Memories - Bob Overton
Former evacuee in Mapperley now living in Australia
His memories including his time in Mapperley when evacuated here during WWII
Bob now lives in Australia. His sister Sheila Overton was a friend of Pam Hobbs
After reading Pam’s book a couple of times, (Don’t Forget to Write) so many memories of my pre-war days came to mind, (apart from chasing after the horses for their contributions). After school games in the street playing rounders using the trees for bases, and being the one to have to retrieve the ball if it went into number six, who used to keep the ball if she was quick enough. Playing in the brook on the way home and getting our shoes all wet. Collecting empty bottles for the refund to eke out our pocket money. I used to lead Sheila up to mischief, Sunday was church for us. Dressed up nice and tidy, shoes polished by Dad and our pennies in our pockets for the collection box. No way! We would go straight down to the cockle sheds, buy a plate of cockles to share and then play on the piles of cockle shells at the back of the sheds. Too thick to realise that with the salt on our now dirty shoes, we would be found out. In all my childhood days, I never felt the cane that hung behind the picture in the kitchen. It was never used as Mum had a 'Look' that could reduce you to tears of shame.
On some weekends, we would go with our big brothers over to Bellfairs Woods to collect chestnuts and conkers when in season. Hunt for golf balls from Belfairs golf course, and sell them to the keeper. I recall how they made a buggy out of some pram wheels for Sheila to ride in, as she was small and couldn't keep up. There was a pond in the fields at the back of the estate, great for catching newts and tadpoles' and getting wet feet as well. My best mate, Wally Grant who lived at number 33, would hunt for 'dog ends' and make acorn pipes and smoke these disgusting things. Also at the back of the estate and on the other side of the road to the girls’ high school, was farmer Bental's apple orchard, surrounded by a very high fence. One would scale the fence while the other kept an eye out for the two big dogs he had. Again this was seasonal.
While we were still at home during the first year of the war, food started to get short. Mum would send one of us to Howard's dairy, with a carrier bag and sixpence. The very friendly butcher would sell us a full bag of bacon bones and rinds, from which mum would make the most delicious brawn, put it into special brawn dishes and it would keep for ages on the stone slab in the pantry. It sure helped out with the food shortage. To this day, I still make the brawn but use pork hocks and diced pork in my ingredients. All my kids are carrying on the tradition. If we found enough bottles for the refund Wally and I would pool our resources and go to either the Corona or the Coliseum in Leigh to catch the latest movie. Being nine and ten, we weren't interested in girls, so we just had ourselves to pay for.
We would be home before mum got home from work, (she did house cleaning for several ladies in the rich end of Manchester Drive). We could let ourselves in by the front door key hanging by a piece of string through the letter box, can't do that sort of thing now. There would always be some munchies for us on the kitchen table. Oh happy days.
On the day of leaving home, my Mom and fourteen year old brother Fred came with Sheila and I to Chalkwell School, carrying our luggage, which consisted of our gas masks and little cases containing a change of clothes and night gear. Mum couldn't stay to see us off as she had to get to work as a cleaner in Pam's old school across the road from Kent Avenue. Fred asked us to get seats at the back of the bus, and he would stand at the back until we all drove off. He had his bike with him and as soon as the bus took off so did he, following the bus wiping the tears from his face, for as long as he could keep up.
I don't remember much of the journey, whether we went on a train and another bus or that we stayed on the same bus all the way. I do remember trying to cheer Sheila up on the way.
When we arrived at Mapperley in the afternoon, we de-bussed in the village, and answered the roll call. Heaps of people were awaiting our arrival and started to pick out the kids they wanted. I hung on to Sheila as long as possible, hoping to stay with her. Not to be, Mrs Thornley said she could only take one. She had a grown up daughter, Olive, who Sheila would have to share a room with. The initial rush came to a slow crawl. I remember it started to get dark and there were four of us left including yours truly, and another I can remember was Rosemary Jones.
When all hope was gone of anyone else stepping forward, the vicar said he would take us to the vicarage for the night. Over the next few days no one came forward, and it was decided that we stayed on there. I don't think that the vicar's wife was too thrilled with the idea of taking care of the four of us, and did as little as was possible towards our care. As for the son, Christopher Robin, who was about six, he took great pleasure in getting us into trouble whenever he could.
As soon as the Rev. found out I had a reasonably good soprano voice, I was handed over to the choir master who fitted me out in a cassock and surplus with a white frill collar, and was singing all the solo pieces in the choir the next Sunday. First impressions of ‘Gaffer’ Johnson (head teacher at Mapperley School) were a bit scary but after a while you realised it wasn't evacuees who he was hard with but that everyone got the same treatment. I remember the Hartshorne brothers. Was there one in each class? I didn't get on well with them, and shared the cane with them a few times for fighting.
