War babies relive evacuation happiness as well as horror

PUBLISHED: 12:29 10 September 2009 | UPDATED: 17:08 25 August 2010

MEMORIES:  Dennis Layell has happy memories of his time as an evacuee in rural Wales.

MEMORIES: Dennis Layell has happy memories of his time as an evacuee in rural Wales.

As the world remembers the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, Times readers have described what it was like to be an evacuee...

CHILD VICTIM: Betty Puttock was raped when she was evacuated to Surrey.

As the world remembers the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, Times readers have described what it was like to be an evacuee...

FORMER WWII child evacuees have revealed some dark and painful memories of their experiences 70 years after they were sent away from home.

At a 70th anniversary to mark the anniversary of the war, familiar tales were recounted of confused sons and daughters missing their parents but who later become excited about embarking on a new adventure.

However some women revealed deep mental scars when they spoke of a time when the adults they stayed with raped and abused them.

More than 130 former evacuees gathered at the local studies room at the Central Library in Townley Road, Bexleyheath, last Thursday afternoon to share their memories.

In Bexley, the war claimed 508 lives, hospitalised 1,090 people, flattened 2,120 homes and damaged 3,792.

Grandmother Kate Bigginton, 75, from Blackfen, was moved six times - the most out of anyone at the reunion.

The 12th youngest out of 15 children had already been moved five times when she returned home to Catford. On January 20, 1943, Sandhurst school was bombed and she was again sent away with two of her sisters to South Wales, where she says she was abused by the father in the household.

She said: "We won the war but there are no winners in war. Children in those days were seen and not heard. It is about time people realised what the children went through. They leave deep scars that we didn't talk about for years.

"It was a very dramatic experience. It has taken me 70 years to come to terms with it. Some people had a lovely war. I just wished I had a lovely war but some of us weren't so lucky.

"We were shoved around like cattle and we didn't know where we were going. It was awful. I was from a large family and we were torn apart. At our first place in Kent five of us had to sleep on the floor.

"When we were in South Wales they were the worst times of my life because I was being abused. It is about time people started talking about it. It breaks my heart. Otherwise why did we go through that? Kids didn't talk in those days."

Widower Betty Puttock, 80, from Sidcup, had her third posting in Chertsey in Surrey.

There she says she was raped by the father of the house whilst his wife was at the cinema. She said: "It was horrible. It really was. I didn't tell anyone. I kept it all to myself. I thought he would have denied it or said I encouraged him. I thought nobody would have believed me. I didn't keep in contact with anyone in that family. In later years when I told people, they said I should have spoke out."

The retired factory worker managed to escape by moving in with her fellow evacuee friend in the same town, where she later settled and met her husband. Others at the reunion shared happier memories of new adventures in different towns and villages.

Dennis Layell, 81, from Blackfen was four-years-old when he left home.

He said: "I thought I was going to this exciting place. Some parents told their children they were only going away for the day even though they knew they weren't. I left home, me pets, my toys.

"I knew why I was going. I didn't know where. I arrived at Hastings. I was put in with the Goldsack family who were very nice people.

"The family came to the door and our chaperon said 'I have two evacuees'. The mother said 'I asked for girls'. She never had any boys in the family. We turned around and walked away but she shouted 'stop'. Then I went to Pembrokeshire in Wales. Again I didn't know where I was going. I became great friends with the gamekeeper and went out shooting wild ducks and other game. I had a great time. At 13 we were helping on the farm. We thought we were doing our bit for the war effort. At 13 I was driving a tractor - just imagine - you couldn't do that in London.

"I had a very happy time in Hastings and Wales. Everybody was on rations but I never went hungry. For the little girls it was a bit more difficult."

Evacuation of Children, called Operation Pied Piper, was devised in 1938 by the Anderson Committee and officially began on the eve of war in September 1939. In the first week more than 4,000 trains worked day and night to move nearly 1.5 million people, half of which were schoolchildren and included younger children, disabled people, pregnant women and teachers.

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