All About Wadhurst

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"Happy Evacuee"

 

by Don Henderson

Wadhurst September 1939

I was one of some three hundred boys and masters who left Lewisham South Station on the morning of Saturday 2nd September 1939 carrying a small suitcase, gas mask and a stamped addressed postcard to let my anxious parents know of my arrival at an unknown destination.

We were, later that day, to arrive in Wadhurst, via Crowborough, in a fleet of Southdown coaches and be deposited outside the Hall of Commemoration earlier than the reception committee seemed to anticipate. To its credit however we were all assigned to foster homes by the evening having been fed, medically examined and documented. Thus, the invasion of this pleasant East Sussex market town by Brockley County Grammar School had started and, for myself, was to lead to some pleasant and never to be forgotten years even now in the year 2002.

In spite of much being written about unhappy evacuees and foster parents due to varying circumstances, the majority of boys had little to complain of and settled quickly to life in lovely surroundings.

Luckily I was not unused to the countryside and had often paid visits to Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and The Weald from my home in Bromley and I did not find myself 'fazed' in any way.

My first lodging was with Mr H. C. Corke at "Tanners", Turners Green and after the first night I reported to the Hall of Commemoration along with the staff and boys who had to find a way there somehow. Standing there we heard Mr Chamberlain‘s announcement at 11 am. on a relayed radio belonging, I think, to Mr Goble of the Post Office. Within a minute the sirens had wailed but there was no panic and we disposed ourselves to the playing field behind the hall and began what was, for many, the first of several days of freedom before arrangements for school were commenced.

This meant three venues for boys and masters viz: (1) The Comm. Hall (2) St. George‘s Hall in Sparrows Green (3) A Scout Hut in Mayfield Lane. Desks, books and other equipment arrived from S.E. London and "The Brockley Cabbages" settled down to the quiet first few months of "The Phoney War" in Wadhurst and surrounding districts. Teaching was done under some difficulty but there was never any lack of discipline, respect or drive under our superb headmaster Dr. Sinclair and the excellent staff of older masters too old for active war service. In this period, too, many of us received more personal equipment from home and some were lucky enough to have bicycles which were necessary if you were housed some five miles away from Wadhurst.

After one week at "Tanners" I was moved to a rather primitive cottage in Buckhurst Lane and learned what it was like to walk to school. One compensation there, however, was the delicious blackberry pies made by Mrs. Harmer but, after my father had sent down a Hercules bicycle (£2.10 sh), I was removed again into Keens and Hawkins Bakery in the High Street. This shop is now the present post office of course and very much changed. There I remained until March 1940 when the place went into liquidation and I made another move to be in Western Rd. with Mr. & Mrs. Walter Baldwin.

After the initial worry that London would be shattered by bombing had passed, almost half the school had returned there if parents consented. I had three days at home that Christmas but as most of my other friends had also evacuated it seemed that life with the school at Wadhurst was the better option even though it turned out to be a cold, bitter winter.

There was a memorable party in Commem. Hall in which we combined with Wadhurst School and friendships, some long lasting, were made. We were encouraged to join with such organisations as the church choir, youth group, Scouts etc. For myself at this time I took the opportunity to play Rugby for School 1st XV. Most games were played on Sparrows Green Playing Field. I also played "soccer" for Wadhurst Rangers on the same field and later for Wadhurst Town in the village. The Air Training Corps, formed later, also ran a team which played onthe field by the church behind Hill House, now "wired off" by the path to "Step Stile".

By the lovely summer of 1940 those of us who remained were well integrated into life in The High Weald. We were encouraged to learn as much of local history and geography as we possibly could and my love of the area, already instilled, caused me to roam all over the "hurst" and "den" villages and to this day I remember every lane and turning particularly in "The Wealden Iron" area which I later chose for my thesis before becoming a teacher.

But — guns had been heard in the distance at Dunkirk and I remember the order for bells to be silenced until threat of invasion had begun. It seemed to make little difference to the life of the village, though suddenly there were more soldiers about and Canadians arrived in the area and there were quite a number in the Snape Wood vicinity.

Then, overhead in the lovely blue skies of this momentous summer, began "The Battle of Britain". Dog fights raged high in the sky above patterned with many vapour trails. In spite of many claims by both sides very few aircraft came down in Wadhurst Parish. Spent bullets and cartridge cases became prized possessions and stories were told of our escapades and narrow escapes but there was very little damage to the district, much more happening in the tragedy of 1956.

Boys were released from school to assist on local farms at five old pence per hour and the school had its allotments on land adjoining Sheepwash (Washwell Lane) which was able to produce useful amounts of vegetables. Later in the year we were involved in both fruit and hop picking, myself at Cousley Wood.

During this summer the L.D.V. had been formed and boys over sixteen years of age could participate as messenger boys. I was assigned to a platoon which kept guard in a small hut in Brinkers Lane. The only requirement was a bicycle with a blacked out headlamp on which to ride with warning to the police station should parachutists land. I found myself in the same outfit as my headmaster who was an entirely different man under these circumstances but who reverted to type a few hours later when back at school.

