Cynthia’s Diary – Evacuation to Alfold, September 1939, page 5

For some reason neither Mr. B. or his wife ever mentioned my Xmas gifts, which I had spent hours picking out.  Owing to the fact, that I had a younger sister to help take care of, and the fact that my guardians had married only a year before and were middle aged, with no children of their own, I seldom went any place, other than to the Village store, and to school, or perhaps a trip with them to Cranleigh in their little English car.  While at the Rectory I got out once a week in the evenings to the First Aid class, which was just outside the church-yard, and meant a very hurried walk home for me in the pitch dark through the grave-yard.  I don’t know where I got the nerve, but I enjoyed the lessons I received, even though I was always terrified in case they would use me as a demonstration.  In London, I once volunteered during recess to let our Art Mistress attempt a new type of tourniquet on my arm, after putting up with it for what seemed an eternity, and my arm losing all feeling.  Miss Baker said something about the experiment not going off right and that I seemed to be turning green!  She removed the awful thing.  I never volunteered for that type of thing again.

I finally had an excuse to get out for rehearsals for a variety concert at the Village Hall, which was actually a quaint old thatched cottage near the church.  I was to do my impersonations of movie stars, which Id been doing since about the age of ten.  Also to sing and dance The Fleet’s in Port Again, with a wealthy young lady named Elizabeth.  I spent many evenings in her beautiful home, and marveled at their pure white carpet that covered their whole living room floor.  She also had a pony that I loved and a cute looking brother, who reminded me of John Payne the movie star.  The concert went off with great success, presented by the evacuees, as we were called, and accompanied by Miss Burrows, a retired police-woman.

Cynthia’s Diary – Evacuation from London to Alfold, September 1939, page 4

Our make-shift school house was part of the Chapel in the middle of the Village.  One day I came home from school to a very worried looking bunch of people, it didn’t take long to find the reason.  My pretty little sister Wendy, with her beautiful blonde curls, greeted me minus her curls, in fact she looked as though someone had put a basin on her head, and calmly cut around it, and that’s exactly what the dear Rectors wife had done! You see they had for some years been missionaries in China, and apparently that’s the way they cut children’s hair when they were there.  Poor Mummy, what a shock for her on the next visit.  I couldn’t resist taking Wendy’s photo with my little Brownie box camera.

Finally everyone had to move from the Rectory, as the Rector and his wife found it too much for them for some reason, and no bombs had a yet fallen on dear old England, and we’d only had one alert.  One morning a typical villager, rung frantically at the old fashioned bell and chain.  I ran to the door and all I could understand was the warrrning, the warrrning, in the typical village accent.  I believe the church bells were rung etc., but there were no air-raid shelters in the country anyway.  It turned out to be one of our own planes.

Off we went eventually, to live in a small bungalow, the owner living alone there, being separated from his wife.  I was made to go to bed about 9 o’clock, but could never get to sleep, as Jack, the owner played all kinds of string instruments and Mr. B. played the piano.  For Xmas I bought her the music and words of the Beer Barrel Polka (neither she nor her husband drank intoxicating beverages).  So I really don’t know whether she liked the song or not, although she did learn to play it, and for some reason, I gave Mr. B. a pair of sock suspenders for his Xmas present.

Dennis, Louis, Larry and Stanley in American Clover field, Alfold, 1939

Cynthia’s Diary – Evacuation from London to Alfold, September 1939, page 3

They managed to find a spare old fashioned iron bedstead, which they put in the library; also they managed to procure a large crib for Wendy.  Renee was to share the room for me.  We had lots of fun and once in a while got a bunch of candy etc., and had a midnight feast.  The only thing was Renee loved to sing, and would wake me up in the early hours of the morning, after talking far into the night, singing over and over some blues song!

Eventually our parents were informed as to our whereabouts.  So Mummy could finally send me some fresh clothes, and eventually come and visit us.  The Rector and his wife couldn’t seem to get servants to stay, and with such a large house-hold and only a cook and char-woman left, we were all assigned various tasks, such as doing our own personal washing, keeping our rooms tidy etc.  Owing to the abundant supply of flowers, an old maid of whom no one seemed to know much about, and didn’t bother to find out, took on the daily job of picking and arranging flowers.

Once in a while the Rector’s daughters would come down for a visit from London.  They were both attractive looking, one blonde and the other brunette.  The latter looked like Jessie Mathews, the dancer and film star, and knew it, as Renee and I found a bunch of photos of the daughter together with several of the film star.

