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Evacuees make contact with Hebden Bridge family

Thanks to the Internet and some local detective work, two families are back in contact after 56 years

Reflections on Evacuation

Geoff and I came from a family where spare pennies were scarce and we had not been used to holidays or leaving our immediate environment.

When I saw the breathtaking countryside surrounding Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire with its fantastic hills and views, it was something I found very hard to understand. I remember my childlike mind thinking perhaps I had died and gone to heaven because this place seemed so much more beautiful than anything I had ever set eyes on before. The family I stayed with were kind to me and accepted that there was a war on and it was their duty to help out with evacuees. After the war we exchanged a few letters but then lost touch.

However, the family had three daughters (two still alive and in their 70s), and the good news is that, thanks to brother Geoff, Frances Robinson of the HEBWEB and the internet, last year we had a really joyous reunion after 55 years. The strange thing is we found we were still the same people after all that time, still had the same characters, still behaved in the same way. They were so pleased to see me again, and I them, and I think they regard me as their long lost younger sister. We plan to meet twice a year now.

We were apprehensive and saddened to be separated from our beloved family, but let me set the scene as to what had been happening at that time for you. It was 1944, London was war weary and we had already been evacuated as a family in 1939/40 to Swanbourne in Bucks and had our lives disrupted once.

There had been a nightly blitz on London and none of us knew whether we would awaken in the morning and find ourselves alive or not. We had seen buildings, houses and shops devastated, watched dead bodies being brought out, had got used to seeing roads and paths covered in glass and shrapnel, with other children we had to suffer the indignity of wearing gasmasks in school (whenever school was open that was).

Our father was away fighting in the Army (all eligible men were called up) and our poor mother was left, like so many other mothers, to look after four children (aged 13, 8, 5 and 3). She explained to me (then aged 8) that she thought it best for my brother Geoff and I to leave our home for a safer place where we would not be caught up in the daily bombing any more and where we could get on with our lives until the war was over. She said my 13 year old brother was needed at home as he was now the man of the family, and my 3 year old brother was too young to leave her, but she thought that Geoff and I could cope with evacuation and we would have one another for company and comfort.

She expected us to be billeted in the same home together. In fact Geoff was billeted two houses away from me. We were not picked out at random but seemed to have been designated to our host families before our arrival.

I remember that schooling in Hebden Bridge seemed to be to a different curriculum to schooling in London and when I returned home it took me a little time to catch up with children I had left behind (so London children obviously still managed to absorb things even though their schooling was somewhat erratic and sometimes took place in pupils’ homes).

When I was older my mother told me she hated sending us away but she thought she was doing what was best for us and that she herself had the satisfaction of knowing that at least two of her children would survive the war and that we had one another. In retrospect, knowing that I would have survived the war anyway, I would have preferred to have stayed at home with the family unit but I know our mother only had our welfare at heart. I imagine I would have made the same decision in her place. Should an occasion arise like that again it would break my heart to see my grandchildren evacuated but it would depend on so many circumstances and we all have to act as we think best at the time.

Looking back, my evacuation experience has shaped the rest of my life I think. Although I have three brothers I think there is a special relationship between Geoff and myself which stems from that experience I expect. Perhaps I still feel big sister responsibility for him, just as I felt then, who knows. I do love the countryside quite passionately and hate to see it spoiled.

As an 8 year old in Hebden Bridge, it seems unbelievable now but I was allowed to roam wherever I wished and loved it. Now that I am aged 65 I still love to wander about on my own, am not at all unhappy with my own company and never feel lonely. When I look around and see people who never seem capable of, or want to do this, I am grateful that I do. On the negative side, I once read in an article that Michael Aspel, the television personality, who had also been an evacuee, said that he never liked to remain away from home for more than a few days at a time and he wondered whether this was due to his wartime evacuation. I am like that too and I don’t seem to have the burning desire to travel great distances that a lot of my friends have. Maybe my brother will own up to this also. Is this due to our wartime experiences I wonder?