My love for cricket was amply satisfied during this summer as we took over the field on which Wadhurst played for the duration of the stay there until re-evacuation in 1944. This was a lovely experience on a good wicket with expansive views over Snape Wood at the lower end and, at the upper, the shingled spire of the church. We enjoyed matches against local schools, London schools evacuated within the area, R.A.F. and Army teams. We also played as guests for other villages who were "short" and on The Neville Ground at Tunbridge Wells and Linden Park. No shortage of good cricket under our masters and the watchful eye of Mr. Meech, the groundsman.

Later in 1940 the school obtained the use of Oakover House in Ticehurst and subsequently some eighty of us left to be domiciled in three large houses, twenty or thirty in each. These were (1) Steelands in Ticehurst Square (now Apsley House) (2) The Courthope House at Shover's Green (3) Abbey Lea on the Stonegate Rd.

Obviously in many ways this was more convenient for schooling and fostering arrangements but those boys still in Wadhurst needed to cycle the necessary miles.

Those of us who wished not to sever ties made with Wadhurst of course remained in touch. There were visits to The Assembly Rooms for classical orchestral concerts in Tunbridge Wells, Cinema Shows in The Salvation Army Hut at Sparrows Green and Pantomime rehearsals with the Youth Club.

One of the school activities which had been able to continue was the school orchestra led by Mr. Tom Pickles. We provided music for the pantomimes and visits to Old Peoples‘ Homes in the area often being helped by Mrs. Page and Joyce Law a local piano‘ teacher.

So, by and by, although I now resided in Ticehurst, again with kindly people, I kept up my cricket activities until I joined the R.A.F. in 1942 and returned as often as possible when on leave to play football and to see friends whom I would never have known had it not been for that "nasty little Adolf".

In closing I should mention some names worthy of remembrance and which some older people in the district may recall or remember. Thus on the Brockley side were the following members of staff:

Dr. G.J. Sinclair

headmaster
Mr. S.H. Armstrong Senior Master, "Sammy" all Sciences
Mr. J.E. Silver "Long John" — French, Spanish & Dig for Victory
Mr. G. Newton retired master, who helped with many subjects
Mr. G.E. Lee "Gaffer" — Economics, History, Constitution
Mr. T.H. Pickles "Tom" — Maths, Music, Orchestra etc
Mr. G.E. Allen "Tubby" — all English, Rugby & referee
Mr. A.Q. Webber Geography, Cricket master
Messrs Farrall (Science) and Wheeler (Science) who were seconded to the Armed Forces on Scientific and other War Work
Mr. Fair (P.E.) Mr. Denney (Geography) Mr. Livens (Art)

Boys:

J H (Jock) Nines later R.A.F.
W E Scott do.
John Iggulden do.
D B Nurden Royal Air Force
T L Knight Royal Marines
S J Bett Royal Navy
I W Masters, D Burgneay, P J Laven, D Welbrock, E A Hazell, Hodginson Brothers, C Jasper, R J White, R Scovell and others

On the Wadhurst side:-
Mr Goble (Post master) Mr Edney & Pam
Messrs Underwood & Midmer (L.D.V.)
Misses Courthope & Sir George. Mrs K. Newington
Joyce Sharp — pianist & organist.
Mr & Mrs Walter Baldwin, Mr Reg Baldwin
Mr & Mrs Bill Baldwin, George Piper, Charlie Corke, Mrs Page
Miss Joyce Law.

Younger people (local) and of our "peer" group
The Lavenders of Sparrows Green:- John, Guy, Jean & Mary
Hawkins Family
Percy brothers of Church Street
Ken and Patricia Midmer of "Cockmount"
Pam (Pansy Baldwin) of Western Rd. who married a Canadian soldier and lives in Hamilton Ontario
Eileen Boorman & brother of "Cockmount"
The Kemp sisters of Moseham Hill:- June, Nancye
Rita and Shirley, Hemsleys, Pomfrets, Harmers, Cronins, Romanys & others.
Joe and Nora Usherwood and Molly Goldsmith
Marcelle Page and brother (Dennis?)

Eventually I became a Navigator/Bomb Aimer in the R.A.F. where I met my wife Audrey Mee of Cromford, Derbyshire who was a W.A.A.F. Corporal with 617 Squadron (The Dam Busters) at Scampton and knew Guy Gibson, by sight at least.

Sadly Audrey died thirteen years ago and most of my thoughts are of her and our lives together including a couple of visits to E. Sussex.

But, in one corner of the mind, never forgotten, are the days in and the associations with Wadhurst, both very precious and an important, formative part of my life. Thanks!

So, signing off, Don Henderson Ex "Brockley Cabbage" Evacuee

For his recollections of time in Ticehurst, click here

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