Evacuees from Barlby Road School
Fred, Harry, and Ann Lyall were part of the first wave of children to leave their homes in West London for a completely different life in Stoke. The playground of their school in Barlby Road, North Kensington, had already been dug up for use as an air-raid shelter. One day at school they were given a letter for their parents. They would leave London on the 2nd September, 1939. Fred remembered: "On the day before the evacuation we had a dress rehearsal at school. Clothes that would be worn the next day, labels tied onto our coats with our names etc., one gas mask, a suitcase or bag with all the clothes that we would be taking with us and, the most important thing, a pack of sandwiches for the journey. At lunchtime we were not allowed out to play and had to remain in the hall. As we were not able to go home for our usual dinner we all ate our packed lunch, of course Mum was not too pleased as she had to prepare three more packs of food for the next day."
There was discussion about how the children and teachers would be accommodated. It was decided they would use the village hall, but relations were not good between the headteachers, as these sections of the school log book, 1939, reveal.
The children seemed unaware of the conflict and adapted to the strange rural life. They were happy carefree days for most of the children, away from the horrors of war torn London. Another wave of pupils arrived in 1940, including Jim Bird, and his sisters Dorothy and Winnie. The were taken by coach from Notting Hill to Stoke, along with their fellow pupils from Barlby Road. Arriving in the early evening it was already dark, and they were taken to the village hall where refreshments had been laid on. A number of the villagers were waiting at the hall to collect their evacuees but the Birds were among the last to leave. They had been allocated to an elderly couple who were unable to collect them as they were some distance from the hall and they had no transport, when most of the other children had gone off to their billets we were taken by the billeting officer (The Reverend Redman, Baptist Minister) to their new home. Jim remembered: “When we got there an elderly lady opened the door ready to greet her new charges but she was in for a shock when she saw three forlorn little faces looking up at her, I think my eldest sister and I realised all was not well as the billeting officer and the lady were in deep discussion. Apparently two weeks earlier he had asked the lady if she would take any evacuees, she said she would like to take two little girls, the billeting officer said would you take Dorothy James and Winnie Bird, thinking that she was agreeing to take two unrelated girls she said that would be fine, but now there were three little faces looking at her, she said would take all three for that evening but he would have to return the following day to pick me up and find me another billet, as she did not have room for me, when he arrived the following day she said she was not prepared to split up a family so she would get another bed and we could all stay, and stayed we did for over three years,( thanks nan ).”
Jim remembers being allowed to go to Taunton station to meet his parents who were visiting for the weekend: "We were standing on the platform when a troop train pulled in and stopped in the platform. It was full of Americans and all the windows were down, one of the GIs called out to us. He was holding out a tin cup and pointing to a water tap on the wall just behind us. I ran over to him took his cup filled it with water and quickly took it back to him, then we were all scurrying backwards and forwards across the platform filling bottles, tin mugs, billycans. When the train moved off, we were absolutely exhausted, but it was all worth while as we were now loaded with all manner of goodies, wrapped sugar lumps, malted milk tablets, lifesavers, and chewing gum."
A third Barlby Road family was the Andrews. Eva, Ronald, and Laura came by train from Paddington in 1939, and first lived with Miss Winchester in Athelney. They soon moved to Mrs Hector (mother of Cyril & Allan) at Bullplace House, looking down on the railway.
The children enjoyed playing by the railway line, which ran alongside the house. They used to tell the time by the express trains. It was much quicker to walk up and down the line if they were going to Red Hill to pick bluebells, or Athelney to travel to Taunton. One day a railwayman told them to come down to the line the following day dressed in their best clothes. Mrs Hector must have known what was in store because the clothes were laid out ready. When the express came through the railmen stood to attention and the children waved as hard as they could. A window of the train was pulled down and they saw the King & Queen waving back.