The Kindness of Strangers
After returning home, it wasn’t long before bombs were fallen everywhere and people were being killed by the hundreds. It was clear to see why evacuation was deemed necessary. By this time, many other children had returned to Liverpool, no doubt many of them had similar tales to tell as I had. At that time the schools had closed down, all we had in terms of education was maybe two half days tuition a week in the front room of a teacher’s house. We had plenty of time on our hands and spent most of it looking for shrapnel in the bombed out buildings. It was commonplace to spend the whole night in an air-raid shelter; despite the horror of bombs falling around you, it was a treat to have cups of cocoa and large pieces of fruitcake given to you from the vans that came around the streets the following morning. One particular morning that I remember, we came out of the shelter and thought we’d had a fall of snow; what had happened was that the Bee’s Seed Warehouse had been bombed during the night and thousands of packets of seeds had been blown into the air and carried by the wind, dropping like snow all over Liverpool. Things continued to get worse, the novelty for the children had worn off and even we became aware of the danger we were in. It was decided that once again, the evacuation procedure would have to be carried out. Despite the danger of living at home in Liverpool you can imagine the fear I felt, knowing that once again I was to be thrust into the bosom of an unwelcoming family.
We went through the same procedure once again, only this time we were taken to Central Station in Liverpool. It was the same scene at the station, the same tears, the same haunting cries of children abandoned by their parents, parents racked with guilt for putting their loved ones through such torture. These sights and sounds stayed with you all the way to your destination. Despite all this, for me it didn’t seem quite as bad as the first time around, I was lucky as I had four cousins travelling with me, all bound for the same destination. The destination this time was North Wales.
We arrived at Caernarfon and were once again herded into the local village hall. Hundreds of children all unsure of what the future held for them, this time we were joined be many young mums and babies, despite the age difference between us, they looked just as insecure as we did. The big difference this time was, not only were we in a strange town, but they also spoke a strange language – Welsh! The five of us huddled together, secretly hoping that we’d all be taken to the same destination; we were joined by two friends from our area, Teddy Ralph and his little sister. People came in and inspected the children on display, one by one they made their choice and left; slowly the room began to empty until we were the only ones left.By now it was dark and even the women from the WVS were beginning to show signs of concern; what on earth could they do with these seven ‘scallies’ if nobody else turned up? They suggested that we gather up our things and follow them to the local hospital where we would have to spend the night; a decision would be taken in the morning as to what could be done with us long term. We were about to leave when the door opened and a lady walked in. there was a long conversation in Welsh, none of which we could understand. Eventually, a WVS woman came over and explained that Mrs Roberts only wanted two children; our hearts sank. Which two? It would make sense to take Teddy Ralph and his sister, leaving the four cousins and me to spend the night in the hospital, unwanted. Is this the best option? With that the WVS woman continued, although Mrs Roberts only wanted two, she was not prepared to take the rest of us, so we could all go! I cried then and I cry now as I relive that memory; the memory of a woman who had a big heart and showed us compassion, compassion that was so far missing in this miserable episode of our lives. She would not easily be forgotten.
Outside in the crisp North Walien air, we prepared ourselves for the final leg of our journey. “Come on now my lovelies, we’ve got to hurry see,” said Mrs Roberts as she led us to a beautiful pony and trap. She opened the little door at the back and we all piled in, each with our brown paper parcels on our lap. “Giddy up” she said and the pure white pony pulled off and took us out into the Welsh countryside. We travelled through places that not only had we not heard of, we couldn’t even pronounce. Cwm-y-Glo, Brynrefail, it was pure heaven! Eventually we turned off the main road and crossed over the bridge of the beautiful Lake Paddern. Just over the other side we entered a small farm; on the gate it said Penlynn Farm. We stopped outside and Mrs Roberts said “ Come on my loves, we’re here”. Once inside, we met Mrs Roberts’s children, Bobbie who was fifteen and Grace who was nine. There was also a local girl aged about fifteen, she was in service at the house. We also met Tom …..Tommy Roberts, the Da! Tom didn’t look too happy, he wanted an explanation as to how his wife had left to collect just two evacuees and came back with seven. Mrs Roberts obviously had a way of handling Tom, and eventually he calmed down. Toms first job was to show us where the ‘Lavvy’ was. I didn’t want to go but Teddy was desperate. He came back and said quietly to the rest of us “ Yer wanna see da lav, it’s just a bit o’ wood wid a hole in it, yer do it into a bucket and it stinks”. It was Tommy’s job to empty the bucket, it was a job that he did once a week, now with seven new inhabitants it would have to be done on a more regular basis; maybe this was what he was upset about and who could blame him. Although we were never sure what Tommy did with the contents of the bucket, it seemed advisable to give the garden area a wide berth for a few hours!
I recall that first evening with great pleasure; we had a lovely tea and Mrs Roberts asked us all sorts of different questions; “How many are in your family? What do your dads do, and what religion are you”? She seemed to really want to get to know us. When bedtime came, a large bowl was produced; this was filled with hot water from the kettles steaming on the fire. We were each given what can only be described as a ‘cats lick’ on the face and hands and then handed a towel to share. This was a nightly ritual apart from Fridays, which was known as ‘bath night’. The ‘bath night’ procedure was as follows. The tin bath was taken off the nail on the wall in the dairy room and filled to the brim with hot water. Mrs Roberts took charge and washed us one by one, the littlest went first leaving the largest until last; as she finished each one, she would shunt you out and shout ”NEXT”. Once done, we were all tucked up in bed, given a kiss on the cheek and warned of what would happen if we carried on talking; with that the candles were blown out.