Cliff Douthwaite's Story
I had just turned seven at the evacuation in 1939 and was then at Lavender Hill School. Parents were given the option to keep families together, so I was sent with Battersea Central School with my two elder brothers Jack (12) and Ted (16). Although Ted had left Battersea Central School and was starting a course on Industrial design at the Borough Polytechnic (this today has the grand title of The University of the South Bank, London.)
But, Mum sent Ted to make sure his kid brothers were looked after. Keeping families together seemed a great idea but did place a larger burden on those we were billeted with.
I cannot remember much of the journey apart from the trauma of being locked in a train compartment not knowing where we were going, but big brother filled in some of the following details.
From the dispersal point at Petersfield the Battersea Boy's Central School had to be absorbed by the surrounding villages. As the party included over 240 children, it was necessary to divide.
After consultations with the organising authorities, the original plan of three or more groups was dropped and the party was divided into two, one-third (80) going to Hawkley and two thirds to Rowland's Castle. The Hawkley party under the charge of Dr. Raine included Mrs. Raine, Mr. and Mrs. Alway, Mr. Forbes, Mr. and Mrs. King, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams.
After sitting in the Parish Church at Petersfield for a considerable time and being entertained by a pupil of the church organist who was practising the national anthem, three motor coaches were loaded with the Hawkley contingent and started off for their unknown destination. Having been introduced to Petersfield &endash; it's cinema, shops and other sights familiar to Londoners, they naturally thought it to be their billeting centre but as the journey proceeded and all modernity was left behind they began to wonder what was in store for them.
Our wonderment increased when one motor coach failed to negotiate the hairpin bend on Hawkley Hill and had to make a second attempt, being towed by the first coach (this bend is still dramatic even in a modern car) eventually, a church spire came into view and then a sure sign of habitation the 'Queen's Arms'. Soon afterward, the coaches stopped outside what appeared to be a small church hall but later they knew it to be the village school.
The Village Evacuation Committee had made careful plans for the reception and billeting of the party but as they were expecting a junior girls school to arrive, they were greatly perturbed to see several lads, nearly six feet tall, descend from the coaches. The Age range of the school was 11 to 16 years, but sisters and younger brothers some as young as five years were included in the party thus complicating the billeting problem.
In the school, where the party assembled, Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland were expected to run a luggage office take over the bundles and suitcases, label each one and enter the names of all the children in a book. To attend to over one- hundred packages would have meant holding up the rest of the dispersal arrangements and as the evacuees were not young girls as expected the luggage went unchecked. In another part of the school building, Mrs. Scott was ready with three beds made-up to receive sick or weary ones. Outside the school, a boiler was ready with hot water whether the intention was to bath the whole party or the more nauseous, was never discovered!
From the school, the party trooped across to the Institute where the thoughtful Committee had provided a substantial tea a welcome and very necessary item as the children had been travelling for seven hours. At this stage, the accompanying teachers had to retire into the background in some instances willingly and in others reluctantly while the chief billeting officer, Mr. Clive Davies the owner of Hawkley Hurst took charge.
Of course, Hawkley was not large enough to contain so large a number of children and the surrounding districts had to assist.
Our first and second billets just passed in a haze although, first at Martin's Farm, Higher Oakshott Farm. The welcome given was rather muted as Mrs. Martin had agreed to take three nice girls, and having three Battersea boys was rather a shock and this became apparent, as we were soon shunted out to one of the unwilling farm workers wife.
In 2002 all three Douthwaite "boys" had the privilege of revisiting Oakshott Farm under better circumstances and were delightfully welcomed by the new (of 35 years!) owners Sue and David Rigby. To be allowed to enter the farmhouse after so many years was a rare treat, although the property had been much enlarged and of course, much of the interior changed. We enjoyed the welcoming tea where Larry Knowles their gardener (who was of our age during the evacuation, but was and still is a Hawkley lad) joined us!
Ted returned home to Battersea, second placement Jack & Cliff moved to farm workers cottage on the same farm with Mr. & Mrs. Stevens, daughter Daphne who works in post-office/shop, since closed.
Jack & Cliff come out in rash, suspected Yellow Jaundice, move to children's isolation hospital near Petersfield. Finally resolved as reaction to the well water at the cottage, cleared after 2 weeks but return to Hawkley Hurst. Perhaps Jack was too much of a handful for Mrs. Stevens more likely due to the limited space in the cottage.
Our final placement was at Hawkley Hurst (see pictures on www.hawkley.tv) under the auspices of Miss Imms the nanny hired by the owner Clive Davies. This was a large country house magnificent in terms of grandeur and palatial extensive well-kept gardens, a long shot and in a different world to life in Amies Street Battersea.
