World War II Jewish Evacuees

Donald and Tony took us under their wing. The house had a very long garden, and half way down was a big double shed the size of rooms in which they kept their rabbits. We were allowed to hold and stroke them. It was wonderfully exciting. I was an animal-lover deprived of the company of animals. No dog, no cat. I had once brought home a tortoise purchased in the local Sunday animal market, but it mysteriously disappeared after one week. In springtime the market used to sell baby chicks for one penny each, so I bought two and I arrived home with these squeaking things in a small cardboard box, expecting to be kicked out with them. Not so; the family rallied round loyally though with as much idea of how to rear newborn chicks in a top-floor City of London flat as how to grow sugar cane - and with about the same chance of success. One bird died the next day. The other, a lively little fellow, won all hearts by his practice of chasing me round the dining-room table, and even meeting us at the front door, but he was dead after a week and the end was agony. No more animals! The message was sharp and clear.

Now here was I a year or so later stroking rabbits and probably already planning to have one of my own. And there was a gentle old dog roaming about with doleful eyes. And there were plum and greengage trees at the bottom of the garden, the fruit hanging there for the picking. And.....the trail of discovery was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Boyce. A small wiry man with large gumboots strode towards us, hand outstretched. “Hello, my boys.” His grip was firm, his greeting warm. He was unlike anyone I had ever met before. It was not just that farmers were thin on the ground where we came from; the Mr Boyces of life, I suspect, were not too common anywhere. My abiding memory of Mr Boyce remains the strong reassuring figure who welcomed us that day, eyes twinkling and two feet firmly placed on the ground. Like Mr. Quelch in The Magnet he was given to exclaiming “Bless my soul!” He smoked a pipe, read the Daily Telegraph, but only once in two years did I see him wearing a tie, and that was in preparation for a funeral. This man who could build a house stood before the mirror tying himself in knots trying to tie the knot, his irritation growing by the moment.

I was to see him more seriously angry at times; I was to see him occasionally stressed, coping with his seven-day-a-week job in all weathers and the anxieties of the war; but I am talking about a man who caught two ragged boys trespassing on his field one day and characteristically sent them off with half-a-crown each and some eggs. He needed all his tact and good humour to cope with the two evacuees who took their first tea with the family that afternoon, struggling not entirely successfully to keep back the tears. Evacuation was a trauma out of proportion to the size of our young over-protected lives, and the overwhelming nature of the reality of what was happening caught up with us in those minutes.

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