Wartime Evacuees

Early in September 1939 the British government began to evacuate children from London, vulnerable cities and towns to rural areas for safety

They were billeted in homes of volunteers for the duration of the Second World War. They were educated with local children, although entire schools were evacuated with their teachers too, and classes kept together as a group wherever possible.

Horsmonden hosted many wartime evacuees.

We encourage people to send in their memories of this particularly interesting time via the contact page.

wartime evacuees

Here are some contributions…

A Horsmonden Evacuee Story from Ken Jones

It all began during the first few days of September 1939. We, the attendees of the Burrage Grove School near Woolwich had been told that we should be evacuated out of the London area for our safety, now that war with Germany had been declared.

So, in our family it was decided  that four of us would be going, my two younger brothers and one of my sisters. At the school we were told what to take with us, some clothes, food for the train journey, all packed into a back-pack (haversack) that was provided, along with our gas masks.

On ‘the day’, we were assembled in the school by the teachers, and in a long column we walked to the designated train station which was Plumstead, and awaited the train that was going to take us ‘somewhere’.

Arrival at Horsmonden

We arrived at our destination, a place of course that we had never heard of before – Horsmonden.

On arrival we were led to the Village Hall, and a process occurred whereby ‘those in charge’ assigned us, either one or two, to the families that had agreed to take us in as evacuees.

In our case, four of us from the same family, were divided up and went our separate ways with complete strangers to our assigned destinations. Even the accent of the Horsmonden people was different, something new to us.

My sister Valerie was initially taken in by a certain family and, for whatever reason, was removed and placed with Mr & Mrs Crouch on Lamberhurst Road. My two brothers Malcolm and Donald were taken in by Mr & Mrs Large at Capel Cross.

As for myself, I was initially taken in, along with a Cyril Oakins, by a family quite close to the village centre. This was not deemed to be satisfactory and we were quickly remove, and taken in by Mr & Mrs Smith at Capel Manor.

In April of the following year, my younger sister Thelma also arrived as an evacuee, and joined my sister Valerie with Mr & Mrs Crouch, so then there were five of us in Horsmonden as evacuees, all from the same family!

We, Cyril and myself, soon settled in with Mr & Mrs Smith, daughter Gertrude, who worked at a store in the village, and a very friendly dog, Judy. I remember the Smith family as being very nice people, I felt welcome and soon settled in.

The Smith family lived at Capel Manor in the only house there, at the intersection of what were, in the hey-day of the manor, the horse stables and the carriage houses.

Later on it was – rightly I suppose – made clear that I would be expected, when not at school, to learn how, and do jobs around the estate garden that Mr Smith was employed to operate, a large facility growing all sorts of fruit and vegetables.

This ‘after school’ activity was interesting, and learned a lot about gardening, this ‘know how’ passed on by Mr Smith was very useful later on in my life.

School activity was quickly initiated, and for a number of days , for some of us it was held in a very large room upstairs in the Gun Hotel.

Soon after, we were integrated into the Village School, the Headmaster of which was a Mr Parkinson.

So began our new life at Capel Manor, and we got into the routine of school kids. The distance to the school was about a mile, which we walked and ran to each day, rain or shine, and back for lunch, later on lunch facilities were near the school.

Some three or four months later, Cyril Oakins, the evacuee with me at Capel Manor went back to London, and I was then alone there until I returned to London in 1943.

During the Summer school break I also worked, for the local landowner and farmer, Mr.Larkin, at various jobs, picking fruit and hops amongst other jobs.

The reality was that our out-of school activities involved getting around on foot, we did not have bicycles and so any ‘kids’ social/play, Summer jobs and activities occurred quite close to where we lived, and so as a consequence we (my brothers and I) did not see much of our sisters, who were on the other side of the Village.

Signs of War

During the first five or six months of 1940 it was peaceful and nothing in the way of German air activity, however this changed abruptly in June and July, as on our way to school we saw enemy bombers overhead, sometimes at an altitude such that we could clearly make out the distinctive crosses on the wing under surfaces.

Later we saw many air actions overhead during what was the ‘Battle of Britain’ air war, and of course as kids we watched as much of this activity as we could.

