AN EVACUEE'S STORY
On the outbreak of the second world war, children were evacuated from cities to the countryside. Some took part in official evacuations, whereby whole schools were evacuated. In Griffydam, schools from Birmingham took up residence in the area. Some children were evacuated to families, friends and relations on a private basis. Some evacuees stayed for short periods and many soon returned home. Others remained in the local area after the war. This is the story of one such evacuee who came to Griffydam from London and who remained here after the war.
Owen* was born in London within the sound of Bow Bells in 1936. He lived in a flat. His father was a Welshman and his mother came from Ilkeston. His father worked as a lift attendant in one of the big hotels. He remembers eating black grapes, a luxury in those days. His father went into the forces (he survived the war). Later he married again and lived in Leeds. He had a sister called Maisie who stayed in London with their mother. He and his younger brother were sent to live with relatives in Ilkeston. There were problems there and he was sent to a Children’s home in Ravenstone. When he was 5 or 6 years old he moved to Griffydam and was boarded on a farm in Griffydam. He stayed there throughout the war and for the rest of his school life.
He attended the Infant School in Griffydam which had opened in 1936. He remembers being in Miss Johnson’s class and later Miss Wright’s class. In 1944, he moved to Griffydam Junior/Secondary school in School Lane. The head was “Daddy” Elcock. During his time there, he remembers other evacuees who also lived on the farm: Henry Wells, Walter Sibberts and Alan Zelkin (all from Birmingham). He walked to school along Bottom Road, past a couple of cottages, across a field and over a stile. Once he was playing football in the field. He left his coat on a fence and it was chewed up by a cow.
On the way to school, he walked past Griffy Well. “Griffy Well was a hole in the ground the size of a rug with a block of sandstone in front of it. In the sandstone there was a dark stain which was reputed to be the blood of the griffin, that the knight had killed. There was brickwork surrounding the well. The path to the well sloped down. The well was facing you as you approached it.
Miss Davey lived next to the well. She kept chickens in her house.”
After the war, in 1947, he transferred to Broom Leys School, which was a secondary, technical, modern school after 1944 reorganisation. He travelled to school by school bus. After one year in a lower stream, he moved up a class. He particularly remembers Miss Dalby who taught English. He enjoyed her classes. He was good at recitation. As he did not plan to stay on at school, he again found himself in a lower stream. He left school aged 15 years. Pupils remaining after 15 years of age were able to study for a school certificate. He did gardening at Broom Leys School where he learnt how to take cuttings. Gardening was an important lesson. He played rugby there. The headmaster wore a cap and gown. You were not allowed to walk on the grass and you had to walk anti-clockwise around the grounds. You were not allowed to run. Indoors you had to keep to the left. The headmaster was handy with his cane.
Working on the Farm
Whilst living on the farm, Owen* remembers helping out with the livestock. He was milking cows at the age of eleven. “When I lived on the farm, they bought a horse from up the Forest somewhere, where all the fences were stone walls. She would walk through a hedge… I did get kicked by a horse when I was quite young, because I can remember them carrying me off the field. It kicked me here (on the chest). I can’t remember what happened after that… I cut a finger chopping hay. There was a box with two big blades which went round on a wheel which cut the hay and I caught my finger on that. I cut another finger in the “pulper” which chopped up the mangolds and turnips. You turned a handle and tried to push the turnips on to the blades and I got a bit too close. It was hard work. There wasn’t always enough room for us all to sit down for a meal. So I stood up. A lot of the time we had three of us (evacuees).”
He used to go round Griffydam on a bicycle delivering milk before school. He also remembers delivering milk with a horse and cart. He measured out milk from a churn. A pound jam jar was equal to half a pint of milk.
After school there was always work to do on the farm: hedge-cutting, ditches to clean, carting muck, mucking out the calves, milking the cows (morning and night). In winter, “Coming home from school we had to pulp the mangolds and turnips and chop the hay and mix it up in a big scuttle, to feed the cows. From May to October, I used to take the cows out every night from 6 o’clock until 10 o’clock, along the Top Road, either to Stordon Lane or Osgathorpe Lane or Joe Roses (Top Road) to eat the grass by the side of the road.”
Memories of the Village
He remembers some of the families who he delivered milk to: Wesleys, Wardles and Chadwicks on Bottom Road. On Middle Road he delivered to Saddingtons in the Post Office. They had a disabled lodger, a member of the Rowell family. There was also Mrs Brooks who sold sweets. Meakins lived in cottages opposite the chapel (no longer there). He delivered to the Platts family, Sanderson’s and another Platts family as well as the Griffin Inn on Main Street (now Elder Lane). He remembers getting into trouble at the pub. “I used to take the milk and go down the side of the pub to the back door. There was a piece of wire coming out of the wall and down to the ground. I used to bat it with my hand. It turned out to be the earth wire to the radio.” He was told off for doing that. He also delivered on Top Road to Darbys, Hills and Kings (Billy).
