Patricia Thomas – nee Atkinson

When the war started I was nearly three years old and lived with my mother and father in Clapham Common, London; I can remember the bombing we had nightly. This was called the Blitz and I remember my father’s mother and father coming to our front door with their canary, Joey, in his cage. They were all black from the soot that had come down from the chimney, in his panic even Joey flew up the chimney. Soon after that we all moved to Worcester Park, Surrey.

I started school at 5 years ld and spend most of my time in the shelters singing ten green bottles. my mother took me away several times to Peacehaven and Exmouth, Devon, but always came back again to be with my father. “If he dies I want us all to be together” she used to say. The raids got heavier and we were hit with a blast from a direct hit on a nearby house. There were five adults and two children, one me, and the cocker spaniel dog in the Morrison Shelter and we were all singing the popular song of the day, Lily Marlain, which we had taken from the Germans. I cannot remember much, I must have been knocked out until my mother got out of the shelter and turned on the light. A voice suddenly spoke out from the darkness “turn that bloody light out” – it was the air-raid warden. He came in and said “Your roof has gone. All the windows with the blackout curtains. Don’t use any lights, I will bring you all a cup of tea.” Another night when there was a raid my father was coming in from the garden and calling to my mother to come quickly. He said “quick Fran they are fighting to the death out here.” It was one of our fighter pilots and a German plane. My father said remember this, we are living through history and one day we will tell our grandchildren.

Recently, we visited my old school in Worcester Park and the headmaster took me over the school and said that the air raid shelters had gone into a museum and the prefab buildings we had lessons in sometimes had also gone to one. I also remember having to walk to my aunties in Carshalton because there was  bus strike. I was walking with my mum and dad, Aunty and cousin and on the way a German plane came behind us flying low and my dad said “my God he is going to fire on us” and quickly pushed all of us girls into a ditch that was luckily on our left, and he came down on top os us, his arms outstretched to protect us. Sure enough he was right and the plane machine gunned us and the bullets went all along the path above us to the right. I will never forget that day, it was just like a film.

One night my father was talking to my mother and I heard him say to here “I’m terribly afraid that they are gong to invade us soon and we will have Germans walking down our streets. If this happens, they will shoot all the men so I won’t be there to help you. Please promise me that if this happens you will kill Patsy (me) and then yourself. Don’t let them get you.” I don’t think they knew I was there but I felt safe strangely enough. I knew my mum would do as he said and I would be safe. My father also made two coshes, both made of lead. One the placed by their bed and I had one by mine.

I remember at my school one morning all of us children were given one sweet that had come from abroad. We were all thrilled, it was just a small thing but we didn’t hardly have any sweets. My teacher said use every bit of paper – go right to the end and don’t use any paragraphs. Our Merchant Seamen are risking lives to get this to you.

The raids continued and we had many a scare. Every night there were eight of us and a dog under the shelter and we used to hear the drone of the flying bombs VI – doodlebug. We dreaded it when the engine stopped and sometimes it seemed as though it was right above us and we all thought we’d had it.

By now, my two aunts were down in Boscastle and my cousin and my father wrote to them and asked them to try and get my mother and me down there. Eventually they told us that Mrs Beth Ferrett would have us. So began our journey to Boscastle. We went by train to Camelford and they by taxi to Boscastle. We knocked on a cottage door in Old Road where we were to stay and a tall pretty lady opened the door and welcomed us in. That was the first time I saw the lady and I always called her Aunty Beth. Her husband, Uncle Jim, was fighting in Burma. She had five children: Jennifer, David, John, Alan and Richard the baby. My mum put me to bed in the back bedroom we had been given and went downstairs; I was left alone. Suddenly I saw a big black spider on the bed and screamed. Immediately, a girl of my own age came running and said whatever is the matter. I said look at that spider and she laughed and sad you have come from London with all the bombs and are cared of a little spider. From then on we were the best of friends.

My mother got a job at The Wellington Hotel and my cousin and I started the local village school. There were two classrooms, one for the young ones who were us and the one for the older ones. The teacher was doing arithmetic and my cousin started crying because she didn’t know the sums. I said don’t worry the teacher will show you. We used to sing lots of hymns and my favourite was Onward Christian Soldiers. I thought it was a good song for the wartime. Also, we used to go on lots of nature walks and pick flowers. I remember Vivien and Priscilla who lived in the same street as the school. My cousin and aunty lived there with their mother Mary. I used to go for long walks over the cliffs with the children I was living with and as I didn’t like heights I was frightened and didn’t want want to go. David used to say to be “don’t be afraid, I will look after you. You will be ok”. The main who owned the local fish and chip shop used to have a car and us children used to ask him for a ride in it. In those days it was unusual for anyone to have a car and he sad yes he would give us a lift down to the harbour when his shop was [shut]. It was such a thrill and even to this day I can still smell the leather seats in that car. No other cars I have had have ever had that exact smell.

As I have said previously, my mother worked as a waitress in The Wellington Hotel and sometimes if I was lucky she would manage to get me a chocolate marshmallow. Oh, the wonder of having a chocolate cake never since I enjoyed a chocolate marshmallow as I did that one. We had to make our own entertainment and so had quite a few fates and one particular one I remembered so well. There was a fancy dress, I do not remember what it was but Alan who was two at the time and rather tubby was Winston Churchill and he looked the living spit of him. I’m sure there is lots more I could remember but this is all for now.

All I can say is people get caught up in history, and if you are born in a certain place and time, the powers that be shape history and the ordinary people just have to live through it. I’m proud to have lived in that times, proud to see how the Londoners would not admit defeat even though it stared them in the face, proud to witness the courage and cheerfulness that carried them through the Blitz, continual bombing night after night, hardly any sleep and not much food, losing their homes and friends and loved ones, and still getting up each day and carrying on. Also proud and privileged to know the people of Boscastle who welcomed us into their homes and hearts, without question for we were strangers to them. These were certainly very unusual and strange times. We did’t have much but what we did have we shared. My first memory of Boscastle was waking up that first morning and seeing the green hedgerow outside the window and the birds singing. It was so peaceful and lively. I remember the safe secure harbour with all the towering cliffs, surrounding and sheltering it all. The Blowhole and the lashing waves hitting the rocks. The Queen’s Head, so called because it looked like Queen Victoria right at the top of the highest cliff. We used to walk there but I was too afraid to sit on Queen’s bun, it was too high. There was a flagstaff that was o the top of a high green hill. The beautiful Valency Valley with the River Jordan running through it, so quiet and peaceful it was such a lovely walk and you went up so high, ending up at Minster Church where you could rest a while before going on. The quaint cottages in the village that once probably houses pirates; and who could forget Forrabury Church and the walk over Willa Park to the lookout where you could see Lundy Island – yes I remember so much and will never forget. Surely God’s hand and smile must have touched this beautiful and unforgettable place.

Thank you and God Bless Boscastle for being there when we needed you. Please remember this is remembrances of a six to seven year old and penned by a mature woman.

Evacuated with her mother to Boscastle. Read her memories in our evacuees section