We finally settled down, attending church morning and afternoon if possible.  The village church was a beautiful little place, right next door; in fact the church graveyard was separated only by a brick wall from Renee’s and my room, which we thought rather spooky.  The Rectory was supposed to be haunted anyway, but our many efforts at routing out the ghosts, did not yield very much.  We used to play a kind of Ouija board and had many messages, but always suspected one another of moving the glass.  Our teacher and his wife informed us, that as they were sleeping in the haunted bedroom, that it must be the ghost who rattled their iron bed-posts.  We were sleeping directly under their room and several times heard a few weird noises in our room.

Renee, Barbara, Cicely, Peggy, Cynthia, Margaret, Wendy, Dorothy at the Rectory

Cynthia’s Diary – Story of evacuation from London to Alfold, 1939, Page 2

Cynthia and baby sister Wendy at the Rectory, 1939

Page 2

committee began sorting out the children to be billeted with the local inhabitants.  I waited and waited, until just Wendy and myself were left.  We then learned we were to be billeted at the Rectory with my school-teacher and his wife.  I had seen the Rector pacing up and down, and heard him saying something about they were rather in a muddle, having just arrived back from their holidays in France.  Anyhow off we went.  The Rectory was a huge rambling place, with a beautiful garden and orchard.  We learnt later that a former minister of the church who had resided there years before had planted an apple or pear tree for every child his wife bore.  The result an orchard of 22 trees!  I was asked to wait in the lounge with Wendy.  As I stood there in the middle of the floor, and looked slowly around ending up looking at Wendy’s and my reflection in the mirror over the fire-place, I suddenly felt lonely, lost and depressed.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  What a pitiful looking sight we were.  Footsteps sounded along the hall, and I blinked back the tears, and almost tripped over a moth-eaten looking tiger rug, which Wendy didn’t like at all.  They showed us to a cosy looking little bedroom.  Then Wendy started to howl, she wanted to go home.  We had been told to bring only the absolute necessities.  As my Mother was working in a tobacco and sweet shop, it was left to little old me to pack our bags.  The results being, I didn’t have another thing to wear for either of us, and no night-clothes.  What an unpractical dreamer.  Mrs. B., the teachers wife bought some flannelette and made Wendy some night-gowns.  Later in the day more children were brought to the Rectory:  Dorothy and Margaret, 10 year old twins, and Renee from my school, which made me feel a little better.  The next day, we awoke to the twittering of birds, and wonderful country air.  A young parson’s wife and 2 year old son arrived to take up residence, where-upon I was removed from my cute little bedroom.

Dennis, Eileen, Kathleen, Phyllis, Louis, Dorothy, Margaret, 1939

Cynthia’s Diary – Story of Evacuation from London, Page 1

As I walked along Lavender Hill on that August night, to me, a child of 14, the atmosphere seemed to be filled with tension.  Workmen were busy painting the edges of the side-walks with bright white paint (ready for the great black-out).  Being a very romantic and imaginative young girl, it all seemed very exciting.  A year before everyone had thought there would be a war, and the first thing the authorities did, was to issue everyone with gas masks.  Thank goodness we never had to wear them, as they were the most horrible suffocating contraptions.  They had also had a trial black-out, and my Mother and myself groped our way to Clapham Common to watch the troops work a search-light back and forth in the sky.  One day I volunteered to be a casualty in a mock air-raid.  The attendants tied labels round our necks, and the next thing I was lying on a stretcher, feeling very foolish.  We were all hoisted into ambulances, that were more like tin boxes without any springs and proceeded on a ride around Clapham Common, after an exceedingly bumpy, rattling ride we arrived back where we started from, rather shaken up I’m afraid.

On September 1st, we were told to report to the school playground, I with my young sister Wendy, who was only 3 years old.  My teacher had assured my Mother that his wife would take good care of Wendy.  The great evacuation from London was on.  Labels with our names and addresses were tied on us, and we proceeded to walk to the station.  Photographers were all over the place, and although I felt very excited, I felt a pang of regret; no one knew where we were going.

We finally got in a train at Clapham Junction, and were taken into the beautiful English Countryside, where-upon we were all herded into buses, and finally arrived at our destination, which in our case turned out to be a small hamlet in Surrey, named Alfold.  In the little village school, each child was given a bag, containing an apple, orange, chocolate etc.  After a few formalities, a local

Written by Cynthia Edwards Dowdall
Evacuees arrived here to be sent to their billets