Evacuee's heart remains in Suffolk

Audrey Alder may live in Surrey but a large part of her heart remains in Suffolk. During the Second World War she and her sister Eileen were moved out of London four times, had 13 changes of school, but returned to London at various intervals when homesickness grew too much or they felt unloved by their host families.

By Andrew Clarke

Audrey Alder may live in Surrey but a large part of her heart remains in Suffolk. During the Second World War she and her sister Eileen were moved out of London four times, had 13 changes of school, but returned to London at various intervals when homesickness grew too much or they felt unloved by their host families.

But, she says, that the their last posting out into the East Anglian countryside proved to be the best of all and gave her one of the happiest experiences of her life.

Speaking from her home in Guildford she said that her trip to Suffolk began in 1944 - very late on in the war just as the flying bombs started dropping on London. She said: “I was 14 at the time and remember the war being very intense at the time. Our next door neighbours had suffered some very heavy bomb damage and our mother who had a very nervous disposition, which made it difficult for her to cope with home life, decided that we should leave London again.

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“It was early January when we gathered with other tearful children at Liverpool Street Station, armed with our gasmasks, condensed milk and chocolate. There were children arriving with the bare essentials, mostly looking very sad, but fortunately we were among children who were very excited at the prospect of taking their first holiday in the countryside.

“My mother had somehow acquired a length of parachute silk and I decided with my mother's permission to make petticoats for my sister and me. These were to come in very handy later on.

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“Having experienced previous evacuations, I decided that if we appeared well dressed, my sister and I would be accepted into better homes. Quite shrewd I thought for a 14 year old. Being an experienced evacuee and being responsible for my sister, survival was my first thought and comfortable survival at that. It's true to say that we grew up fast.”

She said that she and Eileen were sent out to be billeted in Brandeston, where they were placed in the charge of the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) and marched two by two down to the village hall and told firmly to be quiet.

“A stream of village women arrived, walked around the hall and were told to choose their children. I remember a slight feeling of superiority, which I knew was wrong even at that age, but there were a lot of pathetic looking children amongst us with runny noses and looking so sad.

“Also by now it was becoming a bit of an adventure and I had a feeling of grown up responsibility. I quickly scanned the crowd of women and decided who should pick us. I told Eileen to smile at the appropriate moment and lifted our skirts just sufficiently to show our new pretty petticoats and bingo, the lady of my choice obliged and picked us both. I knew those petticoats would do the trick.”

She said that they both took to life in the countryside and were very happy at Brandeston. “We stayed in a large house at Office Farm which seemed like a mansion to us. We had a very large garden with a stream running through it - a wonderful experience for us Londoners. We were taken in by Mrs Violet Monk and her Land Army daughter Pamela. They both gave us a lot of love and made our fourth a very happy one.

“Ben, the gardener, told us all about the countryside and with Pamela's help we formed, together with all the other local boys and girls, a youth group and set about producing our own play The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, based on Alice in Wonderland. We even got a paying audience and sent the proceeds of our performance to Dr Barnardoes.”

She said that they even went to Felixstowe to stage a second performance. This was then followed by the pantomime Cinderella, which was also entered in for a county-wide amateur drama competition.

But it wasn't all fun and games, but she said that even chores like stripping the cows after milking was an exciting new experience for London girls.

“Village life was a complete contrast to life in London - tractors going along country lanes, open fields to run and play in and at the end of the summer we picked rosehips from the hedgerows and filled large sacks for some pocket money. These rosehips were then processed and turned into rosehip syrup for small children.”

Audrey laughs now at the memory but she had the reputation for being a bit of a free spirit or a rebel at the time. She was frequently sent out of Sunday School for disruptive behaviour but it was never mentioned when she got back home to Office Farm.

They also had to cycle five miles each way to school. “Eileen had to learn to ride for the first time and when we finally went home to London we had to hand our bikes in and walk home on a hot summer's day. Eileen was not too happy about this. There was a time of great rationing and petrol shortages, so there was no lift in a car.”

But there were the occasional treats: “Half way to school each day we passed an American army camp and as we rode by they would throw us packets of chewing gum and they used to invite all the evacuees onto the air base for ice cream teas. They were a real treat. My sister and I were at Framlingham School and loved it there. We worked on a project of Framlingham Castler I remember and our efforts were bound into a book which we designed ourselves.”

She said that the winter of 1944 was severe in Suffolk and their parents who had come to visit them for Christmas had to stay in a local pub because the roads were snow bound and impassable.

But not everyone stayed in contact with their parents. “One fellow evacuee in Brandeston whose name was Dora had no contact with her parents throughout her stay and I believe actually stayed on in the village after the end of the war. I would love to know if she is still there.”

Do you have a story like Audrey's? If so the Sufffolk Record Office would love to hear from you. Contact them on 01474 584541 or 01284 352352.

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