Wartime evacuation of a school to Hemel Hempstead
1940 to 1941
By Terry Askew
Ref. D/Ex 776/1&2 Daily journal kept in two jotter exercise books which were found, with other papers, in a jumble sale or second hand shop in Essex .
Transcription of these gave a fascinating insight into the life of an ordinary school teacher during the early War years, ranging from his gardening efforts being frustrated by an acute shortage of onion seeds, through constant sleepless nights of ‘alerts’ and droning overhead of enemy bombers, to the machine gunning of the local school one occasion.
It was almost possible to picture his wife Leah and their problems of keeping in touch and visiting the family in Doncaster and Hadleigh.
Mr. Williamson punctuated his account with regular news ’headlines’ which greatly assists in establishing a historical context for the journals, however it is particularly interesting to note his scathing personal attack on Lord Beaverbrook in almost the last entry.
Sadly, it would seem that Mr. Williamson kept further journals, but these are probably lost for ever.
Extracts from a journal kept by a Mr. A. S. Williamson who was a master of a school in the Holloway/Seven Sisters area of London, which was evacuated to the Hemel Hempstead area, 1st July 1940 to June 1941.
Note: The journal contains many observations from the national news media and these have been deliberately omitted, except for some included to give a context of time.
1st July 1940: Planted 4 marrow plants last Saty. Brilliant sunshire. Very hot. Raid during the night but no serious damage reported and no casualties.
2nd July: Garden Everything very dry.Had to water heavily last evening. Raid during last night. Several people killed in Scotland. Brilliant sunshine. Very hot. Wrote Kit.
3rd July: Weather changed in evening. Rain during night.Heavy cloudy morning – showery.
RAID LAST EVENING. TWELVE PEOPLE REPORTED KILLED AND 123 INJURED
10th July: A week of nothing noteworthy . Weather very changeable and broke. Considerable changes of temperature.
ENGLISH TAKE OVER FRENCH FLEET
11th July: Heavy rain all last evening and during night. Clearing this evening.
12th July: Half day from School. More rain.
13th July: Left Hemel Hempstead by coach at 7.2am to catch 9.50 train to Kings X. to Doncaster to see Edgar. He met us at Doncaster station then took us to 43 Ellers Drive, Bessacarr where we met his wife. They seem very devoted to each other.
14th July: Spent a very pleasant time with Edgar and his wife. By the way, his rank of Flight Lieutenant is now confirmed. Left Doncaster at 5.15 and reached Kings X at 8.50 (5 mins late) Just caught Green Line coach at Marble Arch and arrived Two Waters (?) at 10.40, too late to get a bus. Had to walk to Hammerfield (?) Found Harold and his wife and child there. They have had a rough time at Hadleigh with air raids. Had a job to fix up everybody with sleeping accommodation. Harold and his family returned to Hadleigh the following Wednesday morning. On Friday the school broke up for a week’ holiday. Nominally not a holiday for me, it proved so in reality. The point was that a teacher must remain in the borough in case of emergency.
27th July: Received a cheque for £4 – 3 – 3 from L.C.C. in payment for evacuation expenses.
29th July: This week Hammond and I have charge of the school – Porter and Dunbar being on holiday. Cedric went to Acton for his medical examination but they put him in Grade 1V to the great comfort of his mother and myself.
31st July: Leah went to town to pay a visit to Univ. Coll. (?) Hospital.
2nd August: Today finishes Hammond’s and my week in charge of school. Now I have a fortnight’s holiday. First week passes uneventfully. Leah and I paid a visit to Watford and one to Town.
10th August: Cedric felt too ill to go to work.
12th August: Cedric went on panel. Advised to get plenty of fresh air.
13th August: Leah, Cedric and I went to Watford to make some purchases for Cedric’s intended visit to Edgar at Doncaster.
14th August: Leah and I went by Green Line to Kings X to put Cedric on the 9.50 for Doncaster. During last fortnight have put in 25 asparagus kale & 25 early savoy. Also sown my remaining carrot and turnip seeds.
19th August: Resumed school duties.
20th August: Letter from Harold today to say they are fearing a terrible time at Hadleigh, but he thinks they are as safe there as anywhere. Cedric wrote to say he expected to be returning tomorrow.
23rd August: Night raid over Edmonton. Mr. Dunbar reports he heard explosions not very far away of great violence.
26th August: Letter from Hugh and Cassie saying that they have had bad raids over Wolverhampton.
29th August: Last night we were kept awake the whole of the night by enemy aerial activity. Just before one o’clock incendiary bombs were dropped in gardens and fields at Hammerfield. One fell through the roof of a house opposite and it blazed up like a furnace. Luckily no-one hurt. A startling and unpleasant experience. After this we may have decided to sleep downstairs.
