Plaque recalls the evacuation from Great Yarmouth during the Second World War
AS a strategy to save the children it was an outstanding success – countless young Great Yarmouth lives spared the pounding of German air raids.
But while many evacuees lived miserable lives with grudging guardians who didn’t want them, their homes and families were wiped out during the many relentless bombings.
For most of the chattering children gathered at Vauxhall Station waiting to be whisked away to safety it all seemed like good fun and a bit of a jolly adventure.
However instead of safety and excitement one little boy faced harsh treatment, hunger and cold at the hands of the couple who reluctantly took him in.
James Holt, 77, of Caister, was on Tuesday among a crowd gathered at Vauxhall Station for the unveiling of a Blue Plaque commemorating the single day on June 2 when 3,700 children were sent away in five train loads and pressed upon the people of Nottingham.
He recalled his parents had just one day to make up their minds about whether to send him and brothers John and George, then three and five away, amid warnings of air raids and gas attacks while the German advance continued across the continent.
The three brothers found themselves in Worksop split between two equally unkind households who put the boys to work growing vegetables in the garden but only ever feeding them bread and water.
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After two years they were rescued by their father who, having been injured in Dunkirk, was recovering in hospital in Birmingham. Shocked at their waif-like appearance they went to live with him near a railway yard – itself a major target – where they endured constant bombing and saw first hand the gruesome wreckage of war.
Miraculously they all survived and would have certainly been killed had they stayed in Yarmouth – their house in Suffolk Road the only one to be totally destroyed during a particular raid.
Meanwhile, Alan Barham, of Gorleston, who unveiled the plaque, told how having been evacuated to Retford with a delightful family he was called into the headmaster’s office to be told his father had been killed in an air raid. The following day the 12-year-old was again summoned to hear his mother had suffered the same fate.
He learned later that their Anderson shelter in Northgate Street had suffered a direct hit. But by a quirk of fate his four-year-old sister Janet was staying with family in Norwich and was spared.
Coincidentally the little girl living next door was also orphaned by the bombing in Yarmouth.
The siblings were subsequently raised by two maiden aunts, one of whom was delivered an ultimatum by her fiance asking her to choose between him and the children. She opted to stick by her young charges but never married or had any children of her own.
Today Mr Holt, is a member of the Great Yarmouth and Local District Archaeological Society behind the Blue Plaque scheme and a heritage guide – making his next appearance in Yarmouth history as a teenage vandal a subject of awkward discussion at the second plaque unveiling of the day.
The evacuee plaque at Vauxhall Station was sponsored by Great Yarmouth Borough Council following an event last year when those chattering children encouraged onto trains 70 years ago were invited to tea at the Town Hall.