The topic in Year 2 this term has been Evacuees. They contacted a former pupil and World War 2 evacuee, Jack Boorne, to ask about his experiences. The correspondence is here for you to read and enjoy.
Dear Hugo, Darcy, Lillia, Freya, Charlie, Oreste, Sarah, Jasmin Otis, Maya, Monty and Jasper.
Thank you so much for the “Year 2 Evacuees” photograph of you all! You look so authentic that the photograph took me back in time to the days when I was about your age and carried a cardboard box with the gas mask in it every day in case of a gas attack (which fortunately never happened). I can still remember the gas masks had a rubbery smell.
I cannot tell you enough how heart-warming it was to hear about your interest in the experiences of young children who were evacuated from cities like London and Coventry during WWII.
First – a short history on how I happened to be at Warminster School during the war years:
I had just arrived from London with my parents to have a holiday with my Aunty Matie, who lived in Wylye, 10 miles from you, when the war started. This was September 1939 when I was 8 years old. We heard the news listening to the Prime Minister of England on a new device called a wireless, which was driven by a big glass bottle full of lead and acid. Auntie was lucky to have enough money to buy such a “modern” device.
My parents returned straight away to London so my father could return to his engineering job and they left me with Aunty Matie in Wylye to keep me safe. So that is how I became an “evacuee”.
I will answer all your marvellous questions as best I can and I will also share with you some little stories about the wartime experiences that my family and I had in London. I hope you enjoy them:
· My parents stayed in London until the end of the war as they were very busy helping their country.
My father helped the government in the manufacture of equipment. He was also an air-raid warden at night, helping put out fires in houses.
He worked very hard, with very long hours and one day he collapsed. Luckily after a few days of rest, he got better.
My mother also stayed in London to help “the war effort”. Her main job was cooking food for the soldiers who worked on the guns shooting at the enemy planes which were dropping bombs on London.
Luckily our house in Enfield suffered very little damage from the bombs (because it was 10 miles from the centre of London), so my parents were able to stay there and get some sleep when they could.
· I really missed my parents but I was more worried about them because they were in London, which was a very dangerous place. I was told I was very lucky because a lot of people had it much worse than us. So we all did what we had to do.
· My parents came down to visit me about every three months while I lived in Wylye and that made me very happy.
But it was a long time, so I was very glad when I was able to spend school holidays with my parents from late 1943.
My mother was home with me most of the time and I can remember us having to shelter several times during the day under the kitchen table when the enemy “buzz bombs” over London went silent (which meant they could land anywhere). That was really scary because a lot of houses got bombed that way.
(A “buzz bomb” was a remote-controlled aircraft loaded with a bomb, which dived to earth when the fuel ran out. The aim was to make the people in London feel very frightened).
· Yes, London had food shortages and food had to be rationed. For example, everyone was allowed 2 eggs per week. The citizens had Ration Books to buy food, but often the shops had run out anyway.
Sweets were almost impossible to buy. My father had a big room full of emergency food for people who had lost their homes. So he had a big supply of Ovaltine tablets for drinks and also for neighbours to chew when they were hungry.
In 1944 I started eating the Ovaltine “sweets” too. I ate a lot of them over the next month or so. Guess what? I cannot eat or drink Ovaltine now without feeling sick!
· I attended Wylye Prep School for a few months in September 1939. Then I was a weekly boarder at Warminster until the end of 1944. I travelled by bus every weekend to Wylye.
I do not remember an air-raid shelter at Warminster but I do remember we had “safe rooms” in the school to run to if there was an air-raid.
We did not need to dig an air-raid shelter at my Aunt’s because her house was made with sandstone and had a room reinforced with wooden beams where we could be safe if there was an air-raid.
· We heard bombs land in the Warminster countryside but they were only stray bombs which were dumped anywhere by the enemy planes returning home at the end of their raids on the Midlands. The windows of all the houses and buildings were blacked-out so the enemy planes could not see them, so they weren’t bombed.
My friend and I used to collect pieces of metal from the bomb scraps we found, put them on a tray and go round the village to raise money for the wounded soldiers.
I also won 5 shillings in an art exhibition in Warminster for a poster I painted with the message – “Go on Trying to Keep Them Flying!”.
· I have many good memories of Warminster. There were also many refugee children at the school. I remember one boy whose family escaped from Poland. He was a good actor and funnily enough, I saw him on some BBC TV shows years later.
· We had another very interesting war experience at Warminster – we had an Italian Prisoner-of-War! He was a charming artist who painted all the backdrops for the school plays. We had to call him “Mister” even though he was a sort of “prisoner”.
· I did not have a pet animal in London. But just after I arrived in Wylye, my aunt took in a small stray dog and gave him to me while I was there so I wouldn’t be lonely. I called him Bonzo. He had many brown colours in his coat and I remember him well.
In London the animals weren’t evacuated as they were important and loved companions to their owners. They were allowed in to the air-raid shelters too!
Anyone who didn’t carry a government Identity Card was regarded with great suspicion – and searched and taken to the local Police Station for questioning if necessary.
There were many reports over the radio and in the newspapers of spies being caught and sent to jail. There were also reports of spies being dropped along the coasts of England and Scotland by enemy submarines and small boats. In particular, Devon and Cornwall (the old smugglers’ haunts) were easy dropping spots for the spies because they were close to Europe!
I tried to spot a spy myself, but I don’t think I ever saw one.
In addition, just some other memories I have of living in the countryside around Warminster and Wylye:
- Auntie had a big garden with fruit trees, chickens and ducks and of course a vegetable garden, as everyone in the country needed to be self-sufficient.
- Mr Debenham was the postman, who was told to feed the chooks, get the eggs, prune the fruit etc – before he got on his government bicycle to deliver the letters and parcels.
- All the telegrams (have you heard about these?) were phoned through from Salisbury Post Office and Auntie wrote the message on to a blank piece of telegram paper for delivery
- I was given an old postman bicycle and delivered telegrams for sixpence. The pocket money was very useful.
- A few weeks ago I checked Google to see if Aunty’s house was still there. Yes it was still there but there but is now surrounded by motorways!
We are so pleased you are enjoying your history as much as we enjoy remembering some early stories.
Very warmest wished to you all.
(Mr) Jack Boorne