Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Flora's Story

Imagine: You are ten years old and you and your younger brother have to go on a train journey without your parents, to an unknown place, to stay with unknown people for a unknown length of time.

My mum May was fifteen years old and had already been working for a year when she had to say goodbye to Flora and James her younger sister and brother when they were evacuated from the east end of Glasgow. They were just two of the one hundred and seventy thousand children in Scotland who were evacuated at the start of World War Two in what was called Operation Pied Piper.
They never really spoke about the war  but twenty years ago my Aunt Flora put her thoughts down on paper to help my son with a school project.
What follows is mainly what was written. I have added some bits and used slightly different words here and there but the story is hers and just a snapshot of what happened.

                                               Flora's Story : Evacuation

The time, Sunday morning September 1939, the place, the east end of Glasgow. War had been declared and we as children knew something was very wrong. In every family there were comings and goings, clothes being washed and folded and wrapped in brown paper and tied with string as there were no suitcases in our house.
We were being evacuated, we didn't even know what the word meant. As we walked to our meeting place which was our school, mother made sure our coats were buttoned up and we were warm. Last minute instructions were given. "Don't give anyone any trouble, be good, and don't cry"
The most important order she gave me was, "Look after your wee brother and don't let them separate you!"

At the school we met all our classmates and excitement hung in the air. Our mums were fussing around us trying to act as if it was perfectly normal to send your children to live with strangers.
So there we were, standing in lines two by two, gas masks in bags slung over our shoulders a label round our neck and holding tightly onto the brown paper packages containing our worldly goods.
We were marched from the school to the railway station and that's where the childrens' excitement and the mothers' bravery finally crumpled. Children were crying their hearts out, mothers were weeping as they cried out to their children to "remember to write on the train"
As the train puffed its way out of the station the fear of the unknown made this the scariest train journey imaginable. The teachers tried to settle us down by pointing out the countryside flashing past the windows, they sang songs and tried to get us to play games.

The destination was secret and I can still feel my insides tighten today as I think about it. The first thing I remember about the route the train took is going over the Forth Railway Bridge, the teachers told us to throw one of our special pennies over for good luck and although I could have done with some of that luck no one was going to separate me from my penny and I pretended to throw it while gripping it tightly in my hand.

It wasn't long before we reached the end of our journey and tired and scared  and a little excited we were marched from the station to the local church hall. This is this first time we knew our destination was Kinross in Perthshire.
We were welcomed warmly and given tea and sandwiches, they also gave us a paper bag containing our ration of loose tea,sugar, milk and a bar of York plain chocolate to take with us to our billets. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

The local people came into the hall to look around and choose a child or children to take to live with them,
My brother and I stood hand in hand with tears in our eyes and watched as children were chosen one by one.
The hall was getting quieter and still we stood waiting to be chosen. It seemed that no one wanted and boy and a girl together. The people in charge pleaded with us to separate but I said I had to stay with my brother, I had promised my mother.

Eventually the decision was taken for us and we had to go to separate accommodation  with promises that it wouldn't be for long and they would soon find us a place together.
That never happened and it was over two years before we returned to our home in Glasgow.

While James went to live with the Provest a strict but kind man. I was  unlucky and sent to a big house with three other girls from my school. I didn't know these girls as they stayed in the posh houses and didn't mix with children like me who came from the poorer houses or slum clearances as they were called. These girls bullied me, they wouldn't drink from the same cup as me even after I had washed it and would wipe a book clean if I had picked it up.
This behaviour was accepted by the lady of the house who would often get angry with me when I refused to call her "mummy" but I told her I only had one mum and she lived in Glasgow.

We all had chores to do and one day it was my turn to clear the table of greasy dishes. I tripped over the cat and the dishes smashed. I was told I had to pay for them by giving the lady all the money I had and any more  that I  received  from home in the coming weeks.

He told me to go and write my letter and he would deliver it for me. Maybe it was because he was from Glasgow or maybe he was just a kind man but from that  day he always made sure I had money to buy a stamp.
What a pleasant surprise I had when I came home from school one day to be told  I was to move to another house downtown as the lady of the house was going to billet soldiers. I hope they had a happier time than I had.
The next house was a very happy one but that is a completely different story.

 Unfortunately Flora never did write that story but I know she was happier in the next house,she told me that the lady was so kind that when James, who being a boy was always getting into scrapes had ripped his trousers and was worried what the Provest would say  she took him into her home and sewed his trousers so no one would know.

James lived in Northern Ireland all his adult life he married and had three children. He returned to Kinross seven years ago on a visit with his son. He showed him houses where he and Flora and his friends stayed and places  they played, they even had tea in the same church hall where his big sister and him stood that night long ago and cried because they didn't want to be parted.

Flora married and continued to live in Glasgow, she loved travelling but as far as I remember never went back to Kinross.She never had any children of her own but was like a second mother to me.
My mum and her brother and sister had the biggest influences on my life and I know if they were here today they would be thrilled that I am writing stories, especially this one.
They remained best friends all their lives.

Flora, James and May (my mother)
                                                                                                                        ANNE X


  1. What a smashing story! I didn't have much time for reading tonight but I was so engrossed I couldn't stop until I'd read it all.

    My mother told me that many kids from cities in the south of England were evacuated to Cumbria during the war. (Where I was born and raised.)I heard some of those kids had a terrible time as well.

    I can't imagine what it must have been like in wartime. We all have a peaceful life now, thanks to all those brave men and women who fought for our freedom and peace.

  2. Thanks for your comments Jessie. I'm fascinated by peoples' lives during the war and read lots of books set in that time. My cousin has photos of his dad standing outside the house he was evacuated to so when I get them I'm going to post them with the story.

  3. This was lovely to read, a real snapshot of history. It's so great that you had the opportunity to record Flora's story for your family and others to share.

  4. Cassam - It was my intention to stop over here, briefly. Once I started reading through your blog, I knew I was here for the full read and have now read through your entire blog! I wasn't sure where I wanted to comment at first, I kept coming back to Flora's story. What a wonderful story! You should give some thought to putting this into a book. I love the title and you could make it into a story for children. You already have the makings for it! Have you given that any thought?

    Thank you for your kind words that you left on my blog about my Mom. I am so glad that you found my blog, it made it all the easier for me to find yours. I will be happily following yours to follow your blogging and life journey.

    Congratulations on becoming a grandmother! What have you chosen to be called in this new role? My husband and I are called, "Pop" and "Lolli." We figure, what child wouldn't want to go to LolliPop's House. That is where I came up with the name for my blog.

    Hugs and many blessings to you, Maeve

  5. Thank you so much Maeve for your very kind comments,I'm so glad you enjoyed Flora's story she was a very special person to me. I never thought about making it into a childrens story but I do see what you mean and I might give it a try.The only other piece I have written apart from my blog is a short story for young children which I haven't shown to anyone.
    I think Lolli and Pop are great names, at the moment I'm just gran but she's only 6 wks so I'm hoping she will come up with something origonal herself. I'm so glad I found your blog and that you stopped by mine thank you again.
    Anne x

  6. Mum, Auntie Flo and Uncle Jimmy would be chuffed about what you wrote, keep up the blogging Sis xx


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