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Dolly Bolton

Articles > Barking & Dagenham > Evacuees

Dolly – childhood memories of the war
We can all look through the same window but we all see a different view
Dolly Bolton (nee) Owen

(Preliminary note by Katie Avagah: After writing ‘A holiday of a lifetime’ I then decided to write what memories I had of my evacuation. I then asked my eldest sister Grace, who is ten years  older,  for her memories. She recounted them to me over a few visits and I put them in some sort of chronological order. We were quite surprised at the interest shown by our other siblings and our children. I sent copies to my sister Dorothy in New Zealand,  who  had been evacuated part of the time with me in Somerset; I asked her to put pen to paper. Again I needed to sort out some of the detail. They have helped fill in a few gaps for me; though Grace says some of Dolly’s memories are not correct  - comments in italics are mine.)

I was born on 6th February 1933 at Brittain Road, Five Elms. The Depression was on. Dad was out of work then he got a job at the Ford Motor Company; maybe that’s  why we moved to 192 Downing Road. (In fact it was after I was born in 1935,  because there are now 2 adults and six children living in a 2 bedroom house. Dad got the job after I was born – he would say I brought him luck – he certainly  wasn’t lucky for me.) I remember going with Ronnie to St. Andrew  ?s Church Hall at the Chequers for free dinners. (It may have been St. Mary’s Grafton Road before we moved or St. Martin’s  at the Chequers.) We went to Arnold Road School; we were very poor.

I was six and a half when war started in September 1939, Ronnie was eight years old, he was nine months old when mum got pregnant with me. Dad was in the army. We all had to meet at the school on the day of evacuation, then on to the Docks at Dagenham.   I remember the boat. Then to a place where we slept on straw. Then on to Bradwell-on-sea with Grace, Bobby, Ivy and Ronnie.  Grace, Ivy and me went to stay with a Mrs Woods whose husband was a fisherman, and had a boy named Norman who was younger than   me. We slept on the balcony. They had a toilet in the yard and a shed where Grace and another girl used to get us all dancing and singing. We used to sing – ‘All brothers, all sisters, all leaving today. We’re all going riding on   a rainbow, to a new land faraway’. I remember lots of snow, and a hall where we used to play games. I don’t remember the rows with Mrs Woods.

Next I remember is on a coach or bus – then home again. Going in a house in Arnold Road because most of the teachers have gone away. It must have been 1940. Then the blitz started and then Kathy and me were in Somerset. (Only Dolly recalls   me being in Dagenham at this time but it could explain how I ended up in Somerset – did I return to Dagenham at some time to be re-evacuated to Somerset –two intrepid little travellers.) We were sent to a large building I think  near  Brendon Hills. There were a lot of children there. We slept in a large dormitory together in a small iron bed and because we wet the beds our names were put up on the wall above our bed. We were not the only ones to have our names on the wall. (This  sounds very much the place they sent me to after we were bombed at the school.)

Next I remember a party – could it have been Christmas? I have no idea. You had disappeared. I kept asking for you. They said I would see you later. Next I remember being in a car and a lady saying I was going to stay with some people. They took   me to Mr and Mrs Stark at No. 4 Council Houses.  Mrs Stark’s daughter-in-law, was there having tea with her daughter Jean who was a bit younger than me. They asked me if I wanted something to eat, I shook my head and her daughter-in-law remarked   on my bad manners. Which seems funny now seeing the Germans were on our doorstep bombing the hell out of us. Jean and her mum lived about half an hours walk from us at a place with ‘coombe’ on the end. I used to play with Jean sometimes,   we got on very well. They lived in a farmhouse which had a pump going down to a well in the kitchen. The water used to be like ice. Mr & Mrs Stark looked after me very well. They had a chicken farm nearby. I used to collect the eggs. Mr Stark used to   take me to Compton Bishop Church, they had their own pew with a little gate at the end. He also taught me about wild flowers, and said not to pick them, though I used to. I suppose you would call him a ‘Greeny’ now. He was very kind. Mrs   Stark had a black leaded stove which she done all the cooking on; she used to polish it with black lead every morning. There was no electricity. Don’t know why there was no electricity as some places in the village had electricity. We had oil  lamps  and an acid battery wireless. Mrs Stark worked very hard. They had twins – Mary and John. John was in the army – Jean’s dad. Mary lived in Plymouth. Her husband was in the Navy. They had a baby, six months, named Wendy.

