A national campaign for a memorial to the three million children evacuated during the Second World War is under way. Diane Parkes meets two West Midlands pensioners supporting the initiative.
Barry Fletcher and Harry Spalding are the best of friends. Now in their eighties, theirs is a companionship which goes back more than 60 years – as it was a friendship forged in war.
As little boys the two youngsters, who had never met each other before, were evacuated from Birmingham together.
Away from their families and many of their friends, they were thrown together by circumstance, sharing a house with strangers as war raged across Europe.
Now they are both supporting a national campaign for a memorial to the three million children who were evacuated out of Britain’s industrial towns and cities to the countryside in the early years of the Second World War.
Mr Fletcher’s face lights up as he recalls the day he was sent away from his family because, for the eight-year-old, it was all a bit of an adventure.
“We were pupils at Station Road Board School in Witton which is now Yew Tree Community School,” he said. “We were prepared for the evacuation. We had been doing rehearsals during the school holidays of August 1939.
"They had us with our gas masks and a little bag marching around the playground. Then we would all go home.
“And then on September 1 it was the day of evacuation and it was totally different. There were mums starting to withdraw their children from the lines and crying because they didn’t want to send their children away.
“Nobody knew where we were being sent, not even our parents.”
Barry was an only child whose father had recently died, so it was a terrible wrench for his mother, but she knew it was for the best.
With hundreds of factories, many engaged directly in the war effort, cities like Birmingham were deemed to be at high risk of bombing raids.
“We walked to Aston station with a gas mask and a bag and then we got on the train and off we went,” recalls Barry. “I remember one lad who got on the train with a banana sandwich.
"When he came to eat it the banana had gone a bit brown so he threw it out of the window – but that was the last banana he saw for six years.”
The children reached Redditch by train and were then separated into three smaller groups.
“One went to Crabbs Cross, one to Headless Cross and one to Feckenham,” says Barry. "I was on the Feckenham bus."
“When we got there we were all sat on benches in the village hall and it was very much like a cattle market where people came in and selected children.
"You could even hear people saying why they were selecting a child or not, maybe just because they had dirty knees.”
After the majority of the children had been offered a home there were just six boys left – including both Barry and Harry.