‘Drat Those Pesky ‘Vacuees’: Part 2
2: SETTLING IN
The following morning, meeting up in the road, trudging off to school, the girls under the wings of Frances Barr and myself with John Eveleigh. Past the farm of last night; Wesley Chapel on left; Village Hall on left; then up the hill. Village Cross in cross roads; square tower church on left; dairy on right; thatched pub on right with other thatched houses and butcher’s shop. Then the school on the left. It looked small, a “T” shape with unsurfaced playground on left, a very small tarmac playground on right, both filled with yelling, playing children waiting for the nine o’clock whistle.
School in. We were registered. The long classroom was crowded, the desks almost edge to edge. This was the ‘seniors’ class under the headmistress Mrs. Wyles. The juniors in another classroom under Miss Wren, whilst the Infants were in another classroom under Mrs. Gumbleton. Behind the Headmistress’s desk was a chart giving the number of pupils in each class and the grand total, chalked in every day. I seem to remember that day the total was 126 pupils (later I recall it rose to 143 Pupils). The evacuees outnumbered the local children.
During the breaks, the evacuees gathered together and as a new one on the scene, I was treated to hosts of imaginative stories of farmers chasing evacuees with whips and pitchforks. Being chased by bulls! Bulls, bulls, what were bulls? The farmers hated the evacuees and would not let them in their fields. Gang fights and other blood thirsty stories of bullying. I wondered what type of village I had come into. To my surprise, I found that we were not all London evacuees. There were a number from Southampton and other bombed areas.
Unfortunately, as I was to learn later, the tales of horror told to me had some truth. Certain evacuees, being ignorant of country life, had caused havoc and displeasure to farmers by trampling down growing crops using thatched ricks as slides, leaving open field gates and playing cowboys chasing milking cows. No wonder farmers were outraged at evacuees and chased them off.
The only event I can recall. A retired farmer, Mr. Green in The Hollow, had a small orchard opposite his house and was a temptation to certain evacuees returning from school. On this day, three boys got into the orchard and were spotted by Mr. Green. As I came down the road Mr. Green rushed down his path, waving his walking stick in the air and at the boys, who bolted. He stood in the middle of the road still waving his walking stick and yelled out, “Drat those pesky ‘vacuees.”
I never found one evacuee who had ever been chased by a pitchfork waving farmer, or any who received a cut of a horse whip. It was the same with stories of gang fights. The nearest I found to this was a stand up slanging match between London and Southampton evacuees calling each other names. As for bullying only one where a London evacuee decided he was a gang leader and if you would not join his gang he would “do you”. He lasted a week. Brothers and Sisters of the evacuees took him for a long walk….!! Apart from a few names calling, and disputes in games outside the school, the evacuees and village boys and girls muddled along together with very few problems.
3: BACK TO GOLD HILL
Back to Gold Hill. Three days and evenings spent in the same way. On the Saturday Mrs. Yetman told me I was to go to another home. We started off up Ridgway Lane, going between Tom Oliver’s farm and Tom Tuffin’s farm. I wondered where I was being taken. A mucky rutted muddy track, fields on all sides, not a sign of a house and so quiet and not a single person to be seen.
We seemed to walk miles before turning off into another lane which lead to The Common,
I was taken to Mr. &. Mrs. Wilf Snell, retired farmers, at Hambleton Lodge , where they ran a small poultry farm. This wonderful couple opened my eyes to country life and my subsequent taking to it.
Tea was being prepared, the kettle was on. I looked, where was the gas cooker? I could hear a roaring noise and the kettle sang. I sneaked a look into the kitchen. The kettle was on a funny looking kind of burner – my first introduction to a Primus stove. Tea over, and up to bedroom to unpack. It was getting dark. Where were the light bulbs and light switches! Going downstairs, I found a light in the living room, but it came from a tall brass thing with a glass funnel and globe around it – an Aladdin Lamp no less as I was told. I was quickly shown to an outside toilet but asked to do my wee in a clump of bushes behind the house.
