The Reeve’s Tale Website - EVACUEES IN BAWDESWELL
A LETTER FROM FINLAND
A London Evacuee Remembers Bawdeswell
I read your Reeves Magazine on the Internet with interest as I lived in Bawdeswell as a small boy from 1940-45.
I was interested and somewhat amused by the reminiscences of Mr. Bugdale regarding the Home Guard. I was one of the “evacuees” to whom he refers, as our family had to move out of London having spent practically all of our nights there in air raid shelters.
As we lived in the Willows, I had first-hand views of the Home Guard. For most of the war they had no complete uniforms and generally turned up wearing an assortment of civilian clothes with perhaps a battledress blouse. I can still remember one man dressed in work boots and trousers, with a battledress blouse, a flat cap and a white scarf around his neck. Their usual arms were broom handles. Most people thought it was better that they did not carry real weapons as they would have caused more trouble than any Germans who might appear. I remember a group of us boys watching Mr. Lambert who ran the Bell Inn, chopping wood in his barn across the road from the pub. One of us asked him why he did not join the Home Guard. Mr. Lambert looked at us with an expression of amusement and said “me join that lot, if my home needs guarding I will do it myself”.
I also recollect that even as a small boy I was surprised that nobody in the village seemed to understand what was going on in London with the bombing and devastation. In fact they seemed to know almost nothing about what went on beyond Dereham and Norwich at the most.
Some people also stay in my mind. Police Constable Hales who seemed to spend most of his time waiting in ambush for any dangerous criminals who were riding their bicycles at night without lights.
Another person was the school mistress, Miss Lewis. The strange thing about her was that, although she spoke with a assumed accent, Lloyd spoke with a broad London one. I am always reminded of her by Hyacinth in “Keeping up Appearances”. She was also the worst and most vindictive teacher I ever encountered- Once, in front of the whole school she held a boy up to ridicule just because his parents were sending him to grammar school. There was also the case when two of the village boys, not very bright ones, broke into the school one week-end and supposedly did some damage and also tried to burn down the school. I must say that when I went to school on the Monday, there was no sign of any damage. The silly boys had scrawled their names on a wall making it obvious who they were. Their actions today would be regarded as a stupid prank and they would be told off. However, in Bawdeswell there was Miss Lewis. She made sure that the boys were punished according to her way of thinking and the two silly children were sent away to an approved school.
Life was very strange in Bawdeswell in the ‘forties but it was an experience I will never forget.
Bryan Donoghue, now living in Finland
One of his cousins, Joe
O’Brien wrote this: “Although I was just a little lad I can
remember seeing the smoking debris of All Saints Church after the Mosquito
crashed on it.
Sheila Berry wrote this: “ I
used to live in The Rectory at Bawdeswell during the war. My granny
(Nell Callaghan) lived with my mother (Hannah O'Brien) and us children in The
Rectory. My granny actually died there. We were evacuated from
London during the war around 1943. My father was in the army. My
aunty Nell Donaghue and her family (2 boys and 2
girls) lived in The Willows, which I remember quite clearly and I also
remember seeing the wreck of the church opposite which was hit by the
plane. It didn't really affect me because I was only about 5 at the
time. The thing that affected me most was when my lovely dog 'Binky'
was hit by a lorry outside The Willows. We buried him in the back
Sheila Berry, Perth, Western Australia.
People in story:
Diana Bolton nee Tremain and Betty Laker nee Tremain
Location of story:
Poplar London and Bawdeswell, Norfolk
Background to story:
06 July 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Melanie Bird a volunteer story gatherer at the Living Museum on behalf of Diana Bolton and has been added to the site with her permission. Diana Bolton fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I (Diana Bolton nee Tremain) was 3 when the war started. I lived in Poplar with my family, my father became a fireman in the docks at Orchard Place. We lived very near to the East India Docks and there were frequent air raids. During one of these a bomb fell at the bottom of our street. We were still in the house at the time on our way to our brick built street shelter. The only damage to our house were broken windows and a fallen ceiling.
For most of the war I was in London attending Primary School but when the Doodle Bugs started my father who saw the first one fall on the Emu Wine Company insisted we went away. I was seven. My sister, Betty Tremain (11 years old) and I went to a village in Norfolk. We arrived at East Dereham railway station where we boarded buses to be taken to our destination. We arrived at Bawdeswell and were taken into the village hall. The children with their mothers soon found people to have them this left just two pairs of sisters. A lady came in and pointed at my sister and one of the other sisters and said “I’ll take these.” I felt very lonely but my sister soon sorted it out and we went with Mrs Fenn.
They had no children but made us very welcome. We soon got used to pumping the water and using a candle to go to bed. She cooked using a primus stove or an oven heated by a coal fire. In the evenings we read by the light of an oil lamp. We went to the village school where there were just three other children of my age. Things were very quiet compared to London but excitement one morning. A German plane had crashed on the village church during the night. We stayed just over a year until after VE Day returning to London in September in time for the celebration parties.
However, many mothers were very unsure as to the usefulness of evacuation. Many children were evacuated but not with huge enthusiasm and when it appeared early in the war that it was not going to lead to cities being bombed (this was pre-the Blitz of London which took place later on) many children returned to the cities from which they had only recently left.
The official government story was that all young children had been evacuated and that the whole process had been efficiently organised and executed with precision. However, this was not the whole story.
Evacuated children found that their hosts were not always welcoming and that their two lifestyles clashed. Host mothers complained of inner city children urinating wherever they felt like it in a house; locals in rural areas complained of an increase of petty crime - theft from shops and the like. Much of this was never proved though the difference in lifestyles for inner city children must have come as a shock.
One of the most important issues to come out of evacuation was the chronic health observed by host families in the countryside. Many evacuated children were much lighter and shorter than children of the same age in rural areas. Body infections were common. All these signs were symptomatic of lack of nutrition, decent housing etc and gave an incentive for the government to do something that was to lead to the Welfare State after the war ended.