A Mum's Story
1939 - Outbreak of World War Two

When war started in 1939 I had to be evacuated because I was 7 months pregnant with my first child. I lived in Highams Park, London and on the 2nd of September I, together with lots of mothers with young children under 5 years old and about a dozen other expectant mothers, was put on a train not knowing where we were going. In fact we weren't told where we were going until we were well on the way. Our destination was Oakham in Rutland which we were told was 100 miles from London. None of us had ever heard of Oakham. It might just as well have been China - 100 miles seemed like the other side of the world. (People didn't travel very far in those days.)

We arrived in Oakham and assembled in the local school in the late afternoon where we were greeted with much needed cups of tea served by local Boy Scouts and Cubs. After all the mothers and children were found accommodation it just left us expectant mums.

No-one knew what to do with us as they hadn't been informed that we were coming so we just sat there, nursing our bumps and drinking more tea while the local councillors and welfare people sorted out where best to put us. They wanted to keep us all together and it was found that the only place that had enough beds for us all was an old people's home. So that's where I was on the following day, 3rd of September 1939, when war was declared in an old people's home, expecting my baby and it was also my first wedding anniversary. My husband didn't even know where I was.

We only stayed there a couple of nights and then we were taken to some stables where we were to occupy the grooms' above I remember thinking, ''Well if it was good enough for Mary to give birth to Jesus in a stable, it should be good enough for me!'' As we went up those dirty, rickety stairs l realised that we would have been better off in the stables - they were far cleaner and sweets smelling than the flat upstairs. There were enough beds in the various rooms but they were all filthy and the mattresses were badly stained. There was a kitchen with just a table, a big stone sink and a gas cooker covered in grease. It also had a bathroom which we couldn't possibly use; I think they really did keep the coal in the bath and it had such an antiquated geyser that it would probably have blown us all up had we tried to use it. There was no washbasin in the bathroom, just an old table with an old chipped jug and basin. I can't remember how we washed or kept ourselves clean; I suppose we just boiled a kettle and made do. It's hard to describe the place now; it was just like something out of Dickens' time but we all set to and swept and scrubbed to try and make it a bit presentable. Some of the women, who could afford the fare, decided to go home! For those who stayed matters did improve for as well as being given sheets and blankets some comfortable chairs were brought in as previously there had only been straight wooden ones. We also had a woman who came in to shop and cook for us (we paid her for the food) and a couple of us would help in the kitchen.

I should imagine that the horses that had been stabled there were hunting horses owned by the local gentry- but l shouldn't think the owners ever bothered to go upstairs to see how the grooms lived!

I can't remember much about Oakham itself I went for a few walks around the town and looked at the shops and saw some of the evacuee mums with their young children. It was quite an ordinary little town but what I remember most was seeing a group of Territorials marching along the road singing "It's a long way to Tipperary''. They were so young, only boys, and I'll always remember the look of pride and yet apprehension on their faces. People cheered them but I noticed some women were crying. At this stage the marchers had to make do with the songs of the previous war but no doubt the song writers were already putting pen to paper. It wasn't long before soldiers were marching to "Roll out the Barrel'' and "Bless 'em all'' and a lot more. I often thought about those boys and wondered how many of them came back.

We stayed in our stable home for about two weeks - fortunately we all got on well together. However the welfare authorities were looking for somewhere more suitable for us as they knew we couldn't have babies there. We didn't know much about what was going on in the war and everything on the home-front was still quite normal. People went to work just the same, there was plenty of food in the shops, the weather was lovely and people still had picnics in the park or went for walks in the country. They called it the "Phoney War" and the only thing we had to put up with was the black-out.

After about a couple of weeks we were told that we were moving to a village called Lyndon about 8 miles from Oakham. We stayed at Lyndon Hall, the home of the lord of the manor. It was a large house on four floors and had lots of ground. We were only allowed to use the servants' quarters but we didn't mind that, it was a palace after the stables. Our bedrooms were the large attics at the top of the house: each had four beds, a cupboard for clothes and a table and two chairs in the centre of the room, just the basic essentials but spotlessly clean. There was even a servants' bathroom which we were very pleased about and plenty of hot water! We were told it normally took 24 servants to run the house including a lot of daily workers. We were told that the owner had taken his family abroad, (actually they moved to Top Hall, a smaller house on the Estate), leaving his house in the care of the Government. There was a lovely staircase up through the centre of the house but we weren't allowed to use it, we had to use the servants' staircase leading up to our bedrooms. There were two enormous kitchens, one a preparation room and in the main one for the cooking there was a great big cooking range as well as a huge gas cooker. There was no fridge of course in those days but the preparation room had large cold storage cupboards. The servants' sitting-cum-dining room was very comfortable with a large table where we ate our meals, there was a carpet on the floor and a few armchairs and a big open fire which made it very cosy. Coal was cheap in those days and the coal sheds out the back were full. Most of the vegetables were grown in the kitchen garden, I suppose a couple of gardeners were kept on. The people in the village were all very friendly. Most of them had big apple trees in their gardens and they sold apples at a shilling (5 pence) for a stone (14lbs) so four of us would buy 14lbs of apples and share them out. I always think that my daughters lovely skin is due to the amount of apples I ate then - we lived on them.

We had a housekeeper and By this time a maternity Sister had been sent from London to look after us. The sister made a roster every week giving us our jobs to do. Two would help in the kitchen, two more do the washing up, one would clean the bathroom and another sweep and dust the sitting room and so on. We all had a different job to do every week so we made sure our part of the house was kept perfectly clean. My job, and I was still doing it when I went into labour, was scrubbing the servants stairs, four flights - needless to say I didn't finish them.

We had to go into Oakham to have our babies but the nurse was told to give plenty of notice when calling for the ambulance as Oakham only had one ambulance and that had to cover everybody: accident, heart attacks as well as women having babies but fortunately we all got there in time. We were taken to a private Nursing Home which was just a four storey terrace house in the main road. As the rooms were all full, the matron slept on a camp bed on the landing. I was put in the front parlour, I suppose the best room in the house. There were three beds but I had it to my self for the first week. The nurse, who I thought was rather elderly, bathed and dressed the baby in front of a big open fire every morning and showed me how to do it and how to hold her. That nurse taught me a lot so I came home quite confident. The babies were kept in a nursery away from us mothers all day and night and they were only brought to us at feeding times every four hours to give us a chance to have a rest. Babies were disciplined from birth in those days; there was no picking them up whenever they cried but the nurse told me I had a very contented baby who cried very little and mostly slept the four hours until the next feed. I was kept in bed for a fortnight, customary in those days, so I certainly had a good rest.

After the confinement the WVS took me back to Lyndon hall where I found that most of the mothers had returned to London as we had been told that we all had to leave as the house was being taken over by the army, so I was only there for another two or three days.

My baby's cot was a vegetable box in which the green grocery had been delivered. We padded it with a blanket and a sheet over the top and it was just big enough to take a new baby. I had written to Alf to make arrangements for taking me home. My brother Alf had a car but petrol was rationed by then but because of his job at the time he was allowed extra, so the two of them came to fetch me on the Saturday. I don't know how Alf found the way. There were no motorways in those days, just country roads with towns and villages to go through, and of course there were no lights anywhere. We were now in November so there wasn't much daylight by the time we got on the way. I sat in the back of the car and my baby, Maureen slept all the way. I couldn't see where we were going but