Hilda Kennedy

Memories of Evacuation

By Pam Schweitzer

Hilda: we all arrived in the village hall and there was me and my brother aged 4 I was 9 and my other brother was 11. No one wanted boys they walked round and looked at us and said they would have that girl and my brother said no we are staying together you are not going to part us. We eventually ended up in a big house just for one evening and the next day the salvation army man came and said to me ‘I’m gonna take you to see a lovely young lady’ so off we went in a car, and  I had never been in a car before in all my life, so the three of us went in the car and went to the salvation army hole and in walked  this lady who was very old with a big hat on and she had short straight black hair and a long dress and I was terrified and I hid behind him and wouldn’t come out. They got their way cause I had to go with this lady and my two brothers went with another lady and I was crying that I wanted my mum and that I wanted to go home. When we got back I found out she was a maiden lady who lived on her own and all I did was cry and I wouldn’t eat or do anything and then she said it was time for bed. I got in the bed and she got into the bed with me and I was terrified to sleep with this strange old lady.

She was a very strange lady, I didn’t think of it at the time but I do now, she lived on her own all these years with her mum and her dad who had died and there were certain things I wasn’t allowed to do. For instance I wasn’t allowed to sit on the settee because that was her dads; I wasn’t allowed to sit on one of the armchairs because that was where her mum used to sit. I can never forget that there was this picture on the wall of a lady in a big hat sitting in a chair and a man with a beard and that dominated the room and that was her mum and dad. They used to stare at me all the time, it was old fashioned he had a big bowler hat, and every night the table had to be laid for breakfast the next morning, there used to be two cups and saucers a cheese dish, but there was nothing in there because we never had any cheese. It all had to be laid ready for next morning but next morning all I had was bread and jam. She had these repetitive things what she had always done, and I was never allowed in the house when she wasn’t there. If I came home from school and she wasn’t in I would have to wait outside in the pouring rain, but I did stay with her for three and a half years until I was 14. Looking back it was a very strange experience living with her.

My two brothers were put into a house four doors away from me, my brother was 4(Ronnie) used to stand outside my gate and cry and she would let him in and I wasn’t allowed to go out and talk to him. He used to cry for an hour and I wasn’t allowed to go to him. I was going to school one morning with my friends and there was Ronnie standing there and I said where are you going and he said I'm going to school, I thought he can’t just got to school someone has to take him and there he was with his gas mask and his man’s cap on, so I thought I better take him, this women had just sent him on his own. So I took him to school that morning and after about a month or so he got sores in his head, he was in the baby’s class and they didn’t notice so I went to see the head mistress. I said please can I take my brother to the clinic and she said ‘go along then’. So I took him and he had fleas on the tops of the sores on his head, the nurse showed me and she was picking out the fleas from these sores and no body done anything about it. What they done was they shaved his head and put big red patches all over the sores and everyone was calling him names and he was a lovely boy. I was trying to fight them off and I couldn’t and I went to see the billeting officer and I was only ten who was called Mrs Reddrop, who I was frightened off actually, he was put away and I didn’t even say goodbye to him. I came home from school and the lady said your brother has been taken away today and I never saw him again until the end of the war. And he went to a big house on the beach and after the war I went to go and see him with my mum and he didn’t know me. My brother is now 63 and a grandfather and he has blanked it out and will not talk about it, it was awful for him.     

Now my brother who was 11 lived with my brother Ronnie in this house, they had a bathroom which was most unusual but they kept coal in the bath so you couldn’t have one because that was where the coal was. Now my brother asked if they could have a bath and they said no and one thing led to another and he said to me I'm going to run away are you going to come with me? So I said yes, so he said he was gonna meet me after school. It was an all-girls school for me and all-boys for him. So he met me from school and off we went, we started to walk and I started to cry because I was a moany child, he said go on go back so I did. He got 14 miles to Exeter and they put him in the workhouse and it was all mental people in there. I never knew because no one ever told me where he had gone. He escaped he jumped over the wall and he came to see me where I lived and he was crying and he said tell dad they have put me in the workhouse, so I wrote and told my father down he came in haste and there was a row over it, my dad said he was only 11 years old what have you done to him. We went to an evacuees reunion a couple of weeks ago in Dagenham and there was a professor there who was writing a book on evacuees and my brother was telling this story and this man is gonna put it in his book, he said it is about time we know what happened to some of these children. They done what they liked and no one took any notice. There was this lady who came round once when I was there the whole time, no one bothered what they were doing with the children full stop.

When I used to wet the bed. The bed was lovely you didn’t wanna ruin it but I wet it, I didn’t tell her I went to school and she was gonna get rid of me over it but they persuaded her to let me stay. They issued her with a rubber sheet for me so I used to have a rubber sheet on the bed; we went away camping with the evacuees for a week and it poured with rain so we had to sleep in the dormitory so there was me putting my rubber sheet on my bed and didn’t wanna all of the  girls to know in the dormitory, when it came to packing everything up when we were leaving this girl held up this sheet and said ‘who wets the bed it’s a rubber sheet’. Well I laughed and joined in and it was mine. We were kicking it all around the room and I'm kicking it with them and when they all went out I carefully folded it and put it in my case.

My lady came to see us off at Exeter station and she cried, I didn’t and when I think back it was wicked of me. she stood and cried and sobbed and I stood there laughing because I was so excited to be going back. Then when I did get back I was sorry because the East End was so dirty to living in a country village where everything was so different and I walked in and as soon as I did I thought I don’t like it here, I was so used to a different life to what it was there, the East End then was a dirty old place slum area really I mean they have got rid of most it them now.

This page was added by Pam Schweitzer on 27/01/2015.