Mummy said we are all going to stay in a thatched cottage. What is thatched? I asked my big brother on the train. Don’t be stupid he said. Everybody knows what that is! I didn’t, but I shut my mouth, ’cos I didn’t want to be called stupid. I kept trying to imagine what a thatched cottage would look like. Was it made out of wood? Did it have leaves all over it? Had it been made from twigs, like mummy’s shopping basket? And, if so, how would the rain stay out? I played with all sorts of ideas in my mind. At least it gave me something to do on the long train journey from Hastings to Somerset. Then after the bumpy ride from the station in a bus, tucked in with my brothers and sisters amongst all our luggage, we were there. Cor, look at this my brother Derek shouted, wrenching himself free. He jumped out of the old bus, and we all followed. And there it was: The Thatched Cottage – or rather two of them sort of stuck together with straw on top.
Evacuees. That’s what we were. Only mummy said we were very lucky ’cos she had made sure we all stayed together. Most little boys and girls, she told us, had to leave their mummies and daddys and stay with strangers. How horrible, I thought. There was me, mummy, my sister, my two brothers, and next door were my two “aunties” aunty May and aunty Maud – not real ones - and their 4 kids – 2 each. Daddy, of course was away fighting in the army.
But there’s no water I wailed, and Brian called out all excited, “Yes there is. Come here!” And there he was standing by a well in the garden with a big aluminium bucket slopping water all over the place – my wishing well I called it. And where’s the toilet, my sis came out crossing her legs. Down there Derek said pointing to a little hut at the end of the garden. Oh no…! We chorused. But it didn’t matter. We were all together and it would be like a big adventure.
At first I missed the seaside, and all my dolls and toys. I cried when mummy said I couldn’t bring them with me. I was allowed one dolly, and she slept with me all the time I was there. But we had a big garden to run around in, and trees to climb, and an orchard over the wall at the back where we’d go scrumping. At night we’d all cram round the wireless and listen to these amazing voices: Vera Lynn, Anne Shelton, Bing Crosby as well as Glenn Miller, and we’d all be wiggling our toes and tapping our fingers in time to the music.
Sometimes we had to do gas mask practice, and once now and then there’d be a siren going off and we’d all troop down to the garden to the little tin-roof shelter – not that it’d have been much good if a real bomb ever did fall, which, thankfully, it didn’t. In the summer I never wore shoes, except when we’d climb the apple tree, us girls on the lower branches, the boys at the top keeping a look-out for “Jerry”. Who’s Jerry I’d ask and they’d all go. Silly Betty Silly Betty! But they didn’t mean it. I was always a bit of a dolly daydreamer.
Where we lived was on the road between Yeovil and Glastonbury, and every so often a convoy of English soldiers would go by. There was a lilac tree in the garden which in the Spring we kids would strip bear, throwing blossoms to the soldiers. In return they’d throw back sweets, chewing gum and chocolate!
My favourite time of all was the singing. Up in the tree, we’d feel like kings and queens. We didn’t have any real concept of war. To us it was fun. We’d go through all the songs we heard on the wireless: White cliffs, Roll out the barrels, Yes we have no bananas, Don’t sit under the apple tree and She’ll be coming round the mountain at the tops of our voices.
I think it was down there in Somerset in the old thatched cottage that my love of singing started. And it’s never stopped really – choirs at school, the girls choir, music festivals, Hastings Opera, and listening to all the marvellous voices. Singing has been such a large part of my life. Singing and children. There’s always been lots of children.