Reproduced from Timewitnesses.org

Hazel’s story-From Lewisham, to Ashford then South Wales

The Butler and Corned Beef

My name is Hazel and I was born in 1926 in Lewisham, London In 1939 when war was declared, I was twelve years old, and attended a private school as a scholarship pupil. When the whole school was evacuated, we all went together, teacher, headmistress plus all the equipment we needed for studying. The headmistress made sure that no war was going to interfere with the girls’ education! As I was twelve years old, I treated the whole thing as an adventure.     My first move was not too far from London, a place called Ashford in Kent. We were in the village hall waiting to be chosen by our respective hosts. when I remember being given a tin of corned beef and a tin of condensed milk for our supper that night! I had never tasted corned beef before and thought it was a real laugh to be given this tinned food. The Lady of the Manor chose two girls and as there was only one of us left, we pleaded with her to stay together. She said ‘oh, very well, I will ring the butler and tell him to put up another bed.’     The Lady of the Manor and her family were very rich people. They lived in a huge house with a home farm attached. We three girls were told to go downstairs with the butler and his wife (who was the cook). They were Austrian and spoke very little English. One day, the Lady called us into the sitting room and said ‘we could play anywhere in the gardens except in front of the drawing room’     This life of luxury only lasted ten days. We were relocated to the centre of Ashford, which was a big town not far away from the big house So off I went with the billeting teacher to my new home. On arrival, the lady said ‘I wanted two little girls’ but when she was told there weren’t any, she said, ‘OK, I will take a big girl instead’.     The couple were very nice, and were childless. My first shock was the discovery of no inside toilet or bathroom. A pot under the bed was the answer to emergencies in the night. The first chore every morning was a bucket for collection.. I had never seen this before because we had a bathroom, and toilet and telephone at home! I moved several times afterwards, so I got used to this scenario. Bath night in every house I stayed in was Friday night, rigidly applied by everyone.


Schooling on the shift system

Ashford was not too far from London so when the bombings became heavy, we were once again moved – this time to a place called Llanelli in South Wales. During my stay in South Wales I moved five times for different reasons. I didn’t like it there at all especially after spending one Christmas home in London, I suffered from home sickness badly. In one house I broke out in dermatitis owing to the cat sleeping on my bed. When I complained, the lady made it quite plain that it was the cats home, not mine. Another time I spent in a hostel which was fun except for the food; every night supper consisted of green runner beans soaked in water! Ugh!. One night we collected these awful beans in paper, stuffed in our jumpers and pockets and took them to our bedroom and threw them out of the window. The next day, one of our teachers saw them on the sidewalk, realised what the problem was and quickly sorted out a better quality supper. No more beans!

The remaining houses I stayed in varied from living in better areas but the hosts were very rigid. The bathroom and toilet facilities seemed to be bone of contention. This military type regime which was awful. In another house, I was told ‘whatever you hear within these four walls, is not to be repeated outside!’ However during these trials with these hosts and their odd behaviour, our school was kept together by continuity of learning. The staff made sure our education was not to be interrupted. .The teachers were understanding and sympathetic with our various problems and did their best to help us under the circumstances. however, the novelty of adventure I felt at the beginning was fast turning into homesickness It was not long afterwards I returned home to London, bombs and all. It was wonderful to have an inside toilet and bathroom, it was wonderful to be home.

There are two stories from Hazel, the first about the strangeness of evacuation and the second about the innovative ways in which her education continued under difficult circumstances

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