Memories shared by wartime evacuees in Lowestoft
PUBLISHED: 16:00 13 June 2015
© Archant 2015
During the darkest days of the Second World War, 3,500 children and teachers from Lowestoft were evacuated to the Midlands. It was a period in their lives that will never be forgotten.
On Sunday, June 2, 1940, Lowestoft schoolchildren of all ages were uprooted from their homes as the threat of war moved towards the east coast.
About 3,500 children and their teachers went to school early on a Sunday morning in June to gather and eventually be bussed down to Lowestoft Central Station.
As they lined up on Lowestoft station 75 years ago, little did they know it would lead their lives being “changed forever.”
Some thought that they were heading for an adventure, many were scared, while others were tearful as they left their parents and guardians behind and embarked on a train journey to the Midlands.
Five trains took the youngsters, aged from three upwards, to the relative safety of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. While many later came back, some left the town to never return.
Memories were recalled, stories shared and pictures viewed as a 75th anniversary reunion was held at the weekend. More than 60 wartime evacuees and their partners gathered at the Stella Maris Hall in Lowestoft on Saturday for their yearly reunion, organised by the Lowestoft Evacuees Committee.
The day featured a short service of thanksgiving in the Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church. Here, the deputy mayor of Lowestoft, Malcolm Cherry, said: “You departed this town in five different trains, under the welfare of your teachers and their assistants with the express permission of your parents. It must have been a bewildering time for most of you. Your lives were changed forever.”
On Tuesday, June 2 – 75 years on from the day the children waved goodbye to their families – some of the Lowestoft evacuees lined up at the town’s station once more.
They were joined by Lowestoft mayor Stephen Ardley and Lowestoft Evacuees Committee members to highlight a remarkable period in their lives. Committee secretary Chris Brooks said: “I think it’s been really such a significant day for them.”
Brian Baxter, 81, from Norwich, said; “I don’t remember too much about the day as I was only six. We went to Glossop and although I did not stay there until the end of the war, as I came home earlier than others, we still meet up with the family we were billeted with all those years ago.”
Former Gorleston Road School pupil, Mary Draper (nee James) was five when she was sent to Chesterfield with her sister Violet James, who was three – and the youngest to travel on the five trains from Lowestoft.
Mrs Draper recalled: “We were given special dispensation as our dad was in the Home Guard, so Mr and Mrs Bacon took us into their home in Barlborough – they were marvellous to us.”
Geoff Durrant, 79, of Orwell Drive, Lowestoft was four years and ten months old when he boarded the train. The Lovewell Road pupil went to Glossop along with his older brother Malcolm, who was eight.
“When we got to Glossop we were taken to this big open market – it was like a big Woolworths. We were allowed to go pick one toy or book and wait in this room until the foster parents came and chose who they wanted, one by one. We were there for three years.”
By attending the evacuees reunions, Mr Durrant added: “I have learnt a lot from this association, they have really brought it out for me as I was such a young boy back then.” So much so that he returned to Glossop for the first time in 2006/7, and has since researched the history of the family who took the brothers in – eventually tracking down the grave of the lady householder who looked after them for three years. Mr Durrant now regularly returns to visit that grave in Glossop each year.
Dorothy Boggis (nee Rushmer), 87, was 12 when she boarded the train in June 2, 1940 with her younger sister Helena, 10. “When we boarded the train, it felt like we were going on an adventure. But we only lasted two weeks with our first foster parents as their sons were cruel to us.” Eventually the sisters, who attended Church Road Senior Girls, were moved to a different home with a much kinder family.
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