THE CONTINUATION OF A SELF HISTORY
A series of weekly published chapters by Ken The Pen written in a humerous and informative style.
A RATHER MIXED RECEPTION IN MANCHESTER
Once the necessary arrangements had been made Manchester had finally agreed to take us, so my sister and I were taken to the railway station and together from there, to slightly misquote “we made a long day’s journey into North”; but not for a joint placement it transpired, for Babs and I were to be billeted with two different families. Upon our arrival in Manchester, we were met by the reception committee who first checked our labels before they took my sister straight away to meet her billeting family, after which I was taken into a building nearby. After some delay a man and a lady came to inform me that unfortunately I would have to go back to my mother and father in London. It transpired later, that the house of my intended evacuation recipients had been destroyed or at least badly damaged following another German air raid, so that there was nowhere to put me. Oh how unfair is life I thought, having to return back home to my mother and father when I could instead have gone to lived in a strange place hundreds of miles away and surrounded by complete strangers! Later that afternoon I was on my way back to London for a joyful re-union. But of course things are never as simple as that, because only about two months later I was once again heading for Kings Cross Station with my mother and the next adventure was about to begin. Of course there had to be one little scare before that could happen though, otherwise life would be boring! At the railway station my mother having fastidiuosly straightened my collar and tie before buttoning my coat and ruffling my hair with her hands, draped my identifying tag and label around my neck. With an admonition to “Stay exactly where you are till I get back”, she then turned on her heels and disappeared into the crowd. After a complete adherence to her command for at least one whole minute while I looked at the clock under which she had stood me, my curiosity won the day and I made my way along the platform where the majority of people appeared to be heading. Most of them stopped, opened a door and clambered aboard before closing the door behind them, some stood and hugged or kissed and cried as they chatted to each other. My adventurous spirit urged me on however until I had passed all of the other people before I came to the front of the train where a giant engine, hissing and puffing and wafting out smells and smoke, beckoned me on. I went warily to the bottom of the steps that led up into the engine, where one man stood twiddling and tapping the dials and levers while another shovelled coal into a blazing fire. The former glanced around and seeing me, trundled to the gap at the top of the steps, where he smiled, reached out a hand and said “Hello sonny, do you want to have a look around?” I was up at the top of the steps almost before he could reach down to help me, but once having climbed aboard, I shied hurriedly away to the right of the man, not because I was afraid of him but because the heat from the fire was such that I thought my face might melt or my clothes catch on fire ! In the meantime back in Panic Land, my tearful, fearful and distraught mother clutched at people’s arms, tapped on their shoulders or jumped in front of them beseeching “Have you seen a little boy?” This on a station ticket area probably populated by at least 100 boys and girls accompanied by either or both of their parents and awaiting departure for their designated places of evacuation. Within minutes a policeman, an air raid warden, and two railway workers, armed with a description of her stolen or kidnapped (maybe by the Germans?), angelic, blond haired blue-eyed boy, were scouring first the ticket area and then next the nearest platform, assisted by my mother and a handful of concerned would be passengers. One of the station porters, being more streetwise insofar as little boys let loose on a railway station were concerned, made a beeline for the engine, then with a triumphant yell of victory and frantically gesticulating his arms, beckoned the hunting party toward him. The volunteer searchers dissolved back into their prior anonymity as my mother clutched me joyfully while smacking my leg for having disobeyed her, the policeman sternly reprimanded her for having let me out of her sight, while the porter hovered expectantly in anticipation of a reward. This came in the form of a tearful word of thanks from my mother, a salute from the policeman and an exasperated if not irate demand from one passenger, that he hurry up and put the man’s suitcase aboard the train. At the precise moment that he was lifting the man’s luggage onto the train, to the policeman’s complete bewilderment, my mother thrust my hand into his and hurried off up the platform, clutching at her bag. Upon reaching the surprised porter she reached up and kissed his cheek, thrust something into his hand and then came hurrying back to myself and the bemused policeman. “I had to give him something.” She explained. “The only thing I had was a bar of chocolate” and looking at me with a glint in her eye, said “That would have been for you to eat on the train. Now you’ve only got a sandwich.” I was placed in the care of one of the evacuee dispatch team and put into a compartment with two adults and several other children.
My mother, standing by a policeman’s side in the grey gloom of Kings Cross station, was to be the last view I had of her for about a year. I realised that she had only been kidding about the chocolate soon afterward when one of our ladies gave me a piece of chocolate that must have come from my mother; but I was quite annoyed when she then gave a piece to each of the other children as well. Why was she giving my chocolate away? I told her off and then sulked. She and her companion assured me that it was not my chocolate, they had brought it as a special treat for all of us and although I was sceptical at first they finally convinced me. I won in the end though because they probably felt guilty and anyway I was the youngest person in the compartment, so later when nobody else was looking one of them gave me a second piece and then later on in the journey the other girl with us gave me another one of her pieces of the bar of chocolate secretly too.