I went to Compton Bishop School which was very old, would probably be historical now; had a very high ceiling. They took me to see you. You were on a mat in the garden with an  older woman and a girl aged about sixteen. The woman was the Headmistress's mother. The Headmistress was called Mrs Howell. I don’t remember the girl’s name, but she was not very nice – called us ‘pug-nose’ and pinched  us. One night the Germans had bombed Bristol and Bath. They used to pass  over the Mendip Hills on their way. Sometimes we could see them in the day time going over, very high up. This night on their way they must have had a bomb they hadn’t got  rid of, and they bombed our school. Luckily it landed on the school and  not the house, as the house was right next to it, although the blast made the house a complete write-off. Mrs Howell’s mother died with the shock of being bombed. You were  all buried with debris.
Next I remember everyone standing by their gates while Mrs. Hardridge wheeled you in a push-chair to her house in Cross. We all went to school in the big hall at Cross. Infants  and Juniors all in the same room. They used the hall for community gatherings  also. I had further to walk to school, about twenty minutes. I had a little case with my lunch in it.

Where we lived there were eight Council houses. Numbers 1 to 8 on the same side of the road. We used the back door. The front door faced a long garden which Mr and Mrs Stark had as a vegetable garden. Also gooseberries, black, white and red currants.   The house had three bedrooms, a large shed and a lean-to.

The road at the back of the house was rather steep, at the bottom was an oak tree, which we called ‘Big Tree’, it was very old. Mr Stark used to go to the village pub on a Saturday night on his bike; mostly to chat to other farmers about   the war. This night was very wet and cold. He went down the hill to Big Tree and fell into a ditch, and lay there for some time. When he never got back at his usual time Mrs Stark got help, but he got very sick and died, maybe he got pneumonia.   All I remember is Mr Stark lying in bed in the living room, next he was gone. They never said he had died.

Mary came down from Plymouth with the baby and stayed for a while with her mum. Plymouth was getting heavily bombed now so she stayed and moved in with Jean and her mum at the farmhouse.  Mrs. Stark changed after her husband died. She had to give up the   chicken farm and worked cleaning on one of the big farms. She also took in a Land Army girl who came from Bath, she later married and returned home. I don’t think I was treated too badly and I was never stopped from going out to play. There was   a girl and her brother lived next door at number 5, her name was Olive Latimer, she was cousin to Mary who lived next door to Mrs Hardridge. I also played with Pam and her sister who lived at number 3. I also remember Lesley Smith and a boy called George,   they both came from Dagenham and were at a farm near Big Tree. I saw Lesley after the war on his bike once in Goresbrook Road, we spoke for a while.

Then one day Mrs Stark said we were going home. Grace and her boyfriend, who was in the Navy, came with Bobby to Somerset to take us home. (This clears up another memory – I had a picture of travelling in a railway carriage with Dolly,  facing  Grace and Jack, though not Bobby. But nothing else so I thought that again I had just imagined it.) We came back to 192, and returned to Arnold Road School, lots of children were coming home. Brian was a baby and I remember Ronnie with  snow white  hair. Bradwell-on-sea was evacuated because it was near the coast. Ivy went to Leamington Spa with a girl called Violet. Violet had a built up shoe because she had one leg shorter than the other, she lived just down the road in Dagenham. Then  we moved  to 153 Downing Road because of the extra room downstairs – 192 had three bedrooms and a living room, 153 had three bedrooms and two living rooms, one could be used as a bedroom. (This was another picture in my head – I  could remember  a very sunny day, we were all carrying things along Downing Road - nothing more so I dismissed it.)

We didn’t stay long, the doodle bugs started. Mum got Grace to write to Mrs Harbridge and asked if she could take me as well. We went to Somerset on a train together. Grace took us to Paddington Station and put us on a train. I was about ten I   think so you would have been about seven. Mrs Hardridge met us on the train at Axbridge. (Again I could remember arriving at Axbridge – not where I had come from – then Auntie taking us to her restaurant – nothing more.) On  the journey we had been hanging out of the window and got covered in soot from the engine. Mrs Hardridge was horrified when she saw us. Ronnie and Teddy went to Wales.

