Portsmouth child evacuees feature in South Downs village exhibition about life during wartime

With a second world war on the horizon, the government wanted women and children out of major industrial cities, likely targets for German bombs, and sent to the relative safety of rural areas.

Friday, 20th September 2019, 1:52 pm
Buriton village pond and church, East Hampshire

In 1939 1.5 million were evacuated under Operation Pied Piper, including scores of children from Portsmouth who were sent to the picturesque village of Buriton, just south of Petersfield. 

Although it is only a 20 minute drive up the A3(M) from Portsmouth today, it would have felt like a world away. The slow pace of life in rolling countryside was completely at odds with busy, crowded, smoky city life. 

Doug Jones, a volunteer for South Down National Park Authority, has put together an exhibition on village life in Buriton during the Second World War and a major part of his research has been the child evacuees.

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David England with sister Lily in Buriton in 1941

He says: ‘It would have been a shock to both the children and the villagers. In Portsmouth everything would have been within streets of where they lived. In Buriton they had to walk a long way to school. ‘They were surrounded by fields and cows and would have had to go to the farm to collect fresh milk every day. They would not have been used to that.’

As bombing increased families who were initially reluctant to separate sent their children as far away from Hitler's bombs as they could. ‘Whole families were evacuated if they’d lost their homes’, says Doug. 

‘There were two wooden huts in the parish where the hop-pickers would stay for five or six weeks a year. They were usually families from Portsmouth. When they were bombed out of their homes in the city, landowners offered them the huts to live in.’

Sadly, when the huts were full of evacuees, they went up in flames. ‘It meant people who had already lost their homes and all their belongings in Portsmouth, lost them all again in this parish’, Doug says. 

Doug Jones who put together the Buriton exhibition of Portsmouth evacuees.

Here are some of the stories Doug has uncovered: 

n Ted Williams, now 83, and living in Cosham with wife Beryl, was evacuated to Buriton from Bishop Street, Portsea, as a young child and has very fond memories of his time there. It gave him a love and appreciation of the countryside despite rather rustic accommodation.

He stayed in makeshift huts close to Cowhouse Farm and remembers walking down North Lane to school and talking to Mr Kingsmill, the farm bailiff, about hop-picking on the way.

He can also recall how families collected fresh milk from the dairy at the Manor House every day. Other evacuee families who were staying in the huts included the Budds, Huntleys, Gissons, Chandlers, Underwoods, Betteridges and Decks.

Buriton school prior to the Second World War

n David England was also evacuated from Portsmouth to Buriton, with his mother and sister, Lily, ‘when the bombing became too bad’.

Now 85 and living in East Wittering, he stayed a year in Sunnybank Cottages, Kiln Lane, and attended a school set up in the church hall where he played Joseph in the nativity.

David has vivid memories of hop-picking season and the special military vehicles with their red painted mudguards travelling to and from the Admiralty’s Mines Investigation and Bomb Disposal site, in Kiln Lane.

It was while in Buriton his family was informed of the loss of David’s father, William George England, who was killed on December 19, 1941, aged 32, when the destroyer, HMS Stanley, was sunk by a U-boat while on convoy patrol duty.

n Terry Piper had been evacuated from Old Portsmouth to the Weston part of the parish in about 1942, when he was five.

Along with many other families they stayed in the wooden hop-pickers’ huts on the Seward family’s farm. Terry, 83, can recall sing-songs, where his uncle would play an accordion, and families walking to the Jolly Sailor pub on the Causeway.

When the wooden huts burnt down in 1943 his family, along with many others, lost all their belongings.

They spent time in Petersfield, before going back to Weston after brick huts had been built.

He says of the journey to Buriton School: ‘This felt like a very long walk for a five-year-old’.

Terry now lives in Waterlooville. 

n Jim Sampson and his family were bombed out of Amelia Street, in Portsmouth, and had moved from one place to another until they arrived in Buriton and stayed in the hop-pickers’ huts for about nine months.

As well as collecting fresh milk from Manor Farm and walking to the village school, Mr Sampson recalls walking to another part of the village where people could get big, heavy batteries re-charged so they could listen to a radio. 

‘We had no electric lights or anything – just hurricane lamps and candles’, says Jim, who now lives in Australia. 

Every day, a lorry would arrive at the hop huts to pick up the men and take them into Portsmouth for work.

n Gill Hamilton, nee Lear, now also living in Australia, was one of 13 children who stayed at the Rectory.

She remembers other Portsmouth children, including Philip Tanshen, Susan Edmundson, Felicity Edmonds and Liz Nevill. Gill also recalls the war-time food, cod liver oil, walks in the countryside and the importance of taking her gas mask with her whenever she went outside.

The local Air Raid Warden also told all the children about items they might find in the countryside that should never be touched ‘under any circumstances’.

Doug adds: ‘Doodlebugs and butterfly bombs were particularly frightening for the children.

‘The memories we’re collecting today are only from people who were children at the time. We're hoping the exhibition will jog people’s memories. 

‘We would love to hear them, to piece everything together.’

Bygone Buriton is a free exhibition at Buriton Village Hall, High Street, which runs from 1pm on Saturday, September 28. Doug Jones would like to hear from anyone who has memories, or were told stories by relatives, of being evacuated there. Please contact him on 01730 231326 or email [email protected]