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Ref NoT/475
TitleOral history recording of Sheila Richardson, former child evacuee, of Wallsend, Tyne & Wear.
DescriptionOral history recording of Sheila Richardson, former child evacuee, of Wallsend, recalling her experiences of being evacuated from Wallsend to Holeyn Hall, Wylam, and Lightwater Hospital, near Slaley, Northumberland, during World War II.
Recorded as part of the A2NH project.
SummaryReference No: T/475 Accession No: NRO 7591
Interviewee: Sheila Richardson
Occupation: Former child evacuee
Interviewer: Liz O'Donnell
Length of Recording: 28.16
Date of Recording: 4 February 2008
Format: CD
Access Restrictions: None
Sheila was eight years old when the war began. There were six in her family and before the war they had moved from beside the shipbuilding area in Wallsend, although only a few streets away. She was evacuated from their home in David Street and did not recall being told how long they would be away for. As she was being evacuated with her two older sister she did not feel too bad about it. She remembered a photograph being taken at the time but it was now lost. She had a cardboard box with her gas mask in and her name pinned to her coat with a safety pin. She thinks she probably went with her school, which was Western Girls' School, and recalled travelling by train. She and her sisters ended up at Holeyn Hall in Wylam, which was a manor house and very large. They stayed there for a couple of years, during which time her mother often visited. Sheila always used to cry and want to come home on these occasions.

Sheila was then sent to Lightwater Hospital and remembered a long ward with metal beds on either side. There were only girls there and they were looked after by a Mr and Mrs Archer. Her sisters stayed at Holeyn Hall, while her younger sister went to Humshaugh, although she soon went home. Sheila attended a small school in Slaley village, with a small shop and post office opposite. She walked to school which was about three miles. She recalled quite enjoying herself, being in the forest and collecting acorns. She also used to sit on an ant hill for a dare. She went home for special days and holidays but knew little about the bombing that was happening in Wallsend. At home they had a shelter in the garden and she remembered going in there when the siren went off. Inside it was lit by oil lamps and they used hot water bottles to keep warm. Her father worked in the shipyard but was also a fireman. There were searchlights at night and it felt exciting. While she was at home on a visit she thought that she probably did not attend a school.

One of the teachers from Western School stayed on to teach at Slaley village school. She had taught religious studies and Sheila thought she was a good teacher. She recalled having porridge every morning and had been unable to eat it for a long time afterwards. On the whole the evacuees were well-fed. She hated putting her gas mask on but they had to try them out every so often to make sure they were working properly. Her father made her a lovely square case out of mahogany to carry her gas mask in. It had her initials on it and was deep enough for the gas mask in its cardboard box to fit inside. Sheila was an evacuee throughout the war, being sent home just before she had her fourteenth birthday. She remembered being at home, possibly for the Easter holidays, when she was eleven, because her mother gave birth to her youngest sister in hospital then.

Sheila wished she'd been able to keep in touch with other evacuees from her second billet. She would have liked to meet people who had had the same experience as herself. When she was first evacuated she did not remember being homesick; being so young she was excited at having an adventure with her older sisters. They did not know how long they would be away but did not feel afraid. It was like a holiday. Holeyn Hall was very grand. The sisters did not have much to do with the family who owned it but she recalled the maids there. Her older sister liked to help the maids clean the house. She was not paid for doing the cleaning but enjoyed it and wanted to stay at the Hall as a maid. However, when their father found out she was 'skivvying' for the family he was very annoyed and refused to let her remain there. Sheila thought the family at the Hall were the Thompsons, who owned the Red Stamp Stores, including the one in Wallsend which her mother used. After her sisters went home, Sheila used to cry, wondering why she had to stay away. Perhaps it was because she came from a big family; whatever the reason she stayed almost until the end of the war. She definitely remembered being at home when the war ended as her uncle was killed right at the end and she recalled her mother being very upset. She had continued to live in Wallsend for the rest of her life. She often wondered why she had been sent to live in a hospital ward in the middle of a forest.

Her father had died when only 47 and her mother was devastated. The family moved to a house only a few doors away from where Sheila now lived. She married at the age of 18, having worked for Red Stamp Stores for a while after she first left school. She had wanted to serve behind the counter but instead found herself filling blue sugar bags in a back room, which she did not enjoy. Her father wanted her to have a better job. Other jobs included in the post office at Wallsend and in a newsagents shop, but her father did not let her go back to that job when he found out she had been asked to deliver papers. Her older sisters worked in a shoe factory in Byker so she went to work there. They looked after her and she learnt to machine-sew, making slippers and slip-on shoes. She worked there for a couple of years and used to cycle to work. Two Polish men owned and ran the factory. Eventually she ended up working in Woolworth's at Byker, which sold nylons and sweets, although they were still rationed. She then met Harry, her husband. At that time women were expected to leave their jobs when they married, which she did.

Sheila did not feel she had had a deprived time as an evacuee, but she still wondered why she had been separated from her older sisters. It was probably because they were older than her, but they had never talked about it. In her family, she was away for the longest period and she still did not like being left alone.
Second World War, 1939-1945

NRO T-475 WALLACE 04-02-08 WEB.mp3

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