An Evacuee Remembers
Reg Bevan’s recollections of his days spent at Guarlford c. 1940 – 1945
My recollections as an evacuee began when I was mustered along with others at the end of Dogpool Lane, where I lived, outside Selly Park School (Birmingham) decked out with a cardboard box holding a gas mask and a label. Prior to this I had been taken to school by my mother to join an infants class. I remember being very upset on my first day there, behind the tall iron railings separating the playground from the roadway. I also remember hearing the explosions of the bombs, one of which I found out, on returning after the War ended, had caused damage to one part of the school.
I don’t remember much of the journey. I know I was not upset at all about leaving home; it must have been quite an adventure I suppose. I have vague memories of arriving by train, at that time with no idea where I was, eventually arriving at Guarlford School, where I was given a large mug of cocoa, and then taken by car by possibly the Rector’s wife to where I stayed for the next five or five & a half years. This was “Woodside”, a smallholding owned by Mr & Mrs Raines, a mile or so from Guarlford village in what I now know to be Blakes Lane. As the car pulled up at the garden, a large dog came bounding down the path barking. I wasn’t frightened at all; he turned out to be very friendly. He was a big Scotch collie, called Peter, and I got to love him. I still have a photo of him lying across my legs while I sat on the lawn, with my Uncle Jack, who came to visit me.
I started school at Guarlford School. Our teachers were Miss Gosling and Miss Cole. We used to go on nature rambles round about, and I recall that there was a garden where we were sometimes taken to do a little gardening, near The Rectory, I think. We also had a game that several of us played in the school break called ‘Fox & Hounds’. One or two would be foxes, the rest hounds. We used to slip away out of the playground, foxes first, and find a place to hide in a hedgerow or in the long grass of an adjoining field or fields. I’m afraid time hadn’t much meaning then, and once when I hid in a culvert, the rest (the ‘hounds’) failed to find me. I turned up back in class after the after lunch break lessons had been started for some time. During play break, another diversion for the lads at least was trying to throw stones to hit a large bell hanging in a tree in the churchyard, near the playground boundary.
I must mention the occasion when we were all given little Union Jack flags and were let out from school to allow us to see the King and Queen pass by, on the way to I don’t know where, but heading in the direction of Upton. I sat on the church wall with others, watching out in great excitement. I think we thought that the Royals would drive slowly by and perhaps even stop for a chat, but two or three big black limousines whisked round the bend and flashed by. I did catch a fleeting glimpse of a person who I thought was the King, and the cars were gone. I don’t believe I had time to wave my flag.
Miss Cole used to take us for country-dance lessons out in the playground. I used to think the dancing was a bit daft, although I preferred it to trying to do sums, but I enjoyed the tunes. Two have stuck with me to this day; I have had a lifelong love of traditional music, thanks to Miss Cole and her dancing lessons. I went to Madresfield School with the other Juniors when they were moved there in 1944, but I recall it being less easy going than Guarlford. I travelled to Madresfield by bus, a real old charabanc type with a long bonnet, which picked me up and dropped me off at the end of Blakes Lane near Southwood.
I wore proper shoes for school, but at weekends and in the evenings I wore either wellies or wooden soled clogs with leather uppers and horseshoe-like metal bands on the heels and toes. I loved to gallop on the road by the house pretending to be a horse, and after dark I worked hard at striking sparks off the road with the metal-shod clogs.
There was no traffic then, of course, apart from American army convoys occasionally. At times when an American convoy passed, we would stand at the roadside and shout, “Got any gum, chum?” and if your luck was in, there would come a shower of gum packets and candy. There was an American army hospital at Blackmore Park, and, although I was forbidden to go there by Mr & Mrs Raines, when we had the chance, two or three other lads and I used to slip over to the camp to scrounge candy and gum and so on. On one occasion I ate so many cookies I made myself sick. We used to call at one particular Nissen hut, where a large coloured man, a cook I think, used to hand us out hot dogs. After finishing those we would call on our favourite group of soldiers and sit around scoffing and enjoying ourselves. I went there one time with a broken bootlace. One of the soldiers fixed me up with a new one, but it was brown and my old ones were black. When I got back home, Mrs Raines noticed and asked me where I’d got it from; quickly inspiration came to me, and I told her I had got it from an old chap who used to call at houses in the area. He rode a bike with a kind of tray in front of the handlebars containing things like needles and pins and various small items.