The years spent there were a very pleasant period, although we did miss Mum and Dad, we saw them about three times in the same number of years. Naturally, the evacuees were kept separate from the Squires family except each morning we all including the servants and ground staff had to join the Squire for prayers.
Memories of being made to eat Spinach, ugh, but we were never short of food, as the Hurst owned two farms and a turkey farm. I also was chosen to spread rose petals in front of the bride and groom at Gwendoline's grand wedding in the village church, we were all impressed by the Bentley's and Rolls Royce's of the guest. Needless to say all the evacuees were kept well out of the way, we were in a different social class structure to the Squires family.
The vast ground of the Hurst were enclosed by shut splendid white gates, these were opened by cars driving over a raised white hoop this in turn swung the gates open in a memorable fashion, almost saying "Welcome Home Squire." On one occasion I was taken to the nearest dentist in Liss and by car this was a highlight seeing the gates open for lowly me although I am sure the dentist part was not, the mind can be very selective.
In 2000 the three Douthwaite boys visited the Hurst (changed into seven swish apartments) one wing is called White Court the interior has changed somewhat over the course of the last 60 years, but still has the grandeur of the old Hurst. Commander Brian H. Cain RN, the owner of White Court very kindly guiding those "boys" around his delightful property.
Brian showed us the Hurst cellars, which were used for the few air raids - a stick of bombs, dropped by a bomber being chased by a RAF fighter one bomb landed in the High field at the Hurst. The older evacuees helped to fill in the crater being paid a sixpence per hour!
Another of the bombs landed on Abbott's Farm; we never heard if the turkeys survived.
The vaulted roof of the cellars filled my senses with a strange feeling even after 60+ years.
Thanks to the goodwill of Brian Cain in 2002 the Douthwaite "boys" were invited to view another part of Hawkley Hurst which is designated Selborne Court. This is the home of Shena Lay and John Rothery. This Court leads onto the front patio, where Jack and Cliff are pictured; the interior is much modified and has a splendid layout with décor appropriate to the magnificence of the Hurst, as we knew it in the 1940's. The views are similar to those old days, but many of the trees have grown somewhat!
Walking 1.5 miles to school each day was a chore, especially in the cold, tobogganing down the grounds of the Hurst during a snowy winter was great, we used tin trays by kind permission of Mr. Hudson the butler.
Each Sunday we had to attend Church but four of us younger evacuees were allowed to leave before the sermon. On our way home we were allowed to take an apple from the store in the Headmaster garage loft. This was great until the stock got low and one of us (not me you understand) stood on the Head's car bonnet to get at the last few, he was not amused to see footprints in the dust on his car and gave us all a roasting.
Students who were originally at Battersea Central School were accommodated in the Village School (since closed and converted into a private residence) complete with masters from Battersea Central School. But, us younger folk were dumped out to the one class school in the village Institute (since replaced by a nice community hall). In my case I lost about three years of general schooling by the time I returned home (age 11), this was a real drag for the rest of my schooling days.
We occasionally watched the battle of Britain fighter in the dog fights overhead not really understanding the drama that young men on both sides were loosing their lives, thanks boys. Miss Imms got very upset if we were late home from school after watching the aircraft high in the sky, we now understand her anxiety, at the time just felt she was a cross old dear!
On the rare occasions when a night-time air raid warning took place, we had to decamp to the Hurst cellars, where bunks were available. We only ever had one bomb on the estate in the High Field; this caused quite a large crater, which was eventually filled with the help of the elder evacuee's of the Hurst.
In the grounds of the adjoining Home Farm, ran a small river with a weir waterfall and below this a pool, the elder boys used to swim in this, even on a very hot day the water was freezing, it was not my idea of fun.
Returning to the Hurst after 60 odd years although much changed on the interior still brings back sharp memories and indeed a shiver up the spine! If the motor vehicles are not parked around the village green then so little has changed one could imagine we were back in the 1940's, till one feels the aches and pains of old age.
Subsequent to this period Cliff left school at 14 with zero qualifications but after an apprenticeship in the aircraft industry and part time education qualified as a registered engineering designer with a Masters Degree. Finally, a Lecturer in CAD and the CV CAE Software Centre Co-ordinator at the University of Surrey, UK for the past twenty years and since his retirement has been appointed by invitation as a Director of CNS Ltd. (more details on the above website)
Cliff has been retired for the last five years and is happily married with seven (at the latest count!) grandchildren and lives in Epsom just south of London, so if you are in this neck of the woods, please call in for a coffee or a meal.
Both Eve and I are members of Epsom Methodist Church, for my sins I am the webmaster (so if you cannot sleep at nights look at www.emc.org.uk). We are both fairly active and still play badminton, or at least try and are keen gardeners; there is a picture of our garden on www.b-h-s.org.uk