October 19, 2013

Harris, Ken

Below is an account from possibly Brandon’s first evacuee.  Ken Harris and his brother, Dennis, were staying in Brandon with family friends when war broke out and fearing for the boys’ safety Ken’s mother and father thought it best that the boys stay in Brandon for the first months of the war while they returned home to London.  This account was recorded in 2007.

Introduction – My name is Kenneth Harris and my brother is Dennis, we lived in a place called Edmonton, a suburb of London and we came to Brandon in late August 1939 for a holiday and stayed with a Mr and Mrs Swinger who lived in George Street, which was just off of the Market Place.  The Swinger’s were the mother and father of a friend of my mother and their house was one of a terrace of flint houses at the top end of the street just before it turned left into the Thetford Road. A few houses away was a chapel or mission hall that had an upstairs gallery and at the beginning of the street was a factory that had something to do with rabbits and I remember it had a terrible smell!

Outbreak of war – During our holiday the war broke out, so it was suggested that my brother and I should stay in Brandon for our own safety … so I suppose we were the first evacuees in Brandon!  Although it was very sad, especially when we had to say goodbye to our parents on Brandon railway station and not knowing when we would see them again.  A song that always reminds me of that parting was called “We’ll Meet Again”, sung by Vera Lynn, it always brings a few tears to my eyes.

Brandon school – We were enrolled in the Council School on the Market Square and my brother and I thought Brandon’s school was very nice and seem to remember the children accepted us very well and wanted to know all about London.  The school was especially nice as it was so close to George Street where we was staying at the time.  Our school back home in Edmonton, London, was a long walk from home especially on cold winter mornings.  I was seven years old and my brother was eleven and I was put in a class of eleven year olds and my brother was put in the top class of fourteen year olds, it seemed our standard of education coming from London was higher than that in Suffolk but never the less we soon made friends and they soon showed us the best places to go to play and things to do.  While we were there one of the things they taught us was how to collect birds eggs and after a time we had quite a collection.  The collection became a problem as Mr Swinger who we lived with worked as a forester and had told us it was against the law to collect birds eggs, so we had to hide them from him; we hid them in the roof of the outside smelly toilet in the back garden.  Some time later he found them and punished us by smashing them all.

Ken Harris - aged 15, after he had returned home to London.

Ken Harris – aged 15, after he had returned home to London.

Memories – My brother and I will always remember Mr Swinger coming home from work and sitting down to his evening meal and he always started with a large Yorkshire pudding before tucking into the main course.  Another thing I remember was the weekly bus service to Bury St Edmunds and occasionally we would go there to see relatives of the Swinger’s.  I also remember going to the Avenue Cinema and sharing the lovers double seats with my brother, something we had never seen before.  I also remember my brother used to spend a lot of his school time looking after the school’s farm animals of chickens and pigs.

Schoolboy crush – I remember there were twin girls in my class and they were very pretty and I had a crush on one of them, but I cant remember her name, but I’m afraid she didn’t feel the same about me, so I suppose it was the age difference as she was probably three years older than me.

Parents visit – While we were evacuated to Brandon my mother and father used to take it in turns to come and see us every few weeks and stay for the weekend.  My father on a Saturday night would go to one of the many local pubs and enjoy himself chatting to the locals.  My mother when she came had a great time, she would go dancing on Saturday night to Thetford or one of the American bases and as you can imagine young ladies were in short supply with all those servicemen in the area.  On one weekend when my mother came to see us during the night there was an air raid and quite a few bombs were dropped.  The next morning she told us you are not staying here, it’s safer in London we haven’t had any air raids there yet.  So after eleven months of being evacuated we returned to London having acquired a Suffolk accent.

Back home to London – I spent many a happy time on the High Street bridge and swimming in the river, but we were only in Brandon for eleven months before returning home to London for the rest of the war.  Soon after arriving home the London Blitz started and we had to get used to going down the air raid shelters of a night time, but after a time this became a chore and we plucked up some courage and stayed in the house where it was more comfortable.  The air raids were very noisy because not only did we have to put up with the bombs exploding, but we also had to put up with the Anti-Aircraft guns going off in a field at the back of our house where there was an army camp.  The noise made all the windows and doors shake, but eventually we got used to it and slept through it all.  I remember after we got home to London that things had only just started to get organised and my father was asked to join the Home Guard.  At first they did not have any uniform or rifles, but had to make do with broom sticks to be able to learn how to drill and march.  When they did get their uniforms and rifles, which they brought home, I did a naughty thing and took my father’s rifle out into the street one day when we played cowboys and Indians!

Around twenty five years ago I returned to Brandon with my wife, Joyce, and children and although the area around the town centre hadn’t changed much, I was surprised at how much the town had grown with all the new houses that had been built.

Thank you Brandon for having my brother and I for eleven months, it’s something he and I will never forget.

– Ken Harris, 2007