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Wartime evacuee Iris delighted to return to Rusper

Martin Read – Reporter

 

Iris Shepherd will be 90 in October and was very pleased to visit the Horsham district again for the first time in almost 80 years. Iris had a particular reason to come over from Chelmsford with her son John and granddaughter – she was evacuated to Rusper in 1939 from Peckham in south east London and was keen to re-visit the places of her childhood. Iris told the District Post: “When the war started my parents were concerned for the safety of my two brothers and me, so we were sent out of London. I was told not to get separated from Charles and Frederick. The authorities made sure that happened and fortunately I was billeted in the cottage next door to them. I was very lucky to be housed with a very pleasant young couple, William and Mary Miles. I walked to school with my brothers, quite a long way, I recall, and we often ran through the grounds of the big house (the Nunnery).”                 Local records show that quite large numbers of London children came to the district – some from Peckham going to Billingshurst and others to “a luxury camp” in Itchingfield. For unaccompanied children householders received ten shillings and sixpence a week (52.5p) for a single child and eight shillings and sixpence (42.5) for each child where more than one was taken. The children brought hand luggage with gas masks, a change of underclothing, night clothes, shoes and/or plimsolls, spare stockings or socks, a toothbrush, comb, towel and handkerchiefs, together with a warm coat or mackintosh. Parents came down to visit them and although rationing followed, some evacuees enjoyed Christmas parties and other festivities, the London County Council thanking the Horsham area for the hospitality provided. The plan for evacuation was called Operation Pied Piper, after the story The Pied Piper of Hamelin – in which the piper played a tune and the children followed him out of town. Ironically, Hamelin is in Germany.        Rusper and our rural communities were a far cry from London and many of the evacuees had never seen farm animals before and found rural life very strange. It is said that during a nature study ramble a group of London children saw a man digging up potatoes and after some time one of the children asked: “Why did he put them in the ground in the first place?” In his book ‘When the Siren Sounded’ Cliff White told of Terry Briscoe being evacated to Rusper with his brother in a baker’s lorry and saying: “We landed up in a farmouse with weird looking animals with things on their heads! Some idiot told us that that was where the milk came out – we didn’t believe them, of course!” Margaret White of the Rusper Chronicle says: “We have a copy of the list of evacuees in the village. Iris (then called Wills), Fred and Charles were enrolled on September 12th – nine days after war had been declared. Others had been enrolled the day before and, as far as we can tell, 37 evacuees came at that time, which would have been an experience for the (small) school!” It is known that wartime classrooms boosted by evacuees did not have sufficient room, so they worked in shifts with half of the children being involved in outdoor things when the other pupils were inside.                     What happened to Iris and her brothers in Rusper? Iris explains: “I liked it and did not want to go back, but after a year my father, who was a volunteer Fire Warden in London, came for the boys because the blitz hadn’t started, so I had to go back with them. Later, when London was being badly bombed we were sent to Cornwall and were lucky to be put with another nice family. Some evacuees were harshly treated but the people of Rusper and Horsham were so kind to us and it has been lovely to come back to see the village again and to be shown round the cottage where I lived.”

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