WW2 Evacuee LATEST UPDATES


Earning pocket money 
In spite of my paper round for W H Smith and an after school and Saturday morning job at Barton’s Chemists, and my brother's morning paper round and working at Andersons butchers, we decided to boost our income even further by also doing a Sunday paper round. Because Sunday newspapers mostly carried large supplements they were quite heavy, so we decided to construct some means of conveyance. An old wooden box fitted with some pram wheels gave us the means to transport newspapers rather than carry them.

Householders would call at their newsagents shop to pay for weekday and Saturday newspapers. Working from a shed in East Street, the sole distributor for Sunday papers expected payment at the time of delivery. So, rather than being disturbed early on a Sunday morning, customers would leave money on their doorsteps for collection. Although only a few coppers, as far as I know none of the money ever went missing.

On our first day disaster struck half way through the round. A wheel came off our wagon. Unable to fix it and not being a member of the AA or RAC, we had to abandon our wagon and carry the newspapers for the rest of the round. It was later recovered and repaired.

After finishing the round we would take the money collected to the distributor. After counting he gave us a very small percentage for our efforts. Wearing my W H  Smith cap at the required jaunty angle, I would deliver a weekday morning newspaper a house in Needingworth Road owned by George Harrendine, of the local butcher family. I occasionally meet at the gate a young girl of around eight years of age who would take the newspaper from me. Although not related to the Harrendines, she would spend time with them during her school holidays. Little could either of us know ten years later that same little girl would become my wife. We remain very happily married after sixty three years of marriage, with two daughters, eleven grandchildren, fourteen great grandchildren and counting.


Full time employment
In September 1946 at the age of fourteen I left school, and with the parting words of our headmaster, one Sammy Frith, ringing in my ears ‘Leslie has much ability. He should succeed in his new position’ I ventured out into the world to seek full time employment.

My first full time employment was as a telegram boy at St Ives post office, then situated at the Cross next door to Robb's shop. My wage was twenty-five shillings a week. The job was to deliver telegrams in the town and surrounding villages by bicycle. Not only did I get a post office hat, but the whole uniform. The photo above is of me in my uniform, aged 14 years.

Sending telegrams was very much the 'in' thing and represented an almost instant way to convey messages. There was a special telegram, called a greetings telegram, which displayed some form of printed greeting relative to the event, be it birthday, anniversary or wedding. The message from the sender was then included. The telegram was placed in a sealed yellow envelope and conveyed in a leather pouch attached to a belt fastened around our waist.

We telegram boys hated wedding telegrams. They would be sent at varying times of the wedding day and had to be delivered immediately so they could later be read out at the reception by the best man. One telegram might be received early in the day for delivery to Woodhurst or one of the Hemingfords, and having cycled all the way there and back to, on returning to the post office there was another for the same address. So off you would go again. This could happen several times during the day.

Much of my free time was taken with fishing, messing about on the swings and slides in the Rec., playing football or cricket and generally hanging around town with my mates. One evening a week I attended the youth club in the Constitutional Hall in the Broadway. Most Saturdays we would attend the afternoon matinee at the Regal Cinema, costing three pence.

We would meet up to spend time chatting without buying very much in the Welcome Café in the Broadway, or the Townsend café in Crown Street. In the latter Mr Townsend would allow us to buy our drinks or other items ‘on tick’ when we were bit short of money. The amount owed would be written against your name in chalk on a blackboard behind the counter, displayed for all to see. Most of us took advantage of this at some time or another and there was no embarrassment in seeing your name and sum owed on open display. We would settle at our next payday.

At the age of fourteen boys would traditionally change from wearing short trousers to long trousers. This was the time you were no longer a child but a grown up. We all looked forward to this, wearing our new long trousers with considerable pride, announcing to all that we were now grown up men.

Clothing rationing was still in force. A pair of long trousers required eight points. Unfortunately by the time I was ready for the changeover we had insufficient points. Much to my disappointment, my change from boy to man had to be delayed for several months.

Dad finished working at Wyton Airdrome and started at St. Ives railway station as a platelayer in a gang of men responsible for maintaining the rail line. My brother, aged sixteen, started work as a porter at the railway station. Once he was sent to the shunting coal yard and told to help with the coupling of the shunted coal wagons. Unfortunately, having no experience with this type of work, his first attempt to apply the coupling resulted in his left hand being caught between the buffers. His fingers were crushed and two had to be amputated. The person sending him to the yard denied doing so, saying my brother should not have been there. Long before the current culture of seeking compensation for such injuries, no claim was ever made.

Here a photograph of me at the age of fourteen posing in my telegram boy uniform, on my official post office bike, complete with long trousers in Peeks Yard Note the required jaunty position of my hat, making me look cool and trendy. (On the other hand, perhaps not!)
We move house
In 1946, with the war now thankfully behind us and still living at 3 Peeks Yard, we were on the council housing list. We were waiting our turn to move to one of the council houses being built on a new estate off Ramsey Road, to be called Green Leys. A list of the names waiting for housing was displayed outside the Town Hall in a glass fronted display cabinet. When passing I would check the list, watching our name slowly climbed up the list as the names of those allocated a house would be deleted. I would then convey our current position to my parents.

