This story relates the experiences of
war of a small child in England, both as an evacuee and later at home in the
It follows her growing up; her
friendship with a boy from an orphanage, her involvement in the Scout Movement,
her time spent travelling in Canada and her eventual arrival in Australia after
a spell in New Zealand.
In Store Price: $23.00
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Number of pages:
Genre: Non Fiction
Gillian A. Karas
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published: 2008
Gillian Ann Karas was born in
London. She suffered the war years in many different homes while an evacuee and
then in the London area. She was educated at Harrow County Girls School. At the
age of 20, she travelled to Canada, working and travelling there for 17 months.
After another five years at home, she decided to go to New Zealand. On the way,
she met her future Czech-Australian husband and, after a few months, she
immigrated to Australia and they spent 10 years in the outback mining town of
Mt. Isa. The couple adopted two boys.
After Mt. Isa, the family spent a
year overseas and returned to the Sunshine Coast, where she has lived ever
since. She has always had itchy feet and has never missed an opportunity to
travel, having just circumnavigated the world for the fifth time.
The author has been writing since
the age of 16 and has published numerous short stories, articles and poems.
Into the Unknown: a Migrants
Story (as told to the author by her husband).
Self published. 2001.
Anything can Happen in South
America. Self published.
and the Other: An
Anthology of 45 Years of Verse Writing. Self
It was a moment in history; Sunday
morning, 3rd September, 1939. People gathered round their radios with sober
faces. The voice of Neville Chamberlain resounded in living rooms around the
nation. We were at war with Germany.
For some time I had drilled my lines of
little toy soldiers in readiness for the fight to come. Now it was here and I
As soon as the broadcast was over, front
doors along our street burst open and neighbours spilled out onto the road.
Everybody talked at once. We had lived there for four years and scarcely even
knew our neighbours. People kept themselves to themselves in urban England in
Eventually the groups broke up and
returned to their homes where the men talked about joining up and the women
wondered how they would manage without them.
It was not long before the air raid
warning sounded. Suddenly my excitement turned to fear. I cannot describe how I
felt when I heard that horrible, wailing siren. I just wanted to escape that
Air raid sirens had been installed
several months earlier, mostly automatic, but one was worked by hand and soon
became known as Moaning Minnie.
I was born in London in 1933 and
lived in Barnet, Hertfordshire. I was two years old when the family moved to
Harrow in Middlesex. It was a large, urban district with suburbs of its own,
known chiefly for its famous school on the hill. Winston Churchill was among its
many noted pupils. We lived in No. 55, a semi-detached, four bedroom home that
we rented. Warrington Road had about sixty houses and they became progressively
smaller as you went further down the road. My father was a chiropodist (now
known as a podiatrist) and had a surgery in a local shoe shop.
When we moved to Harrow, my grandmother,
Eve Dale, moved in to live with us. Nanny was not the easiest of people to live
with and my poor mother often found herself trying to keep the peace.
Nanny had been widowed young. Her
dentist husband, twelve years older than her, died of a stroke at the age of
fifty-two. She was short and stout and had an opinion on everything. A terrible
snob, she always knew the best people and wanted only the best when she shopped,
in spite of the fact that she lived on a pension. Thoroughly spoilt by her
husband, she had never had to do the more menial tasks. My mother had a nanny to
look after her and there was always a cook in the household. My mother employed
a woman to do the household cleaning, so Nanny had little to do with the house.
But she came from a family of excellent needlewomen. She could do the most
intricate crochet work, embroidery, knitting and sewing. She made all my clothes
for many years. I still have the pillowcases she worked for my pram, with the
wide band of bunny rabbits marching round the crocheted border. To me she was a
stern and somewhat forbidding figure with black hair, greying at the temples,
hazel eyes and a delicate, pale complexion. She was to play a large part in my
upbringing and, underneath it all, I knew she loved me dearly.
My father, Simon Sidney Knight known
as Gin, (short for Ginger), married at the age of twenty three. He was a short,
skinny man with red hair. He looked so young that he was asked to produce his
birth certificate before he could be married. His temper matched his hair but
would die down just as quickly as it rose and once it was over, it was over.
My mother, Renee, was two years older, a
gentle soul with a loving nature. The older I grew, the greater our friendship
developed. She was my best friend.
As an only child, I led a lonely life
until I started school. To have someone to play with was such a novelty that, in
the first weeks of school, I dragged a new friend all the way home with me to
have afternoon tea.
Does Patricias mother know that she is
here? was my mothers first question.
I reddened. No, Mummy.
Then Im afraid we must take her home.
I told her I couldnt come, Patricia
In those days we had no telephone. My
mother and I walked Patricia home and explained to her mother why she was late.
Perhaps we could arrange for Patricia
to come to tea? she suggested, and Mrs Griffiths agreed.
The war would soon put a hold on my
newfound friendships. Within a couple of weeks, the Germans were aiming bombs at
the Kodak factory not far from our home.
Blackouts were strictly policed by the
wardens. We hated covering the windows at night and, once ready for bed, would
draw back the curtains. This meant that if we had to get up during the night we
could not put on a light. We kept torches for that purpose. One night there was
a big explosion close by, so my father decided we should go into the cupboard
under the stairs. The staircase was usually the strongest part of the house and
many bombed out houses were left with only the staircase standing.
