World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Gillian Davies 

Evacuation from Leeds. An excerpt from "Thirties Child", the memoirs of Walter Bradbourne

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Walter Bradbourne
Location of story: Leeds, Otley, West Yorkshire
Background to story: Civilian

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Gillian Davies.

Evacuation from Leeds. An excerpt from "Thirties Child", the memoirs of Walter Bradbourne

by
Gillian Davies

I didn't sleep much the last night at home, before my evacuation day. Perhaps it was the uncertain circumstances surrounding this "holiday" adventure. I was awake when Dad came in to see me at around 4am. He gave me a big hug, saying, "Be good son, good luck and be brave." Dad was on early shift at Sammy's (Samuel Ledgard buses). But why should I be brave?

On reflection, it must have been very upsetting for Dad to say goodbye in this manner, knowing that when he returned home from work, I would not be there, nor would he know where I was. I'm so glad that I never had to do anything so devastating and psychologically draining when my two little girls, Gillian and Joanne, were young. There was no counselling for anyone in the war years, people just had to get on with life.

Mam gave me a cal! at about 5.30am. I was soon washed and dressed and downstairs. Mam went through my carrier bag of clothes for me to see what I was taking. It didn't seem much, a paper bag with a string handle, to take on holiday. However she assured me that I had everything that was on the list. She then asked me to repeat my identity card number, which I had been learning parrot fashion for weeks. "KNYF/63/3," I said smartly. She gave me a big hug, "Very good, love." We caught the number 50 bus at about 7.30am and Dot (my older sister) came along to see me off. She was on the afternoon shift at the GPO. The bus was full and I had to stand all the way to Leeds, so I was glad when we arrived at the Town Hall.

When we turned the comer into Calverley Street, we were surprised to see hundreds of adults and children congregating around 30 or so single deck buses. It was absolute chaos. Adults scurried around, children dawdled, worried mothers and harassed officials with clip- boards were trying to sort everyone out and place them on the correct bus. Some children were excited, others, their little faces pale, bemused and obviously afraid. All were clutching an assortment of bags, bundles, and the inevitable gas mask.

It was quite some time before Mam found a lady that had my name on her list. I was "ticked off" and given two luggage labels to write my name and school on. Then, as instructed, Mam fastened one label in my top left buttonhole on my raincoat and the other on my paper carrier bag. Yet another Evacuation Official came and checked me over before disappearing into the crowd. Mam was getting a bit upset by this time; it was 10.30 by the Town Hall clock, over two hours since we had arrived.

Some of the buses were Sammy Ledgard's and I asked Mam if Dad would be here. "No,” she said, "He's on the Bradford service this week."

At last, a somewhat buxom lady shouted for my group to go to bus 15. As we approached we had to form a single file. Mam and Dot gave me a big kiss. I was checked again and the list was ticked as I climbed the bus steps. The two front seats were reserved, one for the teacher and official and the other was stacked high with paper carrier bags similar to mine.
I finished up towards the rear of the bus and was lucky to get a window seat, so I had a good View of Mam and Dot, which I was glad about.

Soon, another boy sat beside me. He was very thin and pale faced and didn't look at all happy. He told me his name was Ray and that his mother had been unable to escort him to town because she had to work. I felt very sorry for him (he had travelled to Leeds with another boy and his mother). Looking around the bus, there were many strange faces. Clearly, not everyone was from Kirkstall Road School, including Ray.

Our destination was unknown. Although Mam and the other parents had repeatedly asked the officials for information, the answer was always the same: "When they arrive at their destination you will be informed."

Drivers were now starting their engines and very slowly the convoy snaked its way past the Civic Hall. I gave Mam and Dot a big wave and they waved back. Both were crying. In fact all the ladies in the crowd we passed were crying. Why? After all, we were only going on holiday weren't we? I thought at first that all the buses were going the same way but they soon started going in different directions. Soon there were only two buses in front of ours and we seemed to be following them.