The journey north was good fun, we played some games and talked about ourselves to the others, with a bit of chocolate to the winning girl and boy storytellers, or the best game player, or the pair who saw the first river or forest or herd of cows or farm workers or horses, or anything really; it’s amazing how many “I Spy” things grown-ups can think of. Even more amazing was that nobody seemed to win more times than anybody else! We spent lots of time looking out of the windows. We were all Londoners so the huge expanses of countryside, of fields and rivers and lakes and forests and even of little villages or small clusters of buildings, were totally new to us. Also the occasional stop at a railway station, where little clusters of welcoming committees waited to greet a group of disembarking children, gave us the chance to wave and call out goodbyes to children we had never seen before and would never see again. This action and incident filled day had led us evermore north.
ADVENTURES IN MANCHESTER
I thoroughly enjoyed my life in Manchester and the Howell family apparently adored me, nothing was too much; they catered for my every whim, but one day they overstepped the mark. I was too young to have any understanding of their feelings for me or of their intent but they engaged a solicitor to instigate proceedings with a view to adopting me and obviously they had to notify my parents. Apparently my mother was terrified that they might succeed so she came up to Manchester the day after she had been contacted and said that she wanted to take me straight home, she was distraught. After some intervention by the solicitor and the authorities who had been involved in my evacuation process, as well as the school I was attending and input from some of the local people, my mother eventually agreed to let me remain with the Howell family for about two weeks so that they could come to terms with my impending departure. A couple of weeks later my mother returned to Manchester, this time with my sister Kathleen to take me back home. I was sorry that I would not be able to go to Mr Howell’s big shop in Manchester any more, but he had taken me back to say goodbye to all the girls upstairs. While we were there I asked him what the flying money containers were, so that I could tell my mother about them and he promised to tell me later. After a tearful farewell at the station, Mr Howell asked if he could look at one of my shoes, he borrowed my shoe and put a piece of paper into it and gave it back to me. I climbed aboard the train quite happily and apparently went down to say hello to the driver and fireman before heading back to my London home. After we got back to our home in Leyton I took my shoes off at bedtime and found the bit of paper he had given to me. The piece of paper said the money containers were a part of a Lanscom cash transporter and that the one in his department store was called a Lanscom wire line carrier. I hid it away just in case I got told off for having kept this secret letter, because these people had been trying to steal me away from my own real family in London, even though I had actually liked them.
Later on when I was back in London, I saw some other machines like that, but not the same as the one in Manchester. The Howell’s kept in touch for many years in fact my mother and sister went to visit them on a few occasions, but they never took me with them for in my child centred and guileless way I had completely forgotten my part time parents. Rather sadly I chanced to be passing through Manchester many years later and decided to pop in and say hello to them so I phoned my mother and asked for their address, she could only remember the name of the Street and so I went there and knocked on a door. When a man answered and I asked if he knew where the Howells lived and explained my quest, he called his wife who came out in tears. They invited me in for a cup of tea where she explained that by a quirk of fate, she had been the nurse who had cared for Mrs Howell through years of illness and who always told her stories about the time they had cared for me and how she always wondered what had become of me. Mrs Howell had died the week before I turned up. The lady insisted upon driving me to the home of the Howell’s daughter, whose name escapes me now, but in the event when we arrived there it turned out that she had gone out for the evening, but we would have had little to say really as too much time had passed. I had enjoyed my life in Manchester and my mother had come to visit me and my sister who was with other people in Manchester. My sister had been very unhappy at the place she had been sent to though, so after a couple of months it had been agreed that it was best if she was returned to London and so my mother was sent to collect her. I had remained quite happily with the Howells, until they engaged the solicitor to see if they could adopt me, but they had engineered their own downfall! The Howells were distraught, but my mother was overjoyed, she had been so worried about losing me . It was the end of 1943 and I had just turned four, we were reunited as a family; surely things must get better, I was heading home to London! After all of this trauma and turmoil what else could possibly go wrong?
The Germans must have been informed that the “Special Child” had now arrived back in London…..For in January 1944 the Luftwaffe were kitted up, “Operation Steinbock The Baby Blitz” was launched against London, this time the bombing of London went on relentlessly for five more months. It could be said that I had been well and truly welcomed back home!
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