Evacuation Ends! By Artin Cornish (supplied by Jackie Jude of Chelmsford Library on behalf of Artin Cornish and has been added to the BBC.CO.UK site "WW2 People's War" http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A4060964
Artin Cornish, aged 75 (in 2005) has agreed that this information can also be included on the WGS site. Over the phone he told me: West Ham Grammar (A Roman Catholic School) was effectively moved to Wellingborough. Artin mentioned the names of a number of teachers - the Head was Dr. Girley, Mr. Brosman taught English, Mrs Gould taught French. Dr. H.O'Connor taught Latin, there was also a Mr. Duffey and Mr. Crosby, the teacher referred to below who died was nicknamed Froggy. Artin believed that 120 boys were evacuated. He emphasised that, although they used the premises at Wellingborough Grammar School, they were taught separately and didn't mix - certainly he couldn't recall the names of any of our teachers and if he had been taught by Jake or Spike, he would have remembered! West Ham boys would meet up daily at Wellingborough School and have some lessons in their Hall (a class at each end) and in a prefabricated building outside, but they would then walk to WGS for most of the teaching , though he thinks they went to the High School for Art lessons
As far as I can recall, I only returned to London in August 1941 for just a few days as there were still air raids going on from time to time, although the Blitz itself was over. I think I was only there long enough to perhaps get my new school uniform and then I remember being put on the train to go to Wellingborough where I was met by Mr. and Mrs. Catling and their son Roy. I remember it was a long walk from Wellingborough railway station to Oxford Road where I was to live for the next 18 months or so. This was a small town and quite a different environment from living on the farm. Nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. Catling were very kind and again a Christian couple, he in fact was a lay preacher in the Methodist church, although his actual job was as a local civil servant. Roy, with whom I got on very well, was younger than me. I think he would be about 9 years old at the time and went to the local school. We would have to go to the Methodist service in the little chapel around the corner from the house, which I found rather strange, being quite different from Church of England and being in the choir at Churchill. The school I attended was West Ham Grammar. St. Bonaventure’s was also evacuated, and we had to share the facilities at Wellingborough Public School and Wellingborough Grammar School. We always used to assemble at Wellingborough Public School and then we would go either into classrooms at the Public School or walk up to the Grammar School. Perhaps half way through the day we would have to go back to the Public School to one of their classrooms.
Sometimes when changing from one school to another we would meet another class en route and a certain amount of bullying would take place, the older boys chasing younger boys. I remember being chased up a side street and rescued by a postman from an older boy who was trying to hit me over the head with a satchel. All part of public school life! As we were a football playing school we used the rather nice playing fields of the Public School because the Wellingborough Grammar School played rugby. One rather sadistic master we had at the time ( I can’t remember his actual name) if we did something wrong would call the boy up and make him stand against the wall holding his hands in the air until he couldn’t hold them up any longer. As soon as they dropped he would shout “ put them up “ This would go on for a few minutes before he was allowed to sit down again. He later died in an accident and we had to line the road as his hearse went by and raise our caps. There was a six foot Latin master called Mr O’Connor who would stride into the room, slapping a cane on his trouser leg as he came in and frequently caned boys if they had not done their homework properly or learned their Latin verbs or whatever. It did encourage one to attend to one’s Latin homework! As a school we seemed to have no association with the Wellingborough schools with which we shared facilities I expect they regarded us as second class citizens. In fact I can’t remember having a particular mate at school during that period. I suppose partially because we were scattered about and it was quite a long walk from the school to where I was billeted. My main companion was the son of the house, Roy. I played with him in the garden, we would go out as a family at weekends perhaps for a walk, and I would go to the cinema on a Saturday morning, sometimes with Roy. In the evenings I would do my homework and after tea on winter evenings I remember we would all sit down as a family and work on making a rag mat. These were made from cut up pieces of material which we would thread through the weave of a canvas which was stretched on pieces of wood. We used something like a crochet tool. I think lots of people used to do this at the time.
In the summer of 1942 we all went swimming and it was on a lovely evening that I became ill. I had terrible pains in my stomach and initially it was thought that I had caught some sort of chill, but later on a doctor was called. At half past ten at night I was rushed by ambulance to Northampton General Hospital with acute appendicitis. After having my appendix removed I spent ten days in hospital and was then transferred to a convalescent home for another ten days at Naseby, where there was a battle in the 1600s. While I was in hospital my mother and my Aunt Nell came all the way from London to visit me. In those days appendicitis was quite serious and often people would die if their appendix burst. I went back to school before the end of term but was not allowed to play sports until the autumn term.
We used to have long summer holidays and rather than going back to London, other than for a brief spell, I went to Lowfield Farm for most of the summer before returning to Wellingborough.
