Memories of war evacuation to Daventry

My name is Alfred Alchin AKA David but to old folk in Daventry I was that evacuee Londoner Alfie Alchin.

I was born in Westminster Hospital October 1930 my mother died in 1938 of what then was known as Bright’s Disease, a urinary tract infection easily treatable today with antibiotics, but then in most cases fatal.

My father died when he was in his late 80s and although he was married to my step-mother for 50 years he never got over my mother’s death.

September 1939, I stood in the backyard with my dad and his brother when an announcement was made over the radio. This was that most poignant moment of time when war was declared between Germany and Britain.

My father and his brother both immediately volunteered for active service, my uncle was rejected on medical grounds my dad was accepted and joined the Royal Navy.

I was moved around the family, finally staying with my grandmother in south east London off The Old Kent Road.

I lived through the 1940 initial Blitz of London, which as a nine-year-old was a mixed bag of fun and trauma.

It was fun to go down the Underground and listen to my dad play his accordion, my uncle Harry tap dance, and my grandmother Tilly sing. I of course didn’t have to go to bed!

The bad times to see carnage and destruction everywhere including dead bodies

The British government had secretly planned “Pied Piper” an evacuation of its future generation – I was part of that evacuation.

Hundreds of us children from the London area were herded together like cattle at London railroad stations. ready for dispatch to all over parts of the country considered safer.

Each child was given a paper identity tag tied to your lapel, a cardboard box contained your gas mask which had a piece of string attached to throw over your shoulder together with your worldly possessions in a pillow case, or if your family had one a suitcase, me I had the pillow case!

So I arrived in Daventry probably around September 1940, a small kid equipped with no more than a ID tag, a gas mask, a change of underclothes, toothbrush, comb, the typical Argyle pull over and a pair of extra shoes.

I and the other kids were met by the local vicar at the station ready to be allocated to families for the duration of the war. I recall walking down Norton Road under the railway bridge past Stead & Simpson’s sports ground, and around a left hand bend.

On the right hand side of the road was a gathering of trees which I later found out contained a septic sprinkler system, a driveway separated the trees from the first half of a semi detached house where two sisters and a brother lived they were kind of strange folk – for example they had a brand new Ford that was housed in the garage at the top of the driveway where every Sunday the brother would start the car drive to the end of the driveway, drive back, wash the car and return it to the garage. To the best of my knowledge that car never went beyond the driveway.

Distribution maybe a harsh word but local folk didn’t get a choice, it was mandated by the government that you looked after a child or children.

The other side of the semi detached was “Holmside” the occupants Mr & Mrs Jeffs and their son Joe Jeffs who joined the RAF and left home pretty quickly.

The vicar walks up the pathway to the front door while I swing on the gate, he knocks and the door opens to reveal a pleasantly plump lady in a floral dress, with blonde hair – Mrs Jeffs.

They converse for a few moments at the same time as she points to me the hinge broke on the gate letting it sag with a groan, I thought I’m in trouble now!

The vicar beckons to me to come up the path and introduces me.

“Come in me duck!”

I knew I liked this lady who had this strange dialect.

I went in to the kitchen.

“Sit down me duck,” she said motioning to a green high backed chair alongside a kitchen range.

Some time later Joe Jeffs came home from work at Stead & Simpson and he and I immediately bonded, for the next four and a half years was to become the most pleasurable of my childhood, just a mere seven decades ago.

The next houses were I believe row type probably four or six homes the first next to the Jeffs was the Billingtons who took in a girl Mary Duncan she lived there for six months or more, might even have been a year, until her mother illegally took her to Canada.

The next home was a childhood friend John Sharpe. I have no idea who lived in the remainder of the homes. The last house was a large detached house the home of my best friend Pete Taylor, his father worked at the Weeden Depot.

The reason for my writing is that I now reside in California (34 years) my wife and I are visiting family in July and August and intend to visit Daventy probably July 31, August 1, and I wonder anyone had archives from that period.

I recall a bomb [dud] falling in the alleyway between the church and where Smiths Newspaper shop used to be. I also recall aircraft crashing on Borough Hill although I can find nothing to support that.

I recall Italian POW laying some kind of telephone cable along Norton Road. I recall I had a charcoal drawing in the Co-Op window for months.

I belonged to the Cub Scouts and then the Scouts. I also was in the local choir.

I believe the Jeffs were related to the owners of the Wheatsheaf Hotel, I know we would go visit from time to time and sit somewhere in the back

Not knowing when either of the Jeffs died I am unable to find any obituaries, and I doubt that Joe junior would still be alive today

Thanks for you indulgence of my ramblings.

David Alchin, California, USA