Goodnight Mr Tom - Life as an evacuee - An Interview
Silvia is Maria's (Co-Director) grandma. She was one of 6 siblings who lived in Woolwich, East London. Four of the children, two boys and two girls were evacuated to the countryside in Kent.
The two youngest daughters stayed in London with their parents, as was often the case. They used to have to take all their bags to school just in case they were leaving that day. They had 2 false alarms, but on the third alarm, they were evacuated to Kent. Sylvia was only 11 years old and was looking after her four year old sister.
When they arrived in Kent, they got off t he train and were taken to a field, where they had to stand in a field in queues. Her two brothers were sent somewhere else, although she asked if they could all stay together. But no-one had room for four children and they usually kept only two of them together. So her brothers were sent off with someone else and Sylvia and her and her sister were taken off in a car.
The girls were quite excited. They stayed with a young farmer and his wife and she remembers the food being lovely. It was all very new to them and they had never been to the countryside before so they weren't used to it and all the animals. They heard the war announcement while they were there and then they knew they would be there for a while. They saw a big for the first time and thought how odd they looked - she had only ever seen pictures of pigs in books before and they didn't look the same!
When they were in Kent they only had to attend school of half a day. Sylvia was with the farmer family for about a year and then they got moved onto the next village. The next lady they stayed with wasn't very nice at all and they were very unhappy. They didn't really speak to their brothers at all and sort of lost touch with them during the war. As everyone was on rations and there was very little petrol, their parents could only come up once a year and they felt like they had lost touch with them a bit as well. As 13, Sylvia went back to London and went to a London school by herself. Then at 16 she went to work for an American bank. One of her sisters didn't want to go back to their parents, as she felt like they were strangers and she didn't remember them. So she went back to live with her evacuation parents in the countryside.
We asked the cast to ask some questions about things they would like to know about Sylvia's life as an evacuee.
Why didn’t the countryside get bombed as much?
When the German planes flew over us to go home, if they had any bombs left, they would drop them. They still bombed us, but they bombed London a lot more because they were so many people there.
What presents would you get on your birthday?
We would get small things like hats or gloves, not like what you get these days. We were still very grateful for them though.
Did you enjoy living in the countryside?
I did, I loved it there. My sister still lives there.
Who was your favourite person to live with?
Definitely Mrs Sharpe, she was lovely. She was the third person that we lived with.
What was it like when the war ended?
There was lots of dancing in the streets, lots of celebrations. They was still a lot of rationing though, a long time after the war ended.
What was the worst thing about living in the countryside?
I think the worst thing was the fact that we got very little sleep, because the sirens would go off in the middle of the night, and of course we had to go down to the Anderson shelters. We never really slept in them, because of all the bombs.
What was it like seeing your brothers again?
It was certainly strange when we lived together again, because we didn’t see them much before that.
What was your first reaction when you knew you were being evacuated?
I didn’t really mind, it was like a holiday to us. I did cry on my first night, but I soon settled in.
What were the Anderson shelters like?
They weren’t very big for one thing- they could fit about eight of us. They were also very cold. People sometimes slept in the underground stations too.
Did you make any friends while in the countryside?
I did make friends, with the neighbours of Mrs Sharpe. They were two girls who were the same age as us and we got on very well.