Wellingborough itself was regarded as a safe area and that was why we were evacuated there but strangely enough, whilst I was on my summer holidays at Lowfield Farm, a stray bomber overflew Wellingborough and dropped a stick of bombs. It was a Saturday morning and Roy was injured on his way to the cinema as a bomb blew out a window, badly cutting his chin. I would probably have been with him had I been in Wellingborough. As a consequence Roy was still being looked after and I could not return to the Catling’s. For a fortnight or so I stayed across the road from the house in a block of flats with one of the teachers’ families. This was very nice because it was a lady teacher, who was very kind and in fact she had visited me whilst I was in hospital earlier in the year bringing me some tinned peaches, which was a great treat. However as soon as I was able to return to the Catling’s I remained for the rest of that term. In December it was decided that it was safe enough for the school to return from evacuation back to London, as the raids had more or less ceased apart from the occasional spasmodic raid at night.
That really ends my story of evacuation but the strange thing was that my mother, now being a widow, was considered to be a single person. As a consequence people of her age had to do some form of National Service and so she was called up becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries which was evacuated down to Boscombe near Bournemouth.
So I found myself back in London, happily staying with my Grandmother in Rotherhithe and in turn my mother had to come back to London and find accommodation in West Ham if I was to be able to continue at West Ham Grammar School. of course I wished to do so and eventually we found somewhere in Upton Park where I continued to live for many years after. Initially I had to commute from Rotherhithe to Forest Gate, taking the train from Rotherhithe to Whitechapel and changing there to travel to Upton Park, walking from the station to my school in Forest Gate. My mother still had to work and when we did settle down she was having to dash out at 8 o’clock in the morning to go up to the West End where she had been transferred to the Ministry Offices. I would go off to school and come back in the evening, wash up the breakfast things, get things ready for tea, light the fire in the winter and do my homework before she got home at about half past six or quarter to seven. Once a week I used to do the shopping which wasn’t very arduous as there were hardly any decisions to be made because most things were on ration so you ‘got your ration’ and anything else that they might have in. Of course, my mother would bring a few things in that she was able to get during her lunch hour. At that time there were very few air raids and those that we did have were in the evening or at night, in which case we would go down to the shelter until the ‘all clear’ went. It wasn’t until 1944 when the Doodlebugs, or flying bombs, started to come across and initially we used to get a warning when they were coming, and then they came in such profusion that there was a constant warning. Then the four occupants of the house, the gentleman and lady from upstairs and my mother and I would actually sleep on the bunks in the air raid shelter, which was in the cellar of the house. One end of the cellar would be full up with coal and at the other end were the bunks and other bits of rubbish that might have been stored there. Not a particularly healthy environment, but we seemed to survive.
When there was a raid during the night I was not expected at school until 10 o’clock. This was a concession which was made when there was a constant alert and we would go to school regularly at 10 o’clock with lessons being held in the cellars of The Friary next door to the school, which was not very satisfactory. As far as I can recall this situation lasted for two or three months until the Allied Armies captured the flying bomb launching sites in Holland. I recall on one occasion sitting upstairs in the living room hearing one of these flying bombs approaching and tearing downstairs. I just managed to reach the steps of the cellar when the bomb exploded about a quarter of a mile away, near enough to bring down part of the living room ceiling and deposit a great lump of plaster on the seat where I had been sitting. If I had stayed there it would have given me something of a headache I should think, but apart from a couple of broken windows I don’t think any substantial damage was sustained.
Flying bombs were rather eerie things. You would hear their very noisy engines getting louder and louder as they approached, then they would cut out and there would be this long silence until you heard the bang and you knew they had exploded. If you heard it you knew you were all right and someone else had been unfortunate. Flying bombs were followed by the V2 rockets where you got absolutely no warning at all, just hearing a very loud explosion in which case, obviously, you were still alive. Unfortunately these continued until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
What a celebration that was, with bonfires and people singing and dancing in the streets. By this time I had been working for seven months as in October 1944, after just over two years at grammar school, my Grandfather had phoned to say that the firm for which my father had worked needed a junior in their City office. He felt that I should avail myself of this opportunity as, in his opinion, the war couldn’t last much longer, as after the First World War the troops came back very quickly. I would be leaving school at a time when this would be happening and it would be very difficult for me to find a job. However, unlike the First World War, National Service continued and the men were reduced and demobbed much more gradually. Nevertheless I took his advice and so without any qualifications I started work as a junior clerk in the City office of a small stevedoring company in Leadenhall Street.
I had good intentions of going to evening classes to continue my education but of course that is the beginning of another chapter of my life.
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