I enjoyed my stay at Mrs Hardridge’s. I went to Cheddar school for a little while. I made friends with Mary Latimer who lived next door; her and David Stokes were sweet on each other. I remember the blackberry picking, and the baby sitting, we   took the babies for walks in their prams. We used to go into David’s room in the attic and borrow his books, mostly Enid Blyton. Going for walks with Mrs Hardridge and Mrs Stokes on Sundays on the Mendip Hills. I certainly had more freedom at  Mr  and Mrs Hardridge. Mr Hardridge worked at the nearby quarry, he had some sort of accident there – got burnt or perhaps on a steam roller. I can only remember John. Mrs Stoke’s husband was in the Air Force, they came from Bristol. Their  daughter  Josie was about fifteen or sixteen then. I shared a bedroom with her in the attic. I was only there for a few months; I remember about October or November, it was getting near Christmas as Mrs Hardridge had taken us to Axbridge to buy some aprons  to embroider  for presents – she was going to show us how to do it – when a letter came from home saying I had to go back to Dagenham.

Mrs Stokes put me on a train at Bristol and Grace met me at the other end. Mum was pregnant with Alec. Grace was married, Ivy was at full time work, and dad was on long distant driving – not that he would have done much at home. Maureen and Brian   were small so I stayed at home to help them and mum. I never went to school for five months or more. (Dolly would have been only eleven. Alec was born on 15th January 1945  just before her birthday on 6th February.) The Doodle Bugs and V2's were still dropping, but not so bad now. I think Bobby was home and working also, then he went  to India in the Catering Corp. When mum was due to have Alec she sent me to get the midwife who lived at the Chequers, near Terry’s mums. (I believe  she lived in the Heathway at the Chequers Corner.) The midwife had a shelter  in her living room with a large cage over it. (This must have been a Morrison Shelter.) Alec was born in the small room downstairs; mum had a bed in there. I was  in the next room with Maureen and Brian. The midwife called us in to see  the baby. Alec was 10 lbs born, looked like a two month all. Funny I knew mum had the baby but didn’t know where it came from! Us kids never knew in those days. Mum got a  clot in her leg so she had to stay in bed for a while. So I had to look after  her and the baby, and the other two, and there was shopping and everything to do. Ivy stayed home for a while to help. I remember we scrubbed the scullery out one day, dad  came home and said it was not clean enough and made us do it all again. The Doctor  told mum she must not have any more children, and that she was lucky the clot didn’t shift from her leg. Later mum had to have the veins stripped out. Dad was a  very selfish man who only thought of his own needs, and mum was never strong enough  to stand up to him. And he certainly never had any time for us children.

There are so many things I remember. Like going to the Dolls’ Hospital with Mrs Stokes and you. Going to Weston-Super-Mare with Mrs Stark, we visited a relation of hers there, and having fagots for tea! Seeing the beach all wired off and lots of   airmen there. I suppose the war did us a favour as we would never have lived in the country or learnt to love the countryside. Though very sad for lots of people, especially the ones in the camps in Germany and the Far East. I read a book about evacuees   in which Michael Cain and his little brother were sent to Wales and they were badly treated. His brother ended up with a broken arm, and after the war he still used to hide bits of his bread because they were both half-starved at the place they were  at in Wales.

Harry’s family (Harry is Dolly’s husband.) went to the Kent hop-fields during the war when things got bad; but mostly they stayed at home. They then lived in Finnymore Road. Harry was born in East London, over a stable.  His dad was  in the Merchant Navy before the war, then moved to Dagenham. His Aunt Ivy lived just up the road, Vincent Road. June was born in 1943, and then his dad had a stomach ulcer which burst. Them days they took half his stomach away and told him  not to smoke  or drink alcohol, but he still did both – though he always suffered for it! Harry’s mum Marie died of a brain clot just after we returned home to New Zealand after we visited England in 1974, and his dad died of a heart attack  eighteen  months later. We were glad we managed to see them.

Please excuse the spelling and writing. It took me a while to put together but once I got going I could go on forever – remembering things. We certainly had to grow up fast. I wish I had kept in touch with everyone, but as a child you only live   for the day and don’t think of the future much. Also you don’t appreciate what people do for you at the time.

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