Dougie Milburn's account of life as an evacuee.
My name is Dougie Milburn; an ex evacuee I am aged 76 and I was attending Kelvin Grove School at the beginning and during the war. At the outbreak of war, I was eight years of age, and I attended Kelvin Grove School in the Bensham area of Gateshead. I was evacuated, but this was not compulsory. I chose to go. I thought it would be some kind of adventure. On the appointed day, which was the 1 st of September we all marched in crocodile fashion from Kelvin Grove School to Bensham Station. I think it was the making of most of us because we had to be very brave, considering we were only about eight or nine, or maybe ten.
Everybody was well behaved and stood and stood at the station on the platform waiting for the train. Nobody cried. Even though we were going to be separated and didn’t know how long for. The train arrived in the station and we all boarded the train. It wasn’t a very long journey to Richmond, where I was going, but thinking back, it could have been rather disastrous, because there were no corridors on this train. If anybody had felt the need to pay a visit somewhere, there was just nowhere to go. Fortunately, all went well, and we arrived in Richmond Station, which became redundant when Mr Beecham waived his axe in the 1960s and disposed of a lot of these small stations. It became a garden centre, I believe.
We watched through the windows of the train as it entered the station very slowly, and all of a sudden we saw a scout: a boy scout going past or rather the train going past the boy scout. He was obviously there waiting for the train to stop. Then we would pass a girl guide and then another scout, and they made our day really. They looked after us. We came off the train and walked about a quarter of a mile up to the National School, which was a very small school. So much so in fact that it has since become a house. We were wined and dined and refreshed. Then we walked from there to another school further in towards the town. That was quite an experience.
We went into the schoolyard and stood in the rain. It was obvious that we being selected and handpicked, by people who drove up in cars, who had been asked to take one or two evacuees into their house. It was a peculiar feeling: it felt like a cattle market. People were looking at us and you could tell by their eyes what they were thinking. If you had baggy britches or a runny nose, you stood no chance at all. But, eventually this pre-war Hillman Minx drove up: a very small car. Myself and four others were bundled in to the back. You can imagine we were all lying on top of each other. Fortunately, it wasn’t a very long journey. We stopped at place called The Avenue, in Richmond.
We got out of the car; straight up stairs. We were getting undressed for bed: somebody came into the room. He said, “There’s too many for this house. You and you”, that’s myself included “have to go next door.” In a state of half undress we went across the Avenue to the Tree Tops, they called the house, on the other side of the Avenue. They same thing happened there. We just got ready for bed. That was it.
The house was occupied by three or four retired people, ex-school teachers and the like. They took their responsibility very seriously. We weren’t allowed out unless we were taken out. We could go round the garden as long as we behaved ourselves. If the weather wasn’t fine we were in the house for the rest of day. We were confined more or less to a very small room with a jigsaw puzzle to keep ourselves amused. This just wasn’t the right sort of environment for us: two healthy young boys.
After about six weeks, I think we became too much for this family. We were moved to a house on Darlington Road. Well this was different altogether! They were a young couple. They had no children, and they had a car, a big garden. We had a freedom that we hadn’t experienced before. You could actually go to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon ourselves. It was a new lease of life. At this stage in the war, nothing had happened. It became known as Phoney War and everybody seemed to drift home in twos and threes. I was home just before Christmas.
There was still too many people away to warrant opening the big schools again, so they devised this house school system. Certain people let a room off two or three times a week and take about nine or ten people around the table. It was quite a cosy event really. I quite enjoyed it, but eventually as more people came home there were enough at home for the big schools to reopen, but only on a part-time basis. For a few months, we went to school mornings one week and afternoons the next week.
With gracious thanks to Dougie Milburn for providing these inciteful memories of World War II