Occupation of Capel Manor

Thereafter, I do not recall much in the way of enemy air activity, overhead in Horsmonden.

Another occurrence of considerable interest to me was the arrival in early 1942 and occupation of Capel Manor and grounds by a unit of the British Army, with much equipment, trucks, guns etc.

I was told that they were there for training purposes, and not to let my 12 year old curiosity lead me anywhere near the gun training exercises being conducted.

However, the carriage houses adjacent to the house and the courtyard became a workshop area where Army mechanics serviced and repaired gun tow trucks and other vehicles.

The soldiers were very friendly, and I was able to see at close hand what they were doing, which maybe got me going later towards a career in engineering.

The home life with Mr & Mrs Smith was quiet and orderly. The house did not have electricity, lighting was by oil lamps (or candles). The radio was battery dependent, and used sparingly, usually for the BBC news once or twice a day.

People Rembembered

There were several evacuees in Horsmonden whose names I still remember, Richard (Dickie) Sparrow, Raymond Haines, June Rolt and Kenny Copplestone, and also those of local kids that I knew, a Ron Sivyer, who lived at a house just across the river on the the Goudhurst Road. We also used to swim in that river in the Summers. Other local kids we hung out with were several from the Burchill and Taylor families that lived near to Capel Manor, another was a Ken Linaker on Lamberhurst Road.

All of the events, activities and memories of life in Horsmonden as an evacuee are a quite unforgettable part of my life.

After emigrating to Canada in 1956, I went back a couple of times to see the Smith family with whom I stayed, but during a later visit I found that they had passed on.

So, in conclusion I would like to say that the care and guidance provided by the Smith family, to me as an evacuee, is still remembered and very much appreciated, and I would also add that the other adult people of Horsmonden that I came in contact with during those years are remembered as being helpful, and pleasant hardworking people.

So, such are my recollections and impressions of my nearly four years as an evacuee.

Ken Jones, Canada

Another Evacuee Story

During the war in 1939 I was evacuated to Horsmonden along with hundreds of other kids from London. I lived in Horsmonden from August 1939 until June 1944 when the Tonbridge school I was going to was re-evacuated to Exeter.

On September 1 1939 a group of evacuees arrived in Horsmonden. These kids were from the Burrage Grove School in Woolwich, London, my sister and I were part of this group.

Stanford-Tuck’s Spitfire

I think I know where Wing Commander R. Stanford-Tuck’s plane crashed, and in my opinion it crashed in a small wood just west of a farm, at that time owned by the Larkin brothers. I know the farm was sold after the war, possibly to the Sprivers.

On the Sunday afternoon when the plane crashed I was billeted with a lady called Mrs. Lloyd. She owned a very old house on Lamberhurst Road, approximately about a mile from the village green, on the east side of the road. We had just sat down for Sunday lunch when we heard an aerial dog fight; we all (there were six evacuees living in the house) made a dash for the air-raid shelter, this being at the back of the house in a small orchard. As we were making our way to the shelter a plane passed very low over head, crashing in the small wood previously mentioned. That afternoon a gang of us boys and many others went to the crash site, during that time we saw the pilot Wing Commander R. Stanford-Tuck.

I am having difficulty in remembering how we got to the crash site. It could have been through the Larkin’s farm yard or a foot-path that goes east just passed the farm and before you get to the ‘Y’ in the road.

Evacuee Story by Grace Clark

I was evacuated to Horsmonden in 1939 I was 8 years of age. I enjoyed my time there, I am not sure how long I stayed but I came with my School named Burrage Grove School from Woolwich SE18.

Two of my friends and I stayed with a Miss Tidy for a while which was right near the School then we went higher up the Road to Mr and Mrs Burr (he was a builder).

While we stayed with Miss Tidy she took us hopping and we really enjoyed that, not sure where the hopfield was but we used to go on the bus I believe. I have recently been in touch with Evacuees United and found the address of a boy that came from our school and he came to Horsmonden about the same time as I did. He lives in Canada now and I think he knows of another boy that now lives in America. He remembers more of the time than I did I think he is older than I am.

