Norma Hadley, nee Layton, grew up in Small Heath, Birmingham. She lived in a flat over a row of shops on Coventry Road near the Birmingham Small Arms company with her mum, dad and siblings. Growing up, the Small Heath Baptist Church down the road played a very large part in all of their childhoods, and she remembers the vicar who was full of “fire and brimstone” and the sermons he preached.
At the age of 11, she was between junior and senior schools when her and her oldest brother and sisters were evacuated. They did not go together. Her eldest brother was sent to Lichfield and she didn’t know where her other siblings had gone until the school teachers in her school reunited them. Norma was evacuated to Shrubhill, Worcester and first stayed with a family with one daughter. The daughter didn’t like to share her parents, so she was then moved to live with one of her sisters. This wasn’t a happy billet. Although Norma knows her own family were not well off, she found this new family to be extremely poor. They had to share cutlery and whenever her and her sister brought back something from home like a simnel cake from a holiday home at Easter, it would be stolen by the family. They were both then moved on to another family before Norma ended up at her fourth and final billet – Pipewood Boarding Camp.
Norma absolutely loved her time at Pipewood and can’t imagine her life if she hadn’t gone. She felt completely free in the open air, and spent a lot of time outdoors, planting in her own vegetable garden, tending to rabbits, painting in the woods and making dens. Listen to her speaking about this in the clip below. click on the link to listen:
At Pipewood her time inside the huts was also eventful, with acrobatics on the bunk beds when nobody was looking. She can remember visits from her family once a month on a Sunday, and dances in the canteen. One of her most vivid memories is when the girls were given cocoa with senopods to aid digestion on a Saturday morning. She was excused because she couldn’t drink cocoa, and so was also excused from queuing for the toilets on Saturday afternoon!
Norma now realises that her evacuation was the best thing for her. Her family home was burnt out whilst she was away.