Derek Simpson - A Wartime Evacuee
Derek recalls his time in Felmersham as an evacuee.

During the Second World War, Derek was evacuated to Felmersham from St Mary's Boys School, Eastbourne. He arrived in 1940, at the age of 11, with his brother, his school mates and a teacher. He stayed for 3 years before moving on to Melton Mowbray in 1943.
Derek makes a Skype call from his home town in New Zealand to the UK  >>>

Our Arrival
After being met at Bedford railway station by the mayor of Bedford, we were taken by bus to Felmersham. We arrived outside the school where the local kids were sitting on the school wall, and our new foster parents also looking on, no doubt wondering what they might be getting themselves into.

The photograph shows the boys arriving at Bedford Station being received by the mayor. Next to the mayor is the head teacher and the school matron is on the left with her daughter, extreme left. Derek is carrying the large white bag.

We had school concerts, and our teacher let us evacuee boys do the skits in one of them, I was 'arry awkins ( I always got a great laugh from the crowd the way I used to say arry awkins) and in another concert we were the black and white minstrels which went down very well with the audience. Also in the concert I remember there was a land girl (farm hand during the war, a very well educated girl) and she sang beautifully, the song from memory was “O my baby, my curly headed baby”.

Derek entertains at the May Day celebrations.

Still talking about school with the American air force now in the country and stationed at Sharnbrook and Thurleigh aerodrome, we were made to learn the American national anthem.
Thurleigh Airfield
During a walk along the Carlton Road we came across stacks of bombs under half round shelters under hedgerows dispersal, in case of German air raids. The American Air Force had taken over Thurleigh Airdrome from the R A F, we got to see many sights when the B17 planes returned from a day light bombing mission, planes shot to pieces, how they ever made it back I do not know.

I used to bike up to the aerodrome in the afternoon to watch the bombers return from a daylight raid we were able to get close to the planes around the perimeter, so we got to know the names of the planes. Crews would name their aircraft - Hells a Popping and Rosie O'Grady - were two names of the B17 Flying Fortress aircraft that were stationed there.
On one occasion we asked a crew member for incendiary bullets (live ones); and  he gave us a couple. We extracted the bullet out of its casing and put the incendiary bullet head into the ground. We put a couple of live match heads on the bullet and ignited the heads with a match and stood back smartly as we watched the pretty colours.
We used to see some fearsome sights, damage that had been done to the aircraft, some with engine failure, big pieces shot out of the tails, and we always knew if they had wounded on board, someone in the aircraft would fire a Very pistol and the red light that hung from sky told the ground crew that a ambulance was needed.
We knew when the planes were due back, there was a lot of activity with trucks, ambulances spaced around, and then we would hear the drone of the returning aircraft. They used to fly a very tight formation, and then to come into land they would come in 3 circles in descent and then land one behind the other. And then of course some that we knew by name, we didn't see at their dispersal point so it was presumed that they were missing or shot down.

Air Raid
I only remember an air raid at Easter Time, we had no sirens, the air raid wardens cried out “red alert, red alert” and blew their whistles and there was a massive explosion which was a land mine dropped by parachute in one of the farmers fields outside the village, and we went the next day to have a look at the crater, which looked like it could have fitted a double decker bus in it. No one was hurt that I am aware of.

Felmersham Gravel Pits
In Felmersham the gravel pits (which is now a wildlife reserve) were very busy supplying gravel to Thurleigh aerodrome which was operated by the RAF, seven miles away. We used to use the pits as a playground, running up and down the heaps of gravel, until one day I came across what I thought was an explosive device, which would have been put there by the military training infantry or commandos, as the pits became used for this purpose.
The Bailey Bridge
Then we had the British Army on manoeuvres in the village, they erected a Bailey Bridge across the river. The tanks went across and had a great time in the water meadows (meadows that flood in the winter) and the same tanks would crash through the hedges and the concrete walkways.

