Dennis's story

Freedom and fresh air

I was born on 31 July 1932 in New Cross, south London I am the middle child in a family of three, a brother two years younger and a sister two years older.

During the war years, I was evacuated four times to different parts of the England and Wales. The first time I went with the whole school to Ringmer, in Sussex. My sister and brother came with me. I can't remember anything about the journey on the train or even arriving at the destination. All I can recall is the three of us stayed in a country house surrounded by lovely countryside. This area is called the South Downs, the sea on one side with soft hills leading down to the coast. I loved walking and exploring the pathways along the coast. I had never had such freedom before. We stayed there for six months before going home to London. Before our return the winter was very cold. Everything was frozen, the streams, rivers, and ponds. I recall seeing a rabbit frozen in a pond, poor thing. It must have fallen into the water and couldn't get out. They called this the Phoney War.

 

Five months later the whole family moved to Hatfield in Hertfordshire. My dad's job was connected with the aircraft industry. We stayed with a local family during this time. The husband of the house was a milkman and as I enjoyed being in the open air, I got up early in the morning to help him with his milk round. He didn't have a van for his round but a horse and cart. One day as I was climbing onto the cart, the horse started forward suddenly, I slipped back and fell badly onto the ground. I was taken to hospital and spent one month flat on my back. I had broken the base of my skull. I was sent to a convalescent hospital to get me better when they discovered I was a carrier of Diphtheria, which is a contagious illness in children. This time I was in an isolation ward. Between these two illnesses, I was away for three months. Our stay in Hatfield lasted six months before we once again returned to London.

 

Home again to the Blitz. For a while we lived in a war zone. On the way to and from school, my school friends and I would find out what was damaged in the night raids. We picked up shrapnel from the bombs; some of it was still hot! I can't remember being frightened by all the bombed buildings we saw - somehow it seemed fun in a way. However, the war was becoming dangerous in London so a collection of junior schools and their teachers were sent to a place called Lampeter in south Wales.

 

This time my sister stayed with two single ladies whilst my brother and I were billeted on a farm. The farmer shared the house with his son and a local maid who did the cooking and housework. I loved the big fire in the living-room kitchen because it spelled of freshly baked bread and cooking. The farm had a small dairy herd and a big bull.

 

I guess I can look back and say this was a very happy, contented time in my life. The freedom to roam around the countryside climbing trees, playing without supervision, in the fresh air was wonderful. However, all farms are kept busy all year round so being a big strong lad, the farmer taught me how to milk the cows, prepare their food, clear the shed of manure, feed the chickens, lift bales of straw and many more chores. I took to this life without effort and it made me physically strong. The farm also produced far too many kittens; they overran us so I was taught to drown the litters at birth. I also became very good at catching rabbits that were sold in the local marketplace called Carmarthen. Owing to an incident at the farm I was re-billeted with a host couple that lived two miles out of the village.

 

I spent nine months with this family. They had two children and it was a lovely happy time I spent with them. Once again I was lucky enough live in the country area that allowed me to explore the surrounding fields and play my games. However, I learned that I had passed my 11 plus examination and would be sent back to home to London.

 

The emergency grammar school I attended was short lived. The flying bombs began in earnest and it decided we were off again to Ashburton in Devon. My new home suited me well because it was a mixed farm; newly built with an inside toilet! I helped out with the farm work, attended school and it felt so familiar. As I was a big lad and had a mind of my own, I became a bit of a handful so I was moved to Totnes, a small town in Devon. I stayed in a children's home for about two to three months before returning home.

 

 

Being an evacuee made me a more confident, independent person. The farm work taught me the value of the cycle of the seasons; birth and death; supply and demand of food; and the effects of the weather. I have never lost this need to be out in the fresh air walking and looking at nature in all her glory. Yes, there were many bad times away from home and family, but it made me stronger in spirit to deal with my future life.



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