Memories of a Leigh evacuee – Tony Scragg

Tony Scragg who now lives in the United States has sent us his memories of being an evacuee in Leigh during WII and of the two invasions experienced by Leigh: firstly the invasion into rural England of city evacuees, secondly, the invasion by American servicemen!

Tony was a seven year old boy when he became an evacuee who, “with his cockney horde invaded a small rural Kent village, Leigh, population of approx. 250, (40 miles south of London and (50) miles from occupied France!” As he writes “What were they going to do, use us as sandbags??” As a small boy he had alighted from the train at Leigh in 1939 stood: “holding my little sister’s hand in the school playground, in pitch darkness (the blackout) holding our carrier bags of goodies (chocolate, canned fruit, biscuits etc), which our teachers had given us after we got off the train, and looking at the grown ups who walked along the line, contemplating who and how many of us they could take into their homes. My stay in Leigh was the most wonderful period of my young life! I was billeted on a small farm. I had never seen a live cow, or any of the other animals. I chased them from morning till night. Ate like I had never eaten before.

“I was constantly hungry, frequently cold, my mind locked into preparing my defence for the evil things I had done in this new garden of abundance and the prospect of the opportunity for naughtiness which lay ahead. As I had never seen a live cow, I chased it: the same for chickens, sheep, pigs. I threw rocks at the snorting bull who chased me, giving me a high that sent me into insane laughter that was close to my undoing, but didn’t deter me from doing it again. I stole apples, pears, plums (the fruit that I had been used to had come from the incinerator at Victoria station) honey from hives, pulled girls’ hair, enraged the farmers, aggravated my teachers.

“Joined the beaters on Lord Hollendon’s (sic) gentry shoots and was paid half a crown which I used to gorge on what they call pound cake in the U.S. plus Walls chocolate ice cream from the post office shop and still had at least a shilling left the following day. On top of all this, within a short time the Battle of Britain was raging over head. I had pieces of every plane that flew over Kent including our own. We were let out of school to watch the local Spitfire pilot do victory rolls over the village and occasionally drop little parachutes with messages. I think he was Lord Hollendon’s (sic) son but that might have been wishful thinking. The people who looked after me, and there were a few, as I was a very active child!!, were the ultimate in kindness. I owe them and the village a childhood, two years anyway, that would have had Walt Disney salivating.”

“O what a lovely war! Surely this was boy heaven! I didn’t miss my mum. More was to come, the ‘Battle of Britain’ was on its way. Literally whirling above my head, RAF, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dorniers, Heinkels, Messerschmidts, the rattle of gunfire, explosions, parachutists drifting slowly down and they hadn’t started bombing London yet. If I had stayed at home, I would have missed it.”

This was what I describe as the first invasion.

And then, came the second invasion; Tony Scragg writes, “I was sure that we would win the war, but not too soon I hoped. How could things get better, not possible. Then came the Americans …”

This was “an invasion of fresh faced, exuberant new warriors … from the USA …. thousands of miles away. The impact on me and the whole population was a burst of psychological sunshine which was as stunning in its impact on the general psyche as it was on my immature child’s mind.” For the Americans brought “candy the like I had never seen before, chewing gum, chocolate, spam, powdered egg, silk stockings for the sisters that I didn’t have! (The young women were using walnut husks to stain their legs an orangey-tan at the time). Then came the phenomena, how could it possibly get better? but it did. There were very few males in the village, an acute shortage of young men, no males between the age of 14-55, so the young women were now the beneficiaries of a new awakening. Even the older segment of the population seemed affected. More tolerant, even of me! “

At 15, Tony Scragg joined the RN. Then at aged 21 he was taken on at Vickers of Weybridge. He eventually emigrated, going to the United States to work for Boeing, Seattle in 1968 and spent many years teaching new engineers, who among themselves gave him a new name, super-limey.

To conclude, he writes that because of all his stories and reminiscences of his childhood spent in Leigh, he should let the people of Leigh know that in the minds of his many American friends and colleagues, there is “a picture of a lovely tranquil village in the heart of the Kentish countryside”.

Parish Magazine Articles: Sept/Oct 2008: by Tony Scragg, edited by Chris Rowley