This account has been taken from the BBC’s “WW2 People’s War” …
BEGINNING OF WAR
My maiden name was Audrey Rees and I was born in 1929 and lived in Park View Road, Tottenham with my mother, father and younger brother Leslie. I vividly recall 1st September 1939 which was the day we were evacuated. My mother tried to come with us but there was a ballot at the school and she wasn’t successful. My 6 year old brother and 6 year old cousin Yvonne, who was living with us at the time, were put in my charge. I was told under no circumstances were we to be parted – a big responsibility for a 10 year old. We had one small suitcase each with a change of clothes, some lunch and of course, our gas masks. Before we left someone was walking down the platform asking if anyone had lost a pair of glasses — of course it was my brother — a good start to our journey!
ARRIVING IN BRANDON
We arrived in Brandon, Suffolk in late afternoon. We were all taken to the school hall whereupon the local ladies came to choose their evacuees. This took some time but by 9.0pm the only children remaining were my brother, my cousin and me. I remember feeling very rejected and hurt even though I realised that nobody wanted 3 evacuees. This was all because heeding my mother’s words to the letter; I had refused to allow them to part us. Despite being very tired, I can remember a lady, who I think was from the Red Cross, saying “This is ridiculous, these children have been up since the crack of dawn, I am going to take them home with me. I will find some pillows and they can sleep on the floor”. She lived in a small Georgian house in the High Street and I remember my head hit the pillow and I was asleep. The next day I agreed to compromise. My brother and I were temporarily in one house and my cousin in the one next door until my mother came to visit us and a more permanent solution was sorted out!
Two days later I was walking along the road when I heard that war had been declared. I suddenly saw a tiny piece of coal which had been dropped by the coal man and I recall picking this up, looking at it intently and thinking to myself that I would remember that moment until the day I died — I still have that tiny piece of coal! The evacuees had to share the village school which meant we only had schooling in the morning and in the afternoon we were paid to work on the land thinning sugar beet. The older children earned 6d (2½p) per row whilst the younger ones did shorter rows and earned 3d for each one. After a week I had earned 2/6d (12½p) I bought myself a straw hat with a huge brim and covered in roses for 2/9d (taking the extra 3d from my emergency money). This hat was my pride and joy, but when my Mother visited I was given a lecture about not spending more than I had earned. This is a lesson which has stayed with me to this day.
After 4 months my brother and I went to stay with my Great Uncle, who was the vicar of Longstock in Hampshire. The school was at Stockbridge 3 miles away and if we missed the bus we had to walk! Although I am tone deaf I was accepted into the Church choir as I was the Vicar’s niece. I remember there was only one boy in the choir who was rarely seen, as he had to hand pump the organ while we sang. We stayed with my Uncle for a year and I remember it being a very happy time. Sadly my Uncle was taken ill and died so we had to return to Tottenham.
Because I had been unable to sit my 11 plus at Brandon, the Green School in Tottenham had arranged for my books to be assessed and I was passed in my absence! All my friends had gone to Tottenham County School and they were evacuated to the West Country. My parents decided that Tottenham High School for Girls was more suitable as the evacuation was nearer at Saffron Waldon .
Our classroom was the Gym of a Teacher Training College. Eventually they found us a house where we were divided into classes of 10 children with one teacher to teach us all the subjects. My brother came with me and was enrolled at the local village school. We were allocated to stay at the Red Lion Public House where the landlady took in 5 evacuees. I still have vivid memories of the smell of beer – quite a contrast from our stay in the Vicarage! My Mother was not very impressed when she found out — but there was a war on and we had to make the best of it. Eventually many evacuees drifted back to London until there were only 3 girls left in my class. It was arranged that we would join more evacuees at Hornsey High Boarding School at Great Grandson. One of these 3 girls, Eileen Thomas, became a close friend and still is today. The Boarding School pupils resented us and it was not a happy time.
When I was 14 in 1943 it was decided my brother and I should return home. When the V1 or ‘buzz bombs’ as they were known started landing on London it was during the Summer holidays and we were once again evacuated to my Uncle in Lancashire where we stayed for 8 weeks but then returned home. On VE day (8th May1945) Eileen and I travelled up to London on the tube and celebrated with thousands of others. I was hauled out of the Trafalgar Square fountain by a policeman — ‘not allowed to do that, dear’ he explained sternly. We danced all night and caught the first train home in the morning, went to school and promptly fell asleep during a science lesson!
Later that year Eileen and I volunteered to work on the land digging potatoes for the war effort. We spent all day doing this backbreaking work and it wasn’t until we had finished for the day that the farmer told us that the war in Japan had finished. He had heard the news in the morning but knew he wouldn’t get any more work out of us if he told us!
As you can see my childhood war years and schooling were very disrupted but I think the whole experience has made me a very resilient and self-sufficient person.