It was a great life, lots of freedom, roaming far and wide across fields. Dripshill Wood was nearby and I used to collect chestnuts, hazelnuts and blackberries there. I remember going with Mrs Raines and another lady blackberrying there, and unfortunately the lady disturbed a wasps’ nest. I nipped away to a safe distance, but she stood her ground trying to beat them off, and of course the wasps won hands down. She was brought back to the house, where application of a blue bag was a remedy for stings supposedly. This stuff was used for washing clothes and I don’t know if it was effective, but I remember being very impressed when I saw her later – she was blue from head to toe, at least all the parts that I could see.
Local kids used to visit a spot on the River Severn at Clevelode, which was known as the ‘Sandy Beach’, not really sand but reddish crumbly shale. To reach this place one went via a cottage gate and through an orchard. I remember a white-haired lady living at the cottage, who would ask people going through not well-known to her for a small contribution, a penny I think.
I had to work though, it wasn’t all larking about. At the weekend I mucked out the cowshed after milking. I milked one of about a dozen cows, a quiet one called Queenie. Sometimes if I had earned a row, I would ‘run away’, and if the cows were in at night I would run away as far as the cowshed and sit in the straw if Queenie was lying down and once I went to sleep. I cried myself to sleep, I think. Mr Raines would always know where I was and come and comfort me back to the house. Other jobs I had were to cut chaff in a chaff cutter, chop mangolds and mix them for the cowfeed in winter, pump water with a hand pump up into the storage tank in the house loft. In summer our cows were left out along the side of the main road for the grazing. If they were between the school and the Plough & Harrow pub I would walk them back home, as I came from school; if not I would go back to the house, change clothes, collect my bike and ride down toward the Rhydd to find them. They rarely strayed anywhere else.
On Sundays one of my jobs was to ride on my bike to pick up the Sunday newspaper from the Green Dragon pub. I remember a Mr Harrod as landlord of The Plough & Harrow during my years at Woodside.
Mrs Raines used to supply a nursing home on Barnards Green with poultry. She kept about 200 or so chickens and ducks. I used to help pluck them, she used to kill them. When they were dressed and trussed, they were wrapped in greaseproof, and Mrs Raines and I would take them by bicycle and deliver them. One job that always sticks in my mind was taking a sow to the boar at a farm along the lane past the school. We walked her there with a rope tied to one back leg, (the sow’s that is!). There was not a lot of difficulty getting her there, but after the romance the pig did not want to come home, and we spent most of the day trying to get her back. Several times she dragged us both off anyway she cared to go and we returned via a different route to our journey there.
I can’t remember if it was the same pig, but I recall one called Sally that I had a dread of. Whenever I had to go to the orchard, or potato shed or was playing boats on a water butt, all of which had to be accessed through a yard where the pigsties were situated, she would appear, either from her sty or come trundling round the end of the cowshed from the field. I had a little warning she was on her way, as I could hear her grunting as she strolled along. I realise now she probably thought there was some food to be gleaned, but at that time I believed she was seriously out to get me. I was delighted to be told on a particular Saturday that she was going to meet her end, and in due course several men arrived, (any vegetarians might care to look away at this point) and a rope was fastened round her snout and, to the sound of ear-splitting screams, she was done away with (I won’t go into the gory details) placed on a heap of straw to be singed, then over time, perhaps a couple of days, cut up and placed in a bath, I think, to be salted. Chitterlings were washed and cleaned, black puddings made, as was brawn. The bladder was a much sought after trophy, and I was awarded that. It was blown up, tied off and left to dry. It was used as a punchbag or a football, a young lad’s delight.
