Picturing the moving home front A London to and fro in WW2


The second world war was a time of upheaval for many, and this was particularly true for Cutlock & Co’s family lines. It became obvious when going through a collection of old postcards and photographs that there was a story to be told visually. Mum and Dad’s notes help to stitch them together.

Out of London

Being born in 1926, Dad (Arthur) was well into his grammar school life when war broke out and disrupted things. Here’s his description from jottings he made for “The Old Addeyan” – for former pupils of Addey and Stanhope School {1}. This establishment, like Dad and his parents, resided in New Cross up until then.

My parents and I were on holiday on the Norfolk coast in August 1939 when the radio announced that all London teachers were to report to their schools. We packed our wet bathing costumes and caught a train for home. Not much happened for a week or two, then came evacuation. Going with my parents and Clyde Street School {2}, we entrained from New Cross Station and ended up in Tunbridge Wells – a culture shock for the retired colonels!

I don’t know how we found out where Addeys had got to, but after a few weeks I caught buses to Woods Corner and hence Yew Arch in Dallington, billeted with Reg Norris. 4D as a self-contained unit led a special life. Staff would arrive for a morning or an afternoon – except for the glorious fews days of deep snow when no one could reach us and lessons were self taught tobogganning.

Yew Arch, Dallington, Sussex

The school was spread around the countryside, but organised a base at Burwash, maybe 6 miles from Dallington.

On the reverse of the above postcard, Dad notes that they were billeted with Mrs Tutton, Mrs Bridges and maid Lena at Yew Arch.

To Wales

Then in 1940 a convoluted train journey took us all to the Amman Valley. My first billet, with Peter Evershed, had only one, outside, tap – not particularly convenient when the man of the house arrived home from his shift in the pit, needing a good bath. The house backed onto the sidings where the returned (nearly) empty coal wagons were shunted, and Peter and I learnt the art of climbing into the wagons for the few lumps of coal hiding in the corners. A broad education! I later moved to live next door to where George Frederick Laws was billeted …

View from Dad’s bedroom window Bryn-yr-Avon, Garnant

Back to London

… After two years in the Sixth I was accepted at Kings College, London in 1943 to study mathematics. I returned home to live with my parents (who were also back from evacuation) just in time for doodlebugs and V2s, and an Air Raid Wardens uniform for me.

His degree course was a shortened two year version {3} – along with having been fast-tracked at school (unconnected with the war), skipping year one, he was thus only 19 when he got his degree. His “3 year” National Service immediately after this ended up being just 6 months, at Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough “calculating tensions on ropes” intended to catch planes landing on aircraft carriers. He was made redundant, and the rest of his ‘service’ involved a total of two and a half years teaching maths, a shortage subject. After that, he was allowed to do his teacher training!

Teaching in Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere

Dad’s parents Sydney and Emily Howes duly arrived in Tunbridge Wells as described above.

Tunbridge Wells (view of the station cab rank) 1939?

In the portion of Dad’s ‘Before I forget’ recollections in Cutlock & Co’s possession, he mentions that his mother went out to work for the first time since marriage in 1919, sorting out evacuees billeting in the town.

When the numbers of Sydney’s Clyde Street School pupils dwindled (a good many parents took the children back home), he was sent to look after a school – three classes from London including his own – in Balsham, Cambridgeshire.

The School & Shelter, Balsham Cambs

“By 1943 my parents were back in London, and Father had joined his last school, Hollydale Road (Nunhead).”

From Llanelli to London

At the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Watkins family was living at 69 Walters Road, Llanelly. Mum (Norma) says in her ‘Recollections and Reflections’: “we were travelling in our Morris Eight car when war was declared. We were going to visit my aunt Emma and uncle Owen,” who had bought a greengrocers shop in Barry.

Norma with big sister Irene and their mum, around about this time in Llanelli park

However,

“Very soon after this, much to my mother’s distress, my father applied for the managership of the New Cross branch of the Scottish Legal Insurance Office. He was appointed to this post. Another dramatic change to our lives.

“A few months after my father received the manager’s job of the New Cross Office, I joined Mary Datchelor Girls’ School, a school from London, which had transferred from somewhere in Kent, where it had been during the Battle of Britain. The school was sent to Llanelly, because it was a safer place to be.

“We had Science in the boys school and PT plus music and other subjects in the Girls County. It must have been a horrendous job for all four schools to work out their timetables, but obviously they managed it.”

Born in February 1930, this must have been September 1941 (so not that soon after the outbreak of war) and her parents were now in London. so:

“I went to live with my father’s sister and brother-in-law, aunty Miriam and uncle Will Walters and my sixteen year old cousin Bryn.”

This didn’t work out very well – her aunt suffered from depression and as her bedroom didn’t have a blackout she undressed in the dark. After Christmas 1941 she was billeted elsewhere in the town {4}. In 1943 Norma travelled to London to be with her parents, and to start at the Emergency Mary Datchelor School in Camberwell in September. Again just in time for the doodlebugs and V2s.

Meanwhile older sister Irene (born 1925) had been evacuated to Cardiff for her studies at Furzedown Girls Teacher Training College (based in Streatham, south London). As aunt Emma and uncle Owen weren’t far away in Barry she went to live with them.

Norma and Irene on steps of 111 Pepys Road, August 1942

Initially her father Levi lived in digs in London, and then acquired a flat in Pepys Road, New Cross. They didn’t stay here long, moving on to 42 Waller Road, New Cross, which was Levi’s home until his retirement to Devon.

The 1939 register

It is important to note that when the national register was undertaken on 29th September 1939 evacuation had already started. People may not be where you expect them to be. You can’t assume to find someone where they were later on in the war, either – some of the initial places of evacuation in the south east of England became too close to the continent for safety. This happened for both schools discussed here.

  • Sydney and Emily Howes were at 32 Princes St, Tunbridge Wells.
  • Levi, Mary Ann, Irene and Norma Watkins were at 69 Walters Road, Llanelli.
  • Arthur Howes had presumably reached Dallington by now, but his record is still redacted at August 2019, but that of fellow billetee Reginald Norris is visible below those of Margaret E McL(annahan) Tutton (widowed the previous year) and Hilda P M Bridges (also a widow) at Yew Arch. A further record is unavailable, perhaps of the maid or the youngest Tutton daughter. Sadly Mrs Tutton died in 1942 aged 63, leaving over ten thousand pounds in her will.

Other wartime experiences

Did your relations keep records of what happened to them and their family in the war years? Experiences obviously varied immensely across the country, with many staying put.

Norwich-based relatives, for instance, will have seen a ‘Baedeker Blitz’ in April 1942, and during the war approximately 340 people were killed in the city {5}.

Even those much further field felt the impact. As mentioned in ‘The return and disappearance of the missionary Mays‘, the May family “were presumably due to return [to Britain from India] sometime soon after 1939 but got stuck abroad due to the war.”

Back in Britain, if they could adults left London to stay with relatives or friends (for example Dora Cullum went to stay with an old school friend in Essex).

Cutlock & Co welcomes comments on such memories, in particular concerning cousins and other relatives, near or distant.

Notes

  1. Currently no proof that this got published, but it probably did, sometime from 2006. Addey and Stanhope was one of just two mixed (co-ed) grammar schools in London.
  2. The school his father taught at from 1923 to 1943.
  3. Degree courses were only two years long because that was the allowed length of “deferment” from call-up.
  4. Norma’s recollections on these billets are too personal to publish here.
  5. Both Sides Of The Air War – Norwich In World War Two on Culture24, World War Two Norwich ‘bomb map’ restored on BBC News.

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