On Top Road, Jack Harris had a shop next door to the Johnsons. He had a parrot which used to sit outside on a perch. There were several other local shops: Mrs Haywood kept a shop on Nottingham Road, there was a bakery on School Lane (Richards), Edgar Mee was a blacksmith in Peggs Green. The Co-op delivered to houses in the village. The Co-op lady, from Swannington, came round on her bike and collected your order for delivery. The local sweep called James “Sooty” Hall lived on Top Road. He had a daughter Ivy who married a Chadwick. His son Percy Hall was killed on Nicklinson’s hill (Rempstone Road). (He was pushing his bike up the hill.)
He remembers that during the war, the Home Guard met in two Nissen Huts at the back of the Waggon and Horses pub on Rempstone Road. Jack Ford was in charge. One hut was for storage and the other was a meeting room with accommodation. After the war, squatters lived in the huts.
The Horsley family lived at the end of Elder Lane. He remembers Bronwyn Horsley. (The family went to Africa possibly Rhodesia. They returned to Worthington at a later date.)
Few people had cars. Albert Henshaw and Jack Ford had cars, also Wesley: “He was always mackling things up. He once brought some gunpowder home and blew a drain up. He was always mending things…. He had a car… an old saloon car. He wanted a push down the Tentas. I gave him a push and his car started and I daren’t let go. I was running behind and I had to let go in the end.”
Owen* recalled some of his contemporaries: Chris Richards (Robbie), Trevor Sanderson, (Bant), William Wilton (Piggy), Owen* was called Cat. He also remembers Eric King and Billy King. He used to go along Stordon Lane with Eric King ferreting. There was a rabbit warren on the corner. They also went along the Cunneries. The Cunneries was a playground for the kids where he recalls seeing glow-worms on a log. They used to go “pig nutting”. They would dig them out of the ground and eat them raw. There were lots of mounds there, all uniform in size. (Probably the remains of a Cunnery” or rabbit warren).
Vincent Atkins’s father, who lived on Lower Brand, was a foreman at the quarry. He came to school one day with a skull. They were blasting at Breedon Hill Quarry when they exposed some graves. His Dad brought the skull home and Vincent brought it to school.
After he finished school, Owen* went to live on the Tentas and on Bottom Road. Later he went to live in Peggs Green (possibly Olga Terrace.) “As a teenager I was working at the Pipeyard (Newbold). I stayed there until I was 18.”
“I used to go to Coalville, sometimes, to the Pictures. There was a bus service, something like 8.30 in the morning, 1.30 bus coming back and an 8 o’clock bus and the last bus was 10 past 10.”
From 1954-56 Owen* was in the army, doing his National Service. “I was a good soldier. Everything was so easy for me. I’d done everything and worked hard. Some of the other lads who’d had a proper Mam and Dad and been looked after found it difficult sometimes. It came so easy. I went to the Sudan, I went to Cyprus. We were fighting Eoka. Cyprus was half Greek and half Turkish and the Greeks wanted to take it over. We lost quite a few men actually. It wasn’t a pretend war. (It was a guerrilla war). I never got my medals for being in the army. I should have had my “Active Service Medal” for being in the war. Not that I want the medals but I’ve got two great grandsons now. “
After National Service he came back to Griffydam and got married.
“I finished up working for Hoover. Hoover was one of the best training grounds, very strict. You had to go on a 6 weeks course. You got to live in a hotel. I went to Nottingham. You did 5 and a half days of training and teaching. You were marked not only on your mark record but on your personal behaviour in the hotel. I got told to get my hair cut when I was there. They were that critical. … I was trained as a service engineer. You had to go round and do people’s washers and clean carpets with a vacuum cleaner and tip the muck out to show how it worked. “
“I went to work with John Randall’s (in Coalville). He had 3 shops at the time. One by the Belvoir Road, Railway Crossing, (Ironmongers), a Record Shop on the High Street and a furniture shop down Ashby Road. He had a Ford Zephyr Convertible. He wanted me to do something. He said, you’ll have to take my car. I went straight home and took the wife and kids for a ride.”
“Years ago, the owner of the Redhall Garage had a Rolls Royce. When I was working for Hoover, I called in one day and the exhaust had gone. I said that I had a big meeting in Leicester. He offered to lend me his Rolls Royce to drive to Leicester but I said “No, thank you!”
“The village is hardly recognisable now. The houses have had so much added on. A lot of houses have gone.”
This is an edited conversation between Owen* (not his real name) and members of the Griffydam History Group on 10th October 2019.