Dorothy Pettitt nee Powell
Newton Church Room Renovation Project
The Evacuees came from Bootle
Newton, St Margarets
The Evacuees Came from Bootle - A True Story
The long expected exodus was to take place. The warning had been received by the billeting officers that a number of children were to be evacuated into the quiet hamlet of Newton, where there would be peace and safety, in any case, as far as mortal man could provide in such times of war and stress.
Many were the preparations which had to be made. A census was taken of the people who could, and would be prepared to take into their homes, either one, two or more children as the need arose. Certain equipment was sent in advance by the government. Some of the people who had been consulted were delighted at the thought of new life coming into their midst while others frowned upon the idea altogether, and were inclined to resent the prospect of having to cater for strange individuals, in fact they belonged to the type of people who are against anything which tends to upset their smug, meaningless lives. However, the lovely green patch of England's glory, which nestled under the frown of the Black Mountain, was the spot to which the authorities had decided to send the BootIe evacuees.
Truly an ideal place for such who needed freedom from the terrifying days and nights of mental torture. For it was in the month of May, 1941, when this story was being made history, and at the time of year when everything was at its peak in the glory of the Springtime. The daffodil dell was in itself one dream of delight. The primroses and the violets scented the woodland and wayside to the joy and appreciation of any traveller who passed by and under the open canopy of heaven the warbling lark throated note-like music.
The pee-wit called its name intermittently as it swerved and wheeled its way above the furrowed fields. Sometimes the bleat of a lamb in the vale, or the call of a cuckoo on the wing would break the monotony of the stillness. All these sounds were accompanied by the regular rhythmic ripple of the flowing stream. Occasionally the drone of enemy bombers as they took their way through the wide expanse of the heavens, attracted the attention of the inhabitants.
Some people would term this locality as being on the 'back of the map'. It certainly was far from the maddening crowd, but the natives thought that no other spot on earth was so fair, and if foreigners did not like the place, well, they need not stay. These homely people believed in living their own lives in their own way.
The message was received by the billeting officer, and it stated that the evacuees were on their way. The word was quickly passed round to the people whom it concerned and they were instructed to meet at a stated time at the Parish Room, which was a quaint little building situated near the churchyard, and within a stone's throw of St. John's Church, Newton.
And so gathered the housewives, farmers and farmer’s wives at the focal point in readiness to receive the hapless strangers who had been collected together during enemy activity.
The villagers stood and discussed the topic of the day.
" Aye" , said an old pensioner, as he leaned on his walking stick, " it .makes me wonder what the world is acoming to. Y'know I read in the paper how them there bombers ha' bombed Liverpool, but our spitfires are doing wonderful work with 'em. In my young days War was run on different lines" . " Aye indeed the good old days, we would wish them back for many reasons" , said Mrs. Price in reply.
" Y'know the missus sent me to meet these people who are supposed to be coming. Her ain't very well these days and my oId rheumatic don't seem to get any better" , continued Mr. Fletcher, who seemed to be pleased to have someone to listen to him. In another part of the crowd could be heard Mrs. Smith saying to Mrs. Prosser. " My husband wanted me to take back two boys. He says they would be company for me when he goes to market. What have you asked for?" , " I would like a little girl, because Joan is continually asking me for a sister” said Mrs. Williams, " I do wish they'd come because I have to get back to feed the chickens and milk the cows" , continued Mrs. Smith.
Now in that crowd was a visitor to those parts who was spending a holiday on one of the outlying farms, but before setting out for her afternoon stroll, on that particular day, had been asked by the farmer. " I wonder, Miss Lewis, would you mind going to the Parish Room to meet the children who are expected at five o'clock? I am not feeling very well these days and Polly seems to be tied to her baking" . " Certainly, Mr. Powell, I should be delighted to go” said Miss Lewis, as she sat down on the chair by the bedside of the sick man. " Choose a good strong lad as this is no place for any more invalids, as I am giving enough trouble being like this all the time" , sadly remarked the poor invalid.
