Village’s Saturday night film show is just like Granada

THE impact the mass evacuation of Britain s urban children had on rural areas when the 1939 balloon went up was probably only ever topped by that of the internal combustion engine and of the telly. It s easily overlooked now how different it was for the g

THE impact the mass evacuation of Britain's urban children had on rural areas when the 1939 balloon went up was probably only ever topped by that of the internal combustion engine and of the telly.

It's easily overlooked now how different it was for the great majority back then.

The countryside was Wanstead Flats for most of my Hartley Avenue schoolmates in East Ham. I didn't know my luck in having family holidays at great-aunt Letitia's, amid tranquil Sussex fields.

Yet I soon found after evacuation that living full-time in the country was something else. It certainly was, too, for a quiet Berkshire village suddenly swamped by children who may as well have been from a different planet.

For example, my Hartley Avenue classfriend Viccy Wright had an older brother, whom I only ever knew as Dopey.

The Seven Dwarfs' nickname he acquired because after arriving in the village, he asked where the pictures was.

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Not surprisingly, he was among the first to decide country style wasn't his, and flee back home. Viccy stayed longer. Darn near permanently, in fact.

After that first winter's heavy snows, spring saw brimming ditches and it was a deep one that six-year-old Viccy slipped into.

A non-swimmer like he, I stood helpless as he floundered, cap afloat beside him. Luckily, village blacksmith Ernie Charlton was in his forge nearby and hearing the commotion, hauled Viccy out.

Grandad wise, Ern had Viccy's tears forgotten as he stood steaming by the smithy's glowing coals, with me on the bellows.

Viccy was only a trifle damp when we went back to fish his cap out, followed by Ernie's laughter.

The village's school wasn't big enough for everyone, so the old one was brought back into service.

With vaccies opting to go home by the score, it was needed only for a month or so, but long enough for me to once be put in charge of a reading-aloud class when Miss Taylor was delayed.

Several with me were older by two years or more. Hesitant readers, they were puzzled when I kept telling them the word was, was not waas.

All of us were glad when Miss arrived.

The long-retired Mr Warren, living next door in the schoolmaster's house, paid occasional visits to beam at us in his old domain, a sight he couldn't have envisaged ever seeing again.

Perhaps it helped him, living hale and hearty into his 90s.

By midwar there were few vaccies left. On their monthly visits I'd catch mum and dad smiling at my accent, even if it wasn't at the waas stage.

I had a reminder of my roots, however, in Alf and Doris Tanner, an East Ham couple who retired to the village at war's start.

Berkshire's broad vowels never tinged their Cockney, and Alf would regularly hail me with, "Wotcher, young Smiffy!"

Both were firmly embedded, always relieved to come back after visiting East Ham relatives. Living opposite the old school, they often joined us for early post war years' Saturday night film shows. Sometimes the projector failed and the lights came on, while it was fixed.

This happened one Saturday when I'd arrived on holiday.

Spotting me, Alf called: "Just like the Granada, ennit Smiffy?" the Barking Road flicks was where he used to take Doris.

A few years later, when doing West Ham for the Recorder, I got Alf a Ted Fenton photo, autographed personally to him. It stayed on their mantle piece for all to see ever after.

When the 1939 upheaval came I knew little of what was going on in the world. Nor how much less happy many vaccies had it.

My idyllic new home even included a dog, who gave immediate devoted companionship.

I can imagine the anxious urgency with which the village's parish council strove to be ready for its biggest "invasion" since 1066.

What a video its meetings would have made for posterity. And what a classic illustration of Brits' noted talent for decisive adaptability the outcome provided.

That Austrian corporal had a lot to learn, hadn't he?

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