Don't know if this has been done before but I'd like to tell you about one of my best friends dad, who sadly passed away in December 2007.
I have asked Steve ( his son ) if it's OK to post this on here and he agreed it would be good to share some of his tales. After the Funeral, Steve and his family had put together a few of his tales in a pamphlet, I have typed them up and will paste them below. There are 7 tales, which give an insight into what it was like as young evacuee, during the second world war.
I hope you enjoy reading them.
The Early Years
( in his own words )
There was I, not quite ten years old dressed only in a bathing costume, dragging a belt of ammunition from a smoking spitfire.
This is not fiction but absolute fact.
I was eight years old when my brother and two sisters were evacuated to Shropshire. I do not remember much of the journey but I can remember arriving at a station called Ellesmere. We were then placed in cattle pens in the local market and people came and took their pick.
We were not picked and were then taken with the rest of the one’s left to a small village about four miles away named Tetchill.
We must have looked a pathetic bunch as we stood in the school playground. My two sisters were picked out and taken away.
It was dusk when my brother and I were taken by a farmer. The next morning we happily playing with the farmer’s children when the farmer stopped us playing and said “I think it’s only right to tell you that the Prime Minister has just announced that Britain is at war with Germany”.
This did not mean a thing to us, we just wanted to get back to our play.
The next day we were whisked back t Tetchill and placed with a Mr and Mrs Roberts. I did not know it then but that was the luckiest day of my life.
Mr and Mrs Roberts were over the age limit for taking evacuees. Although they were exempt, when she heard where we had been billeted, she insisted on taking us in.
Six months later that farmer was arrested for strangling his wife. She must have seen something in his character.
Mr and Mrs Roberts
Mr John Roberts
How do I describe these unique people ?
Mr Roberts was a huge man 6’ 4”, big shoulders and hands as big as a dinner plate.
He would make John Wayne look small but what a gentleman. He was the original horse whisperer. I’ve seen horses that were really wild, no one could get near them. Old John Robert’s would just stand in the field and within a few minutes the horses would come to him and nuzzle up to him.
The local farmer once had a big black stallion shire horse that nobody would go near, he asked John to have a look at him and advise wether to keep him or get shut.
Nobody could get into the paddock with this horse it was too dangerous. The farmer pleaded with John not to go saying he will kill you but John went in and within a few minutes he had the big brute eating out of his hand.
He had been a sergeant in the First World War but he was crippled with rheumatism and could hardly walk yet I can honestly say I never once heard him complain.
Mrs Eliza Roberts
Slim, five feet two inches with silver hair tied back in a bun.
There was an aura about her, when she looked into your eyes she looked into your very soul, there was no way you could tell her a lie.
That woman never stopped working, she was always doing something and when it was all hands to the pumps to pick potatoes, she always picked the most.
She just worked at the same pace, others stopped for a rest but not her.
If ever you have picked potatoes you will know what a backbreaking job it is.
One day my brother and I were walking up Graspet Lane when a hare came through the hedgerow, crossed the lane and into the next field then a greyhound did the same thing.
It was obvious they were both exhausted.
We were just about to follow them when a boy about my age came through the hedge and asked if we had seen his greyhound, we pointed out which way it had gone and all followed. About ten yards into the field the dog was lying down gasping for breath, ten yards further into the field lay the hare in the same state.
The boy said creep up and grab it, it cannot run anymore. As we crept up on it, that hare just jumped up and ran. The dog gave chase and we followed. After a while the dog stopped then the hare stopped, by the time we boys had caught up, they were off again.
We never did catch that hare.
The boy asked us to go with him and tell his father about the hare, he will never believe me he said. That is when we discovered he was a Gypsy, when we got back to his caravan and met his mum and dad. They were real Gypsies, the caravan was a work of art.
The father asked us who we were billeted with, when we said Mrs Roberts he stopped, stared and then in a voice full of reverence he said you are with Eliza Roberts !
He knelt down in front of us, he put one hand on my shoulder and one on my brothers shoulder, he looked into our faces and said
“You are very, very, lucky boys. Listen to what that lady tells you, it will last you all your life and always give her the respect she deserves. I will lay down my life for that lady”.
The Gypsy lady, who had been cooking, creating that delicious smell asked us if we’d like some stew. We had been running all over the countryside chasing that hare, we had worked up an appetite. Did we enjoy that meal, with plenty of gravy and a cob of fresh bread ? I am in my seventies now but I can still remember how much I enjoyed that meal.
When we were leaving “You tell Eliza that you had some Hedgehog stew”
Can you imagine how we felt when we knew what we had just eaten.
