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Nina’s Story-Balham(London) to Datchet(Berkshire)

My name is Nina and my twin sister is Jean. My brother John was three years older than us and was a pupil at a school in Balham, south London. My parents agreed with the school that the three of us would be evacuated together. My sister and I were ten and my brother, thirteen.

I can remember my father taking us girls to Battersea Town Hall to be fitted for gas masks. We wanted a Mickey Mouse mask, but were told we too old! We also had to listen to the air raid siren warning going ‘on/off’ (they were two different sounds) and practice carry our small case, gas mask, sandwiches and drink for what seemed ages. For two weeks we went with our brother to his school carrying all this gear. We found it all rather exciting but our parents must have been feeling rather sad at the uncertainty of the future.

On 3rd of September, the big day arrived, the brief telegram from the Government arrived and we were on our way. Parents read our destination at the school notice board after we had left.

I remember walking to Clapham Junction Station and listening to the thud of 300 pairs of feet walking along the wooden bridges. Our teachers and a few retired teachers kept our spirits up during the journey that was not long.

We arrived at Datchet in the afternoon and it was such a beautiful village. A small village green was in the centre and the Thames ran nearby. I remember two black carthorses looking over the hedge, watching all the noisy action of hundreds of youngsters. Later on I watched these lovely horses ploughing a field whilst the farm worker sowed corn by hand. I immediately fell in love with the feel and sounds of the countryside. Although I didn’t know it then, this scenery was to be my home for the next four years.

After refreshments and a brief play, we left Datchet for the short journey to Winkfield and Cranborne Parish Hall. The Parish Council Committee selected their choice of children and we wondered who would be our host. We soon found out. It was the Lady of the Manor who had sent her retired nanny to collect us. Imagine that! Clutching our tin of corned beef, a tin of condensed milk and bar of chocolate we saw our future home, a beautiful house right in the middle of the country! I couldn’t believe my luck.

The retired nanny and her sister took care of us in her farm cottage. They were lovely warm people who made us feel wanted and loved. Our meals were taken in the Servant’s Quarters in the Big House. The children of the house were evacuated to Canada so we inherited caring for their animals. There were three dogs that I loved grooming and one ginger cat that soon became our furry friend. In London we never even had a window box – just imagine how we loved the freedom to roam the green fields and help with feeding the hens, collecting eggs, pick fruit, shell peas and rake the summer hay. The gardener taught me about planting seeds and weeding the garden and to respect wildlife. One day I saw a dead pheasant hanging behind a cupboard door, it gave me such a shock.

Life in the countryside filled me with wonder. I loved the heavy winter snow coating the fields and trees. Then springtime, when the big horses ploughed the fields guided by the farm hands who wore leather gaiters and huge aprons slowly broadcasting seeds onto the ground. I will always remember watching the horses and men working together slowly moving across the field on a warm spring day. In contrast to this pastoral landscape, I remember looking up and watching the dogfights between the Germans and British planes overhead. They flew so low we would flatten ourselves on the ground.

The Lady had a chauffer to drive her around and he also collected livestock from neighbouring farmers. He took me with him one day to fetch twelve chickens from a nearby farm. He told me to pick one chicken up and put it into the basket. This I did, until I tried to put the second chicken into the same basket, the first chicken flew out squawking loudly and refused to be re-captured. The chauffeur and the farmer were laughing at the expression of amazement on my face. The chauffeur and gardener were my best friends – they too loved having my sister and I to share their knowledge.

The Lady host told us one day that she would be expecting some important visitors and we were expected to be clean and well dressed. The big day arrived, and we were ushered into the parlour to be introduced to an eminent Bishop, his wife and daughter. I think the Lady wanted to show how them how she was helping with the war effort. They were polite and asked us where we came from and were we happy in the countryside. It was my first insight into the social divide of life upstairs and downstairs as the saying goes!

The village became the centre of our lives. We joined the local guide group, played football, cricket, even learned about woodwork and taught ballet in the British Legion Hall. In the evenings we are all sat in the kitchen listening to the radio, read books and played games.

My brother only spent a short time with us on the farm, he returned home to London, however, Nanny took in four relatives from Roehampton whose house had been destroyed by a bomb. So our evenings were full of laughter and fun.

At the end of four years we returned to our home in London and life with our parents. Being an evacuee opened up a lifetime interest in botany, wildlife and the environment. I am grateful for experiencing this world and the love of all the servants and Nanny and sister who played such a vital part in our young world. I consider myself a fortunate evacuee indeed.

Sometimes evacuation opened up opportunities which last for a lifetime.Nina retains her interest in botany ,wildlife and the environment.

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