Remembrance Sunday: Grandad's Evacuation Story

My Grandad is in his eighties now, and is beginning to struggle more and more with his day to day memory. A subject that still prompts his memories to flood back to him, even more than seventy years later, is remembering his childhood. He was evacuated from his home in Lowestoft in 1940, sent up to Derbyshire on the train to escape the dangers of the second world war, with a little packed lunch and a label round his neck.

I thought that today, on Remembrance Sunday, I would share a little of his story with you. Over to you, Grandad....

"Being a young boy when World War II was declared, it was quite new to see workmen lifting sacks with sand off the north beach and filling lorries with those sacks, then watching them lay bags around the town hall and other buildings, but all seemed quiet and no changes apart from an aircraft now and then, I know that school was carrying on as usual.

This was until I ran home with a form for my parents to sign, I did not read it but other lads said it was an outing by train. As in those days we never travelled, or had even been on a train, I thought it would be good. My brother Alan arrived home with his form for our parents, and he was told it was to live with other people. My parents told us we would not be going as they did not want to lose us, but a few days later I think they had been talked to about dangers, and they said we could travel but only if we were together and lived together. 

It seemed to me the day of evacuation soon arrived, I had just reached my birthday of 8 years and 1 month. I was to report to class with my small bag containing water, a stick of barley sugar, a sandwich, and a comic. Most of the class were present, mostly with parents. My mother had another child by this time, now six months, but another mother tied my label round my neck and told me to hold her daughters hand, “look after her” she said. I did not have much of an education dealing with girls, but I held her hand while we moved from the classroom down to the railway lines. Outside the station I was still holding her hand and trying to find my brother, as the teachers said we would be together. 

On the other side of the road, mothers and some fathers were waving to us and some of the ladies were crying. Then we were told to move into the station in a line, we all moved in pairs onto the platform and then onto the train. I still held hands with the girl and we sat next to each other, no teacher or anyone told us how long we will be on the train, whether it be an hour or whenever, so I did not work out when to eat the sandwich I had in my bag, or even the barley sugar.

We were told to sit. I recall our carriage was very quiet, occasionally some child pointed out types of animals in the fields, then everything went quiet again. I do remember that on one occasion the train stopped at a station for ladies to come and pass us drinks between, but I cannot remember if it was water, milk, or lemonade, but the train was soon on the move again. 

We arrived in Derbyshire, I think about 2pm, I cannot name the station but we had to board a coach for a few miles to a school in Scarcliffe where we had to sit on the grass and were given sandwiches and a drink. This is where my little companion and I were separated for some reason. There were several small coaches outside the school and, with lists in their hands, teachers pointed out to us which coach to board, then after a short distance we were told to leave the bus. After this we had to line up in fours with the children from another coach. We were then told we were going to ‘parade’ and march to the school in the village, Bramley Vale, Derbyshire. It was only 300 yards away, and we must show people how smart we were. 

At the front of my column two boys from Wilde School carried our banner ‘John Wilde School, Lowestoft’. The two streets to the Bramley Vale School I noticed were covered in adults from the villages, some applauding, and some ladies crying which I admit on the day I could not understand. We were shown into classrooms and told to sit at the desks, I sat wondering why my brother was not with me.

After a short while, ladies from nearby were taking children when they were called out, after a short time I was almost alone, and I admit I was on the verge of tears being alone. I know I have read many letters similar to the above, and the writer nearly always quotes he was the last getting a home. In my case, looking around, I saw one lady waiting in the classroom. I later learned she was one of the first to arrive, to pick up two boys, preferably brothers, and that the organiser said “You had better take him, he is the last.” The lady had come over to the desk and said “You come with me my duck.”

There have been many thoughts over the organisation. One idea is that Alan should have travelled with John Wilde School, or that the lady in next door had asked for one boy to play with her son, but had got two brothers instead. I assure you that I got the best of the mix up. 

I have been told many times in my life that I am a lucky person and everything must go my way. I cannot agree with everything they quote but in my evacuation to this lady, I must have been one of the luckiest school boys who left lowestoft in June 1940. The lady who took me home was Mrs May Holmes, and she lived only 7 houses from the school. Her husband was Mr Reg Holmes and he was home having finished his day down the coal mine. I clearly remember them asking my name, to which I replied “Terry Smith Miss”. They had laid me on the sofa, and I fell asleep right away, I think I slept around two hours. They then told me their names, but straight away I called them Aunty and Uncle. ‘Aunty’ lasted all the 4 years, 3 months I was evacuated, but ‘Uncle’ soon changed to ‘Nunk’. Aunty always said ‘Terry’ but Nunk always called me ‘Bloz. 

Aunty and Nunk loved children, but I later learned they could not have their own. When I awoke on that day on the sofa Nunk said “How about a walk, I have to see someone?” Aunty suggested I was tired but I said I wanted to go with ‘Uncle’, and from that day I knew, at my small age, that I had been lucky"


From the stories he tells, my Grandad certainly was lucky. From new clothes and trips out, to being given his own little allotment and taught to grow vegetables, he tells stories of a really wonderful four years in Derbyshire. He stayed in touch with Aunty and Nunk for the rest of their lives, and I know he will be forever grateful for the safe home-from-home they gave him. While he was away, his family home was indeed bombed; the bedroom his shared with his brother was destroyed and his own grandparents were killed. Thank goodness that, despite their initial misgivings, my great grandparents decided to send their children away - I can't quite get my head around the idea that if they hadn't, my life wouldn't have existed at all. 

And that's the whole point of this day - to acknowledge and honour the hundreds of thousands of people who have made our country, and our families the way they are today: those who fought, who defended, who did things they never imagined possible and certainly didn't sign up for, and who had to live forever with the horror of the things they saw. Those who operated radios and broke codes and flew planes, who filled the roles of the men and boys sent to war, who welcomed children into their homes to keep them safe, who gave their lives for the sake of future generations, and of course for all those men and women who continue to do so...

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them." 

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