Miss Lewis, who was a sister in a hospital, understood quite well how the patient was feeling, and, after having wished the poor man a cheery farewell, went downstairs and said to Polly, who was at that moment putting the loaves, with the help of the peel, into the baking oven. " Well Polly, your Dad has asked me to choose a good strong lad for you" . " A good strong lad sounds all right, but please don't bring me someone I cannot manage" , said the young housekeeper, whose responsibilities were many. But as an afterthought she said. " Bring me one you would like yourself, Win" . " Very well, Polly. I'll do my utmost to please both you, and your Dad. Cheerio" , said she as she sallied forth into the afternoon sunshine and made her way to the trysting place, where all the people were waiting. And there with a whimsical smile upon her face, she listened to the various conversations.
Now into this setting came the buses which contained the precious human cargo. The children had been snatched, as it were, from the jaws of death. From out of the buses on to the greensward strode, limped, or slouched the victims of the dreaded night and day raids. The children were accompanied by their supervising teachers, one of whom was a short person with piercing dark eyes. The second in command wore a fur coat and looked like a capable commander of the child world, the third was a youthful school miss who looked bored with the whole business.
This picture would immediately present to an onlooker that an unusual unique space of time was being lived by the actors: for the stage was Mother Earth's green carpet, and on to it moved the players. Furthermore the scene could well be put on a parallel with the scene in an open market, but this time, as in the days of yore the subjects of transaction were people. On one side stood the dealers, those people who had come hither to obtain the human bargains. Each one wanted the best to suit his or her own particular requirement, who would blame them. For living with people is a special art in itself, and often one which has to be acquired. So in this way the destiny of the arrivals was settled.
On the other side stood the crowd of tired, dirty and bedraggled objects of humanity, complete with labels, gas masks and bundles. They were boys and girls of varying ages.
A few of the little girls began to cry: one tiny mite was minus a shoe. Twin boys strode forth with looks on their faces which read, " Well, what's round the corner? We are ready for anything" , and proceeded to find out, when a voice from the fur coated lady called, " Jim and John Morley, you two stay here until I tell you to go" .
Next to this, the sympathetic warm hearted foster mothers-to-be gathered round. One said, " Poor dears, what a time they must have had" . They then held consultations with the billeting officer, who eyed his new 'hatch of chickens' with much interest. Some of them had settled themselves down on the bankside; one boy in particular, had his chin cupped in his hands and looked the picture of misery. In fact this boy was really very good looking.
Soon things began to move. People signed for the children and those who were ready, took their charges away.
Miss Lewis had a few anxious moments as she scrutinised the strong lads, so in desperation she said to the village school teacher who had just come on the scene, " Your Dad said I was to choose a good strong lad. What do you think of that one for a strong lad?" and indicated the long-legged enterprising twin." Yes" I said. he looks a nice handful. I rather Iike the look of the boy who is sitting on his suitcase" . " Yes he has rather a nice face but I don't think he looks very well" . However, Miss Lewis said to the billeting officer, " May I have that one?" and pointed to the lad whose face was, at that moment, his fortune. The billeting officer went to Jack Wiseman for that was his name, and said, " Would you like to go with this lady?" Jack nodded his head and walked to the side of his newly found guide. A flicker of satisfaction crossed his otherwise glum looking countenance. The crowd gradually dispersed and the children were taken to their new billets. Jack Wiseman was accompanied to his new home by Miss Lewis. Eventually they reached the old-fashioned heavily, oak-timbered farmhouse.
This homestead was three long fields off the beaten track. On one side of it, in the background, was a large wood of some seventy acres. The farm buildings were situated some distance from the house, and three small streams wended their way nearby.
Upon entering the spacious kitchen our two friends were greeted by Polly. " This is Jack" said Miss Lewis. " Come right in Jack, I'll see to your things" , said the young hostess as she eyed her new charge from head to foot. Soon after, the tea was made and the family settled down to the home made bread, butter, eggs and cheese, the fare which was usual, even under the pressure of rationing. But all the members of that party could not do justice to the meal. It was no use pretending Jack was too full up to eat, and with a sob he said, " Can I write to me Mum?" " Oh yes, Jack, certainly. I'll get you pen and paper" , said the homely waitress, who had not had much experience in dealing with children, and who felt this was a bad start in the new venture. Jack settled down to write the letter, and the content of it was for his mother to come and take him home. A gloom had come with the young stranger which spread itself over the household. The pressing question was how could the place be made acceptable to him. So after the boy had been put to bed the family sat in council and discussed the state of affairs. " I don't think you will keep him Polly" , said Win, as she shook her head. " Maybe I have chosen the wrong one" . " No" , said Polly, " I don't think that for one minute. I like the look of him, even if he does not care about us" , and as an afterthought added ''as yet" .
