Wednesday 10 February 2021

Memories of an Evacuee - Bibury and Other Places (1940-1945)

By Janet Curme (nee Saunders)

I have many memories of Bibury as a small child escaping the bombs raining down on Portsmouth and going to live in Modena Villa with Will and Bee Adams who were friends of my Grandmothers from her time as a teacher at the local school. 

Beautiful Bibury

I was a private evacuee staying with people who were very kind to me, Bee Adam was my 'second mother' and life at the garage business that Bee and her husband, Will, ran was very different from being an only child loving in city centre a flat in Portsmouth. When I left Portsmouth, I had two toys, a couple of dolls named Ann and Beauty. I remember my mother saying, "do you want to dress them before you go, as they only have their nighties on?". I said that I would take them as they are.  

Bee & Will Adams
My parents drove me to Bibury in their Austen 7 car using some of their precious petrol allowance. They dropped me off and just disappeared, and I was told afterwards that my mother cried all the way home. My father was a Special Constable and after the war, when I visited the flat where my two Grandmothers lived in Portsmouth, I noticed a truncheon on the wall in place of a cuckoo clock.  I recall that my father did a lot of Fire Watching during the Portsmouth Blitz.

I spent my first night on two chairs pushed together in the sitting room. The house had a big garden back and front with chickens, a large dog called Major and a mottled cat called Tiny who kept having kittens and hiding them. No-one took much notice of me and I looked after myself. At supper they got me to eat spaghetti saying it was worms and I was always given a small glass of cider. There was a Jewish family staying in the same house, who had escaped from Germany and an old man called Mr Botting. I got his name wrong and called him 'Mr Bottom’, but he did not seem to mind. I never heard him speak and he always sat at the head of the table at mealtimes. Nobody took much notice of me and I can't remember being unhappy. 

My father and I, Bibury (1943)

I joined the village school and ran wild with Margaret Lees, Keith Beam and the evacuee kids from the Pike. Each morning the London evacuee kids passed the house and I was pushed in amongst them for the walk to school down Water Lane and past Arlington Row. I was good at jumping the gaps in the wall outlets to get to the river. When I go to the village school now, I notice the line in the playground where the boys' loos used to be. I'm in the middle row centre in the photo below.

Miss Hearn's Class at Bibury School (1941)

On Empire Day we walked around the square behind the Union Jack with the villagers watching us; how proud we were. I remember names - Gwen Arkle and the Smiths, John Adams and his sister. My parents visited rarely as petrol was only meant for business purposes but when they came father would help with the harvest and Harold Adams repaid him with a pack of homemade butter and a fowl. My teacher was Miss Hearn who lodged with a lady just past the post office who had suffered a stroke.

George Adams

The school was scary at first, I was only six and there were a lot of horrid boys from London staying in the village. I was able to read and had to sit on a desk with three horrid boys facing me on the opposite seat. They could not read and seemed to have no intention of learning. One of them was called Sid Smith and he was the ink monitor. Every week my mother would send £1 by post for my keep and a tube of sweets. In those days it was a real pen with a nib and an inkwell. This horrid Sid would give me an empty inkwell unless I gave him a sweet. I dreaded Mondays and worried the Sunday before. The first lesson was reciting psalms and I'd never heard of them. Children were picked out to recite and I was terrified it would be me.  

Opposite Modena Villa was a large area of allotments fronted by stone mushrooms and a huge stone bath - which I was told was an ancient coffin, and which made a wonderful boat. Old George Adams from the Catherine Wheel came at 6.00pm every day to listen to the news. There was a camp of servicemen at the Pike and I remember dozens of soldiers sitting on the grassy bank outside the Catherine Wheel drinking beer. There was one bus per week to the nearest big town; 'Ciren' as we called it.

