The Cross Family

David, Pat and Ted Cross were London evacuees staying in Bishopsteignton from June 1940 – January 1942.This is their story as described in a letter to Dick Searle, then the curator of Bishopsteignton Museum.

LETTER FROM DAVID CROSS EVACUEE

Dear Mr Searle,

David, Pat and Ted Cross, Bishopsteignton London Evacuees. June 1940 – January 1942.

In relating the following memories of the 18/19 months I spent in Bishopsteignton, I would ask you to bear with me, regarding some of the names and places. I was pleased to hear that Peter Blogg still keeps in touch with you, we were in the infant/junior school together in Clapham, London before the war.

Early one morning in June 1940, a lot of school children waved goodbye to their parents at the local school, boarded buses or coaches to a railway station, (no doubt Paddington), climbed aboard a train and spent the rest of the day travelling to we knew not where. What I can say is, that I can only recall a sense of adventure rather than apprehension and, at this stage, I wasn’t missing my parents.

The train puffed into the station and stopped (Newton Abbott) and we all got out. How, I can’t remember, we all arrived at the village school in Bishopsteignton with our teachers, Miss Dorrington and Miss Smith with Mrs Petit in charge.

I recall the school being very crowded at first, gradually emptying. It was my mother’s wish that we three, Pat and I were 8 and 1/2 year old twins, and Ted, 10 years old, stayed together. It was getting quite dark outside, all the other children seemed to have gone out, a woman called out “I’ll have the boys but not the maid.”  There was hushed talk between the grown ups, there were whispers between the three of us saying, “We’re staying together.” The voice said “Alright I’ll take them all.” Mrs Petit told us we were going to live with Mr and Mrs Taylor (Moses and Mary Taylor) in the Cottages, Lower Radway. I was pleased to see that now the cottage is called Mary’s Cottage. (Mary Taylor I wonder?) It was dark when we left the school.

Mrs Taylor took Pat’s hand and walked ahead, Ted and I followed with Mr Taylor. We crossed the road, walked up a hill along a stony lane to a cottage. Pat was standing on the top of three steps leading to the front door. Mrs Taylor had gone into the cottage to light the gas.

With the light alight, Mr Taylor guided us into the living room. My memory is that it was cosy but strange; I remember a tear trickling down my cheek. Mr Taylor spotted this, and in his way, tried to comfort us by saying, “Now don ee fret, I spect yer Mam’s weeping too.” I’m afraid that didn’t have the desired result. I can remember sobbing myself to sleep that first night in Bishopsteignton.

My memory of the next morning is rather blurred but I can remember that the three of us were out of the cottage quite early and I think it was Sunday. We retraced our steps from the night before, down the lane, down the hill, past the butcher (Mr Ryder). We looked across the road to the school building and then to the big gates opposite us, which were slightly ajar. (It was sad to see these gates are now disused and derelict, all road names and signs were removed during the war so we couldn’t tell where we were.)

Curiosity got the better of us; we crossed the road and peeped round the gate. There was, what appeared to us to be, a very old man tidying up the driveway. He spotted us, gave us a welcoming smile and, I can hear the sound now, he said “You’m up early baint ee?” I’m afraid I don’t know who he was but I can remember that he told us Col Dewar (Duder) lived in the house and that two evacuees had arrived at the house the day before. These turned out to be our friends John and Molly Beckenham. I don’t think they stayed very long, but do remember meeting up with them again in London towards the end of 1942.

We went back home and were told we had to be at the bottom of the lane in the morning and wait for our teacher. For tea that day we had jam, buns and cream. We seemed to have that for most Sunday teas. (Naturally Sunday tea soon became my favourite meal.)

Monday morning we met up with Mrs Petit and several children and we walked up the High St. to the Methodist Church. As I remember, on the right was a green corrugated Hall building, which the evacuees used until they could be integrated into the village school.

After speaking with you and Mr Back at the Museum the other Sunday, I believe that the sudden influx of London evacuees couldn’t be accommodated in the village school until alterations were carried out, that is, converting the living accommodation (now the Museum) into classrooms.

School supplies were very restricted; we had drawing paper, paints, pens, limited writing paper. Our teachers boiled nettles and cabbage for green paint, we used soot for black paint, goodness know how we got the reds, blues and yellows. We used charcoal for writing as well as drawing and had to draw and paint on newspaper. As I remember all the “making do” only lasted a few weeks until we were integrated into the village school by which time we had got to know the village children, by meeting our friends who lived with them and playing in the playing field which was situated over a low wall off the lane in Lower Radway leading to the cottage or through the main gate at the top of the hill.