The teacher came down the bus giving everyone another paper carrier bag. They were from the stack on the front seat and inside, there was some tinned food, a tin of Carnation milk and a bar of chocolate. We were told that this must be handed to the person we were going to live with. I was getting very hungry by now and had a look in my carrier bag. Mam had packed me a large pack of salad sandwiches and some chocolate. I started to eat and asked Ray why he wasn't eating. He told me that his Mam had not had time to pack anything up for him, so I let him have some of mine and he was overjoyed. He started talking more now, before he was very subdued. I also shared my chocolate with him. I felt so sorry for Ray, he obviously needed support and I would have to help him as much as possible.

Our bus started to slow down and I could see that the two in front had also stopped. A teacher from the bus in front came running towards ours and had a chat with our teacher. "Would anyone like to go to the toilet?" she shouted down the bus. All the hands went up! What a great idea! The boys left the bus first and went behind a hedgerow. The girls were taken across the road and into some dense woodland. Our "adventure holiday" had made most of us forget about the call of nature!

We were soon on our way again and passing through a village. I tried to see it's name however all the signposts were down and other identifying names were covered up for security reasons. One of the older boys said it was Pannal, but I was none the wiser.
We stopped again at another village and kids from the first bus got off; it must have been their destination.

Ray and I ate the bars of chocolate from the tinned food carriers, as our journey seemed never ending. Eventually we stopped outside a large building that looked like it was a factory. We were told to get off the bus and line up in twos. It was check time again and the teacher made sure we had our gas masks and personal belongings.

The last few children from the bus in front were now filing through a large doorway a few yards away. Three large stern looking ladies came out of the door and talked to the teacher from our bus. They were wearing yellow armbands that read "Evacuation Billeting Officer". The clip- board with our names on was handed over and we were told we would be following the other children shortly. As we started to move towards the large doors, Ray and I were last in line; it was the way we had filed off the bus. On entering the building, I was surprised to see iron railings on each side of us and there was a lot of noise ahead, shouting and general commotion. We were lead into a clearing that was almost circular: it reminded me of the circus ring I had seen when Mam and Dad took me to the circus on Woodhouse Moor. Men and women were shouting and pointing from the other side of the railings at the children in front of us. "I'll take that one", "I’ll have her", "I only want one, not two", "I want that lad,” "I’ll take that girl but not her sister," and so it went on.

Eventually those chosen were led away with their prospective foster parents, though many were in tears, especially where brother and sister had been parted. Meanwhile Ray and I and two girls were asked to walk around the ring again, being the only ones not to be picked. It would appear that nobody wanted us as the four of us were led away to a comer of the building where we joined other children that had also not been chosen.

We sat on a type of bench seat, raised up above the ring. I looked round at the two girls that nobody wanted; they were sisters, both had runny noses and wore steel rimmed spectacles. Some of the lads had spotty faces and I wondered if these were the reasons for not being picked - but Ray and I had none of these features, so what was wrong with us?

We were glad that there was a toilet near to where we were sitting, as we were able to get a drink from the tap in there by cupping our hands together, the first drink we had since leaving home. It wasn't that long before more men and women started to fill the outside of the ring. I looked in my carrier for my remaining sandwich. I soon found it, along with another bar of chocolate. Mam must have packed two. I put the chocolate back to have later and Ray and I had half a sandwich each, which we were both ready for; it had been a long day and it wasn't over yet.

Some more children were led into the ring, just as we had been. We had a very good view of the proceedings from our vantage point. The evacuees started walking round the ring amidst all the shouting. The older boys were chosen first by men who were obviously farmers, then the older girls were chosen by the women. There were fierce arguments between both men and women, pushing each other and shouting such things as, "I said I'd have that one before you did." Two women were almost coming to blows over one child and it was only the intervention of two billeting officers that prevented a fight.

We both watched in total amazement at this awful spectacle. One little girl remained standing there, alone. Everyone else had been chosen this time except her. The tears began to well up and she sobbed and sobbed. A lady took pity on her however and she was led away by her new "Mum". I was beginning to have grave doubts about this so- called holiday now. Then again, Mam had said that I would be OK and she was never wrong; I had great faith in her. On the other hand, Dad had told me to be brave, which made me worry a bit.

