Fond Memories of Rolleston

My name is Douglas Wood. I was born in Birmingham on the 2nd November 1935.

I was living in Birmingham at the start of the second world war and have vivid memories of hearing the banshee wail of the sirens; the drone of the German bombers; the screaming sound of bombs falling during one air-raid, aimed at a nearby railway line; the ‘Big Bertha’ anti aircraft guns firing from a local bank and the sight of several barrage balloons hoisted from the Recreation ground some 50 yards away. All this terrifying activity did, of course, lead to the mass evacuation of children from the major cities.

In February 1940 – I can’t remember the date – I was sitting on a bus in the suburbs of Birmingham, along with numerous other children, being taken to New Street Station to board a train (steam!) to I knew not where. I was carrying the obligatory gas mask and I had a large label attached to my coat, giving my name and destination. At the time I was 4 years 4 months old and seemed to accept the situation. I do not recall a tearful farewell to my mother. My elder brother, Michael, aged seven, was with me.

My next recollection is standing in Rolleston village hall with my brother, along with many other children from Birmingham, whilst the villagers went around the room selecting a compulsory evacuee. I was eventually chosen by Miss Edith Ashmall, but she was unable to accept my brother as well. My brother went to live with the Spooners at Spooner’s Farm, Station Road. In those days private transport was unavailable, so Miss Ashmall and I walked from the Mosley Hall to her house at ‘Longdale’ 224 Station Road – on the corner of Walford Road.

Miss Ashmall (Auntie Edith) lived with her maiden Aunt (Auntie Kate) and so began a wonderful relationship with two dear ladies who were always loving and kind to me. 

The temporary school for the evacuees was at Mosley Hall – now the Recreational Hall – and I always walked there and back home each day. Near to the Hall was Mr Topley’s, the village smithy, where I often watched the big working horses having shoes fitted. On the corner above the smithy was Whetton’s bakery. 

Eventually the evacuees were integrated with the village school – headmistress Miss Parsons – and until I had a bicycle when I was seven, I always walked to and from school.

Auntie Edith went to the village church of St Mary’s each Sunday and I always went with her. Again, no matter what the weather, we walked there and back. The vicar was Mr Bill Bagnall. Even though I couldn’t read properly I wanted to join the choir. Consequently I walked up to the vicarage and asked Mr Bagnall if I could join the choir and of course he agreed. I must have been the youngest semi-illiterate choirboy there next Sunday.

At first it wasn’t easy to make friends with the local boys who did not want to associate with children from the Birmingham backstreets. However this eventually changed and one very good friend whom I saw quite recently was Chris Keen. He lived a few doors away from Longdale, as did an ornithologist Mr Storer who had a fantastic collection of stuffed birds and birds’ eggs. He lived with his daughter Muriel. Another friend, Sandy Hart (now a doctor) used to visit Rolleston for holidays and he stayed with his aunt and her mother – the Ecobs. At the very end of the row of houses lived Miss Sillitoe. Another friend, John Hancock lived further along towards the station and had an orchard on the opposite side of the road. Auntie Edith was friendly with the Lowe’s, farmers at Brookside. I recall that Mrs Lowe committed suicide in the weir. 

In those days milk was delivered to the door in a churn and ladled into a jug. Auntie Edith boiled her washing in a big boiler, fired by coal, in the corner of the scullery. 

We all enjoyed our excursions into Burton on the Tutbury Jinny, especially when we were going to the farm at Stapenhill owned by a relative of the Ashmalls – Tom and Ethel Swain. A wonderful time sitting on the backs of the shire horses getting in the hay and straw. The farm also had several Italian prisoners of war as labourers. 

I truly loved my childhood at Rolleston. A lovely tranquil life and being cared for by adopted aunties who were quite wonderful. So it was a sad day when, on 24th November 1944, some 4 ¾ years after the start of my evacuation, a taxi came to the door and with a very emotional farewell I was transported back to my home in Birmingham.

During the following years, I visited Rolleston on many occasions, especially during school holidays. I remember cycling from Birmingham on one holiday. I always had a fantastic time staying with my ‘aunts’. Aunty Edith eventually moved to Cheshire and I always kept in touch with her until her death just before her 100th birthday in 1989. She is sorely missed. 

Over the most recent years I have paid several nostalgic visits to Rolleston and of course visited the church and enjoyed the service with your ‘modern’ vicar. I have seen many changes in the local landscape, not all for the better in my view.

Yes, Rolleston will always be close to my heart and never forgotten. Wonderful memories!

I wonder if any other ex-evacuees have kept in touch with Rolleston?

D E Wood

Note: Subsequently to the article appearing in the Winter 2007 issue of Rollestonian I received a telephone call from Rollestonian Joan Littlewood to say that the headmistress at the time was a Miss Dobson.

With the passage of time it is easy to forget a name. I wonder in the future if I might well forget my first headmistress - Mrs Bailey?

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© This site was created by Richard Bush

Last updated: 23 December 2007