ON NOVEMBER 11, 2022, Harlow College held two minutes silence followed by a service to honour armed forces members who died in the line of duty. Our photo was taken during the proceedings by student Haya Sabir. The event marked Armistice Day when negotiations to end the fighting in the First World War began at 11am on November 11, 1918.
Creative writing students were interested in the plight of the child evacuees who had to leave their homes and go to live with strangers in order to protect them from the bombings in the Second World War.
They were inspired to write the following stories:
The bombs fell down but we had each other by Aaron Coombes
WE COULDN’T stay at home. Mother and Father said it wasn’t safe anymore. The bad men on the continent were going to hurt them all if they stayed. Father had already been deployed. Mother was working with the other ladies to help the men win. She built airplanes. We both thought that was so cool. My twin sister Tina was super scared, I was excited about seeing the countryside though. But I really didn’t want to leave Mother at home by herself and I also didn’t want to be without Mother. That would be way too scary. So I guess you could say I was scared too. I remember how packed it was on the train platform, how many other kids were crying. We only had a paper bag. I took my lucky teddy and Tina had her flute. To think about it, we were an odd pair. Mother took us to the station that day, she waved us off. I tried not to cry, I didn’t want to feel like it was goodbye for as long as it ended up being. She said we’d be home by Christmas. The first day with the Johnson’s was a blur, Tina and I had gone to get placed and a short sturdy man had appeared in the doorway.
It was Mr Johnson, he had wispy white hair and dark blue eyes. He reminded me of Father Christmas. He was always wearing a jolly smile and he had a trick for whenever we were down. He took us back to his house where we met with Mrs Johnson, she was a round woman she had brilliant hugs and a smile to rival her husbands, they were an elderly couple the two of them. They’d never been able to have kids they’d said so helping out fulfilled a dream of theirs. We also met their dog Lucky. He was so cute. A springer spaniel cross who’d jump up and lick your face as a way of saying hello. Our first two weeks their felt like a holiday, we offered to help with chores and walk Lucky. Tina would bake with Mrs Johnson- Barbara and I would cut the grass and plant on top of the shelter with Mr Johnson- Timothy. He would always tell me off for my hair getting in my eyes, saying for such an outdoorsy girl I had awful long hair. I told him mother loved it long, but I preferred it cropped to my neck. That week Barbara gave me a haircut. The perfect summer would soon be over.
Me and Tina cried at night. We tried to be quiet, we missed Mother and Father so much. But the Johnson’s always heard, they would come creeping in, the creaky floorboards giving way as they bombarded us with a group hug and some warm milk. We would talk through everything, we would write a letter to mother and we would sit in their arms until we fell asleep. By October we knew we were going to be there for a while, we loved it there but with equal pain we longed for our family. The Johnson’s had written to Mother, asking her to come over for Christmas Day, if she could find the time. We hadn’t heard anything back. In fact we’d heard nothing from Mother since November 20th, and as it neared to the 20th of December, our thoughts turned to the worst.
There had been bombs falling on London for months now, they were calling it the Blitz. It nearly happened every night, so many people had been hurt. I had overheard Barbara saying most had died. The bombs had gone off near our house. But there wasn’t any mentions of Mother in the papers. But there also wasn’t a reply. Not by Christmas, Not by Easter.
Father eventually wrote us. There had been a unexplored shell in the warehouse, underneath the rubble. Volunteers had come to sort through it, to see if they could salvage metal or any materials. Mother had always been so giving. She of course led the team. The bomb detonated. There were no survivors. Father would be returning due to an injury we weren’t aware of, but he couldn’t return to our house. It had in fact been lost in the Blitz. Instead he would come and stay with the Johnson’s at their request. He had difficulty getting about nowadays. But he didn’t go into detail. It wasn’t until later we found out the full extent of his injuries. The Johnson’s always had a place for us, and we always had a place for them, because the bombs may have been falling down around us but we had each other.
Dear Mum by Cado Genova
I know you didn’t want to send me away. I know you had to. I know. I know. But can I come home soon? You said it would only be a few weeks. Don’t worry. The guys who’s taken me in is nice enough, he’s kind. Old but kind. We’re in a a small village. The kids don’t really talk to us here. They look and they stare. But it’s not home. It smells kinda strange. They have funny animals, they make a low grunting noise. They make milk. I didn’t realize it came from an animal. They call them a daisy.
I hope to see you soon.
I helped build a funny dug out a few days ago. They call it an Anderson shelter. It’s to protect us if they bomb this little village. They flew over last night. We had to shut off all the lights, cover the windows. We had to run to the shelter. It was a blur. A loud confusing blur. I miss home. I miss you. Danny the dog doesn’t smell right anymore. He smells like the air around here. He doesn’t smell like home. I might post him to you. I can send you a hug from me with it.
I miss you.
