Evacuated from East Leeds to Ackworth

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Evacuated from East Leeds to Ackwoth.

This month’s tale revisits the experiences of two East Leeds school girls: Mrs Kathleen Fisher (nee Lane) and Mrs Molly Browning (nee Smith) evacuated in 1939 from East Leeds to Ackworth, and their slightly differing  ‘take’ on their adventure..

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                                                         Kathleen’s Tale

I was interested to read in the Yorkshire Diary (YEP) about children who were evacuated from Leeds at the beginning of the war and note they mostly went to Lincolnshire and the Dales. It made me think about my own experiences of evacuation – we went as a school group to Ackworth, just outside Pontefract. My seven-year-old brother, Michael, and I (aged 10) attended St Hilda’s Junior School on Cross Green Lane, Leeds 9. Early in September 1939, we walked down from school to the railway goods yard near the river Aire at Hunslet, with our belongings and boxed gasmasks over our shoulders. We got on the train and were taken to Lower Ackworth School where we were given a carrier bag containing, amongst other things, a tin of corned beef and sticks of barley sugar. People then came into the school and ‘chose’ which child/children they wanted – boy or girl, two boys or two girls but nobody seemed to want a boy and a girl whose mother was arriving next day with two babies!!

After much discussion, we were taken to stay in the headmaster’s house overnight (the house was called ‘Graystones’) and a home was found the following day with room for us all to stay together. This was the house of a lady who ran it as a private school and I think we were unwelcome guests!

            My brother and I had a long walk across the field to the village school and were glad to meet up with our pals from Leeds, we all soon made friends with the local children – but back in our ‘billet’ it was not so good. The house rules had to be obeyed, no speaking at meal times, no noise around the house, early bed (thought the sirens went occasionally so we were up again). My mother was very unhappy and took the three younger children back to Leeds. After as couple of weeks (most of the other children were returning too) but as our school back in Leeds was still closed my parents decided I should stay at school in Ackworth to continue my education.

            One morning I woke up to find I was covered all over in spots and wrote to tell my mum (no mobile phones then!) She quickly contacted the lady of the house who was quite cross when she realised I had chickenpox. I was put into strict isolation – away from the girls in the private school and life was even more lonely and difficult. A couple of weeks later I returned home and went to Richmond Hill School. This suffered in one of the air raids and St Hilda’s School was reopened.

            Looking back I think our evacuation to a venue so close to Leeds was an expensive mistake made in panic and to send children away from home to stay with strangers would not be considered a safe idea now. I have talked to some people who were happy and stayed with very nice families, all I can say is – they were the lucky ones!!

 

                                   Molly’s Tale

On the 1st of September 1939, with only a few days warning and not knowing our destination, we were marched in crocodile fashion to Hunslet Goods Yard to catch a train, carrying only our gas masks and a change of clothing. Before we got on the train we were handed a brown paper carrier containing a sandwich, an apple and to our delight some chocolate, which I still believe to this day was Kit-Kat or something similar. This was supposed to be for emergency but most of it was consumed by one and all before we arrived at our destination – Ackworth, near Pontefract!!. I was one of the older evacuees and had the responsibility of counselling the younger ones, who were totally confused.  I found it hard to hide my own fears.  we were taken to the local C of E school, where prospective foster parents came to choose who they would like to have. My friend (Mary Pearson) and I lowered our heads if we thought we were going to be picked by anyone we didn’t like the look of. It must have been late in the afternoon when this warm looking man and his wife for us – the last two left. We were later to discover that, as they couldn’t get there until late and wanted two girls we had been held back for them.

Mr Taylor was the caretaker of Ackworth Quaker School and Mrs Taylor was the cleaner. They were kind and jovial and we loved to go the Quaker school to help out and pretended we were posh pupils there! Apart from missing my mother and brother I quite enjoyed the luxury of being billeted at a house with a bathroom, as our home, number 12. St Hilda’s Road didn’t have one. I very much enjoyed the country life, picking fruit etc. One downside of the evacuation was that my best friend, Audrey Smith was evacuated to South Africa, which was a closely kept secret at the time because a few weeks earlier the Germans had sunk a ship carrying evacuees to America. I stayed at Ackworth until the following Easter, most of the other evacuees had returned long before that, some only staying a week.  I never returned to St Hilda’s School, which had closed because of the war, but went to Cockburn High School in the following September.

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One Response to “Evacuated from East Leeds to Ackworth”

  1. Frank Bonnar Young Says:

    I found this very interesting as my sister and I were both evacuated to Ackworth from St. Hildas scool in 1939.
    at the present time I am working on my memoirs for my children and garndchildren. I was only six years old at the time but remember the event quite well especialy about the kit-kat chcolate.

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