SOME MEMORIES OF A WORLD WAR TWO LONDON EVACUEE -
Leslie (Jock) Harper
(dates are approximate)
Summer of 1940 left London's Paddington Station bound for South Devon with a group of children from Lowther School, Barnes SW13, accompanied by Teacher, Mrs. Fairclough. Each carrying a box with a gas mask and we boarded a steam train destined for Torquay-Paignton-Kingswear.
We arrived in due course at Kingswear and boarded a small ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth. We reassembled and after processing had tags attached to each of us and we boarded buses to the village of Dittisham, stopping at several points en-route to disembark an allotted number of us at various farms.
Three of us, Tony Brigdale, Peter Boulton and I, were dropped off at Downton Farm, Dittisham, the home of Farmer Jack and Barbara Wotton and who from that time on were affectionately called "Auntie and Uncle".
That first evening we were invited to accompany the farmer on a rabbit hunt but returned, not unhappily for me, empty-handed. One thing that I distinctly recall during our outing was the heavy scent of honeysuckle in the hedgerows, a perfume that still takes me back to that first evening in glorious Devon.
Despite the wrench of leaving our Mums and Dads, we soon settled in to what was, to us, a new adventure. As time progressed, we were each assigned daily chores and attended school in Dittisham, which we walked to and from each day.
Some things I recall as a city lad at the farm were:-
Learning to harness the three work horses called 'King', 'Jessie' and 'Boxer' and riding them to the field.
Our first attempt to milk a cow.
Helping with the harvest and haying.
Visiting Mr. & Mrs. Lockcraft and their daughter Rosie who were employed at the farm and lived in an adjacent cottage.
Picking primroses and violets in the hedgerows in Spring and preparing them for the farmer's wife for market day in Dartmouth.
Playing in the orchard and laying in the grass beside a stream and drinking the clear, cool water through a piece of straw.
Gathering and bagging-up all the apple windfalls from the orchard for cider.
Bath Day in a huge galvanized tub brought in and set up in the warm kitchen, each of us taking our turn.
Hunting for a Christmas tree, which I was surprised to find was, traditionally, a holly tree, in Devon.
Our weekly Saturday evening outings to Dartmouth where we played in the River Dart and watched the Convoys as they headed in or out.
Looking forward to the occasional visits of our mothers to the farm and welcoming those long missed warm hugs.
I should make mention that at some time during my stay at Downton Farm, my eldest Sister, Eileen Goddard and her infant daughter, Ann, arrived from London to be billeted at nearby Lapthorne Farm, run by Farmer Tom and Barbara Ferris.
As time progressed, Mr and Mrs Wotton's first son was born and we three evacuees were moved to the neighbouring Bruckton Farm, run by farmer and Mrs. Nicholls, where we remained until returning home to London in early 1944.
By the time we moved to Bruckton Farm we had begun school in Dartmouth, taking the daily bus.
Some memories of our stay at Bruckton include :
The assigned daily chores associated with the farm.
Watching the nightly bombardment of Plymouth to the West and several daily air battles between Spitfires and German fighters.
Walking out one morning following an intense Plymouth bombing to view two large bomb craters in a nearby field left by the German bombers as they headed back to home base. It may have been this close encounter that prompted my parents to take me back to London in early 1944, all be it that they war raged on for quite a while.
Although this was a very traumatic time, I am pleased I was able to witness something of what the British people had to endure, including commencement of the German V-1 and V-2 Rockets against London and other targets in June 1944.
a point of interest, I have continued to keep in touch with my first farm
Mrs. Barbara Wotton, who now lives in Dartmouth with her son.
Transcribed by Helen M Woodman from typed notes of 2009 by
Leslie (Jock) Harper of Vancouver, Canada