Jean Slattery's Story
























































Updated 11/4/00


My Evacuation - Operation Pied Piper

In 1939 I was 6 years old and lived with Mum, Dad and my older brother and sister
in Chelsea, London. We were quite poor as were most people at that time because
the Depression meant no work and no unemployment pay. My father was a First
World War veteran with bad lungs caused by being gassed. He was an unemployed
chauffeur and Mum kept us fed and clothed by cleaning and cooking for the local
rich people who lived in Chelsea (Belgravia). We were fitted for gas masks a year before the
evacuation, they had to be carried everywhere in case of a surprise gas attack.
We were registered to be evacuated with our school - Holy Trinity School, Sloane
Very early on the morning of Friday 1st Sept.1939 Mum took me with my sister Pam
aged 12 and my brother Peter aged 10 to the school. We had been told beforehand
what to pack; it consisted of just a few essentials - a change of underwear, soap etc.,
nightclothes; nothing too heavy for we would have to carry everything ourselves.
A luggage label with my name and address and the name of my school
was attached to my coat, and two more for the gas mask and my luggage.The
schoolchildren were lined up in twos behind the headteacher and we set off to the
Railway Station leaving the group of Mums waving us away trying not cry. I was
confused and unhappy, not understanding what was happening. Mum had told us
we could be home in a fortnight for war had not yet been declared so why were
people crying?
The Main Line Railway Station was packed with thousands of noisy schoolchildren.
The big Steam Trains shrieked and rattled, filling the air with smoke. We followed
our teachers on to a platform and were hustled into a railway carriage. It was when
the train lurched forward on the start of the journey that the fear began. Children
cried and called for 'Mummy', a dreadful feeling in the pit of my stomach made me
feel ill. I am nearly 70 years old now and I still remember that feeling of helplessness
and unhappiness. The train stopped at Egham Station only 26 miles away yet it took
several hours to reach for the train kept being shunted into 'sidings' to let other
trains pass. One and a half million evacuees were brought out of London that
It was a very hot day and we were dreadfully thirsty - we had been forbidden to
carry drinks because there were no toilets on our train.
Everyone had to wait in the station yard to be chosen for billeting. The ladies from
the WVS (Womens Voluntary Services) gave each of us a a brown paper carrier
bag of 'Iron Rations' (Tins of corned beef, fruit, evaporated milk, biscuits and a large
slab of Cadbury's Milk Chocolate) This was to be given to the lady at our billet to
help feed us until money arrangements were made.Some of the children started
eating the biscuits and chocolate. Breakfast had been a long time ago - but Pam
wouldn't allow us to have any of the food. She said it would make us more thirsty.  
She was trying to be sensible and behave like 'our Mum'.
Most people in those days relied on fresh food daily, few people had refrigerators
and certainly no home freezers so taking food to the billet was sensible.
We were not chosen by anybody so the billeting officer walked us around
the streets for about two hours knocking at doors asking people to take us in. We
were hot, dirty, tired and upset. At last a lady said she would take Pam and me but
had no room for Peter. Pamela cried for she had promised Mum to keep us all
together but he was separated from us and we were not able to live together again
for 5 years. Pam sent a postcard home to give our parents the addresses.
We were all in Church that first Sunday of our Evacuation when the declaration
of war was announced then suddenly the siren went and there was pandemonium!
Luckily the 'All Clear' sounded soon afterwards and there wasn't a raid.
Peter's first billet was awful, he was not looked after and when Mum visited she
cried at his appearance. She insisted on a better billet which was found and he
stayed there until he left school at 15.
Our billet was pleasant. The lady and her husband were better off than my family
and though they were firm they treated us kindly.We called them Aunty and Uncle.
Rationing was a good idea. (Of course there were always people who cheat) When
food became scarce it was a problem even with rationing for the shops couldn't
give you what they hadn't got! You had to be registered with a particular shop and
it was almost impossible to change. Your dairy may not have any eggs but although
another dairy may have some you couldn't buy them from there because your ration
book wasn't registered at that shop. It was the same problem with the butcher etc.,
Sweet rationing meant you had only a few ounces a week. Gradually sweets
became so scarce you didn't bother. Ice cream was hardly ever available for the
freezers were needed by hospitals. In any case electricity and gas supplies got
low and sometimes there wasn't any for hours. Coal became scarce and that
meant no fires to heat homes. I remember how cold I was in those those days
during the long, freezing winters. I have never felt that cold since.
Mum and Dad visited whenever they could - maybe 3 or 4 times a year for they
were working for the local Ambulance Station which was kept very busy during
the Blitz. When the bombs devastated London we could see London burning from
the bedroom of our billet. The sky was livid red with flames and Pam and I cried
praying that our parents would be safe. Then bombs fell on Egham and 2 evacuee
boys were killed. It was decided that Egham should evacuate the children again.
Mum wouldn't agree to send me to Wales on my own for Pam was now old enough
to return to London and start work. She was 14. So I was sent further down into
Surrey to a little village called North Holmwood where I stayed until I was 11 years
old. I returned to London in 1944 soon after D-Day and in time to be nearly killed
by Doodlebugs and V2 rockets. While I was away my father had died through the
damage to his lungs caused by the First World War Gas.
Hitler killed himself on my 12th Birthday. The war in Europe ended 8 days later.
Jean (Bexley) UK