In Pam's book, she mentions field trips the evacuees took with one of the teachers. This I don't remember. Fact is that I don't recall ever going out to play with anyone after school, but was kept in the vicinity of the vicarage most of the time. I was invited to tea with Mr and Mrs Thornley a couple of times, and I used to call on Mrs Boam at the post office, hoping for letters from Mum and my cousin Geoff, who stayed on at 72 Manchester Drive throughout the bombing. On one trip home we saw where a bomb had struck on the corner of Manchester Drive and Pavilion Drive, taking away several houses.
I remember a man who used to come to the school gate at recess sometimes, and hand out sweets and chocolates to some of the kids. He got into trouble with some girls over this. About this time, my Mum and Fred came to live in Mapperley, and lodged with the Robinsons in their house by the railway bridge on Mapperley Lane. Sheila and I would go with them into Ilkeston, walking the three miles through the fields. Fred became friends with the land army girls who worked on the farm on the other side of the road to where they lodged; I believe he also got a job there.
About this time, all the evacuees were moved from Mapperley, and Sheila and I were taken out of the evacuee scheme and stayed on at our respective lodgings. I don't remember how long we stayed on. My father was in the army, and was posted to an Artillery camp in South Wales, well away from the bombing. It was decided that he would find us a place to stay so that we could be together. We moved and remained there until the end of the war in 1945. I was very happy to leave the vicarage; Rev Swain was not good to me.
On arrival in Tenby Pembrokeshire, the army arranged free accommodation in a small terraced house, providing we took care of a little old lady, a relative of an army officer. My mum took the brunt of it as it was like looking after a baby. The woman was crazy, abusive and doubly incontinent. Whenever she soiled herself which was quite frequent, she found it very amusing and would go out of her way to make things difficult. Tenby was a long way from Dad's camp so as soon as he saw the conditions we were living in he made great haste in finding us a place in Manobier, close to his camp.
It was on a farm, just temporary, until we could find somewhere permanent. We were put into the ‘School’, a two room building, one for the infants and the other for everyone else. So Sheila and I were in the same class, you can imagine how the lessons went, with all the different age groups. The head master who took our class was nothing but a bully who delighted in bringing kids to tears. There were evacuees their and he seemed to take great delight in making our lives a misery. He had a number of different sized canes on his desk side shelf, which he made good use of. I can remember two occasions when I tasted them. The first on going to the aid of a little evac who was getting beaten up by the school bully. I got six of the best for starting the fight, never mind my excuse. The second occasion was during a history lesson. We were given paragraphs to read from a text book. It was about a particular war (which I can't remember) and half way through their para. he stopped them and told Sheila to carry on. In the next sentence it described a very 'bloody' war. Being Sheila, she could not and would not put voice to this word. He shouted and badgered her until she was reduced to tears. Foolishly I jumped up and shouted at him to leave her alone. He went absolutely crazy, and I got the hiding of my life. He hit me everywhere he could with the thickest of his collection. Thinking back he must have realised he'd gone too far as he never touched me again.
We moved from the farm to the roof space of some stables belonging to the lord of the manor. Fernley lodge was a large house where all the officers wives lived, Mum managed to get a job there cleaning up after them. Our rooms consisted of a living room and two bedrooms. One for Mum and Dad who were allowed to sleep on camp and the other room for Sheila and I. There was no heating, no electricity or gas, water we got from a tap in the stable. Mum cooked on a paraffin stove and our lighting was by paraffin lamps and candles. On bath nights Sheila and I would take in turns to vacate the premises while the other had a wash down in a big metal tub, laboriously filled with water lugged up from the tap and heated on our little stove. Mum was very strict about bed time. Sheila would go first and once in bed would face the wall while I got undressed and into bed, then Mum would come in and say goodnight. I can honestly say that all the time, almost five years, we were away from Kent Avenue, our time living in our stable rooms was the happiest of all. We used to get so many vouchers a term for days off school to help the farmers with their crops.
At fourteen I finished my 'Education' and Dad got me a job in the camp YMCA canteen. It was run by a minister and his wife, and I got to do all the jobs nobody else wanted. She would make me clean all the many windows on the coldest of days, standing on the inside to make sure I did a good job. I used to prepare the rolls and sandwiches, serve at the counter, look after the boiler, and go round the three rooms gathering the mugs up. I used to skive off a bit, have chats with the soldiers and stay away from my duties too long sometimes. The boss had a club foot and when he came looking for me I had the warning of his big boot going, clomp, clomp, clomp, and by the time he found me I would be busy collecting the mugs again. For all the time I did there and the long hours I worked I was paid the princely sum of ONE POUND a week. I gave Mum fifteen shillings and the five shillings left I shared with Sheila and saving up for my first bike. Happy days.