30th August: A peaceful night for which we were all very thankful. The boys broke up today for their second week’s holiday.
Week ending Sept 7th: Although the boys have a holiday, the staff have not, so we kick our heels about the premises.
HEAVY AIR RAIDS OVER THE EAST END OF LONDON WITH MANY CASUALTIES.
Every night we hear the enemy machines overhead, coming and going, and the constant throb of their planes is not conducive to slumber.
9th September: Our staff is now reduced to Mr. Porter, Mr. Hammond and myself. Mr. Dunbar returned to London last Friday.
11th September: Swimming gala in afternoon.
13th September: Having heard nothing from Harold for some time Leah wired him on Thursday morning but received no reply. One Friday evening she phoned him and found he was well. He had not received either letters or telegrams. He said he had heard That Delhi had been bombed and his wife’s family all killed. Trust that this may prove untrue.
BOMBS ON BUCKINGHAM PALACE
17th September: A really serious raid over our district last night. About midnight a heavy crash apparently just at the back of the house led us to believe that a time bomb had fallen but morning brought us confirmation. Orchard House, Bury Hill was demolished and several cottages in Ashley Street. We begin to feel really nervous. Only one woman killed .
18th September: Determined to get a night’s rest last night in spite of “Jerry” we got to bed before 10 and slept until nearly six this morning. Feel greatly benefited by the rest. Very little harm here though serious raids on London are reported again.
ITALIAN ARMY ADVANCING TOWARDS EGYPT ACROSS LIBYAN DESERT, SUSTAINING HEAVY LOSSES.
19th September: Aircraft very active last night and the sound of many bombs falling. Had a disturbed night. Several London stores hit, the Wallace Collection and Temple Library. About midday we heard several explosions, Apparently of time bombs, but no report of anyone hurt.
20th September: A better night though we heard the sound of frequent bomb dropping.
22nd September: Enemy planes busy early. About 9.20 heard a tremendous crash which shook a house.
23rd September: Discovered that the fierce explosion of last night was the bursting of a high calibre shell fired from a gun hidden in woodland not far from us. So we are having some protection after all. I hope he will be able to stop the promenades of enemy planes whose irritating throbbing keeps us on tenter hooks every evening.
24th September: Leah saw Roddie last evening and he says that the formidable detonation he heard on Sunday night was due to an explosion of a land mine in Bedfordshire. Difficult to know what to believe. Apparently several land mines have been used in the destruction of London and terrible havoc is produced by their explosion.
25th September: A rather disturbed night enlivened by many bumps and crashed at varying distances. The wireless says raiders concentrated on Central London. If they keep on they must surely destroy the City in time.
26th September: Air raid warning sirens sounded soon after 10 and “all clear” not until between 3 and 4, but we were all fast asleep. Many distant bangs, some near enough to shake doors and windows.
1st October: Enemy machines overhead most of night. Bombs dropped apparently quite close – the house shook slightly. Found to have been dropped on old Midland Rlly cutting near Cupid Green and in somebody’s garden.
2nd October: Last night was a little better. The enemy raiders, for some reason or another, not so persistent and we all had a fairly good night’s rest. Leah the victim of a nasty attack of colitis. Dr [?] saw her and recommended rest and a low diet.
3rd October: Last night not to pleasant as previous. Apparently many bombs dropped. Roused at 5.00am and a raider materialised and dropped a number of bombs rather unpleasantly close. Trust this sort of thing is not to continue indefinitely or all our nerves will be worn to fiddle strings.
4th October: Very dark night with very much less enemy aerial activity. Pleasant relief not to hear the throb of enemy machines overhead. Leah says she has got so used to this that she quite misses them.
7th October: Air raid alarms practically all Sunday but peace at night and not enemy air attacks at all anywhere. Newspapers still speculating as to nature of Brenner Pass meeting between Hitler and Mussolini last week. A number of evacuated children brought into our school and more promised for next week.
8th October: Heavy raids on London yesterday. A rather disturbed night though we have had worse. Many explosions heard in distance and enemy planes frequently overhead.
9th October: The business of mutual destruction continues. Reports of a bomb dropped on Piggott’s End School and damage to Wash houses and playground. Had a letter from Edgar after as lapse of 3 weeks and more. He has bought a Labrador retriever as a companion for his wife.
10th October: Letter from Harold in which he says conditions are not as bad at Hadleigh as they have been and that he is able to get some nights of rest.
11th October: A very disturbed night. Number of bombs dropped in evening and also between 2 and 3am. Difficult to find out location of each.
