And The Surrounding District



I remember war being declared in September 1939 and being very afraid. I was nine years old on 4th July 1939.

By May 1940 it was decided that me and my eleven-year-old brother Ivor should be evacuated from the bombing in Kent. We were to be sent to stay with Dad’s brother, uncle Bill, auntie Liz and their two sons, Trevor aged twelve and Ernest aged ten. They lived in Worcestershire, I had never met them or even knew where Worcestershire was!

On the 5th May 1940 we stood in our Sunday best clothes, shoes polished and case packed ready to go. I felt something on the back of my neck, it was my mother kissing me, I don’t remember being kissed before.

My seventeen-year-old brother Frank accompanied us on the train journey, which took the whole day and during the evening we finally arrived at ‘Gothic Cottage’, Druggers End Lane, Castlemorton, near Malvern. I remember being told that my shoes were totally unsuitable as they would not give my ankles enough support, so money was sent from home to buy working boots with toecaps and hobnails.

I had left a home which had running water and electricity, but the water supply at Gothic cottage came from a hand-operated pump in the yard, drawing water from a well at the front of the cottage. Oil lamps were our only source of light and we used wood for heating and cooking. In a garden shed was the dirt toilet.

The cottage stood in about half an acre of vegetable garden, and it had a shed that ‘Scamp’ the sheepdog lived in and a pig in a sty. Across the lane were two meadows that uncle either owned or rented. The nearest one had chickens in it and the farthest one was a cider-apple orchard and they were also both used for grazing sheep. Every year uncle would go to the Welsh sheep sales and bring home undernourished skinny sheep to be fattened up and bred in his meadows. We boys watched the lambs having their tails cut off and being castrated, then it was our job ‘to keep them moving so they don’t get stiff’. The apples were sold for a barrel of cider plus cash and the scrumpy was put in the shed for all to drink, so at the age of nine I was drinking alcohol!

Ivor and I were sent to school in the next village, Welland, which was about a mile and a quarter away. We went by ourselves through our two fields, up a cart track, over Castlemorton Common and on through to Welland. The Headmaster was Mr. Band, he used the cane and I remember being beaten until I wet myself. My teacher was Miss Hughes (no relation), a kind lady who always seemed amused by us boys. There were no school dinners, so we took sandwiches. I only remember the ones which I disliked the most, that is rosemary flavoured lard along with beetroot. There was an adopted boy in my class called Bert who everyone knew was starved of food, but the mother of twin girls in our class sent a lunch in each day for him. On returning home from school every night it was my job to gather wood and bring it in to dry for the next day’s heating and cooking. There was to be no food until all our tasks were completed.

On Sundays we had to go to church, three times a day in the summer and twice during the winter months.

During school holidays we helped in the fields, hedging and ditching and herding the sheep. We were never allowed into the village to play with other children.

Life for us was now very different. At home Mum would go out to the shops each day to try to find unrationed food, fish, offal, anything to make a tasty meal. Here we only had what could be produced from the land. If the chickens laid any eggs they would be sold on the black market, so we boys would be sent out to forage for plover’s or moorhen’s eggs to eat. The pig was slaughtered in the autumn and then salted, so we had the next year’s supply of bacon and ham etc.

Our only means of communication with home was by letter. Our letters from Mum and Dad were read to all the family after the evening meal. Letters home were checked, and we were often told to alter them. During the summer months we stayed up late and helped in the fields, ours and next doors. In the winter the whole family were in bed by eight o’clock, mainly to keep warm, and as we only had lamplight it was not possible to do much else. I was homesick!

Dad had a sister called aunt Emily who lived at Cathedral Green, Gloucester. She was a private secretary to an eye surgeon who had a petrol ration and a limousine with a liveried chauffeur. One Saturday Ivor and Trevor would be picked up and taken to auntie’s home and the next Saturday would be the turn of me and Ernest. She spoiled us, leaving us to go around the town in the morning, back to her house for nice food and then afternoon tea with her in ‘Bon Marche’, returning to Castlemorton in the evening with food, maybe some kippers or a jar of peaches.

Little snippets of news I remember from these times - in June 1940 Mr. Band told us that France had surrendered, he said it was a sad day, his wife was French - would I ever get home? September 1940 during ‘The Battle of Britain’ it was announced that 170 German planes has been shot down. I thought ‘good news I’ll soon be home’ but later it was stated that the figure was false. For three nights Ivor and I laid in bed with the curtains open looking north and saw the glow of Coventry being blown to pieces by German bombers.

There were no anti-aircraft guns in our area, only searchlights picking up the bombers and holding them in their beams until they reached the guns near Birmingham or Coventry. All of us stood in the garden watching the searchlights one evening when auntie Liz went into the toilet shed. Whilst she was in there Ivor or I made the noise of a screaming bomb and then threw a brick onto the tin roof. There was a scream from the hut and uncle Bill had to carry her out with her bloomers around her ankles! On another occasion uncle Bill was sweeping the chimney, so we thought it a good idea to discharge some sneezing powder in his direction, that made life interesting for a while!

July 1941 arrived. Mum and Dad came to see us and announced that they were taking us home. It was something about us being too much to handle and ‘the pump incident’ which I don’t actually remember. I was happy to be going home to face bombs, V1s (doodlebugs) and V2 rockets. They were nothing compared to lard sandwiches!

Allen Hughes,

Rochester, Kent.


Me, aged ten, in my Sunday Best.

Photo taken at the back of Gothic Cottage, Druggers End Lane.