Phyllis Adams – nee Atkinson

I have being thinking a lot latterly about writing a story of when I was an evacuee. This thought came to me when my two youngest grandchildren asked me what happened during the Second World War as they had to write about it at school. Whilst talking about it many memories came floating back to me as I’m sure you can imagine!

I was born in Clapham, London, in 1929. My parents already had three children but they were all in their teens, Billy 13, Lydia 15 and Charlie 18. Things were so different then, because my mother was a huge lady, she concealed it and they were very surprised when she had me. I had heard my eldest brother was to have said ‘Who thought you would have any more kids?’ I think I was talked about as the mistake, of course I didn’t know what this meant.

We lived there until I was about six and then we moved to share a house with my Aunty and Uncle in Harleyford Road.

I think I was a little spoilt because I was the youngest, my sister Lydia and her boyfriend Ted took me out a lot, and they had a motor bike and side car. I can remember a happy childhood. Then when the war broke out in 1939 I was ten years old. At first my parents decided to send me to live with a friend of theirs in Cheam, Surrey, thinking it would be safer as we lived very near to the city.

How different things were then. I would walk to the Oval to get on the underground to Morden, then on a bus to Cheam, this would happen every Sunday evening, to spend the week in Cheam then Friday evening the same journey back to London for the weekend. Sadly this would never happen now because it would not be safe for anyone that young to venture out on their own.

I lived there for about a year and as there was no danger at that time I went back to live in London but not for long as the school advised our parents things were going to get bad, so then I became one of the thousands of children who became an evacuee.

I remember the day even now. We all met on the station, carrying our cases and a little brown case with a gas mask in it. The parents and children, many in tears, because we did not want to leave them, we did not know where we would be going. We were paired up with a friend, I was with a girl called Eleen and would stay together on the journey and afterward. The journey seemed endless and Eilein cried most of the time. We arrived at a station called Camelford, then a coach journey to Boscastle. We were in Cornwall at last.

We all sat in the little village hall, I think about 50 of us. People were coming to choose who they would give a home to, I can remember feeling sad because nobody chose us, but we were told after, they were saving us to go to a lady called Miss Whitchead. They took us to this lovely huge old house. We were greeted by a very old lady and a young girl who was the maid. We were shown into the large living room and when we looked out of the window we looked out across the valley below, it was a lovely view with the hill covered with primroses. I have loved the plant ever since then. The house was on a road called New Road and just a bit further along was what was called the hairpin bend from this forest you cold see the beautiful harbour and the sea. This would lead down to the shops and little bridge over a steam which ran down into the harbour. This was the area that was sadly flooded about 3 years ago.

We lived very happily with Miss Whitehead like a couple of princesses with all our needs met and the maid was very good to us. Miss Whitehead was a religious lady and we were sent to church every Sunday, morning service and Sunday school in the afternoon! The little church was in a beautiful setting on the cliffs called Forrabury. We didn’t hear anything from home for a few weeks and I was very proud because my parents were the first to visit because they worked on the railway and had cheap travel — money was short. Many parents couldn’t afford to come so my mother brought letters from the parents to their children which you can imagine was wonderful because they hadn’t had any contact since we arrived. We were placed in the mission hall for our school and a lady teacher who came with us taught. But one day she stood in front of the class and pored a kettle of water all over the floor, we didn’t know until later the poor soul had a nervous breakdown — it was probably the strain of it all. We were then moved into the little local school with the local children. I can’t remember doing a lot of work as we were sat at the back of the class and seem to remember going on lots of nature walks.

After about a year dear Miss Whitehead became ill, so we had to move. We went into the village with a lady called Mrs. Gam. Although she was very kind, she already had 3 other evacuees so our standard of living was quite different and we had a lot more chores to do. I remember walking across the fields early morning to a farm to get milk in a can for breakfast. To get to the farm we passed a large tree we called it the Bell tree because it was shaped like a bell. We would climb up it and many carved names which are probably still there. One day I had an urgent letter from my sister Lydia who now had a little daughter called Sylvia. The bombing was so bad she asked me to try to find somewhere for her to come to live because they had lost their house so I went around all the houses trying to find someone and luck came when a lady and man, Mr. and Mrs. Hilton said they would take them. They lived in one of the oldest houses in Boscastle which feature a lot to this day in many picture postcards. So Lydia and Sylvia who was about 3 years old joined us which was great for me. They were every happy because Mary and Bill had two little girls called Vivian and Prisca. I also found a family to take in my sister in law and her daughter Pat, a family called Ferretts who already had 6 children of their own. It was unbelievable that we didn’t know there was a war on except for one incident one day a German plane dropped a bomb on top of the cliffs, probably on his way out of London. All the village turned out to see the crater it left.

After 2 years, which I look back on as the happiest days of my childhood, it was decided the bombing had subsided and we could go home. I wasn’t to return to London because my family had been bombed out of their home and had moved to Worcester Park in Surry with my brother Charlie and his wife to share a house, so I returned there when I came home from Bos Castle. Having to start again in a new area and a new school was quite difficult I was now 13 years old. Things were fine until i was fifteen i had started to earn a trade in dress making. One evening i was in a youth club in Worcester Park, when we heard a terrible noise above and then came to a sudden stop. It was what turned out to be what we named the ‘Doodle Bug’ The Germans decided to terrorise us again. That evening turned out to be one of the worst ever! My parents thought that i was dead as they heard the bomb had landed in the road where i was in the youth club. They were relieved to see me arrive home safely. In our house we had a very large table made from iron, we used it as a shelter and succeeded in saving our lives, as we slept under it that night with the girls under and the men on top.

The doodle bugs came over all night and went of first, a couple of roads away from us. All the windows were blown in and smashed glass everywhere. The next day we could not live there, so we got on the bus over to where Lydia and Ted lived. I remember walking along the road opposite, diving into a ditch to avoid the bombs.

We once again asked Mary and Bill if we could return to them, they of course said yes, so once again we found ourselves, me Lydia and Sylvia living with these very kind people. We spent about 6months with them, and had some wonderful times. We returned home when the bombing had finished. We could never repay them for all the kindness they gave us.

The years have gone by, we went to dear Mary’s funeral; she sadly died in August 2005 at the age of 90. We try to visit Vivian when we visit dear Boscastle and keep in touch. I have a wonderful family; 10 grandchildren and one great granddaughter. My family all like to visit Boscastle and I can see why; it means so much to me.

I will always have wonderful memories of my years spent there and i hope i will be able to make many more visits.

Evacuee Phyllis 1941 aged 12 and Sylvie aged 3 in the Valency Valley