1939 Evacuee to our village, Allan Ebbrell, who lives in West Yorkshire, has now sent us his most evocative and moving memoirs of his time spent in Norton-in-Hales from 1 September 1939, as approved by Edward Gill and we were, 70 years on, able to reunite them. To read his story, please click on Allan Ebbrell.
MY MEMORIES OF THE 1939 EVACUATION.
BY ALLAN EBBRELL
I have a very clear memory of the day, when at the age of seven years, my young life was to change dramatically. It was on the 1st September 1939 that I was plucked from my parent’s home in Chorlton on Medlock, inner city Manchester and was transported to the beautiful rural village of Norton in Hales in North Shropshire as part of what became known as “The Evacuation”. Not just me but thousands of children living in cities all over the country were evacuated to areas of relative safety from the anticipated German bombing of British cities. On the same day the armies of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Poland and Britain hung under the threat of war with Nazi Germany which was declared a couple of days later on the 3rd of September.
On that day we went to school as usual but were equipped with a gas mask in a cardboard box on a piece of string around our necks and a label with our name and school on it. Our luggage took various forms. Most of the children were from poor families and their luggage was carried in pillowcases whereas others had rucksacks and even suitcases. We were transported from school on buses to London Road Station (Now Piccadilly) and eventually, along with our teachers, boarded the train for Shropshire. On our arrival at Norton in Hale’s station I can recall that, being young villains from inner city Manchester, we knew how to empty the station’s chocolate machines and I also remember that during my stay in the village, they were never refilled!
Having been born in a Salvation Army maternity hospital in Ancoats, Manchester, brought up in Chorlton on Medlock and attending Shakespeare Street School, I had never before seen such a beautiful place as Norton in Hales. With its church of St. Chads dominating the village centre, the tiny school on the main street, its two shops, village green and blacksmiths forge nestling under the horse chestnut trees, it was a dramatic change from the back streets of Manchester for a young boy of my age. I can remember watching the blacksmith shoeing horses outside the forge and also shrinking steel tyres onto wooden spoked cartwheels on a jig close to the forge. In those days the main activity in the village was agriculture where there were many dairy and arable farms surrounding the village which created employment for a large percentage of the local population including the children at peak times. I can remember Crewe’s farm, which was a large dairy enterprise, close to the village centre, on which we were to work from time to time. I seem to remember being recruited in to the church choir at St. Chads, not that I could ever have been considered to be much of a singer even as a child. They were maybe short of recruits!
Initially I, along with two other boys, was boarded with the Malkins whose house I think was at the top of Forge Lane. Three young ruffians from Manchester were obviously far too much for them to cope with and our stay did not last long, possibly only one week. Two of us, Geoffrey Magnall, and myself were moved to the Lloyds in Bellaport Road, which was just beyond the railway station. The Lloyds already had four children of their own. Nancy was the eldest followed by Reg both much older than me. Next came Bill who was around my age or maybe a year older and lastly David who was a one-year-old baby when we arrived. We slotted in to the family very well as I remember, from day one each of us had our own chores to do such as washing up, fetching the coal, feeding the dog etc. Mrs Lloyd employed her own, very effective, discipline. We were given plenty of scope to get up to the usual tricks that young boys will inevitably get involved with such as going into the woods, climbing trees, collecting birds eggs, swimming in the river etc. but when she told us to do something we always knew that we had to do it.
The house was semi-detached with quite a large garden and the house next door belonged to the Bloors who had another evacuee, Jonty Dillon, staying with them. The ground floor consisted of a large living room at the front with an old cast iron range on which Mrs Lloyd did all the cooking. There was a radio in the corner next to the fireplace and I can recall hearing Gracie Fields singing “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”. There was a large table in the middle with an oil lamp on it around which we all sat to eat our meals. At the back of the house there was a scullery where we did the washing up and also a bathroom with a copper boiler in the corner under which a fire was lit to heat the water which was then ladled in to the bath. On the first floor there were three bedrooms. Mr and Mrs Lloyd and the baby had the front bedroom, Nancy had the small bedroom at the rear and us lads had the larger rear bedroom. Bill, Geoff and I shared a double bed and Reg slept on a camp bed alongside. There was a small yard at the back of the house with a brick built toilet which consisted of a plank with a hole in it and a large bucket underneath which had to be emptied on a regular basis and there was also a piece of string holding neatly torn pieces of newspaper. There was a dog kennel in the yard where “Windy” the family dog lived. She was a fox terrier cross bitch and her main job was to catch rabbits for the table. When Windy had pups we were allowed to keep one which we called “Nip” and before you ask, yes he did! On one occasion I was asked to take the cows from the field opposite the house, down to the village for milking and it was the proudest day of my young life when I set off with Nip to do just that.
Will Lloyd, Mrs Lloyd’s husband, was a forester and charcoal burner and would set off to work each morning on his bicycle. On one occasion, at Christmas time, I was talking to Mrs Lloyd in the living room when Mr Lloyd arrived at the gate and was looking for the gate catch on the wrong side. “He’s been Christmasing,” she said. The garden was his responsibility with a little help from the rest of the family including we evacuees. All the household vegetables were grown there and also soft fruits such as gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants etc. I can recall helping Mr Lloyd to hog up the potatoes for winter. They were placed in a long pile with straw over the top and then covered with soil to protect them from the frost. On Christmas Eve one year we had all gone to bed as usual and Mr Lloyd, still in his Home Guard uniform, was waiting for us to go off to sleep. When he thought we had gone off, he came into our bedroom to leave the bits and pieces, which were our Christmas presents in those days. Of course we were still awake and suddenly Bill Lloyd sat up in bed and said, “look lads, Father Christmas has joined the Home Guard”!