And so to bed, but now with no electric light, I was presented with a saucer like candle holder with a carrying handle; the candle was lit and up to bed I went feeling like Wee Willy Winky, with the shadows dancing around. I was told that once in bed, I had to blow out the candle. Once in bed, silence descended, not even a squeak. I blew the light out and hid myself under the blankets – strangely I slept well.
In the morning, nature caught up with me. I went to the outside toilet with another of my boy’s magazines. Up the lid and sat down to read. Finished reading, lid down, looked for the chain to pull. No chain. How did it work? Outside was a cast iron, hand cranked pump and bucket. I never worked a pump before, but with vigorous jerking up and down, filled the bucket. Down the pan. Nothing happened. Back to the pump and another bucketful. Again nothing happened except the pan filled up.
Another pumping and bucket of water down the pan, but the water rose to the top. I was beginning to panic; the water was not running away. Back to the pump. As I cranked Mrs Snell came around the corner and asked what was wrong. I babbled out that I could not find the chain to flush the toilet so had poured water down but the drain must be blocked, as the water would not run away and I could not seem to unblock it.
Gently she took hold of me, removed the bucket and led me away back to the house, where she explained there was no flush toilet, but it was called a bucket lavatory and did not have to be flushed away. There was, she told me, no running water, no gas, no electricity, only pump water, paraffin lamps and candles and paraffin Primus and Valour stoves for cooking. I could not believe it. It was ray first real introduction to country life.
The following day, a Monday it was decided not to send me to school but take me to Sturminster Market as it was their monthly visit. I remember we were in the poultry section. There was a massive chicken in a cage, long coloured feathers, floppy red things down its head and a large red thing on top. Eagerly I turned to Mr. Snell who was talking to another man, and asked how many eggs would this chicken lay? The other man chuckled. Mr. Snell informed me that this chicken was a he, not a hen, and called a rooster and did not lay eggs. He explained to his friend that I was an evacuee, whereupon his friend patted me on the shoulder and said ‘It’s alright son, you will soon learn.’ Another introduction to the countryside.
On Tuesday I was to go to school and as I did not know the road, I was taken over to Harry Gillis, MM, to ask his son Bob to show me the way. I did not known then that Bob never left for school until about ten minutes before nine, and belted the distance on his bicycle to arrive just before the nine o’clock whistle. Having to go on foot took about 25 minutes.
So first time all went well, but I became the bane of Bob’s life by calling for him each morning after that until the Christmas holidays, running alongside him with gasmask swinging one way, shoulder bag with sandwiches and thermos flask swinging another way whilst he peddled furiously. I seem to recollect that we were never late for school.
During these first two weeks, I only saw my sister Jean in school, but we both seemed contented at this. Whilst Jean had plenty of playmates, I was a wee bit lonely being by myself at Hambleton Lodge. However, I did start to meet friendly other persons living at The Common or Upper Street, near Pine Walk. The Fudges, Don, Dennis and Doris. Harriet White, the dairy worker on Bradley’s farm. The Knights’ and Sylvia. Old Toby ( Moore ?). Then Farmer John Harris from whom I sometimes managed to get a lift on his milk float. Then Jean and Michael Harris. And a dear lovely lady only known to me as Miss Rose.
During the Christmas holidays, I tried to help with the chickens, feeding and watering them and making up games with them. 1 knew that often when an egg was laid, the chicken cackled. Wanting to do my little bit and surprise the Snell’s after hearing a chicken cackle, I got a bucket with straw in the bottom and went around the nesting boxes. I was very pleased with myself when I picked up about fifteen eggs and proudly took them back to the house to show Mrs. Snell who was in the kitchen.
With pride I showed her the eggs in the bucket. She gave a gently smile and said, ‘Robert, you can only eat three of these eggs, the rest are china dummies.’ I was rather upset and asked her to explain, which she did stating that in order to encourage hens to lay in a nesting box, dummy china eggs were put in the boxes to make the hen feel that she was already beginning to lay a clutch. But I could still not understand how Mrs. Snell knew the difference between eggs and dummies. The Townie falls again. I did learn the difference in the next few weeks.