diary · family · History

Nan’s Diary: Evacuation – billet #3

Nan’s third billet during evacuation was with a girl called Jean and was ‘like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, as the food situation was so alien to us because my mother was an excellent cook and we always had smashing food at home; it was such a contrast to come to these two billets that had such appalling food.

Going to the cinema was great because it was another way of keeping warm – I seem to refer a lot to keeping warm that winter, but it was one of my worst memories about evacuation – BEING COLD – and having to find places to keep warm. School and cinema were the best places. I met my husband at this time when we were playing tennis.

This new billet was with three old maids who lived in a large house, they were quite rich, in fact they were very rich and they were 70, 74 and 82 years old. When they got dressed for dinner, they wore flowing georgette silk dresses and Jean and I were bundled up in coats, stockings and boots to keep warm. The old maids did not seem to feel the cold, although they would sit in a huddle around the fire with about three lumps of coal looking like the three old witches on the heath in Macbeth. Poor old Jean and I would sit on the outside in the cold room as there was no other heating.

Dinner was served by two maids in black dresses and frilly aprons, it arrived in tureens, and was served and eaten with expensive cutlery. It all seemed very impressive but wait until I tell you what was in the serving dishes. One night in particular I can remember being served a thin tasteless soup, which should have been minestrone, but was like thin gruel. This was followed by a silver dish containing sprats and we were allowed only six each with a piece of bread and no vegetables. I didn’t know why there were no vegetables as there was a lovely kitchen garden with two gardeners, in spite of the war being on.

Unlike my previous billet, Jean and I were able to have a bath here but with only five inches of water, which was the national stipulation at this time. A lot of baths had a mark ringed around them so that the amount put in was not exceeded.

In the summer of 1940, London was being bombed heavily by the German bombers and there were frequent bombings over south east England, therefore it seemed a silly place to evacuate children to where it was just as dangerous.

However, there were two events that year of great importance – the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain…

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