A MAN evacuated to Huddersfield as a child has returned to the town to find “a part of himself”.
Vic Bowell said the large-scale evacuation of children from bomb-hit cities and towns in the Second World War left its mark on many of them – and he felt he had to come back to Huddersfield decades afterwards to revisit his past.
When he was four he was sent from north London to live at Oaklands – the grand house at Greenhead Lane in Dalton where he spent three months living during the Second World War.
Oaklands, now a Kirklees Council learning and development centre, was once a large private home owned by the Tolson family.
It was taken over in 1944 by the local council and run as a nursery school.
Mr Bowell, 68, of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was evacuated there that year when he was four.
He had lived with his parents in Barkingside, north London, and they had taken the tough decision to send him away from the dangers of the city after a friend told them a place was available at Oaklands – then known as Valentine’s Day Nursery.
Mr Bowell said: “Mum worked in the Royal Air Force and dad had a job in the Ministry of Supply, so they had strategic positions and this was also the time when an invasion looked imminent and there were serious bombings. It was a difficult experience for them.”
Mr Bowell arrived in September, 1944, and lived with around 14 children at Oaklands, under the care of a matron and volunteers.
He was there for three months until Christmas when he went back to his parents in London.
He said evacuation had left its mark on many children. He said: “As a military operation, moving all those children, it was quite successful. The logistics were incredible. Around a quarter of the people in the country changed address.
“But as a social operation, it was less successful. Some people were moved around a few times. You arrived on a bus at the village hall and villagers came and chose children and inevitably there were those who were chosen last.
“Children gradually drifted home because they were unhappy or their parents missed them. My parents visited me once and I didn’t recognise them until I heard my mother’s voice.
“I was always very philosophical about life and I just accepted it, as young children do.”
Mr Bowell said he had been left with “loose ends” and he wanted to return to Oaklands.
In 1990 he made his first return to the house, which was then not in use and boarded up.
The visit came after he sent a photograph to the Examiner and we printed an appeal for information. Two women who worked there in 1944 got in touch and Mr Bowell.
He decided to pay another visit this week, while en-route to a holiday in York.
“When I was last here it was boarded up and I thought I would like to come again and see inside. I was not disappointed.
“Everyone that was evacuated left a part of themselves there and the Examiner helped me to come back and find that part of myself.”
Mr Bowell said the house had undergone small changes – such as the front door and the removal of the bell from the top of the house. The back garden had also shrunk considerably, thanks to a new housing development.
Mr Bowell remembered playing hide and seek in large velvet curtains in the drawing room and going for walks in woodland behind the house.
Despite the difficulties of evacuation, Mr Bowell has fond memories.
He said: “The family here were a good caring family, so although evacuation had its horrors, for me I felt it was as well done as it could be.”