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A brief summary in the life of 10 year old evacuee boy.

Evacuated to Blunham, Bedfordshire, 1939 to 1946.

The Name of the boy: Douglas Chambers.

This is a quick review of the day my class and I left the gates of our North London School in 1939, bound for an unknown destination, which at the time the teachers were very reluctant to tell us about, we received very little information at all. I have to admit at that point in time, I was more than a little apprehensive about what was happening. I thought it strange that my mother was casually standing on the street corner talking to a neighbour as we trooped by. It took me quite some time to realize why she happened to be there at that particular time of day, and not at work. The group of school children I was with totalled approximately 50-60 girls and boys chaperoned by 2 teachers from our school, eventually we arrived at a small village early in the afternoon. Each carrying a small suitcase, a cardboard box containing a gas mask, 1 tin of condensed milk, a bar of chocolate, tin of baked beans and a few biscuits. We then received our instructions regarding the billeting arrangements, and were told the name of the village: "Blunham" (most of the signs with place names had been removed). A few of the children were a little distressed at the sudden loss of contact with their families, whilst a number of the boys, myself included were quite excited by the whole thing, I suppose very much like going to a Boy Scouts camp.

On arrival and walking from the station to the far end of the village, the group I was attached to were soon being billeted at houses allocated to them by the reception committee, these people had met us at the station, this I might add appeared extremely well organized. The billeting started near the Village hall, and proceeded along the High St, up the Hill to Station and Barford Roads. A young friend of mine, Stanley Green, with myself were then billeted with an extremely nice elderly couple Mr. & Mrs. Stonebridge with whom I lodged until April 1946. My friend Stanley Green returned to London within 3-4 weeks of our arrival, in fact within 3-6 months or so of our arrival, nearly all the children and teachers had returned to London.

Initially there being so many children, the local school had insufficient room and facilities to accommodate all the evacuees. The Village Hall then being pressed into service as a temporary school. The classes being in the morning only (I'm not sure the reason for this), which suited us fine. Later on when the mass exodus back to London occurred we moved into the local school full time, shortly after I became the only evacuee left. Probably the time referred to as the phony war, accounted for why so many of our original group returned home. I often wondered how the local people viewed us on our arrival, probably, with great apprehension no doubt, areas such as orchards were like Bees to a honey pot for us London boys, although we quickly settled down after the initial foray, with one exception the Pear trees behind the Vicarage. I'm sure the vicar knew what was going on!, but he wasn't too concerned about it, they were the largest and probably the best pears I've ever tasted, and I'm sure we weren't the only people visiting this place. Actually the local people accepted us quite readily.

The majority of the children spent a great deal of their spare time during the summer months, swimming in the river. The swimming spot being directly across the meadow, which was behind the area now known as the Wellsfield. The meadow then being accessible through the yard of The Horseshoes pub, most children would head for this particular spot on the river bank, providing the weather permitted, and providing the Old Slaughter House up stream was not working on that particular day. The smell from this place, was at times was quite unbelievable; I still shudder when I think back, on just how badly polluted that river could be at times, even so it hardly ever stopped us swimming.

During the school holidays we spent a great deal of our time playing in the Park, either climbing trees or clambering up and down the girders of the old iron Railway bridge, luckily enough nobody came to any harm even though it was a dangerous pastime. On another occasion we decided to build a raft from some old scrap timber and a few rusty old oil drums. Our intention being to start from the far end of the Park and float down river. I must admit this raft wasn't terribly well made, it had a tendency for the drums to come loose making it very unstable. More often than not the whole exercise ended in a soaking, I don't think we ever managed to reach as far as the Trap bridge. Our best effort being when we found an old water tank, which we crammed into after launching it in the river, although even that had a tendency to topple over.

During this period of time (1939-1945) the summers were extremely hot, absolutely beautiful weather, the only problem then being, the very bad droughts the market garden farmers had to endure during this extremely hot weather. I remember well, Mr Hunt spending many hours each day filling barrels on a horse and cart with water, collected from the stream that runs through the fields at the back of the school.

As the summers were so very hot, the winters were just as bitterly cold and icy, and occasionally as the ice melted; the High Street became flooded in the area near the Chapel. The one good thing about the icy winter weather from a child's point of view, was the nice big pond situated in the paddock at the corner, of Grange and Tempsford Road, opposite to the Old Farm (the owner then being Mr Rolls). This fairly large pond invariably froze over, making an ideal playground for us children to slide and skate around on.

Another regular pastime that I pursued in the early days was fishing, shortly after arriving in Blunham. I became friendly with Dick Battle, who lived in a house in the Village square, the house is now no longer there. He'd allowed me to accompany him fishing (I probably pestered him into taking me;), and he taught me far more than I ever knew about fishing at that time. I don't recall too many people fishing in the Ivel, again possibly due to the pollution from the slaughter house!!, although there were plenty of eels near the Old Mill. So, either we would walk across the bottom fields to the River Ouse and fish for Pike, or alternatively fish the small stream at the far end of Tempsford Road for Trout. If we managed to get lucky, and catch a few fish, he would then cook them for lunch, not only was he a good fisherman, but also a good cook, I thoroughly enjoyed those fish lunches.