This night Mummy jumped out of bed,
switched on her torch, and went to fetch Nanny. A strange sight greeted her as
she opened the bedroom door. Nanny was down on all fours sweeping her hands
across the carpet.
I cant find my slippers, she wailed.
The torch highlighted them and we soon
made our way down the stairs. This was the first of many nights spent huddled
together in this tiny cupboard.
It was not long before I developed an
irritating cough. The doctor said it was caused by nerves and that I must be
sent away to the country.
By the end of September hordes of
children had been evacuated from London and other industrial cities. The main
London railway stations swarmed with hundreds of children, each one wearing over
their shoulder the compulsory little box containing a gasmask.
My parents were in a quandary. Where
could they send me? Then Daddy spoke to someone who was going down to the little
Devonshire village of Dawlish. He and his son were to visit a friend and he
asked him if he would be willing to take me to his friend. He agreed and I went
Except for a short spell in hospital the
previous year, I had never been away from home. It was hard for me to imagine
what my life would be like without Mummy and Daddy in a strange place. But
before October was over I, too, was standing on Paddington Station with my
gasmask over my shoulder. After a tearful goodbye, Mummy stood on the platform
and waved until I saw her disappear
I arrived at the Green household that
night, tired and hungry. I was fed and put to bed. Next morning I was eager to
explore my new surroundings.
Mrs Green was a widow with two children.
Raymond was eight years old and Hilda, thirteen. Hilda went off to secondary
school on the school bus each morning. Raymond took me to the village school
that he attended. We soon became fast friends and I was delighted to have a
readymade playmate on hand. I settled in very happily and began to enjoy life.
The droning of planes and the loud bomb explosions were soon forgotten, though I
did worry about my family at home.
Dawlish was a pretty seaside village and
I had always loved the sea. However, we were not able to swim for fear of mines.
Many were washing up on the shores around Britain. Dawlish is famous for its
Warren. This is a network of caves cut into the bright orange-red sandstone at
the top of the beach. This area made a marvellous playground.
When we werent playing there, we
enjoyed The Lawns, a beautiful
park in the centre of the village. I became part of the gang to which Raymond
belonged. He had two rifles that had belonged to his father. He lent me the
single barrel. I was thrilled to be allowed to handle a real gun, even if it was
never loaded. And when sides were picked I always hoped to be on the side of the
Allies taking pot shots at the Jerries. These were happy, carefree days when the
real war seemed far away.
In the crisp November air we went into
the chestnut woods; a green world save for the rich reddish brown chestnuts
lying in their spiky green shells at the base of the trees. Staggering home with
bags full of nuts, we spent enjoyable evenings roasting them in the open fire,
burning our fingers in our eagerness to peel off their shells.
The winter of 1940 was extremely severe
and even Devonshire, known for its mild climate, was covered in a thick layer of
snow. On Saturdays I would sometimes be sent to the corner shop to bring home
some faggots for dinner. This was a popular dish made from chopped meat,
particularly pork offal, mixed with herbs and bread or oats and baked into small
rolls. One very icy day I remember gingerly making my way to the shop, tumbling
down and sliding on my bottom.
At Christmas my parents came to stay
with us. I was so glad to see them. On their first night they decided to visit
the village pub. Devonshire cider is world renowned, but the sweet cider bought
in a bottle is fairly innocuous. The rough cider goes to the head very quickly.
In the warmth and companionship of the little inn they sipped away
unconcernedly. When they finally decided to leave, the icy cold air hit them
like an axe and it was all they could do to stagger home. They never forgot the
real Devonshire cider.
On Christmas morning I opened my
presents with the usual excitement. Later in the day I had a funny hat from a
Wheres me little at to? I inquired.
My parents looked at each other and then at Mrs Green. She shook her head.
No, she said. We dont understand her
The Devonshire accent is very strong and
many sentences finish with the word to. They also tend to add up along or
down along when describing a place. The village school I attended was shared
by a school from Acton in London whose students were evacuated there. These
children all spoke with a cockney
accent. I was quick to pick up accents and collected some of each in my speech.
I would chatter away blissfully unaware that neither the Londoners nor the
Devonians could understand me. My parents were shocked and decided that
something must be done about this. I was unaware that a change might be in the
At the end of January I found out that
Mrs Green had sold her house and was moving to a town
some distance away in order to obtain a better job. I was very upset but she
told me she had persuaded a friend to take me in. I said my tearful goodbyes and
moved in with Catherine, who was the local hairdresser, and her mother. They
were very kind to me and I was happy with them, but I did miss my games with
When the Easter holidays came, Mummy
decided I should spend the holiday at home. I said goodbye to my friends, not
knowing that I would never see them again.
Mummy told me that, with the help of her
aunt, she had been able to have me accepted into the preparatory school of the
Coborn School for Girls where her cousin attended. They usually only accepted
girls who were resident in
London, but as my cousin, Beryl, was already there, they made an exception and
admitted me. The school was evacuated to Taunton, a large Somerset town, and the
girls were all billeted out. It was to here that I would go at the end of the