- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Margaret Stringer
- Location of story:
- Lytham St Annes
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 December 2004
It was a beautiful morning. The sun shone, the birds were singing, and Nan
and I were setting off for school at 6 a.m. The date was September 2nd.
1939, and we had to assemble in the school quadrangle at 7 a.m. The buses
and trams did not start their daily timetable until later, and as I lived
further sway from school than Nan I had stayed the night before at her
house so that we would not be late .I had said my "good-byes" to my Mother
and Father the night before.
My three older brothers, Ralph, Geoffrey and Arthur were already away from
home All three of them were in the Forces, so that I was the last to leave
home. I was going to be an evacuee! We lived in Didsbury Manchester, and as
war was about to break out the Powers that be had decided, that all
schoolchildren had to be evacuated to what was considered to be a safe
area, but we had no idea where that supposedly safe area was. All schools
were to be closed in Manchester for the duration of the war, so that if our
Parents did not agree to our being evacuated, we would not have any
education for the foreseeable future.
After quite a walk we duly arrived at the appointed meeting place where we
joined our friends and were organized into the first of many long queues.
We were all equipped with the most awful bright green rucksacks, which held
a change of clothes, toiletries and sandwiches to last for twenty-four
hours. These rucksacks had been bought at school and they had thin webbing
shoulder straps which very quickly became twisted into a string and cut
uncomfortably into ones shoulders.
We waited and waited, eventually a fleet of buses arrived and we were taken
to Exchange Station in Manchester ,where we were formed into more long
queues. Sandwiches started to get eaten, legs began to ache. It was still a
State Secret what our destination was. At last we were herded onto a train,
and then our Form Mistress Miss Amy Teece was allowed to tell is that we
were bound for Lytham St. Annes -on -Sea. It must be about 35 miles away
and we finally arrived there some time in the afternoon. We were then
marched across to the Ashton Pavilion in Lowther Park (1 think that was
what it was called) and what followed was not pleasant.
We sat in rows in the body of the theatre and one by one we had to go up
onto the platform where we were examined by "Nitty Nora the bug explorer"
and after unbuttoning our school blouses we were examined by a Doctor who
examined our chests. (I wonder what would have happened if they had
discovered a lousy consumptive?). After this public spectacle, we were then
sent into a large Hall there to await our fate. In a completely haphazard
fashion women would enter the Hall, stand studying the assembled
schoolgirls and say, "I,11 take that one, or maybe,! ,11 take those two".
The afternoon wore on, Hours elapsed, it was going dark and Nan and I were
the last two left. All the blonde curly haired and prettiest had been
chosen.We were both dark-haired and not particularly beautiful
thirteen-year old girls added to which I had a large and very bulky bandage
around my right knee. The reason for the bandage is another story. Finally
when it became apparent that nobody was going to turn up and choose us, we
were bundled into a car.
With no obvious plan stops were made at random houses, and the householders
asked if they were willing to take in these two evacuees from Manchester,
The rumour had gone round Lytham St. Annes, that the evacuees were from the
worst slums in Manchester, and we were not welcome. Finally after driving
through Lytham and St. Annes we came to almost the last house nearly into
Squires Gate By this time we were tired, hungry and quite sure that nobody
wanted us, and we had no idea what on earth was going to happen to us. I
think the woman doing the driving was as desperate as we were. She rang the
doorbell of this house and it was opened by a most handsome Royal Air Force
Officer. He was asked very hesitantly, "Can you possibly take in these two
girls?" By this time two very weary and forlorn girls. He looked amazed as
well he might and said ' Good God have they nowhere to stay? Bring them in
He was Flight Lt. Hugo Haynes and I fell instantly into hero
worship! He and his very pretty wife Peggy were very recently married and
obviously so much in love but of all those people in that area, they were the
only ones to take us in. We were welcomed, fed and put to bed.
The next morning was Sunday the 3rd. of September and we all sat waiting for 1
o'clock when Mr. Neville Chamberlain, was going to address the nation to tell
us the result of the ultimatum delivered to the German High Command regarding
the German invasion of Poland. Our Prime Minister informed us in a solemn voice
that as the Germans had not retreated from. Poland— A state of war now exists.
