Doreen Fidler

Recollections of evacuation to Kent and wartime in Catford.

Preparing for war

Doreen was born in 1931 in Catford and lived there until she was married when she moved to Sidcup. Her father had served during the First World War and was too old for service whilst her mother stayed at home and her older brother was not accepted into the Navy but volunteered three times. As rumours of war circulated in1938 her father dug a trench although he filled it again when Chamberlain returned with ‘Peace in our Time’. When war broke out Doreen’s father bought an Anderson shelter for £5 and a stirrup pump for £1 from Lewisham Council.

Evacuation

Doreen remembers the evacuation letter her parents received giving instructions on the procedure. The parents could choose whether their children were evacuated with siblings or schools with Doreen being evacuated with her sister. She had not been scared of evacuation as her parents had explained the procedure but when they arrived in Charing, Kent the billeting officer asked the sisters and some other children to sit separately, it was not until much later that they were told that the family who were meant to take them had moved away. 

Fortunately there was a couple left to take them who had six children but only one son living in their house. Doreen recalls her experience of evacuation as positive with fun organised for the children. One Saturday a rounders match was taking place and Doreen asked for a glass of water but was told it was not drinkable; she persevered and drank some dirty water from the Tudor pump. Two days later her legs were covered in boils so she and her sister had to buy ointment from the local shop with money their mother had left them.

Evacuees Reunion Association

Some of Doreen’s not so fond memories of evacuation came at school as she felt scrutinised saying that ‘London evacuees had a reputation for being dirty and having fleas’. Doreen now belongs to the Evacuees Reunion Association and has learnt from sharing stories that other children had no idea why they were being sent away as their parents had not adequately explained the process, leaving some feeling that their parents were trying to get rid of them.

Returning home

As the situation deteriorated Doreen’s father was worried that if the Germans landed in Dover the girls would not be protected and so their mother came and collected them. Whilst back at home Doreen explains that as she did not live far from Biggin Hill she could stand on her fence and watch the dogfights as the airfield was attacked running to shelter if she thought they were moving closer. On the 20th January 1943 Doreen’s school was bombed with her only finding out when neighbours knocked on the door. As Doreen had gone to a good school she passed her exams and was given entry to grammar school of which she chose The Roan School.

A bomb behind the shelter

On one occasion Doreen heard a bomb fall behind the shelter and so when firing stopped they went out to search for it. The next morning when her father had returned home it had still not been found so he called the bomb disposal squad who told them to leave for two hours. When they returned the bomb had still not been found so they stayed at Plassey Road School before going to stay with her Aunt Alice in Charlton and then on to West Kingsdown before returning home.

Remembering the cruelty of war

To mark the 50th anniversary of the war many books were published and Doreen recalls visiting her sister and brother-in-law who had seen a book with a picture of her school after it had been bombed – an image that had been censored at the time – but she declined to look at it. Years later she saw it at a bookshop and was still shocked by the image of rows of body bags in the playground

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 07/06/2012.

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