12th October: No less than 9 air raid alarms today but no particular incidents.
13th October: Spent a morning in the garden tidying up generally. Very disturbed evening. “Nuisance” bombers proved such a nuisance that we did not go to be until midnight.
14th October: Changes at school. Influx of refugee children, which brought our numbers up to 93. Advent of Messrs. Chapman and Bridgeman. Air alarm at 11.45 kept us in school until nearly 2.30 so we had no afternoon school. The “nuisance” bombers in great evidence again. Tremendous “wallops” both near and far. Discussion as to whether caused by bombs or AA guns.
16th October: No air raid alarms until evening. Then a very disturbed evening. Wilson came in to tea but had to stay. But it appeared later that what we thought were falling bombs were really the reports of mobile anti-aircraft guns. So we are putting up some sort of defence after all.
18th October: Last night we enjoyed a merciful remission of air attack and in consequence we all benefited by a good night’s rest.
21st October: Fairly comfortable nights Friday and Saturday but Sunday very unpleasant. Terrific crashes apparently quite close. Did not get to sleep until between 3 and 3am. Leah has had a lot of trouble with a burn on her ear which has turned septic, but it appears to have begun to show sings of healing now.
22nd October: Much quieter evening and we were able to get a decent night’s rest. Leah and Cedric went to see the craters made by the bombs dropped on Sunday night. Cedric thinks they were meant for Hammersfield. Mr. Porter is convinced they were aimed at the railway and says the Scotch express came down with all its windows alight.
23rd October: Greatly refreshed after a peaceful night. Half-holiday, masked by machine gun raid by solitary German plane which swooped down over Sunnyhill Road. Heard afterwards that it attacked young troops drilling on the Moor and sent a couple of bullets through the roof of the school. No casualties reported. Heard from Edgar who has just returned from a flight to Orkneys which troops. He asks for some books so I packed up a parcel and [?] it going to get it off in the morning.
24th October: Roused at 5.00am by air raid alarm after peaceful night but no incident followed . Announced that we are to have Half Term Holiday from today to next Wednesday.
29th October: Cedric started work again at Cupid Green.
30th October: Fairly quiet weekend though there have been many air raid alarms. We have not had nearly as many bombs dropped in our district and appreciate very much being able to enjoy undisturbed night’s rest. Cedric took up duties again at the Ordnance Depot at Cupid Green yesterday as a result of Wilson’s energetic attempts to get him reinstated. Received school work. A number of newly-evacuated boys were admitted to the school.
WAR BEGAN BETWEEN GREECE AND ITALY THIS WEEK.
31st October: Very quiet night. Alarm about 7.00pm but “all clear” between 10.00 and 11.00.
7th November: Much more aerial activity on part of the enemy. Bombs dropped very near us last night. Monday night several people seriously injured when bombs fell on a farm at Gaddesden Row.
ROOSEVELT ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE USA
8th November: Onions are now controlled – at 41/2 [four and a half] per lb [???] I walked from end to end of Hemel last night and failed to see one. Then, as a last resource, tried the village stores where I obtained 2lbs without difficulty. Papers report great shortage of onion seed.
MR. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN DIED THIS WEEKEND
11th November: Had an Armistice and Evacuation service in church. Speakers were Messrs. Jarman,. Diver and Neale. Peaceful night.
15th November: Last night was unpleasant. Brilliant moon and consequent great activity in are. Sounds of bombs dropped not far away. The worst night fol,lowed that we have known. Terrific bombardment lasting for at least two hours, from 11.00pm to 1.00am. Renewed about 2.30.
16th November: This night a bomb was dropped on main line near Berkhampstead demolishing a bridge crossing line.
26th November: Leah is still suffering from a very bad throat – laryngitis and septic condition. Her treatment by Drs. [?] and Gregory has been most unsatisfactory so we called in Dr. Wolstencroft of Boxmoor and under his care she is beginning to improve. The enemy has been allowing us some quiet nights lately, for which we are deeply thankful.
2nd December: The local air raids have diminished considerably in intensity and we have frequent quiet nights. Ate the first brussells sprouts out of the garden , they were delicious. Cedric has had to give up his work at the Ordnance Depot again and went to see Dr. Wolstencroft this morning. Had to go again this evening and very pleased with his new doctor. Trust the latter will do him a lot of good.
OVERTHROW OF ITALIANS IN NORTH AFRICA – 30/40,000 PRISONERS
16th December: Planes heard passing overhead. Had 200 wooden blocks delivered – 13/- (thirteen shillings)
18th December: Leah and Cedric went to St. Albans to look out for a present for Edgar. They obtained book-ends with the R.A.F. sign for Edgar and a cookery note-book and a similar one for gardening notes for Peggy.
