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A London Envacuees Story

Don McDouall was born in London...back in 1934.

      His paternal ancestors can be traced back to the eighth century, to part of Scotland called Dumfries and Galloway. He is one of the three surviving children of Grace and Edwin McDouall.

Edwin McDouall went missing, presumed drowned in 1937.  Rumours were that in reality he went to Spain during the time of that countries civil war and never returned.

      At the outbreak of the Second World War, [September 1939]  Don was separated from his mother and two sisters.  He was evacuated to the village of East Hanney, then in Berkshire.

     The lad was billeted with the Lyford Family along with three other small boys.  Within a very short space of time two of the boys returned to their homes.  About three years later the other lad living with Don also returned to London.

     At wars end Don left the home of the Lyfords and was placed 'in care' in 'Pound-croft',  the boys home in the village.

    Sometime in October of that same year 1945 Don was moved to another `Boys` home situated in the town of Bourne End Bucks. This home was closed down in early 1947.  Don then went back to live with the Lyford family in East Hanney.

     In the very early part of 1952 the boy immigrated to Australia under the guardianship of `The Big Brother Movement`.

With Dons permission extracts from the book relating to the canal and East Hanney are reproduced below.
If you would like a copy of this fascinating book why not 
email Don.

     Extracts from Don McDouall’s book…

A London Evacuees Memoirs.

     Directly opposite the first road referred to, was ‘Steventon Road’.  This was the only road in the village that to my knowledge had a name during the war. ‘Steventon’ road eventually ended up at Steventon [which was a village about four miles away].  But while the road was still a part of East Hanney it gave travellers access to many farms that were scattered along its path, two of which Grampy had at one time, worked on.

     On the left hand side of ‘Steventon’ road were the only houses that were on this road while it was still within the East Hanney village boundaries. 

    These dwellings consisted of three [or was it four?] ‘duplex’ houses and one bungalow house.  All were constructed from bright red brick.  [These houses were quite new, most likely built in the early thirties and owned by Barretts the builders].

     Of particular interest for the time was the one solitary single storied building [at the far end], the ‘bungalow’.  [Bungalows were rare in the villages of Hanney].  The Spinage family lived in the bungalow.

     Doreen Harris`s family lived in one of the houses and in another lived two boys, both older then Donny, Mervin and Raymond Reynolds.

     Early in the forties some evacuee children were billeted there also.  Girls with names as Beryl and Eileen Rice, Olive and Hilda Mac.

    There were only two other bungalows in the village, the one Mrs. Prior lived in ; which was in a ‘cul-de-sac’ that was a spur off the ‘Little Lane’.  There was another bungalow opposite where Colin Herman lived in the forties, hidden behind a thick hedge.

     Terry Flyn, a boy who lived in the village after the war and perhaps during, also lived in what may have been a timber bungalow that was situated in an orchard on the left as you entered Wilkinson’s lane.  It may also have been a ‘converted shed’.

     Opposite these houses on ‘Steventon’ road was the farm Grampy worked on after the war was over.  This farm had a large ‘Dutch’ barn that had been built close to the roadside.

     Further up the road was the ‘wild pear’ tree that Donny and Roy raided every year.  It was hoped that this tree was the same tree mentioned in “A Vale Ramble” by the “Vale Man.”

     The Wild or ‘Choke’ pear tree, Pyrus Pyraster, believed to be one of England’s rarest of trees.  But sadly it isn’t the tree in the book.  It is another much younger one, but still a good enough reason, sufficient on its own to leave this area alone for future generations.  The other tree was ‘killed’ to widen a road!

    Then beyond the pear tree one finally came to the ‘Canal Bridge’.  The bridge allowed the road to cross a disused canal that was always referred to as ‘The Canal’.  It’s known now as the ‘Berks and Wilts’.  This old canal was a very interesting place.  On the right hand side of the bridge if you walked along the canal [which was dry and all overgrown,]  you would come to the ‘old locks’. The gates of these locks were all crumbling away even in the forties.  On the left side of the canal bridge perhaps two hundred yards from the roadway there was a deep pool.  This pool was one of the very few places in this stretch of canal that retained water.  On a summers day Donny would lay belly down in the grass at the edge of the small pool and watch newts going about their busy lives on the sandy bottom.

    It was the only place that the lad knew of around East Hanney where you could find newts.

    Then perhaps another quarter of a mile further along the road towards Steventon, set back off the road on the right was Barrett’s farm.  This was the farm where Grampy worked when Donny was a very young kid.

    About another quarter mile on, on ones right was the ‘Depot’.  [Commonly referred to as ‘The Huts’ or ‘The Camp’ after the war].

   Coming back nearer to East Hanney.  Coxes farm was on the left, just after one passed the grounds of ‘Poundcroft’ [Poundcroft was used as a home for evacuee boys during the war].

    Although just before the war ended [perhaps it was the springtime of ‘45] he went and stayed with Annette and her parents in Swindon for a week.  They made him very welcome.  Amongst other things they took Donny to the ‘greyhound’ races!

    As previously mentioned Roy was no longer around to share my woes.  So Grampy would take me to work with him on most Saturdays and school holidays.  [Bob Lyford was working on ‘Barretts’ farm. Situated on the right after crossing the canal bridge].  I would help him in ‘thatching’ corn ricks.  I learnt how to pull the wet straw from the pile and place it in a ‘clefted’ thick stick, which Grampy would carry up the ladder on his back.  I handed him the ‘rick’ pegs as he required them.  Or perhaps he was engaged in ‘hedging’.  I use to love helping him in burning the large stacks of ‘prunings’.