We are at war with Germany. All three of my brothers had volunteered to join
the Forces at the time of the Munich Crisis and therefore had all been called
up. I was completely devastated by this news and burst into tears and sobbed"
I'll never see my brothers again". Hugo took me upon his knee and comforted me,
assuring me that the war would soon be over and we would all be together again.
Of course I believed him!
We were happy with Peggy and Hugo although it was a long way from Queen Mary's
School in St. Annes which we were sharing with the original pupils. This
sharing involved endless re-arrangements of timetables and classrooms. For the
first week or so, we were assigned to the Sewing room, where we were put to
work sewing sacking bags, which the boys from the adjoining school King Edwards
had to fill with sand from the sand dunes, bordering the sea behind their
school! Having been sent to a "Safe area", it was now considered necessary to
put sandbags all round the school One day only a few weeks later we came back
from school to the news that Hugo had been posted to another station, and that
we would have to move, but that he and Peggy had met some people who had
offered to take us and they were sure we would be happy with them.
They were Max and Adele and it turned out to be quite an experience.
On our first day returning from school, we discovered that Adele obviously
thought that she had acquired two new housemaids. There was a list of our
duties in our room. This covered the entire day's washing-up, dusting,
polishing and hoovering as and when required, silver and brass cleaning, and
anything else that occurred to her. My last job of the day was to take Rusty a
beautiful red setter for his walk Rusty was the nicest member of the household.
As Adele was the leading lady of the local Amateur Dramatic Society, she held
many parties, to which each guest brought a bottle, and as the parties wore on
they were brought upstairs to see our "evacuees". Nan who was an only child
with a Scottish Presbyterian Mother, was used to a quiet life at home ,I,
having three elder brothers was at least used to a houseful of people, if not
the bottles. Incidentally this hospitality led to a lot more washing-up! One
night a fight broke out in the hall below our room. The leader of the Peace
Pledge Union, and Roy who was waiting for his call-up from the Navy could not
settle their argument peacefully!
I was hanging over the banisters Cheering for Roy, who
seemed to get the better of it. Nan told her Mother and she complained to the
Billeting Officer who said there were no more billets available, so we had to
stay. Nan's Mother did not like the fact that Adele was "a peroxide blonde" She
was obviously a "fast" woman. One night, we were asleep in bed when we were
awakened by sounds of an argument downstairs, all at once Hugo, ( my knight in
shining armour) burst into our room and told us to get dressed ,pack up our
possessions and come back to his house. He had been posted back to Squires Gate
Airfield, enquired as to how we were getting on, heard of Adele's regime and
come to rescue us. The bed we slept in had come from his home so it had to be
dismantled and he and Peggy Nan and myself carried the pieces in the blackout
through the streets of St. Annes. I wonder how many R.A.F. Officers would have
done that? I also wonder many a time what became of him. He was a regular
R.A.F. Officer. Did he survive the war? Sadly a few weeks afterwards Hugo was
posted again and so we had to move again
That turned out to be another experience.
We were very sorry to have to leave Peggy and Hugo, and even sorrier when we
were taken to our new billet. It was in the centre of the town, and nearer to
school, but that was its only advantage. It was a gloomy old house, and there
were eight of us billeted there. The front room was our common room where we
had breakfast and evening meal. It had a fireplace a large wooden table and an
assortment of chairs in various stages of repair. Our sleeping quarters were in
the attic where we slept on little better than straw palliasses on the bare
boards of the floor. The meals we were given were basic to say the least, and
we were always hungry. My Mother had arranged to pay a weekly sum to supplement
the billeting allowance of 8 shillings and 6d. (equivalent to 42 and a
halfpence in to-days money) we had school lunches, paid for by our parents, and
Mother paid for laundry.
That winter was one of the coldest 1939-1940 and the sea
froze at the edges. We slept in our long black woollen school stockings,
dressing-gowns over pyjamas and woollen pixie hoods, on the floor covered by
grey army blankets. I really do not remember any sheets. I did not tell my
Mother any of this I knew she was worried about my brothers. Miss Teece did all
she could to help us. She bought Nan and me hot water bottles and on Saturday
mornings she took us out for hot chocolate and biscuits. It was so well known
how awful it was that if there had been a cookery class a message was sent to
our form-room for us to go to the Kitchens to eat whatever had been made. Have
you ever eaten Maids of Honour made with cold mashed potato and imitation
almond flavour? I have, and it is not to be recommended, but we were hungry and
we ate them.