There were no sad goodbyes on leaving Manobier, and it was a joyful bunch who returned to Kent Ave. We got all the bed linen out on the line to air, went off to the shops to re-stock the pantry as best we could. I remember that we were all very tired after the long train journey. Had an early night and was up again and out with Dad looking for a job. I managed to start the following Monday at a furniture factory, so was immediately able to put my share into the family budget. Mum also got back some of her cleaning jobs. Met up again with Wally and we both joined the Southend Sea Cadets, joined the band and learned to play the bugle. Joined a youth club where we both learned to dance. I learned from Pam that her sister also worked at the same factory and that I woud have come in contact with her as she was an inspector of our work. Wally and I never missed a Saturday afternoon trip to the billiard hall in Southend. Then a race home to get poshed up to take out my girl friend June from the factory, back to Southend on the bus, took in a movie and then cream cakes and ice cream and back home to say hello to the parents. I remember we always had to leave the front door open when we said good night. They need not have worried as I was very shy and only managed a quick peck and I was on my way home.
Saved up with help from my brother for a bike as it was quite a walk to work. Mortified when it was stolen after just a couple of weeks when the gate keeper forgot to lock up the bike cage. Both brothers helped me get another bike and a good good strong LOCK AND CHAIN. We all helped Dad dig up the Anderson air raid shelter; he put it to great use by making a garden shed out of all the serviceable parts. One thing in there was Mum's mangle. My job on a Monday after work was to turn the handle while Mum fed the clothes through the rollers. Dad transferred his garden tools from the coal shed, together with his shoe mending and cleaning gear. I worked at the factory for three years until my call-up papers were delivered. I had the option of being drafted into the army for two years, which I didn't fancy, or joining another service. I volunteered to join the Royal Marines for twelve years, which is seven years under the colours and then five years on the reserve list, should there be another emergency, and I would be called up.
After two years specialist Commando training, I was sent to Malaya for two years during the Malayan Emergency, hunting and killing Communist bandits left over from the war. Lost a few good mates during my two years there. Home in April, I met a girl and we were married by Boxing Day. We had a little girl by the following December. My wife got a job as a conductor on the buses. Two days after the baby's first birthday she decided to shack up with her driver and I was left with the baby. There was no way she was taking her. When he started knocking her about, she asked if she could come back. We picked up the pieces. After I did my seven I joined the police force, something I'd dreamed about while I was doing my time. Three months training and then off to Canterbury Constabulary for my two years probation. I stuck it for eleven months only. I was on my first solo night patrol when the duty sergeant picked me up in the police van and we went to a bank building which was being refurbished and painted. Nothing in the bank but lots of tools and painting gear. Told to keep an eye out he proceeded to fill the back of the van with this gear. I said I didn't want any part of it, but he said I already was. I quit the next day without saying any thing to anybody. We went on to have three more children, all turned out great incidentally.
After several dead end jobs, I landed a great one, contracting for the GPO, (General Post Office) the job meant that I would have to travel a lot. My wife had no problem with this and the kids didn't have to put up with the squabbling. My brother had moved to Australia and continually asked me to emigrate. I thought that getting us away from her new 'friend' might give us a new start. We went to London for an interview with the Australian Rep. The fact that Shirley now had teaching experience helped with our acceptance to attend medicals which we all passed. We put the house up for sale and within a month we were ten pound tourists, that was ten pounds for Shirley and I, the four kids went free and we were given an enormous crate which we filled with everything. All our clothes, ornaments my record collection small items of furniture, my billiard cue was the only thing that didn't travel well, it became bent and was never the same. It was a cruise ship and we were treated as tourists for a whole month.
We managed to hold things together for four years. I filed for divorce; she had a better lawyer and got the house and the kids. After twenty one years of being married I tried it on my own. I didn't try hard enough, met and married a psychiatric nurse, who persuaded me to take up Mental Deficiency Nursing. The marriage lasted twelve years; we have a son who is now 36 who works for Medicins Sans Frontieres. It just so happened that I loved the work and stayed at it until I was 69.
I have been on my own now for nearly thirty years, have a nice little government unit and some good friends. Five kids, twelve grand kids and four great grand kids.
Children - Starting with My first child Gillian who has three boys, Luke, Simon and Mark. Simon has two children, Zoe and Ethan. My eldest Boy, Christopher has three children, Karl who has given us Bailey-Grace, Timothy (an actor), and Teryl who has given us Isaac. My second son, Neil who has two children, Matthew and Jennifer. My youngest daughter who has two daughters, Samantha and Alexandra. My youngest boy Declan, who, while working for Medicins Sans Frontiers, was posted to Ethiopia, met and married a beautiful Ethiopian girl Meseret who has given me my other two great grand children, Tarik and Desta.
Bob Overton December 2015.
My sincere thanks to Bob for sharing his life with us. I have enjoyed our email conversations and the many jokes he shares!
Continued happiness in Australia Bob with all of your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am pleased you have some good memories of your time in Mapperley but also very sorry that you took away some very bad memories too.
Very best wishes