When we told Mrs Roberts about it she laughed and said that Gypsy lady could cook food for a king over an open campfire, she does not even have an oven.
One day my brother and I and a friend went swimming in the canal, not in our usual place. When we got dressed I was a couple of seconds slower than the others, on the other side of the bridge hole was a wasps nest in the embankment.
One of them stuck a stick into the nest and stirred it up, they jumped over the fence and ran up the road. I came past the nest two seconds later and was attacked by thousands of wasps. All that I could do was run, you can imagine the scene, me running with a cloud of wasps attacking me, you have probably seen the same picture in comics. I can assure you that it is not funny. After running along the towpath for about two hundred yards I took a racing dive into the canal to escape.
After that my memory is a bit hazy.
I remember being carried home by a Gypsy who had fished me out of the canal from the other side. The next thing I remember was lying on a table, completely naked with Mrs Roberts and a Gypsy lady slicing onions and putting the slices over as many stings as they could, every inch of my body was covered in stings.
Eventually a doctor came out to see me. He said that would have killed most people, he’s lasted this long, I think he will survive.
Our First Plane Crash
Our favourite stretch of canal for swimming had a large field on one side.
This field must have looked very inviting to any pilot in trouble.
We found out at a later date that there was an areodrome about seven miles away.
Anyway the first plane that tried to land in that field was an old bi-plane, as it touched down it tipped up on it’s nose then dropped back on it’s tail wheel but it’s propeller was damaged. It had a vickers belt fed machine gun mounted just in front of the cockpit. The pilot matched the plane, leather helmet and handlebar moustache.
There was about six of us boys and as soon as we reached the plane he took charge.
He ordered us to push the plane to the edge of the fieldwhere there was a bay tree, we put the plane under the tree so that it could not be seen from the air. Eventually, after the mechanics had repaired it, that plane took off from that field, the only one to do so.
We were, as usual, swimming in our usual spot when we heard the spluttering engine of a spitfire obviously in trouble. That plane did exactly the same as the old biplane, it seemed to be making a good landing and then suddenly tipped up on it’s nose and then dropped back on it’s rear wheel. When we raced over to it, one thing that struck me and still sticks in my mind to this day, how young the pilot was, he could not have been more than 18 years old. His nose was bleeding but all his concentration was on getting the ammunition out of the plane because it was possible it could go on fire. There was I, a nine year old lad with a belt of ammunition over my shoulder dragging it towards the canal. I was not on my own, there were six of us. Luckily the plane did not go on fire.
Can you imagine what the experience was for us lads, we had never seen a spitfire on the ground. We used to read about “Cats Eyes Cunningham” the ace spitfire pilot in comics. That young pilot did a wonderful thing after we had got dressed, he let us each and every one of us, climb into the cockpit on our own and have a few minutes sitting there with our imagination. Don’t forget the spitfire was the fastest plane in the world at that time.
When the mechanics came, they decided that they would have to take the plane away by road. They towed the plane across the field to the gate and I was sitting in the pilots seat, in my imagination I must have shot down about twenty German planes in that few minutes. They had to dismantle the wings of the spitfire and load it onto a long low vehicle in a narrow country lane. The first obstacle was a small humped back bridge over the canal, the sixty foot vehicle got half way and the middle of it was on the bridge and it was like a see-saw, with the wheels at both ends, off the road.
The worst plane crash we experienced was the bomber, we were in our usual place, swimming. I will try and describe our usual swimming place.
It was by a small hump back bridge between two fields over the Shropshire Union Canal.
Our side of the towpath was a huge field at least thirty acres and that is what attracted the pilots when in trouble.
The tip of the bomber wing must have just caught the edge of the bridge and spun it round back across the canal and hit a high bank, it must have missed us by a few feet.
The back of the plane was sticking up in the air, all the front was just smashed up.
We got the rear gunner out and he managed to limp around to help us get the others out.
One of the first we got out had half of his face crushed in but he was still conscious.
There was seven crew on that plane, five of them were Canadians who were training. Some of them were dead but we managed to get them all out and made them as comfortable as possible. Then the police, fire and ambulance arrived.
A police officer said to us, come on you kids, get away from here, it is no place for you.
The rear gunner overheard him and said to him “You leave them children alone, who do you think got all these men out of this wreckage. Instead of chasing them, you should be recommending them for medals”.
Luckily Steve and his family have these tales to help remember their father and wonder at what he went through growing up as an evacuee.
I just think you can't beat these type of stories.
Mr Halligan, as I remember him was the street barber, he had his own kids hair to cut but once the old clippers were plugged into the light socket ! there was a queue outside the door of their house. I'll always remember him as a gentleman who'd help anyone. His family are a chip off the old block.