" Oh well!" I said, " We will not let him go without a struggle" . I had just arrived home the billeting officer required me to take some of the children to outlying homes. " We will not post his letter, but will write to his people and explain things. They will be glad to know that he is safe at least" . So a letter was written and sent to the boys parents. Jack's pillow was well soaked that night.
Next morning came with the same gloom.
" What time does the post come Miss Powell?"
Miss Powell made answer that the postman did not come to the house unless he had letters to deliver, but she was going to the Post Office later in the day.
" Perhaps my mum will come next week" , continued Jack. " Would you like your mum to come here Jack?" said Polly, who thought anything to content him for a while. " Yes, and Babs and me Dad" , said Jack. " All right, now you come and have some breakfast and
we will see what can be done about it" , said Polly.
The shaggy sheepdog had found his way into the kitchen and nosed Jack's hand, who then said, " Hello boy, would you like a piece too?” and he gave the dog a whopping piece of bread and butter.
After breakfast was over the senior member of the household was anxious to inspect the new member, so Polly escorted Jack to the invalid's room and announced, " This is Jack, Dad" .
The father said, " Well Jack my boy. How do you like it here?" , " All right, thank you" , said the subdued evacuee. " I hope you will be happy here. Polly there, will look after you" , said Mr. Powell.
After this interview they went downstairs where sounds of life floated in through the open door.
" Ma ma ma maa!" , " All right, my lambkin, you shall have your breakfast next" , said Polly to the four-legged bit of mischief which had, at the sight of her, come bounding across the kitchen. At this sight Jack's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
" What are you going to do Miss Powell?" said Jack. Polly had a saucepan full of milk in one hand and a large bottle in the other. " Well" said she " you see Jack, this lamb has no mother except me, it was one of triplets and so my brother brought it in for me to rear. When I first had Larry he was quite tiny and had such a crisp woolly coat. I kept him in a box by the fire for a couple of days and then he was strong enough to go outside, and now, he is a proper tease, sometimes. Last year I had two tiddlings and I called them Joe and Jane. They were two rollicking lambs, and I hated having to let them go to market - now the milk is ready and so is Larry" . The lamb was getting impatient. " Ah Miss isn't he nice? Can I feed him a bit now?" asked Jack. " Of course Jack. Mind! He's a bit rough and cannot stop for any ceremony" , said Polly who was pleased to see how interested Jack had become. Jack's tryout was not too successful at first, but Polly supervised and the last drop was gulped down. " No more now, it’s all gone: out you go I've more children to attend to" , said Polly, as she and Jack ushered Larry out into the paddock and then shut the gate. " Now" , said Polly " item number two" .
She went to a cot, opened a door, and out came a little piglet, Jack was hard upon her heels, and exclaimed " Miss - a little pig!" The little pig went, " ai, oi, oi" and then squealed as Jack grabbed him, but he soon settled down quietly in Jack's arms. " Miss Powell why is he one by himself?" asked Jack."
" Another story Jack" , said Polly, " his mother and four little piglets died and he was the only survivor. People say it’s impossible to rear little pigs on the bottle, but you see he is a nice specimen now. For the first few days of his life I fed him with a spoon. In fact, I kept him wrapped up in flannels in a box. I call him 'Snouter' because he was rather inquisitive. He loved to put his two front feet on the fender and go to sleep, when he was smaller. Now he follows me around everywhere. He is really more faithful than Larry" . Jack listened intently and then he said " Let me have a try at feeding him" , and to the pig he said, " Come on boy, you take it from me" .
After this came the next items on the day's programme. The chickens, ducks, gulls, geese and hens had to be let out and fed. So across the field went Polly, Jack, Larry and Snouter.
Many interesting incidents occurred, and although Jack sometimes had fits of homesickness but they gradually disappeared as time went by.
