Second World War evacuees give Gants Hill pupils living history lesson

Shirley Chapman, left. and Violet Davis paid a visit to Valentines School to give a talk on being an

Shirley Chapman, left. and Violet Davis paid a visit to Valentines School to give a talk on being an evacuee during the Second World War. - Credit: Archant

Secondary school pupils were transported back to the 1940s last week, as two special guests shared tales about what it was like to be an evacuee during the Second World War.

In the build-up to Remembrance Day, staff at Valentines High School, Cranbrook Road, Gants Hill, drafted in Gants Hill resident Shirley Chapman, 82, and Violet Davis, 79, of Bethnal Green to tell their evocative stories.

Shirley also attended Valentines, between 1945 and 1950, when it was Ilford County High School for Girls.

“I was evacuated with everyone in the school,” she told the pupils.

“I spent two weeks in Midsomer Norton, a coal mining area.”

Shirley only spent that short time away because between 1939 and 1940, no bombs fell, which lulled people into believing the onset of war was a false alarm.

The illusion was shattered by the Blitz.

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“Gants Hill station was used as an air raid shelter,” continued Shirley.

“As soon as the sirens went, everybody went to a shelter and bombs just dropped forever. Once the all-clear sounded, out we came.”

Violet had been evacuated to Cambridge.

“I came home when the war had ended. When my mum picked me up I didn’t recognise her,” she said.

“I met my brothers for the first time and we lived in a hovel with an old-fashioned staircase.

“In the summer it was running alive with rats.”

With today’s young people able to access food and luxury items in plentiful supply, the pupils were eager to know what rationing was like.

“We just had school dinners,” said Violet.

“Because my mum worked we didn’t have dinner in the evening.

“It took a long while after the war for things to get back to normal.

“Like you see Syria now, Bethnal Green all the way to St Paul’s was bombed. It was really bad.

“But everybody helped everybody. You didn’t think about who you were helping, people would look out for you.”

History teacher Nazia Ahad said remembering the sacrifices people made during the war was important.

She said: “It is giving students a real living insight into the past, rather than just reading a textbook. It is living history.

“People have so much experience to offer them.”