Miss Taylor was in charge of the village school and I remember her as a very kind and calm person. She had a Morris 8 car and lived in the High St next to or near the Chemist’s shop. Nearly opposite is a bungalow behind a high wall, ‘River View”. Beside this, towards the Ring O’ Bells is the house where Miss Philips lived, then the front of the house had an iron canopy to the ground floor with a side-way to the rear garden and Bantams wandering around front and rear gardens.

Our friends Brian and Bobby Parlitt were taken in by Miss Phillips. Further up the High St. on the left was Mr Ward the butcher where Peter and Keith Blogg stayed. There was an orchard behind the shop where we used to play. I remember we used to call one of the apple trees the aeroplane tree. It was easy to climb and shaped so that we imagine a bomber with pilot, bomb aimer, wireless operator, air gunner, rear gunner etc. depending on how many wanted to play. It was also at Mr Ward’s that I learned to pluck a chicken.

Further up the High St., on the right, was the Manor Arms (Inn) beyond which was the War Memorial and Methodist Church and our temporary classroom, on the left was Taylor’s Garage. I never thought about it at the time, but perhaps there was a family connection with Mary and Moses Taylor. Next to the garage was a house whose front room was Lloyd’s Bank. I think it was only open one or two times a week, and this was also the house where Sheila Skinner lived and in fact still does. If I remember rightly she had an older brother. (Sheila remembers the bank being next door to her).

Just beyond the road forks, the right fork led to the Commercial Tavern (Old Commercial Inn), now renamed and with an extended car park. Outside the entrance to the Commercial Inn was a cigarette machine where for 6d you could buy 5 Park Drive, Weights or De Reske whether you were 8 or 80.

Diagonally opposite the Inn was the coal yard and Post Office. Beside the coal yard was a short road, which led back to Fore St. with the General Store on the corner. In the last house on the right or thereabouts in this short road, lived the Davies family, I remember Barry and Valerie. Barry Davies, Bob Mann who lived at the farm opposite the village school, were the two local boys I was most friendly with, particularly during the school holidays.

Late 1940, early 1941 rumour had it that children were being taken out to Canada and Australia. The Blitz in London was becoming very heavy. My father suggested that my mother come down to us to be safe and to satisfy herself that we were not likely to be whipped across the seas.

My mother rented a house, no. 4 Fore St. with a Mrs Jones from Battersea, London with two sons and a daughter. This was the opportunity for my sister Pat to leave Mrs Taylor’s and go to live with our mother. My brother and I accepted this situation. I honestly can’t remember any feeling of “Why can’t we go to live with mum?” My mother got a job in the kitchens of Huntley preparing the vegetables etc. Mrs Feddon was the owner as I recall and the film star George Arliss was a resident, an elderly gentleman with a monocle.

The house my mother rented was across the road from the then timber-clad village hall, which are now numbered in the 40s and 50s. I think in those days Fore St. commenced at the road junction at the end of the village hall.

The apartments that are now next to the village hall were a large building where soldiers were billeted. They also camped in the field behind Cross House and were at the Cockhaven Hotel. If my memory serves me correctly, the Officers Mess was within Huntley. Detachments of the Ox and Bucks, the Gloucesters and the D.L.I. were in Bishopsteignton and we youngsters used to sit and watch them training, not really comprehending the seriousness of the situation. Bren Gun Carriers, Army lorries and trucks trailing guns frequently passed along the village streets, but as I recall they didn’t seem to disrupt the day-to-day village life.

Some of the men of the village used to put on armbands with L.D.V. printed on them and carry sticks and half bricks and go down to the Path fields beyond Huntley and practice grenade throwing. Later they were issued with army uniforms and rifles and became the Home Guard.

We used to be able to go across Path fields over the road along the footpath beside the field to the wooden footbridge over the railway down the steps to the shore of the river Teign. One summer’s evening in 1941, a bunch of children along with Jim Burgess followed this route carrying a rowing boat that Jim had built for its maiden voyage. As I recall it was a great success, but as it was a small rowing boat there was much to do on the shore, so two or three of us went a little way along the shore to some sandstone cliffs where there were small caves. Peering into the darkness of the largest one there was a sudden ’whoosh’ and out flew a swan over our heads, frightened the life out of us. I can’t recall ever going back to those caves again. What I do recall is the small bungalow at the foot of the steps, and the lady who lived there used to talk to us about the river.

