“Operation Dynamo” the Dunkirk evacuation had just ended on June 3rd 1940 and the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force had been snatched from the beaches of France, exhausted and without any equipment.
Invasion now seemed inevitable. Everyone said the Germans would come within weeks. Portsmouth, where I lived, was being bombed daily and the schools were almost completely closed.
Against this background, the government decided to evacuate thousands of children from the South Coast. So it was that on June 10th 1940, hundreds of children from Portsmouth were loaded onto trains and buses and sent off into the country. Twenty-six of us landed in the big front classroom at Shrewton School and Mr Elderkin, the Headmaster, with some helpers gave us some tea and a sandwich.
They then set about finding a home for all these “townie” kids. I was just 10 and my brother Dave was eight. He was partly disabled. The last words my mum said to me were “make sure that you and Dave stay together”.
When I told Mr Elderkin this, he shook his head and said that it simply wasn’t possible; nobody wanted to take in two children. Still, he could probably get us a few houses apart.
Time ticked by. The people of Shrewton and Orcheston came and went, shepherding their charges to their new homes – A boy here, a girl there – until only a handful of us were huddled together in an increasingly empty classroom.
Finally Mr Elderkin put Dave and I in his car, took us up to 2 Rose Cottages,Nett Roadand introduced us to Lottie Curtis. By now we were both upset and not a little scared.
“What’s up boys?” she said, kindly. “My mum said we had to stay together, ‘cos my brother’s not very well,” I replied. After a moment’s pause for thought, she turned and called: “Olly!”
“Hello?” The voice of her husband drifted back from the bottom of the garden.
“We’ve got two brothers here, want to stay together. What do you think?”
There was a slight hesitation while he digested this, and I held my breath. Then – “take them on in.”
And that was that!
Mr and Mrs Curtis proved to be one of the most spontaneous and good natured couples I have ever had the pleasure to know. We stayed with them for five happy years until Evacuation ended on March 17th 1945. Lottie and Olly worked diligently on Dave with exercises, walking and gardening to such good effect that he worked for a market gardener for 53 years without a day’s illness.
I married my wife, Eve, in 1952 and we have three boys. We visited Mr and Mrs Curtis every year until first Olly and then Lottie died in the late 1980s.
I will always remember Shrewton as a lovely place with lovely people, who welcomed two lucky little boys into their midst.
We loved them and we loved the country life.
John and Eve Huxford, Coventry, April 2012