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Reunion for war evacuees after seven decades

PUBLISHED: 18:14 19 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:03 25 August 2010

ON THE MOVE: Evacuee children.

ON THE MOVE: Evacuee children.

CHILDREN who were evacuated en-mass to avoid the London bombing blitz of World War II are to have a reunion 70 years on.

CHILDREN who were evacuated en-mass to avoid the London bombing blitz of World War II are to have a reunion 70 years on.

On Thursday, September 3, Bexleyheath central library, Townley Road, is set to host a reunion of evacuees caught up in one of the biggest upheavals to hit family life as 3.5 million children in cities were moved to safer parts of the UK.

Among them was Dennis Layell, 81, who at the age of 12, was sent with other pupils from Glenister Road School, Greenwich, to Ore, near Hastings on September 1, 1939.

His parents, living at the family home in Colomb Street, Greenwich, later survived a bomb blast which levelled their house, protected by an Anderson Shelter in the garden.

Mr Layell, of the Kent and Borders Evacuees' Reunion Association gave a talk at Lullingstone visitor centre last week and will be on hand to answer questions at Bexleyheath Library.

In June 1940 he was on the beach at Hastings to witness the sight of fishing boats laden with British soldiers escaping the death trap at Dunkirk on the French coast as Nazi forces pounded the allied retreat.

Mr Layell said: "It was an exciting time to be a boy then, lots of guns and canons, you don't realise the gravity of the situation when you're 12.

"But the last thing they wanted was lots of children in the area when the troops were a target for the Germans.

"The Goldsack family I lived with were very kind to me, their three daughters saved up to buy me a wristwatch for Christmas - a watch was a big deal in those days especially with shortages."

His mother, Bertha Layell, in 1938 before the outbreak of war had pledged to her son she would send him to somewhere safe.

During the Great War of 1914-18, she had been working at the Siemens factory in Woolwich when it was hit by a bomb.

Children were sent, normally as a school, to a town or village in the countryside with a gas mask in their ruck sack and an envelope round their neck with their name, address and school on it.

A person of repute would then be responsible for allocating the new intake to families.

Dennis Layell arrived in Narberth, Wales, in June 1944, and was assigned with three other boys to live with a judge, Sir Wilfred Lewis.

Mr Layell said: "It was a pretty big house, I wouldn't say it was a mansion but we were well looked after.

"The schools were too full so we were taught in a church hall. The thing I remember most were the shortages, 2oz of sweets, about 12 jelly babies' worth."

About his parents' lucky escape he said: "They told me they could feel the house falling down but they weren't hurt. Adults didn't want to frighten children about the war."

In February 1944 he was reunited with his family.

For more information about the Evacuees Reunion Association, visit: www.evacuees.

org.uk.

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