Berkshire evacuee battles the bullies in the Blitz
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter
Reading was bombed in 1943 during World War II
The evacuation process during World War II was supposed to take children to safe havens away from the enemy.
But for some children they were taken from their homes to a new enemy - school bullies.
In 1940 Robert Trevor was just six years old when he was evacuated from London to Berkshire.
This weekend marks the 70th Anniversary of the Blitz when the Germans launched a sustained attack of Britain between September 1940 and May 1941.
Robert was living in Croydon and was very proud of the City he was leaving behind.
"There developed a thought process that we would stand firm if for no other reason than to give back-up to our pilots.
"We stood shoulder to shoulder and there was terrific pride in being part of the Blitz and being a part of London that refused to give in, while our pilots refused to give in.
"I wasn't scared. Most people were not scared. It was very exciting.
"It was very much a support role. We wanted to support our soldiers, sailors and airmen.
"We didn't want to let them down. We didn't want to be cowards, because they were not cowards.
"It's as real today as it was then. Because when something of that magnitude is taken in by the brain it stays with you for the rest of your life.
"You never escape it and anyone who went through it will say the same thing.
Robert described how he was very emotional when he found out he was being evacuated.
"I broke into tears. My father had his call-up papers and he wanted my mother and his two children out of the line of fire.
"I was going to be taken out from my bedroom, my house, my area and taken to an alien place.
"I had no concept of where it was and I started pining for London at that very moment.
"It was a highly emotional piece of information that I'd received as I was going to be taken away from everything I knew and understood."
"When we arrived it was reasonably late at night and there was a little guy on the platform who was the porter. We asked directions to Tidmarsh and he answered the question and we didn't understand the accent.
Robert moved to what he described as a dilapidated house with his mother and one-year-old sister.
"By the time I'd reached Pangbourne the feeling of being torn away from my hometown had diminished. I was concentrating on the next part of my life.
Parts of Reading were severely damaged in the Blitz
"There were different smells. It was very agricultural, we were surrounded by fields and the River Pang was within almost a stones throw away."
He also described his first day at school which he said was terrible.
"It was raining heavily to start with and I was soaking wet when I got there.
"I arrived in the playground - it's not there anymore - it was just on the edge of Pangbourne on the road that ran to Upper Basildon.
"We stuck out like sore thumbs and we had different accents. There was one boy from Bristol and a girl from Glasgow and the rest of us were from London. Most of us were from the East End, real 'cor blimey Cockneys.
There were 12 evacuees at the school of about 150 pupils. The evacuees soon found that they were not welcome as Robert explained.
"The first encounter I had was with one who asked me if I was from London. I said I was.
"He said: 'Are you are one of the cowards who ran away from the Germans. That went down really well and undermined my confidence straight away.
"And he said: 'You might be able to run away from Hitler, but you won't be able to run away from me, and punched me in the face.
"So that was the beginning of it all. I can't remember his name but he was a fat boy and he had a side kick who was a ginger haired girl.
"They were older, possible eight or nine, and they were big kids by our standards. They were two leaders of the gangs who haunted us and hunted us which was worse."
Robert explained how they were subjected to violence on the way into and out of school, and in the playground at breaks and lunch.
"It was quite organised. The violence in the playground was unbelievable. One of the favourite ploys was to have somebody kneel down behind you and somebody in the front push you backwards and hit the guy behind you and you went head over heels.
"It was a feeling that we were the wrong kids on their patch. We were outsiders.
"In those days village life was totally inward looking and there was no television and no audio to bring the world into peoples' front rooms.
"Every village in the country was isolated and living within its own parameters. Even going to Reading, which was 6 miles away, was a big deal. It was like going on holiday for the afternoon, people just didn't do it."
So how did the children overcome the bullying?
"We had a lot of help and overnight a tented camp had arisen on my way home.
"A guard was on duty and he said: 'What's happened to you little 'un?' And I said I had fallen over and he said: 'Those bruises on your face are not falling over bruises, are you having problems at school? Are you a trouble maker?'
"I said I wasn't but I was having problems at school. I went home to get away from the bullying. And when I went back half an hour later he'd come off duty and he was waiting for me and said he would walk me back to the school gates and that began the looking after I had from the Royal Canadian Engineers.
They taught the evacuees unarmed combat and boxing so that they could defeat the bullies.
From September 1940 free travel and billeting allowances were offered to those who made private arrangements.
They were also given to children, the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, the ill or those who had lost their homes (some 250,000 in the first six weeks of the Blitz in London).
London proved resilient to the bombing despite the heavy bombardment. The destruction in the smaller towns was more likely to provoke panic and spontaneous evacuations. The number of official evacuees rose to a peak of 1.37 million by February 1941.
By the end of May 1941, more than 43,000 civilians, half of them in London, had been killed by bombing and more than a million houses were destroyed or damaged in London alone.
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