7th January 1941: Returned to school after the Xmas holiday. We had peace for 3 days and nights at Xmas. Nothing to worry about since. Leah began her new duties as Care organiser of the children in Miss Macdonald’s school.
8th January: There was a long alert yesterday from between 12 and 1 to about 4.30 pm, but no local incidents during night. No raid during night. Sharp frost continues and the frozen snow on the roads makes them dangerous for traffic, and walking difficult.
9th January: For the 3rd night in succession there was no raid. Wireless says weather conditions hinder such proceedings.
OVER 90,000 ITALIAN PRISIONERS TAKEN IN N. AFRICA
10th January: Heavy enemy air raid activity apparently all round us during last night.
14th January: Fairly quiet times locally though London had heavy raid on Saturday night and another Sunday which extended to Thames Estuary. Noteworthy point: We were able to but a pound of onions in the market. The meat ration is to be continued at its ½ per week (?) Marmalade is still unobtainable and we feel the tea and sugar ration though we have not actually had to go short. Cheese is very scarce. We ordered a cwt. of King Edward potatoes from our greengrocer, price 10/6d.
14th January: No enemy air activity at all yesterday nor at night in our district but it seems they raided a S.W. town and slight raids also occurred in other parts. Paper says that everybody under the age of 60 is to be conscripted as fire watchers – to put out incendiary bombs.
20th January: Heavy snowstorm again. Gum boots a necessity.
21st January: Thankful I bought my gum boots when I did. They are the only suitable footwear for these conditions. Reports that Hitler and Mussolini had met and decided on an invasion of Britain. Compulsory formation of bodies of Fire Watchers causing a great deal of discussion. Meeting of school staff this morning to decide what we should do. Suggested that our responsibility only obtained during daytime.
22nd January: Wireless reports that the attack on Tobruk in Libya has begun. Report that Tobruk has fallen.
23rd January: All defence no ceased in Tobruk. Very slight enemy aerial activity last night.
24th January: Tobruk in our hands now. Received first books from the Book Club. “The City of Gold” by Brett Young , last September’s selection and “Wickford Point” by John Marquand. January’s selection.
29th January: Sent off parcel yesterday to Harold – containing saucepan, mincer and various odds and ends of food etc.
30th January: Air raid warning just before 6 pm last night lasted until about 10.30. Incendiary and H.E. bombs dropped in London . This afternoon and air raid alarm about 1.40 lasted until 5.30 Bombs dropped in many places, locally near Berkhamsted and Watford.
2nd February: Gathered the last of the brussells sprouts and cleared and dug over the ground. No enemy air activity locally although bombs dropped in East Anglia.
3rd February: The scare- mongers, both press and public, are very busy, like the Fat Boy, trying to make our flesh creep with the dreadful things that Hitler is preparing for us.
5th February: Air raid alert early last evening and many planes passed overhead. News this morning says that attacks were made on E. Midlands and S.E., bvut reports say no heavy ones. 8th/9th February: Ground sufficiently workable to allow of transplanting some Silesian wallflowers and Sweet Williams into fruit garden. Negligible air activity by enemy and Leah and I decided to sleep upstairs again on Sunday night. Cedric persisted in remaining downstairs.
10th February: Mr. Churchill made a fine speech at 9.00 last night which has made an excellent impression in the U.S.A.
11th February: Had no less than 5 alarms during night and early morning but no signs of any planes locally.
14th February: This day we rose early and were driven by Albery to Hatfield Station where we caught the 8.02 changing an Peterborough and arriving Doncaster at 12.47. Met by Edgar. Spent a very pleasant weekend. I returned on Sunday, leaving at 1.49 and then changing at Peterborough onto and exceedingly slow train, finally taking bus at Welwyn to St. Albans and thence home which I reached at 10.20.
17th February: Felt very fatigued after journey. Hope Leah and Cedric have better luck. Raid warning son after 7.00 pm lasted until after 11.00. Heard enemy planes and two heavy crashes not too far away.
18th February: Telegram arrived from Leah when I reached home for lunch to say that she and Cedric would not return until tomorrow.
19th February: Leah and Cedric did not arrive until after 8.00 pm. Found no connection at Peterborough for Hatfield on main line and consequently travelled by way of Ely and Cambridge. Tired out. Air raid alarm about 9.30 lasted until nearly 10.30.
21st February: Managed to put in 2 rows of broad beans. 26th February: Raid alarm early this evening. All clear soon after 10. Distant explosions.
28th February: No less than 4 alerts in evening and night but no local incidents.
