More memories of an 'evacuee'
Don Smith remembers his time as an evacuee in Guarlford 1940 – 1942.
My story begins much the same as that of Reg Bevan. Like Reg, we were all assembled at Selly Park Junior and Infants School in Birmingham. A coach took us to the train station, where we boarded a train to Malvern.
Upon arrival, I seem to remember, we were picked up by a coach which dropped us off in Guarlford. We were ushered into a hall and given something to eat and drink. A little later, a number of local people arrived and the children were taken away to be fostered.
Photo opposite, Don Smith aged 6 years.
Children from the same family group were kept together wherever possible. I was selected by Richard and Alice Harrod. They were the licensees of the Plough and Harrow public house in Guarlford. The conditions there were a bit different from what I was used to. There was no electricity or gas supply to the house. Lighting was by large paraffin lamps, which were lowered down to be lit. Cooking was done on a large black wood/coal fired range. Drinking water came from a well in the back garden. Water for other uses came from a rainwater tank. Washing was quite an experience. The water contained the larvae of midges etc. When the water was boiled the bodies had to be skimmed off before washing in it.
I too remember our teachers, Miss Gosling and Miss Cole. I think Miss Gosling came with us from our school in Birmingham. The schoolroom I seem to remember was an L shaped room. One time at school, on a particularly hot sunny day, I had a really bad attack of migraine. I was taken to the doctor and was told I must always wear a cap when out in the sun. Needless to say, I never did. I do not remember much about the school other than, I am sure that the headmaster was injured by a piece of the roof which fell on him during school time.
For a city boy, the freedom of living in the country was brilliant. From time to time, we would be roped in to help with the harvesting of soft fruits. I seem to remember we would get paid a half penny for each basket we filled. Late one night, there was mysterious activity in the property next door. They had some pig sties at the end of the garden. There was some squealing followed by the smell of burning hair. The following day a large ham appeared boiling in a cast iron pot in the kitchen.
I once found a dead rabbit in a field and proudly presented it to the Harrods. They were not convinced that I had caught it. I think this was mainly due to the fact that it was as stiff as a board and had obviously expired some time previous to me finding it. Being a naive town boy, I often got teased by the locals. Of course with no running water or sewage systems an earth toilet was the norm. One day, whilst in the next door neighbours’ garden, I found them digging a hole in the orchard. When I asked what they were doing, I was told they were planting apple trees. I believed this explanation for some time, until the penny dropped. One of my friends from the school in Birmingham, was taken in by them. He did not settle and due to him constantly soiling his bedclothes he was sent back home.
My parents would make the trip from Birmingham about once a month to visit with me. They would bring little gifts and items of clothing. On one occasion it was a bicycle, which meant I did not have to walk to school. I always told everyone that it was a couple of miles to school. Later when I retraced the journey in my car, it turned out to be about three quarters of a mile. Still, my legs were shorter then, so it seemed like two miles. One of the items of clothing they brought was a pair of stockings. They were self-supporting with elastic tops. Despite my protestations, Mrs Harrod insisted that I wore garters as well.
One of my favourite things was to take the bus to Malvern and go to the open air swimming baths. I learned to swim there and it always seemed to be open whatever the weather.
Another of my memories is of the fair held at Malvern. I was really loving my life here and my parents were worried that I was growing away from them. They were struggling with the dilemma of whether to leave me there, or take me back to Birmingham, which was being hit badly by the bombing, or leave me in the comparative safety of Guarlford. The opportunity came after I was sent to Kidderminster Hospital suffering from Impetigo. The treatment in those days was a bit basic and entailed the scrubbing-off of scabs. I can still hear the screams of some of the boys who had chicken pox. My parents collected me from there and told me that Mrs Harrod was ill and could not have me back - so there ended my time in Guarlford.
In 1951, I cycled from Birmingham with a friend to Guarlford and was delighted to find that the pub was still there and so were Mr and Mrs Harrod. It was lovely to see them again after all those years. The place was much as I remembered it, although they had probably got electricity connected by that time.
I returned again in 2000 with my wife, only to find that the pub had been converted into a restaurant and the pond at the front had been filled in. Such was my disappointment that I could not bring myself to go in. I preferred to keep my memories intact. The school was no longer behind the church and there were many more houses than I remembered.
Finally, like Reg Bevan, I have fond memories of my time at Guarlford and regret that I did not maintain contact with the Harrods. I believe Richard died in 1971 and Alice in 1984. They had a son, whose name I cannot remember; he had a Meccano construction set, which I was prohibited from touching on pain of death!
Photo opposite: The Plough and Harrow before WWII
Last updated: 18th February 2016