World War II Jewish Evacuees

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From Donald, and to a lesser extent the younger Tony, we learned how to care for rabbits and what fresh plant food it was safe to give them; how to ease the sting from nettles with a dock leaf (it didn’t seem to help much); the cycle routes to Ely, Newmarket and the surrounding villages; the names of aircraft flying in the sky; and the many bits of wisdom that the experienced impart to the inexperienced. In return we taught them how to play chess. Mr. Boyce told me more than once how grateful he was for this piece of instruction, so useful for the long, blacked-out evenings. I was too young in understanding and too socially inept to reply that all the gratitude should have been on our side, nevertheless it was true that in some very basic ways we educated each other. Donald told us later that when word first got around in the village that evacuees were coming from London’s East End they had braced themselves for an invasion of little ragamuffins with torn - or no - trousers. I suppose that we must have been something of a relief.

And what were we London kids to make of our new world where nearly everyone spoke funny (That they did!) and where knocking at the front door was considered impolite and walking round to the back door the thing to do? Well, at least people spoke, not only to each other in shops and over the garden wall, but to passers by in the street, to strangers, to us. And, astonishingly, they left the doors of their houses unlocked at all times. Even at night. Even if the family went off for the day to Cambridge. But couldn’t someone walk in and help themselves? The question left them slightly bemused. Apparently nobody ever did. It was the same with bicycles. They could safely be left unattended beside a wall or hedge and called for the next day. Now you couldn’t do that in London. That you couldn’t.

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