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Helmdon Historical Articles

Reminiscences of Evacuation

an article by Malcolm Care


Early in 1940 my mother and I travelled from my grandmother’s house in Folkestone to stay with her sisters in Whitfield - my first time on a train, in a taxi, across London and up to Brackley.  There we were enveloped by my larger than life Aunt Olive who took us to her house, The Grange, in Whitfield.  She drove us in an enormous Daimler.  This was my first ride in a private car and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  I was eight years old.  The house was very large and the grounds, stretching down to a minor tributary of the Ouse, even larger.  My uncle was Jack (Bim) Timms, the Northamptonshire cricketer of not inconsiderable local fame.

We stayed in that fairy tale environment with dogs, county cricketers in and out, and the ever- fascinating aunt (I came to realise much later that almost all the time she was inebriated – her life was not fun!).  She got a special petrol ration because she took four village kids and me every day to the “Feed my Lambs” school in Brackley.  I am sure it is no longer an educational establishment but I saw the building on my last visit.  It is at the top of the hill on High Street leading down to the Market Square and across the road from what used to be the masters’ lodgings of Magdalen College School.  She did this for about one year, and then it was necessary to evacuate my grandmother and grandfather and an invalid uncle from Folkestone too.  My guess is that Uncle Brian said “No!” to my aunt’s request for sanctuary at The Grange.  Thus an arrangement was made for all of us evacuees to move into The Bungalow on the Falcutt estate which had  previously been occupied by the Webbs, who had moved out to live on the old Green  when Mr Webb went to work in Banbury. 

My aunt must have talked Captain Lees into the deal since that little house was a tied cottage, as it was unlikely that any of us could contribute anything on his farm.  However, it must be said that it had been condemned with its neighbours before the war and was being  put into use again.  There was no electricity, no water on tap, and  it had  a  backyard loo and wash house.

I frankly cannot understand how we all managed in that very tiny wooden box.  There was grandpa (70+), grandma (68), mother, invalid Uncle Tom (permanently in a wheel chair and completely helpless) and me.  The whole place would have fitted comfortably in the lounge at The Grange!  

I still remember my first walk down into the village past the church, down the hill, smell of bread!, past the pump at the turn of Prison Row on the left, into Smith’s General Store and across the road to the Post Office (Edie Shrimplin and Vera), and the walk back up the hill.  Where was the Daimler…..?

I was enrolled in Miss Barnes’s School and learnt a new tongue, Northamptonshire.  I remember Miss Barnes as a rather large lady with a grey bun for a hairstyle, and a formidable bosom advancing on you like the prow of avenging battleship.

I was useless at woodwork and envied people like Tony Wilson who seemingly performed miracles with a plane and chisel.  Until we discovered Mr Tugwood (Jim’s Dad) my mother chopped my hair off using a pudding basin as a former. She made me wear sandals (which I hated and still do), and always a cap (no doubt to hide her tonsorial efforts), which I was strongly enjoined to raise politely to every adult person I met anywhere.

During the first year in Helmdon, 1941/2, a whole ‘gaggle’ of evacuees arrived from London to live opposite us in one of the two stone built houses, also part of the Lees estate.  The Lees chauffeur and odd-job man was Mr Croutear who lived in the other two-storey unit with his wife and two children, Violet and Arthur.  I visited both Violet and Arthur on my last trip from the US, courtesy of Kathleen Webb and her husband who have remained in touch with Violet all these years.  Violet sadly is confined to a wheelchair nowadays.   

The London kids were a revelation to the village youth and vice-versa.  Most of them had never seen a cow or a sheep and their reactions to village life, and now existing nightlife, was predictable.

Tiny wars erupted, mostly over girls.  One incident I recall vividly.  It was decided that a fight would be arranged between the two boys over the possession (?) of this particular girl.  The two boys were Phil Pitts and a London boy named Norman and the fight took place after school on the road just outside the Pitt’s house and a lot of blood and gore was spilt that day.  Who won I don’t recall but I do remember all of us being severely chastised the next day by an irate Ethel M Barnes!

The Rev Ball was the incumbent in those days and he persuaded my totally willing mother that I become his altar boy.  So, on a Sunday morning, come rain, snow or shine, at 7.30am I was entering the church through the vestry door, checking the wafers and wine, making sure the water was there, and performing the rituals required of me during the service – and once a month again, at 11am.  For variation I was occasionally pressed into service to pump the organ by means of a long wooden handle in the vestry which was pushed up and down, and if it was not adequately done, and in time, Madge Brown (organist) would let me know after service.

In due course at  Miss Barnes’s insistence I sat the much maligned 11+ , and in 1942 I took my first early morning walk through Donkey Lane to the “top” station, presented my travel certificate and went to Brackley to begin a seven- year stint at Magdalen  College School, Brackley.