BULGARIA HAS SIGNED PACT WITH GERMANY
6th March: Pouring rain. Disheartening for the garden. Ground has no chance to dry and become in fit condition for sowing seeds.
8th/9th March: Heavy raids resumed on London Saturday and Sunday night, but nothing local. The weather continues very bad and the garden is simply an expanse of mud.
10th March: Early air raid alarm in evening.
11th March: Alert early in evening and “all clear” did not sound until after 12.30 sol our night’s rest was considerably abbreviated.
12th March: Scholarship exams at school.
13th March: Brilliant moonlight last night. Germans took advantage to launch biggest attack on Merseyside. 9 bombers brought down.
LEND LEASE BILL NOW BECOME LAW IN U.S. AND GREAT PREPARATIONS BEING MADE TGO SUPPLY EVERY KIIND OF HELP TO GT. BRITAIN.
14th March: Alert early and heavy raid on London.
15th/16th March: Sunshine all day. Managed to do a good lot of gardening. Raid on Saturday night. Bombs dropped fairly close – Chipperfield way.
19th March: Heaviest white frost for some time. Alert sounded last night at 11.15 and ???all clear” not until 5.00 am.
20th March: Wireless reports heavy raid on London with many fires and much damage. America plans to send over many of their ships and help including submarine chasers.
REVOLUTION IN YUGOSLAVIA. KING PETER ARRESTS THOSE WHO SIGNED THE PACT WITH GERMANY
1st April: Leah attended hospital to have x ray plate taken.
4th April: Resumption of enemy air raids last night. Several heard overhead and bombs in distance. Kept up until 1.00 am though nothing near.
8th April: Enemy planes frequently overhead, once again, before we went to bed. Budget introduced by Sir Kingsley Wood. No additional burden on tobacco and beer but much heavier Income Tax. Apparently my contribution will be between £40 and £50.
HEAVY BOMBING RAID ON COVENTRY
17th April: Very heavy raid last night on London. Many planes overhead and frequent crashes.
18th April: Leah had 3rd x ray photos taken at West Herts Hospital.
19th April: News of London’s damage during Wednesday night – St. Paul’s badly damaged and obliged to be closed. Also City Temple destroyed. Chelsea old church and Chelsea Hospital (Pensioners) badly hit. Selfridges and Maples suffered badly.
22nd April: Back at school. Glorious spring morning.
23rd April: Sounds of long processions of enemy planes overhead and many crashes not so far away. Again our staff is interfered with. The two Rowlands are to be moved on. This sort of thing is becoming sickening. As soon as we settle down comfortably, the authorities intervene and upset us.
26th/27th April: Mr. Churchill made a good speech which contained very little heartening. Referred hopefully to aid promised by America.
2nd May: Garden badly needed water.
10th May: Terrible raid on Saturday night on London. Many casualties, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and British Museum damaged. Mr. Porter visited London on Sunday and had to walk everywhere. Scarcely any transport. Raid on Apsley and that district. Showers of incendiary bombs and also high explosives. Several people reported killed. We spent most of time downstairs but went to bed after 2.00 am.
12th May: Alerts (3) during night and many planes overhead.
RUDOLPH HESS PARACHUTES INTO SCOTLAND
14th May: Flight of Hess has caused enormous excitement particularly in the U. S. A. where they speak of effect produced on morale of German people and repercussions in many directions. German wireless says Hess’ mental energies have been failing for some time and he has been gradually relieved of his duties.
17th/18th May: Much aerial activity Friday night. Sound of planes overhead almost incessant for about two hours but no bombs locally.
ITALIAN SURRENDER IN ABYSSINIA
29th May: Have been laid up with and attack of influenza coupled with bronchitis which kept me in bed for four days. Now back at school.
SINKING OF THE HOOD AND BISMARK
9th June: Back at school after a week’s holiday. Harold and family arrived on Friday 30th May and stayed until Saturday 8th June. Enemy activity over this country very slight.
12th June: Widespread raids, heavy in some districts, but nothing local although alarm for about 3 hours.
15th June: Very little enemy activity. Sitting room chimney swept on Saturday.
17th June: Leah and Cedric decide to go to Town to buy some clothes.
18th June: Wireless has a lot to say about our “secret weapon” viz location of aircraft by means of radio. Lord Beaverbrook, the arch hypocrite, fulsomely declares how much we owe to the scientists whom a few years ago he stigmatised as “godless men”, whose activities should be suppressed and whose projected convention he was instrumental through his paper, “Daily Express” in preventing.
21st June: Wire from Edgar asking mother to go to Doncaster for a day or two while his wife is in Scotland. No enemy activity.
HITLER ATTACKS RUSSIA