Once again, but sadly for the last time the Mansfield evacuees gathered at the Affinity restaurant in Leigh for what was to be the last lunch and appropriately the seventieth anniversary of that traumatic date Sunday 2nd June 1940 when we packed our small suitcases and our gas masks and headed into parts unknown (we found out on the train that we were going to Mansfield). We arrived hot and dusty, and were paraded in a church hall and selected by our foster parents. I was very fortunate - my foster parents were comfortably off. My foster father was Managing Director of a steel works and even with rationing we enjoyed quite a good life style.
Some of us however were not so lucky. One of my school friends told me recently that his breakfast every morning was a Daddies sauce sandwich and a cup of strong unsweetened tea! Most of us settled down quickly and although life was hectic we were able to continue school. Harry Carmichael’s book on the history of the school contains an excellent account of life at school in those days. Also two pupils, John Richardson and Professor Roy Simons added their reminiscences, so I don’t propose to give you mine.
1942 brought the return of the school to Southend and Mansfield memories faded for most of us. We all went out into the world to earn our crust. I kept in contact with a couple of friends I made in Mansfield but did not revisit them until 1951 when I moved to Birmingham to work as an Analytical Chemist at the Central Laboratories of West Midlands Gas.
In 1979 Douglas Bridge-Collins who was Rector at Wollaton church in Nottingham wrote an article suggesting a fortieth reunion in 1980 of evacuees. This was held on June 2nd 1980 in the Queen Elizabeth Grammar in Mansfield We were helped by Clive Heaps the Secretary of the Old Elizabethans Association who obtained permission to visit the school on the Saturday morning. About twenty of us attended and had an enjoyably nostalgic time wandering around the school classrooms which had hardly changed although new buildings had been erected. The view across the playing fields had altered, and although the cricket pavilion was still there the pithead gear of Sherwood colliery had gone, reflecting the fact that Mansfield was no longer a coal mining town. It was suggested jocularly that we meet again in 1990 for a fiftieth reunion.
We octogenarians well know how time flies and before I knew it 1990 had arrived. Sadly Douglas had died but a joint reunion was arranged with QE Old Boys at the school in June 1990, and the school dinner ladies provided an excellent lunch to about 30 old boys from Southend and the same number from the QE. John Yeates and the Mayhew twins Tom and Douglas and David Thornton who were founder members with me also attended this reunion together with a number of other old boys, John Chase, Cyril Higgs and David Cotgrove among them.
The centenary came along but we were prepared this time. There was a lot more interest and the girls wanted to get in on the act so a joint reunion was held in June 2000 to celebrate a sixtieth anniversary of our evacuation.
This was attended by 168 Old Boys and Old Girls of both Southend High School and Queen Elizabeth at the school in Mansfield. Again Clive Heaps helped us with the arrangements for using the school. The headmaster and the president of the QE Old boys were present. The headmaster made a welcoming speech in which he said was amazed at the friendship and the camaraderie which occurred during those war years. Pupils today could take well take a lesson from our days in the forties. A most enjoyable time was had by everybody present and it was felt that it would be a good idea if we could meet in Southend in 2001.
In February 2001 I wrote to those people who were present in 2000 and suggested June 2nd 2001 as a possible date and so about 40 of us had lunch at the Roslin hotel, and a regular annual luncheon date has been arranged since then, attended by about 40 or so regulars. I was able to make the necessary arrangements ably assisted by my PC. During the last 10 years Clive heaps came down on a number of occasions and so we still maintained the Mansfield connection. My wife died in 2008 so and I was unable to attend but the arrangements were well done by Derek Impey our President. Since 2000 we have had a pretty constant attendance of about 40 people, and only about 7 or 8 people have popped their clogs during the last ten years, which speaks well for the strength and determination of us evacuees as we are all in our eighties now.
And so to our last one this year. A wonderful lunch was provided by the Affinity restaurant and a great time was had by all. 45 old boys and old girls were present and it was wonderful to see everybody greeting old friends again possibly for the last time. Two old boys, John Richardson and Ken Scott were there for the first time and both expressed regret that they had not been before. Ken Scott met a school friend he had not seen for sixty five years. My years of 1938/9 were well represented with Peter Smith, Phil Hopkins, David Emsley (who came down from Wilmslow), Maurice Dumbell and Ron Church, still the same old Ron except for a moustache, whom I myself had not seen for sixty odd years. Isn’t it amazing though, how the years vanish and it seems like yesterday when you talk about your escapades at school.
Derek Impey as President had a few words to say about our activities and Lesley Iles asked for assistance for a book she is writing about those who fell in the Second World War, and I hope she has success in gaining the information she requires.
And so the afternoon ended, a photo was taken outside the restaurant, and everybody went their separate ways. As I was driving back to Birmingham I thought to myself that it had been a great pleasure for me over the last 10 years to bring together people with a common history - being an evacuee.
I will end on a note of optimism for an octogenarian, it is a poem which Phil Hopkins read at a meeting about 5 years ago, so here it is:
The Prayer of an 80 year old man
Today Dear Lord I’m 80, and there’s so much I’ve not done,
I hope, Dear Lord, you’ll let me live until I’m 81.
By then if I’ve not finished all I want to do,
Would you let me carry on until I’m 82?
There are so many places that I have yet to see,
D’ you think that you could manage to make it 83?
The world is changing very fast, there is so much in store,
So on second thoughts I’d like to stay until I’m 84.
And then if I am fit and well and very much alive,
Perhaps you’ll let me hang around until I’ m 85.
And after that I’d like to think that if my heart still ticks,
I’ll still be here another year and live to 86.
It must be very nice I know, to reach the gates of Heaven,
But would you kindly put it off until I’m 87?
Maybe by then I won’t be fast and should accept my fate,
But I’d really like to battle on until I’m 88.
I will have seen so many things and had a lovely time,
So am I asking just too much to get to 89?
And if, by chance at 89 I still feel fairly sprightly,
I think I’d like to carry on and live to well past 90.
Geoff Hillman (Troy 1938-42)