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Joan’s Story-Sent away to Penzance

I was born in 1933 and my brother in 1935. We lived in a place called Kilburn, London. My school was called St Augustine’ s School, but my brother was still too young for school. In 1939 World War 2 was declared and bombing started in London. So in 1939 my school was evacuated from a heavily populated area of London to the extreme tip of South West England called Penzance. This was a sleepy little town by the seaside and surrounded by farming countryside. Very different from my home in London. My mother took my brother and myself to a big station called Paddington in London. She did not tell us that she would not be coming with us on the train only that I must hold my brothers hand all through the journey. The whole of my school were there plus the teachers who took care of us. When the train left the platform and my mother still stood standing there, I felt very frightened. We carried a gas mask over one shoulder and another containing enough food for the journey over the other. A label pinned on our lapel had our name and school in London. The journey was very long, ten hours in near darkness. On arrival at Penzance Station, we were told to climb onto a lorry and taken to the village hall which was very bright after our dark train journey. The hall was filled with local people and us children. Ten children were told to stand on the stage whilst the local people chose the children they wanted. My brother and I were the last up onto the stage so at this point only one couple was left. They agreed to take my brother but not me, but I refused to let go of his hand. They reluctantly took us both.

They were Mr and Mrs Opie and they lived on a farm outside Penzance and had five children, two boys and three girls. The elder two boys shortly afterwards were drafted into the army. They were a very kind, warmhearted couple and did their best to comfort us by showing us the cows, sheep, chickens and various farm animals. They also showed me how they made butter and cheese. It was a strange world to move into. I had never seen so much green space before and found it somewhat overpowering.

We all lived in this farmhouse until the two boys left home and both my brother and myself were reasonably happy. The Opies’ then moved into a smaller farm as they could not cope on their own. They said they would keep my brother but I would have to go as there was no room for me. It was at this point that I was told I would have to go and live with someone else. I hated that. I kept running back to the farmhouse to be with my brother until the lady I lived with – I cannot remember her name – asked to have me taken away. Once again, I was moved, each time I hated whoever was chosen to be my temporary guardian.

The last house I lived in remains in my memory today. This lady made me dress in her grown-up daughters clothes which were itchy and smelled of mothballs. I hated her for this. She also had a nasty dog that lived in the cellar chained to the wall in the daytime. She made be go down there to fetch the coal. She knew I was frightened of the dog. But one weekend, my mother paid us a visit, saw how nasty the lady was and took my brother and me back to London. The nightmare was over.

Joan had to fight to stay with her brother through frequent unsatisfactory moves. Eventually she was “rescued” by her mother.

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