My big sister Brenda, at the age of 17, had met and fallen in love with David Rigby, a young airman stationed at RAF Wyton. After a near two-year courtship they were married at the Free Church in 1944 when she was 19 years of age. The reception was held in our front room in Peeks Yard. This was the first time any of us had entered the Free Church since the occasion many years earlier when someone had occupied our special seats and upset us so.

Clothing was still rationed, so there was a problem collecting enough coupons from various family members to buy the wedding dress and dresses and accessories for the four bridesmaids. Food was also rationed, so catering presented a bit of a problem. Fortunately attendance must have been quite low in numbers, the reception being held in our small front room. Clothes rationing ended on 15 March 1949, food rationing continued until 4 July 1954.

Brenda continued living with us in Peeks Yard. Her husband had to live on the base at RAF Wyton. She moved with him to his hometown of Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset following his demob. in 1945. She lives there to this day, aged 93 years. Sadly, in 1994 after 50 years of marriage, her husband David passed away.

After living in Peeks Yard for the best part of seven years, in November 1949 we finally reached the top of the waiting list and were allocated a newly built council house, 55 Green Leys. It was pure luxury, particularly for our mum, to move from Peeks Yard with its very basic provisions to this new council house. It had an outside flush toilet, fully fitted bathroom with another toilet, electric and gas supply, a large kitchen with gas cooker, and a very large garden. Our new neighbour at number 53 was Michael Barton, son of my old boss at Barton’s Chemist in Bridge Street, where I previously worked as a delivery boy.


National Service
In 1947 my brother Eric, aged 18 year and still working at St Ives railway station, was conscripted for National Service. That year compulsory National Service had been introduced for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 to 30. Initially 18 months was the period of service. This was increased to 2 years during the Korean War. Despite having two of his fingers missing from his left hand following the accident in the railway-shunting yard, Eric was still considered medically fit. He was conscripted into the Army and spent much of his service in Egypt. Following his discharge in 1949 he returned to work on the railway as a signalman at Abbots Ripton.

I commence my 2 years National Service in 1950 at the age of 18 years, joining the RAF. For several months I was stationed at nearby RAF Oakington. I would often nip home on my bike, taking care not to get caught. For the first 18 months of National Service personnel were paid fourteen shillings each week. For the final 6 months this increased to two pounds five shillings per week, the same as regular personnel. It was suggested this considerable increase in pay was to encourage those about to leave the service to sign on as regulars.

I returned to work for the post office following my discharge from the RAF in 1952, working at Huntingdon. The unsocial hours and long bike ride through the Thicket to and from work each day caused me to leave after just a few months. I started another job at the new Permanex factory in Ramsey Road, where radar equipment was built and assembled. The test station for the radar equipment, a large fitted trailer, was situated on Warboys airdrome. Aircraft doing what was known as circuits and bumps tested the new equipment. Guided in by the radar, the aircraft would briefly touch down, then immediately fly away to perform another circuit before again briefly touching down.

The power supply for the trailer and radar equipment was from a large diesel powered generator, which needed to be kept going day and night. To provide the necessary supervision and diesel top-up two workers from the factory would spend the whole of their working day there, another two would spend the night in a small wooden hut. I did day and night shifts by rota several times.

My brother Eric met and married a local girl. They were married at the Methodist Church on the Waits, where her grandfather was the caretaker. They continue to live in St Ives to this day. Our mum and dad would eventually move from Green Leys to a retirement council bungalow in Crown Close, where they lived happily for many years until their respective deaths.

Each Saturday night most of the young people of the town would attend the regular Saturday night dance at the Corn Exchange. Others might choose to travel by bus to the dance held at The Palace Ballroom in Chatteris, where Lou Hope and his band provided live music for dancing. It was at the Chatteris dance in 1953 when I met Stella Haynes, the girl who would later become my wife. It was only later we discovered it had been Stella who, when an 8 year old girl staying with the Harradine family in Needingworth Road during her school holidays all those years before, had been the same person who had often taken the newspaper from me, the delivery boy. A truly amazing coincidence. We married in her home town of March in 1956 and lived in March with Stella’s parents. Both of us worked locally, I on the railway in the Signal and Telegraph Department. In 1958 I joined Bedfordshire Police and we moved to Bedford, where we remained for the duration of my 30 year police service. We now live in Northamptonshire.

Below is a photograph of my sister Brenda’s wedding in 1944 in front of The Free Church. The best man is on the left, a friend of the groom. The two biggest bridesmaids are, on the left, Phillis Howes of the local Howes family and a friend of my sister, on the right Gladys Collins, Brenda's friend from London. The small bridesmaid is our little sister Vera, behind her our Dad.

Nothing good could be said for the actions of Adolph Hitler, nor the brutality of the Nazis in World War 2 resulting in the death of millions of innocent people. But neither I nor my family would have been introduced to the beautiful town of St.Ives without his actions. Some good came out of evil. My story has now been told. Thank you for your interest. Les Barker

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