Pauline White

Pauline’s brother, Geoff writes: …

I remember that fateful morning in July 1944 as if it were only yesterday.

I was just 5 years old and had gone to sleep in the cold and damp candle lit Anderson Shelter in the back garden, but had woken up inside the house, in the makeshift “Blanket Bed” that my mother had made for me under the kitchen table. (She had always considered this to be the safest place in the house during air raids as it provided the best protection from collapsed ceilings and broken window glass. Indeed, during the night the air-raid sirens had wailed and many bombs had dropped, causing much damage and destruction everywhere. We were lucky though as the bombs had only blown one or two of our windows in and the brown adhesive paper that criss-crossed the window glass had done its job well by preventing the glass from shattering into dangerous shards.

Inside the house my mother was busy cleaning up while my sister, Pauline, who was nine years old, played with my three year old brother, Raymond. I also had an elder brother, Peter, who was fourteen. He was considered to be the “head of the household” while my father was away in the war and it was his responsibility to maintain the house functions as best he could.

Outside, the air was thick with smoke and building rubble dust resulting from the bombs that had dropped during the night. Houses were in flames or were smouldering, and the sound of Fire Engines could be heard going about their urgent business.

These sights, smells and sounds were so familiar to me that they seemed normal, just part of any other ordinary day, but this was no ordinary day at all and would turn out to be one of the most traumatic days of my life.

It was the day that my mother told my sister and I that we would be meeting other children at Belmont school in Chiswick, where we lived and would be going on a Coach journey to the countryside for a picnic.

We had our breakfast, probably consisting of sugar sandwiches, (sugar sprinkled on bread and margarine), or sugar sprinkled on fried bread, (all we could afford with mother having to support four children), and in no time at all we had been rushed out of the house and were on our way.

With our Gas-masks slung over our shoulder and clutching a small bag of sugar sandwiches, we soon found ourselves at the school. A register was called and each child was given a piece of paper with his or her name on it should they became lost. My sister pinned my identity paper with Geoffrey Geier on it to my coat and then did her own. Coaches began to arrive and my sister and I were told to climb aboard one of them, which we did, but my mother remained outside and I could not understand why! The Coach was soon packed out with children and suddenly it started to move off.

My mother was still outside looking very distressed and waving good-bye, What was happening? Where were we going? Why was she crying? And why wasn’t she with us?

The coach picked up speed and soon my mother had disappeared from view. I felt very sad and dispirited at the time.

After a while, we arrived at a train station — Victoria, I think, and it seemed that thousands of other children had gathered at the same station, each with their own Gas-mask, bag of food and identification pinned to their coat. I remember thinking at the time — “we can’t all be going on the same picnic, can we?”

We were taken to a huge train that seemed to be puffing steam everywhere and were told to climb aboard. All around, children were crying and although at my early age I could not comprehend what was going on, I could sense that something was happening that was not quite right. How glad I was to have my sister with me, and what would I do if I lost her?

The train moved off and gradually picked up speed. Everywhere to be seen in London were bombed sites which once were houses or factories. Barrage Balloons littered the skyline as far as the eye could see, and in every direction, palls of dense smoke could be seen drifting up towards the heavens.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I can remember was seeing green fields with cows and sheep in them. I had never seen real cows or sheep before, only in picture books. Nor had I even seen green fields! I looked out of the window in wonderment as my “Farmyard Picture Book” seemed to come to life before me. It was truly amazing — perhaps I was going on a picnic after all.

My hopes were soon dashed however as the train went on and on and it started to get dark. By this time I had eaten my few sandwiches and was hungry, very tired and frightened.

Suddenly the train stopped. We had arrived at a very clean station — I don’t know which one — but it had flowers around it. Women were waiting on the station platform, probably from the Voluntary Service and they seemed to be organising everything.

We left the train and were either on the platform or in the platform hall, when one of the uniformed ladies started calling out children’s names, instructing those called to step forward and go to the front.

