World War II Jewish Evacuees

Since few people owned cars, and buses came (literally) once or twice a day, walking or cycling were the only ways to get anywhere. We impressed this fact strongly on our father at the first opportunity and early on in the autumn he bought us each a second-hand cycle (which he certainly would not have done in London) for £2.10s each. I kept mine for many years, a tribute to the sturdiness of its make rather than the attention of its owner. Bikes needed cleaning and oiling. Bikes got punctures. In this respect I would rather have had a horse: horses didn’t get punctures. Fortunately there was Mr Summerscales in his shop by the hump over the stream in the High Street and he would mend punctures for 6d - the price of a tortoise in a London street market; the price of 3 bars of strawberry cream chocolate, as yet still plentiful in Mr Barker’s little shop just down the road, though not for much longer.

So the first weeks of evacuation passed. We were lucky, of course, but idyllic life was not. Homesickness, concern about the war, uncertainty about the future, the need to fit into the ways of two cultures, these combined to create a sense of underlying unease seldom far below the surface. One afternoon, about a month after our arrival in Soham, Mr. Boyce had some business to attend to in a neighbouring village and he invited Cyril and me to cycle there with him. The weather was still glorious, cycling was still a pleasant novelty, so what could have been nicer? But the day was part of the Jewish festival of Succoth (Tabernacles) when many mundane activities, including cycling, were forbidden; indeed for this reason we had a holiday from school. I wrestled with temptation. Mr Boyce could not really understand what the fuss was about. Seeing my indecision he said to me in the kindest possible way, “I’m sure that God would never punish a boy for going on a cycle ride on a day like this.” The remark had a ring of such common sense that I have never forgotten it. Yet it went directly against the religious teachings drummed into me from earliest childhood. No pressure was put on us to go on that cycle ride, but we went. Looking back today, nearly 60 years later, I feel neither shame nor pride, only a keener awareness of the inevitability of our confusion, and the way that Mr Boyce’s remarks, on this occasion as so often, seemed to point to a refreshing truth. God, so to speak, had other things on his mind. The year was 1939.

After living with the Boyces, Frank, and his brother Cyril, lived nearby in King’s Parade with Mr and Mrs Bobby, Mr Bobby kept a chemist’s shop in the High Street. Frank left Soham at about the time of his fourteenth birthday in July 1941. He returned to London although the childhood family home he knew had been totally destroyed by bombing in May 1941. Life wasn’t easy and he went to work in a jeweller’s shop which he hated. He then served in the RAF and was in India at the time of Independence in August 1947. Returning to England, although he had no academic qualifications, he had made some attempts to educate himself by reading, and in a period when there was an acute shortage of teachers after the war, he was accepted at a teachers training college .In 1951 he became a junior school teacher in Hackney and in 1966 became the head teacher of a “quite large Hackney junior school”. He retired early in 1985.

Frank Rose now lives in North London. Married he has 3 grown-up children and 4 grandchildren.


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