One Sunday evening soon after the evacuation Jack unearthed a bow and arrow, a childhood relic of the family, and he had asked if he could use it. Having obtained permission to do so Jack began to exercise his skill and Larry the Lamb was the target. Round and round the house ran both of them. Larry in front, and so many paces behind chased Jack with his bow held, as is to shoot. At certain intervals the two passed by the kitchen window. Inside the kitchen were Polly and me. We watched the play unnoticed by Jack. Five times round went Larry and five times round went Jack. It was quite a distance round the house. There was a long yard to cross and three steps to go down, some railings to go under or over, and a lawn to cross. Sometimes Jack's arrow hit the lamb, and sometimes it went wide of the mark. On these occasions of course Larry gained ground. Eventually the lamb became tired and refused to budge. Jack's voice could be heard " if you don't go I shall shoot. If you don't go after I've counted up to fifty I will shoot. One, two, three" , and as fast as he could count he counted up to forty five, after which he counted slowly as if it were to give the lamb the benefit of a longer time. The lamb still puffing, did not move a step so " Bang" shouted Jack, as he let the arrow fly. Polly could not stand for this treatment of her poor Larry any longer, so she appeared at the door and said, " What's going on?"
" I can't get Larry to move" , said Jack. The lamb immediately lay down " Never mind him, I expect he is tired. Come on into tea" said Polly.
The Coming of Stanley
Jack often talked of his friend Stanley. It seemed that both boys had planned to stick together, but en route Stanley, with others, had been taken to Leominster. One day Jack moaned to Polly, " I've got nobody to play with. Could Stan come here to live?" " I don't see why he couldn't if his mother and everyone are agreed" , replied Polly.
After this conversation letters were exchanged with the parties concerned and Stanley was allowed to change his billet. Jack was very excited about all this and helped Polly to prepare the room for two boys instead of for one.
The day arrived when Stanley Corless was to be sent to Bacton Post Office and to be collected by the ambassadors from the Maerdy Farm. Jack and I were those, and we wended our way through the Lawns Wood, and over ploughfields and meadows to the meeting place.
Jack chatted all the way there. Up the steep hill came a car and out of it tumbled Stanley, a boy of nine years and smaller than Jack. " Hello Stan" , said Jack. Stan was rather shy but he looked pleased with himself. Jack could hardly get him home soon enough. When they arrived there Jack said, " Come on Stan. I've got lots to show you" . So the two boys rollicked off. The first place Jack took Stan was up on to the loft in the outer cowshed where Pontrilas, the cat, had her four black and white fluffy bundles. " This is mine, that's Miss Powell's and that one is the other Miss Powell's" Jack informed Stanley. " I expect you can have the one that's left. We will ask when we go in" .
From there the boys went and explored the barn and stable. Jack's voice could be heard he was so pleased to have his home friend with him.
The boys went to the village school which was two miles from the farm. Polly had a hard struggle to get Jack up ready and in time for school each day, " I'm coming" , would be his answer every time, but often that was as far as he got. Shortly after, a medical examination was given to all the children and it was discovered that Jack had a weak heart, so he was put under the care of the family doctor who, at that time, was a regular visitor to the farmhouse. It was necessary for Jack to stay in bed for a spell. His parents visited him and offered to take him home with them, but Polly would not hear of his leaving on account of his illness, and Jack did not want to go back home so he stayed on.
He was a good patient and spent a lot of time reading. Sometimes Polly would play Ludo with him, which he enjoyed immensely. After the complete rest he became much stronger and was able to go to school again.
Apart from the worry, which overshadowed the home, those were happy days. But as time went on the invalid grew worse, and in the fall of the year our Dad died. We felt the loss of our father very deeply. The boys being around seemed to help us. They were really great. We knew the time would come for us to split and separate. The boys realised this too, for they had grown very fond of their present home and especially fond of Polly. She spoiled them very much and was a good ally to them. I had to supervise them when they had to do certain things which were necessary for their own welfare, or meter out any punishment when required.
