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Oh what a lovely wartime they had...

PUBLISHED: 12:53 05 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:57 30 June 2010

Former evacuees became girls again this week as memories surfaced of their wartime adventures in the lap of luxury.

Recollections of that time were rekindled by the letter we published last week from John Nichols, of Emmanuel Avenue, Gorleston, about the Knell sisters.

Former evacuees became girls again this week as memories surfaced of their wartime adventures in the lap of luxury.

Recollections of that time were rekindled by the letter we published last week from John Nichols, of Emmanuel Avenue, Gorleston, about the Knell sisters.

John was keen to chat again to Gladys Knell, whom he knew as a waitress. He believed she had spent the second world war at the Cadbury mansion.

In fact, she and three of her sisters were whisked away from home in Great Yarmouth's Row 5 with nothing but name tags and furrowed brows. But, unlike many evacuees imposed on families who didn't want them, excitement and joy awaited Hilda, Gladys, Vera and Brenda with the cigarette-making Player family near Nottingham.

Although the fine details, such as some people's names and the girls' exact ages (they were between about 10 and 14 at the time) are a little hazy, memories of their time cushioned from reality in comfort have lingered to become the stuff of family legend.

Cousins Melissa Wallis-Riches and Howard Shepherdson - Gladys and Hilda's children respectively - grew up on stories about their mums' experiences living like royalty.

Parish councillor Howard, who lives at Hopton, said the girls were among hundreds piling into trains but were the last ones left standing in the village hall since nobody was willing to take on four and they did not want to be split up. But, eventually, they landed on their feet, swept up by Mr and Mrs Player, who agreed to take two in their main Whatton Manor home and two in the cottage with the Cornishes.

For four years they were treated to the kind of lifestyle unimaginable to four young girls brought up as part of a family of nine in the crowded Rows, all sharing a bed in a two-room house off Northgate Street.

As part of the Player family they were collected from school in a Rolls-Royce, wearing finely-tailored dresses and properly-fitted shoes. Unlike most folk they knew nothing of wartime rations, the estate being self- sufficient with its own dairy, buttery and walled garden.

Sweets, trips to the cinema, horse riding and music lessons were part of the routine, punctuating a care-free existence roaming the grounds and sliding down banisters. The girls' parents visited once a year by train, when Mr Player handed their father a £10 note and 100 cigarettes. Once, they didn't even recognise their daughters: young ladies dressed in such finery and speaking with cut-glass English accents! Gladys was reckoned to be a particular favourite, and the family was keen for her to stay forever, but the girls still missed their home and siblings and returned to Yarmouth.

Sadly, all the fine clothes and belongings they lugged home were destroyed in a fire shortly afterwards and they endured a spell in a children's home before being rehoused in Wolseley Road.

The Player family and two of their older children, Miss Edith and Mr Ashley, kept in touch. Gladys visited several times and took baby Melissa to meet her wartime foster parents. Gifts of posh soap and personalised silk scarves continued to flow for years.

Brenda died in 1990 but the other sisters, now in their 80s, remain thankful for the kindness shown them at their billet. The manor was demolished some years ago.

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