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Wartime Memories by Stan Tarrant

There is little doubt that the evacuation of children prior to the war in 1939 was a heart-rending experience both for parents and the children. However when Yardley Grammar School in Birmingham was evacuated to Lydney the same feelings applied but for many it was the parents that worried the most. This certainly applied to me and a few of my friends. We were removed from the ''shackles'' of parents for the first time and placed in a country town where if we did our homework and obeyed a few rules of our foster parents we could do as we liked... more or less.! It was a pity we had to go to school for that did spoil it a bit ! Lydney Grammar School could hardly accommodate such a large influx of pupils so we were told that we could only attend in the mornings and the Lydneites would attend in the afternoons. That arrangement suited us fine ! We had all the afternoon and the evenings to ourselves.

Our billets were very varied but my friend and I were very fortunate for we were placed with a Mr and Mrs Long in Victoria Rd. They had no children and I think they quite liked the idea of having two grown-up 'sons' to look after. They were very strict and house-proud but she was an excellent cook and he was a very talented man and worked at the tin works. When it snowed later that year he made us a very superior sledge with steerable runners. The only trouble was that it weighed a ton and took some pushing to get it back up Bream hill. They also owned, or had access to an orchard on the other side of the main road and it was here that I was introduced to 'new' cider. I had never tasted it before and I drank a whole cupful just as if it was a glass of lemonade. The result was catastrophic. Fortunately it was just raw apple juice but that was enough to ensure that I did not spend much time in class that day !

Some Saturday mornings we were wakened at the unearthly hour of 5:30am and we would go on a jaunt to a farm complete with dogs, guns and ferrets for a bit of rabbit hunting. That was real magic to a couple of town boys, particularly when I was allowed to fire one of the shot guns. The recoil from it flattened me on the grass much to everyone's amusement . They told me that I nearly killed a crow in flight ! Then at the end of our expedition we would be treated to a real ploughman's lunch of new crispy bread, a hunk of
cheese, a huge pat of butter and as much rough cider that we could drink. Bearing in mind that all these items were rationed it was the food of the Gods for us !

The school itself was spread out along lengthy corridors which were covered in a rubber overlay and since the buildings were of wood you could hear anyone coming long before they could catch anyone playing it up. This was just as well because the headmaster was one out of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' with a name to match......a Mr Birch believe it or not.....and he had a wooden leg..

I remember on one occasion the boys swapped duties with the girls. They did woodwork and we did some cooking. It worked out very well for us because we made marmalade which we could buy for a few pence. Sadly I was unable to take advantage of this offer because I had spent my last penny on the most
delicious crispy doughnut from a large stores in the High Street. The name of that store was J. Cotton which is now occupied by a video shop I believe. Now I make my own marmalade and the smell of it transports me back to Lydney and the DIY cookery lesson. From that first experience of running out of
funds I had to think of a way to supplement my pocket money and that is how I managed to get a grocery delivery job with one of the high street shops on a Saturday morning. However it took me quite a time to get used to the delivery bicycle when it was loaded with goodies but when I did have a spill folks came to my aid to get them back in my basket.....all except the eggs !

As the year went on through Christmas towards Easter the bombing in Birmingham virtually stopped and so reluctantly I had to return home. Unfortunately it started again a bit later and so I was returned to Lydney where I stayed with a Mr and Mrs Sandford and her family. She was a wonderfully caring person along with all her sons built like rugby players which was not surprising when we saw how much they eat ! She thought we were wasting away because we ' didn't eat enough to keep a sparrow alive.' A wonderful family. Along with all the boys in the family there was a young lady of about 18 who would insist on walking about in the morning in just a pair of briefs and a bra. Her mother used to chide her about this as 'the poor lads ( that was us!) didn't know where to put themselves' It was made worse by the fact that the young lady indignantly asked us whether we minded or not ! Not a question that an innocent schoolboy could answer. I believe her name was Bernice. It was with this family that we learned how to play Monopoly and we really loved it. I think part of it was the fact that all the family were playing together. A family affair indeed.

In our wanderings we soon found the disused docks and a deserted fishing boat named 'The Black Dwarf' and here we were pirates and smugglers and anything else we could think of. Imagine then to our delight when prowling through the long grass and weeds round the dock we found a narrow gauge railway track complete with a four wheeled trolley which we soon resurrected. It was sheer heaven. We were never bored and rarely homesick and at least for us it was an adventure of a lifetime and I for one cannot
thank the Lydneites enough for this experience. So many adventures, so many memories and all locked away in the hearts and minds of a dwindling army of survivors. Now, unless we tap this ' I was there ' source in a few short years it will be lost forever and history will be the poorer for it.

Kindly writtend by Stan Tarrant ([email protected])

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