Memories from a war-time evacuee

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The article last week about the evacuation of children from Eastbourne during the Second World War brought back memories for one reader, Derek Hill.

His aunt, Joyce Wootton, was among the thousands of children moved away from the coast, which was battered by German bombers, and evacuated ot the safety of families in the country.

Derek said that last week’s Looking Back feature hadtouched a nerve since, before her death, his aunt had spoken to him about her wartime experiences when she was evacuated in her teens from 43, Willoughby Crescent in Eastbourne to St Albans.

“At the beginning of the war there was an evacuation of the children and old people from Eastbourne,” he said.

“Children at school went with their schools. Joyce remembers her father with tears in his eyes as they said goodbye.”

Joyce, who was born in 1926 to Frederick Wootton, a retired Royal Navy man, and Minnie, his second wife, returned to Willoughby Crescent after the war where she lived all her life until her death in June this year from cancer.

“My aunt had many talents, especially musical, and was always known for her cheerfulness and willingness to help others,” writes Derek.

Following last week’s article, Derek sent some notes about his aunt and her childhood days growing up in Eastbourne based on conversations he had shared with her.

Home for many years was Woodgate Road in Eastbourne which served as a happy place for Joyce. Her dad worked for Caffyns.

“Once in Woodgate Road, Joyce put on a concert,” recalls Derek.

“Her mum invited visitors and gave Joyce half a crown to buy sweets for everybody. Dad made the stage.

“They charged halfpence entrance fee. They used the plums from their plum tree for the refreshments.

“Joyce remembers marching up and down the stage singing, but few took any notice because they were all too busy talking.

“One girl had a gold sequined dress, and Joyce wanted one for herself. Another girl had ringlets and looked like a princess.

“She also remembers Christmas parties with the neighbours. And once they had a street party.

“Joyce had saved up her pocket money but her mother Minnie used it to buy a Christmas tree and have a party.”

Joyce’s father had to sell Woodgate Road as the family moved to a rented house in Percival Road in Hampden Park, then to Wallace Avenue, and finally Willoughby Crescent in 1939.

Shortly before the war, Joyce who was a pupil at Bourne Modern School, got a scholarship to the art school in Eastbourne during her final year of school.

However, the war intervened and they were all evacuated to St Albans in Hertfordshire.

“The Headmaster wrote to the authorities and they were able to go to Art School in St Albans there on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately the boys misbehaved and so they were all expelled.

“The Headmaster asked a lady, a retired artist with a big house, to give them art lessons.

“She provided crayons and they did drawings of her house from different view points.

“She let them play on the Croquet lawn.

“There were roses everywhere in the garden. Before they went home, the lady gave the young artists tea. Theye sat around a large round table to eat rolls with butter and jam, eat cake and drink squash.

“Sadly, these Saturday classes did not last long as the lady died quite soon after.”

Aged 14, the children had to leave school to find jobs.

Joyce found a job in a domestic home where she learned about cooking because the widow who owned the house had a diploma in cookery.

This did not last long as she died quite soon after we came to know her.

Eventually, Joyce returned to Eastbourne after the war where she lived for the rest of her life, marrying husband Keith in March 1952.