Soon everyone had left the cattle market (for now I know that is what it was) and the three Billeting Officers came over to those of us that were left. They told us we were in Otley, though none of us were any the wiser. I had never heard of Otley before; the time that the bus had taken to get us here made it seem as though we were a hundred miles from home. Of course I now know that the bus had gone via Wetherby and Harrogate to arrive there. We were checked again and then lined up in the now customary twos before being led out to a waiting bus. I think there were about thirty of us and we all boarded the bus along with the Billeting Officers.

After a short ride of about ten minutes, the bus stopped and ten children and a Billeting Officer got off. Another ten minutes journey and this was repeated. Our ride was much longer but soon, the inevitable happened and we were off the bus. We stood on the grass verge whilst the Billeting Officer checked her list again. Looking around, the place seemed OK with lots of trees and fields. We were soon walking up a road that led into an estate of private houses. The Billeting Officer would leave us waiting in suspense at each garden gate whilst she knocked on the house door and inquired in a stem voice, "Will you take an evacuee?" She was quite intimidating in her manner, buxom, and wore a hat with a large feather in it very much like an Austrian Tyrol forester!

The first few houses were unable to take any of us, for whatever reason, and the Billeting Officer became somewhat annoyed and started telling people that it was their duty to help the war effort. We fared better in the next street as six of our party were taken in. Ray and I found ourselves last in line again and we were feeling very tired now. Both my hands and my fingers were sore and painful from the string handles on my carrier bags. I pulled my coat sleeves down to cover my hands to try and protect them a bit, but the string kept slipping back. Only one evacuee got a home in the next street, leaving just the three of us. Soon there was just Ray and me.

We walked up and down the next street without success and I could see that Ray was getting upset. He was almost in tears, his bottom tip starting to curl out, so I put my arm around him and said, "Don't worry Ray, if nobody wants us they will have to send us home." With that he cheered up a bit.

It looked as though we were going to be unlucky again in the next street, after six refusals, however it looked more promising when we got to number 8. There was a long discussion and I could hear bits of the conversation about whether one or two could be taken. I feared we would be split up, so when the Billeting Officer said, "Right you two, you will be staying here," it was such a relief. I don’t think we could have gone much further without collapsing.

We both walked slowly down the garden path towards the front door. The lady of the house didn't look at all welcoming as she received the documentation from the Billeting Officer (who left soon after, bidding us goodbye as she went). We entered the hallway and the door was slammed shut behind us. It was clear that we had been taken in under duress. She read us the "riot act" and no mistake; her index finger pointed at us both menacingly. We were not to enter the front room at any time, the sitting room only with permission and must remain seated in the kitchen until told otherwise.

She took our carrier bags and emptied the contents onto the kitchen table whilst Ray and I were still standing on the door- mat waiting to be told where we could put our coats and gas masks. There was a coat stand next to us in the hail, with a mirror in the centre. What a sad state we both looked. We had chocolate stains around our mouths; my cap was twisted round to the left, with most of my hair to the right. Neither of us had been able to wash property since leaving home at 5am. We felt and looked grubby as we stood watching Mrs Rudd (I think that was her name) sorting through our belongings. All the tinned food was put away in a cupboard, and then I was mortified when she ate my bar of chocolate.

Footnote:
Dad was about seven or eight years old when he was evacuated. He and Ray continued to be mistreated by Mrs Rudd. They were often left hungry (despite the increased rations she received for them) and locked away in their bedroom. This culminated in them running away and living rough on the steep escarpment and heath-land that towers above Otley (known as the Chevin). A kindly policeman apprehended them during a desperate food foraging expedition into the town. He took them to the station and gave them a decent meal and then contacted their parents. The authorities dealt with Mrs Rudd.

Dad and Ray kept loosely in touch for a while after their traumatic time together. A short time later he saw a newspaper photograph of Ray with his Mum (she had remarried) and he thought they moved away from Leeds soon after. He never heard of him again.
Dad passed away in February 2005.


Pr-BR