Life as an Evacuee on a Cotswold Village Farm

The following story is that of the life of a child evactuated to Laverton during the second world war. The story was contributed by the Wyre Forest Volunteer Bureau and was copied from the BBC People's War archive.

 

I was born in London in November 1933 and lived there with my parents and sister till the outbreak of the Second World War.  My mother's parents and her three brothers and their families all lived in London, whilst her sister and her family lived in Kent.  My father's mother lived in London but about this time moved down to Salisbury to live near her daughter and her family.  At the outbreak of war my parents arranged for my sister and myself to go as evacuees to the Cotswolds staying on a farm in Laverton near Broadway.

When my father was called up to the Medical Corps, mother joined us in Laverton, moving to a flat above stables which at that time were being used as a Government Sugar Store.

My father's first posting was to Edinburgh as a Dental Orderly but sometime later a chance meeting between my mother and a Government Official changed all that, when she told him my father was a highly qualified doctor working in the research field.  Very soon he was promoted to Major and sent in charge of a medical train touring India.  After a couple of years he was moved to Cairo as Medical Officer and it was two years after the end of the war that he was demobbed, mother wrote to him every day.

Back to those first few days at Laverton, settling down to life on a farm, a new school and a very small village.  The farmers Mr & Mrs Checketts had some field near the farmhouse with cows, sheep, chickens and geese, but the arable land was on top of the hills and was worked with horses.  The farmer's wife made butter and cream and they delivered milk around the village.  She was a marvellous cook so we were well looked after.  I immediately took to the farm spending a lot of time around the fields and the animals.  It took quite a while and more than a few painful bites before learning not to get too close to the geese.

One of my great joys was cutting nettles, but I was forbidden from using the scythe.Somehow if the coast was clear it got into my hands on a couple of occasions and I thought it was the greatest tool.  They were of course, used for cutting small areas of many crops and in skilled hands were fast and efficient.

Orphan lambs were hand reared in the house but unfortunately still liked getting in when well grown and you had to be careful when coming in because they could take fright and charge out knocking you flying.

There were three Blenheim apple trees in the field, which to a young lad reached to the clouds.  One Autumn day two pole ladders, which were in the farmyard were lashed together and raised up the tree.  To the farmer's delight they reached the fruit I was then summoned, my shirt tucked firmly in my short trousers and tied round firmly with binder twine.  I was persuaded to go up the ladder and pick these apples.  I soon learned that I wasn't scared of heights, but I was dead scared of dropping the apples.  I was to pick them carefully and put them down the front of my shirt.  I think that after four trips up and down we gathered twelve apples, they were so large we were told that only one would be used at a time and cut up and shared out.

The use of the shirt was not forgotten and used on scruping trips in subsequent years.  One year it was the pears in the Vicarage garden, but while on our way back to Laverton the friendly local bobby was waiting.  He knew the shirt trick and the pears were confiscated.  We were each given a cuff round the ear and told next time our mothers would be told.  I often wondered what happened to the pears.

Soon after the outbreak of was my mother's family moved out of London down to the Cotswolds one by one.  Her parents were first, moving to a wooden bungalow just outside Broadway, followed by an Aunt and son to the 'Forge' at Buckland, an Aunt and her daughter to Cheltenham and an Aunt, daughter and son to Stanton.  The Uncles carried on working in London but visited when able.  Two of the Uncles had fought as Infantry men in the First World War and had been injured and reported missing on more than one occasion.  My Grandparents and oldest Uncle were badly affected by the thought that it could all happen again so soon and with the terrible memories of their suffering in the first conflict it affected the rest of their lives.  On Grandmother's death, Grandfather moved to Stanton but did not live a lot longer, and they are both buried in Stanton churchyard.

On arrival from London I attended Laverton school but this was only for young children so after a while it was a daily walk across the fields to Stanton.  I can honestly say that with the distraction of roaming the hills, farming, animals and my own garden, school was a bore and I failed my Eleven-Plus.  I was taken aside by one of my Uncles and given a right dressing down.  He told me that my father ran a research laboratory but if I didn't pull myself together I would work in a lavatory.  It was the only time I saw him angry.

