University of Oxford
4 files

Childhood Memories of the War - Margaret 'Peggy' Coates

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 19:20 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

I was born on 3/07/1933 and on the Friday before war was declared I was evacuated from Victoria Road School, Gateshead together with my sister, Elizabeth, 12. While I was away and we went to school I don't ever remember seeing any of my schoolfriends, despite being evacuated as a school. We were sent to Sutton Howgrave, near Bedale in North Yorkshire. I remember walking to Bensham railway station with my class and teacher; Mum walked with us to the railway station.

I was carrying a small brown case and my gas mask. It was like an adventure to us; I can't remember ever being outside Gateshead before. The teachers from our school travelled with us - it was a mixture of girls and boys. We probably got a little packed lunch. It probably felt like a long journey to me and we were travelling through the countryside, which would have been a new experience as we lived in a built-up area. Mum was upset when the train pulled away; I can't remember crying.

My two cousins Joyce and Jacky Ferrel were with us, sister and brother - they lived next door. Joyce was 2 years older than me and Jacky was 18 months older than her; Joyce was away for about 3 years. I can't remember where we got off the train - Knaresborough maybe. We were taken to a community hall to meet the people we were going to stay with. Joyce and Jacky were split up - they went to somewhere near Hawes; Joyce was at Fawcet's farm. Betty and I were with the Dawsons - he was a gentleman farmer, and he wore plus fours all the time. Looking back I think Mrs Dawson resented us being there; she had a car and she used to take her son to school in it, but I had to walk the 2 miles there and back. I was 6 and he was 5 and a half. It was the same school. The school was like a little house - there were only 2 rooms and we were of mixed ages. The school was in Kirklington I think. When I was back in later years (1980s) with my sisters the school was a museum. I was one of 8 children, though there were only 6 when I was evacuated. Marie and Pat were born during the war in 1940 and 1944. My brother, Bobby, was only about 2 so he would be at home with Mum. My older siblings were working by then. I can remember having rings (sores) around my legs from the wellingtons; it must have been bad weather and we still had to walk.

There was a fire in the school with a fireguard and you could hang your socks up to dry. We used to go out for walks from school to collect rosehips; it must have been a government effort, they used to give you rosehip syrup - which I'd never had before the war.

At the farm Mrs Dawson used to make us have fire drills, she seemed to enjoy it; we used to have to jump out of the window on the lower landing onto cushions on the rear lawn that she used to put out. It was like a game to us.

I remember the housekeeper, rather than the farmer's wife; she used to run the house but she didn't live in it. I think her husband was one of the farmhands. We ate better at the farm than we did at home; at home, we used to just get porridge, but at the farm, we got Farmer's Glory - fresh milk with cream in it.

The housekeeper was a good cook and she used to bake lovely cakes. We went back as an adult and the son, Howard, showed us around the house; he was amazed that we had come through the war without a scratch. Mrs Dawson used to disappear off the Leeds in the evenings and eventually, the Dawsons split up, which is why we had to leave - because we couldn't stay in the house when there wasn't a woman living there.

I can't remember how long we were away - but Mum used to come and visit us every week or so. I was moved and lived with the district nurse, while Betty went to a neighbouring farm over the village green.

Mum came to visit us one Saturday and I had been left alone in the house with the nurse's father, so Mum decided to take us home. The farmer's wife, Mrs Fryer, where Betty had gone to wanted her to stay; she had a family of lads and the 2 girls she had billeted were a good help to her in the dairy. Some of this is probably stuff that Betty picked up, as she was older.

My older sister, Ena, had wanted to join the Land Army but she was too young at 16, so she went to the Fryer's farm and she used to ride around on a bike with a basket, delivering milk, butter and cheese and working in the dairy. She stayed there for 2 or 3 years. After I got home the Germans dropped a bomb on Gateshead and my auntie took me to see the crater.

My Dad had been injured in a pit accident when he was younger, but he joined up for WWI at the age of 17. He always suffered with his health, his chest was always bad. I remember him telling me he was running through the mud and lost his boots. He got a job at Vickers Armstrong in Scotswood (Newcastle upon Tyne) at one point during the war, but he didn't always work as he was ill.

I regret that he never lived to see my family, but Gordon (the firstborn) was only 6 months. Dad was born in the workhouse at Lanchester and he died in a sanitorium there. I remember when I was about 7 Spiller's Flour Mill was bombed - they were probably after the shipyards. The bomb crater I saw was near Henderson's Bakery.

The schools were closed when I came back from being evacuated, but later people opened their houses as schools and we would go for half a day. My Uncle Hughie was in the Navy and was torpedoed about 3 times, but he came through the war; he was my mother's youngest brother. Another uncle worked on the railways. Rabbit meat wasn't on the ration so we used to eat a lot of rabbit pies, etc; we'd get the meat from the butchers. There was a pork shop on Askew Road and they were Germans; I used to be frightened of them.

I remember we were flooded out of Wilson Street, where I was living before being evacuated; so when I came back the family had moved to Harle Street.


Item list and details

Photos of ID card

Person the story/items relate to

Margaret Kay, Elizabeth Kay, Joyce Ferrel, Jacky Ferrel, and Mr & Mrs Dawson

Person who shared the story/items

Margaret 'Peggy' Coates

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Self, sister, cousins, billeted family

Type of submission

Shared at Millennium Hall, Leicestershire on 17 September 2023. The event was organised by the Burbage branch of the Royal British Legion.

Record ID

106232 | BUR013