Can you come visit? Maybe? I want to see you. I miss you. Please. I sent you Danny. Maybe you could bring him back? Rather than posting him.
I got some new clothes today. The old man has a friend who knits and sews and does funny things with yarn. He says he pulled in a owed favor.
I have some trousers that fit, a shirt so soft.
I wish you could see them, I wish you could feel them. They feel like nothing anyone back home is used to.
I made a friend. He’s called Kit. He comes round sometimes. The old man says “he’s a goodun” I’m not sure what he means. But he says it with a smile and sparkle that makes me think it’s something good.
Can I see you soon?
I got Danny today. He smells like you now. I forgot how nice you smelt. I got your letter.
I can come home? It’s safe?
I’ll see you tomorrow, I need to say goodbye to everyone today. I need to give Kit the books I borrowed. I have so much to show you, so much to tell you.
I can’t wait to see you.
I wish I’d stayed with you, it’s cold and damp back home. It’s not bad or anything. It’s just not the village.
Send Kit my love, Ive sent Danny to you. So you can remember whilst I’m gone.
I’ll be back.
I’m miss you sir.
With love, Charlie.
The Train Conductor by Ethan Epstein-deMello
Thank God for the Women’s Voluntary Service, this would be impossible without them!
I’ve worked at this train station for almost 30 years. I’ve seen people come and go, families, loners, children, old, young. I’ve seen it all here. You’d think I’d get bored of seeing people. I see so many people that sometimes they turn into a messy blur, but occasionally I see a face or two – probably for work or something but I find it interesting to watch them.
I’d never get bored of this job, after 30 years, running the train has become automatic so I get time to watch the people that get on and off the train – I personally think it’s very rewarding. I can learn so much about people just by looking at them, observing their every move… it’s most likely my favourite thing about this job.
But not today.
Today was a nightmare…
And I suspect tomorrow will be too.
We only have so many people working on the train station but today we had the usual folks, the local authority, womens from the WVS and even teachers. A calamitous event for such a horrid time… the system’s so messed up, but we’ve made it work. Never once have I hated my job, but today I couldn’t help but despise it – what was the world coming to?
The platform, usually filled with work men, visiting families and the odd couple coming back from the countryside – was now flooded by school children. It was barely even six in the morning yet…
It started with children being forced awake, early in the morning, dragged to school by there parents who had the option to let them go. It’s a horrible thought – I have a 13 year old daughter somewhere – how am I supposed to not think of her? Every child I see out there, I can only see my daughters face plastered on them instead. I must’ve been imagining things…
Teachers took the role of transferring children from the schools to the train station. Women from the WVS came too – they were the biggest help. Without the thousands who have already volunteered… we’d be screwed, With correlation with the local authorities, children lined up messily along the platform. The adults accompanying the children were told to wear arm bands to identify them as volunteer marshals.
The final part was the train staff taking the children on the train, ensuring everyone was there. I have been driving this train for so long – I’ve never been this emotional leaving London.
Is my daughter on this train?
She should be… she goes to a primary school around here – my wife should’ve gotten her up bright and early to get here on time. I wish I saw her face, but they’re was so many children, it would be impossible to tell her apart. The other day we were given a message to evacuate the children first – adults would stay behind. We were told to pack a bag with a enough clothes for a few days, a toothbrush and the essentials. Although, we snuck Susan’s stuffed rabbit into her bag too.
It was a difficult idea to sink in – leaving your own children. The only piece of mind me and my wife had was that she’d be safe in the countryside. After the invasion in Poland, I think just about everyone was terrified… even more so for the children. They wouldn’t even understand why any of this was happening.
I let my fellow staff know the doors was opening and then children began to piling on the train like books in a library. Each carriage began to fill up – I could feel the weight pressing on the train; after so long here, I notice these sort of things. The platform was a complete mess, I’m glad I wasn’t out there. Children mindlessly following their teach around like headless chickens, though, even the adults didn’t know where they were going. The train staff tried to direct them where to go but it was no use…
It must have been petrifying…
I was petrified… where the hell was my daughter?
I want to crumble as I write this – but I have to know where my daughter is. I had the easiest job of it, but I felt so weak. I had to save everyone of those children’s lives, take them to the countryside to some random people who would care for them. I know it was for the best… but what must they be thinking?
Oh god, I hope this war doesn’t last long.
I got the signal from my boss that everyone was on the train. I glared out of the window – an empty platform apart front the parents screaming at their children goodbye, the teachers weeping at the loss of their school and some women from the WVS staying behind to support the other’s left. I should be one of the parents there… I was responsible to keep them all safe.
I flipped the train on. What was I suppose to do?
Take them to the safety of the countryside… I can save my daughter!
