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Childhood Memories of the War - Jean King

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posted on 2024-06-05, 17:34 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My Godmother, Jean King (nee Moll).

Jean was born in Hope Cottage, Hall Lane, Oulton Village near Lowestoft, Suffolk on 14th November 1932. The cottage had no electricity and a water pump for the water supply.

When Jean was about 2 her parents divorced. Her mother was a nurse and needed to live at the hospital and Jean was brought up by her maternal grandparents and maiden aunt, Eva. Eva was Jean's official guardian.

In 1939, the children in the area were evacuated, if the parents were in agreement. Not all parents gave their consent for their children to be evacuated. Some chose to send their children to family members in safer areas or to stay in the village. There were several airfields in Suffolk as well as being near the coast, so it was felt the area was vulnerable to bombings or invasion. The evacuated children went by train with their school peers and teachers (Sybil and Olive Godbold), to Barlborough in Derbyshire. The train took them to Worksop and then they travelled on to Barlborough by bus.

Jean was 7 years old. She remembers Eva seeing her off at Lowestoft station. She carried a small case, and her gas mask and wore a label around her wrist, which showed her medical number (TXJ0464).

Before they were evacuated, the children at Gorleston Road school were issued with their gas masks and shown how to use them. When they arrived at Barlborough, the children had to stand up for selection by foster families, which Jean found very unpleasant. The best-dressed children were taken first. Jean went home with a foster family who had 2 boys - The Bunting family. Mr Bunting kept a local garage and had a small black car. They lived in a semi-detached house with a coal hole where the coal was shovelled in. There were open fields at the bottom of the garden. This was a new experience for Jean because up to the age of 7 she had lived as an only child with her aunt and grandparents. In the village there were other children to play with but, living with her foster family, there were children to play with all the time. One of her school friends, Margaret, lived with a foster family nearby so Jean and Margaret played together. Jean learned to play with her foster brothers outside in the fields. She learned to play boisterous games and how to throw a rounders ball. These were all new experiences for Jean. Once she jumped down from a wall into a field with a ditch full of clay. They made a box out of the clay with a hollow in the middle. When it was dry, they lit a fire in it. They found very large mushrooms in the fields and enjoyed sledging in the snow in the winter.

The children didn't attend the local school in Barlborough but were allocated a church hall with 2 rooms. They had very few resources (books, paper, pencils etc), but lots of experiences - Castleton Blue John mine, which is a flooded underground mine explored by boat and also Sherwood Forest to mention just a couple of adventures. They spent lots of time exploring the outdoors. They regularly wrote letters home. The children enjoyed playing outside in a group - skipping, ball games. On Saturday mornings they would walk to the cinema in Clowne. They went potato picking in the fields at Clowne, as well as picking up stones in the fields. They went to church on Sunday mornings. Jean's impression is that the church was a long, narrow building. The churchwarden owned the local hardware shop. She remembers he always started saying the creed a sentence behind everyone else.

Jean enjoyed Christmas with the Bunting family. The adults ate their goose dinner in a separate room from the children. After dinner, the children played with a methylated spirit train laid out on the floor in the scullery. Jean was with the Bunting family for 1 ½ years. She said it seemed a long time, but she was happy there. Her mother, aunt and grandfather each visited her once during that time. After 1 ½ years the parents were told it was safe for the children to go home if they wanted to. Jean went home with her grandfather and the whole school returned en masse.

Jean easily slotted back into home life although she had put on weight and developed a Derbyshire accent. She returned to Gorleston Road School. She sat the [?] but there was an air raid in the middle of the exam. Jean failed the exam. She went to Knotley Road School. After 2 months, she was interviewed and was offered a place at the Grammar School where she started into the 2nd year. There she enjoyed the curriculum as well as the outside activities - the slow bicycle race and the farmer's assault courses were part of the Gorleston Road Sports Day.

The army had dug a ditch in front of the cottage with bofors guns and searchlights, to lay water pipes and electricity cables, so the cottage now had electricity. There was an army camp at the end of the road. Jean remembers the sky being full of aircraft. The Americans had joined the war by 1943 and Jean realised she could identify many of the aircraft - "Liberators", and "Boeing Flying Fortress". Jean's mother took her to Watton Airfield where she was allowed to go in a Flying Fortress. She remembers the American airmen gave the nurses a parachute to cut up for making underwear. They also gave them pineapple and other exotic gifts.

When Jean came home, the family always had a roast dinner on Sundays. They kept chickens and preserved the eggs in isinglass. They had a dairy and enjoyed fruit and vegetables in season. There was no imported fruit. Jean remembers spam fritters and corned beef. Jean's aunt Eva was a dressmaker and made her clothes. Eva would Jean send clothes parcels when she was evacuated.

There were still air raids to contend with. One day a friend's mother was killed in an air raid while in the dentist's chair. Shops tended to stay open and just hope they didn't get bombed. One day Jean and Eva were cycling home from Lowestoft when they heard an aircraft. They threw their bikes down and dived into a ditch. The Stukas gunned them, and they only just got out of danger in time. The cottage windows were taped to prevent them from shattering. As they walked to Gorleston Road School and passed new bomb craters they always searched for pieces of shrapnel.
In Barlborough there were no aircraft so it was terrifying to come back to Suffolk and experience low-flying aircraft. One day Jean was cycling home with her mother from Hopton along the coast road when a low-flying aircraft came over. She was terrified and made her mother get under the hedge.

Jean remembers the community spirit of keeping everyone together. There were dances, whist drives, concerts etc - anything to bring the community together and make the most of living in such difficult circumstances. Other memories include - dear Grandad had tried to erect a bomb shelter in the garden but found a high level of water a couple of feet down so that was a no-no. So, with air raid warnings and the subsequent sound of enemy aircraft, we four either dived under the kitchen table or gathered in the pantry!

The buzz bombs (V1) were another horror! We would have the warning, then the drone of the flying bomb and you would listen for the engine to STOP and then it would be heads under the table and wait!!!

Other memories from Jean's friends:

Pat Dunham (nee Massey)
"Gorleston Road School was sent to a pretty village called Barlborough whose people were so very kind to us. We all gathered in the village hall while Mr Pender, our Headmaster and the elders of the village placed us in our homes. My foster parents were Mr and Mrs Nightingale. They had a spinster daughter Ida, and a Scottie dog called Jock. They lived on the outskirts of the village, and I was not allowed back into the village after school. Mrs Nightingale made other children welcome, but they did not come very often. However, I was very happy with Mr and Mrs Nightingale".

Valerie Humbly of Church Road Senior School recalls:
"The thought of leaving our parents and our home was completely shattering to my sister and I. Apart from one short trip to London, we had never been separated. To add to my sorrow my sister and I were to be separated, for we attended different schools.

We joined the milling crows at the station. A band was playing - shall I ever forget the tune? "I'll pray for you while you're away". Again, tears flowed freely. The train journey seemed endless, and when we eventually arrived at the little station near Shirebrook in Derbyshire we were hot, sticky and very tired.

We were ushered into one of the local schools and sat on the floor. We were given buns and a drink while the local folk came to look us over. They were very kind, but they picked us out rather as if they were choosing fruit from the market stalls!"


Item list and details

Wedding photo.

Person the story/items relate to

Jean King

Person who shared the story/items

Jean King

Type of submission

Shared at Hadleigh Library, Essex on 4 November 2023. Organised by Hadleigh Castle u3a.

Record ID

99570 | HAD012