My name is Bob and I lived in Brislington during the war both before and after I was evacuated. My father was in the RAF and he was sent off to India – leaving behind me, my sister and my mum who was expecting my brother.
My sister and I were evacuated down to a village in Somerset. My mum probably thought with father away it was better that the children were sent away. I was only 2 and my sister was 4. I remember having labels tied on us and going down there. Some of the evacuees were sent to the Village Hall and were then picked out but I don’t remember that. My little brother wasn’t born when we were evacuated.
I was billeted with an older couple. They lived in a little cottage that didn’t have any electricity. I remember going up to bed with a little night-light. It always seemed to be cold at night. My sister was down the road on a farm. She was with a girl a year or two older so she was fine. I didn’t really see much of my sister.
The first job I had at my new home was to help wash the dog; this was on the first couple of days after I arrived. They had this old tin bath which they put the dog in. They lathered him up and told me to hold him in the bath. Being only two I wasn’t quite sure what to do and with it all lathered up the dog popped out of my hands and the bath and then shook itself all over the carpet. That was my first clout around the ear.
That was how it went on or so I remember it. I always seemed to be in trouble. The man used to go off to work everyday. One day I couldn’t stand it anymore so I hid in the Grandfather clock in the corner of the parlour. When the man came back he said, “Where’s Bobby?” and he’s looking round, then he notices the clock isn’t working. Of course he opens the door and I’m sitting there with the pendulum on my lap. I got dragged out of there and another clout around the ear.
There was no school for us to go to and anyway I was too young so I spent most of my time playing. I’d be given jobs like the weeding, being a cottage they had a big garden and were digging for victory. I used to have other jobs too like feeding the chickens. I remember the milkman coming up in his horse and cart. He’d have these big churns of milk with measures – you’d dip them in and pour the milk into your own jug.
The cattle used to walk up to the farm twice a day. One day the gate was left open and all the cattle are walking up the road and then they’re in through the gate and munching away on the vegetables. The lady comes out with her broom to see these cattle off. When all the cattle are got out I get another clout around the ear for leaving the gate open which I don’t think I did. Whatever happened I always got the blame.
We used to go to Sunday school and we’d have a little story out of the Bible. Then they’d give us a picture the size of a postage stamp, which we’d stick in a little folder and it would make up a bigger picture. This particular Sunday I was coming back from Sunday school with another few youngsters from the village and we’re all playing. Well I lost the stamp. When I got back the lady said stick the stamp in the folder and of course I’d lost it. I searched in my pockets and said I’d lost it but she wouldn’t accept that. She was sure I hadn’t been to Sunday school and I got another clout.
You always had to eat what you had on your plate and I was never a fussy eater so I would. One Sunday the man had gone out with his gun before breakfast and shot a rabbit. He comes back with this dead rabbit - it was the first time I’d seen a dead animal. Then we were called in for egg and bacon and I’m sat there and I’m thinking about this rabbit and I’m sick all over the egg and bacon. So the lady picks up the plate and takes it out into the kitchen and washes it under the tap, then she puts it all on a clean plate and it came back to me. Somehow I knew I had to eat it or I’d never have another meal.
I don’t know how long I was there but eventually we got moved to Whitestaunton Manor near Chard.
Whitestaunton Manor was a big, old manor house. It had a boys and girls dormitory. My sister was sent there too so we were reunited and a cousin also came down from Bristol. The ladies in charge of us were all pretty strict. I had a little bed and a locker. Everything had to be spick and span. I always remember we’d only been there a day or two and we got clean laundry, which we got once a week. We were given clean underpants, shirt, vest, socks and I’m thinking where do we put all the dirty washing. I daren’t leave it out because I was sure to be in trouble so I wore it on top of my dirty clothes. I had two layers of everything on. Later that day one of the lady helpers asked me where my dirty washing was. I told her that I didn’t know where to put it so I’d still got it on. She told me to strip it off and I had to take all my clothes off - most embarrassing. I learnt where to put my dirty clothes after that.
We just seemed to play there. They had some nice wooden toys. My favourite was a big, hand carved wooden horse and cart. I thought it was magic and used to be upset if I couldn’t play with it.
My mum was always out working to make ends meet. During the war she worked in a grocer called Slucutts and used to drive a delivery van at Broomhill out in Brislington. She always prided herself that we never went hungry. Because she worked for this grocer she could get things on the black market. While I was at Whitestaunton Manor I had a birthday and she sent down four little blocks of chocolate. They gave me two and they broke the other two up and put them in a tin. They had an old Quality Street tin that was filled with boiled sweets and every night we’d get one each. It didn’t take us long to realise that if you had a boiled sweet you could lie in bed sucking it and see how long it lasted. Many a time you fell asleep with it in your mouth – we could’ve choked to death. After this birthday there was chocolate in the tin and I’d think that’s mine so every night after that I’d have a piece of chocolate. I never did empty the tin of chocolate before we came back to Bristol.
My mum and our grandmother came to see us about once every month to 6 weeks. Whilst I was at Whitestaunton Manor I caught diphtheria so I had to be isolated from the other children. I had to sleep in a little cot in the same room as the matron. I had hot Ribena to drink, which I thought was magic. Eventually I recovered. This woman came from Bristol and after the war we got invited to her home one Sunday for tea. I remember she made a sponge and it collapsed in the middle so she filled it with jelly and turned it upside down and called it upside down cake.
My last memory of being at Whitestaunton Manor was of a convoy that passed through the area. We had word that this big convoy was coming down the road about a mile or so from us. We walked down to the convoy and we were all waving at these Americans. They were throwing out gum, sweets and tins of Spam. We’d pick them up and hand them in we didn’t keep anything for ourselves. It was probably part of the build up for D-day. Shortly after we went home – back to Bristol.
Bristol was very different when we returned home. It was all pretty bombed. At Brislington some houses in the next road were bombed and they put an emergency water tank there and we used to play in it. It was only when I returned to Bristol that I started school at Hollywood Road.
At the end of the war we had a victory party in our avenue. We all had to dress up. All the mothers made sandwiches, cakes, and jellies – whatever they could get hold of. We had fancy hats and there was bunting and Union Jacks hanging up.
The war seemed to be over some time before my father came home. I couldn’t remember who he was. I remembering wondering who this guy in uniform was.