My parents moved from Smethwick in 1935 into the first house to be built in Glyn Farm Road. I don’t remember the earliest years there, but by 1936 I believe the whole street was built. I remember there being lots of young children around in the Worlds End Lane end of our road and so little traffic (almost all was deliveries) that we could safely play games in the street – even skipping with a long rope across the street. One just let the rope drop to allow occasional traffic run over it.
Higgins Lane had fields on one side, there were more fields at the top of Glyn Farm Road and one could walk over the fields to Woodgate and Bartley Green. We were mostly given plenty of freedom to wander, within given limits. I don’t think any of the children with whom I mixed were given much pocket money, so we were all in the same boat and expected nothing different. We walked a lot and played games together in the street or read books or comics and played board games etc., at home. I think almost all the house-owners were first-time buyers, proud of their properties and respectful of others’, so ball games in the street had to be played with care for neighbours’ windows.
I attended Woodhouse Road School. Early in the war a shelter was built (or shelters) in the playground. We used to go there for occasional short practice drills. I remember it being very dark and gloomy inside, with benches along the long walls and down the centre. My guess is that they used hand-lamps as lighting, as candles would be too dangerous. We used to sing songs together (one was a round, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza”, which I can still remember!), so we obviously weren’t wearing our gas masks. I would think the objects of the exercises were to speed up the exodus from the classrooms to the shelter(s) while there was no need to panic, and to get everyone used to the atmosphere in the shelter(s). We did have occasional times in class when we had to wear our gas masks for a short time. I didn’t like it! One of the two wooden classrooms was mine in 1941.
I remember attending school ˝ day. I went in the mornings and was very peeved that my cousin Barbara Martin, also from Glyn Farm Road, could stay in bed later because she went to the afternoon session. I always assumed, when I thought about it later, that our part-time schooling was due to a lot of the male teachers having joined the forces, and in Quinton, Four Dwellings school had recently opened, needing more teachers. I don’t remember how long the shift system continued or when it started.
I found the early part of the war interesting, with the barrage balloons in the field in Ridgacre Road, the searchlights, etc. I remember my father erecting an Anderson shelter in our garden. For a while, when the sirens went at night, my parents would scoop me up from my bed and carry me with them down to the shelter, where I’d go straight back to sleep. However, Glyn Farm Road is an area of heavy clay and the shelters kept filling up with water, so before long we stopped using ours. In Quinton, at that time, there were no sights of bomb damage or death to cause fear. My father worked at a factory in Holloway Head and was on firewatch duty rota there as well as at home, and he worked long hours, too. By September 1940 my mother answered the call for married women to go out to work. Some of my father’s family lived nearby and helped to look after me at times.
When in 1941 the suggestion of evacuation for Quinton children arose, my parents decided it would be safer for me to go. They expected the destination to be Bridgnorth or some place reasonably accessible. They were not told the destination until the bus arrived at the school to pick us up at the start of our journey – to South Wales! We were accompanied by (a couple of?) teachers who travelled with us and stayed long enough to see that we all had foster-parents, and deal with any problems which arose. The bus took us to a railway station (probably Snow Hill) and then we travelled to Crumlin, a mining village in Monmouthshire (now Gwent), where they had no air raids at all.
We had a short walk from the station to the school, where food had been prepared for us. Afterwards, prospective foster-parents advanced and made their choice. I remember one group of 4 sisters had to be split; Iris (the eldest) and the youngest going to one home, and the other two to another. The first two went home quite soon, but the other two, Betty and Cath (surname forgotten) stayed on. The houses in the village were mostly modest-sized terraced houses, built into the hillsides, so it was very generous of the people to take in so many unknown children. Relations of my foster-parents, in the village, had taken in two sisters (Edna and Joyce Walker) from Nechells before we arrived but I never enquired how that was arranged. My foster-parents already had my foster-mother’s parents living with them, and they had two small shops in the village, so they had a busy life before accepting me to live with them. Our parents paid a weekly sum towards our keep (decided by the relevant authority) which officialdom passed to the host families.
I never knew the boundaries of the village; it was perhaps about a mile along the valley road and then up the hills. Within it, however, were two railway stations (High Level on the railway which crossed the valley on a viaduct and Low Level on the line running along the valley), a colliery, a school for infants and juniors, a cinema, a park with swings (and a war-memorial plaque where a memorial service was held each November), some shops, a church and at least 5 chapels, several pubs and plenty of tracks and bracken-covered areas for children to play in.
Sheep wandered loose on the hills and there were plantations of trees grown for pit props. Near the village centre was a river and a canal, separated by a sports field where team games could be played and in summer there’d be an organised day of races and games for the children, with the Crumlin Silver Band playing.
In the summer the Silver Band often played for hymn singing in the park on sunny Sunday evenings. Hymn sheets were not provided, as almost everyone, of all denominations, knew most of the words. At Whitsuntide, the children, with some adults, all in their best clothes, used to process around the village in their church or chapel groups. About this time the chapels held their “Anniversaries”, when children had been coerced into reciting or singing, solo and/or in groups. The worst part at the one I attended (apart from having to “perform” at all) was that an adjudicator judged everyone’s performances and gave verdicts at the end – and I knew that I was no good!
On our arrival in the village, the local children mocked us evacuees for our Brummie accents but we were soon accepted and made friends with each other. We all had to make adjustments. In about six months or so, we too spoke with a Welsh accent. We were lucky that it was an English-speaking area and we didn’t have to learn to speak Welsh.
I was nine years old and this was all a great shock to the system. I’d had no idea what to expect. I’d heard no stories of “foster-parents from Hell” and if my foster-parents had heard about “evacuees from Hell” (and there were some of both), they took a chance. I was an only child and had always been well cared for and went to my parents with any problems. I was lucky that my foster-parents looked after me well and with affection because I’d always been cared for and expected nothing different.
Most of the year my only contact with my parents was by letter. My father posted a letter to me every Monday, enclosing pocket money. It arrived every Tuesday – except on about three occasions, when it arrived a day late – in almost four years of wartime conditions. I wrote back to them every-other Tuesday. They came to visit me the only times they could – about three days at Easter and a week in August.
Betty, mentioned earlier, who came from the Queens Park area, sat the Birmingham exam to enter the Grammar School, in Wales. I took the local exam a year later and went to the local Grammar School for a short while. In late November 1944 we evacuees were officially returned home to Birmingham. My parents had to arrange my transfer to a Birmingham school after the Education Dept. had examined the quality of the exam paper I’d taken. I then had to have a completely new school uniform, green and red instead of navy and yellow. I don’t know whose clothing coupons were sacrificed.
I went to George Dixon’s Grammar School where I met up again with Betty. I was lucky that a friend, Joan Morris, also from Glyn Farm Road, had also started at George Dixon’s and I was able to travel with her, because I found once I was on the bus that I didn’t know my destination, where to change buses or what fares to pay! I felt lost at home. However, that, too, changed.
I kept in contact with the family in Wales after I returned home. While I was still at school I spent about a week with them each August, but once I started work annual leave was only a week, so sometimes I’d take a Sunday day-trip from Snow Hill station to visit them. I’m still in contact with the remaining member of the family I knew. Over the years I’ve met several people who were wartime evacuees and are still in contact with people they knew then. The experience changed the lives of a lot of people, including mine.
Ed’s Comment – Stella’s story will no doubt rekindle the memories of many of our members.
© QLHS 2004
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