About the time of our move to Laverton two ladies, Miss Osborn and Miss Honegger moved to the village.  They had been helping the poor but being Austrian were finding it difficult in London.  They were generally accepted by the villagers, although one Ex-Army man accused them of being German spies.  They would be seen out collecting wool from hedgerows and spinning outside their cottage.  They were vegetarians and lived very frugal lives, but all the children loved them.  All childrens' play was forgotten about and wool collecting was the thing, followed by washing, spinning and knitting.  Woollie hats and mittens were everywhere and even the odd jumper.  After a while we boys decided this wasn't boys' stuff and pleaded for something else.  The cottage was so small that spinning had to be done outside so we were frustrated until a room above some out-buildings in Stanton was made available on Saturday mornings for woodwork.  I think this was a turning point in my life.  We made model animals, farm carts etc., and even the 'Queen Mary', all from scraps of wood.  On returning to London after the War the secondary school had woodwork and metalwork lessons and my interest grew.  One day we went on a visit to Hendon Technical College and were told about a two year engineering course and shown around the workshops.  I took the entrance exam and managed to scrape through.  That was the start of a further six years of studying, finishing up with an H.N.D. in Civil Engineering.  From a small seend sown in Stanton my career grew. 

Towards the end of the War trusted prisoner-of-war were sent out to work on farms.  Some could speak very good English and on the hills returning from school I met one catching rabbits.  He said he was 'very happy' and 'hoped to stay in England after the War'.  His only complaint was that they were not issued with soap.  We enjoyed rabbit stews in exchange for a bar of soap.  I had to be careful of the ex-Army man who saw me one day through his binoculars.  He caught me and wanted to look in my satchel, but I wouldn't let him.

Miss Osborn became a motherly figure to all and women with husbands at war were all warmly welcomed and had a shoulder to cry on.  Everyone was delighted when she said that 'she had a wish to stay, and her dream was to build a guildhouse' with a strong religious theme, providing quiet relaxation, help for the poor and disadvantaged and to provide facilities for all interested in crafts.  After the War, Miss Honegger returned to look after her family in Switzerland but Miss Osborn continued raising money by all means possible, including spinning on the pavements of London.  (On a spinning wheel given to her by Mahatma Ghandi).  Some years later she was given a plot of land at the top of the village of Stanton and started building the Guildhouse in 1963, later adding workshops.  It took many years to complete with help from volunteers from all over the world, but has been an inspiration to all who have visited over the years.  It was opened in 1973 and dedicated to Arts, Crafts and Fellowship.  Unfortunately Miss Mary Osborn passed away a few years ago but the Guildhouse is still as vibrant as ever, running some wonderful courses.  In these difficult times the Stanton Guildhouse Trust must flourish.

There are several books written by and about Miss Osborn and the 'Guildhouse' (one being Stone upon Stone.  The Story of Stanton Guildhouse (1995) by Mary Osborn, ISBN 0 9505225 1 1).

Living in isolated villages like Laverton, Buckland or Stanton, in a very rural part of the country, children were very rarely in contact with the war, there was the radio and newspapers of course, but you were not living the hell reported.  (One remembers the most important use the newspaper of course).  You would sometimes hear planes passing over at night on their way to 'bomb Birmingham' they would say, the Home Guard would go to watch the viaduct on the railway.  One night some bombs were dropped in the fields between Stanton and Laverton but apart from some silver shreds of foils dropped over the hills on a couple of nights that was it.

There was a transit-camp for Americans at the bottom of the village of Stanton, but I cannot recall any contact between them and the villages.  They appeared to come in and move on very quickly.

Older children were given time off school to go potato picking and casual labour was employed on farms fruit picking and helping with the harvest etc.  A school party would also roam the hills rose-hip picking but there were no factories in the area requiring labour.  Most houses of course had large gardens and a lot to time was spent growing vegetables, also chickens were kept and the occasional pig.  After the corn had been cut and gathered in, the sheaves being put in a rick for winter threshing the villagers would be seen in the fields 'gleaning' (picking up any heads of corn broken off curing cutting and binding, free food for the chickens).  I felt very important on one occasion as a farmer in the village had managed to acquire a new hay cart, it had to be collected from Evesham and it was deemed that two people should go with the horse to collect.  I was chosen to go with the farm labourer and a day off school was granted.  We waled the eight miles to Evesham but rode back on the cart.  I felt sorry for the horse for he had to walk back and pull the cart.

In a strange sort of way they were happy carefree days and I cried buckets of tears the day we left Laverton and returned on the back of a lorry to London.