From Terry Sutton MBE, a 90 year old still working journalist, author of three books (one, Dover in Second World War), talks about his life as a wartime evacuee from Dover to South Wales.
I was evacuated from Dover late May 1940 until December 1944. During those years I lived in at least ten homes, in five towns and attended six school buildings, followed by another three by September 1945.
On June 2nd 1940 around 3,000 Dover children were evacuated by special train to South Wales. I was not among them. My father, a journalist, realised in May the danger faced by Dover and evacuated me to my grandfather’s home in Gillingham, Kent. From two homes in Gillingham I was evacuated to Sevenoaks (where I went to a church school) and from there rejoined my elementary school in Ynysddu in South Wales. There, and in neighbouring Pontllanthraith, I spent time in three host homes.
Still in 1940 I transferred from that primary school to Dover Grammar School for Boys in Ebbw Vale, South Wales where I remained until December 1944. During that time I was hosted in three homes. I and my classmates received a restricted education (by mostly retired teachers) in two or three school premises.
Questions and answers:
What was it like living in other people’s homes?
Not much fun. In my first billet, in Ynysddu, on the first day the youngest member of the host family poured a tin of condensed milk over me-and me in my best suit. He was showing I was not very welcome.
In my first billet, in Ebbw Vale, I was placed with a middle class family where the house proud lady did not want me (a scruffy pre-teenager) in the house alone. On one occasion when I came home from school I had to wait outside in a snowfall until she returned. Later she relented and let me stand in the garage! But, with a few exceptions, the Welsh families were very welcoming.
How did the host families exercise control over you?
In my second home in Ebbw Vale, my “auntie” was a widow and I was left to do virtually what I liked. That often meant going out at night into the town and causing trouble, including frightening old lady’s in the non-illuminated streets.
My third and last home in Ebbw Vale was in a gated garden estate where the husband and wife were childless. They were so kind to me, especially when my brother Roy, serving in the RAF as a pilot, died when his aircraft crashed into the sea.
Living on this estate of big houses, with reasonably wealthy hosts, I guess I had one of the best billets in town. They had an aged housekeeper and she used to try to get me to do my school homework. But, once again, there was very little active control. I was lucky not to get into trouble with the police.
What were school lessons like?
At Ebbw Vale my grammar school originally shared classrooms with the local Ebbw Vale grammar school. One week the local boys and girls went to school in the morning and we occupied the classrooms in the afternoon. The next week the roles were reversed.
But this could not continue. Later the rump of my school was cramped into a Victorian? house called Pentwyn House where classrooms, in winter, were heated by coal fires in the grates. Outside, at play, we wandered around the overgrown garden.
Once again, after school, there was very little control what we got up to, except during army cadet parades. I was more keen on cadets than lessons and was soon promoted to the unit’s company quartermaster sergeant!
Our uniformed cadet military band was very popular in South Wales’ towns and often led civic parades for such events as War Weapons Week.
In the early days in Ebbw Vale some of the very senior boys, in the cadet force, helped train the Ebbw Vale district Home Guard.
What happened towards the end of evacuation?
When the enemy shelling of Dover finished, in September 1944, there were growing demands by parents for our return home. The authorities were not happy at this idea because Dover schools had been damaged during bombing and shelling. But eventually they relented.
What an exciting day that was when the remnants of the evacuated school (school rolls had decreased as some lads had given up and gone back home) climbed into a special train that took us home to the badly damaged “Front Line” town of Dover.
Had you not been in your home town of Dover for four years?
Yes, regularly. Every school holiday, from 1942 onwards, a group of us returned to Dover. That was at least three times a year (plus once for a short half term visit), Christmas, Easter and the six weeks of summer holidays). It meant we were in Dover for three of the 12 months. It was a stupid idea. We were evacuated for our safety yet returned for three months each year to face the bombing and shelling dangers that Dover people suffered 12 months of the year. But, for us boys, what exciting days they were including the train journeys alone and through the blitzed ruins of London. Going back to school (and to our billets) at the end of holidays was not much fun.
Was it exciting in 1944 returning to the former school building?
It would have been but that opportunity was denied us. Our school building, known as The School on the Hill, was occupied by the WRNS (ladies serving with the Royal Navy). As a result, after the December 1944 holiday, we returned to our classes in a variety of buildings in war-torn Dover.
My year took over a 19th century former art school (where some 40 years earlier my father was a pupil), attached to the Town Hall; another section of the school was housed in a fairly modern art college; while the sixth form moved into a former residential property. There we remained until the WRNS vacated our school building and we moved in, at last, in September 1945. Of the (eventual) seven years I was at Dover Grammar School I was only in the proper school building for about two and a half years.