Dolly – childhood memories of the war
We can all look through the same window but we all see a different view
Dolly Bolton (nee) Owen
(Preliminary note by Katie Avagah: After writing ‘A holiday of a lifetime’ I then decided to write what memories I had of my evacuation. I then asked my eldest sister Grace, who is ten years older, for her memories. She recounted them to me over a few visits and I put them in some sort of chronological order. We were quite surprised at the interest shown by our other siblings and our children. I sent copies to my sister Dorothy in New Zealand, who had been evacuated part of the time with me in Somerset; I asked her to put pen to paper. Again I needed to sort out some of the detail. They have helped fill in a few gaps for me; though Grace says some of Dolly’s memories are not correct -
I was born on 6th February 1933 at Brittain Road, Five Elms. The Depression was on. Dad was out of work then he got a job at the Ford Motor Company; maybe that’s why we moved to 192 Downing Road. (In fact it was after I was born in 1935, because there are now 2 adults and six children living in a 2 bedroom house. Dad got the job after I was born – he would say I brought him luck – he certainly wasn’t lucky for me.) I remember going with Ronnie to St. Andrew ?s Church Hall at the Chequers for free dinners. (It may have been St. Mary’s Grafton Road before we moved or St. Martin’s at the Chequers.) We went to Arnold Road School; we were very poor.
I was six and a half when war started in September 1939, Ronnie was eight years old, he was nine months old when mum got pregnant with me. Dad was in the army. We all had to meet at the school on the day of evacuation, then on to the Docks at Dagenham. I remember the boat. Then to a place where we slept on straw. Then on to Bradwell-
Next I remember is on a coach or bus – then home again. Going in a house in Arnold Road because most of the teachers have gone away. It must have been 1940. Then the blitz started and then Kathy and me were in Somerset. (Only Dolly recalls me being in Dagenham at this time but it could explain how I ended up in Somerset – did I return to Dagenham at some time to be re-
Next I remember a party – could it have been Christmas? I have no idea. You had disappeared. I kept asking for you. They said I would see you later. Next I remember being in a car and a lady saying I was going to stay with some people. They took me to Mr and Mrs Stark at No. 4 Council Houses. Mrs Stark’s daughter-
I went to Compton Bishop School which was very old, would probably be historical now; had a very high ceiling. They took me to see you. You were on a mat in the garden with an older woman and a girl aged about sixteen. The woman was the Headmistress's mother. The Headmistress was called Mrs Howell. I don’t remember the girl’s name, but she was not very nice – called us ‘pug-
Next I remember everyone standing by their gates while Mrs. Hardridge wheeled you in a push-
Where we lived there were eight Council houses. Numbers 1 to 8 on the same side of the road. We used the back door. The front door faced a long garden which Mr and Mrs Stark had as a vegetable garden. Also gooseberries, black, white and red currants. The house had three bedrooms, a large shed and a lean-
The road at the back of the house was rather steep, at the bottom was an oak tree, which we called ‘Big Tree’, it was very old. Mr Stark used to go to the village pub on a Saturday night on his bike; mostly to chat to other farmers about the war. This night was very wet and cold. He went down the hill to Big Tree and fell into a ditch, and lay there for some time. When he never got back at his usual time Mrs Stark got help, but he got very sick and died, maybe he got pneumonia. All I remember is Mr Stark lying in bed in the living room, next he was gone. They never said he had died.
Mary came down from Plymouth with the baby and stayed for a while with her mum. Plymouth was getting heavily bombed now so she stayed and moved in with Jean and her mum at the farmhouse. Mrs. Stark changed after her husband died. She had to give up the chicken farm and worked cleaning on one of the big farms. She also took in a Land Army girl who came from Bath, she later married and returned home. I don’t think I was treated too badly and I was never stopped from going out to play. There was a girl and her brother lived next door at number 5, her name was Olive Latimer, she was cousin to Mary who lived next door to Mrs Hardridge. I also played with Pam and her sister who lived at number 3. I also remember Lesley Smith and a boy called George, they both came from Dagenham and were at a farm near Big Tree. I saw Lesley after the war on his bike once in Goresbrook Road, we spoke for a while.
Then one day Mrs Stark said we were going home. Grace and her boyfriend, who was in the Navy, came with Bobby to Somerset to take us home. (This clears up another memory – I had a picture of travelling in a railway carriage with Dolly, facing Grace and Jack, though not Bobby. But nothing else so I thought that again I had just imagined it.) We came back to 192, and returned to Arnold Road School, lots of children were coming home. Brian was a baby and I remember Ronnie with snow white hair. Bradwell-
We didn’t stay long, the doodle bugs started. Mum got Grace to write to Mrs Harbridge and asked if she could take me as well. We went to Somerset on a train together. Grace took us to Paddington Station and put us on a train. I was about ten I think so you would have been about seven. Mrs Hardridge met us on the train at Axbridge. (Again I could remember arriving at Axbridge – not where I had come from – then Auntie taking us to her restaurant – nothing more.) On the journey we had been hanging out of the window and got covered in soot from the engine. Mrs Hardridge was horrified when she saw us. Ronnie and Teddy went to Wales.
I enjoyed my stay at Mrs Hardridge’s. I went to Cheddar school for a little while. I made friends with Mary Latimer who lived next door; her and David Stokes were sweet on each other. I remember the blackberry picking, and the baby sitting, we took the babies for walks in their prams. We used to go into David’s room in the attic and borrow his books, mostly Enid Blyton. Going for walks with Mrs Hardridge and Mrs Stokes on Sundays on the Mendip Hills. I certainly had more freedom at Mr and Mrs Hardridge. Mr Hardridge worked at the nearby quarry, he had some sort of accident there – got burnt or perhaps on a steam roller. I can only remember John. Mrs Stoke’s husband was in the Air Force, they came from Bristol. Their daughter Josie was about fifteen or sixteen then. I shared a bedroom with her in the attic. I was only there for a few months; I remember about October or November, it was getting near Christmas as Mrs Hardridge had taken us to Axbridge to buy some aprons to embroider for presents – she was going to show us how to do it – when a letter came from home saying I had to go back to Dagenham.
There are so many things I remember. Like going to the Dolls’ Hospital with Mrs Stokes and you. Going to Weston-
Harry’s family (Harry is Dolly’s husband.) went to the Kent hop-
Please excuse the spelling and writing. It took me a while to put together but once I got going I could go on forever – remembering things. We certainly had to grow up fast. I wish I had kept in touch with everyone, but as a child you only live for the day and don’t think of the future much. Also you don’t appreciate what people do for you at the time.