Georgie's Story

This memoir was written by Georgina Crowe (née Asbery) looking back on her days at the bungalow called Southcot. It stood at the far end of Plough Road, just by the Recreation Ground, and across the river from Ewell Court. The memoir and pictures were passed down to her son Maurice Crowe of West Ewell

Georgina and Maurice at the front door of Southcot, Plough Road, West Ewell
Georgina and Maurice at the front door of Southcot, Plough Road, West Ewell
Image courtesy of Maurice Crowe © 2014

There stood a bungalow at the entrance to a field, and in the middle of the field was the local cricket pitch. More fields were beyond this one and led to a small rivulet wide enough to take a punt across to the other side. Beyond the pathway on that side were more fields and a small wood. It was very pleasant open country there and the trees in the wood a magnificent sight, so varied they were, and the birds built their nests in peace. The squirrels ran up to gather the acorns and, in the centre, the wood opened to a small park. In the centre of the park a pond had ducks and moorhens, and two swans that sometimes built a nest on the island of bushes in the pond, or on the banks, when they felt like a change. It was pleasant there for the people to sit on the seats or wander the pathways. Occasionally a band would play, and children would take their fishing nets and jam jars to get the tiny tadpoles, or bread for the birds on the pond. The big house had opened all this to the public, and a very imposing house it was. There was the coach entrance belonging to the old days when horses were using the road with no fear of sudden bangs and snorts from mechanised transport.

In the bungalow lived Jack and his wife, Geordie. They had two children, Rae, eight years, and baby Maurice, just six months when this story opens. Jack now felt very happy and thankful for the life they had at last secured. He had been in the First World War, and after the trenches and mud out there it had been somewhat of a struggle to settle down. They lived in rented apartments for a time and looked around. Five years ago they had the luck to find this bungalow, and Jack really felt settled. There was a big garden, in which he had grown all kinds of vegetables and surprised himself at that, for he had always disliked gardening and never tried it till now. Here they were, with a son now to complete the family. Geordie loved the bungalow, having lived in an upstairs flat she was glad to miss the stairs. Now she had six large rooms, the biggest one in the centre front, with a fireplace in one corner of each room. It was so easy to clean and was cosy. Little Maurice grew fine and learnt to walk barefoot in the soft grass of the cricket field. These were happy days with Rae and Maurice and their friends playing in the fields and wood during their schooldays. People walking by the bungalow on their way through the park. 'We'll stay here for keeps' said Jack, and Geordie said 'it's lovely, there is nowhere else I'd want to be'.

Then came the day when again it was war. 'We thought the wars were ended', they said, but no! Gas masks had to be got this time for everyone at home, even tiny babies, and holes dug in the ground with covers to shield from bomb attacks, beds put inside and necessary first aids, also food, hot water bottles, and blankets. Everything for a stay inside. Jack couldn't believe it. 'It's like the trenches and should have no place in our homes' he said. Then the days came when planes passed over the field and were not our planes. Further away, the children were seeing a battle in the skies and a siren began to sound. Parents came running for their children and down into the shelters they scrambled. It was well they did so, for the planes came back over the fields pursued by our planes. That was the beginning.

After that the planes did get through to London. Bombs were dropped and people coming from work in London told of the houses broken down and people buried beneath. Daily, sirens went any time around six o'clock in the evening and 'all clear' never till dawn was near. It was into the shelter every night to get some sleep if you could. Looking out of the entrance towards London, Jack and Geordie could see the sky lit up with reflection from the fires burning the homes of people and factories or such, guns sounding on and off all night. Some few bombs fell in the cricket field and woods and on to the roads near. After the 'all clear', creeping out to go into the bungalow for breakfast, Jack and Geordie would stand awhile. In front of them seemed so peaceful, the trees looked more beautiful and the birds would begin their waking song. It always was a moment they both treasured for it seemed to speak of something unbreakable there. Sirens began to go during the day, and the mothers would be meeting the children from school at midday to hurry them home. One night the battle seemed right over the near field. The searchlights met across the plane the guns were firing at. Jack had gone to the front of the bungalow. He was worried and felt anything could happen, and when Geordie followed he clasped her, almost choking, 'I stood it in the trenches' he said, 'but now they are bombing women and children, it's all wrong, I can't stand this helpless feeling'.

The next day an enemy plane was again over the village. It gunned through the roofs all down one street, but luckily it was chased away and no one was hurt. This was too much. Rae had gone to Cornwall with children earlier, and now it was decided that Geordie should take Maurice to Lancashire. They would stay for a time at least with Aunt Annie. That way Jack felt he could leave for work in an easier frame of mind. Jack worked in a hospital. He never left now without anxiety of the family while he was away on night duty. Geordie did not want to leave Jack alone, but it wasn't right, they thought, that Maurice should live like this, and Aunt had been begging them for weeks to go up to her. The nights were getting worse with the guns going and searchlights seeking out the enemy planes that were passing over, it seemed endlessly.

There were three bungalows next to the field. They decided all should meet in the middle one until the all clear. Two boys were next door and the children were put in the hall near the cupboards. A room was kindly lent for sleeping when bedtime came. It was troublesome taking things over the garden at evening and returning when 'all clear' came, to get what sleep could be had. Neighbours from the next road would come along in the morning and say how thankful they were to see the bungalows still there and everyone safe. All agreed that after the noisy night, the peaceful scene the trees and fields gave was comfort to them. It seemed now wonderful that trees were still standing and grass growing as if nothing unusual had passed over. The night got worse and the bombing of London was more fierce, Geordie could get no sleep for she feared to let herself go while this bombardment kept on until the early hours. Bombs were dropping anywhere as the planes hurried back before dawn. No longer could she go across the garden to next door, she felt it no more safe than their own home. So she put a mattress under the table in the dining room for them and they stayed home. At least there was no dragging out in the early hours, more rest could be had where they were.

