Mara's Culleton's Story


I understand that the evacuees of London marched in the

Remembrance Day Parade.

They wore their brown labels as they had done on that fateful day in

September, sixty-one years ago. It is always a source of amazement

to me how the children of war are overlooked by everybody.  


We lost our childhood in that war, and I wrote to 10 Downing Street asking

for reparations. The reply was polite but negative. As I live in Canada the

British government adds insult to injury by paying us a pittance of the British

Pension, although I understand in the United States you get the full amount.

No end of people have tried to make the government put us on a par with

British Ex-pats. residing in other countries, but so far there has been no success.

Sadly my treatment as an evacuee was worse than yours. Our caregivers

didn't just call us names, they were physically abusive, or at least he was

and she stood by silently. We were three children. My oldest brother

was eight, I was six and my younger brother was four. The Marshall

name will be etched in my memory until the day I die.

My oldest brother died at the age of twelve as a result of an injury acquired

during our evacuation. My family was devastated, particularly my parents.

My Dad who was with the BEF(British Expeditionary Force) was reported

missing at Dunkirk, and my mother was in the thick of the London

blitz with three younger children. Fortunately, he returned home and

paid an unexpected visit to his three older children in Dorchester.

He was appalled when he saw the evidence of our abuse

and took us back to London without collecting our belongings,

but not before he took a round out the Headmistress for not

reporting these savages that called themselves foster parents.

We never left London again. We came out of the shelter everyday

to see the air raid wardens going through the rubble, and carrying out

the bodies wrapped in sheets. Like you we saw London burning.

We lived in the West End but the Germans were after the Rolls Royce

Factory which was now making airplane engines. It was several miles

away as the crow flies, but they dropped land mines and every conceivable

weapon but never hit it. They kept hitting a big church nearby. Eventually,

they stopped rebuilding the church and let it stand until the war was over.

My Mother was sent calling up papers. She marched the six of us to the

War Office and showed them what she had received in the mail. They

were hysterical and after giving us a wonderful tea with chocolate biscuits

and pastries, they apologized profusely, still laughing their heads off.

I saw the prisoners of war return, both from Japan and Germany. Even

at the tender age of eleven, I was appalled at their appearance. Throughout

the war, when it was possible to go to school I travelled to Chelsea. I saw

the burned airman on their way by bus to Roehampton for McIndoe to

work his miracles. Even at that, some were so disfigured I found it very

hard to sit next to them on the bus. I felt so guilty about this for years.

And then, my Dad brought home the books of photographs on the

concentration camps. We were speechless at man's inhumanity to man.

As much as I cried, my Dad made us sit through it so that we never forgot.

Inasmuch as we were supposed to instantly trade the hatred we had for the

Germans of that generation, when the war ended, for thoughts of kinship

and generosity of spirit I found it hard and still find it impossible to feel

compassionate toward German children, whom I know, were in many

cases suffering the same horrors we suffered in that war. I have no magic

wand to erase these thoughts from my head when I stand at the Cenotaph

every Remembrance Day and see the veterans faces, recalling that these

men were eighteen, nineteen or twenty when they left to fight for their


If the Jews can ever forgive them, then I suppose I must try, but I suspect

I will leave this earth with these feelings intact.

War is never a single incident in history but will live with those of us

who experienced it ad infinitum.

I am by the way a writer. I worked on Fleet Street in my early days and

although I am no longer a journalist, I still write the odd article.

Most of my writing nowadays is in other areas, nevertheless,

I have recorded my own experience.




My parents sent me to a day school when I was three and a half years

of age, located in the Duke of Norfolk's grounds, a heavenly acreage of

tranquility surrounded by a twelve-foot wall that enclosed the new

Carmelite Convent in one corner and the old Convent, now converted

to a school, in the other corner. The grounds were magnificent. 

In winter we had classes inside the cloisters.  In summer, weather

permitting, our books were taken out onto the grass and under the s

hade of giant oak trees, with only the distraction of birdsong,

we learned our lessons.

