‘I have a lot of good memories about Alnwick’

Mary Cuthbert in Alnwick
Mary Cuthbert in Alnwick

Standing by the tennis courts in Alnwick, Mary Cuthbert had tears in her eyes.

It was a poignant moment for the 88-year-old, who, as a little girl, was evacuated to the town before the start of the Second World War.

Her evocative trip back to Alnwick earlier this month was the first time that she has stayed in the town since those wartime years, more than seven decades ago.

And the strong feelings she has for the area were evident as she gazed at the tennis courts, welling up.

Casting her mind back, she said: “It was the most wonderful place to come and live.

“Standing by the tennis courts reduced me to tears. I spent a lot of summer evenings playing tennis with the choirboys from St Michael’s Church.”

Mary was just 10 when she and her 13-year-old sister, June, were evacuated to Alnwick, from Low Fell, in Gateshead, in 1939.

The siblings came up to Northumberland by train, arriving at Alnwick station, which is now the iconic second-hand bookshop, Barter Books.

Mary said: “My sister wasn’t very happy about being evacuated, but I thought it was an adventure, especially coming up on the train.

“We arrived in Alnwick and at the platform we were inspected for nits. We marched in crocodile formation to the Market Square and into the Northumberland Hall, where we were allocated to people who were taking in evacuees.”

Mary said that she and her sister stayed with a Mr Miller from the Duke’s school for about a year, before the-then Duchess of Northumberland offered the Church High School of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, of which Mary was a pupil, the chance to stay at Alnwick Castle.

Mary said: “I became a boarder at the castle, it was exciting. There was a group of girls in a little dormitory and I remember that we had a very large bath – but were only allowed to fill it up with four inches of water!”

After staying at the castle for a number of years, the pair went to stay with Mr Patten, who had a chemists.

Mary stayed in Alnwick until 1944. Reflecting on her years in the town, she said: “I used to play a lot of sport, like netball, hockey, cricket and lacrosse.

“I remember going to Alnmouth beach and saw people unraveling barbed wire in case there was an invasion, and I remember practising for if there was an air raid.

“I had some very happy times in Alnwick and I have a lot of good and happy memories.”

So Mary’s recent holiday to the town, with her daughter Jane, was an emotional trip down memory lane. Mary, who now lives in Stockton-on-Tees, said: “I have been back to Northumberland quite a few times since the war, but until now, I have never actually stayed in Alnwick. It has been great to be back. I have really enjoyed it.”

Mary and Jane stayed at Bow House Bed and Breakfast.

• Mary Cuthbert isn’t the only evacuee to return to Alnwick this year. In the summer, we told the story of David Schofield, 88, who was back in the town to see this year’s music festival. David was 10-and-a-half when he came to Northumberland from Kent, after a bomb destroyed his neighbour’s house in 1940. He stayed in the town for a number of years before moving back down south. He remembered going to the cinema at the Corn Exchange and finding cargo at Alnmouth beach from a sunken ship.