As I said earlier I used to spend a lot of time, during school holidays and weekends at Mann’s Farm, either helping or playing. Helping with the horses, grooming, harnessing and taking them down to the field next to Cole’s Barn after the day’s work. There were three horses, Tidy, Blossom and Damsel. Helping with the cows bringing them in for milking with Ollie Back and Arthur Mann and letting them out into the fields. Helping with the harvest, cleaning the chaff from the threshing machine.

Playing on Faldon with grass or snow sledges. One time we made a camp in the hay at Straw Loft at Stables in the Stable Yard next to the school. We used to tunnel through the hay to the straw, move the straw bales to form a clearing in the corner against the wall, sit there with lighted candles and cigarettes obtained from the machine mentioned earlier. The thought of it now makes my blood run cold. I didn’t enjoy the cigarette although later back in London I carried on with the experiment. I now tell people that I stopped smoking at 13 because I thought it was affecting my voice, but in fact my voice was breaking. While I was in Bishopsteignton my brother and I joined the Church Choir and after talking it over, my sister tells me she was also in the choir and you reminded me that, of course, Peter Blogg used to sing solo.

We went to church 3 times most Sundays; morning and evening services and Sunday school in the afternoon. The Rev Biddle was the vicar and I remember him as a big man dressed always in his black cassock with a black leather belt and heavy black horn-rimmed glasses with straight sides. When he was talking to us in Sunday school, we sat in the church pews and I can remember he had the habit of removing and replacing his glasses, folding them, gesticulating with them in his hand, later diving his hand into the top of his cassock for the black leather open topped glasses pouch. I also remember receiving the Text stamp for every visit to Sunday school and taking them back to Mrs Taylor to show her we had been to Sunday school.

After church or choir practice we used to sometimes play in the graveyard until a grown up reminded us where we were and sent us home. Just over the wall of the churchyard, beside the road leading to Coles Barn, was a brick pit where all the grass clippings and dead flowers were thrown. Some of the children used to climb over the wall, jump onto the side of the pit and down onto the roadside as an alternative to going through the big church gates. I never went this way. I was convinced that the pit was the entrance to Hell.

On rare occasions we used to walk into Teignmouth to go to the children’s cinema at the Carlton. On one such trip whilst queuing to get in, I dropped my sixpence, which rolled down a drain. I sat on the kerb bemoaning my lot and a lady came up to us and asked what was the matter. My brother explained and the lady gave him a two-shilling piece. Between sniffs and sobs I thanked her and we both went in to see ‘Sea Hawk’ with money to spare.

Another time in 1940 Mr Taylor took the three of us into Teignmouth for a bus ride and as we walked towards the front there was the sound of an aeroplane, a bang and a great spout of water near the pier. People started running about and Mr Taylor took us into a restaurant by the Riviera Cinema. There we were told that it was a single German bomber carrying out a random bombing raid. Most people seemed to take the incident quite calmly but there was a lady in the restaurant who was very alarmed. She was being comforted by two of the waitresses who were helping her with a cup of tea, but the poor lady was shaking so much that the cup and the saucer were chinking together, the spoon fell on the floor and the tea was going everywhere. We three children started to giggle and Mr Taylor quite seriously told us to “Hush now”. We found it difficult to repress our laughter. Mr Taylor discreetly took us home without having our tea and biscuits. When we arrived home Mr Taylor recounted the tale to his wife in the kitchen while we sat in the living room. We could hear them laughing and then in walked Mrs Taylor with Sunday tea. Yes, buns jam and cream. “Come on you rascals sit up and eat your tea, then up them timber ‘ill stairs”.

Now that I have started putting pen to paper, memories of this period of my life have come flooding back, aided and abetted of course by my brother and sister. We all live in West Sussex now within 8 miles of one another.

I have been back to Bishopsteignton three or four times, but last year we discovered the school was now a community centre but unfortunately we were visiting on a week day and the museum was closed, so this year we arrived on a Sunday. It was lovely to come back and reminisce.

Other stories relating to Bishopsteignton evacuees include:

The Blogg Family, The Ward FamilyThe Hope Family, Norman P. Barnett, The McGregor Family, Heathman Family.