Escape to the Country
“ In 1940 I was seven years old; I was evacuated from London to Hornton, with my sister Audrey who was five. We arrived on Sumner’s coach, which stopped outside a little general store that had a lovely bow window…”
On 1 September 1939, two days before war was declared, the British government began evacuating children from towns and cities. It was the largest movement of people ever seen in Britain. Most travelled by train with their schools and went to live with foster parents. Evacuation was an adventure for some who had never been to the countryside, but others were homesick and unhappy.
Away from home
Hornton village provided homes for many children throughout the war years. This was not a voluntary undertaking, but authorised by the government, and luckily the children found themselves in friendly, loving surroundings. Many evacuees from inner-city areas had never seen fields and farm animals before or even eaten vegetables.
Janet Terrett (née Miles), who lived with her family at Belle Vue in Bell Street remembers Mavis Langton “who stayed with us for just under a year - she was very thin and pale and my Mum and Dad were concerned as she ate very little and disliked almost everything except bread and jam.”
City children were often shocked at the basic way of life they encountered in country villages. Hornton evacuee Joan Naulls recalled “We had a bedroom on the top floor. There was no bathroom at that time, but there was a hipbath in the outhouse where a huge copper was used to heat the water, which was pumped from the well. The toilet was outside and to us was really primitive, as were the candles used to light us to bed.”
Perhaps not all evacuee children were settled and happy.
John Bridgeman at Eastgate House believes that eight boys stayed there during the war: “They came with their little brown suitcases containing all their possessions. Bolts were fitted on the outside of the bedrooms to stop the boys running away. There was strict discipline at Eastgate House; the boys had to polish their shoes every morning and walked down the hill to the school holding hands in twos and they all had to go to church every Sunday”.
Fitting in, staying on
Joan and Audrey Naulls stayed with the Miles family at Jubilee House in Bell Street and had a happy time. Joan later wrote that “Gladys (Miles) was a wonderful surrogate mother to us, she did everything for us including teaching us to knit and even made clothes from hand-me-downs. We played with the children in the village because it was a close-knit community, you knew everyone from one end of the village to the other.”
Joan and Audrey’s brother Alec was taken in by the Wheeler family at The Gables, Millers Lane. On leaving Hornton School at 14 years of age he found work in the village at Poplars Farm and was given the responsibility of looking after a milking herd of 20 cows.
Janet Terrett outside Bell View
London children, with all their possessions in one small suitcase, about to board their train to the safety of homes in the countryside
Gladys Miles, the ‘surrogate mother’ to the Naulls sisters
Workshop, Electrical & radio shop
Some children loved the village so much that they revisited as adults, coming back year after year after the war ended.
Norma Martin recollects that Charlie Evans, who lived with her aunt and uncle Lil and Frank Price next door to the Old Red Lion, always said that the village was wonderfully welcoming and that it was a happy time for him. After leaving school he was taken on as an apprentice by Roland Miles at his radio repair shop in Bell Street. Later Charles came back to Hornton every summer for the Church picnic lunch held at Eastgate House.
He stayed in touch with Norma’s mother, Daphne Sadler, for many years. Janet Terrett remembers two evacuees from Dagenham at her home; one – Lavinia Green – loved Hornton so much she returned to see the family year after year until she was 26 years old.
Carry on educating
Realising the importance of maintaining education standards, and to support rural schools, the government posted teachers nationwide.
In 1944 Hornton had two of these London teachers, Winifred Baker and Olga Pollard, who joined the staff at the school to help with the evacuees. They lodged with the Stanleys at Edgehill and cycled to and from Hornton every day. Olga recalled “Everyone was so kind to us. Mrs Stanley threw a birthday party for me, inviting three soldiers, one of whom later became my husband! I do not know how Mrs Stanley coped, with all the rationing, but there was always lovely food.
The children taught us a lot of country things: frogging up the hill, field and hedge exploring. We put up the Maypole, learnt how to unravel the ribbons and go the right way round”. Olga and Winifred had to say goodbye to Hornton and return to London at the end of the war in 1945, but they came back to the village on a regular basis for many years.
Thanks to Elisabeth Jeffs, Janet Terrett, Norma Martin, John Bridgeman and Paul Burden for their invaluable contributions.
The letter of thanks from Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, sent to all the families who had provided a home to child evacuees during the war