Postcard I wrote as a vaccy’ remains treasured memento

AN OLD friend astonished me recently by revealing she still has the name and address label that was attached to her when she was part of the mass evacuation of London s children more than 69 years ago. The details on it remain legible with, as my friend

AN OLD friend astonished me recently by revealing she still has the name and address label that was attached to her when she was part of the mass evacuation of London's children more than 69 years ago.

The details on it remain legible with, as my friend laughs, Ilford in big capital letters.

There can surely be few such items knocking about now. That both she and it are, has an added touch. After five years' sanctuary in Wales, she came home in time to share Ilford's terrifying doodlebug and V2 ordeal in the war's latter months.

One or two of those weapons went off uncomfortably close to her central Ilford home, near enough to feel it. Throughout the conflict it was parents' agonising dilemma whether to take the gamble of having much-missed youngsters home from evacuated safety, even for a short stay.

After my folks moved from East Ham to Ilford in 1943, I had several such brief interludes in our new Gants Hill home, partly I guess to prepare me for what would be a radical postwar change of lifestyle.

Those "holidays" were abruptly abandoned after a V1 landed on the corner of Beehive and Clarence, blowing our windows in on us and showering us with ceiling plaster, while we were in bed.

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Unlike with the Luftwaffe's bombers, there was scant warning of those doodlebugs, except should you hear their puttering engine cut out, then you'd dive for cover, pronto.

The one a few hundreds yards from us left no chance of hurtling downstairs to our Morrison indoor shelter.

That ugly object also served as a dining-room table, and mum had disguised it with a large dark-red chenille cover.

Old soldier dad's trench humour earned him a cuff from her when, on the cover's first appearance, he chuckled it wouldn't show the blood much.

Eiderdown, pillows, and blankets made lying in there comfortable, but staring up at the low roof was too much like being in a steel coffin.

No one was claustrophobic. Even so, the all-clear couldn't come quick enough.

My friend's label revelation had me head-scratching.

Did I have one on my collar as we lined-up in Hartley Avenue Junior's playground before going to East Ham station for the train to the country?

It's odd I shouldn't have a clue, while I can still almost feel the rubbing on my neck of the string of my gas mask's cardboard box.

I clutched the heavy-duty brown carrier issued to all of us and "iron-rations", in case whoever we ended up with couldn't feed us that night. No surprise I've not forgotten the carrier, perhaps.

Besides a tin of corned beef it also contained a Cadbury's half-pounder.

We must have had other baggage, like change of clothes and jim-jams, but I've no recollection. I guess big brother carried that.

At six, I doubtless just about managed gas mask and carrier.

Also gone from mind is how the trainload of us got from the country station to our various village destinations.

The one we went to was earmarked for a good hundred vaccies.

All of us were grouped in a large meadow in front of a poultry farm, adjacent to the parish church.

Bit by bit the evacuees were ferried to their new homes by volunteer ladies from the car-owning local gentry.

Care was taken not to split up families.

The meadow was almost empty when my brother and me were put into an Austin Seven driven by a cheerful, motherly lady.

Where evacuees were homed was, inevitably, the luck of the draw.

We had it in spades that early September afternoon.

No sooner were we in our new quarters than I was sat down and being helped to scrawl a postcard, telling our mum and dad we were fine - and that I was off out for a ride on Tigga's crossbar.

I know that's what I wrote because I still have that pencilled card.

Mum, bless her, preserved it among her "treasures" all her long life.

It's maybe not quite up to a name and address label, but I know which I'd rather have!

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