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Extracts From Wartime Reminiscences of Elsie Hayton

By the Christmas of 1939 many evacuees had arrived in Cockermouth. They came from the eastern side of Britain, namely Tyneside down to London. Some were of different religions but all were welcomed into homes in Cockermouth. At Fairfield Girls’ School we all took our part in looking after our new friends, as did the Boys’ School.

By this time we all had to carry our gas-masks to school in case of the sirens ringing to show an air-raid was taking place. Our school had swollen in number with the evacuee children. Anyone with a spare room was asked to help by taking in one or more children, many of whom had been through air-raids. Shelters had also been built for people, more especially for night-time raids. Two people I recall getting children into ‘homes’ were the late Mrs Hilda Johnstone, at one time a Councillor with the old Urban District Council, the other being my late father. At this time he was a Police War Reserve, serving part of his time at Cockermouth and then Maryport.

My ‘new’ school-friend Doreen came from Newcastle and was billeted with the late Dr and Mrs Abraham at Kirkby House. Many happy hours were spent, both at Kirkby House and the Tollbar. We both went to Christ Church and to the Sunday School. One time we both recall was when we had done our services at church and we both went to be confirmed, when the Bishop of Carlisle officiated. On our way out of Church Doctor Abraham turned to my family and said, “She is not going with you but to have tea with Doreen”. I shall never forget the sight of the table, filled with delicacies and cakes. When she returned to Newcastle we both made a promise to keep in touch with each other and this we have done to this day.

My auntie who lived next door to us, also took in a young lad named Tom. In auntie’s house, with two of the family being married and the other two having had to enlist for their country, there was a spare room. As children we were not allowed to play on the main road but only in the back yard. Tom got a nickname (‘Tatie Tom’), being Tom Tait. When I was at Sunday School I would wear my coat which had a fur collar on, so Tom’s nickname for me was ‘Elsie and her silver fox fur’. These relationships for me are as strong today as they were during those sad years of war. We were, the three of us, spared to recall our past experiences.

The late Sir Robert and Lady Crichton, who had a large house in the village of Papcastle, also took in three sisters with the surname Fenwick. Any children with relatives in this area were taken in, as were the four Campbell children from Ipswich, who came and lived with their grandmother and aunties who owned a small shop here. There were two girls and two boys. The latter were much too young to go to school and so had to stay indoors. The girls, who were both nervous, having suffered air-raids back home, needed someone to help them. I was asked to see them to school, and also bring them home at teatime, which I did. I must stress that the evacuees were very upset at having to leave their own homes and parents but were welcomed and made to feel wanted by those who helped them.

Coupons were given out with ration books. Coals were rationed and the late Miss Edith Bell was in charge at the Coal Board office. Miss Gunn was in charge of food coupons at Fairfield House: 2 oz butter/margarine, 4 oz sugar, 2 oz tea, 1 egg, 2 oz bacon, lard or dripping, flour, even sweets – they were all rationed, and the amounts above were allocated to every person. Clothes were bought on coupons, even stockings. B.U.s and B.U.X.s were coupons for cakes and flour. Dried egg was introduced instead of fresh eggs. Farmers had to plough fields and grow produce to help win the war. Land Army girls came to work on many farm around the Cockermouth area. There were prisoners-of-war who were sent to help the farmers with digging and growing vegetables. Moota was one place they were held, and buildings on Wakefield Road another.

Curtains in all houses were made of black material so that no light would show outside – any house caught with light showing was fined. The only place which was damaged was Maryport where a bomb fell on Camp Hill School.

One elderly lady would knit gloves, mittens and socks for our soldier boys. People would try to get goodies for our local lads, especially at Christmas and Easter.

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