Wartime memories of Farnborough Kent children


by Christine Harding (nee Williams) and John Riches - 2004.

During periods of the War when some Farnborough parents considered the place to be very dangerous, many children were evacuated to safer parts of the country. The vision we have from newsreels of that time is that evacuees filed in large numbers accompanied by members of the Women’s Voluntary Service, onto steam trains at their local station; with a large label describing their name, age and home address fixed firmly to a lapel and a small satchel containing their belongings slung over their shoulder. It wasn’t like that in Farnborough as there were insufficient children to fill a number 47 double-decked bus - let alone a whole train. Parents in Farnborough had to make their own arrangements if they wanted their children to be taken to safer parts of the country away from the threat of enemy air raids.

Christine Williams (now Harding), one of the “Alley Kids” who lived at 2 Pleasant View Cottages has described recently from her home in Eleuthera in the Bahamas what happened. Christine was writing by candlelight as her home and the electricity had been cut off by a recent hurricane. Just like the Blitz she emphasised! Her mother, known to all the local children as Auntie Amy, arranged that Aunty Floss – my mother Florence – would travel to South Wales to look around for suitable accommodation. She returned to Farnborough and collected Christine and me to take us back to Wainfelin, a suburb of Pontypool in the Eastern Valley of Monmouthshire’s South Wales. Christine describes that she felt that she was going on a short holiday and couldn’t imagine why her mother was crying. Her Mum and Dad accompanied us to the bus stop at Farnborough Green to wave goodbye as we set off on a number 47 bus. Just as we were by the Scouts Hut the engine of a passing Doodlebug stopped overhead. We all lay down by the hedge and waited for it to crash.  

We were away for eight long months.!  

As attacks from Doodlebugs increased in intensity in the second half of 1944 more and more children were evacuated. Christine recalls that her two sisters Pat and Anita, her cousin Michael and his Mum Ada, her grandmother Mrs Simons and the neighbours’ children from number one Pleasant View Cottages – Peggy, Carol, David and John Pucknell all went to Burton upon Trent. Some children, when they were evacuated, had very good lodgings, others did not! My cousins Maurice and Norman Hodson were evacuated to Morfa Nefyn on the Llyn Peninsular. As it was a totally Welsh speaking area they even had to learn a new language.  

The contrast between rural Farnborough and South Wales was immense! We had delightful fields and woods close to the village centre, Mr Plumbridge’s market garden over the low wall by the Square opposite ye Olde George and Dragon and the terminus for 51 and 47 bright red double decker buses. Wainfelin a suburb of Pontypool where we lived in a row of industrial terraced cottages half way up a bleak mountainside seemed grim. The people spoke funny and coal was washed in the stream the Afon Lwydd so its waters became pitch black. The blast furnaces on the floor of the valley constantly belched flames and smoke whilst the winding gear of the numerous collieries spun twenty-four hours a day to fuel the war effort.

Steam trains continuously chuffed along the two railway lines through the valley and as they braked going towards the docks at Newport their trucks clanged and banged adding to the cacophony of noise in the narrow echoing, grimy valley.
  At the change of each shift, miners – lots of them Bevin Boys sent to work in the pits instead of military service – could be seen walking along the streets with blackened faces carrying their lunchboxes and helmets.

Although we in Farnborough still had horse drawn floats transporting United Dairies or Co-op milk, ours was at least delivered in glass bottles. In South Wales the milk came from the back of a two wheeled cart holding a wooden tank from which the milk was drawn in pint, half pint or quart measures to be placed in jugs left on the doorsteps. We evacuees considered our Kentish way of life a bit more civilised!

My Mum got a job as a ticket collector on the Great Western Railway at Pontypool Road Station guiding wartime passengers to Hereford, Shrewsbury, Crewe and The North. Christine remembers how we went off for long walks up the mountainsides high above the dirt and clangour onto a land of heather and clear streams. One day we went on a train journey, across the excitingly high Crumlin Viaduct to a neighbouring valley – The Rhondda. We thought we were just on another interesting outing, but when we got off the train at Quakers Yard there, waving from a footbridge across the line, was Old Custard – Donald Curd still one of my best friends and his Mum Doris who lived in Orchard Road. It was a memorable reunion but despite the hospitality of the Welsh people we all longed to get back to our beloved Kent and the fields and woods of Farnborough. Christine remembers that she never wanted to go out of Farnborough again for a very long time. She stayed in contact with Aunty Mary and Uncle Bert Richardson in whose home she stayed for very many years and is still in contact with their son-in-law Bill Cole, now a sprightly 88 years. Of such are lasting friendships made!  

Christine’s Husband Clive who lived in Keston not far from Biggin Hill fighter aerodrome said that his Dad, despite all the bombing and doodlebugs, would not let his children be evacuated. “If we are to go – we all go together!”  

Although many children from Farnborough were evacuated, lots stayed behind. Professor Graham Wood recalled recently, in between celebrations marking the 30th Anniversary of the Corrosion Protection Centre at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology that he set up in 1973, that early in the war Farnborough School was closed and teachers instructed small groups of pupils in homes dotted round the village.  He remembers; that in his home in a house behind The Parish Room (Village Hall.) overlooking the Limes Laundry and close to my Dad’s allotment in Green Gardens; Esme Symonds, Christine’s cousin, climbed on his Dad’s desk. His Dad would not have been pleased if he had known about this as he worked for the Metropolitan Water Board and needed the desk to write important reports by gas lighting to aid the war effort. Later in the war, once air raid shelters had been erected under the playground at Farnborough School, it stayed open continuously.

Once D-Day came in the summer of 1944 and allied armies captured the V1 and V2 launch sites in Northern France the evacuees flocked back to Farnborough. The School once again had a full complement of pupils, whilst 1st Farnborough cubs and scouts, after the depletions of the war, got back to full strength. It wasn’t long before Akelas Rosie Sims and Joan Lawrence made me sixer of Tawny Six – the most memorable promotion of my life.

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