My sister’s name was called out. She stepped forward and suddenly we were separated. I couldn’t see her due to the many taller and older children who stood in front of me. I prayed and prayed for my name to be called out so I could join her.

After what seemed like ages, my name was finally called and I went to the front. I looked for my sister but she wasn’t there! It was a terrible discovery — the nightmare that I hoped and prayed would never happen. This was the unhappiest day of my life!

My world had fallen apart. I had been taken away from my family and friends and I didn’t know if I would ever see any of them again. I was too young to understand what was going on and felt so scared and lonely.

I believe that I may been taken to a Hall somewhere and can remember afterwards getting into a Car or Coach but I was so emotionally drained and tired at the time that I just fell asleep.

I awoke in the morning in a strange room but to the most unusual and pleasant sound of birds singing and the sight of sunbeams streaming through the clear window. I couldn’t hear the usual Fire Engines or Ambulances, nor the sounds of aircraft dog-fighting which were so familiar to me. I couldn’t hear the terrible wailing of air raid sirens, or even the comforting steady high pitched sound of the all clear signal.

I remember getting out of bed in this unfamiliar room and looking out of the window. I could not see any barrage balloons, or demolished houses, nor bomb craters, or even fires or palls of smoke.

Instead I could see cows grazing in the meadow below. There was a river with a rope bridge going across it, and there were trees everywhere — a truly picturesque scene.

I didn’t know then, but I had been evacuated to a place set in the Yorkshire Dales called Hebden Bridge — which to me was a different world altogether from the one I was used to.

I had been placed with whom I believe were two elderly sisters at number 7 Eaves Mount, the second house of the last row of houses in the street.

Being evacuated was a very sad and traumatic time as I was so scared and too young to understand the true reason for it, which of course was to keep me safe from harm.

However, the sadness I felt at leaving my family was soon to lessen in such a dramatic way that would help make my stay in Hebden Bridge a happy and memorable one. It would become my moment of greatest happiness as child. I was playing on my own in the street — Eaves Mount — about one week after my arrival, when I suddenly heard my name called and noticed a girl running toward me. It was my sister Pauline! I just couldn’t believe it, I was overjoyed. The meeting was so emotional that we just hugged each other and cried. I turned out that she had been evacuated to the same street, but with the Scarborough family at number 5.

From that day onwards I came to love Hebden Bridge and everything about it. I will always regard it as my second home and the place that gave me my happiest childhood memories.

I have find memories of the house that I stayed in. My room was the Box room above the front door and I spent many a happy time just looking out of the window at the beautiful scenery. I cab still see in my mind the meadow that was directly in front of the house and the steps we used to go down to get to it.

I can see the river and the rope bridge that we crossed to get to the pigeon loft on the other side, or used as a short cut when we went Blackberry or Blueberry picking.

I remember the wintertime as if it was yesterday, when the snow was so deep that we could not open the front door and I gazed for hours from my bedroom window watching people clearing pathways so that others could get to work or go shopping.

Eaves Mount via Mytholm Road, I recall, was a long way up from the main road for my “City” legs to cope with, but was great for tobogganing down in winter.

At the back of the house was a steep wooded area which we occasionally had to climb, I think, to get to Heptonstall. I was always out of breath half way up.

At the bottom of Mytholm Road was the school that I went to and have many happy memories of.

I can remember the sweet shops and a river or canal at Hebden Bridge and bus rides to Halifax. I remember wearing Clogs, eating Pigeon broth, and having my first real bath with hot and cold running water. I remember long sunny walks in the most beautiful surroundings. I remember getting stung by a wasp, seeing my first Primrose, and dropping a half crown over the railings into the meadow outside my house, and not being able to find it… So many memories.

I became very attached to the two ladies who looked after me, as if they were my own family. Indeed, I recall that I had exactly the same feelings of sadness at having to leave my friends, my new family and beautiful Hebden Bridge when I finally went home to Chiswick as I had at the start of my evacuation.