Bill Lloyd and I became very good friends (Dare I say brothers?) and would get up to all kinds of mischief together. We of course attended the village school which in those days consisted of a large room with pot bellied coke stoves at either end and divided in to two classrooms by a partition. It was in one of these classrooms that I got into serious trouble for calling Miss Bloor, who taught in the other classroom, by her first name “Gladys”. I can clearly remember walking to school during the severe winter of 1940 along Bellaport road on a path cut through the snowdrifts, which were considerably higher than us. One day on our way to school, one of us pushed a folded cigarette packet into a hole in a wall, which was the entrance to a wasp’s nest. On the way home I was the fool who pulled it out and got badly stung for my trouble. Bill and I used to go “scrumping” together for apples, plums and damsons and on many occasions got a dose of the collywobbles! We also played “conkers” which we gathered from the Horse Chestnut trees in the village centre. I can remember that, on one of our regular visits into Swire’s woods, we discovered a sunken boat in a lake. We returned with a rope, which was probably Mrs Lloyd’s washing line, and managed to pull it out. On many occasions we went back to the lake and took full advantage of our find.
We were also required to do our bit for the war effort by doing farm work. I can clearly recall picking potatoes, topping and tailing mangols for stock feed (health and safety regulations would not allow this today) and also stacking sheaves of corn in the field for drying. In those days, horses pulling the carts and farm implements etc. did most of the heavy work, but the tractor was also beginning to be introduced. I can remember a little grey Fergie (Ferguson) which ran on TVO (tractor vaporising oil – a mixture of petrol and kerosene), pulling a mower/Binder in a field that we were working, which was just across the road from the house where we lived. I can also remember the steam traction engine and threshing machine arriving at the farm when we had to change the sacks and stack the straw. I wonder what the modern Health and Safety Executive would make of that! On a weekend that my parents were visiting along with my uncle and aunt, we were walking with Mrs Lloyd through a field where potatoes had been harvested. There were still a few potatoes lying about and my uncle asked Mrs Lloyd what would happen to them. “They will be ploughed back in,” she said so you can take some home if you wish. At that he held out his hands and we all started to pile potatoes on them. Suddenly he threw them all up in the air. “They are only three ha’pence at the shop round the corner” he said. On another occasion that my parents were visiting, Mrs Lloyd took us on a walk to the lake at Oakley Hall. It must have been springtime as I can clearly remember a profusion of daffodils around the lake, which was an idyllic site to see.
To supplement the family income, Mrs Lloyd used to sell produce at Market Drayton, which we were all involved in harvesting. This involved picking blackberries, hazelnuts and also billberries at Woore where we also visited members of her family. She also sold bunches of snowdrops in spring tied up with a large ivy leaf which we collected from the railway station plantation. She along with her daughter Nancy (the eldest) also would make pickles; mustard pickles and jams most of which I also think was sold at Drayton market. I can particularly remember her bramble jelly made from the blackberries that we picked which was out of this world, the like of it I have not tasted since. They would also whip cream with the meagre butter ration that we had in order to make it go further for the table.
During my stay in Norton in Hales there was little sign of war in the village until one night all this was to change. We had only just gone to bed and were not yet asleep when suddenly there was an almighty roar of aircraft engines and gunfire. We leapt from our beds and dashed to the front windows only to see a German bomber at rooftop height coming straight towards us with a Beaufighter on its tail firing bursts of canon fire at it. As they flew over the house we rushed to the back windows but before we got there we heard a series of massive explosions as the bomber crashed and its bomb load exploded only a few fields away. We went to the site a few days later to find a large crater in the ground with wreckage of the aircraft strewn all around. We were particularly interested in pieces of Perspex, which we could make things from. As is the wont with young boys, the usual stories of what was found under pieces of wreckage circulated around the school all of which were completely fictitious of course.
Whilst I was at school at the village, Miss Jones, who was one of the teachers who had come out from Manchester with us, put me in for a scholarship to attend Manchester Central High School, Whitworth Street, Manchester in which I was successful. This of course meant returning home to Manchester which, having spent a few years away and being very happy there, I was not pleased to do. Mr and Mrs Lloyd also did not want me to go as I was now part of their closely-knit family and splitting it up would cause upset and heartache. My parents however had other ideas and offered me “bribes” such as joining the scouts, going boxing at Ardwick Lads Club etc. and eventually they succeeded in their quest and I returned to Manchester in 1943.
My days at the Lloyds during the Second World War were certainly some of the happiest of my life and although they are now a somewhat distant memory, I will never ever forget them or the very kind people who looked after us and those who made us welcome in the lovely village of Norton in Hales.
“Recently in conjunction with Edward Gill, I have placed a letter and two group photographs of the Norton in Hales evacuees in the “Memories” section of the Manchester Evening News in an attempt to identify any not already recognised.
I have attached a copy of my notes on the results of this publication and also of the identification photographs.”