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Penge and Sidcup evacuees tell stories backing national memorial campaign
DENNIS Layall was just 10 when his mother told him he would have to be sent away if war came.
Sure enough he was forced to leave Greenwich for Hastings on the East Sussex coast on September 1, 1939 – just two days before Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany.
The 85-year-old, who now lives in Wavell Road, Sidcup, was one of millions of children evacuated from mainly urban areas, considered targets for enemy bombing, to small towns and villages not on the radar of the Luftwaffe.
Like Jack Hilton, of Princes Road, Penge, Mr Layall is a member of the Evacuees Association which has launched a campaign to raise £500,000 for a special statue at the National Memorial Arboretum in Lichfield.
Sculptor Maurice Blik's design for the statue.
The 11-metre-long piece will depict a group of children as they would have appeared on the day of evacuation – scared, confused and clutching the hands of their siblings and friends.
Mr Layall had to go through the ordeal twice after the gun emplacements and barbed wire which appeared at Hastings gave a clue the area was no longer such a safe haven.
He told News Shopper: “My mother worked at the Siemens factory in Woolwich when it was bombed during the First World War and she told me in 1938 ‘if there’s going to be a war you are going away’ so I picked up my bags and left.
“I knew there wasn’t any point in me getting homesick.
“I was 12 years old in June 1940 when we were re-evacuated to a small village near Narbeth in Wales.
Mr Layall with the card he had to send back home.
“I had a wonderful time doing all the things boys could do, helping on the farm and going out with the gamekeeper shooting rabbits.”
Mr Layall was even inspired to become a horticulturalist by his years in the country which ended abruptly in February 1944.
The return to the restrictions of London was difficult for him as came back to live in a different house in Colomb Street, Greenwich, after the one he’d left in Commerell Street had been blown to bits.
For Mr Hilton, 83, it was the time away which was traumatic when at 13 he was sent from Beckenham to Barnsley in South Yorkshire to escape the V-1 flying bombs.
My Hilton with photos of his hosts in Barnsley Albert and Lily Wines.
In August 1944 , his mother Mabel died of appendicitis at the age of 44 at Princess Royal University Hospital in Farnborough just weeks into Mr Hilton’s four month time in the north.
The great-grandfather-of-one said: “Going to Yorkshire was almost like going to a foreign land. It was a very traumatic time because they didn’t particularly like Londoners.
“It wasn’t unusual to be told to go back where you came from but the lady I stayed with was an absolute diamond and I was very lucky there.”
The retired carpenter and joiner agrees with Mr Layall the statue should remember “not just the children who were evacuated but the people who received you at the other end and looked after you.
“There were so many of us.”
Operation Pied Piper
- Planning for Operation Pied Piper began in 1938 with areas across the whole country classed as either targets for enemy bombing, fit to receive evacuees or neither of the above.
- In the first four days of September 1939 nearly three million people, most of them schoolchildren, were transported from towns and cities in danger from enemy bombers to places of safety in the countryside.
- All houses which could host evacuees were checked out - from stately homes to miners’ cottages - and billeting was compulsory.
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