It was such a wrench having to leave. I was worried about going home. What would it be like? What would my real mum be like? And how would I get on with her? Time seemed to have made such a difference.

Eventually and for reasons or circumstances that I am not aware of, my family lost contact with the people who had looked after me at Eaves Mount.

As I grew older, my biggest regret was in not having taken the trouble to make contact myself, but then , I couldn’t remember names or addresses. I only had beautiful memories.

One day I will go back to Hebden Bridge to try and retrace my early childhood there. I will climb the path leading to Heptonstall and look back at the house where I once belonged. I will cross the rope bridge — if it is still there and rediscover the walks that I had taken as a child some 56 years before. I will visit my old school, buy sweets at the sweet shop and feed the ducks on the canal.

I have lots to thank Hebden Bridge for, a wealth of memories that will remain with me for ever.

Frances Robinson tells how she traced the HB host family

23.9.2000: I was looking at the Hebweb guestbook and Patsy Lancashire wanted to know the meaning of Mytholm, so I searched the word and gave her the info and where I found it.

Under the search for “Mytholm” there was one entitled Evacuees Forum so I had a look. On there was a story by Geoff Geier — about being evacuated to Mytholm, Hebden Bridge in 1944. He said a lot of nice things about Hebden Bridge. He regretted not having been able to contact people over the years since and could not remember the name of the ladies he stayed with but could remember his sister stayed with a family called Scarborough.

I rang Margaret Blakeley who now lives in M’royd. Over the years she has told us much about being brought up at Eaves as a child and the wonderful time they had as children living there. She was born the year Mr Geier was evacuated to Eaves but nonetheless she remembered mostly who lived where and recognised in particular the surname Scarborough. She thought that some members of the Scarborough family were still here living at Fairfield.

I e-mailed Mr Geier and received a reply from his children at 9.00 pm on Saturday night. He would be on holiday until Saturday next and would contact us then.

25.9.2000 Monday — A friend of mine called Julie Webster who lives at Fairfield called. I asked her if she knew anyone called Scarborough which she did. They lived near her — Agnes Scarborough was married to Mr Dutchman. She took the printed copy of the story away with her and at lunchtime Mr Dutchman rang me to say that (his exact words were “Now then… yes”) his wife was Agnes Scarborough, she remembered Mr Geier but more importantly remembered his sister Pauline who had stayed with her family as an evacuee. Agnes remembered that Pauline had stayed with herself and her two sisters, Joyce and Mary and she remembered that Geoff Geier stayed with two ladies called Lilly and Ethel Greenwood but she thought that these two ladies had now passed away. They left their telephone number and address which I passed onto Mr Geier when he got in touch on his return from holiday this weekend. He wanted names and addresses and telephone numbers which I was going to try and get for him. In the meantime Mr Dutchman’s son, Glyn, had e-mailed Mr Geier confirming all the information I had given and adding a lot more.

The families are therefore re-united within a week of me finding his e-mail story and planning reunions and swapping memories. I found the whole thing a delight to be involved in and the warmth extending from both families as the information came to light was something else.

Geoff Geier said in an e-mail to me that a previous attempt to trace people hadn’t brought any information about the Scarborough family although he had had a wonderful response from many other people following a piece in the Hebden Bridge Times in 1995, and added the following:

I was really pleased to receive your e-mail and immediately phoned Pauline to tell her the good news - that I had made contact with the Scarborough family. Pauline has been to Hebden Bridge several times over the last few years and has even stood outside number 5 Eaves Mount hoping that someone would come out so that she could talk to them about the Scarboroughs.

She would really love to get in touch with Agnes, Mary and Joyce again and would be so happy to receive Telephone numbers and addresses.

Pauline says that she would love to visit her ‘wartime mums’ again on her next visit, even if they now live further afield, and share memories of the evacuation.

I would have loved to have met the ladies who looked after me during the evacuation but unfortunately the Greenwoods passed away some time ago.

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