World War memories
When Britain went to war in 1939 few people realised how long it would last and how it would change so many lives forever – from those that went to fight and never came home, to the families whose homes were destroyed in the bombing raids and the children who were sent away as evacuees. As we mark the 69th anniversary of the announcement of the end of World War Two on 8 May here one reader, Joe Comerford, shares his memories of growing up as an evacuee.
The war baby
In 1939, when he was nine, Joe Comerford was evacuated from Liverpool to the seaside town of Southport – and later to Wales – with his mother, his brothers and sisters, and his entire school.
When I was evacuated I was given a gas mask and a bag with some biscuits in it and, along with all the other children, went to the railway station with my mam. We didn’t know where we were going or what was happening, but when you’re that age you just go where you’re told. Lined up next to the steam train it looked as if everyone was going away.
When we got to Southport it was like going to heaven. It was the seaside and there were all these shops with toys and buckets and spades and things piled up outside. We’d never seen this before and we assumed they were put out there so we could play with them for free – so we did. We were little scallies in those days.
My mam found it really hard because at home it was always our dad who kept us in order. If any of us did anything wrong, he’d take his belt off and whack us all just to make sure he got the right one, but he was a docker and so stayed in Liverpool. My mam had the job of trying to keep us all under control.
After about three weeks I think she’d had enough. She was carrying our little sister, May – there were nine of us by the end of the war – and one day just said, “That’s it, I’m going back.” It was just too much for her.
We had been living together in a house, but when she left we were billeted out to live with a family. I was with my brother Terry, and his twin sister, Evelyn, was across the road with a family who ran a dairy. We used to go there on Saturdays and clean the milk bottles for sixpence and think we were millionaires.
We stayed in Southport for about 12 months and were then given the choice of going to Wales or the United States. We chose Wales, and I can remember saying to our Terry – we were together through the whole of the war – “Well, I’m not sure where Wales is, but I think I can find our way home from there – but I can’t get us back from America.”
It turned out to be the right decision, because the ship we would have sailed to America on was the one that sank with all the evacuees on board.
I ended up living on a farm with a family in Rhayader. Mrs Jones, the farmer’s wife was quite strict. I remember I wasn’t allowed to have meat at dinner-time unless I had a slice of fatty bacon.
I could never face the bacon, so I didn’t have any meat the whole time I was living with the Joneses. But I didn’t think anything of it because I never had meat at home, anyway.
It didn’t feel like a hardship at the time – it was a different age. Despite being strict, Mrs Jones was very kind to me. She bought me shoes – before that all I had were galoshes and canvas boots. She also gave me a suit and tie – I thought I was a little toff when I was all dressed up.
Being evacuated broadened our horizons and showed us a bit of the world. We were little townies who’d never seen anything of the countryside before, but when we were on the farm we helped with the milking and mucking out, looked after the chickens and I also learnt to ride a horse.
For the last three years of the war I lived with a family in Builth Road. I was evacuated for so long that I left home a child and returned a man – I didn’t go back to school but started work delivering telegrams – but I don’t think being away for so long affected my relationship with my family. Even with all those years apart I loved my mam just as much.”
Want to read more? Click here to read about a member of the secret squadron of female pilots who delivered fighter planes around air bases during the war