Geordie felt her strength going for lack of sleep, and finally she packed the clothes and they were ready to go anyway, and miserably they began preparations for this final wrench. The day was decided for their departure. After breakfast that day Jack said 'let us go now up to London and we can have a few hours together before the train leaves.' So off they went, but carrying the heavy case became irksome, so they decided to go back for a smaller one. To Geordie this was to mean more than she could know at the time. Tipping out the clothes from one case to another, the snapshots she was taking to show aunt tumbled into a heap among her stock of films and photos she had taken through the years. Getting impatient, she picked them all up into a cardboard box to sort out later. Then they were off, and the morning was spent as planned. Jack gave careful instructions about changing at Crewe, to be sure of getting the right train. He didn't want them arriving miles out somewhere. Soon they were off.

Geordie looked at Maurice during the journey and wondered how this life would affect him. It was a shame to give a child this way of living, and she hoped it would bear no mark in later life. He was already getting too serious for a child of nine. Now Jack was on night duty he would listen to his instructions to her and when he left they did them together. Even at Crewe when they changed trains he was acting just as Jack would. Yes! It was time for him to be away from it all. Rae had become a bundle of nerves until she went to Cornwall; she remembered her flying home when the first bomb fell in the cricket field. 'Is everyone alright Mummy?' and her face drained of colour. It was nice to know she was away from it all. Of course she was seventeen and old enough to realise the consequences of war. However, she would be well looked after having become nurse to a doctor's children, and they had all gone down to a comfortable home. From now on it would be constant anxiety of Jack's safety; she must hope on till they were all together again. Uncle Tom met them at the station, and with him was an Alsatian puppy he was trying to keep in order. It looked full of mischief, but as soon as uncle came to Maurice it gave him a big stare and then was jumping round him, and Maurice was delighted. From then on he and the dog were almost inseparable. 'Now that's a blessing', said Geordie, 'there's company for him'. Uncle had a taxi waiting for them and, as soon as Maurice sat down, the puppy was on his lap and you could see it was love at first sight with them both.

Jack was the only one there in the bungalow now, and in the daytime before he went for his sleep he felt more relieved to know that they were all away safely. Then he looked around and knew what he would do. He began to polish and clean all round. Floors and windows and rugs all had their turn, and he soon put real heart into his work. He saved nearly all his fat rations and things he could do without, and bought tins of stuff now and then. There would be cupboards well stocked when they were together again. There were the chickens to feed so they laid well, and the eggs to be saved for at least a week's supply each time. There were letters to write to Geordie and the children. Rae wrote to say how windy it was in Cornwall. Thank God, he thought, that the wind was all that bothered her. Maurice's comic papers came through the letterbox, and he looked through them before sending them on. It was a feeling of somehow touching him, knowing he would be reading them. He missed them all. There was only the black kitten, Whisky, around now, and she persisted in following him along everywhere. No doubt she missed the boy for it was her habit of jumping up and putting her paws around the boy's neck and rubbing affectionately against his face every now and then. If Jack now sat still a second only, the kitten was jumping into his lap. The two white ducks they allowed out into the garden during the day would climb over the kitchen doorstep and stretch their long necks around to see him, quack a greeting and off again. The hens moved among the vegetable patch. How long would it be till life became so pleasant again as it was when they were all together as before.

Up in Lancashire, after a few weeks, in which Maurice had thoroughly enjoyed himself helping Uncle Tom serving in the shop (Uncle Tom made his own hot and cold drinks and ice creams; the drinks Maurice soon managed, turning the taps to the right amount) Geordie wanted to go and stay with Cousin Ethel while they were up there. It was a short ride by bus to the bungalow, and there came a big surprise the morning after they arrived. They woke up to find during the night a heavy fall of snow covered the ground. There was Maurice already up and he had dug halfway to the gate. It was his first sight of snow lying so thick. Well, they stayed on, back in the shop, and when the holidays were over Uncle Tom had an idea; Maurice should go to school. This he did for it was down the street opposite the shop, and found some companions of his age. They were both by now rather sad being away from home, and Geordie wrote to Jack saying they didn't want to stay any longer, and a day was arranged.

It was Jack's day off and very excitedly they packed. Then on the Saturday morning before - it seemed incredible! There it was in black and white, the bungalow was gone! There was no home to go to. During a night of heavy firing a German plane was crippled and came down at Wimbledon. On the way it was on fire over the cricket field and parts fell right on the centre of their bungalow, and everything was burnt to the ground. Nothing at all was left. All they could do was go as arranged to Jack. They were not going to leave him alone, although he said they should, and aunt and uncle wanted them to stay. Geordie knew she must go, and there was Rae to come home, and there it was. Maurice had his tenth birthday the week after they returned.

The burnt out remains of Southcot
The burnt out remains of Southcot
Image courtesy of Maurice Crowe © 2014

Georgina standing by the remains of Southcot
Georgina standing by the remains of Southcot
Image courtesy of Maurice Crowe © 2014

(Many thanks to Maurice Crowe for letting us copy his family memoir, and to Sheila Ross for typing it up)

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