I live in St.Leonards-on-Sea now but have come back to Horsmonden on several occasions to have a look around. I remember the Village Green and I think I recall a Dr Stitch and a Mr Blood (Dentist) that had surgeries next to each other on the Green.

Grace Clark

Evacuee Story by Malcolm Jones

During the war in 1939 I was evacuated to Horsmonden along with hundreds of other kids from London.

I lived in Horsmonden from August 1939 until June 1944 when the Tonbridge school I was going to was re-evacuated Exeter – I lived with my younger brother Don, my elder brother Ken lived with the Smith’s at Capel Manor.

Czechs in Horsmonden

The Czechs who came to Horsmonden in about 1939 and were billeted at the ‘Girls School’ almost opposite the Village School. These Czechs challenged the local football team to a match, and I believe they won in spite of a number of the men having no soccer boots and played in bare feet – with a bandage wrapped around their feet. I recall it was snowing at the time. Also in the winter a number of the Czechs could be seen on skis cross country skiing.

Perhaps my memory is failing after all these years but my recollection of Stanford Tucks spitfire crashing in Horsmonden – the date I recall was the winter of 1940 – not during the summer (August) as shown on your Timeline. [This recollection must be a different incident as Stanford-Tuck’s is well documented.]

My recollection was it was a sunny cold winter day – my friends and I were sledding down the hill of a field opposite the entrance to Capel Manor which at that time was requisitioned by the Army, as a couple of Soldiers joined in the sledding with us. I was half way down the hill and I heard a lot of shouting looking up I saw a ME 110 overhead – I ran in deep snow to the machine gun nest halfway on the the other side of the hill, and helped pass the ammo to the Soldier on his Lewis Gun. Just as he was about to open fire two Spitfires came over at tree top level. The first opened fire and bits flew off the ME 110 – but it was still climbing the second Spitfire went after it, closing in on it (too close) he fired and the ME 110 seem to blow up in mid air -unfortunately it damaged Tuck’s spitfire and he was forced to bale out. This is the only Spitfire I recall crashing in Horsmonden while I was there September 1939 to July 1944.

V1 Doodlebug

On your Timeline you also mention a V1 coming down in July – near the Church. I also recall another V1 coming down – I am surprised no one else seems to recall this was in either June or July 1944 in the Orchard near Horsmonden Football Pitch (this was a special orchard that had very small trees three or four feet high like dwarf apple trees). My brother and I were the first to arrive we expected to find a big crater – what we found was the V1 intact – what had happened was the V1 had pancaked hitting the orchard and the explosive part had broken off going at least 100-150 yards ahead and exploding on the edge of the soccer field in some trees the crater was about 25-30 ft across. My brother and I were sitting on the wings of the V1 looking at the inside of the V1 when a Home Guard person comes up shouting that it is going to blow up – until we pointed him in the direction of the crater. Within a very short while the RAF arrived on the scene with a flat bed with a tarpaulin and took the V1 away. My guess it this is the only V1 that landed intact during the war and it came down in HORSMONDEN – and no-one seems to recall it.

I also recall a Dornier coming down in Horsmonden while we were hop picking, and I also a Heinkel being shot down. Also a damaged ME 109 crashed in Goudhurst.

Malcolm Jones

Evacuee Tale from Cliff Watts

I was evacuated to Horsmonden September 1st 1939 from Burrage Grove School and well remember waiting in the village hall to be selected by a family. I was not picked!! Instead I was taken around the corner and introduced to a Mrs Martin who took me in & became a mother to me, she was one of the most wonderful persons I have ever met. I lived with her until her sudden death in the spring of 42. Leaving me with wonderful memories of her and Horsmonden.

School that first year was upstairs at the Gun before we were integrated with the village children in the village school. My two best friends were the Collins brothers, George and Fred. I saw Fred again in 1947, at that time George was in Australia and Fred was in the Merchant Navy. I myself have been living in Canada since 1954 with my wife who I had met in Goudhurst, whenever we return to England we always return for a drink in the Gun and The Star & Eagle in Goudhurst to talk over old memories.

If there is anyone over there who can still remember the little Cockney kid I would be delighted to hear from them.

Cliff Watts

evacuee advert