One boy’s experience of being an evacuee in Caldecote


Toney Toler’s map showing the area where he lived

Toney Toler recalled his experiences as an evacuee. He was born in 1942 and arrived in Caldecote at the age of about two years old (He later emigrated to Australia with his wife and children and has kindly emailed his experiences to both the school and the History Group).

‘It was during the Second World War and the doodle bugs (V1 flying bombs) had just started. It was early June and luckily we were in an air raid shelter across the road from where we lived when a mighty explosion demolished our house. We were all taken to a requisitioned school where we had to look for bunks. These were all around the walls in piles of three. In the morning a telegram arrived from my uncle Stan in Comberton. (This was Stanley Lawrence.) Within a few days we were on our way to stay with him until we could get a requisitioned house. These houses had been taken over by the Government to help people who had been bombed out. It was probably about August when we moved over to 3 Highfields Farm. This was part of what had been a big farmhouse that had been divided into three.

When we arrived we were destitute, no belongings, just the clothes we had on our backs so to speak!

We had the end house. It had two bedrooms upstairs where the 4 girls slept two to a bed ‘top to tail’. The adults were in the other room while the 2 boys had to sleep down stairs in a small room just off the kitchen area. We had no electricity. We used candles. The adults were the only ones allowed to use the only Aladdin light that we had. We had no running water or gas. For water, we had to use a pump over a very shallow sink which came from a well. We had to strain it all first because it contained a lot of mosquito larva. The kitchen did not have a proper stove to start with so we had to use a paraffin primus and cook on an open fire. Outside was the ‘privy’ (which we all had to take turns with emptying) and on the other side, opposite the house there was a large railway carriage and a deep pond. We used to play in the railway carriage.
Next door to us was a family called Dobson. There was a husband, wife and brother. They were very good to us during the first winter providing us with lots of wood. Opposite them was the pigsty and various barns and out buildings. Other residents I recall were the Coolys, the Beresfords and the Fulbrooks.

Opposite us on the other side of the muddy track was a house with a family called Garner. I well remember Valerie Garner. I can’t remember whether her father was one of the farmers who had the big field next to them, but I do remember we used to help harvest, putting up the stooks and watching the rabbits running out. There would be people with shotguns and we would have to get out of the way.’

Arriving from London, destitute as they were, they lived a life of sheer poverty. Not knowing any differently Toney assumed that this was the normal way of life. They only accumulated any belongings at all thanks to the generosity of others. Hunger was a major problem. This was made worse by the severe rationing in place at the time. He recalls the various ways they tried to add to their diet:

‘We were hungry to the point of being malnourished. We were always seeking ways of supplementing our meagre supply of food. One particular event I recall relates to the time I was able to ‘obtain’ a couple of wild duck eggs from a nest close to our pond. Feeling very proud of my acquisition I proudly gave to my mother who eagerly hard boiled them, cut them in half and gave them to us. Well they were the worst I have ever tried to eat. They were a bluey colour that when trying to eat was like rubber. The yolk was a deep yellow, which was very difficult to swallow. This put me off duck eggs for life.’

Toney even tried eating sugar beet. The best things to eat he recalled were fruit in season. Greengages, Victoria plums, apples, rhubarb and walnuts were all available. He was also entitled to the cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice, which was made available by the government to improve the health of children across the country.
Things improved once his mother, Doris obtained a job in a laundry in a major hotel in Cambridge. Ted his father eventually gained a job at Catlins a Cambridge butchers. He later had a similar job at Dewhurst in Petty Cury. From then on, they could look forward to a roast dinner on Sunday.

Toney also recalls the weekly bath nights. These occurred on Sunday evenings. The tin bath was placed in front of the open fire, which was the only source of heat. This also provided the only light in the room in winter. Hot coals were put into containers to heat the water. Everyone took turns to have a bath in the same water starting with the eldest. The water level was topped up as each child being smaller took less space. As the second youngest, by the time it was Toney’s turn the water was rather cloudy. The flagstone floor of the farmhouse was laid directly onto mud and was never warm. As a result, Toney avoided stepping out from the bath onto them. He recalls the prickly ex-army blanket his mother used to wrap him in.

He recalls other aspects of living in Caldecote while rationing was a part of life:
‘The muddy track going to the other side went to the village. At the top was Becket’s shop. This sold everything from flour, sugar, bacon, and paraffin including vegetables. We had to take our ration books there to get registered. Further down the village were families like us who were displaced by the war, living in railway carriages and numerous Nissen huts made with corrugated iron. As a result, Caldecote gained the name ‘Tin Town’.

Everyone seemed to own a goat. Most of them were tethered out on the front of the premises on the grassy areas. These goats were important for their milk. Further on was the village Hall. I have fond memories of the white elephant sales where we were able to get some hand me down clothes. Ted Toler was MC at the Village Hall for some functions. Right down the end of the village was the post office.
On a freezing December 1952 morning, we were ‘rounded’ up and loaded in an old open truck with our scant belongings; we headed for our new dwelling in Cambridge. I left with some fond memories of Caldecote, which I revisited on occasions. Despite our deprived upbringing I stand by the saying, you ‘don’t miss what you don’t have.’ In fact the deprivation of the ‘nicer’ things in life made me very appreciative of what I have now!’


Extract from ‘The Book of Caldecote’. You can read it free online here.

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