A pig killing was a huge attraction, as was corn threshing, for youths. The sound of the Ransomes threshing boxes could be heard humming away for quite a distance as they worked – a muffled ‘whoom’ as the sheaves were fed through the beaters on the top of the box, lots of dust and flying chaff. I remember on one farm there were two ricks to be threshed. These were standing in the yard near the buildings. Chicken wire was run round the base of the stacks – I believe it was a requirement of Ag at the time, although I’m not sure of that. Anyhow, the rick was threshed out in one day, and I remember what seemed to be a scurrying horde of rats penned in by the wire, men and terriers dispatching them as fast as they could. I asked to be lifted in but was refused. A short time after a Land Army girl arrived to lay poison bait out around the buildings. I called round to the farm some days later to see a man carrying rats out to the yard and tipping them from a bucket into a heap. I said, “You’ve killed and got them all here”, and I wouldn’t believe him when he told me that probably half as many again would have died in the stone walls of the buildings.
All the farms had working horses. Mr and Mrs Raines had a pony called either Darkie or Blackie, and occasionally I was told to harness him up and Mrs Raines & I travelled to Worcester Market via the Old Hills, where I remember lots of gypsy caravans, the vados, camped there. I also remember seeing people in blue pyjama type clothes and was told that they were convalescing soldiers from a nursing home or hospital near Powick.
The only tractors I recall seeing were used to pull the threshing drums. The driver was a very important man manoeuvring the whole issue though field gateways or into yards, to get alongside the ricks as close as possible. Then the tractor was unhitched, turned and lined up with the drum or box, so that the drive belt would not jump off the pulley wheel or the drive wheel of the threshing machine. This had got to be pretty accurate, and a twist was put in the belt for the drive wheel on the box to be turned the correct way. Then it was all go! I worked on the old threshing machines on a couple of farms in the early 50s. They were used for threshing out oats then rather than wheat or barley.
I remember walking down Blakes Lane with Bobby one day when an aircraft flew over fairly low and trailing smoke. We both shouted out “It’s going to crash!” then “No, it’s not”, probably in disappointment, as it disappeared over South Wood, but almost immediately it went out of sight there was a loud bang and a plume of smoke rose above the trees. We both raced off through the wood arriving out on to a ploughed field. On the other side we saw a plane burning away, a fire engine already in attendance, with sounds of cannon shells exploding. I remember, I’m fairly sure, that it was a twin-engined plane. (It was a Beaufighter.) A fireman told us to stay behind the fire engine because of the exploding shells. Some days later plain clothes men visited the school and requested that anyone who had picked up ammunition at the crash site should bring it to school and hand it in. (Could anyone imagine that happening these days?) The following day one lad brought in a small suitcase full of cannon shells, and another handed in two live ones which had been put on the mantel shelf over the fireplace! I heard later, although only hearsay, that a young chap who worked at the farm opposite Guarlford Church and was perhaps out on the fields near where the plane crashed had managed to drag out of the plane whatever crew was on board – perhaps just the pilot. It would be interesting to know if that was correct. (Nb. See Photo Gallery for the story of this brave rescue.)
During my time in Guarlford I fell into most stretches of water deep enough to come over one’s ankles, the most life-threatening being one winter when, coming out of school, I was offered a halfpenny or a penny to retrieve a sledge out on the ice on a pool close by the church. I walked out to the sledge quite safely, skirting on the way across a couple of holes that had been broken through. On the way back I was dragging the sledge and looking back at it. On hearing shouts of “Look out!” too late I faced forward only to plunge through one of the holes. I think I must have stuck out my arms and managed to haul myself out onto thicker ice; I was taken home on the back of a bike by two older girls. I don’t know what became of the sledge; neither do I remember getting my money! But I lived to tell the tale, and thank you the two girls, whoever you were.
I have so many more memories, I suppose I could almost fill a book of my own, of people I remember and events, many like yesterday, from my evacuee days. I developed a passion for the countryside and a way of life that has mainly disappeared. The animals and birds have been an absorbing interest all my days, and I feel very nostalgic whenever I see the Malvern Hills. Mr & Mrs Raines emigrated to Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, to join their son, Fred, and their daughter-in-law, Ethel, a few years after the war ended. They were in their 70s then and lived on into their 90s, I believe. I must say that Mrs Raines was an excellent cook, making her own butter, and we always had fresh eggs and vegetables, homegrown poultry and bacon. I can only say that my evacuee days were some of the happiest of my life, so I was luckier than some others who didn’t have the same care that I received.