We went to school one day, finishing far from home...

ABOUT now, 70 years ago, us Hartley Avenue Junior nippers were lining up in the playground each morning to hear if we d file into school, or be evacuated. We were definitely going, but nobody could say when. So, for several days we went to school, not kno

ABOUT now, 70 years ago, us Hartley Avenue Junior nippers were lining up in the playground each morning to hear if we'd file into school, or be evacuated.

We were definitely going, but nobody could say when.

So, for several days we went to school, not knowing when we would be seeing our parents and homes again.

Even when Miss said "it's not today", school was different to normal, because my older brother was new there, too. He went to the big boys' school at Plashet Lane, but was joining me daily, so we'd be evacuated together.


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Uneven, best describes my memories of those tense times.

Was there a special classroom at Hartley for my brother and his peers, or did they sit in with us infants? How did mum and dad explain we were going away from the war, yet they were not?

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What I can recall them saying, repeatedly, was that when we went, I was to do what my brother said, and not give him any old buck, either.

It wouldn't have crossed my young mind the stress mum endured saying bye-bye to us on those waiting-to-go mornings, as we went to school, leaving her uncertain of when she'd see us again. Or, even if she would, should Adolf unleash the expected bombardments.

Hartley Avenue had at least two evacuation false starts before it got the OK and we went out the gates in a long crocodile through the side roads to the station.

The "they're going" message surely wild-fired around immediately, because as we passed the top of our road, both sides of it were lined by broom-wielding mums, who all happened to be sweeping front steps at that same moment.

Every head was turned our way.

It was a classic evacuation day image, and so powerful it's never left me.

It's one of life's regrets I never thought in later years to ask mum if she spotted the pair of us in the passing throng.

If so, she might have seen me with one hand on the cardboard gas-mask box strung around my neck to stop it bouncing on my chest too much as we walked.

Thankfully, the only use we ever had for them was bashing each other.

Somewhere that day, likely on the train, we got carriers of emergency supplies, thoughtfully provided for wherever we landed up that night not having enough grub.

There was a big, tempting bar of chocolate in the carriers.

Our accompanying teachers went up and down the train trumpeting not to touch it.

But, you bet, quite a few bars didn't survive the journey.

I clutched my bag's white string handles so fiercely I feared I'd be told off for making them grubby.

My memory is a blank between our getting to the station and arriving in a quiet, unfamiliar village.

A lot must have gone on, of course.

Only reluctantly did our foster-folks agree to give it a try. Running the village delivery service, out all day three times a week, they feared they couldn't properly look after us.

First night they put me in a made up bed beside their own. I probably didn't sleep that well.

On top of which, I couldn't wait to resume contact with their dog Sam, whose immediate friendship probably helped sway his owners into deciding in our favour.

Mum and dad came as soon as possible to check us out.

They got off the nine o'clock bus in a blacked-out village and, by happy chance, the first people they asked for directions were our fosterers, nearing the long working day's end in their Bedford lorry.

Brother and me were in the back of it, so mum had to clamber the tail-board ladder and grope through a heavy canvas blackout drape.

"What on earth?" she must have thought to herself.

But she always claimed, afterwards, any worries vanished on finding her youngest, sound asleep in a large crate piled with pillows and blankets, one hand clutching a rosy apple against a cheek.

And it was another 10 minutes before mum even got to know about Sam.

What more could her six-year old want?

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