Evacuation – A happy childhood submitted 21 Nov 2003 by Maureen Batts
My name is Maureen Batts and I am now 71.
I was evacuated in June1940 with my sister Betty. She was 10 and a half and I was 8 We went from our school in Raynes Park. We had to be in the school at 9 am with our luggage labels on our lapels, which had our names and school address and age on them, gas masks, haversacks with all our belongings and a packed lunch. We were checked by the nurse and if anyone had lice or nits they were not allowed to travel. I was not too worried about leaving my mother as I had my sister with me. A London bus pulled into the playground and we all boarded this, the mothers by this time were all upset and tearful about us going. We went to London Paddington Station where there were a lot of other children from the London area, also. No-one knew our destination because it had to be kept secret. But my sister and I boarded a Steam train and after what seemed like hours and hours we reached our destination, which was a small North Devon Village called Lapford, near Crediton and 18 miles from Exeter. In the village by the station was a factory, which made the Ambrosia Cream Rice.
We were transferred to the Village hall by a small bus, all the villagers came out to greet us. There was a tea laid on for us all and after tea we were told to stand by the stage so the foster parents could pick the child they wanted. Betty got picked quite quickly by a Dairy Farmer and his 18 year old daughter and as they didn’t pick me I got quite worried but the Billeting Officer realised that Betty had a sister and she had to come back in line with me. A very old lady came along with the billeting officer. She looked very kindly but she did look very old, with a black skirt to the ground, with black plimsoles, she did have very big feet and short grey hair and a black velvet choker round her neck. She smiled at us and said hello and said she was to be our new foster mother.
We gathered up our things and followed her to her cottage. She had a torch with her to light the way as it was dark by then. Her cottage was one of four cottages with the Black smiths at one end, 2 cottages in between and her cottage at the end, called Rose Cottage. It was very pretty with a thatched roof, a very thick front door, with an enormous key. There was no water or electricity in the cottage so we had to wait while she lit a paraffin lamp. We looked round the room with interest there was a fire with a kettle on a big black stove, there were chairs and a table in the room and there were three doors leading off the room. One to the pantry, one to a windy staircase the other to a scullery which had a lavatory. She told us we couldn’t flush the toilet but she would take water from the rain water butt. We had a drink, washed our hands and face then she lit a candle gave it to Betty and took us up stairs to bed. Our bedroom as a large area at the top of the stairs with two rooms off it at either end. One of the rooms was a tiny room with a window in it and when we were ill we slept in this room and could look out of the window. The room the other end was Miss North’s bedroom. Our bedroom had a large double bed in it with feather pillows and eiderdown. There was a chest of drawers for our clothes and under the drawers, Miss North explained, there was a china chamber pot we could use if we wanted to go in the night. We were a bit giggly about this because at home we had a bathroom and toilet. However, she told us to get undressed and we snuggled down, me on the inside and Betty on the outside and she said she hope we would be happy with her. Be good girls and don’t talk and putting the candle out, she went downstairs. So we were lying there thinking about the days adventure – so much had happened since we left home at Chestnut Road in Raynes Park. All the different people we had met and our new surroundings. I was really excited although we were very tired and as I was lying there, I could hear Betty crying. “What are you crying for?”. She said “I don’t like it. I want to go home to Peggy and mum.”
So that was the end of our first day, but it turned out alright. We had a very happy childhood. We had outings, went on holiday, joined in all the village activities. The Americans came the next year and there were lots of sweets going round ‘cos sweets were rationed. We went to church a lot and joined the Brownies, the Guides and Brown Owl used to take us swimming in the river. We used to go sledging in winter in the snow because the village was on a hill.
We were very fortunate to be there.