WHEN the Second World War broke out in 1939, thousands of children in towns and cities faced the heartbreak of separation from their families as they were evacuated to the countryside for their safety.
But there were no tears for one North East schoolgirl, who was to embark on one of the happiest times of her life.
Anne Beverley was living with her mother and aunt in South Shields when preparations began for the war, but this nine-year-old had bigger plans than an idyllic retreat to the country, she was all set for the excitement of America.
That was until fate took a turn and instead of a voyage to the United States, Anne found herself on a bus to Hepscott.
“I was evacuated from when the war broke out until it had all finished,” she said.
“I went to school one day, at the age of nine, and there was a list on the blackboard of places we were going to be evacuated to, like the Lake District. When I went home and told my mother she said no, I was going to America because we had some friends there. However, the ship before the one I was going on was sunk and a lot of the evacuees were drowned so I was told we would have to take the chance of staying here. I was so disappointed because I could see myself as a little American.
“In the end it was decided that I would go to Hepscott where my auntie and uncle lived and I would go back to South Shields at weekends.
“I was packed off with a little suitcase and my gas mask and pocket money, with a little purse around my neck.”
Anne moved in with her mother’s aunt Charlotte and her husband Jonathan Woolley, who was an optician in Morpeth, as well as their son, Jonathan, who would grow up to serve as Mayor.
Soon after Anne arrived the expected announcement came that Britain was at war.
“My auntie and uncle didn’t have a radio, but the people next door, the Bowmans, did so we went round there to hear the radio when war was declared,” she said.
“I remember my uncle made us stand up when God Save The King was played.
“It was, in a way, quite exciting. I had seen the barrage balloons going up at South Shields and I remember walking down the street and thinking how exciting it was. I wanted to tell everybody about it.”
Anne was the only girl in Hepscott so her playmates were boys from the school, Tommy Reynolds, George Milburn and Frankie Cowan. Later the Winlow family arrived, including their daughter Doreen.
“She was absolutely ancient to me. She must have been about 14 or 15,” said Anne.
However, the group all got along together and it didn’t take long for the South Shields lass to forget her American dreams and settle into village life.
“Coming from a class of over 40 children, where I absolutely hated the teacher, and going to Hepscott Primary, where there were 16 of us in total and me the only one in my class, I just loved it. Miss Paterson was the head of the school and the teacher, in fact she did everything, and I adored her,” she said.
“I loved Hepscott to bits. It was a proper Enid Blyton-type of life.
“My aunt had poor health and very bad asthma so I was left to run about. We did things like climbing trees, and there was a little stream, which is where I saw a kingfisher for the only time. The Winlows had a smallholding and potting sheds with frogs in them so we would try to catch them. I don’t know what we would have done if we ever managed it.
“We would look at the clouds and think of what they looked like, and we would sit under Frankie Cowan’s table and tell ghost stories. It was tame compared to what children do now, but I loved it.
“My uncle was an optician based in Morpeth, but he used to go to Seahouses and Rothbury and Wooler and Bamburgh and places like that for his work and whenever he was going out he would put his head round the door and ask if I wasn’t doing anything special would I be allowed to go with him. I never was doing anything special so I was allowed to go.”
It was during her time at Hepscott Primary that Anne was presented with an Empire Day certificate in 1940 for helping to provide comfort and contentment to the forces, and it was when she found this while rummaging through some of her late mother’s boxes, that she began to reflect on her school days.
She has no idea what service she offered to win the award, but she did knit a square once.
“When I show the certificate to people they wonder what on earth I got it for. I just presume that everybody in the school got one,” she said.
“I think I must have knit a square once, but I pity whoever got mine because they would have to pull it out and start again.
“A farmer came to the school once to ask for help with his potatoes, but he didn’t ask again so I think that speaks volumes about how good we were.”
There were some hardships to endure in Hepscott as the house had no bathroom, just a midden outside, no hot water and no heating.
But Anne could appreciate just how blissful it was during her weekends home in South Shields.
“The war was terrible really and South Shields was bombed very badly, being on the coast, but I was never frightened during the war,” said Anne.
“One weekend back in South Shields there had been an air raid and we were walking along by the coast when a plane came over. My mother said it must be one of ours, they were always theirs or ours, and then the machine gun bullets started coming down.
“I wanted to stay and pick up the bullets, but my mother grabbed me and there was a lady’s door open so we went in. My mother said, ‘excuse me, can we come in? We are being machine gunned’, and the lady just said, ‘sit down and I’ll make us a cup of tea’.
“Another time my auntie had been painting the windows, but they had got stuck around the edges when the paint dried. When there was a raid and bombs were dropped it loosened the windows for her.
“I remember being told if you hear a siren go to the shelter and if you have some money and you see a queue join it and see what it’s for.”
Back in Hepscott, it was time for Anne to leave the primary school and she moved on to Morpeth Grammar School, where again she settled in well and made lots of friends.
“It was part-time education, with mornings one week and afternoons the other. The military took the school over for a while so we had to share with the boys,” she said.
“The boys did a Shakespeare play every year and in 1941 or 1942 it was the first time in their history when they had girls for the female parts. It was Henry IV Part One and my instructions were to learn some Welsh.
“I found some books that had Welsh in them so I learned it, but I hadn’t a clue what it meant. I just hope there were no Welsh people in the audience.”
When the war ended Anne’s mother tried to persuade the education authorities to let her stay on in Morpeth as she was studying a different curriculum from the schools in South Shields, but it was not to be and she had to return home.
However, she still kept up friendships in Morpeth, even going on holiday with some of her former classmates.
She left school at the age of 18 for teacher training college in Ripon and became a primary school teacher in South Shields and later Sunderland, where she married David Robson. The couple now run an animal rescue service there and over the years have re-homed some 8,000 cats.
Anne said: “I will always love Hepscott and love Morpeth. Hepscott was so free for me and it was such a big part of my life, and I do still go to Morpeth from time to time. It is very special to me.”
l Did any of our readers also receive the Empire Day certificate, and can they shed any light on what it was awarded for? Contact us on 01670 517171 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.