June Tillet

Memories of Evacuation

By Pam Schweitzer

                          JUNE TILLET


I was evacuated in about October 1939 from All Saints School in Blackheath. I was nine years old. That day, I went to school, with my little case, you could only take a certain amount of clothes, and gas mask and they put our labels on us in the classroom. I remember standing there with my sister and my brother and all the class, getting ready to leave.  We marched down the road with Miss Harris, she was my teacher.

We walked across the heath to Blackheath station and got on the train. Of course we didn't know where we were going to. Mum and Dad came to the station and waved us off. I was excited, we didn't know where we were going or anything like that. I'd been on a train before because I used to go and see my gran at Waterloo, but I wasn't all that used to it.   We arrived at Bexhill. I can remember the teacher standing there, and all us children waiting to be billeted. A woman said that she wanted two sisters, and my sister, Rema and I were chosen together. Her name was Mrs Page. We were completely lost, we didn't know where we were going. Fortunately, we had a lovely billet. Some weren't so fortunate. It was a big shop, a "Freeman, Hardy and Willis" shoe shop in Devonshire Road.  Mr Page was the manager there, and our bedroom was the top left-hand side room over the shop. The shop had all oak panelling, and there were all strips of carpet down the shop, with a polished floor in between. Also there were lots of little wooden footstools. It was all brass outside and they used to clean all that. It looked very smart. Mr Page always wore a suit and he had two girls for staff. They used to wear green overalls with "Freeman, Hardy and Willis" on the front. We were allowed to play in the shop in the evenings. Mr Page used to say, "Be very careful when you open the boxes, don't mark the shoes when you put your feet in them."  We took it in turns to pretend to be the assistant or the customer. We used to say, "What would you like madam?" "Oh, I'll have a high heeled pair of black shoes, thankyou." And then we'd go up the little wooden ladder to get the shoe box. They were beautiful shoes wrapped in tissue paper. We used to think it was marvellous.   There was a "speaking tube" in the wall and it used to make a whistling noise. When Mrs Page wanted us to come upstairs, she would whistle down to us and we used to put our mouth to it and say, "Yes?" and she would say, "Alright you can pack away now, it's teatime." She was very nice, she used to give us nice food that we'd never tasted, like mincemeat balls. My mum never used to make anything like that. We used to think they were lovely my sister and I, we'd never had them before.

It was lovely in Bexhill, we used to go down to the beach and in the sea. Mrs Page used to take us to the pictures now and again. I thought it was wonderful to go to the pictures with her. And we used to play with her baby, David, a little boy six months old. He used to have " Virol", and she used to put his "dummy" in it, and when she was out of the room, I used to dip my finger in it. I used to say, "Ooh, isn't it lovely," hoping she wasn't going to see me.  Mum used to come down and visit us about once every few weeks on the Maidstone and District Coaches. They used to stop on the front, and if she wasn't on it, we used to get so disappointed. We were only little. Mum came down to see us for the Christmas we spent down there. That was very nice.         

We were down there for a year, but then they started to put barbed wire up on the sea front, because of the threat of invasion, and she got quite frightened, being with the baby. She decided to go back to Kidderminster, which was her original home and my mother said that she'd have to bring us back to London. I remember when we were saying goodbye Mrs Page cried. I can see her now, she wore glasses and had her hair drawn back.  When we came back the blitz was still on. A lot of schoolchildren were re_evacuated to Wales, but we didn't go. In fact we practically lived in our Anderson shelter for most of the next five years.   I never saw Mr and Mrs Page again. Apparently he went in the Royal Navy, and she wrote to my mother to say that he'd been

killed in action. It must have been terrible for her, she was only about twenty-six.  I've been back several times to see the shop. It's still there. It's been modernised, of course, the front's all different but I went back a few years ago and it was still "Freeman, Hardy and Willis".         

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