 At twelve noon, the youthful novices in their white robes came over

from the Convent to sing the Angelus and escort us to lunch. 

Fresh faced young women who sounded like a band of angels

then returned to the Convent to perform mundane tasks allotted them

before they took their final vows of (they never spoke to a living sou

l or saw the outside world again) and receive the veil. After lunch or

at recess we helped the gardeners plant bulbs.  Day after day for three

years in the calm of these serene surroundings we could not help b

ut cultivate a facade of gentle conduct, although we were probably just

as mischievous as any children in any circumstances.


Just as the winter term was due to begin, WW II was declared on

September 3rd. 1939 and our halcyon days ended abruptly.


That same day the evacuation of the children of London began. 

We were placed on a train with hundreds of other children and

sent to the countryside of England with labels tied to the lapels

of our blazers for identification in case the train got bombed. 

We jostled each other to get to the carriage window to catch a last

glimpse of our parents as the train left the station. I was six years old

, and my brothers were eight and four respectively.  We had never been

away from our parents until that moment.  We had no idea where we

were going or what was going to happen to us.  An hour or so into the

journey we were given brown paper bags containing sandwiches and an

apple. Our Headmistress appeared in the carriage doorway and told us

that our destination would be Dorset (Thomas Hardy country) and that

we would be boarded at a local school. This plan never materialized because

there wasn't a school big enough to house us all, so we were

farmed out to local people.


Some of us were lucky with our temporary caregivers and some of us

weren't. We were among the latter.  By now my Dad had enlisted in the

army and on a brief leave before disembarking for overseas, he paid us

an impromptu visit during school hours. The physical abuse my older

brother and I had suffered was clearly visible. He took all three of us to

the station without even allowing us to collect our belongings, but not

before he almost took the roof off the school telling the headmistress

exactly what he thought of her.


We returned to our home in London just in time for Hitler to start

bombing us in earnest.  Nighttime raids were the most consistent. 

 I had three prayers, not to die in my sleep (I would try to stay awake

until the all clear sounded); not to be buried alive and finally never having

to dig in the rubble for my family.  These were my nightly prayers

until the Blitz ended.


Daily I watched bodies wrapped in sheets being taken out of bombed

buildings that were there the night before with live people in them. 

We attended school sporadically until the school was bombed, and then

we were home schooled by reading to each other and teaching simple

sums to our three younger siblings.


Rationing was brutal and food was scarce so we were often hungry,

but all meals took place at the dining room table.  While we sat waiting

to be served, we listened to the progress of the war on the radio. 

After the news, the lists of the missing and the dead were read out

by Alvar Liddell the BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) newscaster.


After the disaster of Dunkirk, we were informed that my Dad was missing.

We didn't believe the telegram, following my mother's resolve. 

We still listened in complete silence everyday to the missing and

the dead newscast. We put the blackout curtains up at our windows every

night, unlocked our front doors and did what the Civil Defence Workers

told us to.


This war had made adults out of small children as we listened in despair

to the conversations around us. Exotic geographical locations became as

well known as the names we were given as we unwittingly learned the

map of Europe by recurring familiarity.


By the time Pearl Harbour was bombed and the Americans  joined us

to fight this war, we were overjoyed. They gave up there leave time to

throw parties for us at the Milo Club (a former private club in Kensington)

where we were given such treasures as pencils with erasers on the tip

(an unknown commodity in the UK  in wartime.)

These interludes and our interaction as children with these delightful young

men remain above all else in my mind, some sixty years later and have been

the catalyst for my everlasting kinship with the American people.


We continued through the war slipping into pubescence through a myriad of

new, more murderous weapons, as the war progressed and it became more terrifying.


My Dad finally showed up having been hidden by a French family.

He came back devastated by the death and destruction he had witnessed

. While he stood in the Ocean with a fully loaded pack, waiting for the little

boats to come along and pick him up, the Germans started to machine gun them.