During the later period of my school years, as us younger lads had no Club Room, we decided to ask a well known local farmer, Sonny Dennis whether he would mind us using one of his Storage Barns for a Club House. These Barns were located in the paddock at the corner of the High St and Grange Road behind the Village Hall also, in the corner of this Paddock was an old 1920's open top red London Bus. He kindly gave us permission to use one of his Barns, fortunately the novelty soon wore off, and we used the building at the most for about 2 weeks. That probably was lucky for us, approximately 3 months later the barns caught fire and were completely destroyed.

About a year before I finished school, I got to know a local farmer Charlie Hunt, and started to work in my spare time at his farm. This was probably the highlight of my life at that point in time, being allowed to drive tractors and trucks, also learning to repair engines and farm equipment, being able to work with the horses. What more could a young fellow want during his spare school time, this training I might add was taught to me by the late Robert (Bob) Hunt, through the years the knowledge Bob passed my way has been very useful to me. Then after my schooling finished, I carried on working there on a full time basis, whilst a couple of my other friends, signed up to work on the then, new to be built Tempsford Airfield.

During the early part of my stay, I recall the formation of the local HomeGuard unit. They had the responsibility of guarding the Railway line, and also the two Bridges at the far end of the park. Their other post being the two Bridges in Tempsford Road. During that time a Concrete Pillbox was erected at the entrance to the Old Mill lane, again probably for use by the Homeguard, although I never ever, see them use it. Their Guardroom + sleeping quarters was in the left hand section of the old Institute Building, the other section being then used as a Social Club for the older boys (16 Plus), us young blokes; being excluded. The big tree that stands outside the Institute building had in those days a large bees nest inside (assuming that's still the original tree;), which we always kept well clear of.

The Home Guard "Battle Honours" are as follows: 1 bullet hole through the ceiling of the Institute building, and one chap who managed to shoot himself in the back, accidentally of course (luckily not serious), this happened in the Park on the way to the railway line, I had a first hand account of this, the same chap and I worked for Mr. Hunt.

Soon after the European hostilities began, an area of the Park was turned into a Holiday Camp, the idea being for the people living and working in London to have access to a holiday in the country away from the continuous Air Raids (Blitz). Although this was mainly for rest and recreation, these people also became a great help to the local community, working in the fields during harvest time, doing such jobs as pea picking, picking up potatoes and strawberry picking. This area of the camp was located at the far end of the Park adjacent to the Railway line and Station Road, extending down towards the river as far as the footpath, the whole area being enclosed by a wire fence. Living accommodation being rows of large Tents, with the Dining Hall being a large wooden building situated roughly in the middle of the camp area, this also doubled as a recreation room and dance hall, this camp was extremely popular and continued for a while even after hostilities ceased.

During this period of time, other people that also assisted in the fields were, our own Soldiers, also German but mainly Italian P.O.W's, and of course the Land Army Girls.

Blunham was an extremely peaceful place during the 1939 conflict the only excitement that occurred due to enemy action, was a string of Bombs dropped between Sandy and the Blunham Railway line, the last bomb not quite reaching the Blunham Railway Station. The odd thing about the last bomb was, although it literally ended up in the front garden of the last house, situated at the corner of Station Road and Blunham Road. Apart from blasting a huge hole in the grass verge, I couldn't see any physical damage to the house or windows; the edge of the hole being approximately as close as 3 yards to the end house, very lucky people to have survived without a scratch.

On my many visits to Sandy I frequently had to travel along Potton Road. Being naturally inquisitive, I occasionally wandered into the woods which covered many acres around that area, The entire area of the woods was covered with stacked boxes of shells, bombs etc, I'm of the belief if a stray German bomb. Or the bombs dropped leading up to the Blunham Railway Station had been released 50 seconds earlier, and had hit anywhere in that wood. Sandy, Potton and probably Tempsford airfield would all have disappeared!!, incredibly at no time was I ever challenged while wandering around there.

I continued working on the land until 1946 at which time I departed the Village, I still have a very high regard for all the Hunt family as they were all extremely kind to me, as I might add with respect were all the other people in Blunham. Unfortunately I lost contact with them many years ago, my last visit being in 1963.


The photos are ALL great, but I must admit, I can relate better to the old ones, because they are basically as I remember the place.

Southern end of the High St. view: 2. This really revives old memories, the gateway in the wall on the left, is the farm that I worked at during my stay in Blunham. Also the first House on the right in the same photo, which appears to be falling down (this is more noticeable in view: 1, 1906), still looked to be falling down in 1939-1946.

The Square. view: 2. The house on the right just past the first telephone pole is the place my fishing friend lived. The big house the other side of the alleyway, was a policeman’s home, he was actually stationed at Sandy. This has reminded me of a visit to the Sandy Police Station. This particular day I’m madly cycling past Sandy Police Station, when the front mudguard, jammed the front wheel tossing me over the handlebars, landing me on my face (this didn’t improve my looks ?;), this fellow was on duty there at the time, he ran out, picked me up and took me inside. Opened my mouth and then proceeded to wriggle my teeth, if they weren’t loose before he started, they certainly were after; (somehow I don’t think he liked me).

The High Street:- This would have to be my Favorite of the oldies, a semi-aerial view of the High Street. Great view.

Doug Chambers, January 2000.


This article was written by and is the copyright of Doug Chambers ©2000.

[Last updated on 1st March, 2000, by Colin Hinson. ]

 

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