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Memories of being evacuated in 1939

The Year 1939

The war started when I was a child of nine. We lived in Plumstead. Quite a few of the adults in my area worked at the Woolwich Arsenal, which was a huge ammunition factory with an historical background.

My parents thought it would be best for me to be evacuated with the school. Of course, I thought, 'Oh yes, a holiday.' So I was looking forward to it all.
When the big day arrived I remember standing on the platform on Plumstead Station at about 8 a.m. with about a hundred other children, the youngest of which was about 6 years old. I was holding one small suitcase and a haversack; this was all we were allowed to have. We, of course, all had a gas mask and a label attached to us with our name and school written on it. I think there were only two school groups at the station that day.

We eventually boarded the train, and it became packed solid. There was no corridor on the train and our compartment was completely jammed. Once on the train we were given a pound bar of chocolate each. But during the whole journey we did not have a drink. None of us was told where we were going, including our parents and teachers. Just the train driver! It was all very hush hush.

Our parents were not allowed on the station platform and I recall my mother looking at us over the fence with all the other mothers. Most were crying, and so were we. The blinds on the carriages were all drawn and I know we were all very nervous.

One and a half hours later we pulled into a station: Tunbridge Wells, Kent. From there we were taken to Pembury, a small village. Next, we were taken to the local school, where we all waited. A steady stream of adults arrived; they chose the children they wanted and off they went. I was amongst the last six girls to be chosen. At last we were chosen! By now it was about 8 p.m.

Four of us girls were taken to a large farmhouse and made very welcome by Mr. and Mrs. Sturgeon. Mrs. Sturgeon had lost a baby girl the year before but she also had another little girl. So now she had five girls to look after! We all got on very well. My main job was taking the dog out. I stayed there a year and half and, apart from a touch of homesickness, we experienced a new kind of life.

by Anne Openage

'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'

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