Derek Simpson as an evacuee

Our Foster Mother
Mrs Betts who lived in Victoria Cottage, in The High Road, was our Foster Mother of whom I cannot speak to highly of.

The Neighbours
Our next door neighbours (Primrose Cottage) were the Odell family, Mr Odell was chauffer to Sir Richard Wells. He made up a fishing rod for me which I thought was really great, also Mr Odell used to give us fruit (windfalls no doubt) but very tasty and welcome. Next door again (No. 7, now known as Stone Cottage) lived Mrs Hulatt who ran the Post Office shop and sold sweets, as each monthly sweet ration was due you can imagine the pressure we put her under, 12ozs I think was our lot.
I was always fascinated by Mr. Pacy who lived a few doors away (Beaconsfield Cottage). He was the local carpenter, Wheel Wright and Undertaker. I enjoyed watching him in his workshop.


The Post Office. c1934

A person who was very special to us was the post lady, a Miss or Mrs Turner who lived in Radwell, also from Radwell was Mr Hulatt who delivered our milk by pony and trap. Whatever the weather he delivered the milk, he gave me a ride once, which was certainly something new and so different for a town boy.
There was a gentleman, his name was Mr Franklin, and he was in charge of organising us evacuees. He built a miniature railway on his property in Radwell. I thought that was just something, all us town kids going for a train ride in the new village.

Tony and David Miller evacuated from Eastbourne are driving the locomotives on Mr Franklins light railway at Radwell.

Mrs Desborough, she was the big lady who lived in the cottage opposite the school, and she had a daughter or granddaughter, a pretty young woman, I think her name was Sally. The old lady kept a big parrot, and man could that bird swear with encouragement from us.

The River Across from the bridge on a high point there were war time trenches for guarding the bridge (now 25 and 27 Marriotts Close). Across from the ford we used to bring down the Clydesdale horse for a drink of water from Lords farm and Hensman farm. They used to drive up four of their Clydesdales for watering. The horses were used for cartage and ploughing. I would have been about 12 and we rode them bare back, clutching onto their big manes more so when we went into the water and they bent their heads down. It was a case of hold on for dear life or fall off.

The water meadows used to freeze after flooding in the winter and we used to wear out our shoes skating on it. GREAT FUN.


Derek helps Fred Betts with the bread delivery

Public Houses
In the village there were 3 pubs, one was called the Sun Inn, and the innkeeper was a Mr Lawson, who was also a scrap metal dealer. Landlord at the Plough inn was Jack Bamford, he was either a plumber or drain layer, and he used to go about his business on a motorbike and sidecar. It was the only one I knew of in the village, Jack’s wife was a nurse and a midwife, and she got around on her motor scooter. The other pub was the Five Bells (Six Ringers), the landlord was a Mr Hulatt, and he might have been a road man in his second job?
Church Tower
I enjoyed going up the church tower, a truly marvellous view, and thanks to Toby Paine, the verger, who was always very happy to take us up there, great to see all the bells. I wondered how they got these big heavy bells up into the tower, as there were no cranes then. I never heard the church bells ring in all the time I was at Felmersham because they were not allowed to ring during wartime. Memory tells me that the bells would have only rung if there was an invasion of Great Britain or for the end of the war.

Traditional Sword Dance.
Derek holds the swords interlinked into
a woven knot at the May Day celebrations.

May Day
We had May Day concerts. (1st May- traditionally celebrating the first day of spring) we had maypole dances, a mayday queen and attendants as per photo. In the photo we were acting out a skit, it was the evacuee’s contribution to the mayday celebrations -the criminal, the lawyer and the young maiden. -I think I was the lawyer or the Lord of the Manor.
With a group of school boys arriving in the village it was hard to try and fit us in the school, so we had to do half day school, I do not remember how long that lasted, but we certainly walked a lot of country miles, and we did this until a partition was built with a draw curtain, we could not see the other class but we could hear one another. During these walks we had to pick rose hips when available, this was a War Effort, we were told as the rose hips were processed into baby food.

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