My days were long and the homework longer so when I could I would persuade my father to let me spend an evening in the Reading Room.  There, almost every evening, Mrs Southam presided over a room full of us boys – no girls.   There was a  billiards table and we picked a team to go to other villages and play,   and also a table tennis table (I enjoyed a game with Frank Allan), and we also had a poker game, playing for pennies.  The only person who ever had any money and liked to play was “Fishy” Ratledge, and he lost consistently.

The Reading Room was the centre of a whole lot of war-time entertainment, from talent shows (I was always called up to declaim some Rudyard Kipling  and If and The Close I can remember to this day).  There were also whist drives.  I do not recall how I, at the tender age of twelve was invited to take part in that regular female rite.  Some ladies enjoyed me as a partner, to mind Mrs Wilson (Tony’s mother)and Mrs Marjorie Watson, Leslie’s wife (when she was there), but some were not sure about it, such as Mrs Duncombe (“Fishy” Duncombe’s mother).  It was also where the village gathered to watch he newsreels when they came, Battle of Britain stuff and Atlantic convoys.  Exciting fare for a teenager!   We put on Macbeth one time.  At the critical moment when “Is this a dagger I see before me?” rang out, a voice at the back of the audience called out “Nah – that’s my mum’s bread knife!”

The village acquired a new constable, Mr Faram.  His son, Philip, became my closest friend.  We shared a common love for cricket and would spend hours together, one bowling, one batting.  As the war ended and we resumed inter-village matches it was with great excitement that we would read the notice on the telegraph pole outside The Chequers announcing the members of that weekend’s team.  How I envied Frank Allen who got picked to go to Brackley on a  Sunday to play.   I, of course, was in church!

“The Corner” (across from what was the police house, Smith’s store, school house and adjacent to the Soame’s house) was where the boys gathered to ‘hopefully’ encounter the girls and pair off for walks together.  I never got into that game because (a) it was too far to walk to on a Sunday afternoon after roast beef and Yorkshire pud and be early enough for the ‘parade’ and (b) by the time such things were of interest I had a ‘steady’ girl friend, Kathleen Humphrey (now Webb).  She sat in the church choir, ladies’ side, and I sat on the opposite side, and we made eyes at one another throughout the service,  and our weekly assignation was for her to walk up to church again after her lunch and sit on the stone wall on the side of the churchyard and wait for me.   Kathleen and I had a wonderful friendship, which had I not set out from Helmdon for the rest of the world when I was seventeen might very well have developed into an even more intimate relationship.  She had a gramophone player, wound-up variety, and when we selected not to wander the fields on a Sunday afternoon we would go to her house and play our favourite records.

It was possible, with money, to catch Walter’s (Sam’s) bus to Towcester on Saturday night to go to the cinema.  It was also fashionable to collect large, badly coloured, pictures of film stars – Jane Russell in The Outlaw for example, from American comics, of which Eddie Spencer always had a good supply.

Before my association with Kathleen the weekly Sunday entertainment would consist of a walk round the Four Corners, my mother pushing Tom in his wheelchair, and we would walk to Crowfield and have a drink at Alice Lymouth’s little pub (with the utterly disgusting outhouse with cut up shiny magazines in lieu of toilet paper).  If I was lucky I got to ride on the side of the wheelchair to get home.

So many memories remain vividly in my mind, somewhat coloured by a rosy- tinted hindsight I know, but, to conclude, a few outstanding items should be listed to complete the smorgasbord that is in my mind about those years!


  • Wandering in the various woods around Helmdon, and in due season picking primroses and bluebells from a carpet of them and conkers in the Autumn.
  • Walking alone along the gated and unpaved road from Falcutt to Astwell, picking blackberries and hazelnuts along the way.
  • Camping with the Boy Scouts at Astwell by the pond - someone fell in and we had to return home.
  • Playing cricket on Luke’s Backside.
  • Playing tennis on Greta Brown’s court - after an arduous time preparing it.
  • Admiring the fish that Mr Norman Watson, from the “top shop”, caught at Astwell, and listening to the tales of the large pike that he never caught!
  • Parties - mostly impromptu - in various private houses with the excitement of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘sardines’.  Mostly I remember the girls at such events – ‘Sugar’ Smith (Sheila, the store keeper’s younger daughter) - Greta Brown (with the huge eyes and totally neurotic behaviour) - Kathleen (of course) and Olive Batchelor.
  • Harvest time and helping to ‘stook’ the corn – and the last row with the running rabbits and the chance of some extra meat on the table.
  • Moving down to Shortlands from the Bungalow (circa ’44) and the subsequent installation of electricity (!), indoor toilet, and eventually a bath!
  • A continuous and continuing rivalry between Magdalen College School, Brackley and Towcester Grammar School, in the persons of myself and   “Happy” Watson.

Malcolm A. Care


Editor’s noteMalcolm was evacuated to Helmdon and lived in the village from 1940-46.  He now resides in Reno, Nevada, USA.

First printed in Aspects of Helmdon no 6  (2008)  

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