River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Continuing Story of an Evacuee

December 2002

The concluding part

So my brother and I found ourselves in a depressed state. We were unhappy with the Foxes, our surrogate parents, and we had just seen, but failed to contact, our parents when they made their abortive attempt to find us. Things looked black during the following week, the weather was less clement but we were still encouraged/persuaded to stay out of the house at other than meal times and bedtime. We would go and call for our sister, as a way of breaking the monotony, and for me to have someone besides my six-year-old brother to play with and to commiserate with. Where she was staying there was another girl about our age, the daughter of the lady looking after my sister, so we were all able to play together and sometimes we were invited indoors. This woman was very nice to us all and did much to restore our spirits.

We carried on in this way for the next two or three weeks, going to school, walking around outside with hands in pockets and kicking stones or visiting my sister. One day we came home from school to find a woman from the local authority waiting for us. We were instructed to collect our things because we were being moved! We had no idea what was going on but we certainly had no objections. So we got our few bits and pieces, they left plenty of room in our small suitcase, and piled into an old Morris Ten. (I was always good at recognising cars). After a fairly short journey, during which we were told that we were going to another house where we would be reunited with our sister, we arrived at 91 Wilmington Way in the Withdene area of Brighton.

91 Wilmington Way was a large semi-detached house of a style popular in the late twenties-early thirties, it was built on the side of a hill so that we had to walk up the front path and up some steps. There we were met by Mrs Bartlett who stood waiting at the open door with a beaming smile on her rather round face. In her mid fifties, I would guess, and just a little over weight, she presented a welcoming picture. She spoke briefly with our driver whilst we started talking to sister who was already there. We were shown to our room which was sheer luxury to us. A well lit room with a large soft bed, nice curtains and bedroom furniture, far better than we had at home, and there was a big well equipped modern bathroom just next door.

It transpired that the woman who had been looking after our sister had complained to the authorities about the way in which my brother and I were being treated and had also argued that the three of us should be together if possible. The result was that there had been some juggling around of evacuees and Mrs Bartlett had agreed to take all three of us. What a change it was for me and my brother. Mrs Bartlett was a widow and, whilst not one to stand for any nonsense, she could not do enough for us. Not only was the food good and the house very comfortable but she tried to do things to keep us amused. Because of the blackout, going out in the evening was considered too dangerous, more from the risk of road accident than anything. She permitted us to listen to our programmes on the wireless, she allowed us to bring a friend home and provided board games etc. She also introduced us to stamp collecting, which had been a hobby of her late husband. She really was a remarkable lady. Her son, a jovial round man in his early thirties, also lived in the house. He was a bookmaker and he had a 22hp Ford V8 and in my mind that showed old Mr Fox and his Austin Seven. I remember wishing we could be in the Ford one day and overtake Mr Fox and wave at him out of the rear window, but we never did. We have very pleasant memories of our time with Mrs Bartlett. The evenings round the fire, collecting conkers on the hill in Withdene Park, riding in the Ford V8.

Sometime towards the end of October our parents came to visit, of course by this time we had established communication and exchanged letters. Mrs Bartlett made them very welcome and my father, who had always had a keen interest in horse racing, found much to talk about with the young Mr Bartlett. Come Christmas we were all beginning to think: War! What war? Nothing much had happened as far as we were concerned, things were fairly quiet in France, there had been some tragic losses at sea and some naval action, most notable the sinking of the British battleship Royal Oak and the German battleship Graf Spee, the latter was of particular interest because of the way in which it was drawn out over several days so that everybody, including us kids, was glued to the radio listening for news. There had been the occasional air raid warning but not of any consequence. So it was decided that we should go home for Christmas.

My mother lived for her family and during the four months that we had been away she had been at a complete loss. She was delighted to have us home again and it proved to be what was probably our best Christmases ever. When it came to the time for us to return to Brighton our mother was most unhappy and, despite the very comfortable position that we now had with Mrs Bartlett, we were not very keen to go. There's no place like home. So, after much heart searching, it was decided that we would not go back. A decision backed up by the rather ridiculous argument that 'if we were all going to be killed we would all be killed together'. So we never did see Mrs Bartlett again and after a few exchanges of letters we lost contact. She may have written to us after we moved and the letter was never delivered, it may have been returned to her if she did. I know that she would have been wondering how we had fared during the blitz but, I suppose because life was rather hectic and we had greater worries, we never did contact her again, a matter which I have felt guilty over in later life.

For a time after returning home things were great, there was still little evidence of a war going on. At that time there were no schools open within miles. We were not alone in returning to London, however, a few children started to drift back, encouraged by the lack of air raids. A local teacher ran classes in her home, which we attended, two afternoons a week. But, then, as regular readers will know, the war started in earnest for us. The bombing got uncomfortably close, we were driven out of our shelter by fire, on one occasion, before the house was effectively destroyed at another time and we had to move, which caused further disruption to our schooling.

Despite the Blitz and the later onslaught of V weapons, both of which produced many narrow escapes for our family, the idea of evacuation was never seriously considered again.

Ron Watts

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