Tony Atkinson was born into the Towner family in 1934. His name changed to Atkinson when his mother re-married in 1947. He was born in London and moved to Folkestone as a very young boy with his family. He remembers evacuees from the Kent coast coming to Folkestone, and Tony and his schoolmates shared their schooling with them.
In 1940 he caught chicken pox and was sent with his younger sister to live with his grandparents in Westgate-on-Sea. His sister was evacuated from here to Par,Cornwall, and Tony was sent to Staffordshire.
Tony’s evacuation happened extremely quickly, with very little explanation. He was taken to the train station by his grandparents and lined up alongside his classmates. He had with him a small suitcase, his gas mask, and a brown label tied onto his button hole with his name on. He remembers the day being a sad occasion, even though it was to be his first time on a train, and had no idea where Staffordshire even was.
They arrived in Lichfield some time in the afternoon, where he was examined by the local Council’s Medical Officers before being put on a coach to the village of Colton where they stopped at St. Mary’s, the village school. He can remember there being several women at the school helping to billet the children, and he thinks he was one of the last to be chosen by a Mrs Norman who, he believes, had only come along to see what was going on. He was taken back to the Norman household on the high street, where he nervously sat in a chair. This was an ice-breaker for the group, as it was the first time Tony had sat in a rocking chair, and it shocked him into laughter.
He describes the Norman house as very basic, without running water and where all heavy duties were carried out by Mr. Norman, who was a very hard-working man who worked as a miner. They had baths in the living room in a galvanised iron bath, and used a coal-fired boiler for washing clothes and cooking. The toilet facilities consisted of a wooden frame in the garden over a removable bucket. This was unpleasant, particularly at night, and took Tony some getting used to. The Norman family were a family of five already, and Tony remembers there was quite a strict domestic timetable because of this, including bed time and when they would all gather in the evening to listen to the news on the radio. The Normans’ clocks were permanently set 30 minutes fast so they would never be late, and it took him a while to readjust to telling the time correctly after his evacuation. The family had two large gardens, one which was given over entirely to growing vegetables. Click on the link below to hear him talking about his diet at the Norman’s.
He recalls one incident when a lorry driver coming into Colton had been drinking whilst driving on Christmas Eve 1942, and had swerved into a ditch just outside the village. Unfortunately, the shaded headlights were now pointing in the direction of the sky instead of the road and caught the attention of a passing German pilot who dropped a string of bombs. The next day, now Christmas day, Tony was sitting down to lunch with his hosts and parents who had visited for the festive season, when one of the Norman’s sons came running in with an unexploded bomb that he had found. The son was soon chased out of the house with the bomb and given a thick ear for his trouble!
Next to the cottage where he was billeted there was a row of six terraced cottages without any other evacuees. So, Tony spent most of his leisure time playing with the locals, rather than his fellow evacuees. Everybody got on well at school, and the evacuees effectively became ‘village children’. They would all play together, taking part in activities such as tree-climbing, collecting birds’ eggs, snaring rabbits. It was also a long, brisk walk for his little legs to school and back and he even did the journey twice more at dinner time. He can remember an incident when he nearly drowned in the iced-over pond in Colton. Click on the link below to listen to Tony talking about this or open the transcript of the clip below:
Tony stayed with the Normans until the winter of 1943, when he moved in with Mrs Meddings, who cleaned the school. He had to move from the Norman’s house because their eldest son had returned home with his wife and they needed the accommodation. Staying with Mrs Meddings was a different experience for Tony because she was unmarried and lived by herself, but he can remember enjoying helping out in the garden and doing odd jobs.
Sadly, Tony’s father died while he was evacuated, and his mother had moved first to Reading and then on to Watford whilst he was away. He believes he was one of the last to leave Staffordshire, and did so by train getting lost on the way. However, with help from some sailors on board he managed to navigate his way home through the different stations. When he arrived at Watford three hours late his mother was distraught.
Upon his return he was reunited with his younger sister and mother for just three days, at which point the two were sent to an orphanage in Oxfordshire because his mother couldn’t cope with them.