Second World War evacuee remembers the kindness of new 'Aunties'

PUBLISHED: 15:00 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 07:21 30 May 2010

Auntie Dot and children, Dunmow 1940  Picture: SUBMITTED

Auntie Dot and children, Dunmow 1940 Picture: SUBMITTED

TODAY, September 3, will mark the 70th anniversary since England declared war on Germany and her allies. The news rocketed the country into the Second World War and changed the course of history forever. Caught up in the turmoil were the young evacuees

TODAY, September 3, will mark the 70th anniversary since England declared war on Germany and her allies.

The news rocketed the country into the Second World War and changed the course of history forever.

Caught up in the turmoil were the young evacuees. This week the Broadcast publishes the memoirs of EILEEN CLEVELAND (nee Collins), who, as a Londoner, was evacuated along with her sister to Great Dunmow on September 1, 1939.

OUR billet was to be with the Misses Bradley, next door almost to the Saracen's Head, who opened their homes - and their hearts - to my 11-year-old sister Pat and me, and also two of my friends (Iris Herbert and Ronnie Smith) who stayed for the first months of the war.

In no time at all we were calling them Aunties Clare, Dot and Mabs and we, in return, were lovingly called 'our children'.

Over the years I have become more aware of the upheaval it must have caused in their well-ordered lives to take on the four boisterous children; but they did it wholeheartedly. Their sitting room became the children's room, bedrooms were adapted and toys were found spare cupboard space.

We arrived on Friday September 1 with our small cases of clothes, a treasured book or two and a couple of toys to a very warm welcome. I can still remember we were told to assemble at the Church School near the Doctor's Pond on the Sunday where we listened to the wireless and the announcement of the outbreak of war. At our ages we didn't really understand what was happening, but were aware of something serious occurring.

Like so many other towns and villages, Dunmow learned to adjust to its many newcomers and helped us settle in. Schooling was done on a 'sharing' basis - we used the school part-time and the Memorial Hall for the other half of each day, alternating with the local children. Oh, the hours we spent pegging rugs, knitting comforts for soldiers and doing community singing at the hall. Our teachers were wonderful; they too had come away from London with us.

During the summer months we were often taken on nature study walks, sometimes across the railway lines where honeysuckle grew so sweetly, or to the Doctor's Pond to collect tadpoles for lessons. We would often sit sketching on the green outside the Church School.

The Aunties were members of the WI and we went on many excursions with them, collecting hips and haws, blackberries and crab-apples, which were later made into jams, syrups and preserves.

Auntie Clare, the eldest sister, was a marvellous cook who, in spite of wartime shortages, kept us well. Her pies, puddings and apple dumplings were among the best I have ever tasted.

The youngest, Mabs, took us on long walks, exploring the village and surrounding countryside often with Nen, their dog, in tow.

When the cattle and produce market was being held it was fascinating to wander among the animal stalls, or to pore over goods for sale; everything from embroided needle books to battered harmoniums. We made many a bargain purchase and stowed things away for future Christmas and Birthday presents.

In the early part of the war, parents would come down on the Hicks's buses for their brief day of visiting, and streams of children would run along the road towards the Memorial Hall watching for the first glimpse of blue...then it was a case of trying to race the bus back to the market Place. In later years, Mr Manning, dad of some of our school friends, organised the hiring of a charabanc periodically to being our families to visit.

So many memories; not forgetting, of course, the smell from the bacon factory, especially on hit summer days. Even the story of the Dunmow Flitch couldn't make up for that!

No matter what the weather, we walked across the Rec to church every Sunday morning, and in such a peaceful spot it was difficult to imagine what was happening back home where the air raids meant such danger, and little sleep, for our parents.

From time to time when there was a lull in the raids we were allowed home for a few days in the school holidays. What excitement! There was shock, too, when we saw the Blitz damage and, inevitably, there was always the sudden, unexpected raids whilst we were at home.

But we did rather enjoy taking the huge lumps of shrapnel back to Dunmow with us and boasting to our village friends of the near misses we'd endured.

After the war we remained in touch with the Aunties, visiting them from time to time. But eventually life's paces overtook us all and we lost contact.

I came back to Dunmow on a hit summer's day some years ago and it was like coming home. As we drove slowly down the High Street there didn't seem to be too many drastic changes from those far-off days of 1939 when I first saw it as one of the evacuees. For a moment, I was that shy, eight-year-old who had been sent away from Sybourne Street in Leyton for a 'holiday'.

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