The British Expeditionary Force left the water to take cover. Many were

killed or drowned. It turned out to be a dreadful tactical error made by the

military brass. But his war wasn't over. He was sent to other places of war

while his family tried to survive the Blitz. We were bombed out of our

home twice.  It was a nightmare.


I lost my beloved 12 year old brother in that war. My parents never recovered

from his death. The other five children survived, and I became the

eldest child in the family.



  My Mum had gone shopping and left me in charge.

Her words as she left were "Finish your homework, do not let

the fire go out and take care of the younger ones." I casually

agreed to all this and sat in a blue living room. Blue carpet,

blue drapes, high backed moquette chairs (didn't half make your

bare legs itch) working away on my algebra (which I hated) so it

took me twice as long as it should. The others were playing happily

around somewhere. All of a sudden I looked at the fireplace and

there was no fire, only embers. I emptied the coal scuttle on, but

nothing happened. I went and got some stuff (which I had seen

Mrs.McCoy do) and threw it on the embers. Some of it spilled in

the hearth and immediately burst into flames. It spread to the carpet.

I ran to find the others and put them outside. My sister Rita screamed

as she passed the hallway. Her screams were heard by a passing

mailman who ran into the house. He picked up the coal scuttle ran

and filled it with water and threw it into the fireplace. By this time

the curtains had caught, but by then people appeared from everywhere

and between them they put the fire out. My mother's lovely living

room was destroyed, but everyone was safe. There were still some

coal slack left in the scuttle. You should have seen the mess.

I thought she's going to kill me when she gets home. She didn't

and was only concerned that we were all right. I couldn't sleep in

my own bed for many nights and had to sleep with my Mum

until I got over it. Every time I closed my eyes I could see flames.

She didn't even raise her voice to me.

I think there must have been insurance because it was all put back

a few weeks later as though nothing had happened.




 The radio programme The Man in Black will live in my memory forever.

We had been allowed back home although the doors wouldn't shut

properly and were very loose. The slightest wind tore them open.

One evening after an episode of this very scary program which I

believe took place on a light house, my mother reminded me it was

my turn to make the cocoa. As I Ioaded the cups and saucers on a

tray the back door suddenly opened. I raced with the tray back to

the safety of the living room, throwing the tray and china into the air,

such was my fright. My mother raced to the door with a hammer

convinced by my behaviour we had an intruder. One cup hit my

brother and broke cutting him superficially. My mother realizing

what had happened after calm was restored, threatened me with

never being allowed to listen to the Man in Black again. By next

week all was forgotten and I was seated in the armchair nearest

the radio. Good job we had a lot of china.




I was out last night with friends from Manchester. His Dad was the

Chief of Police and on his way home after a long day and driving his

Mark 5 Jag. (Police drove these in those days) he was flagged down

by a vicar in a the village. The vicar told him there was a strange noise

coming from the back garden. The very tired police chief went to

investigate. He stood around the corner of the house in walled garden

preparing himself with his L shaped flashlight and his truncheon.

He heard a sound he couldn't identify. Best described as a grinding

noise. His flashlight finally fell upon the culprit. It was a land mine

attached by a parachute swinging back and forth in a tree. The chief

cleared the area for half a mile around, and the bomb disposal squad

dismantled it safely. Of course, it would have wiped out the area.

The chief didn't get an early night, but he saved a lot of lives including

his own.




One night in the midst of a heavy raid of V1's or V2's a couple entered

the shelter. The wife came in just behind her husband and as she did the

blast lifted the hem of her skirt. While clutching her skirt with one hand

she clapped her hand over her mouth with the other hand and she

turned to leave.

Her husband asked where she was going?

She said in a stage whisper "I've forgotten my false teeth."

He said, "Don't be ridiculous woman, it's bombs he's dropping out there,

not sandwiches."



Revised 3/27/01