The next house I was sent to was owned by two sisters who reminded me of
Dickens characters. Their names were Nancy and Minnie and they were kind to us.
Minnie was retired and was the housekeeper, Nancy, who was somewhat deaf, was
an assistant steward at The Royal Lytham Golf Club. Minnie was quiet and a
little reserved, Nancy had a great sense of humour, and also was an expert at
Jacobean embroidery which she was patient enough to try to teach me. Apart from
the fact that Joan, my now fellow evacuee was a complete stranger to me, and
the house was a long walk from school across the golf course, I was much
happier there, The contrast from the previous billet, and the kindness we now
met made such a difference.
Behind the house was a riding school and I loved horses and so on Saturday
mornings I was thrilled to be allowed to help to "muck-out" and assist with
grooming the horses. It never occurred to me to expect to be paid!
Some of the girls who had "run-out" of billets were lucky to be taken to a
house on The Drive, a prestigious address in St. Annes which had been either
bought or rented by the Education Authorities. Mrs. Slater the School Cook was
the housekeeper there and about ten or twelve girls lived there It was also
used as a sort of social centre where we could go to meet our friends. At
Christmas Time we had our own pantomime Cinderella, in which I took the part of
"Buttons" I can still remember the song I sang! The fact that it was wartime
and food was rationed will explain the words
Everybody pinches my butter, They won't leave my butter alone,
And nothing is better than butter, For keeping the old folks at home.
Everybody thinks I'm old-fashioned,
For sticking to things that are rationed,
But you can have all my ham ,
My plum and apple jam,
But please leave my butter aloooone,
PLEASE leave my butter ALOOOOONE!!
It never reached the Top of the Pops ,but we all enjoyed it.
I really cannot for the life of me remember how we spent the Christmas of 1939,
most of the rest of our time as evacuees merged into a dull grey blurr. Later
this period of the war became known as the "phoney war" and as there was no
anxiety about my brothers, life went on in a humdrum fashion. However the
situation regarding the availability of billets in St. Annes for the girls from
our School became desperate, and so the decision was taken to bring us all back
home to Manchester. The schools were all re-opened, and we returned to our
homes. The Blitz bombing of towns and cities had not yet started. The historic
and dreadful retreat and evacuation from Dunkirk was the first major event of
the war that brought home to the people of England that we really and truly
were at war. England was now besieged.
Households with gardens were issued with "Anderson Shelters". These were curved
pieces of corrugated iron, which had to be fitted into a hole dug in the garden
of the right size and shape so that the pieces could then be assembled into a
sort of half submerged hut. The excavated earth was then used to cover the roof
and sides, and a small entrance hole was left at the front. A neighbour helped
my Father to do the digging, on the understanding that his wife could share the
shelter with us whilst he was away in the Army Many of these shelters became
water-logged, but Father had the brilliant idea of "flooring" the shelter with
empty wooden bottle crates ,then a layer of linoleum ,and layers of newspaper
Each night before we went to bed cushions and rugs were put around the hearth,
warm clothes put at the ready, and Mother put money and any valuables in an old
handbag. When the SIREN went, it was jump out of bed into your clothes, run
downstairs, grab your own cushion and rug and ran outside into the garden . One
by one we stood at the en trance to the shelter and threw in our cushions. When
we had a layer of them we then climbed down a little ladder, arranged ourselves
as best we could ,put the rags over us, closed the entrance with a heavy
curtain, put a Thermos flask in a safe place ,made sure the little oil lamp and
matches were to hand and the alarm clock still working, and then tried to
settle down for the night.
The school rule was that if the sirens sounded before
midnight, then school started at the usual time, but if the siren went off
after midnight, then school started an hour later. When it was Latin first
period in the morning I used to pray that it would sound after midnight,
because I hated Latin and then I would miss it! The idea was that after
midnight, therefore you had had an interrupted night's sleep. This was the
system until the war ended.
Many children were evacuated during the war and stayed in
their foster homes until peace came once more, But for our school it did not
work out. The then residents of St, Annes just did not want us. It was as if
they wanted to ignore the war. Perhaps I am being unfair, bit that was how it
seemed to a 13-year old schoolgirl.
I never knew what became of my handsome Royal Air Force
Officer Hugo Haynes, and his pretty wife Peggy, but I shall never forget their
kindness to two young bewildered schoolgirls.