Hard to Trust – Megan Shepherd
IN A STUFFY stuffy carriage, one of the girls wrinkled her nose, clutching her suitcase close to her. Her eyes wandered, resting disdainfully on the beautiful view outside, on her carefree sister beside her, and on the rowdy carriage-mates they’d been shoved and loaded into. She rolled her eyes. She wondered, in all the dim light filled with shouting and the taste of musty air, how any of the children around her could be ok, or even excited about such a development? It couldn’t be blamed on their youth. She herself was only nine, but her little sister smiled as her doll sang to her and the boys kept bragging about their new life in the countryside.
How did they not understand that they were being torn away from their families? She fumed inside her head; they didn’t even know what their new lives would be like. They could arrive and be placed with awful parents who didn’t care whether they came or stayed and got bombed. They were being paid, after all, to take them in. How could the hundreds of children on this rickety train have missed that? They were being pushed towards strangers, by strangers. Strangers who would benefit from them. Strangers who they didn’t know and who didn’t know them.
The longer she stewed with these thoughts in the stale air, the closer she was pushed to the edge. The little girl burst like a fragile balloon, turning to her sister and directing her frustration towards her.
“How can you be so calm?” She demanded. When her sister looked up at her, the younger girl could see tears in her eyes. Curiosity phased through her features, before being replaced with quiet concern. “Don’t you know that we’re being taken from our parents? They just let us go! They passed us off onto strangers who nobody even knows!”
“I thought it was to keep us safe?” The younger girl asked. She clutched her doll, who was no longer performing her carriage concert. “That’s what Mummy and Daddy said.”
“But we’re not, are we? Ellie, we can’t trust them. They’re just people!”
Ellie frowned. “So are we.”
“I mean nobody knows who they are. What if they treat us horrible? What can we do? Look at you, you’ve only got a dress and a stupid doll!”
Amidst the cacophony, silence fell. Those words seemed to fall on her sister like a weight.
“Shut up, Molly,” Ellie whispered. “You’re just scared and you’re being mean.”
These words seemed to infuriate her even more. She didn’t say any more but her head swirled like a monsoon. Of course she was scared. Anyone with any sense would be! Why didn’t anyone understand that once this train stopped, there was no way back unless they were corralled back in like cattle? They were just expected to be lead around like dogs on leashes, waiting for the next instruction and accepting what happened in the mean time. She remained stubborn though. Molly refused to accept it.
On and on the train went, jostling and bouncing children into each other and leaving them gasping for fresh air. Ellie still wasn’t talking to her, following her sister’s foolhardy example and staring solemnly out the window at the mocking, sunny countrysides. A teacher, one of the rare adults on this train, strode the corridor, checking up on the rowdy group and beaming at each child, muttering reassurances. Molly glared at him. He was just as ignorant as everyone else on this train and nobody took care to acknowledge it. She sent every bitter thought she could his way and, as if he’d heard them, he flinched and continued on his way. The gratification only consoled her for a second.
After another few hundred bullet thoughts that formed in Molly’s head, the train started slowing, a foreboding rumbling sounding from under their feet. Despite the earlier argument, her hand flew to Ellie’s, clutching her small hand and rubbing her finger against the soft skin. Ellie gazed at her confusedly but stayed stony in her tantrum. The rock crumbled as the carriage emptied, the two sisters being left more and more alone until they too filed out. The glowing sun did nothing to thaw Molly’s resolve and it soon became clear that nothing could force them apart. Many people merely trying to cross the road walked straight into the bridge they’d created between them and got pierced stern glowers that had no place on a child’s face. Any time Ellie’s doll fell, her sister would stop everyone, no matter who stumbled over like dominoes, to pick it up, her sour demeanour crumbling them, convincing them to collision was their fault. They continued in fortitude until they arrived.
The house towered above them. It was a pretty house, with rich ivy climbing the walls and and a neat pathway heading to the open door. Ellie stumbled towards it, towards the man and woman waiting in the doorway, but Molly quickly pulled her back. One welcoming façade wouldn’t fool her that easily. They were still young, alone and vulnerable to the outsiders that were approaching them. She pushed Ellie behind her, not a single thought spared to how rough the action might’ve been. She threw every unspoken threat she could at their kind faces as sharp, swift swords swirled in her head.
The woman crouched down. Her hand reached forward and an overwhelming urge to swat it away invaded Molly’s mind.
“I like your dolly,” she grinned graciously. It was treacherously gentle. “What’s her name?”
“Miss Teddy,” Ellie murmured, shuffling her feet. “Because she’s not a teddy.”
That brought a smirk to both the woman’s and Molly’s faces, although the girl made an effort to quickly wipe it.
“Well, I think it’s lovely. You can tell me all about her inside?” She offered, and all kinds of alarm bells rang. However, she was comfortable enough to let the man tentatively take their bags and she let go of Ellie’s hand. She would see about letting Ellie venture in front of her in the coming days, if these people passed her tests.