Often the two boys thought out and played all kind of games. They built what they called a 'hide out' and had their secret codes. One day they were playing 'Soldiers' and Stanley disobeyed orders so Jack tipped him into the water tank. Another interesting episode took place soon after the funeral. Polly had gone to market, I was sewing in the kitchen, the two boys were upstairs and were very quiet. Then the sound of slow, deliberate footsteps were heard crossing the landing and down the stairs. This was accompanied by the chanting of the “Dead March" . As they came nearer the sound increased in volume. I looked up from my sewing and saw the two boys robed, like priests bearing a large cardboard box on their shoulders, with not a smile on their solemn faces. Round the kitchen and through the dairy they slowly took their way and back upstairs they went at the same pace. My curiosity was aroused so I went upstairs and said to the boys, " Who's dead?" , " Hitler" , said they and saluted. Then they relaxed and showed me the mystery. On top of the box was the wreath, which was in the shape of a harp, next was the lid of the box, inside was the dummy. They had wound a sheet round a hat stand and had drawn on a mask, the face of Hitler with the hair slanting across the forehead and the moustache all complete.
(Many are the stories which could be written about the lives of our four friends during the last three months at the farm).
We worked and played and did the things we wanted to do in that time, and were very happy together. Usually we went out together, and often in the evenings would gather round the baby grand piano for a sing song. Polly and I sang and practised, our classics, the boys joined in and sang the ones they liked best. Jack would often make a request for his favourite song by saying 'Now can we have, I've got sixpence?"
Jack had a beautiful voice and he won the first prize, in his class, at the local Eisteddfod, and by the time he left he could play the piano quite well.
The time passed, all too quickly, and another evacuation had to be faced. The boys did not want to go back to their homes. They would have liked to have gone with Polly: but under the circumstances that was impossible, because she had to get a new job and a new home. I still continued teaching at Newton School and I took the boys with me to another farm and the boys were able to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Gwilliam until the time came, when it was safe, for them to return to their homes in BootIe.
The Long-time Follow-up`
From time to time, Christmas usually, my sister, Polly, has kept in touch with Stanley. Myself, having come back to live in Hereford, I painted a miniature of Stanley feeding the ducks and hens, saying, " Maybe we'll see you again."
He and his wife came. It was quite a difference seeing him with a beard at sixty.
We did a tour around the places, school, church and farms. It was great for them to come, after the years in between. Stan said his children wanted him to visit those two ladies at the farm, but he didn't like to bother us - too shy - so I reckon the timing was right in the end.
We had tea at the Maerdy with my nephew and his wife. Then we called at Tanhouse, where the boys finished their evacuee-time. I was lodging there with them. Mr and Mrs Gwilliam's son, Douglas, and his wife, Phyllis, live there now. It was good for Doug and Stan to meet again too. I asked Stan what he remembered about it there. He said, " The cat got shut in the baking-oven and it came out all wet and sleek, but it lived" I think the oven was used for putting sIippers in by day. Stan also remembered picking wild daffodils from the fields and dingles around, and as we drove by we saw the daffs growing. Mrs Gwilliam sent a big boxful home with them for their mothers.
Stan is a postman. His two children are married.
Jack is in Canada. He is a Librarian he has, at sixty, gained a Doctorate in Philosophy. He
should be coming to England and there might be another reunion.
The Second Reunion
Yes, the time had come for Jack to visit England. So on Tuesday 16th September 1997, Jack, Freda his wife, sister Babs and husband John came to visit me.
Jack seemed still the same, very positive in what he wants to do.
He still paints and enjoys music. He was interested in seeing my Art Gallery and Music set up, especially the harps. Martin and Jenny were at the end of their lesson and we persuaded them to play for us. Jack was so impressed with that he told them not to give up playing the harp.
We talked of the distant past, about things which happened to us in those days.
On Wednesday, they went to the Maerdy. He remembered so many details about the place, one being in the back kitchen two copper furnaces, one for washing clothes, the other filled with Indian corn for the fowls.
From there they went to the Tanhouse where Douglas and Phyllis live and again saw St. Margaret's Church and churchyard.
Jack and Freda have one son.
We all enjoyed meeting again so very much and will continue to keep in contact.
As a girl Dorothy Powell lived at the Maerdy Farm, St. Margarets. In September 1942, the year following the events described, she was called up to the A.T.S.. The Auxiliary Territorial Service was the women’s army. Following training she served on anti aircraft gun posts in Kent and Sussex. After the war she worked as a school teacher in Cambridgeshire before returning to Herefordshire in her sixties. She then leant to play the Harp, gave concerts, and became a teacher of music.
As Dorothy Pettitt her achievements were reported in the Hereford Times in April 2004