in didn’t really pay much attention to them. Happily taking the government allowance, given to all volunteers who took in evacuees, the couple just left them to their own devices, letting them out in the morning and not expecting them back until dinner. They used to laugh about how back home in London they were never allowed to play the grand piano in the front room yet during one of the early raids a bomb hit just outside the house destroying the front room along with the pristine piano! It was shortly after this they were both evacuated. Meanwhile my grandfather, a young Captain in the British Army, was part of the British forces during the invasion of Europe on D-Day, fighting across northern Europe with the ultimate goal of capture of Hitler’s Eagles Nest in the mountains above Berchtesgaden on the German-Austrian border (they were narrowly beaten by the American 101st Airborne Division).
My mother’s parents on the other hand had quite a different experience. My grandmother was a very young girl living in West London, which was considered by many to be safe enough from the bombing raids. Central London was most at risk. My grandfather, at the time about 13 years old, worked on the docks in East London which experienced some of the heaviest bombing of the blitz. He recalls that it wasn’t uncommon for a building to be there one day and gone the next and there were many occasions when hoards of terrified rats charged down the streets during an air raid. He recalls once, during a raid, he rescued several barges full of essential supplies by cutting the ropes of the boats and pushing them down the river out of the path of the bombers. After work he would then go on duty with the Home Guard, walking home after the Luftwaffe had passed and then onto help the ARP Wardens and the Fire Brigade, fighting to put out the fires and rescue victims trapped in the rubble.