The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
This famous and frequently quoted opening line of The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley could not be a more apt summary of this autobiographical account of the author’s childhood in London and Wales during World War Two. She recounts her experiences of living in a house without electricity, gas or running water, scavenging for coal along railway lines and being evacuated to live with strangers during the war; an unthinkable proposition in today’s world.
Told completely without self-pity and a great deal of humour, this account will make you wonder at just how different – and grindingly hard – life was for millions of people during this period in the last century.
Below is a short chapter which recounts part of the author’s experiences as an evacuee when she was six years old.
A Sixth Daughter by Daisy Bennison is available from Amazon.
A Frightening and Miserable Time
We arrived late at night in Northampton and the billeting people could only find temporary accommodation for us. The four of us were taken to a large house which looked quite creepy in the dark. My sister Lil told us it was a home for ‘mad’ people, but in reality it was a home for children with mental health problems.
We were all feeling cold, miserable and very hungry by then as we had not eaten since breakfast. A member of staff showed us to a room which had two beds and a chair. She told us we could all sleep there and that we would have breakfast in the morning. When Lil said that we had not eaten all day, the woman replied that there were no kitchen staff on duty that late but if we wanted a drink there was water in the kitchen. Later, my sister Lil tried to find the kitchen, but the house was in complete darkness so we went to bed very hungry and thirsty.
It was so cold in the room that we undressed as quickly as we could, throwing all our clothes on the chair. It was a long time before I fell asleep as the house seemed to be filled with strange noises. I could hear moaning and crying, then someone would shout out as though they were in pain and this would be followed by footsteps running about.
During the night, I awoke with a start to hear my sister Lil shouting: “Who’s that? What do you want?”
Someone was in our room, but it was so dark we could not see who it was. We were all terrified and spent the rest of the night huddled together in one bed.
At last, it was daylight, but when we looked for our clothes they had all disappeared. Someone had stolen them. Even worse, our only other change of clothes had been left with the billeting officer. We started to bang on the door for help but nobody heard us.
Lil would not let us go out of the room in our nightclothes, so we had to miss out on breakfast. It was only when one of the children was noticed wearing odd-sized clothes and more clothes were then found in one of the bedrooms that the staff realised they were ours and returned them to us.
I remember really enjoying this book. It presents a picture of life in England that is both close in time and unbelievably far away.
Thank you, John. 🙂