Arlington Cottage
I had to get milk from Mr Pritchard and his sons who had a dairy on the right 
of the house, the last before Post Office Corner I think. Sunday school was obligatory, with Rev Squires and a beautiful, framed picture of Christ with eyes changing position when you studied it. The organist, I was told, wore a corset! The school dentist arrived periodically and as we were ushered in one-by-one we had to spit in a bucket full of what looked like blood. Sid Street, one of the London evacuees, told me I had to drink it! Mr Rigby was headmaster and stood with his cane in his hand, but never used it on me. Keith Beam was caned several times for poaching trout from the local river. I stole raspberries from the allotments at Arlington and was shouted at for paddling in the stream at Arlington Row, "We have to drink that water". The bakehouse at the top of Arlington sold the most delicious lardy cakes and warm bread and I got into trouble for picking at them on the way home.

Phyllis Adams - Policeman's Wife
At one time my grandparents took one of Will Adams' cottages at the end of Arlington and I remember peeping out and watching Mr Smith doing his ablutions in the open lean-to, the cottage was at the very top of the high bit overlooking the river. The garden is gone but I think the stone stile still stands. The cottage had no kitchen but my grandmother cooked Christmas dinner on a large primus affair and the range in the living room. There was a cellar, and a boiler house opposite for washing the clothes. A fire had to be lit under the boiler before each session. There was a tap for water, but it would freeze and the well had to be used. Mr Lees would come and empty the bucket in the garden lavatory and bury it in the garden. The cottage was the last at the very top of the high bit overlooking the river. The garden is gone but the stone stile is still there. There was a cellar and we also had a boiler house opposite, where all the clothes were boiled up.

Arlington Row, Bibury

I stayed away and gradually forgot about my old life. Eventually my parents found a safer house near Portsmouth and I went back to live with them again. This was a cottage in the country at Hunston, quite near Chichester, and by the canal. I was still lonely but did have two ducks and a chicken called Bobtail. I can remember saying my prayers and asking God to send someone to play with. There was a huge tank trap about three feet from the back of the cottage. Behind the tank trap there was a large field with mushrooms, beyond which was the Spotted Cow pub which was a favourite with my father. Once he ate so many mushrooms he was poisoned. When the canal froze my father would walk across despite my mothers' protestations. One day he fell through the ice and the water came over his knees. Quite often we would have to break the ice to free trapped swans. My mother would pick blackberries which were sold to a fruiterer in Portsmouth - my father travelled backwards and forwards regularly.

The Old Bridge at Bibury

Behind the field was a large Canadian Army Camp. The soldiers were a rough lot. My father had to go and see the Head of the Camp twice because on two occasions soldiers came to the house and asked for bread. Never meeting anyone on my frequent cycle trips to Donnington on one occasion I was surprised to see a group of young soldiers blocking my way and acting silly.  They had tied condoms to the overhanging branches of the overhanging tree dripping and I just thought they were bonkers.  I did not tell anyone and never saw them again.  After pretending to stop me they let me go.

Miss Hearn's Lodgings by Jack Saunders
Probably due to the isolation of my mother we moved in with my Grandmothers sister Alice at The Mount on the canal by a lock (now flats).  She had a huge garden with an air raid shelter with a secret compartment for money etc which we could never find.  I took the exam for Chichester High School.  My father was friendly with two teachers and they told him I had failed, and I understand not even borderline.  So, doing their best for me I was taken with my mother to Portsmouth High School which was evacuated to Hinton Ampnor House.  I must have been about ten years old and I remember a class was in the hall learning French and I wondered what on earth it was all about.  A wise move for me?  I am not sure.  I was reading well when I first went to Bibury School at six years of age so I must have been eager to learn.  It was the junior school the senior having been evacuated to Petersfield.

Modena Villa, Bibury - My Grandparents + Two

Return to Bibury, 2002 - with Michael

I must have been over 11 when after three or four terms the school came back to its building in Kent Road, Portsmouth and my two grandmothers ended up sharing a flat in Marmion Road, my grandfather having died in Bibury. Back to Portsmouth and at first living at Cosham in a small semi-detached until my father bought an old terraced Georgian army house with basement kitchen, maids’ entrance and bedroom, wine cellar, butler’s pantry and powder closet.
My grandfather is buried in Bibury graveyard and used to visit occasionally for a few quiet moments.
Janet Curme (nee Saunders)