F Cannon: November 2017
On the morning of Wednesday 15th November 2017 I got up at 6.00am — a bit earlier than a 'normal' weekday because this day was going to be something special!
After the usual preparations I went downstairs to prepare my breakfast to find that my wife, bless her, had already prepared my packed lunch including a little 'love note' before she left for work. Breakfast eaten and packed lunch in hand I set off — not to the office — but to Ermine Street Church Academy School, Alconbury Weald, the school of which I am a governor representing our Methodist Circuit.
At the school I was welcomed by Pauline Barker — soon to become Miss Barkley (pronounced Miss Sparkley!). After a short briefing, along with Debbie McBride we set off to Huntingdon Railway Station (now London Kings Cross) where, upon arrival we were transformed back to 15th November 1940! We were soon joined by Val March and Gill Bathurst and 28 children from Hercules Class all dressed in period costume with their gas mask boxes and many cuddling their favourite teddy bears waiting excitedly to be evacuated out of the city to safety in the countryside at Sandy, Bedfordshire.
After lots of goodbyes to Mummies and Daddies, and a few tears from younger siblings, the children were escorted onto the platform where they chattered profusely about what they were expecting the day to be like. Their imaginations were stretched to the limit as they tried imagine that the modern electric train pulling into the station was really a old steam train puffing large amounts of black, smelly smoke out of an imaginary chimney. All on board we set off to Sandy and on pulling into St Neots Station we got some very puzzled and shocked looks from people waiting to get into their usual carriage and seats to find them already taken by a group of 1940's children. The train then proceeded on to Sandy Station where we disembarked and formed up outside the station waiting to be met by the Billeting Officer.
After being met by Mrs Vass we walked the children to Sandy Baptist Church where their church hall was turned into a 1940's schoolroom. Two of us then played the role of adults looking for suitable children to be placed in our homes. I, playing the role of a local small-holder, was looking for a strong young lad who could help me do manual work around the property and a young girl who was interested in cooking who would help the wife prepare the meals and keep the house clean. I was talked into taking two boys and two girls by Mrs Vass! I was surprised by the number of children who readily volunteered!
The children were then handed envelopes containing details and pictures of the families they were being billeted to and asked to give their first impressions. Most were very positive and the explanations given by the children were extremely well thought and enlightening.
The class was then split into two groups — one staying in the church hall and the other, including mine, went off to the local library where they did research into children being evacuated from London during the war. They were also introduced to Jill, who had been a young child in a family which had taken in an evacuated child. The children were fascinated by her stories and really enjoyed talking with her.
The groups then swapped over and my group were in the church hall where they received a 1940's style history lesson — learning by rote — some of the kings and queens of England and the dates of their reigns. Afterwards they were told that the evacuated children had to work and so they were taken into the church where they set about dusting and polishing the fixtures and fittings. They all entered into their tasks with vigour and enthusiasm and I am sure their Mum's would have been proud of them and may have even thought about repeating the exercise at home!
Once the groups came back together they were given free time in the adjacent hall and allowed to let off a great deal of steam before sitting down to eat their lunch, much of which would never have been seen in the 1940s — I think I had a whole month's ration of cheese on my two sandwiches!
After another free session after lunch the children then went back into the classroom where they were given slips of paper with short expression of feelings from evacuated children which they discussed together. Not all these were positive and it was very interesting to hear how they dealt with the negative ones, fully appreciating that those children who were evacuated had very mixed experiences and feelings from that time.
With the activities of the day coming to end we all went inside the church where they were told about the King's Day of Prayer. Each child was given a tealight which was lit and placed in a large box following which several children read out their prayers written for Remembrance Day. This was a very solemn event to which the children responded with quiet and thoughtfulness. It was a very moving experience and one I shall never forget.
Service over it was time to put our coats on and form up ready for the walk back to the station arriving in good time to catch our 'steam train' back to Huntingdon after thanking and saying goodbye to Mrs Vass. Our train brought us back to 2017 and back to a large group of waiting parents. The children, many very tired, but all very excited to tell their parents about their day. I can imagine all children and their teddies slept very well that night.
For me it was back to school and straight into a Governors' meeting, which although very interesting did seem pretty mundane after my exciting day.
Being a governor of a school is not just about sitting in meetings — you are invited to get involved with the school and its life. This was a very special day for me with memories I will treasure and I thank the school, especially Miss Sparkley, for inviting me to join and all the children for making me feel so welcome.
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Huntingdon Methodist Church