The song everybody was singing at that time was.

“I’ll be with you in apple blossom time.

I’ll be with you to change your name to mine.

Some day in May I’ll come and say...

In apple blossom time.”

    I remember that sentimental song well, because Gramps bosses son was getting married to this very pretty lady with curly hair.  She impressed me a lot and ‘melted’ my heart when she smiled. She was always humming that song.  The same girl taught me the song...

“I’ve got sixpence, a jolly, jolly sixpence

I’ve got sixpence, to last me all my life.

I’ve got tuppence to lend

And tuppence to spend

And tuppence to send home to my wife.”

    It was while Grampy was working on Barretts farm, that the farm was quarantined.  Having the dreaded disease ‘Foot and Mouth’.  You had to paddle through shallow dishes of ‘carbolic acid’ on leaving the farm and remove your outer clothes.  There were big pits dug in the ground where the cattle [after being shot] were placed.  Then covered in ‘quicklime’ before being buried!  Soldiers were doing all the shooting.

    Sometimes I went with Gramps to the allotment and once there would help him plant potatoes.  He used a thick string line that was wound up on two sticks to mark out the rows and to keep the rows straight.  He went ahead of me and made a row of straight holes.  All the same depth.  Gramps made these with a pole that had been a cleft stick [now it had only one upright the other having been cut off].  You placed your foot on where the other branch had been cut off and pushed the short end into the soil.  This tool was known as a ‘dibber’.

    I would follow him with a bucket containing ‘seed’ potatoes, that had all been cut in half and then each half had been dipped into wood ashes.  One by one, I would drop the ‘half’ potatoes in their respective holes.  When each row was finished Gramps would ‘shuffle’ his big boot along the row filling in the holes and pressing down the ‘fill’ leaving a small ‘furrow’ that marked the row all at the same time.  Sometimes it would be ‘weeding’ to do, or ‘thinning’ carrots and such.

    Horses were at that time the main means of ‘energy’ on most farms.  Gramps looked after at times some thirty odd of these wonderful animals.  That all towered over me.  They were mainly the breeds called ‘Clydesdales’.  They had names like Blossom, Colonel, Betsy, General and there was one old mare, the gentlest of them all, called ‘Smilely’.

    Each horse had great big feet with shaggy hair around their hooves that looked like very large ‘bedroom slippers’.  Such horses [mainly mares] were gentle as lambs.  I remember it use to hurt my legs to sit astride their large backs.  I use to sit up on their neck and hang on grimly to their massive shaggy manes.

    Some mornings [and it would be very early after Gramps and me had had our breakfast of bread and lard or perhaps it was bread and a lump of cold fatty bacon!] we would go to the stables situated in the thatched building that was close by to the ‘Dutch’ barn along Steventon road or at an earlier time it was the stables on ‘Home’ [that many years later housed hundreds of Khaki Campbell ducks] and I would help to ‘harness’ up the horses.

It was the early springtime of 1951 ‘Lipton’, ‘Atchy’, ‘Hedgehog’ ‘Grace’ and ‘Donny’ knew somehow that ‘girls’ were using the ‘canal bridge’ as a meeting place!  The Canal Bridge was the old stone road bridge that crossed the canal about one and a half miles out of East Hanney.  Sadly knocked down back in the sixties, in the name of progress.  It would have been so easy at the time to just go around it with a new road.  The said canal was more or less dry, and unused.  As far as canals go it had had its day.

    Once, long ago, long before Donny had come on the scene, the canal had been a very important waterway.  Most likely it was built in the early, or mid nineteenth century.  But by now it was very overgrown mainly with trees, blackberry bushes and ‘dog’ roses.  In the spring and summertime the canal adjacent to the bridge was a very picturesque place.  Many people used its banks for their Sunday walks, and it was a great place to take ones sweetheart!

    The girls who gathered at the bridge [ It was most likely on a Sunday afternoon, or perhaps quite often a balmy evening.] came from just up the road.  From the ‘ex’ government stores complex. This was a group of untidy looking concrete buildings and lines of ‘Nissan’ huts.  All this was situated about another half mile up the road towards Steventon.

    This compound during the war years was known as ‘The Depot’.  Many men and women from both Hanneys had worked there during the war years.  One would see them going and coming from work on bikes.  One time there was even a bus run.  Donny never knew what the work there might have entailed, or even what it may have been about.  But in 1947-49 the place had been completely taken over by the so-called ‘squatters’.  These homeless people were what adults in the village of East Hanney often called DP`s .  Which stood for displaced people.

    The ‘Depot’ [from memory ] consisted of perhaps twenty or more, large ‘Nissan’ type huts.  These were made from curved corrugated iron, or perhaps it was asbestos sheeting?  Each hut was divided into two houses joined back to back as it were.  Perhaps two of the huts had been converted into ‘public’ wash houses and at least one had been made into a village hall or a club-house. There were quite a few concrete, or brick buildings on the site as well.  All such structures were in varying stages of about to fall down.  But were great places to hold hands with your girl friend.

©  Donald McDouall  2002