Blencowe Families' Association Newsletter Vol. 20 No. 2 June 2005

A Blincow Evacuee in Northampton 1939-1941

As a twelve year old schoolboy, my first visit to Northampton began at 9.00 a.m. on the morning of Friday 1st September 1939. Pupils of Kilburn Grammar School, (NW London) left by train and, after a very long journey around SE England, collecting other children from different areas, arrived at Northampton Castle Station some twelve hours later. I don't remember it specifically but I suppose we were all equipped with those oblong boxes containing our gas masks and a luggage label tied to our lapels telling who we were! We were bussed from the station to the Town Hall where we were given food and tea and then taken by ladies of the Women's Voluntary Service to find our billets for the night. This was a somewhat traumatic experience as Northampton had decided to hold a ‘blackout’ trial that night and so it was all done by torchlight! Two friends and I were eventually settled with a dear old lady named Mrs Clarke, in Turner Street opposite Thomas Sears' shoe factory. We three boys were settled into a large bedroom and quickly fell asleep after a very long day.

The next morning, Saturday, we were awakened quite early and served breakfast by Mrs Clarke, whom we now learned was a widow living on her own. What a brave lady she was to take three twelve-year-old strangers in so late at night! We were then told to sit down and write to our parents to let them know where we were. As far as I am aware, there was no official notice sent to parents as to the whereabouts of their children! Very few people had telephones in their homes in 1939 and my parents certainly had only my letter to inform them.

I remember quite clearly the morning of Sunday 3rd September. We had been walking in the “Racecourse” Park and when we arrived back learned that War had been declared on Germany.

On Monday we reported to the Northampton Town and County School in Billing Road where we were to share with the local boys. The NTC boys attended in the mornings and KGS in the afternoons from 1.00 pm to 6.00 pm. This arrangement was fine in September but not so nice in Winter as my walk home in the dark (no street lights!) seemed an awful long way. I can remember some pleasant days at Turner Street before, eventually, it became too difficult for the elderly lady to cope with us three ‘tearaways’, and we were reallocated to other foster homes.

I moved to a family, Mr & Mrs Howkins at a Railway Cottage in Castle Grounds opposite the Railway Station. Mr Howkins was a road goods delivery driver with the LMS Railway and I clearly remember his uniform with gaitered boots and breeches. They were a most kindly family; I stayed with them until late in 1940 when their son married and there was no longer room for me. During this time, my mother and father visited occasionally and on one occasion we travelled to Long Buckby and visited my Great Aunt Sarah Blincow (I believe at Mill Hill) this was my ftrst ever visit to the place from where my paternal Grandfather had come to London.

Another memory from Castle Grounds is waking up one morning in the first week in June 1940 and seeing the Goods sidings of the station filled with Red Cross trains bringing troops from Dunkirk.

They were mostly French and Belgian soldiers and they were billeted in the Town Hall. I remember us schoolboys helping them, with our limited schoolboy French, to buy small items from Woolworths and other stores in Gold Street. On arrival many of them had little more than the clothes they wore and they had been given money to buy such items as razors etc. Eventually they were dispersed from Northampton and replaced by a large intake of Canadian troops. While living with the Howkins, I regularly attended St Peter's Church at the bottom end of Gold Street, the Vicarage was just up the lane from my home and the vicar was well known to the family.

Another vivid memory is playing Rugby. At Kilburn there were no Rugby pitches, Soccer was the game. When we arrived at NTC sports field there were only Rugby pitches! By coincidence, our sports master was an ex-Welsh international player and he was of course delighted to instruct us boys in the fine art of Rugby Football! He was a ‘giant’ of a man and I well remember him charging down the pitch with the ball and screaming, “Take me, boy!!” Needless to say we were all rather puny at this time but we learned fast and soon succeeded by tackling him from two sides at once and in pairs!!

I remember the terrible air raids on Coventry and the glow in the sky from the fires, the empty Fire Station when all the appliances went to help. Also, the unfortunate jettisoned bombs that fell on Northampton, I do not recall whether there were casualties at that time. A happier memory is swimming in the pool at Beckett's Meadow in the Summer and sliding on the ice on the island lake in the Winter. 1939-40 was a bitterly cold Winter and the walk to and from school was not at all enjoyable.

When I left the Howkins, I was billeted with a woman in Vernon Terrace, which was a very different atmosphere. This person was one of the few who made money from having evacuees. There were four boys with her and we had very poor food and were all in one room together and constantly hungry as only thirteen year old boys can be. I put up with this for a time but eventually told my parents of the problem and in the Spring of 1941 I returned home for Easter holiday and only went back to Northampton to collect the rest of my possessions. Thus ends this potted account of my wartime visit to Northampton. Mostly very happy memories and a token of my gratitude to the kind people who opened their homes to the evacuees.

Frank Blincow
Hailsham, East Sussex, 2005

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Blencowe Families' Association   Vol. 20 No. 2 June 2005
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updated: 23 August 2005