Following a discussion with my grandchildren the other day concerning my memories immediately after the start of the Second World War on September 3, 1939, I began to wonder how many of the population of Alnwick would be able to recall the day 77 years ago when their town was invaded by some 250 to 300 pupils and teachers of Wallsend Secondary School.
I am referring, of course, to the evacuation of the entire school to the town as part of the Government’s scheme to remove schoolchildren from areas which could be vulnerable to air raids.
In many areas, due to what was called the phoney war and the fact that there was a not a lot of enemy air activity over England initially, evacuation schemes only lasted a few months.
However, in the case of Wallsend Secondary we remained at Alnwick for almost three years before returning home.
We were all lodged or billeted with families in the town, which I often think must have been a traumatic experience for those who had to take us into their homes.
I was 12 years old at the time and can well remember the day in question.
During my stay at Alnwick I was billeted with a friend at three addresses, two for periods of about three months, and about two years and six months at the third address.
Our first billet was with Mr David Castles, who was a saddler with premises in Narrowgate, opposite the junction with Pottergate.
I was disappointed when we were suddenly moved to our second billet since I was very happy with the Castles family.
The second billet was a large terraced house in Northumberland Street, only about 400 yards from Mr Castles’ shop.
This was with a Mr Froud, who with his wife operated Alnwick Electric Laundry, which was located near where the Hardy museum now stands.
We were admitted by a young lady, who on reflection could only have been in her early 20s, and who turned out to be the resident house maid, by the name of Elsie Gill. Her home was in Grimsby.
I think Mr and Mrs Froud, who I did not often see, had instructed Elsie that she was in charge of us, and I have to say that she was very kind.
Elsie had a boyfriend, who she married while I was living with the Frouds. He was the son, named Luke, of the other saddler in the town, Jobsons, whose shop was adjacent to Hotspur Tower. I remember signing my little autograph book, “Elsie Gill before, now Mrs Jobson”.
My stay at the second billet ended as the result of a minor sledging accident one evening in Pottergate, in March 1940, when the tip of my middle finger on the right had was almost severed.
I recall rushing back to the house bleeding copiously and Elsie immediately took charge, covered the wound with a clean tea towel, and rushed me across town to Dr Mcloud’s house near the war memorial, where the good doctor stitched it back on again. I am convinced to this day that between them they saved the tip of that finger.
After spending three weeks at home while the finger healed, my mother took me back to Alnwick on my 13th birthday.
A helper met us and instructed us to go to the Turks Head Hotel, where Mrs Robertson was expecting us.
Jane Robertson was a remarkable lady. Already a widow at, I guess, in her early 40s, she was running her busy public house in a town heaving with soldiers and airmen, bringing up two sons, Finlay and Ian, and had also taken on board three of us evacuees.
I have to say I could never forget my two-and-a-half years with her, and I will never be out of her debt.
Belatedly, on behalf of myself and the rest of the pupils at the school all that time ago, thank you Alnwick for looking after us.