I don’t remember the ladies names. So I will give them names so as not to have to say “the lady in the brown coat” or “her cousin.” I do remember that these two ladies were cousins. I will call my two new friends Sarah and Emily. They were very close not only in age, but also in stature.
As I mentioned in my previous chapter, it became apparent quickly that Sarah and Emily were quite excited to have an American sitting at the table they decided to sit down at to have their tea and scones. I realized quickly these two women had a story to share. Just as we all have a story, these women’s story far outweighed many stories I had heard or could have imagined. I will attempt to recreate their conversation they had with each other, with me sitting at that round table in the tea shoppe in Hungerford, England.
“I remember the train that day more than anything, don’t you Emily?” “Yes,” Emily said, looking down at her tea, as she started to rub her index finger slowly on the side of the tea cup. “Yes, just seeing the train was exciting but knowing that I was going to be taking my first train ride was so frightening at the same time, wasn’t it Emily?” “Yes and you were only 6 and I was 5. But we grew up so much that day, dear Sarah, so much.”
I still hadn’t caught on. I didn’t know if Sarah and Emily were talking to each other, talking to me or what. They just started talking like it was in the middle of a conversation they had been having. I didn’t know why they started talking at all but they obviously wanted me to hear the story they were about to tell me. I put down my newspaper, The Observer, and listened politely, as I didn’t want Sarah and Emily to think I was some impolite American.
“1939 or 40 was the year I believe. Mum and Dad and brother and I lived in London and I remember it was great fun until the war started. Then the war started and things so changed for us! Even though I didn’t know it at the time, many families had been ordered to send their children out of London to escape!” Sarah said. (It was at this point my ears perked up quite a bit. War? Escape? What is going on here?) “It was frightful the day we had to go to the train station. All Mum told me was that we were being evacuated so we wouldn’t get hurt by the bombs!” “I was so young I couldn’t even imagine what that meant but I knew it was scary and I knew I didn’t want to die.” Wow, I thought to myself. Wow.
Emily looked at Sarah and smiled briefly. “It’s okay Sarah, you don’t have to talk about this, why are you talking about this?” Sarah looked at me and then Emily and then back to me and said “I really don’t know why “, as she smiled at me with a sad smile. I stared at Sarah wondering what she was going to say next.
“It was a most difficult day, the day my parents had to put my brother and me on the train. Not even knowing where we were going. There was so many of us children that had to be put on trains. Parents were crying, children were crying, I was crying, my brother was crying.” Emily said, “I was crying too. It was horrible!” Both Sarah and Emily were talking to me, straight at me as if they were begging me to listen. Not to worry, I was, I definitely was listening.
Sarah and Emily proceeded to tell me a little history behind the reasoning of evacuating children from many of the larger cities in England during World War II. The British government knew that it was only a matter of time that Germany was going to try to invade England by bombing the larger cities, especially London. So, in order to save the children the government told families to evacuate at least the children to safer spots in England that the Germans were not likely to bomb, smaller towns to be specific. It was not a required evacuation, but the government highly suggested this and provided the means and organization to get the children out of the larger cities.
My eyes were getting bigger and bigger as I was imagining this. I was starting to remember that I had read a little about this either in school or in some magazine. But it was just a story that was only faintly in my memory. And now here I was listening to these two women, Sarah and Emily, share their memories of this amazing time in history.
Emily said, “I remember thinking about you Sarah. I was so afraid I was never going to see you again. Our families were both on the same platform waiting for the train to come in. We got on the train and you were in the next train car. We had no idea where we were going.” Emily said, “And Mum and Dad were so upset that they had to let us get on that train without them. Of course at the time I had no idea what they were going through. I only was seeing it from my point of view.”
Sarah and Emily proceeded to tell me how they both ended up in a town south of Newbury where the train had dropped them off (which actually was only a few kilometers away from Hungerford, where we were drinking our tea). They had been living of course in the much larger city of London so going to a small town was quite a shock for them apparently. Emily, “I didn’t like it in at all at first. The worst by far was being away from Mum. I missed her so much and was so afraid the bombs would kill Mum and Dad and I would never see them again.”
By this point I was so honored to be in the company of these two women. I didn’t know what to say or do. For both of them to have gone through something like that at such a young age, paled in comparison to anything that I had been through my whole life, let alone by the time I was 6! Sarah and Emily began to talk a bit more about the town they ended up in but in a few short minutes they moved on to another topic. I do not for the life of me remember the rest of what they said as my mind swirled and swirled in awe in what I had just learned about these two fantastic women.
I will never forget my brief time with Sarah and Emily and I am so happy that I stopped by to have a cup of tea at my favorite tea shoppe in Hungerford, England that day.