When my dad brought my middle sister and me back from an unhappy billet in Ely, Christmas 1939, I vowed I would never be evacuated again, but on September 7th 1940 the Blitz began. We tried taking shelter on the platform of Aldgate East Underground station, where we slept in rows tightly packed like sardines. I hated it there. I often walked in my sleep and, although I knew that the electric current was turned off at night, I was terrified that I might walk to the edge of the platform and fall onto the lines. Finally, we were allocated spaces in the basement of a factory in Middlesex Street and started to sleep there every night.
Soon, posters appeared saying that children still in London should be sent to the country. I told my parents I wouldn’t go. After the miserable time I’d had in Ely, I absolutely didn’t want to be evacuated again but a distant cousin was working at one of the hostels for Jewish children opened by Habonim in South Devon – one each in Dawlish, Teignmouth and Exmouth. There was room for me in the Dawlish hostel and I stayed there for two years, finally coming back to London in the summer of 1942.
I loved it there. I was the youngest and smallest and for the first time I was not just a third unwelcome daughter but was cossetted and made a big fuss of. And there were lots of children to play with. I don’t remember ever being homesick even though I only saw my parents a couple of times in the two years I was there – it was a long way from London and the fare was expensive. I wasn’t exactly alienated from my family but certainly there was now an emotional as well as a geographical distance.
I was entered for the Junior County Scholarship when I was 10 and awarded a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital. I’d read lots of books about boarding schools and couldn’t wait to go there, but my father wrote to the school asking if I would be able to take Jewish holydays off. Needless to say, the reply was that no special arrangements could be made for Jewish children and my Orthodox parents wouldn’t allow me to go there.
I was heartbroken and now I hated the hostel and begged my father to take me home. My scholarship didn’t guarantee me a free place at the local grammar school, Central Foundation School for Girls, but the headmistress allowed me to go there free of charge provided I won a Junior County Scholarship the following spring. It was a fee-paying school at the time, and my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay fees. Fortunately, with a bit of taking in, my middle sister’s uniform fitted me, so my parents were spared that expense.
I won a Junior County scholarship in 1943 and spent seven happy years at CFS, including the last two as the only girl at our brother school – Cowper Street Boys School – but that’s another story!!
Read about this and other episodes in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’