I was 5 years old when War broke out and we were living in Portsmouth, which was expected to be a prime target for bombing raids because it was a naval base. So my two older sisters (Iris and Lillian) and I were evacuated to the village of Broadchalke, 8 miles west of Salisbury. I remember being placed on a train at Portsmouth station with Iris and Lillian, with a label on my lapel with my name and address written on it. Under my arm was a brown wrapped parcel containing one change of underwear and one dress. (I suppose this had to last me for my entire stay of the war!)
We were taken to the village school and there sat in rows on the floor. We were all very frightened and people came in and looked us over (rather like the olden days hiring stations). One kind lady pointed at me and said to the lady in charge, “I will have that little girl.” The reply was, “You can’t pick and choose, you have to have who you are given.” The lady’s reply was, “If I can’t have her, I won’t have any.” There was a little discussion between them and an agreement was reached and I went off with Mrs Ruby Jay and my two sisters went with Mrs Fry.
Mrs Jay, or Auntie Ruby as she asked me to call her, took me screaming and kicking to her lovely little cottage called ‘Grasmere’. After giving me something to eat she then proceeded to fill a tin bath with warm water, placed in front of the fire, and started to bath me and wash my filthy hair. I don’t think I had ever had a proper bath before, so I was fearful of what was going to happen to me. The next thing she did was to burn the few clothes I had brought with me. I then went to sleep on her feather-filled mattress in a big brass bed – which was sheer heaven, although I did miss my sisters.
I settled in very quickly. Auntie Ruby and Pops Jay were very kind and everywhere was so exciting after the slums of Portsmouth: the pure drinking water from the well halfway down the garden; the chickens wandering free at the very end of the garden; a couple of pigs in a sty; fruit on the trees; flowers growing in the gardens; cows in the fields; Mrs Bevan’s goats on the hills opposite her cottage and sweet yellow cowslips in the hedgerows.
My sisters left very soon to go and stay with relations in Wales but by then I loved Broadchalke too much to leave. But after a while my parents moved to Edinburgh and they decided it was time to gather the family together and we were taken there. I hated the crowded dirty streets and missed the country so much that after a couple of months of pining for Auntie Ruby I was sent back.
I was put on a train at Waverley Station (in Edinburgh) in the care of a guard and set off on my own to Salisbury. It took two days and one night. A lady traveller gave me sandwiches and played noughts and crosses with me and finally we arrived in London, where there was an air raid going on. The guard said he couldn’t risk leaving me on the train all night, so he took me home, gave me supper and a bed for the night. Then the next day he put me on the train to Salisbury – and Auntie Ruby was waiting for me!
Each day was exciting to me and I had plenty of friends to play with. We visited the waterbeds; we waded through the clear stream near the church; we played on the hay ricks and we picked the sweet-smelling violets under the hedgerows up at the rookery; when the corn had been cut we went gleaning (gathering the left over ears of corn). I even scrubbed the floors of Dr Wood’s kitchen under the direction of the housekeeper. It was hard work but the small amount of money I received was all mine – most of it spent in the sweet shop at the Malthouse. I was allowed to answer the telephone for Auntie Ruby at the post office and put on my best voice to answer ‘Number Please’ and then dialled the 3-didgit number.
Bells rang on Sundays; I even tried my hand at that and usually found myself with feet off the ground just hanging there. I went to church 3 times a day on Sundays; first the morning service; then the afternoon and finally the evening. Sometimes I went to the chapel nears Bailey’s shop, where we consumed delicious lardy cakes and sometimes the chapel opposite Fry’s the butchers where we watched lantern slides.
Another game we played on the way to school was trying to collect the windfall walnuts from the tree belonging to Major Betts. I was sometimes allowed to play with his daughter in her nursery, which was like a fairyland with every toy imaginable and wonderful dolls.
I remember dancing around the Maypole at the vicarage and races on school fields. I collected the milk from Bundy’s farm each day for three nuns who had hired a cottage near us for a short while. Yes, I had a wonderful childhood at Broadchalke with so many happy memories and because of this strong upbringing I was able to face a very tough time when I finally returned to my parents at the end of the war.
Jean as a young child