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My sister and I in Ely 1939

I was not quite 8 years old when I was evacuated to Ely near Cambridge in September 1939, together with my middle sister, who had just joined Central Foundation School for Girls – then in Spital Square, East London. We were first evacuated to Littleport and then moved to a billet on the outskirts of Ely, where CFS was set up.

Before the Education Act of 1944, Grammar Schools were fee paying, unless you won a Junior County Scholarship, which all children sat for aged 11. You had another chance of a free place aged 13, and my middle sister had won one of these Supplementary Scholarships that year.

She had her sights set on becoming a doctor, but it was not to be. We were very unhappy in our billet and when my father came to visit just before Christmas, he took us home. Unfortunately, there were no grammar schools left in London in 1940, and as my sister was now 14 (the leaving age, she officially left school, while I went to a temporary primary school in Toynbee Hall. She trained at Pitman’s to become a shorthand/ typist, which she hated, and left home at 17 to work on a farm. She later emigrated to live on a Kibbutz, where she died aged only 60.

I joined CFS in 1942, having returned from evacuation in Dawlish in South Devon. I know that some of my contemporaries are still alive and wonder how many alumni who went to Ely with the school in 1939 are still around. I am 89, going on 90, they would be at least 92/ 93.

Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.

Woman in a White Coat

September 3rd 1939

My middle sister and me evacuated to Ely
My middle sister and me in Ely 1939

My middle sister, Hannah, and I were evacuated first to Littleport in Cambridgeshire and then to Ely.

Excerpt from my memoir Woman in a White Coat
Mrs Hopwood was waiting at the door of her stone cottage.
‘Come in. Come in,’ she said, giving Hannah and me a hug.
She was a tiny white-haired woman, not quite as tall as Hannah. She had bright blue eyes, lots of wrinkles and a big smile.
‘I’ll show you around. My little cottage is tiny compared with the farmhouse.’
On the ground floor at the front there was a parlour. At the back there was a kitchen, a pocket-sized garden and an outside toilet at the far end. Butterflies hovered over borders ablaze with colour. The lawn was smooth and bright green. We could smell newly cut grass.
On the first floor there were two bedrooms. Mrs Hopwood took us into the front bedroom.
‘This will be your room, my dears. I’ve no need for it now that Mr Hopwood has passed away.’
A big brass double bed, a tall mahogany wardrobe and a dressing table crowded the room. A porcelain bowl with a border of roses and a large ewer stood on the dressing table. A matching chamber pot peeped out from under the bed. The wallpaper was pale pink and decorated with tiny roses. It was all lovely and cosy.
‘We don’t have a bathroom, my dears. I still use my tin bath. We’ll have a big coal fire going in the kitchen, and you’ll be warm as toast. You can leave your things for now. Come on down and we’ll have a bite to eat.’
We had scones still warm from the oven, as much butter as we liked, homemade strawberry jam and strong sweet tea. When we’d eaten all the scones, she wiped the crumbs and jam off my face with a damp flannel.
‘There now,’ she said. ‘That’s better, isn’t it?’
She took us over to a large sepia photograph on the wall. There were two rows of children with a man and a woman in the centre.
She pointed to the man with a long white beard.
‘There’s the late Mr Hopwood, God Rest His Soul, with his hand on my shoulder, and there are all the children – had 22 and raised 19. We had to eat in shifts, we did. Even in the farmhouse there was never enough room for us all to sit down at once, save at Christmas, when we all squeezed up.’
I’d never heard of anyone having that many children. The nursery rhyme, The Old Woman who lived in a Shoe, popped into my head. Continue reading September 3rd 1939