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This article was received from Brian Laven by e-mail – Sep 1st 2009

Evacuated to Burton in 1939

As today is the 70th anniversary of the day that my brother and I were evacuated out of London and started a new life in Burton Latimer, I felt I would like to record a few thoughts on our experience, as this must have been as much of a disruption for the inhabitants of the village as it was for us.

Like many others on that day we were shepherded with our little suitcases, gas masks and name badges to St. Pancras station where we boarded a train to a destination which was not known to us and, even if we had known the name of the destination it would have meant nothing to us. I was ten years old and my brother was eight and it is difficult to remember our emotions on that day, but I suspect that it would have been regarded as a bit of an adventure.

The site of Isham Mill, from a 1938 map.
Site of Isham Mill
When we arrived in Burton Latimer we assembled in a hall and in that hall were a large group of prospective foster parents. I was chosen by/assigned to (I cannot remember how the selection was carried out) a Mr & Mrs Cooper in Station Road . It was with some consternation that I went off with the Coopers as my brother was going to be billeted elsewhere and this did not seem right. This situation was eventually rectified and Geoff joined me at the Coopers. I remember Mr & Mrs Cooper as a very welcoming couple who were stalwarts of the Baptist Church .

We used to share the village school with the local children and we would have our lessons one week in the mornings, with the locals having the school in the afternoons, and then we would change around the next week. When we were not having lessons we would work on an allotment near the Church growing vegetables for the war effort.

The rest of the time I remember as being spent very happily playing in the Spinney behind the Waggon and Horses, at the old mill at Isham (see left) or generally exploring the area. I was a member of the local Scout Troop and I remember that one of our tasks was to take messages for the Home Guard and several times I had to cycle over to Kettering with such messages. It all seemed very important at the time, but was probably more to do with giving us a job.

Mr Oram playing at a wedding reception in 1965
Although I do not know the reason, we left the Coopers after about six months and went to a lady who had a small cottage in the High Street. She had two sons in their twenties living with her so it must have been quite a squash in this little cottage. Not surprisingly, we were not there for long and we were then moved to the other end of the village to a delightful couple called Mr & Mrs Oram. My memories are somewhat indistinct but I do remember that Mr Oram used to play the concertina, that they used to salt large joints of pork which then hung up in the scullery. I also remember that the Sunday joint was taken to the Bakery just up the road to be cooked in the baker’s oven. We got on well with the baker who used to take us with him on his rounds and let us help to deliver the bread.

Once again we had to move on and I do not know why except that it must have been quite demanding for an elderly couple like the Orams to have to cope with a two young boys. This time, we went to the Waggon and Horses with Mr & Mrs Buckby and their son Maurice. They also had an older daughter whose name escapes me and she was married to a soldier who I think was in one of the Guards Regiments.

My father who was an officer in the RAF could not believe his luck when he heard we had been billeted at a pub, and took every opportunity to visit when he could. My memories of the Waggon and Horses apart from the kindness of the Buckbys was the pianola in the bar which I used to love playing and the workshop in the backyard where a number of ladies would cut out parts for shoes from sheets of leather which, presumably were sent to one of the many shoe factories in the area. The other enduring memory of Burton Latimer was the enticing smells which came out of the Weetabix factory, and every time I have that cereal for breakfast I am reminded of those days during the war.

As my father was in the RAF, my mother decided to move up to her home town of Nottingham where her parents were still living, and after about eighteen months apart she took us to our new home in Nottingham . I am afraid I have only once returned to the village and that was some twenty years ago. The Waggon and Horses was closed and I was appalled that the A6 trunk road still went through the village. I understand that there is now a by-pass which must have brought some sanity back to the village !

Looking back, my time in Burton Latimer was a happy one and everyone was very kind to us. I must, however, have felt a longing to be reunited with my mother and father especially when the war news was particularly bleak But I obviously did not let it intrude too much.

I hope the Heritage Society will find this little memoir of interest and it seemed to be the right time to write it.

Brian Laven

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