Children of the War

In 2021 we were privileged to interview three residents of Long Marston who were alive when a bomb dropped on Long Marston school in January 1941.

Our conversations with Don Winfield, Neil Dean and Eunice Hall enabled us to have a lasting record of the momentous events of that time, made even more poignant by the sad passing of Eunice soon afterwards.

Landing a Scoop – Episode 1, Children of the War

There is however another source of memories of those times, kindly provided by Long Marston School, and that is past copies of SCOOP, the school magazine of the time. This was the brainchild of Gordon Savage, Headmaster of the school and a prominent character in the village before and during the second World War.

One edition was produced before, and one edition after, the infamous bombing that destroyed the building and killed the Infant Headmistress in January 1941. These have been posted on our website for some time but this did not seem enough; we decided that these needed further analysis in search of more insights about life during those difficult times.

This is the first of a series of four articles which does just that; the focus in the first phase is on the lives of the child evacuees who came to Long Marston from various parts of London; the second phase will be to look at the ways in which lives were changed by the bombing.

The Evacuation Process

The date of this first edition of SCOOP is not known as the first page is missing but it is likely to have been some time in the Summer of 1940. The first and most informative contribution – the basis of this first episode – is by 13 year old Leslie Jones who describes his feelings on the day he left his home in Chiswick.

Leslie first describes the bureaucratic process before evacuation, how Chiswick Council had a ‘long struggle’ with the government before the evacuation could be arranged, how forms were distributed to homes so that parents would choose whether to evacuate their children. He also describes how all clothes had to be name marked and how there was even a rehearsal of the departure process at school.

The Evacuation Journey

On the agreed day, he rose at 7am to meet the other evacuees outside their school and they all marched down the road to Chiswick Town Hall in ‘orderly fashion’. The scale of the evacuation is indicated by the fact that there were fifteen buses waiting there for the children. Leslie describes his route, passing Kew Gardens, seeing two aeroplanes with ‘engines roaring’ outside a RAF aerodrome, joining the North Circular Road, passing Watford before arriving in Berkhamsted. No A41 bypass in those days!

Once in Berkhamsted the bus drivers were told where to go and were provided with a guide; Leslie’s driver was told that his destination was a village called Wilstone. Waiting for the children in Wilstone was a certain Mr Gordon Savage – School Headmaster – who took Leslie, his brother and another friend in his car to Long Marston Parish Hall. There they were conveyed to what Leslie described as his ‘billet’.

A Day to Remember

Leslie and his brother seem to have been fortunate in their billet allocation; they were taken to the home of the Lees family at Marston Gate and Mrs Lee greeted them with what Lesley describes as a ‘beautiful dinner’ which he remembered in detail; roast beef, cauliflower, potatoes and suet puddings, followed by blackberry and apple pie with custard. After dinner – which it seems was at what we would now call lunchtime – Mr Lee played cricket with them and, after a rest on the lawn in the sunshine, they went blackberrying. After then collecting eggs and feeding the chickens, their first day in the country was completed by a walk to Astrope and Wilstone, followed by a ‘hearty supper’.

Leslie completes his description by commenting that this was a day that he ‘would remember for many years to come’. It is possible that he was exaggerating the positive aspects of the day in his school magazine contribution because he thought that it was what Mr Savage and his fellow pupils would want to hear. But the pleasure and gratitude of his reception on that first day seem genuine.

Conclusion

There are some other interesting insights that arise from Leslie’s description of that memorable day;

  • How Chiswick local council had to fight with the government to arrange the evacuations; this is probably because there were limited resources, for example buses and drivers and maybe country locations
  • How the description of the day was more like an adventure than an ordeal, no sign of reluctance to leave home
  • How Gordon Savage was personally involved in delivering the children to their temporary homes, beyond the normal call of a Headmaster’s duty
  • How the military term ‘billets’ reflected the atmosphere of wartime among the children and perhaps had an impact on their prior expectations
  • And how, if the Lees are a typical example, the people of Long Marston gave the evacuees a kind and much appreciated welcome; the dinner menu cannot have been easy to provide in days of wartime rationing

The next article in the series will explore the life of the evacuees in Long Marston even further, by analysing other letters in Scoop, looking particularly at the evacuees’ feelings about the contrast between city and country life.

Episodes

Episode 1 – Children of the War
Episode 2 – Evacuees in Long Marston
Episode 3 – Recovering from Disaster
Episode 4 – A day of tragedy; the Children’s View

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